Month: May 2013

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” (quote)

There is nothing more frustrating than being told by others, that I am “too radical…or too far left” in my thinking about what I consider a socially just society would look like. I came across this posts title quote earlier this week and considered it worthwhile for framing this particular discussion. I want to introduce my readers to anarchism. I am aware that some (or many) of you will be well familiar with anarchism and will have already formed your own opinions. And while I find anarchism highly compelling, I accept that I still have a lot to learn.

Anarchists have long been conveyed as radical, trouble-making activist types with a penchant for violence.  While radical and trouble making activist might be reflective of the anarchist – there is nothing inherent in anarchism that supports violence. Additionally, anarchists are only radical and or trouble-making insofar as they challenge authoritarian norms. This is why I consider the quote so pertinent. Anarchists are not insane, the general populace just don’t understand what anarchists stand for because they are fed  and buy into MSM propaganda.

I’ve accepted that when I am perceived by others to be too radical, its because they cannot perceive what I can about my experience and understanding of the world.

It’s almost been a year since I started this blog (well, from when it was originally hosted at blogspot) and in that time I’ve learnt a lot. That was the point in writing for me.  One thing that I note is the angst against left thinking people and the often made assumption that any person who affiliates themselves with the left were considered statists or commies. And when I reflect on the policies of NZ’s left wing parties, I can understand from where that assumption derives. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I get it. But anarchism is also a left thinking theory – that debunks that particular assertion about leftists.

I read a little bit of Chomsky throughout my university years, but he was not really a thinker who was covered in my  classes. Perhaps I took the wrong classes.  But I would say over the past year he has had a significant influence on my thinking. Its sad though that Chomsky gets very little attention in NZ except perhaps in academic or activists circles.

The reason I mention Chomsky is that while he admits to being a traditionalist he actively supports and advocates for libertarian socialism/anarchism. So what is Anarchism?

From the Anarchist Writers blog:

“anarchism is a political theory which aims to create a society within which individuals freely co-operate together as equals. As such anarchism opposes all forms of hierarchical control – be that control by the state or a capitalist… rather than being purely anti-government or anti-state, anarchism is primarily a movement against hierarchy…because hierarchy is the organisational structure that embodies authority” 

Under the heading what would an anarchist society look like, the blog states:

“…given that the state is a top-down centralised body it is not hard to imagine that a free society would have communal institutions which were federal and organised from the bottom-up”. However, “given the way in which our own unfree society has shaped our way of thinking, it is probably impossible for us to imagine what new forms will arise once humanity’s ingenuity and creativity is unleashed by the removal of its present authoritarian fetters”

Additionally, on the Centre for a Stateless Society blog, the following excerpt introduces the reader to the FAQ page:

“We can no longer blind ourselves to the fact that concentrated economic power has become as reckless and ruthless and coercive as concentrated political power.

We can no longer attack subsidies for the poor while supporting even greater subsidies for the rich.

We can no longer speak of protecting freedom in the world by turning the world into protective hamlets. We can no longer oppose tyranny by emulating it.

We cannot speak of individual freedom and free communities, self-reliance and self-responsibility, while honoring the assembly line, promoting urban demolition, and making fetish of commodities. We cannot speak of honest work while honest working people are alienated from the work and treated as mere extensions of their machines.

We cannot attack the abuses of arrogant and bureaucratic labor leaders without attacking the abuses of arrogant and bureaucratic industrial and business leaders.

We cannot speak of a land of liberty and a national-security state in the same breath – we must defend freedom at home if we are ever to have freedom in the world.

We cannot speak of a sweet land of liberty when the very land is soured by greed of those who turn the landscape into real estate, who turn the rivers into open sewers, who see in every living thing nothing but a dollar in the process.”

–Karl Hess, Dear America, 1975.

I also encourage you to read this: http://c4ss.org/content/13612

I know that the substance of this post has largely consisted of reposting the work of others, but what I hope is that those who choose to read this post reflect on the ideas of anarchism and visit the links.

I spent most of last year thinking how crazy some people were for considering that we could abandon the ‘state’ as means of control. That stemmed from my fear that the only alternative to state control was corporate control.  Since reading Chomsky, the blogs mentioned in this post, and having discussions on various social media platforms, I’m beginning to understand the alternatives. The state or political institutions we currently have are only legitimate because we legitimise them. We whinge about the authoritarianism but we carry on our daily lives implicitly consenting to the rules imposed on us, not through our free choice, but through the mere fact (for many of us) that we were contingently born in this country and we are conditioned from birth to accept this tyranny.

So I’ve set myself a goal for the rest of this year, to get a comprehensive understanding of anarchism and the alternatives to a state and/or corporate controlled society. I encourage other readers to consider the alternatives.

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Legalising discrimination

When I first received the news that government were contributing $92 million over the next four years on payments to family members who care for disabled adult family members, I was pleasantly surprised.

The initiative derives from Atkinson & Others v Ministry of Health, alternatively known as the Family Carer’s case. In this case, eight families successfully argued that the Ministry of Health had unjustifiably discriminated against them because of their family status, by refusing to pay them for the services they rendered to their disabled adult family members.

