BROWNLEE BLUNDERS AGAIN



Billy Bunter is not only annoying the good people of Christchurch, he's also got right up the nose of the people of Finland.

Some of Brownlee's 'incisive' observations on Finland included the claim that the country "hardly educates its people, and has no respect for women". Bunter now claims he was only joking but the damage has been done. Brownlee = racist bastard.

A Finnish comedian Tuomas Enbuske has fired a fired a few critical barbs in Gerry Brownlee's direction. It's not exactly Jon Stewart, but worth a look while wondering how the hell the oafish Bunter ended up as Earthquake Recovery Minister for Canterbury.

DODGY ROGER'S CLAMPDOWN!

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority chief Roger Sutton wants people in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch to be 'patient' - and is calling on local business and political leaders to enforce it.

Here's something that I missed but which Porcupine Pine didn't.

Cera chief Roger Sutton was doing his best impersonation of his boss Gerry Brownlee at last weeks Seismics and the City workshop ($700 a ticket).

He said that business leaders need to step up to ensure people stayed 'patient' during the earthquake recovery. Ten months ago Sutton - a man fast losing his credibility - was also calling for 'patience'. Which is easy for him to say since he's on a annual salary of some $750,000.

Other people wheeled in to help placate the proles in the eastern suburbs included Student Volunteer Army founder and National Party blue-eyed boy Sam Johnson, Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend, Ballantynes managing director Mary Devine and Canterbury University vice-chancellor Rod Carr.

So while houses and lives fall apart in the Eastside, Sutton wants any dissent and opposition kept firmly screwed down by his business and government mates. This probably signals more of Sutton's silly shin=digs like community 'fairs' and the like. Or maybe it'll be valium all round. It's bullshit and we all know it.

MARKET FAILURE

Christchurch has a new sports stadium - but the housing crisis in the eastern suburbs continues to be ignored. According to Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee 'the market' will sort out the problem.

Many months ago I wrote about the expanding housing crisis in the quake-savaged eastern suburbs of Christchurch and called for an immediate government response – never expecting that there would be indeed be a response.

I also called for Mayor Sideshow Bob to start advocating for the interests of the embattled folk of the Eastside. Again, I never expected Bob, frankly, to do his job.

And so, in the early months of 2012, the housing crisis has deepened and the Government refuses to intervene.

Meanwhile Sideshow Bob remains the politically neutered mayor, who 'sees no evil, thinks no evil and speaks no evil' as far as the Government is concerned. You would get a better and more meaningful response from a bowl of custard.

The solution to the housing crisis is best left to the market, Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says.

This is nothing short of ideological stupidity, a complete failure to recognise that 'the market' has failed.

Christchurch is a city without houses to rent.

There are over 2000 people seeking accommodation from welfare agencies and another 1000 being paid short-term emergency accommodation benefits. Over 6000 people are living in temporary accommodation paid for by insurance companies.

And people are being forced to pay extortionate rents for plainly inadequate housing. One tenant, for example, recently 'agreed' to a $50 rent increase in order to keep a roof over the head of herself and her children. She is now paying $450 for a four bedroom home. She is worried the rent will go up again because of the demand.

Despite the dire situation Gerry Brownlee is more concerned about maintaining the 'appropriate' investment climate,

According to Brownlee (the owner of three homes that I know of) if the Government intervened it could 'artificially lower the appetite of private investors to provide a solution that could be lucrative for investors.'

So we all know where Brownlee's priorities lie then – and it isn't with the people doing it hard in the Eastside.

It is a obvious a massive government intervention is required yet all Brownlee and co have come up with is less than a hundred temporary accommodation units – which the mainstream media have dutifully recorded as some kind of real commitment to the people of Christchurch. In reality, there is a huge fire burning in the eastern suburbs and Gerry is trying to put it out with his little plastic water pistol.

Meanwhile the Government has had no problem finding $20 million to underwrite the building of a new temporary stadium for the Canterbury Crusaders. While he has had nothing to say about the housing crisis in the eastern suburbs, Sideshow Bob hasn't been slow to say how 'excited' he is about the new sports stadium.

According to Gerry Brownlee the ' Christchurch stadium is an important step towards the restoration of normality to have a venue that catered for first-class sporting matches and entertainment events.'

I'm sure this will comfort the many thousands of people in the Eastside living in inadequate housing and barely able to pay the obscene rents being demanded by landlords.

