CORPORATE CRIME, A WOMAN DIES


An Auckland woman, Folole Muliaga (44), died not long after Mercury Power disconnected her power supply and cut off her power to her home oxygen machine on Tuesday (May 29).

Despite protestations from Ms Muliaga's family that Mercury were putting her life at risk by disconnecting the power, Mercury went ahead with the disconnection.

Shortly after Ms Muliaga became faint, had difficulty breathing, and collapsed.

An ambulance was called but the officers were unable to revive Ms Muliaga. She died within two hours of the power being cut off.

Ms Muliaga had been an early childhood teacher but had been unable to work since February since her illness. Her husband, a chef's assistant, had been forced to reduce his work hours in order to look after his wife and their four children (aged five to eighteen years).

But are Mercury Energy taking responsibility? Not likely - not with the police looking into the death, the Government demanding answers, and the possibility of being sued looming on the horizon.

Spokesman James Moulder while offering 'condolences' to the family was quick to say that the power wouldn't have been cut off had Mercury been 'made aware' of the situation.

But - hold on- weren't they made 'aware' of the 'situation when the Mercury contractor arrived to disconnect the power?

In that case it's time to shift the blame on to the contractor. Moulder told the media that Mercury hired 'independent contractors' and they were 'working' to find out whop the individual was who disconnected the power.

Mercury Energy was the power company that plunged Auckland into darkness in 1998 when crippling power failures effectively crippled the city.

At the time Mercury were accused of neglecting proper maintenance of the power cables in the pursuit of profits.

Mercury Energy is the retail outlet of Mighty River Power. Last year it showed the biggest jump in profits of all the state power companies. It's profits jumped a big $20 million to approximately $74 million.

Ms Muliaga is the victim of neo-liberal policies that have seen the goal of a reliable, affordable and universal electricity service replaced by one that operates on the basis of 'efficiency' and 'profit'.

These state power companies, which the government refuses to do anything about, are orientated towards maximising profits rather than providing an essential public service.

Mercury Power have left four children without a mother.

But will anyone held responsibility? Don't hold you're breath.



If you were one of the few who were listening to James Coleman on Radio Live on the morning after Ms Muliaga's death at the hands of Mercury Power, you would have got an entirely different take on Ms Muliaga's demise.

Coleman, a man of no talent and less intelligence, chose to wield the big stick - but it wasn't aimed at Mercury Energy.

Radio Live presenters such as Michael Laws and Paul Henry regularly bash the victims of our predatory economic system. On a benefit? Well, you must be a bludger. Can't buy any groceries? You must be spending your benefit at the pub. It's a familiar right wing refrain that the struggling Radio Live employs all the time.

But Coleman took the victim-bashing to a new low. In this case, the victim was actually dead! Good one, James - kick the corpse!

Why was her power cut off? asked the fearless Coleman. What was she was doing with her money?

Coleman answered his own questions. Ms Muliaga, who had been off work because of ill-health since February, had apparently been spending her money on 'smokes'!

People have to take responsibility for their lives, thundered Coleman, thumbing through his booklet of '101 Right Wing Cliches'.

Coleman incidentally, has no background in journalism. He used to work on pop stations. In fact he still does a show on another Canwest station, Kiwi FM.

Perhaps this explains his failure to do some journalistic research before opening his big mouth.

But's probably more likely that Coleman doesn't let the facts get in the way of his right-wing bigotry.

JIM WON'T FIX IT!


The anti-business monetary policy means that the NZ exchange rate compared to the Australian dollar has risen by 23% since 1991. This makes our products less competitive on the Australian market. The monetary policies are to raise interest rates in order to raise the exchange rate ... which means we now have one of the highest real interest rates in the world, nearly 9% real. This brings in foreign capital to speculate on the NZ market ... pushing up the exchange rate, and making a very unfriendly environment for the manufacturers, agricultural and horticultural exporters in this country."

What a difference ten years can make.
The above quote is from Jim Anderton, having a go at the National Government's economic policies.
High interest rates destroying local industries? Foreign capital floodiing into the country to take advantage of the highest real interest rates in the world? It all sounds eerily similar to what is happening today - the difference being that the abrasive Jim is defending the very same kind of economic policies he was attacking in 1996...

WE'VE NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD?


The mainstream media's continued definition of the Labour Government as 'centre-left' Has always been woefully inaccurate. To describe a Labour government that continues to rigidly adhere to neo-liberal economic policies as 'left wing' is like describing Adolf Hitler as being just a 'little right wing'.

Of course Labour itself won't have itself described as right-wing. Rather, like other social democratic parties around the world, they latched on to the theoretical hocus-pocus of the 'Third Way' ; Labour's economic policies are neither free market or welfare statism -they're both!

As Steve Maharey, Labour 's 'Third Way' ideologist has shown, the 'Third Way' can be whatever you want it to be. It's a moving feast - a little like Maharey's politics. In his university days, Maharey called himself a socialist - now he's a grumpy neo-liberal in 'Third Way' drag.