But on further reading, my pleasant surprise soured. The New Zealand Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill (No 2) restricts the remedy where discrimination is found and creates further avenues that essentially legalise discriminatory practices.

The Explanatory Note states that the reason for the amendment is to avoid the ‘unmanageable fiscal costs’ that subsequent litigation would have given the precedent set by the Family Carer’s case.

At first glance, this statement makes sense. The risk of litigation is high given the government’s poor record of recognising the work of family members in these situations. My criticism is not limited to the National Party, it applies to all preceding governments that neglected to recognise the important role these family members play in optimising the quality of life of the individuals affected.

However, this amendment is not rights conferring legislation. Rather, it is a barrier to obtaining compensation for legislation that expressly discriminates against family carers. And its couched in language that implies a benefit, when in fact it creates a limitation. The Bill states:

 “In amending the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000, the Bill allows the Government to reduce the ongoing litigation risks while also allowing the Government to implement policies of paying family carers where it wishes to do so”

Catherine Delahunty argued that this Bill discriminates against family carers who can be paid less than a non-family member for the same work; it discriminates against carers of family members  eligible for disability support who have mild to moderate needs and it denies disabled people choices over their carer which is contrary to the disability convention and the disability strategy. She further states that it legitimises discrimination against family members under 18 and against spouses.

This normalisation of authoritarianism in NZ never fails to astound me. When will we actually realise as a collective conscience that a right is not conferred by government but instead that a right exists independent of government? The audacity of the government to market their ‘good deed’ of recognising rights of family carers is rubbish since the amendment openly refuses to recognise those rights.

While the amendment does not have retrospective effect, it aims to stop any claims of unlawful discrimination concerning any care policy, that arise on or after 16 May 2013 and any claim that does arise can proceed, but the remedy is restricted to a declaration that the policy is inconsistent with NZBORA. Seriously, wtf? A declaration of inconsistency is implied in this statement since the government admits that there will be cases of discrimination. This is appalling NZ.

Post Script: This is a very brief commentary which deserves much greater attention. 

DISCLAIMER: This is my personal opinion and in no way reflects the views of my employer.

And the government says “Punish the kids!”

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And the government says “Punish the kids!” Well, not exactly. But they may as well. The National government have contributed around $40 million dollars in funding to private schools, but will not even entertain the $5-6 million Kids Can estimate or the $15 million CPAG estimate (estimates according to David Shearer on Radio Live this evening) to assist in alleviating some of the effects of child poverty.

The price however, is irrelevant. The relevant point is the flawed argument propagated by many economically-right thinking people (ERTP): If people can’t afford to have kids then they shouldn’t have them.

Isn’t the value of hindsight a wonderful thing? How many times have we all made decisions that attract costs that on hindsight we probably shouldn’t have made even though the decision was reasonable in the circumstances at the time? I’m sure we can all think of examples on both a personal and political level.

Admittedly, having children is a more complex decision because the relevant factors are not just around affordability. But according to many ERTP, a decision to have a child should always be based on affordability. Whether you say it out loud or not, the implication of this premise a big resounding ‘keep your legs shut’ or you have no right to complain when your kids are starving. That is effectively the message the government gave women today and previous governments have given in the past. And what about the solo dad’s struggling to raise their kids? Well, the government just gave you a kick in the nuts too! Don’t stick your bits inside a female; you can’t trust that she’ll stay around to feed your kids. Harsh? Yes. But this is the message a government sends when it refuses to incorporate funding for hungry children into the national budget.

I am amazed ERTP having come out and blamed women for child poverty given the underlying premise of these arguments. But I digress.

We can accept the premise that it is the parents responsibility to feed their children. Generally. However, what we must expect is that when parents are unable or fail to provide for their children, the government will step in to assist those children. If they don’t, then what? I can appreciate that the government don’t want parents to abdicate their responsibility because the government have a safety net. But this argument is the same one that Bill English gives about parental responsibility. It is overly simplistic and lacks the empathy required to build a community that thrives. Moreover, this argument is redundant when these families are forced into poverty through failed economic policies.

What’s not taken into consideration when demonising these parents who are unable to feed their children is the fact that children aren’t born in hindsight. Additionally, other arguments flapped around various social media sites and on talk back radio are the sterilisation of women or forced abortion if the prospective parent[s] have a poor financial outlook. Wtf? Fortune telling determines who can have children? This quackery is normally scoffed at but is legitimate when it applies to persons in poverty? What gives any person the right to determine that a prospective family with a poor financial outlook should terminate a pregnancy?  That is a very dangerous road to go down. When we start advocating for the State to determine who can and cannot have children and under what circumstances, it begins to look remarkably like the eugenics programmes carried out in Nazi Germany and the less talked about programmes in the United States.

