DENIAL OF DEMOCRACY

The wrecking balls of Gerry Brownlee and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA)  have now wiped out almost a third of Christchurch's heritage buildings  and there are still more to come down. Little of  Christchurch's distinctive character  will remain after the carnage is over.  It is symptomatic of a rebuilding process that has placed corporate interests  well ahead of the interests and concerns of the  people of Christchurch.  The corporates will reap the big profits  while local people will get the big bills.

To date, 174 of the 585 listed heritage buildings in Christchurch have been demolished - about a third of them. And local people have had no say in the matter.

Despite increasing local anger, the Christchurch City Council says it is powerless to stop the destruction. Many  councillors  are angry that the council has effectively  been sidelined and are becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation they find themselves in.

Cr Peter Beck  told  The Press earlier  this week: 'It's another example of the way in which the local community, through the council, is being ignored. The view of the people in this city is not being listened to.''

 Cr Yani Johanson, chairman of the council's community recreation and culture committee commented: ''We have got to the stage where the frustration is immense. We have sent lots of letters but I think we need to start meeting face-to-face with the minister.''

Cr Glenn Livingstone said: ''This is a loss of democracy; it's like trying to negotiate with kidnappers.'

Christchurch and Labour MP Lianne Dalziel has echoed the concerns of councillors.  In a opinion piece for The Press she says  a 'top down' approach to the rebuild of Christchurch has been foisted on local people.

Writes Dalziel: 'The minute the Government decided to establish a government department to run the recovery, as opposed to an independent Crown entity, and exclude the people and their democratically elected council from the process, the recovery was on the wrong track.'

She goes  on to say:   'Empowering communities is vital after a disaster, and yet this Government has disempowered communities, as well as their democratically elected council. The failure to work collaboratively with the Christchurch City Council over the Government's blueprint for the central city has locked out the voice of the people even further. '

Last year The Christchurch City Council launched its 'Share An Idea' campaign which allowed local people input into  a new vision for Christchurch. It elicited thousands of responses.    These ideas were party  of a draft Central City Plan .

But the draft city plan was not viewed favourably in the corporate sector.

The NZ Property Council, which represents 'commercial, industrial, retail, property Funds and multi unit residential property owners, managers and investors', was not impressed.

Connal Townsend , the chief Executive of the Property Council,  writes in its 2012 Annual Report:  'By September Christchurch City Council had released a highly prescriptive draft Inner City Plan that generated considerable disquiet throughout the country. The release, on 13 October, of the formal letter from CERA  to Mayor Bob Parker advising the city that the inner city plan was not  acceptable to the crown in its present form as it did “not represent  the requirements or aspirations of commercial property owners or  investors” was a great relief'.

Clearly 'the requirements or aspirations ' of local people are of no consequence to Connal Townsend and the NZ  Property Council.

Tony Sewell,  National President of the Property Council (and Property Manager with Ngai Tahu), shares a  similar elitist and undemocratic  view.  He writes in the annual report:

'...On 13 October, months of hard work by National Office and the South Island Branch Executive paid off when the new Christchurch re-development agency, CERA, formally rejected Christchurch City Councils Inner City Plan - and resolved to develop a new plan in house - this time in consultation with Property Council members....'

Sewell's casual dismissal of the aspirations of the local Christchurch community is breathtaking  - as is his contempt for local democracy.

CERA  showed its true colours and did the bidding of the corporate sector.

The   Christchurch City Council inner city draft plan was  simply tipped into the rubbish bin by  the  Christchurch  Central  Development Unit which went ahead and developed a corporate-friendly plan.

Not surprisingly, the corporate sector and its cheerleaders embraced it.

Christchurch's richest man, Philip Carter of the Carter Group said "...it stacks up commercially, we'll be looking at it. We are committed to Christchurch.'

Mayor Bob Parker said he was 'very excited by the plan'.

Mark Solomon, the Chair of  Ngai Tahu, commented that the new 'revised' plan: '...provides a robust framework to promote community, business and investor confidence in the city.

CERA's Roger Sutton said the new plan was 'unbelievably exciting'. .

 'I, like so many others, am staggered by the vision and the boldness of what the CCDU team produced.' said Sutton, also clearly not concerned that the concerns and ideas of local people  have simply been ignored. 