WOMEN AT THE TIME OF REVOLUTION


This is a version of the presentation I gave on the Salem College 2012 International Women’s Day Panel, which was themed this year “Women at the Time of Revolution.” I was asked to speak about the experiences of women in the Russian Revolution and the 2011 Uprisings. By Trish Kahle.

If history has shown us anything about the nature of revolution, it has exposed the dialectical relationship between revolution and the liberation of oppressed groups. To win a strike, or demands in a movement, to succeed in radically altering the structure of a society without the active participation and leadership of women is unthinkable. Women comprise more than sixty percent of the world’s workforce, so the question becomes not one merely of adequate representation, but a real question of power.

In September 1917, on the doorstep of a revolution that would, for a time, tear down the inequality between men and women, the Bolshevik leader Lenin wrote, “Unless women take an independent part not only in political life generally, but also in daily and universal public service, it is no use talking about full and stable democracy, let alone socialism.” Lenin’s theoretical assertions on the absolute necessity of women’s place in the revolution were firmly grounded in historical experience. It was, after all, the working women of Paris who, alongside a soldiers’ mutiny, revolted in 1871, and secured power for the Paris working class. While this experience was a more dramatic example of the power working women have, it was hardly the only one.

It was a series of women’s labor struggles in the United States that led to the first International Working Women’s Day in 1911. Women in the United States inspired women around the world to take to the streets. As Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai noted: “Its success exceeded all expectation. Germany and Austria on Working Women’s Day was one seething, trembling sea of women. Meetings were organized everywhere–in the small towns and even in the villages, halls were packed so full that they had to ask male workers to give up their places for the women…Men stayed at home with their children for a change, and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings. During the largest street demonstrations, in which 30,000 were taking part, the police decided to remove the demonstrators’ banners: the women workers made a stand. In the scuffle that followed, bloodshed was averted only with the help of the socialist deputies in parliament.”

Even within the long and varied history of struggle against women’s oppression, the Russian revolution presents a very special case of what is possible. Just as the American women had inspired women around the world less than a decade before, Russia women were the catalysts behind the 1917 Russian Revolution. On International Women’s Day 1917, working women who had gathered for a series of political meetings, encouraged by the waves of political strike action, took to the streets, calling out to men working in the factories as they went. More than 50,000 joined the strike when called down by the women. Gordienko, a Bolshevik worker at the Nobel Machine Construction Factory, recalled the following scene:

On the morning of February 23 one could hear women’s voices in the lane which the windows of our department overlooked: “Down with the war! Down with high prices! Down with hunger! Bread for the workers!” Myself and several comrades were at the windows in a flash…. The gates of No. 1 Bol’shaya Sampsion’evskaya Manufaktura were wide open. Masses of women workers filled the lane, and their mood was militant. Those who caught sight of us began to wave their arms, shouting: “Come out! Quit work!” Snowballs flew through the window. We decided to join the demonstration…. A brief meeting took place outside the main office near the gates, and we poured out into the street…. The comrades in front were seized by the arm amidst shouts of “Hurray!”, and we set off with them down Bol’shoi Sampsion’evsky Prospekt.

Women continued to play a central role in the revolution for through October, and as Elizabeth Schulte notes, “Women workers took the lead in the struggle, as did their demands, and after the October Revolution, Russian revolutionaries put into effect reforms that could have a real effect on the lives of women workers, such as equal pay for equal work, freedom to divorce, paid maternity leave and taking laws off the books that criminalized homosexuality. And they attempted as best as they could, considering the shortage of resources in Russian society, to create the conditions in which liberation could begin to blossom. This meant in large part freeing women from the double burden they bear in the home–by building communal restaurants, child care centers and laundries.” The Bolsheviks also passed a declaration on women’s health that provided—for the first time in history—free abortion on demand. Abortion had been illegal before the revolution, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. After legalization, the mortality rate from abortions in the Soviet Union dropped from 4% to 0.28%.

As we know, of course, the Russian revolution was not to last and the same times other workplace, social, and democratic gains were being rolled back by the Stalinist state capitalist bureaucracy, women were stripped of their rights.

From labor battles to the struggle to abolish slavery, women were critical to every success, and they self-organized when men denied them participatory roles. During these fights, women battled, much like we are now, vicious attack from the ruling class and their conservative ideologues. Increasingly—and due to hard fought struggles—women were attaining greater levels of legal equality. This did not, however, do much to advance the social or economic equality of women because legal remedies only provided a window dressing that covered the real problem—women performed massive amounts of unpaid labor in the home and their labor elsewhere was devalued. This means that today, even though women do seventy percent of the world’s work and grow eighty percent of the world’s food, we only own one percent of the world’s assets. The women’s movement of the 1970s was ravaged by identity politics, racism, and class antagonism—culminating in a series of divisions in the women’s movement, mostly along class lines. The rightwing used this opportunity to go on the offensive, taking back hard fought gains and attempting to go even further in a thirty year period of reaction.

