Indentured Servitude, Modern Asian Style.

datePosted on 23:26, February 21st, 2009 by Pablo

A few weeks back I wrote a post about European complicity in an Asian experiment in developmental authoritarianism. Aside from one blogger who felt that the post was racist because I noted the Confucian justification for this particular brand of authoritarianism, most readers understood that my points were simple: that when living in an authoritarian country one does not have to subscribe to the local cultural logics and ideological justifications for oppression; and it is dangerous for small liberal democracies like NZ to have returning ex-pats and new immigrants who subscribe to such logics assume positions of political and economic control.

Now I will give a specific example of why I believe this to be true. It involves the plight of maids in the Asian state in which I reside.

In this country maids are not covered by local labour law. They are required to learn English before their arrival. Employers are required to post a $5000 bond for securing their services, which is forfeitable if the maid engages in “unacceptable” behaviour. Such behaviour include getting pregnant, drinking in public and consorting with foreigners. By law, maids have zero days off per year–read that again: ZERO days off. The length of the working day and conditions are set by the employer. By law, maids have to be foreign, in this case usually Philipine, Indonesian, Indian, Bangladeshi, Thai, or mainland Chinese. They must always be female, and they must, unless otherwise specified, be under the age of 30. Maid recruitment agencies specialise in different nationalities depending on the employers preferences. Some employers want docile characters, some want ethnic kin, some want high school grads, some want children-friendly, some want cleanliness freaks, some want sultry, some want young (18 is the legal age for contracting a maid). It all depends on the employer’s penchants and proclivities. For their service, maids are paid, in a very generous household, a salary of $200/week.

Maid quarters are most often windowless cubicles located off an open air laundry with a toilet, washbasin and cold water shower. In many cases the maid cubicle has external locks to prevent their unauthorised exit from the employer’s premises.

Given the bond requirements, there is no incentive for employers to allow the maids out of sight. Thus the no-holiday rule plays neatly into the employer’s (and the state’s) rationale. To be sure, an employer can forfeit  the bond if the maid, say, falls to her death while cleaning the windows of a high-rise apartment (that has happened). But the thrust of the laws are to control the maids, not protect them. The servitude of the maids is such that foreign MNCs calculate in their relocation packages not only the costs of losing the bond should the maids of their executives misbehave, but also the costs of the maid being upgraded to the status of domestic partner (which is common to the point of becoming a joke amongst resident expat Europeans). 

The incidence of maid abuse is a well guarded but open secret. Since they are not covered by labour law, any maid subject to sexual, physical, financial or emotional abuse must report the complaint to the Police. The Police are wary of “he said, she said” type of complaints and are ordered to be suspicious of foreign nationals in any event, so it takes an extraordinary (young) woman to make a formal complaint knowing that the best result will be her deportation.

NZ has strong diplomatic, economic and security ties with this country. In fact, it has  a Free Trade Agreement with this country as well as a defense partnership. NZ-born executives populate the upper reaches of its managerial elite, and they enjoy the services of these maids. NZ fetes this country’s leaders whenever they visit. In fact, NZ uses this particular country as a model for economic development in a trade-dependent state. Yet at no point, either under Labour or National, has the NZ government questioned the propriety of close relations with a country that uses indentured servants as part of its economic development. The country in question is not the PRC–that is a whole other kettle of stinking fish.

There is much more to this picture but I will stop with this question. Do you, as a New Zealander, countenance close state-to-state relations with a country that uses indentured servitude as a component of its development strategy?

Who is this guy?

datePosted on 23:05, February 21st, 2009 by Lew

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the news over the past year or three, you’ve seen his face hundreds of times. You know who he is and what he stands for. You’d probably know who you were listening to if you heard his voice on the radio.

But can you name him, based on this close-up full-frontal portrait?

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(Answer and story here)

L

Hate crimes law so that the Police can collect stats?!

datePosted on 18:18, February 21st, 2009 by Anita

TV3 had a piece in the first segment tonight about the Police wanting hate crimes legislation. Oddly they twice said that the reason the Police want the change in legislation is so that they can collect statistics on racially motivated crimes.

This makes me puzzle about four things:

  1. What are the racially motivated incidents that the Police currently can’t prosecute but would like to?
  2. Can’t the motivation of a crime already be used as part of the sentencing decision?
  3. If the Police want to capture statistics about racially motivated crimes why can’t they do that now?
  4. The Police are abysmal at responding to information requests, often saying they don’t have the data (even when it’s clear they once did), what would they do with these extra statistics?

