Thursday, September 25, 2014

Becoming A Better Person

Earlier in the year I had great cause to consider the term "Rape Culture".

Now, before you do that dickhead thing of "What we have isn't technically rape culture i.e. rape isn't celebrated as a socially acceptable thing", one of the first things I learnt is that you just have to shut the hell up and listen. Before you manage to get that view across, you've just come across as a dismissive dickhead who should leave which ever communication you've just entered into very very quickly because you've just managed to dismiss an amazingly prevalent problem. And the point can be argued so all of those people can get off their high horses and just fuck off.

And just before I go on, I encourage everyone to add this blog post to their reading list. Basically it describes the great frustrating irony. While Emma Watson has launched #HeForShe campaign (I have to admit to having not yet watched the video) I am aware that there's a terrible irony in that I'm more likely to be taken more seriously on matters of sexism than a lot of the people around me.

It's not a comfortable place to be. For example, I came across a Facebook status about reporting post NZ Election 2014, which asserted that females need to get up and write pieces because "...the commentary is going to be dominated by male 'commentators' who feel entitled and confident that their opinion is spot on...". This came just as I was about to write my piece. My issue with the line was that it makes assertions as to the writing based on the fact that the 'commentators' are male. I wasn't the only one who got that feeling...

So that was a really long lead up to this...

We have a problem in society. It's big. It's everywhere. It's a culture of it. When articles come out about some celebrity being bullied on twitter - something along the lines of "you're ugly" - what is your first response? Do you look at the mandatory image of said celebrity and think "She's not ugly!!!" OR do you get upset because no one should ever talk to another person that way? That's a culture. It's a culture of rape. That a person's appearance is somehow more important than the horribly nasty behaviour of others. I kind of think we should all take it a little personally. To realise that we are part of this culture.

And sure, there are much worse examples out there. One of my initial reactions was "Rape Culture" is too confrontational a term. I don't rape, thus I am not part of rape culture. It's just not that simple. It's a culture that encourages rape. Victim blaming and the like. i.e. the question "what was she wearing?" when talking about rape being a somewhat institutional question. Does it matter? Should it matter? Aren't we blaming the victim for their choices rather than the perpetrator for theirs? Is anyone any more deserving of rape because they are wearing a short skirt?

The problem exists. I found myself in this rather awkward conversation with someone who I sincerely care about but she was accusing me of rape culture. What did I do? I was feeling depressed and what was hope that we could hang out and perhaps I could cheer up, was coming out as "I'm putting the responsibility of my depression on you". It was a real low point... I mean seriously. It sent me spiralling. One night while at a pub after watching some roller derby, a girl came up and talked to me and I ended up blurting out something about rape culture. She gave me this odd look and said "you think too much".

That one line is kind of the bane of my existence. I think too much.... Well yes... I do. But I have to go through it. The thoughts shared on this blog are usually the result of thinking about something too much. It's me processing. The fact that I found myself just kind of blurting out what was on my mind was incredibly unusual.

Soon after, a girl accused me of stealing her drink. It was a roller derby after party and I had found that the service was sucking, but more importantly, surfaces were fill of empties... and partials... and things were starting to be knocked down. So instead of waiting for a drink, I had found myself cleaning up a bit. It's kind of a drunken thing that I have. I want to be drunk. I don't want to be playing a game of jenga with empties. The problem is, once I start, I find it amazingly hard to stop. I'd apparently taken a drink that she'd been drinking so I offered to buy her another. The problem was, during this processing, I was really upset. I had come to realise that I was part of this whole rape culture thing and that it was a culture. It isn't just a case of changing my own behaviour, but rather, it's something that's likely going to be around me for... well... the rest of my life.

While I don't give racism that much thought these days, one of the big things the election revealed to me - not just in the reaction after the election, but some of the policies coming out (house prices - we should see the problem not as a foreign ownership issue but rather, the issue with seeing 'homes' as 'investments'. i.e. if I invest, I'm after the biggest possible return. And given that people can borrow a whole lot of money - well outside of their means - there's no stopping what price I set on that investment. i.e. housing prices is a result of our own greed) - during the election, revealed that there's an awful lot of xenophobia about the place. Racism isn't going to leave us anytime soon and neither is rape culture.

