WHO CONTROLS THE WORLD'S FINANCE MARKETS?


Who controls the world's finance markets?

According a new study of the 2007 financial markets of 48 countries, the world's finances are in the hands of just a few mutual funds, banks, and corporations.

We can thank a couple of physicists for this revealing information. Stefano Battiston and James Glattfelder of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich put in the work to make sense of the information they extracted from 24,877 stocks and 106,141 shareholding entities in 48 countries.

What emerged is what the two physicists call the 'backbone' of each county's financial markets. These backbones represented the owners of 80 percent of a country's market capital, yet consisted of only a few shareholders.

The common misconception, promoted by the corporate media, is that shares are widely held by the general public, particularly in countries like Great Britain, the United States Australia - and New Zealand. This has given rise to nonsense about the 'shareholding democracy'.

However this is a myth. Glattfelder and Battiston's analysis found that while each company may link to many owners , the owners varied little from stock to stock. This means that comparatively few hands are controlling the entire financial market of each country.

“If you would look at this locally, it's always distributed,” Glattfelder told the media last week. “If you then look at who is at the end of these links, you find that it's the same guys, [which] is not something you'd expect from the local view.”

Based on their analysis, Glattfelder and Battiston identified the ten investment entities who are “big fish” in the most countries. The biggest fish was the Capital Group Companies, with major stakes in 36 of the 48 countries studied.

Glattfelder added that the globalisation of these gigantic companies makes it difficult to gauge their economic influence. "With new company structures which are so big and spanning the globe, it's hard to see what they're up to and what they're doing,” he said.

The results will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Physical Review E.

A WORLD TO WIN


As I said in my post 'Strange Days' New Zealand mainstream politics is characterised by a consensus about neoliberalism. Despite its abject failure, all our parliamentary parties act and make policy on the assumption that there is no economic alternative.

Despite the biggest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, there has been no rise in the political fortunes of socialist forces in the West - although this is not the case, of course, in the 'emerging' nations' of Venezuela and Bolivia.

When the socialist argument should be pressing on the discredited ideology of neoliberalism , we find that socialist forces are , in practical terms , perhaps more marginalised now than at any time during the last 150 years.

Socialism's political rival - social democracy - is now a spent force.

The reformist project of social democracy has exhausted itself. It began with the misguided idea that it could somehow 'reform' socialism into existence, then it retreated to a position of reforms within capitalism and then, finally, embraced neoliberalism.

And so, here in New Zealand, we now have a Labour leader and a party that has rejected its own social democratic history as 'irrelevant' and now regards itself merely as a manager of the market economy - the best economic system we can hope for, according to Phil Goff.

The class struggle is something Labour has tried to sweep under the carpet in favour of short term electoral gains and the career advancement of its MPs.

Unfortunately its a position that has been adopted by MPs in other parliamentary parties that some thought were on our side.

Some of us though still retain hold a vision of socialism that rests on the transformation of capitalism through the mobilisation of the working class. But our cause has not been helped by a Labour Party that, over a long period of time, has done much to discredit socialism and virtually rendered the term meaningless.

I'm sure many of us have had the misfortune to meet a Labour Party supporter or member who claims to be 'socialist' yet, at the same time supports the neoliberal policies of this increasingly absurd party.

Labour apologists like Chris Trotter have tried to reconcile this hopeless contradiction but seem to think that simply replacing Goff is some kind of cure all. This is a forlorn and disastrous political position to take, especially with the likes of Annette King, David Cunliffe and, a little behind them, 'business friendly' Andrew Little standing in the wings.

For socialists its very difficult to have a meaningful and productive discussion about socialist ideas. A lot of the time we are forced into batting off, for the umpteenth time, the hoary old prejudices and lies that are thrown at us. You know the type of thing: 'socialism didn't work in the former Soviet Union', 'Marxism is an irrelevant historical oddity', 'the working class no longer exists', 'socialists all have big bushy beards and no fashion sense.'

In particular the idea that socialism has been a complete failure has perhaps been the most damaging charge thrown at the genuine socialist.

Socialism has come to mean a lot of different things over the past 150 years.

US socialist Hal Draper clarified the arguments about what we mean by socialism by distinguishing between ideas of socialism from below and from above.

Socialism from above is associated with increased state and party control over the society in the name of the people, while socialism from below is based on the collective and democratic seizure of power by the mass of the working class with their own hands.

Much of the failure of socialism' is associated with the 'socialism from above' strategies that sought to use state power to moderate the impact of capitalism on the population and/or run the economy directly. This was true of the one-party Stalinist forms of rule associated with the Soviet bloc and Maoist China as well as with the social democratic parties in the West.

The neoliberal restructuring of capitalism since the late 1970s has specifically squeezed out the space for certain forms of state regulation of the economy associated with the welfare state, the imposition of conditions on corporations and the nationalisation of property. there can be no return to the post-war Keynesian economic consensus.

The socialist Left the world over is essentially in limbo today, living through a period of intense political disorientation after 30 years of marauding neoliberalism, which has been aided and abetted by the social democratic parties like Labour and its trade union allies.

Periods of retreat are especially difficult for the radical Left. It feels as if we are in some state of political stasis. When people find it daunting to make even modest improvements in their lives, thoughts of a radical socialist transformation of society appear to be wildly utopian and sadly misguided. This is the argument you will often hear from Labour Party supporters. But these 'enlightened' people have proven themselves to be weak defenders of the reforms that have actually helped working people.

While some introspection is necessary it can also lead to paralysis by analysis. While we want to avoid mindless activism we also do not want to see socialist politics simply become a debating issue in comfortable university forums and pub talk shops.

To stay to the left means adopting a politics of sober senses,' to borrow a phrase from Karl Marx. It means persisting with the struggle for a better world while acknowledging the odds are presently against us. It requires openly acknowledging that the whole socialist project has been thrown into question by events of the last thirty years or so.