What  we now  have is the blatant  denial of democratic process or community involvement in the rebuild process.  It seems that a select few in the corporate sector are to  benefit from or have any say in the rebuilding of Christchurch.

But, despite being shut of the rebuilding process, local people are expected to bankroll many of the new facilities. The corporates, like Ngai Tahu and the Carter Group, will take away the big profits and local people are expected to pay the big bills for a city plan that they have had  no input into.

 In her book The Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein writes:

Unlike the disaster capitalists who use crisis to end-run democracy, a People’s Recovery....would call for new democratic processes, including neighbourhood assemblies, to decide how hard-hit communities should be rebuilt.

Graphic: Porcupine Farm

THAT'S ALL FOLKS

A dark shadow is creeping over the land of  low wages and high unemployment. Yes, The Hobbit is approaching. 

I cannot say how  enormously excited I am  about  the forthcoming New Zealand premiere of The Hobbit in Wellington next week.

The Warner Bros Hype Machine has chugged into gear and by the time of the premiere  next week it'll be in overdrive and  threatening to blow  a gasket.

As with the Lord of the Rings, we can expect both the two main television  channels to provide extensive coverage  of the premiere  giving the movie a ton of free publicity  for Warner Bros under the pretence that  its very important  'news' that we all need to know about. 

Other movies , like the latest James Bond for instance , have to pay for advertising and  marketing  but The  Hobbit gets a big chunk of it for free. This is  obviously because it was directed by Peter Jackson and was made in New Zealand (although much of it will be barely  recognisable after Jackson 's  trademark  heavy duty CGI assault).

In fact Jackson and Warner Bros have done  really  well out of New Zealand.   While transporting visiting Warner executives  around in government  luxury cars, the National Government agreed to introduce new employment legislation and provide a 15 per cent rebate in order  to get Warner Bros to keep  the film in New Zealand.

This meant  another $34 million in tax breaks. This brought  the total cost to us , including tax rebates and the marketing credit, to just under $100 million. In return, we get some vague and undefined tourism 'benefits' which are supposed to 'trickle down' to us at the bottom.  And if you believe that, well...there is no hope for you.

The attack on workers rights was particularly odious. Warner Bros  launched the kind of attack  that they would  never even contemplate in Hollywood. Why? Because Hollywood workers are protected by strong and organised unions.  Even Tom Cruise is a card-carrying union member.

The media giant (who Jackson laughably claimed  acted 'very honourably')  launched a very nasty anti-union campaign to prevent workers acquiring the kind of conditions their colleagues enjoy in the United States and the Government did the bidding of the media multinational.

But its not been  all beers and skittles down  in Hobbiton.

A lot of  people are  still angry  about the rewriting of labour laws to meet the demands of Warner Bros and Peter Jackson. While he might still be the darling of the political establishment his support among the wider populace is now  more ambivalent.

And the Tolkien Estate is up in arms. It is  suing  Warner Bros for   $98 million for   allegedly  breaching contractual arrangements  for Lord of the Rings merchandising and property.  It says  Warner Bros have done 'irreparable harm' to Tolkien's  legacy by authorising inappropriate merchandise, including Lord of the Rings-themed online gambling games.

And PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) have alleged that animals were mistreated during the filming of The Hobbit.  Jackson has strenuously denied the charges. But PETA will be protesting at the premiere nevertheless.

But come the premiere all this inconvenient 'unpleasantness', with the help of a complaint media, will be swept into a cupboard under some stairs in Jackson's Waikato mansion. 

Journalists will put their brains in neutral and Jackson again will be hailed as god - not as an  unpleasant movie mogul who has been  attacking the rights of his workers.  There will be a whole heap of 'lurvy durviness', backslapping and empty waffle about 'golden opportunities for tourism'.  The Government will attempt to bask in the reflected glow of The Hobbit and John Key will get to talk about his good mate Pete.  And we will all be living in a very happy nation. Yes we will.

But behind the fantasy of  The Hobbit is one big  and one  very real money-making machine. And there's even more dosh to  be made  after Jackson and Warner Bros decided to make three movies out of a relatively short and straightforward novel written principally for children.  It'll be  three bites at the carrot for Peter Jackson and Bugs Bunny. That's all folks.

Graphic: Ed Muzik

'JOURNALISM IT AIN'T'

The EPMU's  Neale Jones throws mud in the direction of this blog.

