Unity through political diversity

The purpose of this post is to discuss how our political differences have become a way of distinguishing who we are not, rather than who we can be.

When I first began blogging, my writing was more aggressive and perhaps more theatrical than the style I’ve since become accustom to (albeit still maintaining a tendency toward a ranty, reactionary post now and then). However, after my first few posts a good friend sent me an email suggesting that I temper my writing. The logic behind this was that the more aggressive my writing the fewer people who would actually read my blog. Additionally, that if my purpose was to open up the debate then my vitriolic rants would inhibit that goal. Of course, I was taken aback at first, but he was right. There are plenty of ranty leftwing and rightwing blogs that added very little to the debate because they limited who could or would participate. And besides, he said, the particular style was only compelling for those who already shared my views and simply turned off any potential readers who might actually be receptive to some of the things I had to say. Sage advice. Because it appears the blogosphere is another platform for division.

I’m going to refer to some things I have read that highlight this division and why I think the blogosphere is the place to build unity through political diversity.

Firstly, on Maui Street blog, Morgan wrote:

 “The first challenge is to build a community. The first step in that challenge is easy – bring together a community of bloggers and their readers. The second step is harder – build a community of readers and commenters from outside of the leftwing blogosphere”

I agree.  There is an abundance of talent in The Daily Blog line up.  My worry is any preconceived prejudices based on The Daily Blogs creator – Bomber.

In my view, Bomber is to the left what WhaleOil is to the right, or alternatively stated, Bomber is to the right what WhaleOil is to the left.  They are both aggressive political and social commentators and while they’ve both established a strong readership they are unlikely to attract the more reserved reader. Like Morgan, however, I am optimistic that any pre-conceived prejudices will be overcome simply because of the talent pool Bomber has cleverly lined up. The beauty of The Daily Blog is the possibility. Although, I  think if its purpose is to shape opinion then what could make it more interesting would be to include rightwing bloggers who can offer a challenge to the leftwing line up.

An example of the blogosphere/social media divide was demonstrated this week through the debate over benefit fraud vs tax evasion. I was amused to see that the left vs right arguments typically considered one to be the lesser evil and the other by default, the greater evil. To an extent, there were even some attempts to justify either benefit fraud or tax evasion.

I make no secret of the fact that I lean left but in my view benefit fraud nad tax evasion are equally dishonest. Here I want to discuss why I think the debate was framed wrong resulting in an inevitable (although avoidable) division, where the real issue was ignored. Its true that there are those who commit fraud for reasons of greed and that there are also those who commit fraud because the state limits their options.

Lets brielfy look at the limits created by the state. We (in NZ) have social security in the form of ‘benefits’ because the government operates according to an economic ideology (neo-liberalism) that cannot cater to full employment and must create an underclass to support prosperity. Through neo-liberalism the state creates beneficiaries and must at the same time actively demonise welfare to maintain a competitive labour force.  The governments focus on benefit fraud over tax evasion serves this purpose – to reinforce the idea that everyone can get a job and that the economy is capable of full employment even though those in power know this to be a myth. On the other hand, we have tax evaders because they object to forcible deductions on all their sources of income. However, the government must tax so that they can support the beneficiary class created through this flawed economic model. 

So lets look at the issue – it is a result of an inferior economic model that requires widespread taxing to support the underclass it creates and at the same time it propagates welfare demonisation  to create the illusion that every person is capable of attaining prosperity within this model (I wrote an earlier post on this called Unemployment benefits the Wealthy). So instead of trying to justify who were the less evil fraudsters and allowing our political ideals to divide us, the debate should have been around what created the problem and how it can be overcome because this division is silent, intentional and operates to perpetuate the status quo.

I want to move on to a common left wing argument: ‘solidarity’. The rhetoric is nice.  But its treated as an aesthetic and lacks true meaning in the way its being used. Solidarity and unity are often used interchangeably and that is how I will use them for the remainder of this post because this concept ties together what I have talked about in this post.

Solidarity is often used as a method of opposing capitalism and all that it is argued to represent – exclusivity, selfishness, anti-democracy, cronyism to name a few things. Its usually aligned to socialism, but John Ansell has shown that the concept can be incorporated in rightwing politics under Nationalism via his Together New Zealand Campaign, even if his use of unity is merely superficial.