And yet, important sources of socialist opposition to capitalism persist. These include capital’s intense exploitation and oppression of the majority of the world's inhabitants; powerful and inspiring movements of resistance to these realities ( eg Venezuela); dreams and struggles that point toward a fundamentally different future.

Because of these realities, socialist politics will not disappear, however marginalised they may become. And, of course, new groups will eventually emerge.

For such groups I think there are three important tasks that will have to be addressed.

First, socialist groups must figure out how to contribute to significant struggles of resistance, so as to nurture opposition and build people’s capacities to change society

Secondly, they must develop ways of keeping the socialist dream – the radical vision of a democratic and egalitarian society – alive and relevant to people seeking alternatives. While we draw lessons and inspiration from the tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and Gramsci the language of socialism often, perhaps most of the time even, appears alien and remote to ordinary people. I think we need to develop our own culture of action and theory - our own culture of dissent, if you like.

And, finally, they must seek out ways to organize themselves as democratic organisations based on activism and socialist education.

If we are to renew socialism for these difficult times, we cannot be bound by the versions of socialist organizing that emerged through the 20th century but nor can we casually dismiss the experience of 150 years of struggle for freedom.

As long as a small minority continues to have dictatorship over the key productive resources in society, democracy and equality will be limited and formal. We have no real democratic control over what is produced, how it is produced, how work is distributed or how knowledge is disseminated. Further, citizenship is necessarily exclusionary, granting limited rights to some while stripping others of any rights.

As long as this is our reality then there will remain a world to win.

MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!


A lot of us are doing it hard in these troubled economic times - but not Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe.

His salary package increased a staggering 93 percent in 2007 from $1.61 million to $3. 1 million - before his base salary was frozen in July last year.

Fyfe's incredibly expanding salary package was largely due to the bonuses and incentives he received on the back of the company's strong profits in 2007.

Last year recruitment specialists said that Fyfe was likely to see a pay drop this year in the wake of a fall in profits.

"There will be a number of chief executives that get no increase," said practice manager Jarrod Moyle of Sheffield Reward consultants.

Well, the recruitment specialists got it wrong. Fyfe actually got a pay increase, despite Air New Zealand losing money.

Although his base salary remains frozen at $1.2 million, his short-term bonus for the 2008-2009 year will increase from $287,100 to $1,240,800. That will be paid next year. I'm no wizard with figures but this is nearly a ten-fold increase! Clearly Fyfe is not 'sharing' any of the burden of the economic crisis.

As well as this, Fyfe also has long-term share incentives!

While Fyfe might be rolling in the cash the same can't be said for present and former Air New Zealand workers who have suffered the 'Rob Fyfe Experience.'

In November last year he announced that 200 Air New Zealand jobs would be going - in an effort to save the company some $20 million. Obviously some of those savings have ended up in Fyfe's pocket.

Fyfe added; 'I am not saying this is the end because I don't know where the end of this recession cycle is.'

Not that this actually impacts on Fyfe himself as he is is clearly 'recession-proof' when it comes to feathering his own nest.

Much of his financial 'success' has been the result of shafting Air New Zealand workers he once cynically claimed were part of the 'family'.

In 2007 Fyfe bullied Air New Zealand workers to take a substantial cut in their wages and conditions. I wrote in a previous post on greedy Rob:

In 2007 Fyfe announced that it would not outsource jobs after Andrew Little and his Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union predictably refused to fight and meekly surrendered to Fyfe's demands - this included 300 “voluntary” redundancies, a more flexible rostering system and cuts to pay and conditions amounting to more than $7,000 per worker a year.

Andrew Little, a union chief who has consistently betrayed his members , claimed that the EPMU were 'just making the best of a bad situation.' He had earlier told Fyfe that '..you have a workforce that is supporting an agenda for change.'

Not surprisingly nothing has been heard from 'business friendly' Little about Fyfe's latest pay boost.

In March Little said he 'admired' Fyfe for his freezing of executive salaries and for disclosing in detail how his own salary package was made up and particularly what the rewards for performance were for.

Of course back in 2006 Little worked hand in glove with Fyfe which led to even more job losses.

Fyfe announced the imminent sacking of 917 engineers, eight percent of the company's workforce, and warned that the 'tough decisions' had not ended.

With the help of Andrew Little and the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) , Fyfe was able to force Air New Zealand engineers to 'agree' to reduced pay and conditions. His ultimatum? Accept the new degraded conditions or you're jobs will be outsourced. Nice bloke huh?

The company then shed 470 jobs at the Auckland head office and outsourced aircraft cleaning with the loss of 114 jobs.

The ever 'cooperative' Andrew Little claimed it was the best outcome that could of been reasonably expected!

A 'HOLY WAR' ON LIBERAL VALUES


Tim Sisarich with Focus on the Family founder, Dr James Dobson.

There's been some discussion on various blogs about the American fundamentalist Christian organisation Focus on the Family. This has been sparked by the NZ Herald reporting that the New Zealand branch of Focus on the Family has received some $1 million from 'head office' over the past six years.

This also reminded me of something that I wrote something about Focus on the Family in April 2008.

Then I reported that Focus on the Family NZ had distributed four hundred copies of the creationist DVD Privileged Planet to schools throughout the country.

Since the video did not breach the Education Act the Education Department sensibly allowed the video to be distributed but it also stressed that the theory of evolution underpins the science curriculum and schools have a responsibility to teach theories that are subject to accepted scientific scrutiny.

Focus on the Family NZ did the same thing in 2005, when they sent the same video and 'workbook' to 500 New Zealand schools.

The executive director of the Auckland office of Focus on the Family is Tim Sisarich, a former announcer with fundamentalist radio station Radio Rhema. He also occasionally shows up on the fundamentalist TV channel Shine TV.

Sisarich has recently started hosting a Sunday night show on Radio Rhema. The station reguarly broadcasts the radio shows of the American branch of Focus on the Family.

