...being the online presence of Steve McCabe himself
What Steve said...
...being a potpourri of musings, ideas, opinions and conjecture.
So I had a very disappointing experience at my local Countdown the other day. I got to the checkout to pay for my carefully-selected, budget-conscious, healthy groceries, and the cashier wouldn’t accept my payment.
Problem was that the contribution my employer has offered me to deal with this cost of living crisis is its gratitude. And it turns out that your employer’s gratitude doesn’t pay the actual bills.
But that’s all my tertiary-education colleagues have left to pay for life’s little luxuries with – you know, things like food, and the rent, and petrol, and the electricity bill.
And that’s all we have left because our pay has not quite kept up, while the prices of all these things climb and climb, like a beanstalk with all the gold at the top, where it stays with the giants who own the banks, supermarkets, rental properties, oil companies and power companies.
When the cost of living has gone up by about 8% in the last year, but your employer offers you a 3% pay rise, that’s effectively a pay cut. And our tertiary employers know this. That why they make sure their pay goes up decently.
We have heard recently about the context for these numbers, and how universities’ vice-chancellors have received some quite eye-watering salary boosts.
They did dropinto the mid-six-figure range in 2021, many of them, acknowledging that pay restraint was appropriate at that time.
Those salaries are mostly back to where they used to be, and then some; apparently pay restraint for vice chancellors is no longer appropriate, but an absolute necessity for their staff.
And the picture is no less ugly elsewhere in the tertiary sector.
AUT have recently announced plans to slash 170 full-time academic jobs, while their vice chancellor, Damon Salesa, trousers even more than Massey’s Jan Thomas, who famously saw her salary shoot up 18% this year.
At my employer, Te Pūkenga, the new national super-polytechnic, my boss, Peter Winder, has recently told me and my colleagues that he needs to find $35m in savings – quite possibly including cuts to programmes that aren’t generating enough revenue.
Winder makes around $600,000 a year. If he’s looking for cuts, I can think of a really good way to save half a million right there.
Now, we’re told that VCs and CEs have to get paid salaries best expressed as fractions of a million, while their staff in turn get paid fractions of that, because that’s the only way to attract the very best.
But if the best you can come up with is cutting programmes, or firing about 8% of your lecturers, then, seriously, what the hell are you doing raking in over half a million dollars a year? For that kind of money, you really need to have some more creative solutions.
Of course, the problem isn’t really that polytechnics and universities need to cut staff, or programmes, or even VC salaries (although on fundamental principles they absolutely should be cut, and substantially; there is absolutely no justification for paying Dawn Freshwater of Auckland University over three quarters of a million dollars a year).
The problem is not that too much money is going out; the problem is that nowhere near enough money is going in.
At least, it’s not going in where it’s most needed – at the front lines, keeping courses and programmes open, ensuring that the salaries of academics and support staff, the footsoldiers who do the real heavy lifting at the various unis and polys across the motu, keep up with the cost of living.
Instead, we’re seeing yet another layer of administration being slotted in to Te Pūkenga, this time at the regional level, with quarter-million-dollar salaries for the successful applicants.
Te Hautū Kahurangi, the Tertiary Education Union, supports the substantial change that Te Pūkenga was meant to bring – a collaborative, rather than a competitive, approach to vocational education.
But the “improved” funding system the Reform of Vocational Education (Rove) promised us back in 2019, in the Before Times, appears to be slipping back to the “managerialism” that has been creeping into the universities of Aotearoa for some time now and Rove was meant to move away from.
Despite the education minister saying that “an investment in tertiary education pays back to the government more than it costs many, many times over”; and despite a Labour government with an unprecedented majority and the once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something truly revolutionary, to implement meaningful change; tertiary education is woefully underfunded.
Investment in tertiary education is not just spending, a necessary evil that needs to be covered as cheaply as possible. It’s an investment in the future of the country.
It’s absolutely needed to pay to train the nurses who have kept this country going through the long, long years of the pandemic. It’s vital if we want to keep training more plumbers, and electricians, and builders, to construct the houses that we urgently need.