Neale Jones, the Communications Director at the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union  (EPMU) is proving to be a man who wants  to shoot the messenger  when he doesn't like the message.

Jones didn't like what Tom Peters of the World Socialist Web Site was writing about the  EPMU's role in the Pike River disaster and accused him of supplying 'misinformation'. There was no attempt to address the substantive issues raised by Peters.

Peters responded to Jones here. He commented that Jones was simply making  'a crude attempt to divert attention from the role of his union.'

And now Jones has tweeted that my article isn't journalism.

Tweets Jones: 'Even the quotes in this piece appear to be dodgy. No links, no context & one doesn't even seem to exist.'

Really? He hasn't provided any details to back his claims  but Jones, true to form, is simply trying to smear myself and the article. What an odious  little man. He provides more evidence that rank and file members  need to regain control  over their unions.

Jones was referred to the article by John Drinnan (@Zagzigger) the NZ Herald's  media commentator.

Incidentally, this article is the hot favourite to be the most viewed post on this blog this year.

The International Socialist Organisation has an interesting article on the Pike River disaster here,

Also, you can also check out this article on the Pike River disaster on the Redline blog.

CHARLIE AND HIS MEDIA POODLES

Did the BBC cover up Jimmy Savile's  child abuse because he was a friend of Prince Charles?  That's a question our local media won't be investigating....

The  New Zealand mainstream media is so entangled with the political establishment that the concept that they are  the 'fourth estate'  investigating the rich and powerful is empty nonsense. These days the mainstream media is more likely to attack  the poor and vulnerable while cheerleading for the rich and powerful.

And when that rich and powerful person happens to be a member of the  British royal family, the media drops any semblance of journalistic independence and integrity   and simply  kisses the royal backside.  Such is the case with Prince Charles

So this evening's  Prime News, One  News and 3 News  all thought that Charlie's  64th birthday bash was of such crucial importance that it warranted being one of their leading stories - complete with simpering smiles from the newsreaders.  It was the leading news story for Prime  and the second story  for both TVNZ and TV3. It would of probably been the lead item except for the fact that a verdict had been delivered in a high profile  child murder case.

Such has been the media's sycophancy that Charles has been omitted from the media's  coverage of the Jimmy Savile case.  Just like  what Joe Stalin did to his political opponents, Charlie has been airbrushed out of the picture.

When Savile died last year at the age of 84, a spokesperson for Charles said: “The Prince of Wales and the Duchess are saddened to hear of Sir Jimmy Savile’s death, and their thoughts are with his family at this time.”

Savile was well in with the British establishment. He was a close friend of Margaret Thatcher and is reported  to have spent thirteen consecutive Christmases watching television, 'shoes off in front of the fire', with the Thatchers at Chequers.

He was also good friends with Charles. This has  led  to veteran broadcaster and entertainer  Bill Oddie to suggest - as have others -  that Jimmy Savile’s abuse was covered up because he was friends with royalty.

Oddie recently   backed claims made by other former BBC presenters that Savile’s activities were well known at the time.

He said: “The idea that youngsters were prey – everybody knew that. I was not surprised at all. And the surprise is in a sense that it didn’t happen years ago. The establishment or who ever it is decided to keep it all quiet and decided to give him a knighthood. He was, to a certain amount, a friend of royalty. I do not know why it took so long to come to light. That is what I am curious about.'

Now we learn that police  investigating complaints of sexual abuse in the Church of England have arrested a former bishop and 'loyal friend' of  Charles.

The alleged incidents are believed  to have taken place during the late 1980s and early 1990s

The Rt Rev Peter Ball, 80, resigned as Bishop in 1993, only two years after he was appointed. He quit after receiving a police caution for committing an act of gross indecency against a trainee teenage monk.

Shortly afterwards he was given sanctuary by Charles who personally invited him to live in a cottage on one of his  many properties.

But it looks like Charles isn't going to be asked about any of this. He  is going to breeze through New Zealand  with  a docile and dozy local  media in tow. More banal stories are to come - you can count on that.

DANGER! DANGER! DICKHEAD APPROACHING!

One former Ten executive has described  the hiring of Paul Henry as the  “The worst on-air appointment I’ve seen in 20 years”  but it looks like TVNZ are thinking about  inflicting  Paul  Henry on us again.