Of the pro-creatonist video, Sisarich said in 2008:

“We’re (Focus on the Family) a Christian organisation so we believe that God made the planet and God made the cosmos … Science takes a theory and tries to establish it as the truth, and that’s all this is.”


Although Sisarich plays down the connections with Focus on the Family in the United States, he has visited their head offices in Colorado Springs on several occasions. He has also met the founder of Focus on the Family, Dr James Dobson.

According to Dobson, 'It is not necessary to beat a child into submission, a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child.'

Second in charge is Sheryl Savill, who is described as Focus on the Family's programme administrator.

It was Savill, along with former MP Larry Baldock, who were the principal organisers of the petition to force a referendum on Sue Bradford's anti-smacking legislation.

Also playing an central role in the campaign to force a referendum was Bob McCoskrie of Family First. McCoskrie turned up on the John Tamihere and Willie Jackson show on Radio Live last week, denouncing the anti-smacking law.

Family First also has close connections to Focus on the Family NZ. McCoskrie was also formerly an announcer on Radio Rhema and is a close friend of Sisarich.

From my April 2008 post:

Family First, like Focus on the Family, has long railed against 'liberal values' and 'liberal culture' and has been actively lobbying the National Party to adopt policies that 'reflect Judeo-Christian values'. McCoskrie's reactionary interpretation of Judeo-Christian values led him to lay a complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority about the hit TV series 'The Simpsons', for 'inappropriate language'. He also described another TV3 series, 'Californication', as 'evil'.

Like Focus on the Family, Family First is, among other things, anti-abortion and anti-gay. It has also consistently attacked the welfare state.

McCoskrie and Family First have also campaigned to have corporal punishment reintroduced into schools.

The campaign against the anti-smacking legislation has been a 'Trojan Horse' designed to allow the Christian right to promote its conservative ideology.

On the Family First board are former All Black Michael Jones and TV1 weather presenter Jim Hickey.

Michael Jones actively campaigned for the National Party at the last election.

Focus on the Family is also supported by More FM radio announcer Simon Barnett. He actively opposed the anti-smacking legislation. In 2007 he described the proposed legislation as a 'home invasion'.

Another supporter of Family First is Christine Rankin. She is a commissioner with the Families Commission

According to Rankin, the anti-smacking law has 'traumatised families'.

STRANGE DAYS


We live in strange days. Indeed these are very strange days for socialists and for all those who still believe there is a world to win.

New Zealand's parliamentary parties continue to pursue the policies of neoliberalism. National, Labour, the Green's , Act, the Maori Party, the United Party and the Progressive Party completely agree that neoliberalism is the only game in town. The differences between them come down to minor disputes on how to play that game.

There is no inspiring vision of a different future. It's just more of the same with perhaps a little 'tweaking'.

Similarly the bureaucrats in the Combined Trades Union have effectively reconciled themselves to neoliberalism. You just need to read any of their economic policy proposals to realise that. The CTU simply seeks to make minor modifications to the government's neoliberal agenda and continues down the road of 'accommodating' itself to the demands of employers and the state as it did under the last Labour government.

Among the 'chattering classes' there is also a broad consensus that neoliberalism is the only game worth playing. Pro-Labour Party blogs like Tumeke! and The Standard devote most of their time firing critical buckshot at the National-led government and hoping that some of it will hit. But, once again, the dispute is about how the game is played - not the game itself.

The New Zealand Herald's John Armstrong made some recent comments about the 'complaint culture' of blogs like The Standard. He observed that there is a

'...a frustration and impatience towards National still displayed by some of the shriller Labour-aligned blogs, which find fault with anything and everything the Key Government does while expecting their breathless critiques to somehow bring forward its demise..'

Armstrong is a conservative commentator but he makes a good point; there is not a lot of thoughtful debate or reflection going down among the Labour-aligned blogs. You will struggle to find any clear alternative to neoliberalism - because there isn't one.

The Standard
, despite claiming to be a 'left wing' blog, seems to think that if Labour can just keep it together then it can somehow win the next election. It doesn't seem to matter that Labour isn't offering anything substantialy different from National. Nor does it seem to matter that leader Phil Goff thinks neoliberal policies are the only way to run an economy and has dismissed Labour's own traditional social democratic heritage as 'irrelevant' to his 'modern' Labour Party.

There is a remarkable consensus across the New Zealand political spectrum about an ideology that has completely failed. That neoliberal zealots like Rodney Hide can still be treated seriously is an indication of just how bad things are. This man and his party cling to a discredited ideology that sparked the biggest capitalist crisis since 1930s - yet Hide and the Act Party think the only 'problem' is that the neoliberaism hasn't gone far enough!

While Karl Marx often finds himself and his work being labelled 'irrelevant' by his detractors, the world is actually now more like what Marx described in the Communist Manifesto than many of us are prepared to admit.

A 2006 study published by the Helsinki-based World Institute for Development Economics Research (part of the United Nations University), revealed that the worlds wealth is heavily concentrated in North America, Europe and a handful of developed Pacific rim countries - with 2% of adults owning more than 50% of the worlds wealth.

While the rich have been getting richer, we are now in a period of appalling poverty, increasing hardship and economic dislocation. There is a price to pay for the crisis of capitalism - and it is the poor who are paying it.

I agree with the Marxist writer Ellen Meiskins Wood that Keynesian has proven to be a historical anomaly and we have returned to the way capitalism has nearly always been.

This horrendous reality is exactly why Friedrich Engels said that the choice would ultimately come down to socialism or barbarism.

His words were later repeated by Rosa Luxemburg.

In the Junius Pamphlet (1915), Luxemburg writes: “We stand today ... before the awful proposition: either the triumph of imperialism and the destruction of all culture, and, as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration, a vast cemetery; or, the victory of socialism.”

The choice, I think, is even starker for us all today.

Unfortunately for many of New Zealand's so-called 'left wingers', the choice is simply between either National or Labour's brand of neoliberalism - which is no choice at all.

These are indeed strange and disturbing days.