But at least with racism, we recognise it (at the very least I'd like to think that most of us do). This isn't the case with rape culture. And it's at least half of our population! Half of the people out there are having to suffer through these weird presumptions - "you will make me feel better" or "you're weaker than I am". Everyday interactions. EVERYDAY! Think about it. I mean, I can point to overtly racist moments in my life. Things like cops shining a torch in my eyes when I'm walking home (this was a fairly common occurrence when I was younger) or people yelling out something about Osama from their cars at me and even young kids on the street in Hamilton making assertions about my education or ability to speak English based upon the colour of my skin. But it's not everyday. It always leaves me feeling angry that this sort of thing happens. For myself - but also, given the frequency, the scope etc., it makes me really angry that it happens to pretty much every female I know (there's a selfish element in here too. It makes me REALLY angry that it happens to every female that I care about) on a daily basis.

And that's just not good enough. I'm better than that. Hell, we all are. We can be better people. We should be better people. We have access to other people's perspectives like never before and we shouldn't be trying to shut down those perspectives. We should be learning to shut up and listen. We have a sense of what's right and what's wrong and oppressing people based upon their gender is just plain wrong.

So let's stop stigmatizing the term "feminism" - instead, let's see it as a bunch of people who are getting really frustrated with having to yell at the world about what should be really amazingly obvious. They deserve respect. Not the kind of horrible fucktarded comments that seem to appear on every single female's (I'm not including males here because I'm fairly confident I can do this blog post without any serious negative reaction and I'm 100% certain that I will not be called any of the things that females are called when they write this sort of content) blog post or youtube video whenever they bring up this topic.

It's interesting watching the video attached (yes, I'm listening and watching while writing this). The delivery is perfect. The shaking voice while describing the various ages at which rape culture became evident. The anger can sometimes be the focus whereas anger stems from somewhere... hurt. We are hurting those around us. Let us all speak up when we hear/read something that contributes to rape culture. Let us all see this as a problem with our culture - it's not someone elses. We all own it. Let us all be better people.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Me Probably Getting Economics Completely Wrong


I've been thinking about economics of late. Not just economics, but rather, how the economy works.

We have a few forces at play. Demand, trickle down and flow upwards.

Money, when starting at the bottom, i.e. given to our most vulnerable, flows upwards and in doing so creates demand. For example, you go to a dairy to buy a can of coke. The money from that coke goes to the dairy who then buys more coke from Coca-Cola (Coca-Cola Amatil in the Asia-Pacific region).

In increasing the demand on the dairy, that dairy is able to possibly hire staff (multiplying this out to an entire community. Not as likely given the scale of a dairy vs. Coca-Cola - but the possibility is there. This possibility should not be ignored). The trickle down... And Coca-Cola presumably hires more staff to meet demand (multiplying this out to the world).

Suppose a can of coke costs.... $0.20 to make and Coca-Cola sell it in bulk at $0.40 per can. Their distributors then put their margin on top. So everyone in the chain is getting a cut on it. Presumably everyone who puts a margin on top is putting around 100% on top. So while Coca-Cola make $0.20 / can, by the time the dairy sells it, they're making around $0.80 / can - though it's distributed through A LOT more dairies at this point. So we have a pyramid...

We have one entity at the top, 50 on the next level, 500 on the next. Although the profit margin increases as we move down the pyramid, each entity makes less. Remembering that as we move further down, we're closer to the actual people. The dairy owner, for example, is looking to feed their family. As you move up the pyramid, the concern stops being about the individuals and their families and more about the business as it's own entity. A multinational is less likely to care about the individual than the local dairy owner or baker.

Now... the trickle down. Trickle down does not exist in isolation. If you were to give Coca-Cola $100,000,000, that $100,000,000 does not suddenly create jobs. It wouldn't be in Coca-Cola's interests to increase/expand their operations unless the demand existed. So in order to stimulate an economy, it seems to me that it'd be far better to introduce that money at the very bottom.... presumably the unemployed.

However, what happens when those unemployed are getting more than those who are working full time? There's resentment. So, we need a minimum wage. That minimum wage needs to be set at just the right level. Too low and people become disillusioned with working as they seem to be working very hard to be impoverished (the working poor). Too high and businesses start to "trim the fat" or rather, look for ways of cutting staff (this presents big problems if done on a long term basis). BUT if people are over the poverty line, they are also able to create demand. So it's in a businesses best interest to keep all of their workers above the poverty line. Perhaps their workers aren't their intended audience, but there's a very good chance their customers rely on those people. So either which way, if a business relies on the minimum wage level to stay in business, they are essentially exploiting the system. It's an absolute minimum.

So when the number of working poor is increasing, a government must increase the minimum wage. The current argument of "increasing the minimum wage will decrease jobs" is a self-serving short thinking fallacy. In the long term, assuming a business is still relevant, their demand should increase.

