On giving a hand up

So, I’ve been incredibly busy between RL stuff and other writing projects lately and this blog has suffered as a result. I’m not apologising for that, as political blogging is a very asocial activity and not exactly the sort of thing I need to be sinking time in- just explaining for anyone who’s curious where I’ve been.

I wanted to address a point that I’ve been discussing recently and have finally come up with what I think is an adequate analogy- and that point is offering a hand up to counter systemic racial disadvantage. If you’ve never looked after kids or been a parent, imagine for me that you have responsibility for two children and have determined that you’re not going to play favorites. One of these kids is really bright, and learns pretty naturally and has needed very little help. The other has great difficulty with academics and needs motivation and assistance to do well. Do you spend more time helping the kid with difficulties, and spend money/time/etc… on tutoring them when your other kid doesn’t need it?

I think the difference in our view on race-based politics that aim to improve the lot of Maori or Pasifika or other racial communities who have been left behind by a previously dominantly settler-based economy is based on the dilemma posed in my analogy. Many on the right of the economic political divide feel that any different treatment for any ethnic group is wrong. Many on the left of the economic divide feel that by putting scholarships and special programs in place to address the gap in educational achievement for some ethnic groups is merely giving help to those people who need it, and that, metaphorically speaking, the Pakeha community (or the Caucasian/NZ European one, if you prefer) does not have need of a tutor.

I say that noticeable disadvantage trumps the appearance of favoritism. There is a clear statistical difference which indicates underlying social failures that give us a real mandate for interference1 to create more opportunity for New Zealanders who might otherwise get left behind. You wouldn’t fail to tutor your kid if they were having difficulties learning, because that would be neglectful. You might not be treating your kids on exactly the same basis anymore, but that’s okay. There’s still an underlying principle of equality behind them: namely, that you help people according to their needs, and don’t neglect people just because they’ve had a problem or two getting started. While that sounds a bit like discrimination if you’ve never been in a place to experience falling behind before, you’d find it was very fair if, for instance, you needed a hand up from the government to retrain in the current recession, to get back into education after giving up on it, or something similar.

In short, the concept of looking after welfare- to support people to learn and to do work that they’re passionate about and find valuable- is a good one that should be applied to government, and not, as claimed by some on the right, some form of discrimination.

1 In the sense of “making things better”. Interfering isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if you’re tired of “nanny state”. John Key’s interfered plenty, too.

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Why Labour are also fuck-ups

So, seeing I’ve been strongly critical of national on women’s rights, let’s do a retrospective of similar areas where Labour fucked up on identity politics, political freedom and non-discrimination. I have the feeling this is going to make me temporarily popular with certain other Greens who share with me a deep distrust of Labour, and of course I’m sure the National Partisans will laugh it up at both what I believe and the fact that I’m absolutely going to town on Labour. Don’t worry, you’re still in the targets, too. 😉