MORE SACKINGS AT LANE WALKER RUDKIN


The 186 Lane Walker Rudkin workers made redundant in May was always going to be the first 'wave' of redundancies - as this blog said at the time.

A further 42 LWR workers were sacked yesterday. Only 87 workers are now left at the clothing manufacturer and those jobs will also go once the receivers have wound down all of LWR's business affairs.

The new national secretary of the National Distribution Union had a typical limp response to the redundancie. The really hopeless Robert Reid described them as 'a tragedy'.

What is a 'tragedy' is that the ineffectual NDU has completely failed to put up any resistance to the job losses.

The only response by the NDU has been to organise some farcical cake stalls to raise a 'fighting fund' for former LWR workers. This was the brilliant idea of Reid's predecessor Laila Harre and collapsed after about a month.

Robert Reid has also got a whole lot of nothing to offer the LWR workers - which is is also what he had to offer the sacked workers at Pacific Brands and at Line 7.

His response to the sackings at the Line 7 clothing manufacturer was to say that he was 'worried for the future of Line 7 workers.' Reid then disappeared back into his office.

Also not doing much is the NDU's southern secretary Paul Watson. He appears content to take a 'low profile' and let Reid face the media all by himself.

The NDU's desire to collaborate with business has meant that it has failed to organise any resistance to the growing number of job losses.

RUPERT'S CRAZY IDEA


It's somewhat ironic that while many of Rupert Murdoch's media outlets have been breathlessly reporting on the so-called new 'economic greenshoots', his media empire has recorded a $3.4 billion loss. Last year Murdoch's News Corp reported a $5.4 billion profit. It's a big reversal for the media tyrant.

Clearly the 'economic revival' has ignored dear old Rupert, with News Corp struggling with declining advertising revenue. This isn't just purely the product of the recession though - the revenue from the print media is beginning to dry up. Recent newspapers closures are a testament to this.

Murdoch has also been suffering in other areas too. His purchase of MySpace back in 2005, for example, is proving to be a costly failure. The social networking site is losing market share to Facebook.

Now Rupert wants to stem the losses by charging online customers for news content across all his websites.

Murdoch thinks this is a great idea and he believes News Corp will quickly be followed by other media.

"The current days of the internet will soon be over," he has said - as if he thinks he can shape the internet to serve the needs of News Corp.

Here In New Zealand that could mean you might have to pay to read, say, any of the online content of the stable of INL newspapers (eg the Dominion).

But the subscription model has been tried before and it hasn't worked. When the New York Times abandoned its subscription model - visits to its website jumped from about 12 million per day to almost 20 million per day,

For those of us with a left wing bent, Murdoch's news outlets have always been handled at arms length and with a healthy measure of suspicion.

Personably, these days I go to one of to my favourite alternative news sites for news and commentary - as well as my favourite blogs. And then there are the sites that are attached to left wing parties and groupings.

For the right wing clowns among us there's a whole load of right wing sites and blogs available where they can have their egos massaged and prejudices stroked. Right now there's a right wing blogger somewhere in the world writing a blog post bashing welfare beneficiaries.

Murdoch is trying to close the stable door long after the horse has bolted.

The internet is stuffed with news, opinion, comment - and its all free.

What's more a lot of it is better written than the conservative dross that features in the corporate press.

Would you pay to read Paul Holmes praising the Minister of Unemployment Paula Bennett?

It certainly doesn't sound like much of a deal to me.

NEW ADDRESS

Just a quick message.

Because of problems at my previous webmail service, I've now changed over to Yahoo.

My new address is sjcowan@yahoo.co.nz.

As I haven't been able to access my previous myway address for some days, any emails sent to me over the past week have gone unread.

EUREKA! DODGY DEALINGS!



This isn't a post about Christchurch Mayor Sideshow Bob but it is a post about one of his loyal lieutenants, Councillor Barry Corbett.

Like his fellow 'independent' (aka right wing) Spreydon ward councillor Sue Wells, Corbett has been unswervingly loyal to Sideshow Bob, backing him on everything from the $17 million bailout of failed property developer Dave Henderson through to attempting to put the rents of council tenants up a massive 24 percent- which turned out to be illegal.

He is also the councillor who got himself into hot water when he defended Auckland businessman Bruce Emery who stabbed 15 year old Piha Cameron to death after he had tagged a fence.

Corbett told a council meeting that if '‘If I was on the jury, I’d let him get away with it, but that’s just me.’

Corbett never apologised for these remarks although Sideshow Bob claimed that he 'deeply regretted' making them.

Corbett has been in more hot water lately in his capacity as Chair of the poker-machine funded Eureka Trust. Corbett joined the Board of Trustees in 2003 when the Eureka Trust was formed.

The trust has allocated over $3.5 million to sporting organisations since that time. The money comes from the revenue generated by pub poker machines.

But a whole lot of that money has been going to the racing industry. In the 2007 financial year approximately $1,700,000 (approximately 27 percent of the total grants) went to the horse and dog racing industry in the South Island.

In 2008 it was approximately $1,400.000.

This year $643,000 has already been dished out to the racing industry.

This included $75,000 to the Oamaru racing Club, despite the fact that there are no bars in the Oamaru district that contribute to the Eureka Trust funds.

Most of Eureka's pokie machines are in the pubs that are or were connected to Christchurch businessman Alan Roberts, who started the Robbies chain of pubs. His company Westfield Holdings, is half owner of Matson's Brewery, which has exclusive rights to sell its beer at Banks Peninsula Trotting Club events.

Andrew Tomlin is Alan Robert's personal accountant. He is also a trustee and the treasurer of the Eureka Trust and a friend of Barry Corbett's.

Eureka's benevolence towards the racing industry has angered many people, including Christchurch Labour MP Brendon Burns.

Burns pointed earlier this year that the Eureka Trust had never once turned down a racing club application but it had 'to dozens of organisations helping those in need such as Community House, the Phillipstown Community Centre, Christchurch schools and sports clubs.'