The 2011 happened. From Cairo to Madison, Karala India to Nigeria, working people around the world have taken a stand. Egypt, the second country to topple a long-term dictator in what has become known as the Arab Spring, is still fighting for its revolution. As Elizabeth Schulte noted: “in Egypt, Syria, Greece and other recent sites of revolt and rebellion, women and men mobilized and organized together in unprecedented ways. During struggles on this scale, workers’ ideas change–men’s ideas about women, and women’s ideas about men and also about themselves. In the process of confronting their shared and powerful enemy, such as the state and its police, men and women workers come to see their potential power as a united force.

Ideas like sexism are exposed for what they are–useless and destructive–not only because they are wrong, like misconceptions about what women are capable of, but because they divide the working class. They are exposed for their real purpose–to keep those at the top in power by dividing the masses below.”

Revolutionary Egyptian leader Asmaa Mahfouz recounted Tahrir Square. “This is the first time in my life…I was not sexually harassed in a public square. The thousands of men in that square treated me like a human being.” Here, in the midst of the chaotic whirlwind of activity, women tasted the liberation they had been seeking.

In addition to their full participation in the revolutionary movement, women in Egypt also self-organized. After a woman protester was assaulted by police, women organized an emergency protest and succeeded in turning out a hundred thousand strong march of women.

Asmaa Mahfouz’s call to action, issued in January before the occupation of Tahrir Square, reflected the women in the streets of Russia nearly a century earlier: “Whoever says women shouldn’t go to protests because they will get beaten, let him have some honor and manhood and come with me on January 25th… Go down to the street. Come with us. Bring five people or 10 people…Never say there’s no hope. Hope disappears only when you say there’s none. So long as you come down with us, there will be hope. Don’t be afraid of the government. Fear none but God. God says He will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. Don’t think you can be safe anymore. None of us are. Come down with us and demand your rights, my rights, your family’s rights. I am going down on January 25th, and I will say no to corruption, no to this regime.”

In Egypt, we don’t know how things are going to turn out, but we do know that a continued commitment to the participation of women in the revolution will be central to any success it may achieve. Without the liberation of the oppressed within a society, there can be no chance of a revolution succeeding, and that is why anyone who considers themselves a revolutionary must take up the fight against sexism, the fight against racism, against homophobia and transphobia, and all other forms of oppression.

For the first time in many of our lives, there is once again, a fighting grassroots women’s movement. The situation is one full of possibility. Standing together we are strong—in the streets, on the shop floor, on the campuses—and we can do what may have seemed impossible in the past—what might have seemed impossible last week. More true than ever are the words of Assata Shakur: “A woman’s place is in the struggle.”

This article was first published by I Can't Believe We Still Have To Protest This Shit.

GNOME SCAM ALERT!

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) chief executive Roger Sutton is urging Christchurch residents to be on the lookout for fraudsters trying to take advantage of the quakes.

He said residents needed to look out for vulnerable people who may still be susceptible to quake-related scams.

Christchurch Press, 15 March, 2012

Credit: Porcupine Farm

OLD MISTAKES FOR A NEW CITY

Is Christchurch, without any public debate, all set to resurrect a failed urban model?

When I lived in central Christchurch many years ago, I sometimes would visit the Christchurch Cathedral for some moments of meditation and reflection. While Peter Beck, the former Dean of Christchurch, encouraged people to visit the Cathedral because they might just 'touch the divine', some quiet contemplation was enough for me. A quiet sanctuary amidst the hurly-burly of city life, I often thought the Cathedral was a small capitalism -free zone where mammon was kept firmly outside.

So I'm disappointed and saddened as much as anyone that the Christchurch Cathedral is to be pulled down. But the earthquakes have taken no prisoners and the Cathedral has seen its last of days. The site is dangerous and, as each day passes, the Cathedral crumbles a little bit more.

If the Anglican Church had been prepared to take the people of Christchurch into its confidence then perhaps some of the acrimony could of been avoided. But it seems that the Bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews, has been taking lessons from the Christchurch City Council on how not to be publicly accountable and transparent.