Paul Henry's Breakfast show on Ten has been axed for  persistently low ratings.  It seems that Australian television viewers didn't have quite the high opinion of Paul Henry as he does of himself.

In June  the host of  Breakfast  predicted  the show’s rating's would improve once its inexperienced production team had  found its feet. Apparently the dismal  ratings had nothing to do with the fact that Australian television viewers just didn't like Paul Henry and his right wing bigotry.

Said Henry  ”Everyone thinks breakfast is the people you see on television. Much more of breakfast is the ice under the water, and it’s new for all of them.'

But two months later Breakfast continued  to struggle   pulling in roughly one-tenth of the number of viewers that its morning rivals were  getting. It had an audience of just 30,000 and it was making no money despite costing $7 million to produce - $1 million of that reportedly being pocketed by Paul Henry.

In comparison, Seven's Sunrise was  pulling  in a daily audience of some 370,000 while Nine's Today was attracting a  daily audience of approximately 310,000.

One former Ten executive described  the hiring of Paul Henry  as “The worst on-air appointment I’ve seen in 20 years”.

One viewer observed: "Get rid of the nasty guy with glasses and ratings may rise."

But Ten ignored this sensible advice possibly because  Henry was the personal pick of Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert, who flew to New Zealand to meet 'the genius'.

So Henry will have to find somewhere else to inflict his  sneering right wing bigotry and he may be looking to TVNZ to meet his big fat salary demands. He is reported to be  a contender to take over from Mark Sainsbury once Close Up is closed down for good at the end of the year.

Given the  lamentably low standards exhibited by TVNZ's news and current affairs service, its not surprising that  the state-owned channel  appears to have no concerns about  allowing Henry to re-commence his on air love affair with the Prime Minister.

'THIS KIND OF MISINFORMATION DOESN'T HELP ANYONE'

The Communications Director for the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) gets all defensive about the role the EPMU played in the Pike River mining disaster.

Tom Peters has written several   excellent articles on the Pike River mining disaster for the World Socialist Website.

One article in particular provoked a reaction from Neale Jones,  the Communications Director for the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU).

The article, 'Drilling company admits safety breaches in mine disaster', (August 11)  reported  the admission of VLI Drilling that it failed to ensure its workers’ safety at the Pike River mine in the period leading up to the first explosion in November 2010.

The article appeared on the website and the Facebook page Investigate Pike River Mine Disaster.

Retorted  Jones: 'I have to say, this posting is just complete ignorance typical of the so-called ‘world socialist website’ (sic), which is written by an obscure Marxist group that has an axe to grind against the NZ union movement. The reality is the EPMU is at the forefront of efforts to bring mine safety up to international best practice, including worker-elected check inspectors. This kind of misinformation doesn’t help anyone.'

Jones made no effort to refute the charges of negligence laid at the door of the EPMU. Nor has he had  anything to say about the EPMU's compliant relationship with the management of PRC.

Jones was also Communications Director of the EPMU when Andrew Little was National Secretary and is also a member of the Labour Party.

In the past he has been a regular contributor to the Labour-aligned website The Standard, writing under a pseudonym.

You can find him on Twitter here.

HOW 'MODERN UNIONISM' FAILED THE PIKE RIVER MINERS


The dismal role of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) in the Pike River mining disaster.

When the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River mining disaster issued its report  this week, the response of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) was immediate. It issued a press statement welcoming  the   report and is encouraging the Government to implement the recommended   changes as soon as possible.

The statement quoted EPMU assistant national secretary Ged O’Connell who declared that report should mark a turning point for mine safety in New Zealand.

This report is a damning indictment of New Zealand’s deregulated health and safety regime. Pike River Coal Ltd should never have been allowed to operate in the way it did, and in other countries it wouldn’t have been allowed to.
 

The report makes clear that the tragic loss of life at Pike River could have been prevented with stronger regulations, an independent and well-resourced mine safety inspectorate and genuine worker involvement in health and safety.

We hope the failings exposed in this report spell the end of the deregulated health and safety regime of the last 20 years. This vindicates the union’s repeated calls for improvements in mine safety and for the reintroduction of check inspectors.


This statement represents a complete change of heart by the EPMU officialdom for it was never critical of  Pike River Coal (PRC) during the time that  the mine was open.   The EPMU represented approximately half of the 140 miners on the site.