As a former media laison officer for the Christchurch Methodist Mission, one would of thought that Corbett, as the Eureka chair, would have shown more sympathy for struggling community organisations.

Of course some former Methodist Mission workers have said that Corbett simply used his position to raise his public profile before he made a bid for council.

Brendon Burns told TV3 News:

'Schools, community organisations, voluntary groups in poorer electorates like mine have been losing money to fund racing stake money, and I just think that's unacceptable.'

He laid a complaint with Internal affairs.

Corbett though has had no qualms in giving millions of dollars to the racing industry and has consistently defended the practice.

Indeed earlier this year he called an opponent of Eureka's cosy relationship with the racing industry 'an unemployed wit'.

In late July however the Eureka Trust suddenly did a complete u-turn. It announced that it would no longer allocating grants to the racing industry

Corbett tried to claim that this had simply been done on the basis of legal advice it had recieved which stated that the trust deed not allow grants for the promotion of horse and dog racing.

But Corbett was being economical with the truth. As the chair of the Eureka Trust he was desperately trying to extricate himself from an embarrassing mess that he had helped to create.

Corbett and the Eureka Trust were, in fact reacting to a threat from the Problem Gambling Foundation. It had prepared papers to seek a High Court ruling 'to say that the trust was not operating appropriately.'

Corbett and his fellow Eureka trustees though had been made aware that the trust was acting unlawfully giving millions of dollars to the racing industry as far back as February last year.

Professor Duncan Webb of the School of Law at Canterbury University wrote to the trustees pointing out that the trust was making numerous donations in breach of its charitable purpose.

The Eureka Trust has now suspended all funding to non-charitable sports bodies.

Corbett says he is 'devastated' by the situation - but it is a situation he, as the chair of the trust, should of done something about many years ago - instead of defending the generous grants it was making to commercial horse racing clubs.

As a Christchurch City councillor Corbett also appears to have allowed a conflict of interest to arise in relation to his work for the Eureka Trust.

Councillors have a responsibility to take appropriate action where questions of personal financial interest or a perceived conflict of interest arise in council deliberations or decisions.

Questions should have been raised about Corbett's involvement in the council decision to bail out the financially troubled Eureka Trust World Buskers Event. Although the decision was made behind closed doors it is believed that Corbett may of voted in favour of purchasing the festival for a reported $400,000.

BIZARRE CARTER CLAIMS


According to big-spending Labour MP Chris Carter he's being victimised by the media because he's gay!

Said the jetsetting former Labour minister:

'Why was there no interest in any other minister taking their partner with them, only me? Why should that be?'

'The only conclusion that I can draw from that is it's because I'm gay, and that if I was a heterosexual minister taking my husband or wife with me, it would be of no interest.'

This was such an absurd claim that leader Phil Goff was forced into publicly disagreeing with his silly MP. He flatly denied that he thought Carter had been singled out by the media because he was gay.

'I think this is more about media balance,' he told the media.

'They had a fair go at (Finance Minister) Bill English about his housing allowance, they wanted to have a look at one of the people who travelled more than most.'

Goff, of course, knows something about expenses. In the first six months of this year he racked up nearly $125,000 worth of travel expenses, which made him the biggest spender outside of Cabinet.

Meanwhile Parliament's Speaker, Lockwood Smith, says he does not intend to release figures showing the expenditure of MPs on private overseas travel, using between a 25 per cent and 95 per cent discount.

Smith initially said that he would but he now seems intent on trying to protect the perk crazy MPs from further scrutiny over their expense claims.

So, says Smith, while the MPs get to spend taxpayer money the taxpayer isn't going to be provided with full details on how that money is being spent.

Smith has also come out in defence of former MPs spending up large.

Long-serving former MPs enjoy free domestic travel and heavily subsidised international travel. There are more than 250 of them flying around at taxpayer expense.

Smith thinks this is just fine and claims it is 'valid recompense for long service.' Service to who exactly?

Matt McCarten got it right when he wrote in his New Zealand Herald column yesterday:

In my opinion there is an ethical sickness in our Parliament when even senior MPs no longer see themselves as the people's servants in public duty, but as political elites who are entitled to the maximum remuneration and perks they can give themselves.

REMOVING THE POLITICS FROM POVERTY


According to Wikipedia, TV3's the Big Nite In was New Zealand's tenth Telethon.

The hey day of Telethon was in the late 70s and the early 80s when, effectively,it was the only game in town. You had two television channels to choose from and that was it.

Today there are five main free to air channels plus some regional channels. if you are a Sky subscriber the you have another big bunch of channels to choose from. And then, of course, there's the Internet.

So Telethon can longer flaunt itself as the focus of the nation, its just another media diversion among a wide range of others diversions.

And that was part of the problem with the Big Nite In. The 'celebrities' (mostly TV3 presenters) worked hard to generate excitement but you couldn't help but notice there were not a lot people about. Back in its heyday, people were actually queuing to get into the various Telethon venues - but this year the hosts were regularly calling on viewers to 'come on down'.

It didn't help TV3's cause that this was very much an Auckland-driven event. There were regular breakouts to the various regional centres - but they remained largely periphery to the main show in Auckland.

But this just reflects what has happened with New Zealand television over recent years- it has largely shifted to Auckland and it is widely perceived to be unrepresentative of the rest of the country.

From where I was sitting the event also suffered from celebrity syndrome - if a 'celebrity' isn't involved then its not interesting or worthwhile. So we saw a lot of celebrities but not a lot of us 'plebs' - except if we were donating money.

The Big Night In was raising money for the charity Kids Can, which supplies shoes, raincoats and food to children from poor families.

On the first night Nightline presenter Samantha Hayes told us that 'a lot of people don't think there is poverty in New Zealand - but there is.'

