Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who wants to elect a (multi)millionaire?

I've just retreated upstairs to my computer because I couldn't bear to watch another minute of Mike Hosking on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

When we turned it on, a nice-looking woman in blue was in the chair. Here's how Hosking introduced her: "A former beauty queen and 61-year-old grandmother!" Well, that put her in her place. Never mind everything she'd done in between, let alone what her job was (and she did have one, she said she did). It's as if Hosking had introduced John Key as "a former state house kid and father of two".

Come to think of it, that seems to be exactly how Key and his spin-doctors are trying to present him. By the time he came back to New Zealand in 2002 to be installed as National's candidate for Helensville, he was worth more than $50 million.

In his 2002 maiden speech, he spoke of his widowed mother, his humble start, and his desire to give every citizen the opportunity to reach greater heights. But the Sunday Star Times outed him as championing a tougher line on welfare inside the party itself. If he made it, so could everyone else.

Then in 2004, he put down Kiwibank customers as "the poorest, most unprofitable, worst accounts". That was exactly the line Fay Richwhite had used to argue for privatising Postbank and selling off Housing Corp mortgages.

Not worth bothering with, those people. Paying in their pathetic little benefits and wages and then spending almost all of it by the time the next payday came around. Wanting cheap housing loans. Complaining about high bank fees. Whining when branches are closed and they're told to just go and use the internet instead. No profit there.

The fact that these days everyone HAS to have a bank account in order to function was of no interest whatsoever to those guys. As the repulsive wedding venue manager says in Second Hand Wedding, "YP, not MP - your problem, not my problem."

But by 2006, when Key made his first speech as National leader, he'd had a makeover. Once again he played up his upbringing and said there would always be a social welfare system to help the vulnerable.

Exactly how does Kay define who is vulnerable, and what level of support they're entitled to, under what conditions? Despite his much-vaunted sojourn in a state house, he must have enormous difficulty imagining what life is like for ordinary people who don't have even one million to rub together and struggle to afford the most basic home, let alone three multi-million dollar mansions.

For an excellent account of low-wage life, see Metro's story of the incredibly well-organised, hard-working parents Losena ($515 in the hand after 17 years) and Kilifi ($461 in the hand after 13 years). So far they've managed, and Working for Families was a big help. But one slip - job loss, accident, extended illness - and it would all fall apart.

Judging by what's happening at the foodbanks, it's already pretty dire out there now, and getting direr by the day. Welfare benefits increased by 3.2 percent in April, because that's what overall consumer prices rose by in the year to last December. But these delayed increases completely fail to keep up with the actual costs of basic necessities. Food went up by 7 percent in the year to June, and petrol went up by 34 percent. Power prices are jumping again - Contact has just raised them by 10-12 percent.

Key's solution is always the same mantra: economic growth and higher wages for all, plus of course lower taxes and stricter welfare rules. Exactly how this will help the Losenas and Kilifis of the real world out there behind the money markets where Key made his millions is never made clear.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Happy Women's Suffrage Day

Hands up everyone who knew that 19 September is Women's Suffrage Day, marking the day in 1893 when New Zealand became the first country where women had the right to vote in general elections. [Take no notice of the fact that my blog insists it's still 18 September - that's what comes of using a Google template, it's based on US time.] Of course, it isn't a national holiday or anything like that! (Though it was good to see a call for it to become one in the Christchurch Press today, and also on the Green's frogblog.)

Mine began with breakfast at Victoria University, put on by the Association of University Staff, but it wasn't exactly a celebration. The speaker was Judy McGregor, Equal Opportunities Commissioner. She pointed out that that while only 20% of professors are women, only one university still has a full-time EEO officer.

Later Celia Briar from the pay equity unit said that while universities now make great play with the fact that 50% of staff are women, they omit to mention that 70% of women staff are in positions such as tutor and assistant lecturer. These are not simply "entry-level" positions - considerable numbers of women staff are still in them at retirement. They are dead-end jobs with no promotion prospects - so not the "bottom rung" at all, but the "ivory basement".

Meanwhile the gender and women's studies core programme at Victoria, which began in 1974 as one of the first such programmes in the country, is at serious risk. Some people argue that we don't need GWS any more because it's now so well mainstreamed in other courses. There are 1086 courses at Victoria, but only 55 of them even mention anything at all to do with gender or women. Tourism, for example, analyses visitors to NZ by age, origin and gender. That has about as much to do with women's studies as TVNZ's police programme has to do with its charter obligations to Maori.

I have visions of disillusioned young women in 30 or 40 years' time reinventing the feminist wheel all over again and discovering its hidden history, just as we did back in the 1970s. "Look!" they'll say, "We once had a woman prime minister! And women's studies courses! What happened?"