Our employers know this, our employers whose salaries have stayed quite buoyant, while we lecturers and professors and tutors and academic, the ones who do the actual core business of our institutions, along with the professional staff without whom we would not be able to do our jobs, see our pay go backward.
Our employers, our generously-compensated VCs and chief executives, know that we are the ones who kept the doors open, kept the teaching going, through the Covid years, all the while trying to keep ourselves as sane as possible through the greatest existential crisis most of us have ever experienced.
They know this; we know they know because of all the lovely emails they have routinely sent out telling us how much they value our mahi, how much they understand how hard we’ve worked, how important we are.
But that gratitude and that appreciation won’t pay the bills. A fair pay settlement will.
This article first appeared in Stuff.
ACT’s recently-released truancy policy is, even by the spectacularly dismal standards of most of David Seymour’s thought-dumps, quite inspirationally ridiculous. Nobody is denying that education is quite vitally important. But nobody who actually works in education would agree that ACT’s ideas for addressing attendance concerns would do anything to actually improve the these concerns.
Seymour would like to impose infringement notices for parents whose children don’t attend school on quite the terms he would approve of. The policy ACT have published doesn’t include a number, so we’ll have to assume they’ll be comparable to the amounts that police can levy for speeding fines, which is what the policy likens these penalties to. And let’s not forget—a fine is only a punishment if you can’t afford it. For the wealthy, a fine is just another expense. Booking the family’s annual trip to Hawaii? Just add truancy fines as an other line in the budget, between the nasty flowered shirts and the business-class air fares. But for the parents of decile-1 schools that this policy purports to address, even the $30 which is the lowest current speeding fine is a substantial financial blow, one that quite possibly won’t get paid, which then serves only to lead the family further into the criminal-justice maze from which it becomes harder and harder to escape.
So let’s not criminalise a problem needlessly, especially not before we’ve made an honest and fair attempt to understand it first. Seymour’s reactionary policy wants children found out of school returned to school by roving teams of truancy police. But has Seymour ever stopped to ask why those children might be out of school?
I doubt it, but I have. I had to. I taught in a decile-1 south Auckland high school for eight years, and every day I was expected by my management to phone parents and find out why children in my classes had been absent that day. But it often wasn’t parents who were raising, or caring for, these children. It was often grandparents, or aunties, or big sisters—not, incidentally, the parents who Christopher Luxon says “had the kid, it’s your responsibility to make sure they have the education you never had.”
And there were reasons—reasons that clearly don’t occur to David Seymour—why children weren’t in school. A child whose uniform was ripped, the family couldn’t afford a new one, and the child would be put in detention for being out of uniform. A child who was unwell, but didn’t have a sick note because the family couldn’t afford a visit to the GP. A child who missed the first lesson of the morning because she was dropping her little brothers off at primary school. A child who couldn’t get to school because it was pouring with rain and the family had no petrol for the car. There are myriad reasons, mainly revolving round the fact that the families of decile-1 schools live, by definition, in poverty that the Member for Epsom has no comprehension of. And as a result, those schools, and their students and families, have problems that require massively more nuanced thinking than David Seymour has shown himself capable of to date.
He fails, for example, to take into account, the children who simply don’t need to be in school right now. Please believe me when I tell you that many children are simply not in an emotional or psychological place, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months at a time, to be in a classroom. You’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you that for a small, but very significant, number of children, the classroom is the wrong place to be, and time away from school is better for them, better for their classmates and their learning, and better for the health and safety of everyone who has to share a classroom with them.
Seymour does offer some financial support to schools, to be used to hire truancy officers who can whip children into school. He clearly doesn’t realise that this would duplicate the mahi of the attendance officers many schools already hire. And he clearly doesn’t realise that the money he wants to spend there might well be better spent on making low-decile schools a more attractive place for students to be. As a teacher, I hated coming to a school with roofs that leaked after a light rain, a heating system that failed annually and left me teaching in a classroom that registered only eight degrees Celsius, corridors so mouldy they were making students and teachers sick.
Make schools attractive. Invest the money in building—not renovating, but building from scratch—schools that kids can feel welcome and wanted in.
And try—go on, David, just try it—to pivot from the punitive and the criminalising to actually understanding the problem. It’s less viscerally satisfying, and it might not get the voters of Remuera frothing with righteous indignation at those wagging guttersnipes and their feckless parents. But it might just actually start to solve the problem.
