MORE THAN JUST MORAL OUTRAGE


Many Americans went to see the new 2012 film treatment of Les Miserables on Xmas Day. It  filled the theatres and it is number one at the American box office. Trish Kahle writes that Les Miserables, the musical, was never likely intended to be a  call for revolution - more a vehicle for bourgeois moral outrage, more of a “look what could happen if things aren’t made a bit better” than a “this is a way to make things better.” But at the same time she says it is difficult to believe that the workers in Michigan who stood up to police batons and horses, the Chicago retail workers who blocked Michigan Avenue last week to demand a minimum wage, the people who have been organizing against a racist injustice system will only take from this epic story a message of moral outrage.

In 1967, as Black city dwellers rebelled against the oppression and deprivation of the ghetto in a series of urban uprisings, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas released their famous song “Dancing in the Street” through Detroit’s Motown label.  The group claimed it was just a party song, not a political statement, and definitely not an open call to rebellion.  Regardless of how sincere that claim may have been, the social context of urban rebellion, the Black freedom struggle, 60s youth culture, and the Vietnam war imbued the song with a political meaning.  The context of the moment had everything to do with how the song was received.

Now, in our own times, there are rumblings again of such upheaval, organized and unorganized, especially for the last two years.  Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow has sharpened the discussions around racism in this country.  It has been complemented by a series of struggles around racism–especially the murder of Trayvon Martin, the lynching of Troy Davis.  The unrelenting assault on communities of colour by the police leads to resistance, whether it is the demonstrations organized by Ramarley Graham’s parents in New York after their unarmed son was murdered in his own home, or the anger at the police slaughter of Jamaal Moore, also unarmed, which led to a confrontation on Chicago’s South Side last week.

Then, of course, in fall 2011, there was Occupy Wall Street, which did for income inequality what The New Jim Crow did for racism.  It gave a new generation–a generation with no prospects for the future in our current system–the language to talk about something many understood viscerally, an avenue for collectively expressing anger, and more importantly, an open door to revolutionary politics.

Now, Les Miserables opens in movie theatres–a much more accessible venue than the live theatres where it has been popular with audiences (but, incidentally, not always critics, which initially received the piece negatively) since its English language premiere in 1985, and has been performed in more than 15 languages since.  I haven’t seen it yet, but I tend to like anything that has revolutionaries setting up barricades in it.  But all the renewed publicity around the musical has led me to revisit the music, which I haven’t considered since I was won to revolutionary politics in 2006.  I had always had a visceral reaction to the story–and not, as one Jezebel writer claimed, because I was a heart-broken Eponine.  I was far more drawn to the character of Enjolras, and I felt a connection with the city dwellers.

With a more acute political lens, however, I was astonished as I listened to one recording at how closely the story speaks to our political moment.

Imagine first the plight of Jean Valjean in Act I.  He has served 19 years in prison for stealing bread, and upon release, discovers that he has been branded by his past as a convict, even though he has never done anything truly wrong.  His wages are halved as a result of his convict status.  He is denied housing and food, even after he begs, “I can pay in advance.  I can sleep in a barn.  Do you see how dark it is?  I’m not some kind of dog!”  Though his run in with the Bishop is usually read as the effect of an act of kindness, there is more going on in Valjean’s “transformation”: namely, that it isn’t really a transformation at all.  After all, Valjean had been a good person, trying to survive.  The unjust laws further strip him of his status as a human being.  As soon as he has the means to sustain himself, he is not a thief, but becomes Hugo’s ideal of morality and benevolence.  Valjean goes through no real moral transformation, but a material one.