Business and government seemed to have understood this in the past though this seems to have changed in the western world around the 1980's. Deregulation of banking systems have lead to big problems. For example, the amount of money a person is able to borrow from a bank, as a ratio of their pay, drives up prices for things like housing. As the cost of housing increases, so does rent.

In New Zealand, with an average income per household of around $58,000 / year (taken from here. Unfortunately there is no mention of whether they're taking about mean or median), it is estimated that about 25% of that income goes on accommodation and utilities (power and water). As we go lower, those costs don't decrease much while the income get's lower. So on $40,000 / year / household, that's around 35%. Our most vulnerable, at around $18,000 / year (I'm taking this figure from when I was working in one of Auckland's most vulnerable areas. This was the figure that was often kicked around), that's approximately 79%.

Which leads us to tax. This is why we have a progressive tax...

Imagine we have a flat rate tax system at 10% / year.

Imagine I make $18,000 a year.
Tax at 10%: $1,800
Housing and utilities: $14,190.80
At the end of the year, for clothing and footwear, food, healthcare, transportation etc. I have around $2,009 for the year.

Imagine now that I make $60,000 a year.
Tax at 10%: $6,000
Housing and utilities: $14,190.80
At the end of the year, for clothing and footwear, food, healthcare, transportation etc. I have around $39,809 for the year.

This can be corrected, to some extent, by having a progressive tax system. That is, your tax rate being dependent on your yearly income. So the person making $18,000 / year can have their tax burden cut in half to 5%. If we have 1,000,000 people only making $18,000 / year, in the flat tax example, that puts $1,800,000,000 into government coffers.

And if we have 500,000 on $60,000, that contributes $3,000,000,000 to government coffers.

We have $4,800,000,000 in government coffers to go on things like socialized services like healthcare and education, infrastructure like roading, parks (Conservation land untouched by mining hopefully) etc. If we need to keep that level, then in a progressive tax system, ignoring the people in between, if the people bringing in $18,000 / year are only paying 5%, then they're contributing $900,000,000 to the coffers. Which means that each of those 500,000 $60,000 / year earners need to contribute $7,800 / year in taxes each. Which puts them on a tax rate of 13%. Their burden has only risen by 3% whereas the low income earners have had their tax rate cut in half.

Now those earning $60,000 may declare this unfair and unnecessarily complicated. It'd far be easier to just tax everyone at the same rate. Those earning more than $60,000 may even call for tax cuts because they don't think it necessary for the government to provide the services and regulation that they do (neoliberalism - as I write this, it disturbs me that the word isn't in my browser's dictionary). Basically, the level of education/healthcare/whatever should be based upon how much an individual is willing to pay for it. The costs of all of those things go up because the individual has no bargaining power. Look to the American healthcare system for how damaging this is.
I think, if a government is truly serious about creating jobs, they need to:
  • Make it so that the jobs that they're creating don't have people working in order to stay impoverished by making sure the minimum wage rates are set accordingly.
  • Introduce money at the bottom as a stimulus rather than expecting a trickle down effect to happen without taking demand into consideration.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Disappointment

It's a couple of days after the New Zealand election and the results are dire. Dire dire dire.

The western world seems  to be shifting to the right. Australia has a prime minister who is the very first to reverse climate change laws. Our neighbours. And we, in New Zealand, have been able to laugh at them. But then, Tony Abbott is only in his first term. We have no such excuse.

The National Party, our centre right, has been re-elected for a 3rd term with the special votes being our only hope of change. If you've been reading this blog for a very long time (I think I started back in 2010? There was an election in 2011) I've always stated that we could only ever afford the National Party to be in power for 1 term. That's it. After a term, we'd be in trouble.