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Palin PS: Other people's daughters: Sarah Palin's policy stance on teen pregnancy

I'm grateful to Frida for directing me to author Maureen Johnson's brilliant blog entry on teen pregnancy and its link to information about Sarah Palin's policy stance.

Palin has (a) opposed sex education that includes contraception information, and (b) slashed funds for organisations that provide practical help to young pregnant women. She didn't liken herself to a pitbull for nothing. (By the way, am I the only one who recalls that identical 80s joke about the only difference between Ruth(anasia) Richardson and a rottweiler? Only back then, it wasn't meant as a compliment.)

How the US elects its president: If, like me, you have a somewhat hazy idea of how the presidential electoral system works (once the candidates are nominated, that is) you'll find this post very useful. Many thanks, Legal Beagle!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Is Bristol Palin's pregnancy relevant?

In response to my last post, Frida writes, "Thanks for your thoughts on this Anne - I've been reading posts about Sarah Palin from many US women bloggers and was becoming uncomfortable with the extent to which her 17 year old daughter was being pulled into the debate about Palin's suitability for office. It seems to me that Palin's positions on abortion and sex education are relevant, her daughter's pregnancy (and the identify of the alleged father-to-be) is absolutely not. Am I missing something? What do you think?"

In normal circumstances, no, it would not be relevant. But in the extremely weird world of US presidential elections, there is no such thing as irrelevance. The right-wing commentators have repeatedly pilloried Obama for his choice of salad - "elitist" arugula (rocket) instead of "regular" iceberg lettuce.

Moreover, the conservative Christian right has repeatedly used teen sex and pregnancy - particularly black teenage pregnancy - as a symbol of what's wrong with America, and with their opponents' "liberal" values. (Remember the rumour that helped Bush beat McCain for selection last time - that McCain's adopted child of Indian descent was in fact his illegimate child by an African-American woman?) They have also insisted that abstinence is the only acceptable way for teens to prevent pregnancy (or sexually transmitted diseases). So now their sudden conviction that teen pregnancy is simply a private family matter rings a little hollow, and is a political gambit in itself. In this context, Bristol's pregnancy cannot be ignored.

As The Economist points out, the abortion issue "still distorts American politics". The Bush administration "apppointed so many incompetents" because they were firmly anti-choice - even where the positions at stake had nothing to do with abortion. McCain is said to have selected Palin over Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge "because their pro-choice views are anathema to the Christian right". No matter how often Palin claims that Bristol made her own choice, her pregnancy, like the birth of Trig Palin, has inevitably become a symbol of Sarah Palin's own position.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why being a woman is not enough

The long gap in posts is because I've had my son staying, on holiday from his job teaching English in China. I treated his two weeks with me as my midwinter holiday, and we had a great time doing perfectly ordinary things, like having morning tea at the magnificently retro Martha's Pantry, eating lunch at Sweet Mother's Kitchen, and going to see the marvellous Rita Angus exhibition at Te Papa, followed by Mamma Mia (loved all those older women leaping energetically about the place, but I'm afraid poor Pierce Brosnahan was TOTALLY miscast).

But now he's gone and it's back to real life, complete with the advent of yet more rain, and the even more depressing advent of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate. She's a woman, yes. But that's sort of beside the point.

As the gorgeous Jon Stewart went to some pains to point out on The Daily Show (10.30 pm Tues-Fri on C4, in case you're missing it), she claims that her pregnant 17-year-old daughter Bristol made her own choice to proceed with the pregnancy, but wants the law to deny all other women the right to any other choice. So she opposes abortion, but supports the death penalty and the war in Iraq and gun rights (she's a staunch member of the National Rifle Association).

She has only recently obtained a passport, and although she is now Governor of Alsaka, her political experience has been mainly as the mayor of a town of 9000 people. And given that McCain is 72 and in far from perfect health, she is literally a heartbeat away from the presidency.

The really scary thing is that McCain is currently (as of 5/9/08) at level pegging with Barack Obama. This does not surprise me. If Obama had been called John Smith, I think he would have stood a much better chance of being elected. But ever since Hillary was defeated, I've feared that too many voters - including too many Democrats - will get into that booth and decide that voting for a non-white man who is half Kenyan, is vaguely connected with Muslims and has a very strange name which sounds uncannily like Osama is just a stretch too far. Sadly the advent of Sarah Palin has made the prospect of a McCain victory even more appalling than it was before.

PS: Elsewoman gets an award! I was immensely pleased to see that The Hand Mirror chose Elsewoman as one of its seven best blogs for the Brilliante Award - yay! Now all I have to do is choose another seven blogs and put the Award pic on this site - but I haven't figured out how to do that yet!