The parallels to our own prison system seem obvious, although Les Miserables lacks the racial aspect.  But the story chips away at the idea that laws are moral and just, and it also takes aim at the idea that human nature is fixed.  The striking similarity of the justice system in Les Miserables to our own will likely raise questions about the nature of “justice” in the United States among some movie-goers, and we should draw the connection.  “You know nothing of my life,” Valjean says to the policeman Javert.  “All I did was steal some bread.  You know nothing of my world.  You would sooner see me dead.”  Just like Valjean, who had done nothing wrong except be poor and hungry, so many people affected by the new Jim Crow have done nothing wrong except be poor and Black.

Then comes the portion of the play set in Paris one the eve of the 1832 uprising, which despite its failure, seems far less distant and fictionalised after living through 2011, the year of revolt, which toppled two dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, where Occupy Wall Street set up camp in the streets and parks of the United States, only to be met with the brutal forces of state repression.  Despite the darkness of their situation (“Something’s got to happen now, or something’s going to give,” cry the resident’s of Paris’s streets), there is a sense of hope, and possibility.  The workers in Valjean’s factory sing, “At the end of the day there’s another day dawning…and the waves crash on the sand, like a storm that will break any second.  There’s a hunger in the land.  There’s a reckoning to be reckoned, and there’s going to be hell to pay.”  We even see how sexism and bourgeois morality undermine the unity of the workers, as another female worker turns the others against Fantine for having a child out of wedlock, leaving her at the mercy of the piggish, misogynistic foreman.

We get a sense of the system’s failing from the young Gavroche: “We live on crumb of humble piety.  Tough on the teeth, but what the hell.”  To the conditions of their lives on the streets of Paris, the people respond, “When’s it gonna end?  When we gonna live?”  Despite the political weaknesses of the Friends of the ABC’s program, the story openly states that the current system has failed, and that the solution is not reform, but revolution.  The impending death of Lamarque pushes them to action.  “With all the anger in the land, how long before the judgment day?” asks Enjolras.  “Before we cut the fat ones down to size?  Before the barricades arise?”

Answer? Not very long.

Les Miserables, the musical, was likely never intended as a call to revolution.  It was written in the 1980s, and in many ways is tailored as an appeal to bourgeois moral outrage.  More of a “look what could happen if things aren’t made a bit better” than a “this is a way to make things better.”

But 2012 is not 1985.  Between Les Miserables this year, and The Hunger Games last year, popular culture reflects the changing times.  True, Les Miserables is older, but the investment in a movie reflects a belief that it will make money, which requires more people to see it that those who could afford theatre tickets to see the show live.  It has reached a new level of mainstream in popular culture. And I find it hard to believe that the workers in Michigan who stood up to police batons and horses, the Chicago retail workers who blocked Michigan avenue last week to demand a minimum wage, the people who have been organizing against the racist injustice system will only take from this story a message of moral outrage.

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

DREAMING OF A RED XMAS

The exciting adventures of Harry Trotter, the only wizard of the 4th International!


WHEN UNIONS DON'T DEFEND WORKERS, EVERYTHING IS LOST

There'll be no Xmas for many New Zealanders this year, thanks to the government's brutal austerity policies. But we have  also been betrayed by the do-nothing and reactionary  leadership of the Council of Trade Unions.

The corporate media, driven by the imperatives of the advertising dollar , will continue to paint a false picture of Christmas 2012 . You know the one - everyone has plenty of food and presents, its all above love and sharing and  we're dreaming of a white Xmas while Snoopy fights the Red Baron.

But  this plastic picture of sickly sentimentality and grubby consumerism never quite  rings true. In the end Santa is just the PR guy for Coca Cola.

Perhaps this year  it will be the pictures of the long queue of people lining up outside the Auckland City Mission  that we might remember. In the same week that the plump politicians gave themselves another pay rise, mass poverty was on display for everyone to see.

Missioner Diane Robertson told the NZ Herald that the mission's clients were struggling with unemployment and entitlement cuts.

"I keep saying every year it's unprecedented ... but I'm almost beyond words when I look out there. This is nothing to celebrate."