Even so, I also think that much of the anger and yes, distress, has been provoked by the fact that so much of Christchurch's past has gone forever. While they might just be doing what has to be done, its hard not to think that the barbarians have descended on Christchurch in the form of demolition crews.

Perhaps more troubling though is while central Christchurch gets flattened, what will replace it remains unclear. There seems to be a certain arbitrariness emerging with vested interests beginning to flex their commercial muscle.

While the controversy ebbs and flows around the Cathedral how many people have noticed that a dreary square-box 13 storey office building has been proposed for the Square? The plans have been prepared yet this building fails to comply to the 7 storey limit in the draft plan.

This week a $70 million office and retail centre was proposed for the Cashel Mall and it has got the green light. Where did this proposal come from? Where is the debate? How realistic are such large building projects when major city employers have moved their offices out of central Christchurch?

Are we forgetting that, even before the quakes, central Christchurch was already in trouble? The empty shops were testament that the large suburban malls had killed off the Central Business District as a retail centre.

Yet here we are with, apparently, the rich and poweful determined to repeat the mistakes of the past.

While it might, on the surface anyway, appear strange for someone like me to be agreeing with someone like property developer Bob Jones, I think he was right when he argued that resurrecting the Christchurch CBD was a pointless and self-defeating enterprise. Wrote Jones in October last year:

Christchurch has always justifiably boasted of being our garden city. A new and realistic strategy should build on this desirable feature and abandon thoughts of resurrecting its CBD. It could follow the model of many Christchurch-sized American cities with insignificant CBDs and instead comprise suburbs, each with its own commercial centre of low-rise, low-cost, walk-up offices with shops below, in garden settings...

If Christchurch was to restructure itself in this fashion, which is both practically and financially feasible, it would be an army of gardeners and not builders that would be required, o transform it into a very different but hugely admired, fabulous garden city.

Existing major buildings that withstood the quake, such as the Art Gallery, the Forsythe Barr tower and others, would no longer sit in a city streetscape, but instead in isolation in a garden setting linked by avenues. It would not be a worse scenario, but instead different from before and arguably a great deal more appealing. The planners should abandon the ridiculous Noddyland terraced offices proposal put before the public, plainly designed by people with no awareness of contemporary office market demands for space and light.

We need a radically different and people-orientated city, not some pale imitation of a failed urban model that only serves to placate the property developers and vested commercial interests.

The danger though is that is exactly what we're going to get.

THE POOR ARE DIFFERENT

Paula Bennett's ignoble policies lie on an assumption that the poor are different and we can kick them around 'for their own good'.

A friend of mine applied for a menial low paid job three weeks ago. Despite having university qualifications, he never even made it to the interview stage. He later learnt that there had been over eighty applications for the one job. This is not untypical in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s and one that continues to threaten to pull down more national economies.

John Key and Paula Bennett are right when they say that there are jobs 'out there'. The problem is that there have are so few of them and an increasing number of people applying for them.

The irony is that while this Government is insisting that there are jobs are to be found, it has, so far, made over 3500 public servants redundant.

It wasn't so long ago that Key declared that his government would create 170,000 new jobs over the next five years. Since John Key’s National Party took office in November 2008, 53,000 New Zealanders have joined the unemployment ranks. That’s a 54% increase in the number of people unemployed to a total of 150,000. This doesn't count of people who have simply dropped out of the workforce nor does it encompass the increasing problem of casualisation. More and more people simply cannot get sufficient hours to make ends meet.

Despite Paula Bennett's puffery about 'a job being a job', if a job fails to meet a person's basic living expenses then this simply only serves to expand the number of 'working poor'. A job isn't a job when it doesn't keep the wolves from the door.

Despite its failure to create an economy that can provide sufficient employment, National has commenced on its goal to create a reduced and more punitive welfare state. The message is an all too familiar one - welfare beneficiaries are responsible for the circumstances that the find themselves them in. It's not the fault of a failing capitalist economy and government policies that have deliberately stolen the money of the poor and given it to the already wealthy.

Somehow, somewhere, the National Government have been able to turn the issue of welfare into a moral argument about how poor people should be treated.

Bennett's moral judgment about getting young mothers back into the workforce take no account of economic circumstances, local labour markets with no jobs. the need for qualifications and the limited opportunities for those who don’t have them. They do not consider the sheer insecurity of so many low-paid jobs, the real and major difficulties of juggling low-paid work with family responsibilities, the life-long advantages that the right parents and the right inheritance can buy you.

In the end, Bennett's ignoble policies lie on an assumption that the poor are different and she can kick them around 'for their own good'.

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