After the first explosion the EPMU strongly  defended the management of PRC.

EPMU National secretary Andrew Little (now a Labour MP)  told the New Zealand Herald on November 22  2010 that   there was 'nothing unusual about Pike River or this mine that we’ve been particularly concerned about'.

He then appeared on TVNZ's  Close Up  to again defend PRC management.

He told Close Up that underground mining was inherently unsafe and the risk of gas explosions, particularly on the West Coast, was high.

While the industry was aware of the risks and took the necessary precautions, unfortunately these kinds of incidents still happened, he argued.

On November 26, 2010 the Dominion Post  ran an article that   denounced  'wild'  rumours that the mine was not safe. It declared  that  “Any suggestion of obvious or known safety lapses does not find traction with unionised staff or union leader Andrew Little.'

Andrew Little's conciliatory views toward  PRC management were echoed by Labour MP Damien O'Connor. He suggested that no one was responsible for the accident and that the  disaster was ‘just one of these things that the West Coast unfortunately has had to get used to over the years’.

Little and O'Connor's views would of found  favour with the Minister for Energy and Resources , Gerry Brownlee. He insisted that PRC had ‘an absolute focus on health and safety’.

So here  we had the Government , the Labour Party and the EPMU all lining up to defend the management of PRC.

At the  time this writer commented: 'All workers at the mining site should be seriously concerned that the EPMU has such a benevolent view of its safety standards .'

The views of Andrew Little and the EPMU flew in the face of expert opinion.

While Andrew Little  was defending PRC   an  Australian gas drainage engineer, who wished to remain anonymous because he feared 'recriminations', said he visited Pike River in 2009  and observed that its  operating standards were 'extremely poor'.

He said  that he had been told by miners  that the mine was flooded with methane gas about three weeks before the first explosion. 

He said  miners had bored through 'high flow methane holes' without any risk assessment conducted or procedure on how to manage gas flow from the hole in place. He was critical  that PRC has not yet implemented a gas drainage drilling regime that could relieve the pressure when there was  a  build up of gas by drilling a hole in the coal seam.

The New Zealand Herald, also in November 2010,   quoted Gerry Morris of Greymouth, a former writer for Coal magazine, who said he had 'heard regularly' from contractors at the mine 'over the last two or three years that this mine is unsafe, there’s far too much gas, there’s going to be a disaster here one day'.

But despite the overwhelming evidence that there was  something seriously and dangerously wrong at the Pike Rive rnine, the officials of the  EPMU did nothing.

The mine opened in November 2008  and on not  one occasion did the EPMU  initiate   industrial action or even  criticise PRC'S  safety standards, even after a group of workers  walked off the job to protest the lack of basic emergency equipment.

The walk out by miners was revealed by miner  Brent Forrester. He  told TVNZ’s Sunday  on December 5 2010 that  he once helped organise a walkout of about 10 miners to protest the lack of basic emergency equipment, including stretchers and an emergency transport vehicle. They received no support from the EPMU .  Andrew Little  even insisted that  PRC ' had a good health and safety committee that’s been very active.'

It was exactly this benevolent attitude  by the EPMU that allowed PRC - and the Department of Labour - to continue as if it was just 'business a usual'. It appears that no-one was  protecting the interests and concerns of the workers on the mining site.  The EMPU failed to organise industrial action  to address safety concerns  at the  mine in favour of  'cooperating' with management, what it and the CTU sometimes  refer to as 'modern unionism'.

There won't be any resignations from within the EPMU for dereliction of duty and, of course, Andrew Little  has escaped to Parliament.

AN ELECTION DAY HISTORY LESSON

Barack Obama wins four more years in the White House but the American working class will lose unless it begins to form  its own political alternative. And there is inspiration and guidance to be found in American history. By Trish Kahle.
 
No two historical situations are exactly the same, but sometimes the similarities are too eerie to ignore.

After a decade of right-wing reaction and working class retreat, crisis led to an explosion–but I’m not talking about the revolutionary explosion of the Arab Spring, or the occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol by union members and their allies, or Occupy Wall Street.  I’m talking about 1930.