But, if we want to assess the 'Third Way' in the cold light of day, its little more than Labour prostituting itself at the shrine of the free market and pretending its all for a good cause.

Labour - and its supporters - still like to believe there 'progressive', that they're building a better world. But in the end, its little more than pronouncing Maori words correctly, buying Fair Trade coffee, and supporting Bono. You can meet these types in a trendy coffee shop near you, or read anything by Russell Brown, or listen to Kim Hill.

But its basic economics - you cannot expect to bring about social justice if you do not implement major economic change. And that's something this Labour Government is not prepared to do.

Of course, Labour have got lucky. Global economic conditions have allowed Labour to follow the 'Third Way' road. But when the recession comes, as it must, then the demands of capitalism intent of maintaining its profits will become insistent - and the victims will be the working class.

It's also been to Labour's benefit that it has had the support of a docile trade union leadership. The Combined Trades Union hierarchy have cravenly accepted Labour's economic direction. This isn't a surprise - the trade union leadership have consistently failed to protect the interests of the membership ever since Rogernomics reared its ugly head. It's no surprise that Engineers Union chief Andrew Little, a man who has consistently sold out workers, is being sounded out by Labour as one of its future MP's.

However there are left wing critics of Labour. Most of them are consistently ignored by the mainstream media but one critic, John Minto (of 1981 Springbok Tour fame) has managed to get his point across.

In his Christchurch Press column (perhaps the best newspaper column in the country) he recently wrote:

'Let's try to be objective here. We have an economic direction which cripples local manufacturing and destroys quality jobs, makes Kiwi workers redundant, rewards speculators, makes outrageous profits for the banks, pushes house prices out of the reach of even middle class families, encourages irrational spending, drives families into poverty and the Prime Minister says there is no crisis.'

But its not only the Prime Minister and her colleagues who are saying this. Constantly we have media pundits telling us these are prosperous days, that we've never had it so good.

But the anecdotal evidence tells us that it while it might be prosperous times for banks, propserty speculators and well-paid media commentators, the good times are not rolling for ordinary working people. Consider this; food banks across the country report increasing demand, 12,000 state tenants are behind in their rent, there are reports of two or more families living in one house. Stories like this are commonplace but they barely rate a mention in the corporate media.

And if we look at one bare statistic, the unemployment figures, then we see the picture isn't as rosy as Labour would like us to believe.

Labour constantly congratulates itself on the supposedly low unemployment figures but the figures are deceptive.

Economist Keith Rankin has pointed out, while the actual unemployment is approximately 79,000 the same data shows that a further 83,000 people were jobless (people without a job but wanting a job) at the end of 2006.

As Rankin observes, 'the total number of jobless people - 162,000 - increased during 2006.

However no-one in the media has bothered to actually take a look at the real unemployment figures - if they had, then they might actually begin to see why state tenants aren't paying their rents and food banks are reporting a increasing demand for food parcels. No, its easier for the media to blame the victims. According to the likes of right wingers like Paul Henry and Michael Laws, the working class victims of a voracious capitalism are 'lazy' and 'irresponsible' and they make 'wrong choices' and 'spend all their money on drink, smokes and the pokies'.

On the other side of the political ledger, the Green Party, supposedly the progressive force within Parliament, has put in an abject performance.. It has failed to take Labour to task for its economic policies instead choosing meekly to abstain on economic policies it doesn't agree with. When's the last time you heard a Green MP berating the governement economic policies?

And the Green spokesperson on employment issues, Sue Bradford (who was a unemployment rights activist before arriving in parliament) has failed to expose the true picture of unemployment in this country and allowed Labour to get away with the false claim that New Zealand has the lowest rate of unemployment among all the OECD countries.

Keith Rankin notes that the New Zealand economy is 'not doing well at all' and is 'balanced on a financial knife edge, and the blade gets sharper the higher the New Zealand dollar becomes'

Standing in the wings is the John Key-led National Party.

Key, interestingly, almost has a Marxist analysis of the capitalist economy. In one recent speech he talked of the global economy going in cycles and judging from his comments, he expects a downturn.

Although peddling a brand of 'compassionate conservatism', Key's support for cuts in government spending suggests another attack on the welfare state is on National's agenda. Meanwhile his deputy, Bill English, has been talking about the need for 'labour market flexibility - which is shorthand for lowering wage levels and working conditions.

The economic storm clouds are massing on the horizon but the hard rain will not fall on our politicians, our media pundits, our conservative economists and our liberal intelligentsia - it'll be the working class who'll face the full force of the storm.

TELEVISION TURKEY


Television One's new promo is extraordinarily stupid. That TVNZ has presumably lavished a lot of money on this turkey while, at the same, sacking 60 staff from News and Current Affairs, is also extraordinarily irresponsible.

The promo shows various New Zealanders, gormlessly shining lights into the night sky. Why are they doing this? Is it an attempt to make contact with alien life who are flying around the earth in flying saucers? Perhaps its an attempt sabotage New Zealand's electric power grid?

No, its another attempt by TVNZ to present itself as part of some 'national experience' with, of course, TVNZ the conduit for this childish nationalism.