Debt, unemployment, poorly paid jobs, the lack of working hours. That's the reality of life for working people in New Zealand today, sapping away people's strength and reducing them to a  life  of anxiety and fear.

And the government's only response is to tell people to find a job at a time when unemployment is at a thirteen year high and with  nothing likely to change next year.

But the people standing in that queue on Thursday - and many more like them - have also been failed by the leadership of the Council of Trade Unions.

Time and time again they have  cravenly capitulated to the government's austerity policies. When a real fightback has been demanded, the snivelling cowards of the CTU have retreated back into their offices and closed the door. None of them will be going without this Xmas.

Instead  of giving us a massive campaign of fightback and resistance to the government's policies the CTU has given us YouTube videos, Facebook pages,  leaflets, and CTU chief Helen Kelly  waving the white flag of surrender while, at the same time, telling us that she's on 'our side'.

A programme of rolling demonstrations and strikes building up to a general strike could have reversed the cuts. But none of this has happened and so the 'race to the bottom' has gathered speed.

The austerity policies have been  made possible because our trade union leaders think they can  have some kind of 'social partnership' with employers and the government. All this has done is  give the green light to the government to step up its attacks on workers and beneficiaries and that is exactly what they have done.

So it'll be an  empty Xmas for thousands  of New Zealanders this year.  They are the casualties of not only the Government's austerity policies  but also of a trade union leadership that refuses to fight  and which shamefully thinks that the 'solution' is to get another right wing Labour-led government elected.

LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS

Merry Xmas to us! It's been a hard year of sacking workers,  slashing benefits and reducing working conditions - so the politicians help themselves to a pay rise...

The politicians are slipping it through in the days before Xmas, in the hope no-one will notice.

The politicians, who already earn more than three  times the average wage,  are getting another pay rise. The same people who have been preaching austerity to the rest of us need more money to  continue to live the lifestyles they have grown accustomed to.

It is being reported that the politicians  will get a 1.5 percent rise which will be backdated to 1 July. Which means they will get half a years increase up front.  That works out at about $12,000.

So it'll be a right old knees-up for the politicians this Xmas.

It will mean $2000 more for backbenchers and about $6000 for John  Key. As if they need it.

On top of all  that there will be 'adjustments' (ie rises)  in MP's allowances.

Last year  the politicians got a 1.5 percent increase plus an additional $5000 payment to 'compensate' for their axed international travel perk.

While the rest of us  are being forced to tighten our belts, the bloated politicians are letting their belts out a couple of notches.

But there will be many New Zealanders who won't be able afford  any kind of Xmas this year.

Indeed many people approaching Work and Income for a special needs grant are being told they need to  increase their income, reduce costs, and seek budgeting advice.

Not surprisingly the food banks are under pressure to meet demand. Last month food banks all around the country were reporting empty shelves and urgently asking for food donations to meet the demand this Xmas.

While the polticians are attacking workers and beneficiaries on all fronts, they themselves are rolling around in a big vat of cash.

These  'dexterous wire-pullers, artful intriguers and careerists' need to be shown to the door marked 'Exit'.

'FULL HOUSE' ON COMEDY CENTRAL NZ!

Given that Comedy Central NZ  has dumped Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in favour of  'Hogan's Heroes' and 'Are You Being Served?', it can only be a matter of time before the channel schedules the monstrosity that is 'Full House'...

This is not  a 'weighty' post but  one that I've been intending to write for months but which always got filed away in the bottom draw for another day. But with the end of the year approaching I thought I'd let it fly.

My particular little  irritation is with Comedy Central NZ.  The station has degenerated into a dumping ground for endless repeats of, among others,  Hogan's Heroes, Get Smart, Are You Being Served?, On The Buses and MASH. The station hasn't yet descended to the level of broadcasting repeats of Full House  but it is heading in that direction.