A reporter for the New York World described March 6, a day that began with President Hoover claiming employment would rise and ended with more than 500,000 people in the streets of 25 US cities, like this: “Women struck in the face with blackjacks, boys beaten by gangs of seven and eight policemen, and an old man backed into a doorway and knocked down time after time…. One of [the women] fought savagely howling curses…. A detective ran up and while the policemen held her crashed his blackjack into her face three times before a man dragged her away.“

Despite the repression, the protesters were back again later that year.  This fight–the fight for basic relief and welfare services for the skyrocketing numbers of unemployed–was ultimately successful, securing $1 million in new relief funds (in today’s money, that would $14 million).  Even more importantly, however, this victory was the beginning of a larger social struggle–and it was a struggle–that led to reforms we now remember under the broad name “The New Deal.”  Of the New Deal reforms, one of the longest lasting and almost certainly the most popular is Social Security, which was passed under the SSA in 1935.

Typically, we are told that the New Deal was a reform program championed by FDR.  But this story is not only false, it obscures the lessons we can learn from the struggles of the 1930s about how to organize–and more importantly–how to win.  The Great Depression, which lasted from the stock market crash of 1929 until World War II, was a school of struggle for hundreds of thousands of members of the American working class.  As people came to understand their collective power–whether by sitting in on the floors of their factories, fighting lynching and racist court decisions, demanding price control through roaming boycotts, or organizing the unemployed as a force of potential labor and social upheaval–they learned through trial and error what worked and what didn’t.

This is to point out how fluid and dynamic the struggle that culminated in the Social Security Act was.  There was not a meeting after the October 1929 crash where workers sat down and decided to pursue such a program.  In fact, when the SSA was passed in 1935, there was still very little consensus over whether the program met the demands of the people who had fought for it, and if it were not for WWII, the social tensions that were behind the massive strike waves, anti-eviction campaigns, and sharecropper organizing could have escalated.  The organizers of the 1930s did not have the bounds on their thinking that the knowledge of the coming war imposes on us.  In fact, Social Security was part of a bigger struggle that had a broad vision for a society that put working people first, that ensured people would not starve as their farms blew into sand across the Dust Bowl.  Because of this, we cannot talk about Social Security without also talking about that larger struggle–a struggle in which many people died to ensure that the dictates of the market would not determine whether or not a person would eat.

Much like the people who formed unemployed councils in the early years of the 1930s, the American working class finds itself in a barely contained free-fall.  Living standards, which had been in decline since the 1970s, took a nose dive after the 2008 economic crash.  Around the world, poor and working people have been blamed for a crisis they didn’t cause.  And instead of making the banks and multinational corporations that caused the crisis pay for it, the ruling class–the 1%, as it were–are ramming through austerity packages around the globe, causing their profits to spike while wages, benefits, and real employment numbers continue to drop.  Now, to add insult to injury, American politicians, Democrat and Republican, have put the social welfare policies on which millions of American rely on the block to receive the budget axe.  The same policies for which women were beaten by policemen in the streets of New York, for which tenants defied eviction orders, for which unemployed people and workers were shot at by gun thugs are being stripped away.  Critically, not only will these austerity measures not fix the financial crisis, they will create a social catastrophe.

But if there’s one lesson we can learn from the struggles of the 1930s that culminated in, among other things, Social Security, the cornerstone of the too-meager American social safety net, it’s this: FDR might have signed the SSA into law, but it was the people like us–the workers, the farmers, the unemployed–who created it.

We can’t wait for a politician to save Social Security.  Let’s harbor no illusions: there is a bipartisan consensus around rolling back the SSA programs. Obama lamented to the New York Times earlier this year that the media didn’t give him enough credit for his willingness (and really, his eagerness) to place Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block.  As for the GOP, I’m not sure what else needs to be said.  They’re rabid with austerity.  I’m sure right now, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are on stage somewhere, frothing at the mouth as they scream about “entitled people” (like me, incidentally) who receive government assistance because their own income is not enough to meet their basic needs.

As I’m writing this, in the middle of election day, I know that whichever candidate wins, the people living in this country will lose unless we form our own political alternative, one steeped in the deep but too often forgotten tradition of grassroots organizing and militant unionism of this country.

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

MORE OF THE SAME

It's going to be another four years of Barack  Obama and, for ordinary Americans, nothing will change.

As it stands right now there  is, according to the polls, a 'dead heat' between President Barack Obama and presidential wannabe Mitt Romney.