Either way around, I’d be pretty uncomfortable with the idea that something is criminal because it is motivated by racism, rather than because of its actual outcomes – if you hit someone because they’re Asian it’s just as wrong as hitting them because they’re queer, or remind you of your ex, or because you’d had too much to drink.

[I recommend Rich and Lew's posts about hate speech legislation which canvas some of this area]

Women are paying for bankers’ excesses

datePosted on 12:26, February 20th, 2009 by Anita

The recession is spoken about as if it is universal: blind to gender, class and race it will hurt us all. Yet the reality is that groups which are already disadvantaged will pay the biggest price: not only are they they worst affected, but our government is providing them with the least support.

This is not the first time this pattern has occurred, the Asian recession in the 1990s forced women out of the workforce and back into the kitchen, or overseas, or into sex work. This recession is no different, early last year a US Senate committee investigated the impact of the growing recession and reported

These findings clearly demonstrate the severe and disproportionate impact of this recession on women and their families.

Analysis in the UK similarly predicts more severe effects on women. In New Zealand no-one seems to have done the research yet, but there’s every reason to expect the same outcome: women will experience redundancy, loss of hours, and reduced pay at greater rates than men.

So our government’s response? Well there are the tax cuts, which will disproportionately benefit men, there’s the economic stimulus package which appears targetted toward working men and, of course, Tony Ryall’s instructions to the public sector to suppress women’s pay.

National is determined to keep bankers in business, corporates afloat, construction workers busy, and boost the pay packets of the wealthy; women should expect no help as their jobs, hours and pay are cut.

Four-day week – analysis?

datePosted on 23:17, February 19th, 2009 by Lew

Since I spend my workday up to my eyeballs in the media, it’s very rare that I watch ONE News Tonight, and even rarer that I come across something I don’t already know.

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(Red Planet Cartoons)

Today, I managed to elude the fact that the government is considering support for a four-day week for businesses which might otherwise consider layoffs, paying (part of?) the fifth day’s income, while staff undertake training or community work. Until Tonight, that is. This seems to me an excellent idea, if it can be well-implemented. It accounts for the necessary scaling-back in production which some industries will experience, while subsidising future productivity increases to come from improving the skill base of NZ workers, which means that once the recession passes, the country will be better-positioned to hit the ground running, as it were, and enable the government to pay back the debt which will necessarily accrue from the scheme.

(As a sidebar: that a National government is even considering such a thing represents a huge change in political culture.)

There are certainly pro- and contra- arguments to this sort of scheme which I’ve not considered; as you can tell by the cartoon, I’m not unaware of the general uselessness of make-work-for-the-sake-of-making-work schemes. Friedman’s quote, on the linked site, is especially well-taken:

“If all we want are jobs, we can create any number — for example, have people dig holes and then fill them up again, or perform other useless tasks. [...] Our real objective is not just jobs but productive jobs”

The question is one of implementation: what would be necessary for a make-work scheme which results in productivity improvements down the line to be better than redundancy – the consequent productivity increase that brings as they try to better themselves, less the productivity drain they represent, being out of money and therefore not consuming, or on welfare?

This is a complex question, and I invite you to argue your corner. But please, I’m not interested in ideology-bound doggerel of the `OMG statist corrupt meddling communism’ sort, or its inverse – I’m not an economist, but I expect a high standard of analysis, the more formal the better.

L

Three strikes: providing an incentive to kill

datePosted on 19:55, February 19th, 2009 by Anita

Chris has used up two strikes; a pub fight, and getting caught carrying a knife during a burglary. Back out of jail it’s hard to find work, money’s really tight, and old habits kick back in so late one night Chris opens a window in an dark house in an expensive street.

Part way through checking through the house for valuables, there is a noise, and a light turns on. Grabbing a knife Chris sees a woman standing in the doorway to her bedroom. Chris has two options:

  1. Run out the front door – knowing that if the woman picks Chris out of a line-up or the Police solve it with forensics it’ll be a life sentence for aggravated burglary; or
  2. Stab her – if she’s dead there’ll be no line up, so unless the Police can solve it with forensics there won’t even be a trial.

Curran confirmed

datePosted on 16:56, February 19th, 2009 by Lew

I can confirm claims by Trevor Mallard and Clare Curran on The Standard that Curran attempted to prevent the guilt by accusation copyright law from taking effect by today seeking leave to introduce a bill, but was prevented from doing so by National members. Audio is here.

Scoop also confirms it.