My view is that the way solidarity and unity are used are inherently exclusionary. When used by either leftwing or rightwing movements, the intention is to unite against an opposing politic. This creates and perpetuates division and therefore limits social progress and works against solidarity.

While writing this post I was referred to a very interesting YouTube clip by @AAMCommons (Twitter) called: 
 The possibility of political pleasure

This video link helped me solidify what it was that I wanted to write about. The idea was similar to what I had been thinking about – we don’t have to all agree on our beliefs and values – but we do need consensus to fix problems that affect us both locally and globally. This is direct democracy and is what we ought to be striving for – not democracy by the majority – but real participatory democracy, because in my view there can be no solidarity where political diversity is shunned.

Arguably, a good example of true solidarity is the Anonymous community. They have no leader. Each person contributes to the community in whatever way they choose to. They are guided by the protection of civil liberties and resisting banker occupation. They come together voluntarily and because there is no ‘Leader’, community members follow ideas – bad ideas fail because community members discontinue with it and good ideas succeed but never in perpetuity –  because innovation underlies the community. In this sense, Anonymous is fluid.  And fluidity is necessary for the persistence of the group because it allows members to participate meaningfully and directly.

There are a couple of good documentaries that you might like to watch:
We are Legion

Generation OS13: The New Culture of Resistance

Tying this altogether – if we as a country who are in fact a community of people, valued our political diversity and shaped our decisions around good ideas and not a single politic, then we might actually start to see some progress. We might actually see solidarity. 

Harry Fear interview by ANM

Thank goodness for independent media in NZ!

Recently, Kia Ora Gaza hosted a few events throughout NZ hosting self-professed ‘Peoples’ Foreign Correspondent’ Harry Fear who delivered presentations on his time and his understanding of the situation in Gaza and between Palestine and Israel in general.

Harry Fear was a vital source of info on the ground in Gaza especially during November 2012. Initially he live streamed from a UStream channel before being picked up by RT (although he retained his live streaming account with UStream in between reports).

One of the Kia Ora Gaza events took place at the University of Auckland. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend and was seriously gutted about missing out on the presentation. Worse, it was largely ignored by MSM. Lucky for us, Amazon News Media (ANM) took their camera and superior reporting skills to the event and managed an interview with Harry Fear prior to his presentation. It is highly recommended viewing and not like the hideously contrived interviews one might see on mainstream tv. You can watch below: 

You can see more on You Tube of ANM: http://www.youtube.com/user/AmazonNewsMedia?feature=watch

Unqualified Teachers & Charter Schools

The first point I want to make is that parents should have the choice as to how they want their children educated. As it currently stands we have state schools, private schools and integrated schools. These schools are subject to government imposed curriculum and employ on the basis of an institutionally recognised qualification. I am indifferent to Charter Schools. I’m neither pro nor against. Although, I can see how others might perceive my stance as pro-Charter.

Charter Schools
What I disapprove of with Charter Schools is the proposition that they should not be subject to oversight by the Ombudsmen. Of course they should be – they are entrusted with the education of children and must be accountable to someone outside their organisation as they are performing a public function. They must also be subject to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act to prevent abuses of power while performing a public function.

In my opinion, education belongs to the commons much the same as land, natural resources and the internet and as such society must have ways of holding those in education accountable where rights are breached and powers abused. If there is no external oversight, then we cannot be assured that there are no abuses of power or breaches of civil rights.

What I like about Charter Schools is that they propose models of education that are not mainstream for instance, they can address the different needs and requirements of minority groups in NZ such as Maori, Pacific Island, Special needs, and our growing population of immigrant minorities.  And they offer a way of innovatively engaging such students in learning in a way that is meaningful to those students.

I am aware of the vast array of literature that criticises Charter Schools although I’ll admit that I haven’t actually read any of it. But my point is that the idea of a charter school model provides a different choice to parents, and as a society that is diverse such choices should be made available.

Unqualified Teachers
I’m not against Teachers obtaining a qualification that is recognised by an institution. But I do not believe that to be a Teacher you MUST obtain an institutionally recognised qualification.

I accept that the qualification equips people with the skills to manage a classroom and to teach what is required under the curriculum. I also accept that many teachers develop their own style to make learning more engaging for students and therefore such qualifications do not necessarily produce ‘homogenous robots’ . But my argument is that it is not the qualification itself through which teachers develop their own style. It is through experience that teachers develop their own style and come to understand what works and what doesn’t. This means that even without the qualification a teacher can develop strategies that work best for the students they work with.