So scattered among this promo are various Television One presenters. Look- there's Mark Sainsbury and Paul Henry siting in car gazing vacantly up at the night sky. Neither look very happy. Maybe they don't like each other.

And there's newsreaders Simon Dallow and Wendy Petrie emerging from the TVNZ bunker to gaze wondrously up at the sky. Both look like extras from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Television One, under Labour's broadcasting policy, was supposed to have fulfilled public service obligations - while at the same time, meeting commercial obligations. It was a disastrously conceived policy that was always doomed to fail and so it has proved to be. Television One is awash in reality shows, cooking shows, fluffy travel shows, various shows fronted by by various TVNZ 'celebrities'. Any kind of serious content has been shoved outside primetime into the late night hours, Saturday afternoons and so forth.

It's kind of appropriate that TVNZ should produce a promo like this because it sums up most of its programming - insubstantial pap about not much at all.

Book Review



WHERE HAVE ALL THE INTELLECTUALS GONE?
Frank Furedi (Continuum, London)
This book by Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, is subtitled Confronting 21st Century Philitism.

According to Furedi, in place of people like Bertrand Russell and Raymond Williams - people with a genuine depth of knowledge, vision and the conviction to stand up against the prevailing values of society, we are left with a motley collection of TV pundits, think-tank apologists and spin doctors. The paradox is that in this age of the 'knowledge economy' we are living in the most dumbed down of cultures.

So what's happened? Furedi points out that in a traditional sense, an intellectual is someone that 'lives for rather than off ideas'. So Karl Marx was an intellectual. As was Friedreich Nietzche. An intellectual is not someone who simply works with their brains - which rules out lawyers, bank managers and so on. These people work for money - not ideas.

Of course the idea of working for an idea, as Furedi says, will sound hopelessly naive to most - but it is what has driven humankind to work for a better world. For example, the ideas of Karl Marx, who endured poverty for most of his adult life, have had a profound impact on the modern world.

Furedi notes that such people kept a certain distance from the conventions and pressures of everyday life;this gave them the freedom to explore ideas that were frequently unpopular to the establishment.

However the decline of the traditional intellectual has come at a time when the intellectual has effectively been absorbed into the prevailing status quo via the professionalisation of intellectual life.

The role of the intellectual has effectively become to add value to the market economy. The days when the intellectual offered critiques of the status quo, offering alternatives to the prevailing political and social values, has been replaced by a deadening conformism. Could a Karl Marx or a Bertrand Russell survive in such a climate? Probably not. Writes Furedi: 'The complacent defence of the status quo is virtually unprecedented in the intellectual history of modernity.'

Combined with this complacency has developed the purely instrumentalist view that the pursuit instrumentalist view that the pursuit of knowledge is only useful insofar that it benefits the capitalist economy. Scholars who want to pursue their interests are often described as 'elitist' and 'selfish'. Universities, rather than being places of learning, have turned into degree factories supplying docile workers for the capitalist economy.

What is being discussed here is not something that simply affects the halls of academia; it has had a profound impact on society generally. The devaluing of the traditional intellectual has, for example, meant that political debate has degenerated to a disturbingly low level. The intellectual has been marginalised to be replaced by the professional expert.

Writes Furedi: 'Spoon-feeding the public with sound bites has become a highly prized skill. Professional speech-writers pursue their task as if the audience was composed of easily distracted children and, not surprisingly, political discussions tend to be shallow, short-termist and bereft of ideas.'

Here in New Zealand, politicians no longer talk about the big issues, about a vision of the future. It's all about 'management' and 'good business practice' and 'value for money'.

The Labour Government long abandoned traditional social democratic values for managerialism and technocracy. Former managers at Clear Communications get voted into cabinet.
He's conservative, he won't rock the boat, he's got no vision for the future except more of the same - yes, Clayton Cosgrove is truly a 'Labour man'.

Of course the level of antipathy towards politicians and politics in general is now widespread. It's clear evidence of disillusionment and distrust with the political system. The politicians are aware of this but, as Furedi notes, 'instead of addressing the underlying malaise and disillusionment through developing challenging political ideas that could inspire the electorate to vote, its response has been to acquiesce in its dumbing down'.

But because politics has been emptied of any meaningful content what we have now is politics without substance.

At the beginning of the 20th century century politics was vibrant with political alternatives. Compelling political philosophies - discussed by a wide range of intellectuals - offered contrasting visions of the good society. The socialist left advanced revolutionary change and they clashed with the supporters of capitalism.

And what of today? Furedi notes that politics in western societies has not become more 'moderate' - it's simply gone into 'early retirement.

Political debate, without any real alternatives on offer, has become largely empty posturing about trivial matters. Writes Furedi: 'As public life has become emptied of its content, private and personal preoccupations have become projected into the personal sphere. Consequently, passions that were once stirred by ideological differences are far more likely to be engaged by individual behaviour, private troubles and personality conflicts'.

In this age of banality, Furedi argues it's time for the intellectual to present alternative world views to the public and 'in an era of the infantalisation of culture' to treat people as grown-ups.

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