When asked what it tells us about New Zealand society that money has to be raised for children who are stuck in poverty, newsreader Mike McRoberts told TV Guide:

'It tells me two things really. First that poverty does exist in our country and whatever the reason is for poverty, children are suffering.The other big thing The Big Night In tells me is that in New Zealand we still have a society that cares.'

Notice how McRoberts sidestepped around the reasons for poverty in New Zealand? It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that the neoliberal economic policies of the past two decades have plunged more people into poverty while those at the top have got richer?

The Big Night In completely divorced the issue of poverty from its economic and political context It treated it as if it was just some natural phenomenon like the weather - which can be treated simply by throwing other people's money at it.

No one is responsible for 200,000 New Zealand children living in poverty - it just is.

This fundamental dishonesty by TV3 allowed Prime Minister John Key to appear on the event to praise Kids Can. But at the same his government is pursuing neoliberal economic policies that are actually driving that poverty - the same kind of economic policies that the former Labour-led government pursued.

Poverty is a dirty and uncomfortable issue but TV3, which has never been slow to promote free market ideology, presented the viewer with a sanitised and dishonest portrayal of poverty in this country.

What we got was a poverty that the corporate advertisers, who were all over the Big Night In, felt comfortable with. The dirty secrets of capitalism were swept under the carpet.

It struck me as surreal that Petra Bagust (who could provoke a class war all by herself), Carly Flynn, Oliver Driver and co were soliciting donations against a backdrop of corporate advertising urging us, among other things, to change our mobile phone service and buy a new car.

The Big Nite In has come and gone, but the issue of real poverty remains. It's a pity that this event never at any stage came to grips with poverty in New Zealand and largely trivialised it.

The Big Nite In deliberately removed the politics from poverty and left the government and the opposition parliamentary parties off the hook.

CLOWN TIME


OK, I saw a little of Q+A this morning but only because I was searching around for something more important - namely coverage of West Bromich Albion v Newcastle United.

I didn't find any coverage but I did see the Minister of Energy Gerry Brownlee bluster through an interview with Guyon Espiner. Despite the government being a major player in the electricity market, the National-led government - like the Labour-led government before it - is basically going to do nothing about the grossly exorbitant electricity prices..

During the course of that interview Brownlee referred to Jim Anderton MP as being 'left of Genghis Khan'.

This is par for the course from a neoliberal zealot like Bunter Brownlee, but the clown who hosts Q+A, Paul Holmes outrageously backed him up.

'Anderton is left of Genghis Khan' he said after the interview - for no particular reason other than he could. It was yet another one of Holmes unsubstantiated assertions left to float around the studio, gathering dust.

This is, of course, the same Paul Holmes who wrote in his biography that 'it would be quite wrong for me to possess a political agenda'.

Since Anderton is a committed supporter of the neoliberal and right wing Labour Party, how can he be seriously considered to be left wing anyway? Is Paul Holmes just stupid?

It seems that to be a 'news and current affairs' host on TVNZ you must also be a cheerleader for neoliberalism and the free market.

BILL DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE

Rush hour in Dipton.

Although the Minister of Finance has, after a long howl of public outrage, paid back half of the money he has received this year as a 'accommodation allowance', he should also be paying back the other $24,000 as well.

Bill English can only receive any accommodation allowance if his primary residence is outside of Wellington.

English is still maintaining the fiction that his primary home is in Dipton, - Radio Live's Marcus Lush called Dipton a 'ghost town' this morning - but he and his family haven't lived there for some years.

In fact English and his family shifted to Wellington over ten years ago. English concedes he spends little time in Dipton so how can justify receiving any accommodation allowance?

He can't - not really.

Of course while the focus has been on the first six months of this year, the expenses fiddling of English and other MP's looks like it stretches back a fair number of years. Since its been the taxpayer who has been picking up the tab, the taxpayer has the right to see the 'back catalogue' of MPs expenses - not just the abbreviated details that were released for the first six months of this year.

Meanwhile Labour's Chris Carter, who has been 'unavailable' for media interviews this week, has found time in his busy schedule to do some blogging.

On Labour's Red Alert blog, Carter sobs that he is being picked on!

Writes the Invisible Man:

'I’ve never been reluctant to front up on hard issues; from my sexuality, to declining consent for the Whangamata Marina.'

If Carter isn't 'reluctant to front up to the hard issues' why has he avoided the media all this week? He has left it to Labour whip Darren Hughes to squirm in front of the television cameras. As I mentioned in a previous post Hughes record on expense claims is hardly exemplary either.

Chris Carter goes on to say:

'Journalists were told that last year I went on eight international trips. Shock horror! Of course it’s not much fun visiting a country for two days, with back to back meetings and speeches – especially with flight times sometimes as long as 17 hours!

I stand by my record as an active, and I hope hardworking, Government minister.'


Carter's record is that he spent in excess of $200,000 during the first half of 2008. This included $83,000 on international travel, $83,000 travelling in limos, taxis and rental cars, $23,000 on domestic air fares and about $20,000 on accommodation.

This included paying for all the expenses of his partner.

The parliamentary MPs hoped that releasing a very edited and sanitised list of their expenses for the first half of this year would make this issue just go away. Unfortunately for them it has blown up in their faces and many MP's are now ducking for cover and trying to stay out of the media spotlight.

To borrow Bill English's phrase, it's not 'a good look' that MPs have been caught with their snouts in the trough in the midst of a deep and worsening recession.

The official unemployment rate has hit a 10-year high of 6 percent, new figures showed yesterday.

Statistics New Zealand said that during the last 12 months the number of unemployed rose by 48,000 to 138,000.

THE NOT SO HONOURABLE MEMBERS


'I think in terms of the work expenses we're talking about, where people seek reimbursement for items to do with doing their job on an actual and reasonable basis, we've got a system that is transparent in terms of how it all works,'

'We also have a system of making sure internally that those claims are checked to make sure that they're reasonable before they go through. - Darren Hughes, Labour whip, June 2


After five days the Minister of Finance has bowed to public indignation and is now going to pay back half of the accommodation money he swindled from the taxpayer.