It is a myth that people live in poverty by choice. They stay in poverty because successive governments have failed to make the necessary reforms to improve their situations or to prevent people ending up in that situation. And this is no accident. Without poverty, capitalism cannot survive. Poverty usually stems from an inability to obtain employment or to obtain employment that improves ones’ financial situation. I have discussed this in earlier posts, but have no expectation for you to go back and read them, so here is my summary:

“In order to sustain a capitalist growth economy, out of necessity we must ensure there is a stable level of unemployment. However, we must be careful not to make any welfare scheme that compensates for this necessity, too attractive, or the whole economy will collapse”

This is in effect government induced poverty. ERTP must accept that when the government creates poverty for their benefit, it must at least act to alleviate it. A start is to provide kids with food in schools, but don’t expect that it is the full solution. A government that refuses to take action to assist these kids, punishes them.

Update: Below is an extract of a post on Facebook. I’m using it to show the ineptitude of the many people who consider State intervention bad (i.e. the ERTP described in this post) unless it acts to controls the lives of those who are forced into poverty through ineffective economic policy. Although written in the context of the US, I’ve seen many ERTP in NZ hit the like button on this:

This was in the Waco Tribune Herald,   Waco  , TX , Nov 18, 2011

PUT ME IN CHARGE . . .Put me in charge of food stamps. I’d get rid of Lone Star cards; no cash for Ding Dongs or Ho Ho’s, just money for 50-pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese and all the powdered milk you can haul away. If you want steak and frozen pizza, then get a job.

Put me in charge of Medicaid. The first thing I’d do is to get women Norplant birth control implants or tubal ligations. Then, we’ll test recipients for drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. If you want to reproduce or use drugs, alcohol, or smoke, then get a job.

Put me in charge of government housing. Ever live in a military barracks? You will maintain our property in a clean and good state of repair. Your home” will be subject to inspections anytime and possessions will be inventoried. If you want a plasma TV or Xbox 360, then get a job and your own place.

In addition, you will either present a check stub from a job each week or you will report to a “government” job. It may be cleaning the roadways of trash, painting and repairing public housing, whatever we find for you. We will sell your 22 inch rims and low profile tires and your blasting stereo and speakers and put that money toward the “common good..

Before you write that I’ve violated someone’s rights, realize that all of the above is voluntary. If you want our money, accept our rules. Before you say that this would be “demeaning” and ruin their “self esteem,” consider that it wasn’t that long ago that taking someone else’s money for doing absolutely nothing was demeaning and lowered self esteem.

If we are expected to pay for other people’s mistakes we should at least attempt to make them learn from their bad choices. The current system rewards them for continuing to make bad choices.

AND While you are on Gov’t subsistence, you no longer can VOTE! Yes, that is correct. For you to vote would be a conflict of interest. You will voluntarily remove yourself from voting while you are receiving a Gov’t welfare check. If you want to vote, then get a job.

Note: I do not endorse what was said in this Facebook post and am well aware of the flaws in the arguments this person makes. I apologise in advance for any rage this excerpt may cause those with a social conscience.

Electricity belongs in the commons

I was asked (along with a number of other people) if I bought shares in Mighty River Power (MRP) and if not, why not. The answer to that question is set out in this post.

Corporatocracy* is the control of our political and economic systems by corporations. Its relevant to this post because it helps to succinctly articulate the problem with privatisation. I acknowledge that not all privatisations involve corporatocracy but there are enterprises that I consider no government should have the right to transfer to corporate control, such as, electricity companies.

Rather than selling electricity companies we should be acquiring them. As a developed country, we have come to rely on electricity and we could not thrive without it.

My view is that we should supply electricity to all households the way we supply water and waste services. Electricity would then properly be a public utility rather than a profit driven company that limits public access.

Note: public utilities do not require State management they could be managed instead by publicly elected bodies or associations.

So when asked the question set out above, my reason was not that I think the State should own them. But because I consider that removing MRP from State control takes it further away from the potential control by the people.

Electricity belongs in the commons and I do not think that resources that belong in the commons should become the subject of competitive markets. The logic is that power prices are cheaper when there is competition. My point is, power should be a service supplied to all people through publicly generated revenue and therefore would not require a competitive market.

By divesting state control of MRP and other electricity companies, we place a resource that belongs in the commons under the control of corporate elites. This control over our electricity (and other sources of energy) allows corporations to dictate the prices we pay and who has access to electricity despite the necessity of it in our households.

The difficulty is funding electricity as a public utility.  Under our current tax system, we would require another tax or increases to an existing tax or rates. Untenable. We  need tax reform urgently. Irrespective of your preferred economic model (i.e. capitalist, socialist), we need to simplify our tax system and find a more just way of collecting public revenue. A single land tax would help address many of our underlying socio-economic issues. I was reading an article this morning that sets out how a land tax would work.** See the link:

http://www.speakerschair.com/post/land-of-the-free-introducing-land-value-taxation#.UY1Ua3uc8vh.twitter

My closing remark is that if any of our political parties were serious about effecting real change, then tax reform would be top priority. Of course, feeding kids, building houses, improving healthcare and education are extremely important, but there would be better outcomes in all those areas if we reformed our tax system.

Note to readers:  increasing personal income tax is not tax reform neither are tax cuts for the wealthy. My assessment of parties going in to next election will focus on what their intentions are around tax, because this will tell me how badly they want the change we need.

* h/t @AAMCommons

** h/t @TaxLandNotMan