Another argument raised is that there is an over-abundance of teachers who have invested time and money in teaching qualifications, but in my view that’s not a justifiable reason to prevent unqualified persons from teaching. It proposes an arbitrary restriction purely because some teachers are going to be out of pocket. In fact, I would argue further that because of the mandatory qualification some experts are arbitrarily restricted from sharing their knowledge simply because they do not possess the qualification, even if they have the skills.

What’s my solution? If it is important to many that teachers have an institutionally recognised qualification then the government can maintain the status quo and require that teachers’ possess the qualification to teach in Mainstream/State schools – the benefit of obtaining a qualification I suppose is that a teacher will be able to work in either State school or any other school. But do not restrict those in private or charter schools from employing people who have no teaching qualification per se but have knowledge that can be imparted to students. Besides, it’s unlikely that a charter school will employ a person that shows no capability of being able to teach if they are held accountable for the outcomes they produce. 

Kiwisaver – I want out!

I’ve become more concerned about my commitment to the Kiwisaver Scheme over the past few months. I’ve previously written on it regarding the limitation on providers available. I neglected to consider what in fact investment means and how it affects society in general.

We are told by political parties no matter what their ideologue that Kiwi’s need to prepare for their retirement. That’s true. There are even some parties considering that Kiwisaver become a compulsory scheme. The argument is that its the socially responsible thing to do – invest for your retirement. I disagree. It is wholly irresponsible to compel people to invest or to treat investment itself as somehow for the betterment of society. And I will explain my discontent below. 

Of late, I’ve been reading and watching a few documentaries on land and resource grabs. This is where foreign investors (either state or private or both collaboratively) buy up vast quantities of arable land in developing countries at dirt cheap prices and develop large scale commercial farms to export food back to wherever the investor pleases.

The theory is that the land is underutilised and who best to develop it than the rich nations that can afford to. Hold up – wtf? Underutilised? This underutilised narrative is simply a way of skipping around the fact that corporates have identified that there are land and resources available for exploitation by capital rich nations.

What’s this got to do with Kiwisaver? Well, do you know where your funds are invested? I don’t. I know how they are invested but not where….specifically. 

Because of the long term nature of retirement or superannuation investments, whichever you prefer, investments are usually made in projects that have a long term return. Denmark, for instance, invests its superannuation funds in land grabs in Africa. That’s right, the Danes super-annuitants are funded by investment schemes designed to rob local communities of their own ability to use the resources they have relied on for generations to sustain their communities. 

So why are land and resource grabs the new flavour? Global food shortage. Another manufactured crisis to legitimise corporate takeover of foreign land and resources. Casting our mind back to the food crisis of 2008 where food became a commodity subject to financial speculating  driving up prices causing some countries to hoard large quantities of food products and sanction exports such as rice which in fact created the illusion of scarcity all to make a profit. It was mostly those in the developing nations who suffered. 

Moving on, the fact that once we opt in to Kiwisaver we are compelled to continue is already hideous on so many levels. I want out. Unless the law changes, I am legally bound to allow my funds to be invested in these land and resource grabs – either directly or indirectly. If I choose to have a cash only fund (I cant recall the specific name of it), my funds sit as capital in the bank. What do banks do when they have capital? They lend. Do I have any control over who the Bank lends to? No. So indirectly, my funds sitting in a bank creates an asset that allows the Bank to make a loan to whomever it chooses even if the loan is intended to invest in one of these land grabs, that I am personally opposed to. 

I was naive, went with the group mentality and signed up for a life sentence of contributing to a system that destroys the livelihoods of other people. But at the end of the day, that was my choice – even if I didn’t fully appreciate the consequences of my choice when I signed up. In fact, I was completely financially illiterate, I’m still a novice – but even with the extremely limited understanding I have now, these unintended consequences of my actions are exactly why a compulsory Kiwisaver scheme is unjust.   So compelling a generation or future generations to do this, is abhorrent. There is no responsibility in forcing people to invest, when they cannot be sure what it is that they are investing in and whether it accords to their own values. 

Post Script: I know this is short, and there are probably many flaws, so leave a comment. I may take a while to respond due to a heavy workload but I will reply eventually. 

Waitangi Day faux pas – Mana what were you thinking?

Mana Party what were you thinking?!

