Wednesday, April 6, 2011

People power prescription to cure the trans-Pacific free trade 'disease'

Bugs Bunny - alias a well-known local unionist - at the Rogers ... Photo: Nigel Moffiet/PMC

MURRAY HORTON, organiser and spokesperson for the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA), treated Auckland to a double billing this week – well, actually a threesome if you count little Waiheke Island as well. His Christchurch-based movement has been campaigning to "expose and oppose" all aspects of foreign control of New Zealand for four decades. An impressive track record. And quality research that backs up the movement’s advocacy – leaving most news media floundering in its wake – is available on the websites and publication Foreign Control Watchdog, which is at

Horton’s first star billing for Auckland’s advocacy faithful was at the annual Roger Awards – the Oscars of the global transnational notorieties and their murky impact on the New Zealand economy and justice. Chief culprits for 2010:

1. The Hobbit affair trioWarner Brothers (received by none other than Bugs Bunny and the third time a media corporation has won the “worst transnational” prize), with the John Key government collecting the Accomplice Award for “caving in” to the movie moguls and film director Sir Peter Jackson taking out a special Quisling Award for being the New Zealander who “did the most to facilitate foreign control” in the country.
2. British-owned BUPA "couldn't care less" retirement home company
3. Imperial Tobacco – for its “despicable” and “deceitful” third-party PR campaigns.

The film studio threatened to make The Hobbit in another country after Kiwi contract workers began collective agreement discussions and the corporation forced a controversial deal that kept the $670 million production in New Zealand. The government agreed to give the film studio an additional $20 million tax break and change the law so there would be no possibility that contract workers could go to court and claim employee rights.

According to the judges panel, headed by Banks Peninsula writer and researcher Dr Christine Dan and including a trade unionist, an associate professor and another senior academic and former Green Party MP Sue Bradford: Warner Brothers "significantly outscored all the other finalists in interference in New Zealand politics and governance. No other corporation has been given such a red carpet treatment when it came to interfere in the way we do things here ..."

The report went on to cite one of the judges saying “an overt display of bullying that humiliated every New Zealander, and deliberately set out to do that”.

The following night, Horton was again in action - this time kicking off his “NZ NOT for sale” campaign with a seminar speech at AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre. After a devastating critique of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and NZ’s shameful role in it, he prescribed a dose of"people power" as the remedy for the secret free trade deal “disease”:

Important as it is to lobby politicians and generally engage with that whole parliamentary process, that is a top down and essentially passive approach, asking our elected representatives to actually represent us. You don’t need me to spell out the whole history of betrayal, sellouts, compromises, and flat out lying that has involved in the past. So it’s not enough to trust politicians to do it for us, or even rely on a change of government to make it all good. We have to do it for ourselves, we need some People Power in New Zealand.

We’ve seen it in spectacular action in the Arab world this year but they are very different societies. Within our country we have seen the most magnificent grassroots mobilisation and community action in response to the seemingly never ending earthquakes crisis in Christchurch. There we witnessed ordinary New Zealanders – students, farmers, women, workers, the unemployed, brown, white – take charge of things in their own streets, neighbourhoods, suburbs and city, rather than helplessly waiting for somebody else to do something about it. Just to single out one group – I speak as a student activist from decades ago, and one who was cynical about the calibre of “today’s young people”.

I stand in awe of the Student Volunteer Army which mobilised somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 students to get stuck into the most basic of tasks, namely digging the city out from under the ocean of silt, and muck and shit that engulfed it. Now, what I’m talking about is an emergency response to a life and death catastrophe, and not what is commonly perceived to be a “political” issue. But there is nothing more political than spontaneously organising people at the grassroots level to take control of their own communities. New Zealanders care very deeply about their communities and our country, despite the best efforts of the ideologues to turn us into a dog eat dog society. That people power is a truly formidable force ....

We’re confronting the most powerful institutions in this country and in the world, but we’ve beaten them before and we’ll beat them again. They’re the ones who have to hide inside a fortress of secrecy and lies. We have nothing to hide and the truth is on our side. We are many and they are few.

Kia kaha manawanui!

Pictured: Sir Peter Jackson and a Hobbit; Murray Horton at the PMC. Photo: Del Abcede/PMC

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Libyan intervention - two views from contrasting camps

WAS there any real justification in the devastating intervention in Libya - initially French, British and US-led and now with NATO driving? Is there really a moral case for this "no-fly zone" sham? Is it really all about saving civilian lives, or blatantly ensuring a regime change with control of oil once again the bottom line? There is a long list of countries that probably deserved foreign intervention in recent years, but were simply ignored with fossil fuels not being a critical factor: Somalia and international piracy, Ivory Coast, Sudan and Zimbabwe just to name a few. All left in the dustbin of Western hypocrisy. Here are some contrasting views from two columnists - Gordon Campbell on Scoop and the London Daily Mirror's Tony Parsons. Campbell contrasts the Libyan and Iraqi scenarios, defending the attack on Libya while condemning the invasion of Iraq, but Parsons brands the British involvement in Libya as simply "insane". Campbell writes:
Was the intervention in Libya justified – and if so, does that mean the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was justified? The conditions laid down by the French for their participation in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libyan air space go some way to answering those questions. Before they would join in any military action in Libya, the French were asking for (a) a clear UN resolution for the intervention(b) it had to be a UN operation, not one led by NATO (c) there would have to be some Arab involvement in the force, however token and (d) there would have to be a direct request and support for that intervention from a significant part of the civilian population.