Bill English who has been telling us to all cut back our spending and, like his parliamentary colleagues complains about every little benefit infringement, has been exposed actively and knowingly fiddling his expenses - although he has sanctimoniously told us that he hasn't broken any rules. Welcome to the Bill English School of Creative Accountancy.

His decision to pay back some of the money - and no doubt the Prime Minister has leaned on him to do this - is simply designed to take the heat off himself and his government - and judging by their deafening silence on this issue, all the opposition parties as well.

Next up is the 'review' of MP's expenses, another blatant attempt to sweep this issue under the carpet.

What English has been doing got British MPs sacked. Not in this country though.

Of course we couldn't have expected Wide Boy Bill to admit to sponging off the taxpayer but neither does he appear particularly apologetic about what he has been caught doing. English would only go as far that it 'was a bad look'. Well, next time a poor beneficiary gets caught reecieving a few more measly dollars than they are 'entitled' to can they just claim it's 'a bad look' and there will be no consequences? Yeah, right.

English is not the only rip off merchant at work of course - all the parliamentary MPs appear to be at it .

Labour MP Chris Carter - who is suddenly unavailable to speak to the media- has been jetsetting around the world with his partner courtesy of us. He spent in excess of $200,000 during the first half of 2008. This included $83,000 on international travel, $83,000 travelling in limos, taxis and rental cars, $23,000 on domestic air fares and about $20,000 on accommodation. What's he been doing with all those air points he's stacked up?

It was left to Labour whip Darren Hughes to field questions from the media. He looked uncomfortable on the television news and rightly so - after all, he charged over $40,000 to the taxpayer last year for residing in a ritzy hotel opposite the Beehive.

Of course Darren Hughes and Labour were opposed to any public release of any details about MPs expenses. In early June Hughes told Radio New Zealand:

'I think in terms of the work expenses we're talking about, where people seek reimbursement for items to do with doing their job on an actual and reasonable basis, we've got a system that is transparent in terms of how it all works,'

'We also have a system of making sure internally that those claims are checked to make sure that they're reasonable before they go through.'

Either Hughes is stupid or he was just going a snow job - or both.

Only the tip of the iceberg has been exposed on this scandal.

It's apparent that cocooned within the Beehive, our 'parliamentary representatives' are completely detached from the lives of ordinary people.

Some sixteen years ago, the estranged Italian wife of a high-living nursing home manager complained to the police that she was not getting her fair share of his kickbacks.

That earned her a mention in Italian history books and touched off the 'Clean Hands 'investigation that ended up exposing corruption so vast that payoffs were found to have routinely doubled the cost of public works projects. Bribes from companies big and small, it became apparent, financed political parties.

Prosecutors went after thousands of officials and businesspeople from all over Italy, and eventually brought down the country's top political parties and they have subsequently disappeared altogether.

Unfortunately that's not going to happen to our establishment parties and, again, we are reminded that we lack a genuine mass workers party.

Under such a party there would be no excessive salaries. No official, no member of representative and legislative bodies, no individual exercising a state power, should receive a salary higher than that of a skilled worker. That is the only valid method of preventing people from seeking public office as a way of feathering their nests and sponging on society, the only valid way to get rid of the careerists and the parasites.

OUT FOR THE COUNT?


The murky business affairs of embattled property developer Dave Henderson have become a little clearer over the past 48 hours.

Hendo has effectively been caught in a pincer-like movement from two recievers - BDO Spicers and Price Waterhouse.

As I mentioned in my last post on Hendo the locks were changed on his all South of Lichfield bars late last week.

However it was not another Hendo ploy to keep out of reach of his numerous creditors. The Press has reported that Price Waterhouse receiver Malcolm Hollis took possession of the bars Yellow Cross, Fat Eddie's, and Cleaners Only and the Fish & Chip Shop restaurant in SOL Square last Thursday afternoon.

Information though has been hard to come by as the staff in the various bars were sworn to secrecy. However rumours spread that something was going down on SOL.

Normally not short of a diatribe or two, Hendo has remained conspicuously silent about the recent developments with his SOL bars.

Another Hendo company, Tuam Ventures, was put into receivership last week.

Tuam Ventures owned one of the buildings on SOL Square. The building houses half Hendo's SOL Square bars between Tuam and Lichfield Street in Christchurch. The property fronts Tuam Street and takes up about half of the SOL Square development.

The BNZ was the principally lender but it declined to renew the mortgage.

BDO Spicers partner Stephen Tubbs was last week appointed receiver over Tuam Ventures.

It will be the task of Tubbs to ready the building for sale.

So it is seemingly all coming apart for Hendo, who has managed to hang on until now.

Chris Hutching in the National Business Review explains:

'The strategic significance of the receivership for Mr Henderson is that until now he has been able to control the cashflow from the building, paying interest-only on the BNZ mortgage and using the rest of the money from the bars and restaurants to keep his operations going and to satisfy creditors.'

So, in a space of a few short days, Hendo has lost both these sources of desperately needed funds.

Meanwhile the Inland Revenue has applied to liquidate Henderson's hospitality company Atlas Food and Beverage in an action that will be heard in the High Court next Monday.

The idea that he will buy back the five city properties he sold to the Christchurch City Council now looks extremely unlikely.

The man who Mayor Sideshow Bob Parker labelled a 'urban visiobary' looks like he could well be out for the count this time.

MP EXPENSES : FULL DISCLOSURE WANTED


While the media focus is presently on the money that MP's have been misusing for 'accommodation' expenses - with the Minister of Finance Bill English and the Minister of Housing Phil Heatley being the two most high profile cases - the media have yet to ask why we have only been given the MP expenses for the first half of this year.

Bryce Edwards makes this point on his Liberation blog. As Edwards say, we should at, the very least, been giving all the MP's expenses for the full financial year. As Edwards says parliamentary budgets don't actually operate on a 1 January to December 31 basis.