But this is the national vote and what counts now is the state of the play in the crucial swing seats. Essentially this election has come  seven to nine "swing states"--  and  they mostly  indicate  small but significant leads for Obama. I think Obama will win another four years and do so quite comfortably.  Romney, I guess, will go back to  asset stripping and hiding his ill-gotten gains overseas.  And the opinion poll pundits will have to find something  else to drone on and on about.

Of course there  is no great celebration to be had in the re-election of Obama. If he is the so-called  'lesser evil ' then he is the  'lesser evil' who has been  yet another president of the machine. He has defended and promoted  the interests of America's capitalist class  at the expense of the very people who put him into  the White House.  It's little wonder that Democrat Party workers say that it has  been  harder this time getting people to pledge their vote to Obama. Yes,I want to be beaten me over the head with a big stick for another four years!

Under Obama  there have been trillion  dollar bailouts  for Wall Street while more and more ordinary Americans have been plunged into poverty. And then is  the continuing "war on terror,"  and more  domestic civil liberties shredded. How bad has Obama been?  Let me count the ways.

The politics of "lesser evilism" preached by the liberal establishment  implicitly accepts the shift of the entire political debate to the right, because supporting the lesser evil requires closing down  the criticisms of activists and the left.  So multi-millionaire  Bruce Springsteen sings some songs at an Obama rally and Obama doesn't have to talk about the stunning growth of inequality under his presidency and why he is doing virtually nothing on the issue of climate change  - indeed he's promising to burn more fossil fuels.

It's worth reading Hal Draper's essay 'Who's Going To Be The Lesser Evil in 1968? ' on the politics of lesser evilism and how it applies to the Obama-Romney dichotomy.

For me, one the most interesting thing about this election will be to see how many Americans decide not to vote If its like other presidential elections it will be anywhere between 40 and 50 percent of eligible voters.  This is a indictment of the failure of 'representative democracy' and not an indictment about the 'apathy' of American voters as the political establishment will inevitably claim.

Ten million people who voted for Obama in 2008 were so disillusioned that they didn't vote in the 2010 midterm elections, when the Republicans took back the House and nearly won the Senate

Nearly half of American voters have worked out that neither the Democrats or Republicans represent them.

Given that both Obama and Romney are committed to more austerity polices over the next four years there certainly  there won't be any improvement in the lives of ordinary Americans over the next four years.

The ugly reality is that Americans have few alternatives to the two political wings of corporate America. Voting for Green Party candidate Jill Stein or some other left-wing party is a creditable  option but these are limited campaigns without a large nation-wide  movement behind them.

The job of building a real left wing alternative in 'the land of the free' remains the task at hand.

RUSSEL IN WONDERLAND

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman thinks capitalism can save the planet.

I don't know what opinions Green Party co-leader Russel Norman has of Hurricane Sandy but I doubt that  he would agree with what  Chris Williams has written  on the  Climate and Capitalism website.

In the article 'Frankenstorms and Climate Change: How the 1% Created A Monster'  he  writes that 'freakish and unnaturally-assembled storms' like Hurricane Sandy are the result of an rapacious economic system that has 'galvanized the forces of nature into a fury of clashing dislocations as we pump ever-more heat-trapping gases into our atmosphere and industrial filth into our lungs.'

Continues Williams:  'At this point, as a thunderous storm barrels up the east coast of the United States, still suffering from an unprecedented drought in other parts of the country, it seems indisputable that the capitalist system has put the entire web of life on a collision course with a stable biosphere and climate system.  One of those systems has to give, and there is no indication that it will be capitalism.'

I concur with Williams that 'we need a vision for a completely different social system.' This is not simply a talking point for yet more idle debate - the future of the planet is at stake.

But you wouldn't get any impression of urgency from Norman's comfortable middle class view of  capitalism.  Norman's inspiration isn't Karl Marx but Tom and Barbara from The Good Life.

He told the Listener earlier this year that capitalism was “humanised” between the 1930s and 1950s and “the next challenge is to green it”.

Capitalism was humanised? This will be surprising news indeed to the tens of millions around the world under the cosh of savage austerity measures aimed at saving capitalism at the expense of everyone else.  Perhaps Norman could toddle off to Europe and tell the tear-gassed and jobless  populations of Greece, Italy, Spain, etc that everything is okay because capitalism has been 'humanised'. I doubt he would get out alive.