Image: Tim Denee

France’s stance is relevant not simply because it is one of the thre
e main partners in the military force now attacking Libya. In 2003, it had been the most articulate opponent of the US invasion of Iraq, for reasons set out in this speech to the UN in 2003 by its then Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. All the conditions France have asked for in 2011 stand in striking contrast to the Iraq situation – which had no valid UN mandate, was a unilateral American-led adventure, had no Arab participation, and was in response to no direct threat to the people of Iraq, unlike the direct threat being posed to the people of Benghazi.

The immediacy of the murderous threat that Colonel Gaddafi posed to the civilian populations in the Libyan towns and cities that contain the rebels mark the main difference from the situation in Iraq. Without that immediate threat, the rationale for military action to topple the tyrant in Libya sounds almost identical to the Bush administration’s justification for intervening to topple the tyrant in Iraq.
Parsons in the Mirror says that if British prime minister David Cameron "had to send his kids to war, we'd all live in peace". In his latest column, he wrote:
It costs £900,000 for every Tomahawk missile ­– I am so glad we didn’t waste all that money on something stupid.

Oh, what a stupid war. Oh, what a dumb Britain. Stark raving mad – a country with empty pockets starting another open-ended, multi-billion pound conflict when we haven’t even finished the last one.

Are we insane? Have we learned nothing?

A country that can’t afford to police its own streets acting as though it can police the world. A country that is cutting back on military spending sending its ­undermanned, ­overstretched forces off to fight some more.

A country that can’t take care of its old people taking on the burden of caring for the oppressed people of Libya. A country that is currently closing down day centres for disabled children deciding it can afford another conflict that will waste millions every single day.

Barmy. Yet somehow so easy to understand. Thatcher, Blair and now Cameron – they all found it impossible to ignore the ­seductive call of war.

How much more satisfying it must be to confront the likes of General Galtieri, Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi than to deal with the problems of rising unemployment, soaring inflation, failing schools, housing ­shortages, a stagnant economy and all the rest.

Thatcher set the tone for the modern British Prime Minister. A nice little war can define your entire career. It’s far easier than creating jobs, wealth, hope.
But Parsons reckons that Thatcher had at least an achievable - and winable - goal. And he is decidedly nervous about a crop of "soft" politicians with little appreciation of the devastation of war; who can decide so casually on a warmongering path.
As I have noted before, it is terminally dangerous to have an army, navy and air force commanded by politicians who have never heard a shot fired in anger.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Band of 50's nuclear last stand at Japan's Fukushima

AS 120,000 people were ordered to stay in indoors and a further 70,000 evacuated from the 30km danger zone in northern Japan around stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station today, thoughts turned to the 50 volunteers who will probably pay a high price for trying to save the country from an even greater catastrophe. Their sacrifice follows the devastating 9.0 magnitude earthquake 120km off the east coast of Honshu on Friday, followed by an apocalyptic tsunami that swept an estimated 6500 people to their deaths. The technicians, soldiers and workers have been described by two journalists of The New York Times as the "faceless fifty". They remain unnamed. One newspaper branded them the "atomic samurai". However, just as this item was being published, it has been reported that even this group has now been ordered out of the danger zone after new radiation spikes. They later returned.

Keith Bradsher and Hiroko Tabuchi's dispatch from Tokyo headlined "Last Defence at Troubled Reactors: 50 Japanese Workers" began like this:
A small crew of technicians, braving radiation and fire, became the only people remaining at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station on Tuesday — and perhaps Japan’s last chance of preventing a broader nuclear catastrophe.

They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air.

They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies.

They are the faceless 50, the unnamed operators who stayed behind. They have volunteered, or been assigned, to pump seawater on dangerously exposed nuclear fuel, already thought to be partly melting and spewing radioactive material, to prevent full meltdowns that could throw thousands of tons of radioactive dust high into the air and imperil millions of their compatriots.

The company continued to fight problems in several reactors on Wednesday, including a fire at the plant.

The workers are being asked to make escalating — and perhaps existential — sacrifices that so far are being only implicitly acknowledged: Japan’s Health Ministry said Tuesday that it was raising the legal limit on the amount of radiation exposure to which each worker could be exposed, to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts, five times the maximum exposure permitted for nuclear plant workers in the United States.

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