Since 1996, over the course of seven general elections, New Zealand and its politicians have seen that the country’s MMP electoral system inevitably leads to coalitions, partnerships, confidence-and-supply agreements — almost any possible combination of parties and ways of cobbling together a government other than through a simple majority of seats in Parliament. Every election so far under the current system has been followed by horse-trading between the major parties and a clutch of smaller ones who understand that influence, with a relative absence of responsibility, can be almost as valuable as actual power.
So how could New Zealand, and its political leaders, have been so surprised at the end of September 23rd this year, when, after an election campaign that was, admittedly, a little unusual, with neither major-party leader having been been in place at the start of the year, it became clear that neither Labour nor incumbents National would have enough seats, yet again, to form a government without some kind of support from a lesser party?
It’s hard to imagine any of Jacinda Ardern, Bill English or Winston Peters waking up on the morning of Sunday 24th and thinking “Well, whaddaya know — a hung parliament. I really didn’t see that coming.” It’s hard to imagine that James Shaw saw the results of the election and wondered why he wasn’t the new prime minister.
But, a fortnight on from the election, we’re still waiting for Winston Peters to, it would appear, lick his finger, stick it in the wind, and decide where to bestow his favour. It beggars belief that he and his advisors didn’t rehearse every possible scenario, every possible outcome. There can’t possibly have been that many possibilities — either Labour or National, with the latter the favourite, would be the dominant party in Parliament, and the only question really must have been just how much momentum Ardern had managed to generate, how much she could narrow the gap between Labour and National. But surely nobody, realistically, imagined that any party would have an outright majority, if only for the very simple reason that in the previous seven elections, in the previous two decades, no party had ever managed this under MMP.
It’s similarly unlikely that Ardern’s and English’s advisors also were taken by surprise. They might be lack experience as party leaders, but they’re both astute politicians with party leaderships, advisory panels, gurus, mentors behind them – they would both have been acutely aware that there was little to no chance of either of them walking off with the title of prime minister immediately after this election. So, again, it is hard to believe that either party had failed to sketch out plans for every possible permutation ahead of the election.
So why are we waiting, currently almost three weeks, to find out who will lead New Zealand’s next government? The answer has to be Winston Peters. He has, at this stage, little, indeed no, real chance of becoming New Zealand’s first Māori prime minister, an accomplishment that would have been quite remarkable but which will now never be his. It’s his last chance to be significant, in all likelihood, his last hurrah, his last chance to pretend that the baubles of office mean nothing to him, his last chance for a bespoke cabinet post, his last opportunity to wield if not power then influence.
NZ First were supposed to announce their decision on which major party to side with, and in what way, today. And Peters has today said that his self-imposed deadline has slipped now to Saturday, three weeks after the election. It’ll be hard for Peters finally to declare for either the National Party or for a Labour-Green coalition — once he’s played his hand, the media will turn their attention to the prime minister, whichever party’s leader might assume that office, and away from Winston, who’ll no longer be the kingmaker, and will have to start to find ways to make sure he’s more than just a pawn.
The delay, then, isn’t about policies. Yes, there’s a lot to thrash out; no, it can’t be rushed. But the pretence that Peters, and to a lesser degree Ardern and English, are maintaining, that there were no preconceived ideas of how negotiations should take place before the electoral dust settled, is absurd. Peters knows exactly what he wants, and that’s to be on centre stage. Once he’s declared, he’l have, inevitably, to step back, to let go of control. Right now he’s the only person that matters in New Zealand’s political media, and it’s clear that he’s relishing the prominent. As soon as he anoints the next prime minister, though, it’ll all be over, and what Peters and his party, who at this stage might better be called Winston Peters First, are most concerned about is how long they can prolong their moment in the sun — because when it’s over, it’s all over for Peters, and that will be very, very hard for him to bear.
America’s Declaration Of Independence has, it would appear, a fair bit of small print that tends to be glossed over. Just as Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” line has an invisible asterisk next to it leading to a footnote saying “except for my slaves,” there is, also, it appears, another asterisk by Jefferson’s assertion that life is foremost among the liberties self-evidently bestowed on all men by their creator, with the accompanying footnote “Second Amendment notwithstanding.” Which is odd, because the Bill Of Rights wasn’t written for another thirteen years.