L

Very sadly ironic, indeed

datePosted on 11:32, February 19th, 2009 by Lew

DPF has just blogged on the murder of Aasiya Hassan. He comments on the irony of an apparently reformist Muslim beheading his wife in a way resembling an honour-killing. The irony he doesn’t seem to see is that he is guilty of doing the very thing he claims is a problem, when he says

The problem is when people apply a stereotype to all individuas in a group, rather than treat people as individuals.

The fact is that murders, like suicides and like rapes, are committed by people from all strata of society, from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and by and large for the same sorts of reasons. This includes honour-killings, which occur frequently enough (and are tacitly accepted as being `provoked’, attracting less opprobrium and lesser sentences) in western cultures as well – just using different methods, and not formally defined as such. We call them by the more appealing handle `crimes of passion’. Such acts are committed using methods and technologies which are readily available to the murderer, both in a physical sense of I-can-get-my-hands-on-it and in the cultural sense of that’s-just-how-it’s-done. Middle-class [Anglo-American] people tend to use poisons and firearms; working-class [Anglo-American] people knives or blunt objects or nooses, and so on. That a Muslim man, wronged in his marriage, might resort to beheading is as obvious as saying that he might have shot her if he was a white middle-class American. But DPF implicitly privileges some murder methods over others, and implies that Hassan might have avoided the stereotype by choosing another method, as if the method – not the fact of the killing – was the important thing.

David is appealing to the symbolic nature of a beheading to demonstrate that the stereotypes about Muslims are well-founded, rather than treating this murder as an individual case, as he preaches.

This is a bone thrown to the wolves of the KBR, but unusually, this one does not make David look sensible by comparison.

L

Edit: Added [Anglo-American] above to distinguish the generalisation somewhat.

Ka ora!

datePosted on 23:27, February 18th, 2009 by Lew

Ka ora! (I live!) – the triumphant second part of the famous challenge in Te Rauparaha’s haka Ka Mate, composed after his narrow escape from seemingly-certain death. Ka mate is itself a symbol of life and vigour and indomitable spirit, a rowdy celebration of vitality, and one of the most vivid and tangible symbols of New Zealand culture, both for Māori and for Tau Iwi, and much-loved and admired by people the world over, so ubiquitous that many simply know it as the haka, as if there were none other.

Now the rights to this famous tāonga are to be vested in Te Rauparaha’s descendants, Ngāti Toa Rangatira. This is a sore spot for many people, who for the reasons above feel as if they have a stake in Ka Mate as well. Much of this hearkens back to the old `iwi/kiwi’ rhetoric of the 2005 election campaign, and in particular I’d like to point to one small exchange which I think illustrates that that rhetorical line no longer has quite the currency it did; then I’d like to engage with the actual matter of the issue: the meeting of intellectual property, identity and mātauranga Māori.

Backdown

haka13The Rod Emmerson cartoon at right appeared on the front page of the New Zealand Herald on 11 February 2009, the day the Letter of Agreement between Ngāti Toa Rangatira and the Crown was signed, and is the most direct reference to the old iwi/kiwi debate. The image was also attached to the online story. However, that day during Question Time, Minister for Treaty Negotiations Chris Finlayson harshly criticised the cartoon, saying it was “puerile and inaccurate [...] highly offensive to Ngāti Toa. We are not talking about that kind of redress”. This position was reiterated by John Key, and was the subject of another article the following day. They’re absolutely right: as I will demonstrate below there is no merit whatsoever to the argument.

After Finlayson’s statement in Parliament, the cartoon was detached from the article – but it remains on the NZ Herald’s server, and that it was attached to the article is proven by google images. Tangentially, the cartoon appears to be one of a batch by Emmerson, including this one, very similarly composed. At least two other cartoons emphasised the financial issue – Mike Moreu’s and Tom Scott’s.

The importance of this very minor editorial backdown by the NZ Herald is huge. I’m not arguing that Finlayson’s statement in the House caused the Herald to take it down, but it was undoubtedly an influence: perhaps the Herald saw that the tide has turned. The very fact that a National Minister would so firmly repudiate such an allegation of graft among Māori business interests, against the editorial line of both our major press outlets, shows how far they have come since the bad old days of Don Brash’s populist point-scoring. It also shows that they’re in government and mean to stay there.

Rights

People talk about `intellectual property’ as if it’s unified by a central legal idea, or created from whole cloth. In fact the whole realm is a minefield of social, legal, technical, customary and common-law complexity from several intellectual traditions, dating back to the enlightenment, and very poorly updated to encompass things which have happened since. The S92 protests currently underway are an example of its deep and thorough dysfunction. It’s vastly more ugly and complicated than you might think: for an excellent critique of the whole system, I can recommend none better than Drahos and Braithwaite, Information Feudalism. Incidentally, like Richard Stallman, I abhor the term `intellectual property’ for this reason; though unlike him I don’t eschew its use when talking about the whole awful mess together.