  • Pay Equity (for women): They essentially started the investigation into pay equity in the public service to make the problem go away until next term. Except that was stupid: Labour ran a healthy surplus for most of its terms in government, an ideal time to implement the increase in public sector wages that would be the simplest way to address direct pay equity issues. Not only that, but they knew they had a pretty good chance at being ousted coming up to their third bid for re-election, so if pay equity is as important as they’re implying, they should have put it on their list to fast-track before the election. Overall their reluctance to act on an issue even the most anti-feminist of women would appreciate in some sense has been inexcusable, and it made their criticism on this issue pretty hollow.
  • Seabed and Foreshore: Confiscating these was a disaster. Even if you accept they needed to be nationalised in some form rather than being claimed in settlement, the government should have at least let Maori have their day in court first and compensated Maori with something else in settlements if they did have a good claim. And even if nationalisation of some sort did go ahead, the seabed and foreshore should have been placed into the public domain (where everybody effectively owns it and has usage rights) rather than vested to the crown. (where we all just have to trust no government decides to do something incredibly dumb with it) Overall a fuck-up of massive proportions even if you didn’t want any seabed and foreshore claims going ahead. Not only that, but reversing this thing is part of the reason National doesn’t have to rely on the Greens to pass anything that Act don’t want to- both in the sense of the existence of the Maori Party, and in the sense of their willingness to form a coalition with National.
  • Marriage is still straight-only: And labour defended it as straight-only. I don’t see why we didn’t go whole-hog on this, civil unions lead that way eventually, and giving space to idiots like Gordon Copeland and Brian Tamaki only encourages them. Make them steam it out.
  • The bill of rights is still only paid lip service: The most ridiculous of bills are found consistent with the bill of rights that even a budding civil rights activist could see are not. If we’re going to maintain the idea that the bill of rights should limit the power of Parliament, let’s actually have at it. For one, we should be having judicial overrulings of implied restrictions of straight marriages for transwomen and transmen, and gay marriage. For another, Three Strikes should be disallowed if it passes. Labour made no move to tighten up our constitution here, and they deserve some of the blame for not doing enough every time National and its most extreme coalition partner rub it in their face with legislation with terrible civil liberties connotations.
  • No checks on Parliament’s power: As the academic and social elite of New Zealand, (as opposed to the financial and social elite, who they sit opposite to) Labour seems to think that Parliament knows best, and even the biggest partisan reformists are reluctant to act quickly and decisively on any constitutional reform. The lack of any meaningful review of laws leads to low-quality legislation as there is no disincentive to sloppy drafting, and only select committees save us from elected dictatorships as it is. More oversight of Parliament is necessary, and I don’t just mean opening the books to OIA requests. Unfortunately, the phrase “constutional reform” sets off monarchists even if it’s unrelated to a Republic, and Labour didn’t have the guts.
  • The EFA: While unlike many from the Right and Centre I don’t think law touched free speech with a ten-foot pole, and I supported the general motivations behind it, there were three big problems with this law.
    • Was not radical or tough enough: If Parliament was going to get tough on electoral laws, they should have gone whole-hog. Instead we have anonymous donations below a thousand dollars in a world where donating anything to a political party is an extraordinary act of partisanship for most. Donations through filter trusts may still evade pubic scrutiny of their real sources, and the loopholes in the EFA are generally still big enough to run a train through.
    • Poor drafting and implementation: Before I get to the political part, this law should probably have set every-year all-year caps at a more sensible rate on both party and issue campaigning. Beyond that, Labour left notification laws a muddle, and the procedure for dealing with them a farce, with even the minister responsible for the law being caught out on her opinions of what did or did not breach it very frequently.
    • Parliament should not regulate politics: If Labour had wanted to do this the proper way, rather than leave the Greens to negotiate a Citizen’s Jury into elecoral finance, they should have put all the relevant laws in the hands of a truly independent body with a similar structure and lobbied like any other interest group. That approach would have probably been a publicity boost, and if it left them with less cash in hand, it would be likely that experts would attempt to be equally hard on National’s large donors to equalise the playing field.
  • Gay adoption and provisions for other non-heteronormative families: This merited visiting in at least some manner after civil unions were passed.
  • Their list: While claiming to be a left party and generally supporting freedoms and championing the underprivileged, Labour betrays the strains of elitism that run through its more powerful tiers by retaining strict central control of their party list. One of the big, and legitimate, criticisms of MMP is that list candidates can be chosen entirely by backroom meeting in most parties. Righting it is as simple as adopting a postal ballot for your list and using it to encourage members to join. Labour should have joined the Greens in this long ago.
  • Prisons: Not only is Labour a staunch supporter of incubating more criminals with a policy of systematic over-incarceration and a justice policy based on vengeance rather than restoration of our community, but this is about the most likely aspect of their policy to get dramatically worse under Phil Goff.
  • Cannot really be called centre-left: Centre-left would imply that there are significant aspects of leftism remaining within the caucus and among senior party members. Labour has been a centre party and a staunch supporter of the flawed attempt at free-market capitalism that trade liberals have unleashed on the world since before MMP, and is remaining one after it. Only their focus on reducing unemployment and their staunch social liberals make them a positive force in parliament. (although that’s a pretty big “only”)
  • Environmentally kleptocratic: Despite their big promises of cleaning up New Zealand and moving towards sustainability, Labour put much more effort towards economic development and paid bare lip service to minimising global warming with their softball ETS that was hardly worth supporting.

Now, keep in mind that this is a very complete list in its strongest and most general form. Largely speaking, I think Labour is the third-best Party in Parliament and actually does more good than harm. I think that its policies for the middle class, its Keynesian streak, its financial (if not economic) management of the country, and its tax system are all very good “second bests”. Most of the MPs individually are good people who I have a lot of commonality with politically, they just have enough specifics wrong to drive me half-insane watching them failing so close to getting it right. Presumably even a pretty good government would generate a list at least have as long, and I think this last government has to be admitted as having managed okay on a fair amonut of issues by most of its critics.