But it’s increasingly clear that no American can assume that a right to life is fundamental, that instead the right to keep and bear arms will always trump that right. And it’s increasingly clear that Americans are quite fine with this. Another several dozen dead at the hands of a murderous, and absurdly well-armed, wanker are proof that Americans really do seem to think that owning guns is a more fundamental and important right than being able to stay safely alive.
Almost as the echoes of gunfire are still sounding in Las Vegas, the procession of “thoughts and prayers” tweets and messages started, as it always does. Thoughts and prayers are with [insert latest city to be victim of a mass shooting], we read, thoughts and bloody prayers, as though magical thinking will make it all better.
It won’t. But it’s easy to tweet “thoughts and prayers,” that vapid, platitudinous, virtue-signalling empty meaninglessness that makes the tweeter feel so much better without having to address the problem at hand. The problem, for the record, is that so far this year — this year, that’s barely three-quarters over — there have been over 260 (It’s entirely possible that I lost count; the numbers are staggering in their obscenity) deaths in mass shootings in America. That’s deaths; injuries are an order of magnitude greater in number. And this number doesn’t include the sixty or so dead in the worst shooting in years in the United States, the one that took place in Las Vegas recently.
No other developed country has shootings, and shooting deaths, at this rate — no other developed country even comes close. No other developed country can even begin to imagine this rate of gun violence; not other developed country can comprehend why Americans are willing to tolerate it.
And yet tolerate it they do. The problem is talked past — it’s terrorism if a brown man (and yes, it’s always a man) does it; it’s a mental-health problem if the shooter is white, or it’s “pure evil,” as the “president” profoundly and insightfully explained, but whatever it is, it’s a uniquely American problem; it is simply impossible to dismiss as coincidence the facts that you’re 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun in America than in other developed countries, and that there are 88 guns per 100 people in the country (by far the highest rate in the entire world; the second highest is Yemen, with less than 55 per 100).
America is full of guns. America has absurdly laissez-faire gun laws. Americans die from shootings at a rate that beggars belief for an allegedly developed country. And every time another gun atrocity happens, every time another murderer decides that he wants to be a particularly efficient murderer, out come the readily-available guns. And then the platitudes follow, the thoughts and prayers, the utter lack of any meaningful action.
Some politicians talk a good game. Eric Swalwell, a California Republican member of the House of Representatives, wrote a moving “Thoughts and prayers just aren’t enough” opinion piece in the Guardian this week, but for all his calls for action in Congress, he appears never to have proposed legislation that would do anything more than simple thoughts and prayers.
But of course he hasn’t. He’d be out of his 15th District seat in no time, because Americans would, ideally, prefer that there weren’t any gun deaths, but they’re not willing to, you know, prevent them, because that would be hard. Like a morbidly obese man who knows he needs to lose a monstrous amount of weight before his poor little heart just finally explodes from the exertion of keeping him alive, but just has to have another pie before breakfast, America knows that giving up guns would stop gun deaths, but it won’t, because it really, really, really wants its guns.
And so gun deaths are “the price of freedom,” said baboon’s scrotum filled with pus and put in a suit Bill O’Reilly on his website (no, I bloody well won’t link directly to it). 59 people dead is “the big downside of American freedom.” Seriously, that’s his exact, hateful, loathsome words. He insists that “The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection;” as we’ve seen, then, the Second Amendment trumps everything, including rights self-evidently granted by God. I want O’Reilly to show up to every single funeral that results from the Las Vegas shooting. I want this foghorn of hatred and imbecility to say to the families of each of the victims, as the bodies are being lowered into the ground, “Sorry for your loss and all, but, you know, price of freedom and all that.” I want him to explain that those people — the mourners’ children, brothers, sisters, parents, friends — had to die so that Bill, bless him, could keep his gun. I want him to explain to them that his right to keep and bear arms was more important than those 59 people’s right to life.