And we are in trouble:
  • Poverty rates are high. Do a Google search on 'poverty rates New Zealand' and the first result is this page. While there are graphs up to around 2007, there seems to be little information thereafter except for the graphics on that page. The way to tackle poverty? Measure it apparently...
    • We have an all new class. The working poor. Basically, people who work, possibly more than 1 job, and are still impoverished. They're reliant on assistance such as food banks.
  • We're still very much in the middle of our recession. If it wasn't for the Christchurch earthquakes, our economy wouldn't have grown at all.
  • We need to look at the ways we measure our economy. It seems to me that our "improving" economy leaves a lot to be desired.
  • During this election we had several scandals.
    • "Dirty Politics", a book written by Nicky Hager revealed National's use of bloggers to influence the media. This included, and is not limited to, the GCSB (Government Communications Security Bureau), unclassifying documents and bloggers, such as Cameron Slater, being notified of the information's declassification. The National government also helped Slater write his OIA (Official Information Act) requests and on at least one occasion, Slater was given the information he requested within the day (37 minutes in one instance) rather than the usual 20 days.
    • Kim Dotcom, famed for Megaupload and the raid upon his home, and his newly established Internet Party (joined with the Mana Party), revealed information relating to the denied mass surveillance being carried out in New Zealand. John Key, at one stage during his denials, had said that he would offer up his resignation if the GCSB conducted mass surveillance on New Zealanders. This was called "The Moment of Truth" - presented in a way that I don't think had high impact for New Zealanders.
  • Our national debt is HUGE and climbing at an astounding rate. While National are talking again about tax cuts, services are being cut and the national debt is climbing. Reference.
  • National have made a mess of prior election promises. For example, UFB (Ultra-Fast Broadband). Chorus, the UFB main contract winner, and owner of most of the copper network in New Zealand, called foul when the Commerce Commission determined it's pricing for use of the copper network (what the majority of New Zealanders still use for Internet) is priced 23% higher than it should be. Since Chrous have a $1 billion interest free loan from the government for the UFB rollout, they can't let the company go under but it's a hot political mess if they interfere with the Commerce Commission's determination. Reference.
  • We seem to be moving to rather an extreme NGO (Non-government Organisation) controlled state with such things as:
    • The Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is of particular concern not solely on the basis the leaked contents, but more so for the fact that an agreement of this type is being negotiated in secret. To me, this represents an undermining of democracy as it looks to enact laws without citizen overview of what those laws are likely to be. From the leaked documents, corporations would be able to sue a government if they enacted laws which affected a corporations profits. This means that the government now looks after a corporation's profits before it's own citizens. The classic example is plain packaging on cigarettes. Reference.
    • Charter schools. New Zealand's schools have an interesting phenomenon of having a few different categories. A private school, for example, doesn't get state funding [I've just been informed that I'm completely wrong here. Reference1, Reference2. It looks like it's a reviewed decision which looks to be part of my "if you aren't able to stay afloat based upon the capitalist ideals such as you supplying something that's in demand at a price people will pay, then it's time for a great big review of what you're doing. Stop demanding the government protect you at the publics expense" ramble]. An integrated school, has it's staff paid for by the state. And a state/public schools are fully funded by the state. Charter schools are something entirely new and are widely criticized. The funds going into charter schools would have a huge impact on public schools in terms of being able to hire the staff to reduce class sizes (incidentally, back in 2012, National sought to change teacher:pupil funding ratios resulting in bigger class sizes and very likely less subject options. Reference1 outlines the issue. Reference2 reveals the thinking behind it - spoiler: it was about saving money rather than having any basis in education). The existing charter schools thus far average around 50 pupils each though a little under $20 million has been allocated for "establishment" funding. Reference.
  • Our economy's focus is squarely on unsustainable exports. Things like oil and dairy. Dairy intensification comes at the expense of clean rivers (waste) and oil carries with it the environmental risks that come with it. Reference1 - How the National Party are actively seeking to quash criticism of it's dairy intensification plans. Reference2 An opinion piece on a report about dairy intensification).
  • Services are being cut. Not bailing out Christchurch's ONLY rape crisis centre while sexual crimes have risen by 40% in the area for example. The Problem Gambling Foundation lost it's government funding - the largest provider of problem gambling services in Australasia (the most interesting line from that article: "...The report also noted that one disadvantage of the existing system was that PGF's independence meant the ministry had reduced "control over areas such as . . . political neutrality".
And so the left are feeling quite justifiably betrayed by the NZ voting public. Those unethical practices of the sitting government have essentially been rubber stamped as being okay. Our environment is taking a hit that is going to take a very long time to recover from. Our most vulnerable are being mistreated and misunderstood. What went wrong?