But I have deep reservations on the current direction of the Labour Party, its priorities, its conduct, and its trustworthiness, and would not vote for it under any system where I had an ability to really choose another party. Labour has lost its hang of defending civil liberties, privacies, and its social liberals are mired beneath the free trade academics who think they can get a good deal for the country’s working class through imaginary infinite growth. It’s not gonna happen Labour, and you need to stop thinking that anything but a physically static economy can be branded with the word “sustainable”.mong

Reaction: What isn’t wrong with hate crimes legislation

I picked up on an article in the online edition of the Times by John Cloud this morning on the extension of hate crimes legislation in the USA.

Firstly, let me agree with John Cloud on the critical point here: We can neither police what is in someone’s head, nor can we limit their ability to peacefully express their thoughts. This is what freedom of speech as a legislative principle is about. But hate crimes are not free speech, because they’re not speech. Punishing a hate crime more than an ordinary killing, assault, or harassment doesn’t risk punishing people for being wrong- rather, the angle of attack it’s most vulnerable to (and I don’t agree with this, I’m just being straightforward) is that it’s disproportionate punishment.

John claims that this additional strictness in sentencing is to punish someone for thinking bad things. I completely disagree: the extra punishment is because there are two crimes involved, not just one. The obvious crime is the physical or mental harm inflicted by the damage of the crime directly, and John correctly acknowledges that.

However, the less obvious crime is not that minority groups are outraged or encouraged to riot- no, those are reactions, not causes. The less obvious crime is that hate crimes are an act of domination. They tell people of other races, sexualities, or gender identities to shut up, take what they’re given, and to be very afraid that if they don’t comply with what a few violent and hateful individuals think, they will be harassed, hurt, or killed.

While these visions of kyriarchy might be protected inside someone’s head, or as words on paper, or even in a public speech, expressing them as violent crime aimed to intimidate and dominate the wider culture is indeed going further than a regular violent offense, and the harm that these acts of terrorism- and make no mistake, this is how hate crimes are intended to work, to terrify portions of the populace- need to be deterred with whatever extra muscle we can throw at them.

It’s also disingenuous to say that the only thing someone will care about with regard to hate crimes is the actual crime: I care about the motivation because that motivation spreads, and makes it more dangerous for me to be open about who I am, or for transgender people to transition, or for women to be out at night, or any number of other worries that come along with being who you are and doing what you want to. Hate crimes legislation is a strike back, it gives a little more courage, and tells everyone that the government is on your side a little.

John argues hate crimes legislation doesn’t need to extend to private land1 because hate crimes are already falling. I’m going to have to disagree with him that this is a good reason to abandon protective legislation: This law isn’t what’s going to end hate crimes altogether. The biggest reduction to hate crimes will come when everyone can actually understand and empathise with people of different sexualities, races, and gender identities, and I agree that hate crimes legislation, no matter how comprehensive and punitive, will make little difference. The point of hate crimes legislation is to act as a line in the sand, it starts as a symbol and hopefully gets people to think twice about making that leap from merely being wrong, which ought to never be a crime, to doing wrong- which often is. It gives courage to those of us worried about being a victim, and lets us act a little more closely to how free the average rich white guy can. 😉

1I’ll do him the favour of assuming his opposition to the bill proposed is not on the basis of it extending hate crimes protections to include acts of violence based on gender identity or sexual orientation, because I find the idea of someone opposing that appalling. Who knows if that’s optimistic or not?

Another experiment gone by

Well, I’m pre-emptively calling off big gay january, as it appears that thematic concerns, while great for making me do even longer pieces requiring lots of research, have also left me with a raft of half- or quarter-completed posts. It doesn’t help that this idea doesn’t really fit my off-the-cuff analytical writing preference. In that spirit, let’s talk a bit about race instead.

Anyone with at least half a television set has probably heard several times by now about the story of the Israeli woman who was barred from a Turkish restaurant in Invercargill. There have been several forays ’round the bloglines into pro-israeli and pro-palestinian positions, and even some on the incident down south.

Firstly, I’m glad to see so many people realise that throwing someone out of your shop just because they might be associated with a cause you fundamentally oppose is ritualistically insane. The woman involved was not a supporter of the war, she was not saying or doing anything to imply that she was, so this is one man’s (two men’s now, I suppose) attempt at blanket punishment. It’s stupid, it’s petty, and it violates the idea that he has opened a public restaurant. If I lived my life along similar principles there would be few people left who I could actually get along with. This is not the kind of thing that adults do.