And I want every American to write to their Congressmen and women, and demand that the law be changed. If you want a quick guide to what could — should — be done, then just click here; I’ll wait. And be ready to give up your guns. Because if you’re not, then you’re admitting that your gun is more important than my life. Af you insist that “if you make criminalise guns, then only criminals will have guns,” then your tautological little argument could hardly be weaker if you insisted that he who smelt it dealt it.
So lower all the flags you want. Send all the thoughts and prayers you want. But, America and Americans, until you start actually doing something meaningful, something sweeping, something uncomfortable, until you actually give up your guns, this will, I guarantee, continue to happen, and the civilised world will have less and less sympathy for a country that clearly, evidently, demonstrably values guns more than it values its own citizens.
I didn’t think I’d find myself saying this, but Francis, by far the most outstanding pope the Catholic Church has elected in, well, quite frankly centuries, if not ever, has managed to disappoint me quite badly.
No women priests, he has announced — never. His logic, such as it is, seems to hinge on two key points. The first, one we can dismiss reasonably readily, appears to be that his predecessor-but-one said so, and if John Paul II said no to priestesses, then the case is closed, Francis appears to be saying. But this is shaky ground — John Paul II, recently canonised by Francis, did indeed say that there was no room in the Church for women priests. He was clear in his opposition to the ordination of women: “In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time;” he even went so far as to “declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” It was women priests that so utterly challenged the Church that he had to create a whole new category of popely pronouncement, that of judgemetnts that must be “definitively held.” The ordination of women to the priesthood was clearly so harmful to the Church that, for John Paul II, decisive action had to be taken — clearly, then he saw this doctrinal matter as a massively greater threat and challenge to the integrity of the Church than, say, a nauseatingly widespread network of child-molesting priests and bishops who enabled, and quite possibly joined in withm them, a minor problem that warranted much less dramatic interventions.
So John Paul was not, then, a Pope we should always defer to on how best to protect the Church. Let’s look instead at Francis’ other key point, the simplistic notion that since Jesus only chose men to be priests, only men can be priests, the Church’s long-standing argument keeping women out of the priesthood. It’s hard to fathom how a thinker as fresh, as clear, as kind as Francis can fall into this trap — the idea that the one thing that identified the Twelve, the thing that Jesus had in mind when he chose them, was their sex. Setting aside for a second the fact that there are at least fourteen named apostles in the four canonical Gospels, which does make the idea of “The Twelve” a little questionable in itself, let’s see if they had anything else in common. Well, they were all Jewish, for a start. So does that mean that, since Jesus only chose Jews to be his apostles, only Jews can be priests? It’s hard to argue the Church’s line on priesthood being the preserve of men on the basis that Jesus only chose men, and not then insist that it also be reserved for Jews. He only chose men who lived in Galilee. He only chose a dozen — well, around a dozen. So why does the Church demand that the only characteristic that really matters is maleness? Why insist that only men can be priests, but allow more than a dozen Galilean Jews to be priests? And, given that at least one of Jesus’ choices was less than inspired, maybe we really should cast our nets a little wider when we’re looking for their successors. (Parenthetically, the Church has traditionally claimed that bishops are the successors to the Apostles; claiming that women are excluded from the priesthood on this basis is an over-extension of this already flimsy logic.)
This entrenched misogyny from an otherwise profoundly enlightened and compassionate man is disappointing. There is no good reason for excluding half of the membership of the Church from the hierarchy of the Church, for denying them one of the seven sacraments. Francis is — he should be — so much better than this.
One charge that Donald Trump has leveled against Hillary Clinton with some validity is that she is a Washington insider. Much as it galls me to agree with Trump — I feel the need to go and shower, and possibly clean my brain out with bleach — it is true that she has a sense of entitlement to the Oval Office. Hillary Clinton is the product of a political system that promotes from within its own elite. Here in New Zealand, I know people who have been members of Parliament. While I don’t think I necessarily would want to become one myself, I don’t believe it’s beyond the realms of possibility that, were I to set my sights on the Beehive, I could one day find myself in Parliament. It’s at the very least possible, if not terribly likely. But when I lived in America, I had no sense that politics could ever be open to me. Anyone can grow up to be president, American children are told, but this is of course utter bollocks. American politics is elitist, and more worryingly it’s dynastic. From the Adams family to the Roosevelts and the Kennedys, and more recently and disastrously the family Bush, père et deux fils, politics in America has been a family matter, and with the prospect of the first husband-and-wife tag-presidency, it’s looking more and more incestuous. I struggle to respect someone who only started seeking public office once she’d been married to the president, and then rather than working her way up the ranks parachuted herself straight into the US Senate and then got herself made up to Secretary of State. She’s by no means the first person to parlay her fame into an accelerated entry into politics: Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Franken, Jesse Ventura all stepped straight up to the top slots. Why pay dues when you have name recognition?