So what is being hidden? What do 'our representatives' not want us to know?

Well, in the second half of last year there was, of course, a general election. The MPs may well be trying to conceal that they were spending up large in the months leading up to the general election.

In Britain the scandal over the expense claims of MPs led to a 'back catalogue' of MP expense claims being released to the public.

Edwards writes:

Again this is one of the lessons to come out from over there – the public needs to see the parliamentary expenditure going back at least a few years – not just the selected few months of current year expenses.

This lack of real transparency and the suspicion that there are other expense fiddles being concealed, goes some way explaining the lack of criticism coming from the opposition parties.

You would of expected Labour to launch into English for taking the taxpayer for a ride but they have remained conspicuously silent - as have the Green Party, the party that likes to take the moral high ground on matters like this. Of course, there are suspicions that Green co-leader Russel Norman was rorting the system during the Mt Albert by-election campaign.

Pro-Labour blogs like The Standard, while criticising Bill English and co, haven't raised any questions about what Labour MPs have been doing with their expense claims.

What we want is full disclosure - not just the disclosure that the parliamentary parties are comfortable with.

FUN AND GAMES WITH HENDO



There have been interesting developments at South of Lichfield (SOL), the supposed 'jewel' in the disintegrating property 'empire' of embattled Christchurch property developer Dave 'Hendo' Henderson and good mate of the Minister of Local Government, Rodney Hide and Christchurch Mayor Sideshow Bob Parker.

It seems that a lot of locks were changed at at least three SOL bars last week - namely the ones owned owned by Hendo, including Yellow Cross and Fat Eddie's.

As usual when it comes to Davy boy, talk of receivership is in the air - although he has managed to avoid it so far.

No receivers have yet been appointed to Hendo's business ventures.

So is this just Henderson using his company Property Ventures to coveniently step in as bar landlord and thus cut off the angry creditors at the pass?

This is the kind of stunt Hendo would pull.

It's especially suspicious since all the bars have been trading since.

SEND IN THE CLOWN


A few months ago TVNZ publicist Andi Brotherston started sending me transcripts for TVNZ's very poor Sunday morning 'current affairs' show Q+ A. After I wrote something disparaging about this gutless show, the material stopped coming.

One of the many reasons that I don't bother with Q+A is its host. I don't want my Sunday mornings infiltrated by Paul Holmes.

Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger once remarked that everything Paul Holmes touches 'turns into a circus'. Yes indeed - Holmes truly is a clown.

The man who called Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, 'a cheeky darkie', is out of the same political mould as the clown who co-hosts TVNZ's weekday Breakfast show. Like Paul Henry, he is right wing, arrogant and egotistical.

And, like Henry, he is also a charlatan. He pretends he doesn't have a political axe to grind.

In his biography Holmes writes;

'I like people right across the political divides...it would be quite wrong for me to possess a political agenda.'

Really? For someone who claims not to have political view he has reserved most of his criticisms and barbs for those on the left of the political spectrum.

Over the weekend Holmes went into bat for the self-proclaimed 'working class battler' and Minister of Employment Paula Bennett.

In his weekend New Zealand Herald column Holmes, who also supported convicted partner basher Tony Veitch, praised the law-breaking Minister to the skies:

'The week, I have to say, belongs to Paula Bennett. She connects. She speaks normally. She talks the average person's language. We know where she comes from and she remembers where she comes from. She has the X factor.'

Holmes is praising a Minister who broke the Privacy Laws by releasing confidential information about two beneficiaries. She also breached her own Cabinet manual.

For someone who is big on 'law and order' issues, Holmes is entirely unconcerned that Bennett has broken the law. It's one rule for the poor, another rule entirely for the rich and powerful.

In fact he appears to be in love with Ms Bennett . He must be infatuated with her to write drivel like this:

'Charisma, in its extreme form, can be elevating and inspiring. It can also simply be an aura, a quality, that makes us expect something interesting, something we will connect to or relate to, from the person who has it. So it is with Paula Bennett. She has a little of the darkness that stars have, too, and she is becoming, in her own way, a political star.'


Crikey. This deserves to be in 'Pseuds Corner' in Private Eye.

Paul Holmes has absolutely no qualms with Bennett flouting the law because the two beneficiaries are apparently receiving 'free money'. Just to rub it in, he outlines again what the two women are receiving from Work and Income. This champion of 'law and order' has now broken the law himself.

Holmes, reliving his talkback radio days, can't resist doing some beneficiary bashing. This wealthy and smug clown, like the politician he clearly adores, arrogantly presumes he has the right to invade the privacy of two young mothers who dared to criticise government policy.

ALL ABOARD THE GRAVY TRAIN!


Just a day or so ago we learned that jolly Roger Douglas has been holidaying around the globe with his wife, courtesy of the taxpayer.

Douglas, who wants to cut spent government by taking the axe, among other things, to what remains of the welfare state, says he is 'entitled' to spend our money on his summer holidays.

This is the same man who doesn't think beneficiaries are entitled to anything more than a pittance and a life of poverty - as well as the usual harassment from Work and Income.

And now we learn that the Minister of Finance has also not been practising what he monotonously preaches.

English is receiving a whopping $1000 a week accommodation 'allowance'.

This allowance is supposedly to compensate non-Wellington based ministers for their accommodation costs while residing in the capital.

But English's $1.2 million Karori residence is his primary home. He and his family live there. His wife is a doctor in Wellington.

English has claimed more than $23,000 for living in the house for the six months to June 30. As deputy prime minister he earns $276,700 a year.

A single person on the unemployment benefit and receiving a modest accomodation allowance is receiving no more than $240-$250 a week.

Bill English, who has been calling for financial 'restraint' in the public sector, doesn't seem to think that he has to practice any of that financial restraint himself.

Like Douglas, English thinks he's 'entitled' to all that cash.

It's all aboard the gravy train with Bill and Roger!

How many other MPs are playing fast and loose with their expense claims?

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