I hesitate, however, to call it racism1. Not because there was no element of pre-judging someone by race- clearly there was. But because this was not some systemic attempt by arabs to dominate and oppress Jews. This wasn’t about systemic oppression. This was about an active and violent conflict that people on both sides oppose. And we’d do well to remember that in our condemnation of the incident over here: that this person is someone who took their reaction to what’s happening in their homeland a little far.

On the wider conflict: I disagree with David Farrar on the warcrimes bit, but while respecting his view that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself. Israel has clearly issued a disproportionate response without clear justification, their allegations that Hamas is coaching little kids en masse to lie to Western media is impractical at best, and there is already an internal investigation underway into whether phosphor bombs were used on civilians. (These bombs should only ever be used as smokescreens away from combatants, as they literally melt the skin and lead to an excruciating death that makes the end seem merciful.)

My general take on the wider conflict is that Israel is ignorant and stupid. They are fighting terrorists, not a war. When you fight terrorists you’re essentially fighting a political battle to deplete their funds, shut down their businesses, and tank their popularity. Why? Because there is no viable military solution to the type of terrorism that goes on in the middle east, where suicide-bombing is common, and where Hamas declares victory after Gaza gets the shit blown out of it. That is what makes their response so mind-numbingly unnecessary: not only was it wrong even if it had defended themselves, but in the medium-term it has made the situation worse. These orphaned children will now be prime recruits for the military wing of Hamas. Already weapons and fuel are being smuggled through tunnels, both old ones re-dug and new ones. The only way to end this is to go beyond ceasefire into meaningful and co-operative peace, with two tightly co-operative nations forming in the area that was once the British Mandate of Palestine.

But let me give you no illusions that I support the Palestinians, either. They’re in many ways worse than the Israelis in this conflict. Hamas’ military wing is a terrorist organisation that already has too much international support. Even the socio-political wing of Hamas has this obscene suicide-pact view of victory where they can sacrifice their citizens for a claim on more land that currently is under Israeli control when they sit down to negotiate for real. (Because none of them are under the illusion that they will win by force of arms. They clearly cannot, and terrorism isn’t stopping Israel either.) There is too much concern with “reclaiming what is theirs” and not enough concern with the welfare of their people, even if they have in many ways done a better job than Fatah.
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Why are steps forward always accompanied by a step back?

Firstly: For those hiding under a rock, Barack Obama is now president-elect of the United States of America. I have heard so many amazing stories about this that have brought tears to my eyes, let me issue a completely goofy chuckle at the amazing feeling that having someone like you being your leader for the first time must elicit, (I get a small glimpse of it every time I get to talk with our incredibly successful youth candidates and/or GLBT1 candidates in New Zealand) and generally just lift up my faith in democracy ever so much higher. That’s even discounting the incredible, joyous relief I feel at the idea that the world’s most influential democracy has finally decided that smart candidates who can compromise, open government, and equality of opportunity over a folksy right-wing warhappy radical eco-skeptical neoliberal extremist who struggles with complex sentences and can’t behave himself appropriately on the international stage, but who might be kinda cool to share a drink with and could possibly fit in with you in church.

In short, America has reminded us that we can- and should- choose reform in government, equality, and democratic values. Even if the person bringing them isn’t our ideal candidate.

But it’s also been a bittersweet victory for many Democrats in the United States, and has warned us of wedge issues and the influence of social conservatism on the gay rights agenda. Many states just voted through propositions that revoked or banned gay and lesbian marriage, (usually in the form of a “protection of traditional marriage” proposal) including the incredibly liberal state of California2. In Arkansas even got through one that also bans adoptions by gay or lesbian couples. I’ve also read that much of the US$70 million that anti-equality campaigners spent on getting Proposition 8 passed in california was fund-raised out of state. The idea of more conservative or liberal areas flooding money into ad campaigns for their neighbors in order to enforce their moral agenda there seems somewhat chilling to me.

Had these been issues in the candidate elections, a lot of states could have lost some support among traditionally Democratic demographics3– for instance, 60% of black voters in California favoured Proposition 8. Convincing people that this isn’t about attacking “traditional marriage”, but actually upholding equality and the democratic principle of equal citizenship for all doesn’t just benefit GLBTQI New Zealanders- it can actually potentially change how some New Zealanders vote.