And what is really annoying is that these creaky old  shows have elbowed out shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Now I don't think that Jon Stewart is the greatest political commentator in the world.   In fact, he's often too wishy washy liberal for my tastes but at least The Daily Show does provide intelligent political comment - a rarity on mainstream television. And the interviews are good too.

Similarly Colbert's faux conservatism is quality satire. 

But neither Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert can be found on Comedy Central NZ , although they still feature on the website.

I'm not the only one unhappy with the channel's performance.  Here's a selection of comments from its Facebook page:

'I use to love Comedy Central when it first started, but now it's just MASH, Hogan's Heroes, American Dad, Are You Being  Served?, and On The Buses etc. Please tell me you guys are going to change things soon?'

'The same episode of American Dad, THREE TIMES in one day ? Seriously ?'

'I have been stuck at home for the last week as I have injured my knee. This last week I have noticed something. REPEATS, SO MANY F**KING REPEATS !! Each day you repeat an episode of a program that was on the previous day. Over the last 12 months, I have seen the same few episodes of Tosh.0 probably 4 times each. You are playing episodes from 2010 for gods sake ! Sort your s**t out Comedy Central New Zealand. The only comedy going on here is your line up of programming.'

'I unlike you Comedy Central.....How the hell does one get a laugh out of endless repeats....'

'The Daily Show wins the Emmy Award yet again - so why isn't on Comedy Central???'

Yes, Comedy Central  NZ has a lot of disgruntled viewers.

Full House on Comedy Central next year? I wouldn't be surprised.

THE RISE OF DISASTER CAPITALISM



Naomi Klein, the author of The Shock Doctrine, explains the rationale of disaster capitalism and how it uses the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – such as earthquakes– to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy. This lecture is from April 2011.

A DAY OF DEFEAT AND HOPE

Last Tuesday the Republican-majority Michigan legislature gave final approval on Tuesday to “right-to-work” restrictions on public sector unions in a state considered a stronghold of organized labor, as protesters chanted in the gallery and thousands rallied outside. The House passed the measure making membership and payment of union dues voluntary for public sector employees such as teachers by a 58-51 vote.
More than 12,000 workers from throughout Michigan and the US Midwest protested as the legislature voted, most gathered in freezing temperatures and a light snow outside the building. Trish Kahle was one of the protesters and this is her report of the day's events.


It’s clear that the passage of “Right to Work” (for less) legislation in Michigan, a union strong-hold, seventy-five years after the wave of “sit-down” strikes that began in Flint, was an enormous defeat for the labor movement.  As Eric Ruder reported at SocialistWorker.org:

 Union pride runs deep in Michigan, and the defeat came as a shock to generations of Michigan’s workers. “Right-to-work” legislation makes it possible for anti-union workers to enjoy the benefits of working in a union-organized workplace without having to pay their fair share of union dues–an idea that union households find particularly odious.

Our parents, our grandparents and our great grandparents fought and literally died so that we could have better wages, better livelihoods, better benefits and more worker safety,” said Ted Copley, a Detroit firefighter. Susan Abraham of Delta Township, who took part in the protest wearing a Mrs. Claus outfit, said: “Our family wouldn’t be where it is today without the UAW.

The impact this defeat will have on the momentum of the labor movement, which had picked up some steam in Madison in early 2011 and was hurtled forward by the Chicago Teachers Strike in September, should not be underestimated.  But by the same token, my experience on the ground in Lansing yesterday also showed the tremendous potential of the time we are living in, and it highlighted the need for organizers to begin coordinated work to learn and generalize the lessons of Madison, Chicago, and Michigan: the need to break from the electoral strategy, the importance of rank-and-file activation and leadership, and need to maintain the workplace as a center of struggle.

The analysis of why we failed to stop the anti-union attack in Michigan, and why we have yet to completely repel an anti-union attack in any of the union-stronghold states, needs to take place side-by-side with an analysis of growing militancy among workers.  Understanding why the attacks have worked is critical, and so is working out a way to turn the tides of the anti-union, anti-worker, austerity onslaught.