The blaming is coming on hot and fast. And those things that I always found myself proud of are being challenged. For example, I've seen multiple comments on Facebook about how it's all down to "the immigrants". Here's what I think went wrong:
  • Kim Dotcom didn't distance himself from the politics. The Internet Party joined a partnership with the Mana Party which eroded the Mana Party's support. The Internet Party did not bring in enough support to push Internet/Mana over the 5% threshold.
    • The moment of truth was a miss. It was a media circus featuring Kim Dotcom (he REALLY shouldn't have been on stage for this), Julian Asange (his "lesser rape" charges are troublesome though I would argue that if we really want to criticize, then we should also be fighting for laws that recognize lesser rape here), Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald (a reporter who really had no skin in the election though was called a "loser" by John Key, our current Prime Minister, within 24 hours of landing in the country) and Bob Amsterdam (a lawyer for Kim Dotcom). One comment that I saw on Facebook was about "foreigners" telling us how to vote. *sigh*.
  • The Labour Party has looked like a Party in crisis for a couple of terms now. Their last leadership battle saw the entire Party split into 3 camps and some members even got punished for there allegiance after the battle was done. If they want to appear as stable, they need to be fully united. While I think they got there, I think the impression that leadership battle left is something that's going to be a little harder to shake.
  • The Labour Party had a "Vote Positive" message during this campaign. It was a great message but it lacked something. It distanced them from talking about the dishonesty of government at the moment.
  • The, excuse my language here, Fucking Media.
    • During the Nicky Hager "Dirty Politics" fiasco, the media actively tried to persuade people from not reading the book. Instead saying things like "The average Kiwi doesn't want to read a book" and even putting the daughter of a somewhat troublesome media personality on TV to show people what the 'average' Kiwi thinks.
    • It even ended up in advertising. I was shocked and stunned when I saw a billboard advertising the TV show New Girl. It had the statement "All the dorkiness without the politicians" on it. In other words, the current state of affairs wasn't dishonest. It was just politicians being a little dorky.
    • Mike Hosking, on election night (I don't watch TV normally so I have little idea he kept up this line prior to election night), kept repeating the line "hell in a hand basket" when talking about any party on the left.
  • Despite ALL of the dishonesty shown by our government, the "preferred leader" numbers for David Cunliffe, leader of the Labour Party, bottomed out. I'm not sure what to make of this. But it did lead to a lot of people voting for "John Key" rather than for "National".
  • The Green Party is an up and coming party. While the public view little difference between National and Labour (though I think they're doing Labour a huge disservice by thinking this), the Green Party is starting to take that place of "caring for the people" that Labour previously held. While the Green Party has a strong environmental bent, they have an extensive policy portfolio. Rather than being seen as a sensible, "we're the only party to get our economic policy independently reviewed" party, they're still seen as being very much left.
  • The National Party have somehow managed to make people believe that they're the only ones who can sort out the economy. The supposed improved economy is something that puzzles me. With the growing poverty, working poor (an indicator that the minimum wage must go up), national debt levels, unemployment rate etc. I just have no idea how this is being measured and judged.
What needs to happen?

Well... We've now got a National government for another 3 years and we can't rely on them to do the right things. We need to be pushing for certain things to happen.
  • Raise the minimum wage. As the income inequality gap grows, demand lessens thereby stalling the economy. The currently accepted way of doing "stimulus packages" is ineffective in creating demand. Furthermore, those who are working should not be stuck in poverty. It's not the governments role to maintain a company's profit margins and if a business can not operate in a moral way without staying in business, then they don't deserve to be in business.
  • Foster the growth of emerging economies. New Zealand's technology exports is now third of all of our exports and is fast growing and sustainable. Yet no consideration is given to it.
  • Take care of our most vulnerable. We need to understand that poverty is not just a state of having no money. It's rather more complicated than that. The lack of money reduces options. The "Weetbix" discussion (I found this whole line of thinking troublesome on several fronts but the most ironic bit about is that it's a breakfast produced by Sanitarium. A company registered as a charity and owned by Seventh Day Adventists. It does not pay taxes) completely misses the point. If you have no money (and have had no money for a long time) there's a very good chance you also have no vehicle. Such a simple thing as a car makes a huge difference in terms of options. A trip to the supermarket for example... Meaning that in areas that can be considered food deserts, a local dairy/bakery can be seen as the only option. Long term poverty can lead to no longer thinking in terms of options at all. They need to be seen as people rather than drug addicts. We need to be fighting for ways out of poverty.
  • The insistence of lack of government control has lead to a hijacking of the concept. Rather than providing more freedom for people, it's turned into this idea that things should be privatized. In other words, getting out from under government's thumb and under for profits organisation's thumbs (or NGOs as to distract from the fact the profits come first). We need to be aware of this and to speak up when we see it happening. Without the mass bargaining power in things like healthcare, for example, healthcare costs significantly go up.
I think I've now accepted that over the next 3 years there's going to be very little that I can be proud of in New Zealand. This election has highlighted a few issues for me. 
  • The amount of racism in this country is astounding!
  • Despite the fact that we were the first country in the world to establish a welfare state, we have somehow stopped seeing our most vulnerable as people. 
  • Our clean green image is all but dead. While we used to value our environment as one of our biggest exports (tourism), the draw of oil drilling and dairy with promises of an improved economy (again... I want to know what the measures are here) comes at an expense that the New Zealand voters seem to be comfortable with.
  • I can only expect to experience the status quo. No nurturing of sustainable markets.