I’m seriously hoping that the results of our own election this Saturday won’t leave me with similar worries
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Why rules are awesome and exceptions suck

Deborah over at The Hand Mirror has an excellent post from a while back on how a tiny exception in Act’s proposed tax cuts devalues women’s labour, by hitting part-timers (who are disproportionately female) with extra tax. This hits on a vein that’s essential to my feelings about not only feminist thought, but also queer rights, race relations, disability issues, and even economic productivity/fairness, so I’d like to expand on Deborah’s objection to an exception that hurts women more than men.

This is a great example of why in all types of complex systems- from Human Rights laws to the tax code to social progression- ideas that can be elegantly expressed as rules that have no exceptions make the best guidelines to live by. (I should point out that adding just a few “inclusions” to a restrictive rule is effectively the same thing as making a more inclusive rule with lots of exceptions, it just cuts down on admin costs a little more.1) Continue reading

We’re all in this together

One of the most frustrating things for me to explain as a feminist and queer rights advocate (and occassional opponent of racism, although as a white male geek I am pretty out of touch on this one, even if one of my family members is in a relationship with a Maori woman) is that injustice spills over from one category into another.

The most obvious starting point of how injustice defies simple categorisation is convergence: Consider a butch, fat, Maori lesbian. She doesn’t only suffer from racism, which is notable especially in the isolation from more peer groups with more emphasis on acadamic achievement and in the systematic discrimination in the enforcement of laws and regulations, but she also suffers multiplicative reinforcement of how different the brownness of her skin makes her. She has to deal with not just being a dyke, but being a fat dyke- stereotyped as unhealthy both physically and emotionally. Because she does not want to act like a stereotypical woman, she will often be isolated from the support of her fellow women in dissuading sexism, and because she’s a lesbian she is likely to lose support from her fellow Maori in solidarity against racism. And because she converges these concerns, her allies against any of her problems- gender roles, body shape, sexism, homophobia, or racism- will also be tarred with the brush of all of those problems.

This is a particular barrier against interracial couples, for instance, especially with Pakeha or white women in relationships with men from cultures that do not accept women’s liberation as a norm- leading to a sort of permanent tension in the relationship between racist undertones and sexist ones. That these kinds of couples succeed and deal with those tensions at all is a wonderful reminder of how small these issues can be when we just acknowledge them and resolve to listen to each other.

Convergence means not only that you experience two types of discrimination, but that those types of discrimination feed off each other and become more than adding up two parts of a whole: discrimination against black women keeps the usually challenged racism, whether invisible and systematic or overt and individualised, disguised under the convenient umbrella of sexism having “achieved its goals”, with the issues holding back women in income being excused as related to education, (despite women doing significantly better than men in formal education) a fair chance to sue for systematic pay discrimination dismissed as frivolous litigation. (women in the United States are currently regarded as having to file within 180 days of the first incidence of this systematic discrimination in order to be eligible to have their case heard)

There’s also what I call overflow. (I’ll admit that I haven’t seen any literature on this one yet. I’ve probably just not looked hard enough) This has created the image of radical, man-hating lesbian feminists that permeates the most brutal sexism. Because feminists support women who have been sorely emotionally traumatised by men and cannot accept them, they are conflated with man-haters. Because feminists have begun to listen to lesbian concerns, feminists are now suspected as being gay in disguise to hide their real agenda. Likewise, men who support feminism are viewed as closeted gays, transsexuals, as being too girly or “not manly enough”, because some male allies have come to the table this way.

Overflow is what makes discrimination against any group a problem for all groups- people who cannot acknowledge their own privilege start to view any significant engagement with the concerns of oppressed groups as wrong, and those of us who are privileged get obstructed by entrenched attitudes for trying to give up advantages we have no right to take for granted. Taking the case of male feminist allies in particular, being the one I’m familiar with, overflow doesn’t just get in the way of things you do to shed your own privilege.

It also involves in people challenging your manhood and conflating you, justified or not, with the groups you sympathise with- because men laugh about these type of things, we’re supposed to joke about clingy ex-girlfriends, and agree Helen Clark is some sort of robotic feminazi dictator machine, because it’s a matter of fact, not of perception- never mind that accepting the factuality of a label involves a certain amount of confirmation bias, because it takes a lot more mental flexibility to turn around labels- like slut, for instance- to apply equally to all groups. And even when this IS done, usually we qualify said labels differently. “Man-slut” is a great example- the qualification implies that men are an exception to the rules- much like calling a bussinessperson a “working woman”. Because apparently it’s unnatural for women to work, or workers to be women 😉