But there’s a more significant reason to be troubled by the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Think back to the Democratic primaries — cast your mind back to the energy, the buzz, the vitality surrounding the campaign of Bernie Sanders. Here was a man who had some genuinely interesting ideas, a man who was willing to be labelled a “socialist” (he was, of course, no such thing), a man who had something worthwhile to say. And he wasn’t really meant to be there. Clinton was the anointed candidate, the candidate the Democratic Party’s higher-ups had designated, the candidate favoured by the large majority of super delegates. There were, of course, other prospects — four, to be exact — but how many names can you remember of men (of course they were men) who put their hands up for the Democratic nomination? By the time the dust had settled after the first primary in New Hampshire, they’d all dropped out, leaving only Clinton, the Chosen One of the party, and Sanders, who clearly hadn’t read the memo and didn’t know that he was supposed to do the same.
And so Sanders campaigned against Hillary Clinton. And he energised young voters in a way that has rarely been seen before. My daughter, newly eligible and voting in her first election, was genuinely excited to vote for a candidate who meant something, who actually created passion for his campaign. Yes, Feel The Bern was a little trite, but there was some heat, some fire in his campaign, fire that was lacking in Clinton’s. I don’t recall hearing many voices filled with the same excitement at the thought of voting for Hillary Clinton But she won the nomination regardless, because she’s a political machine, and she’s run a very slick, very professional, very political campaign that’s been ruthlessly effective in building momentum and wiping the floor with the buffoon she’s challenging. But it’s hard, so very, very hard, to find any enthusiasm for her. Yes, Democrats and those Republicans who have evolved their way a little further up the food chain will vote for her, and yes, she’ll win. And yes, it’ll be a very big deal that the United States will have its first female president, but little will change.
Just imagine what things would look like had Sanders won. It’s likely that he lost the nomination to Clinton because a significant number of Democratic voters were tempted by him, but simply didn’t see him as a viable presidential candidate: yes, we’d vote for him, but we just don’t see him winning the general election, many seem to have thought, and so we’ll put Clinton up; better her than a Republican president. She wasn’t the better candidate; she was the more electable. But look at what the Republican Party have tossed up onto the podium. It’s hard to imagine a more crass, blundering, imbecilic, offensive, arrogant tosser of a candidate; Clinton’s probably already started packing for her move back into the White House. But beating Donald Trump won’t be the most resounding endorsement of her candidacy — I suspect even Biscuit, my Dog of Very Little Brain, would be able to beat Donald Trump in both a presidential debate and an election. She’d be eligible, too — she was born in the US, and she lived there long enough, in dog years. There’s absolutely no doubt that Bernie Sanders would have wiped the floor with Trump every bit as effectively as Clinton has been able to do.
So again, imagine what things would look like had Sanders won. Instead of yet another presidential dynasty, with Barack Obama’s two terms the only thing breaking up a six-term streak of Bushes and Clintons in the White House, we’d be looking at the possibility of real, meaningful change, of an actual, serious progressive presidency, instead of a president who, despite alleged left-leaning tendencies, wouldn’t be out of place in the soft-right wing of the British Conservative Party.
American politics has once again embraced the entitled, the political celebrity, the known name, when it had the chance to do something remarkable and historic. If — it could happen; it’s astonishingly unlikely, but it could happen — Trump somehow manages to get himself elected, America could well implode. That would be painful, but at least it might bring about the change that America so desperately needs. But he won’t. Hillary Clinton will be the next president. Being the first female president will be the one interesting thing about her. And a wonderful chance will have been squandered.