An interesting pic emerged on Twitter this morning of the Israeli flag hung at full mast alongside the Mana Party flag, Tino Rangitiratanga flag and the United Tribes of NZ flag and signage promoting the Mana Party leader Hone Harawira. Big faux pas in my opinion.

What is my beef with this? Well, Mana were particularly vocal in the struggle of the Palestinian’s during the attack on Gaza in November 2012 (only a few months back) including joining the march and protest to the US Embassy and making a public statement affirming their condemnation of the Israeli governments actions against Palestinians.

Maori and Palestinians have a shared understanding of colonial forces at work – forcibly removing indigenous populations from lands and preventing access to resources that have traditionally sustained those populations.

So it seems a bit of a kick in the teeth for when the party purporting to be the ‘movement of the people’ show a mark of support at Waitangi for a nation that currently operates as an apartheid regime.

Before the bigots jump in, as I have mentioned before – I am not anti-Israeli, but I most certainly oppose the ongoing abuses of power perpetrated by the Israeli government/military to ethnically cleanse the state of Palestine of Palestinians in order to claim those lands as part of the self-proclaimed state of Israel.

Hwowever, on closer inspection of the photo, I noticed that the particular stall flying the flags belonged to Ezekiel 33 Trust. I’d never heard of it. And for a fleeting moment gave Mana the benefit of the doubt. Until further research revealed that The Ezekiel 33 Trust was set up by Stephanie Harawira – Hone’s sister in law. Surely the Trust were aware of the Mana Party stance on Palestine/Israel issues? I did question the intelligence of whoever hung the flag, and thought perhaps they were just stupid and ignorant and thought the Israeli flag was the Palestinian flag. I suppose its a possibility, but a reprehensible error nonetheless.

I also asked for an explanation on Te Mana Facebook page, response: ‘looking into it’ (that was hours ago).

Its possible also that Mana were unaware that the Israeli flag was being flown in a manner that suggested Mana supported the state of Israel and its occupation of Palestinian lands. But surely on Waitangi Day, a day where Maori and Pakeha confront the document that founded our country and also confronts the injustices that flowed from persistent breaches of that document (e.g. land grabbing), Mana would have a standard procedure for any group promoting Mana as to how they represent Mana?

Aotearoa New Zealand

This week, Bryce Edwards pointed out that there was some validity in John Ansell’s criticism of the Constitutional Advisory Panel (CAP) referring to New Zealand as “Aotearoa New Zealand”. I have to agree, to an extent.

Ansell argues that as New Zealand is a democratic country then any name change should only occur through referendum. He also claims that he is not opposed to the particular name used by CAP just the process by which it was used (although my gut tells me that he would object to Aotearoa New Zealand being an option at all on a referendum).

So does he have a valid point? Somewhat.

Referendums are a good way of obtaining population consensus. But referendums are not the appropriate way for obtaining consensus on all issues. Ansell’s assumption is that usage of Aotearoa New Zealand is best decided by referendum. And on the face of it, many would agree. But only because there has not been a good argument in response to his claim (well, none that I’ve seen yet). In fact, the only responses seem to be emotive or dismissive of his claim.

Here is where I disagree with Ansell – Aotearoa has customary usage. It has been used to refer to our country in both political and non-political institutions, throughout our history, in the marketing of our ‘brand’ – and most prevalently in our national anthem.

It is clear that we use it by custom. Custom is a consensus model. And it is a model that is more reflective of a society than a referendum. Custom links generations. Not just those who are eligible to vote at the time of a referendum but also our ancestors and future generations (whether they be Maori or non-Maori).

Our customary usage suggests that citizens accept the use of Aotearoa New Zealand as a description of our country. Moreover, there is little evidence to suggest that we should not refer to our country as Aotearoa New Zealand aside from Ansell’s recent rant.

So in summary, while Ansell was right to point out that consensus should form the basis of constitutional changes because we are a democracy, he starts on the assumption that there wasn’t consensus, simply because there was no referendum.

International law accepts custom as a valid source of authority. And there are certain circumstances in which custom is both sufficient and preferable.

Referendums have both a financial and social cost. The point of a constitution as Ansell points out is to ensure there is equality. But he negates his own argument when he claims that a referendum is required in the name of democracy and equality. Referendums serve majorities. If only the majority have a right or the power to make decisions for the whole of a country, then inequality remains and the intention of a constitution is lost.