When people talk about `intellectual property’, usually they mean `copyright’ but want to sound knowledgeable. Even when people talk about `copyright’ they are usually, in fact, mixing up two quite distinct parallel traditions: economic rights of copyright, and moral rights of the author. Simply; economic rights allow the copyright holder to extract a rent from a work, while moral rights afford other sorts of protection, such as the requirement of attribution. The two sets of rights can exist independently or apart; they need not necessarily go together, but can coexist happily if need be. The discourse inherent in the cartoons above, and in much of the news copy, is rooted in the supposition that economic rights are the only rights, and that Ngāti Toa Rangatira must therefore be looking to extract a rent from Ka Mate (even if only a piffling, `dollar dollar’ for the single most famous piece of Māori art in existence). This is also the foundation of Whale Oil’s rather smug argument that, since NZ copyright allows for a term of 50 years after the death of the author, copyright on Ka Mate lapsed in 1899 and it’s now in the public domain.

As is so often the case, the reality is quite different. The Letter of Agreement mentions nothing of the sort – no discussion of economic or moral rights, or of copyright, or even of that broadest of terms, `intellectual property’. No, the complete text in the LoA relating to Ka Mate is as follows:

- Ka Mate haka

The settlement legislation will also record the authorship and significance of the haka Ka Mate to Ngāti Toa and the Crown will work with Ngāti Toa to address their concerns with the haka in a way that balances their rights with those of the wider public.

The Crown does not expect that redress will result in royalties for the use of Ka Mate or provide Ngāti Toa with a veto on the performance of Ka Mate. Ngāti Toa’s primary objective is to prevent the misappropriation and culturally inappropriate use of the Ka Mate haka.

This stops well short of even the weakest copyright protection. It implies a subset of moral rights, and explicitly enjoins exercise of economic rights. The entire line of argument is therefore completely discredited, and if anything, Ngāti Toa Rangatira are faced with a hard task of staking a claim in any way other than the symbolic. If they choose – and there’s the big question nobody is asking.

Colonising Mātauranga Māori

Suppose Ngāti Toa Rangatira had been offered exclusive, authorial economic and moral rights to Ka Mate. Should they accept? Ultimately, of course, this is a matter of utility for that iwi, and them alone – but let me sketch a few of the issues in play. First, and most obviously, the adoption of Tau Iwi systems of knowledge ownership for mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) is a dangerous business. Those who have legitimate entitlement to the mātauranga might be prevented from exercising it by colonial IP laws; more importantly, the nature of the mātauranga itself is impacted upon by its presence within a framework, and the degree of codification and specification that requires. As M A Hemi said regarding the use of Māori terms in the Resource Management Act,

Māori concepts when treated in isolation are incapable of proper function and development. In fact, any concept when divorced from its cultural base is subject to dysfunction and cultural reinterpretation or hi-jack. (Quoted in Mason Durie, Te Mana, Te Kāwanatanga, p33.)

Nevertheless, there can be great utility in protecting these things by colonial means, in order to prevent their exploitation by colonial systems. This is the foundation for the WAI 262 claim, to my knowledge the longest-running and most complex claim ever brought to the Waitangi Tribunal, with enormous precedent value. And why shouldn’t they see any tangible economic benefits from their mātauranga now, given that for generations it has been exploited and co-opted and adapted without their consent or input, and to great commercial gain?

The question is a live one – ka ora.

L

Perspective

datePosted on 07:33, February 18th, 2009 by Lew

The Standard and Kiwiblog last night, but not for the first time, crystallised what it is to be two sides of the same political coin. Both covered Health Minister Tony Ryall’s removal* of Richard Thomson from the Otago DHB chair using, respectively, the verbs to sack the old one and to appoint the new one. The difference in emphasis couldn’t be clearer.

For what it’s worth, DPF’s headline is more correct. Ryall didn’t actually fire Richard Thomson, he has been removed from the chair but will remain a DHB member (though the Herald article referenced in the Standard post also uses the `sack’ terminology). On the other hand, I think Tane’s analysis is more correct – Thompson has been removed from the post for political reasons more than for reasons of governance. However the governance failure was bad enough that Ryall was on safe ground in doing so – he’s got two birds with one stone here.

L

* see how hard it is to avoid partisan terminology?

[Edit: Silly me for believing the Herald - it's spelt Richard Thomson - changed.]

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