Frankly, Norman is away with the fairies  when he  talks about 'green capitalism'.

Norman is determined not to listen to the ecosocialist movement . He prefers to stay faithful to the green capitalist theorists of the 1980s-90s who insisted that 'green' technology, 'green taxes' eco-friendly lifestyles and such like could conjure up an environmentally friendly capitalism. Mmn, how's it going so far  Russel?

This project was always  doomed to failure because maximising profit and saving the planet are inherently conflicting goals, a contradiction that cannot be untangled by the likes of Norman standing up in Parliament and  demanding that everyone has to be nicer to the environment.

Call me old fashioned but it seems to me  the pursuit of profit seems to be the fundamental goal of capitalism - and that sets extreme limits on environmental reform.  But Norman simply ignores this and, as a consequence, is wasting everyone's time.

What we need, as Chris Williams writes , is a completely different  social system.

The huge problems  that the  planet faces require direct  action to reorganise the world economy to truly meet the needs of all people and the needs  of the environment. What is required  is the overthrow of capitalism.

No one is denying that  this is not an immense task but the alternative, among a great many other dire things, is more extreme weather like Hurricane Sandy.

BREAKING THE SET



 Abby Martin hosts another intelligient news show from RT (Sky 96)

In my pursuit of intelligent news and current affairs I stumbled on another quality show on RT (Sky 96).

 It's  a half show called Breaking The Set  and offers a progressive slant on mostly, but not exclusively, American politics and concerns.

It has just started appearing on RT in New Zealand but it  has been broadcasting every weekday  on RT America since September. I'm not sure if its going to appear regularly on our screens  because it hasn't appeared in RT's schedules as yet  but it would be good if this was going to be a replacement for the much-missed The Alyona Show.  Otherwise, you can check out the show on its YouTube channel.

It's professionally  presented by Abby Martin.  She's  new to me but she  has been an activist and an   independent journalist in the United  States for a number of years. Among other things she has  established a website for independent journalism called Media Roots.

Frankly, I find Abby Martin and Breaking The Set far more interesting and than the odious Cameron Slater taking over as editor of Sex Classifieds otherwise known as The Truth.

It again raises the question as to why television shows like Breaking The Set are not being made in New Zealand.  Has the range of narrowed of debate been narrowed to such a degree that even a right wing hack like Cameron Slater is deemed worthy of attention?

ON THE GRAVY TRAIN

Why are Barry Corbett and Sue Wells seemingly permanent appointments to the board of Christchurch City Holdings Ltd?

Being a director of Christchurch City Holdings Ltd seems to have become permanent positions for Spreydon ward  councillors Sue Wells and Barry Corbett. They've been raking in the directors fees since 2005.

It can't be said they bring any special talents to the board.

In July Barry Corbett got rated a 'D' for his council performance  by The Press.  The newspaper commented:

A councillor since 1998, Corbett brings life to the adage that experience does not always mean quality. He contributes little of note during discussions, other than thanking council staff for their efforts. Some have remarked, not unfairly, that few would notice if he was not there.

But there goes 'Bazza', getting paid another $38,000  for all the 'work' he does for Christchurch City Holdings Ltd. This, incidentally, is the same councillor who thought some of Christchurch's poorest and most vulnerable people  should have their rents put  up by   a massive 24 percent - which was later ruled illegal by the High Court.

Sue Wells took her snout out of the trough to also vote for the rent increase.

When Councillor Len Livingstone (backed by Yani Johanson and Jimmy Chen)  attempted to  prevent councillors getting directors' fees last October, Corbett  - not surprisingly - spoke against Livingstone's amendment. In fact it was probably Corbett's biggest contribution to council debate in recent times.

Corbett was critical of Livingstone: "If he had served on the board of any of these organisations, he would recognise all the extra work that goes on."

But according to a former director of CCHL, Gail Sheriff, the work takes no more than five to ten hours a month.

So someone is making things up. My money is on Corbett - who finds time in his 'busy schedule' to voice radio commercials and make the occasional appearance on Radio New Zealand National's weekday afternoon show  'The Panel' .

Its apparent that Corbett and  Wells continue on the board of the CCHL  largely as a reward  for their continued loyalty to Sideshow Bob.

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