I arrived at the Michigan State Capitol around 8:30 AM.  In the sub-freezing weather, a crowd of a few thousand had started to form on the Capitol steps.  People were already inside the Capitol itself, and the  police tightly controlled who went in an out.  From the balcony, cops in riot gear and armed with tear gas and bean bag guns watched the crowd.  If every member of the state police wasn’t within a two block radius of the capitol building, it was pretty close to all of them.

Some of the workers climbed the steps of the Capitol, where they would remain for the rest of the day.  Hard hats climbed the statuary and railings to lead chants.  When cops decided this was somehow a security threat, they tried to pull the workers down.  Other workers fearlessly pushed the cops’ hands away as they reached for the workers’ neon safety vests.  One or two workers got down at the cops’ request, but climbed back up as soon as the cops had walked away.

The anger and readiness to fight that hummed across the steps and down to the lawn was an entirely different world to the union stage across the street, where pop-rock music blared between speakers who had already conceded defeat and sought to turn the workers’ attentions to the 2014 election cycle.  At one point in the early morning, as I walked across the lawn, picking my way through the crowd to the steps as workers hoisted a giant inflatable rat representing Snyder to the top of the capitol steps, a marshal approached me and said, “You are actually going to want to go back over there.”  He pointed away from the capitol to the union stage.  “That’s where the program’s going to start soon.”  As a collective anger rose across the lawn, the marshals tried to divert it, rather than ride the tide of the rank-and-file’s collective power.

On the capitol steps, the mood was anything from defeated.  Although many people I talked to weren’t sure the best course of action to take, they were determined to take action, and to take it right then.  As one sign said, “I will fight on until you take my union card from my cold, dead hand.”

The Americans for Prosperity, who seemingly had advance knowledge of the attempt to ram the legislation through and had “reserved” the capitol lawn, had the audacity to set up a massive tent and then disparage the massing thousands of workers face to face.  By 11 AM, the tensions had reached the boiling point.  As the right-wingers continued to smear the long, proud history of the Michigan labor movement, workers began to shake the tent.  When workers on the capitol steps realized what was happening, they began to chant, “Tear it down!  Tear it down!”  Within five minutes, the tent fell, and a cheer went up from the workers.  The police moved in, with a column of eight horses leading a brigade of police.  They tried to establish a perimeter, but the workers, unafraid of the spooking and balking horses, swarmed around them.  Twice, the horses and foot police were forced to retreat, as again the crowd cheered.

Workers appropriated the food and drinks that had been in the tent and began handing them out.  The AFP goons continued to whine about how they had been ruffled during the commotion when the police had charged in.  Of course, they had no concern for the workers who had been kicked by the spooking horses.  They lamented, as only a right-winger could, about the “violent” workers tearing their “Don’t Tread on Me” flag in half.

The workers in the tent area understood they had scored a victory.  It emboldened them for the next battle, which took place in the outdoor lobby of the Romney building and Capitol Street that afternoon.

We heard there was a civil disobedience action going on in the Romney Building, where the Governor’s offices are housed.  Brit Schulte described how the initial sit-in began:

We were part of a supportive action for the dozen or so union workers, sitting in and blocking the entrances to the building where Gov. Snyder has an office. Police began filing in around the perimeters and then created a split through the center of our crowd. A member of the IBEW shouted out, “They got a hard hat! They’re beating a hard hat!” And those of us tall enough to see could see the police wrestling a worker in a hard hat to the ground. Another voice shouted out, “Everyone sit down!” The majority of the crowd began sitting in and chanted, “Sit!” and “Shame!” at the police..The police immediately escalated the situation, coming with more force into the crowd, stepping on people and pushing people over. It was clear, though, that they didn’t have specific orders and also didn’t know how to handle to crowd, because they just stood there in the midst of the crowd for a long while, immobile and without a working plan for dispersal.

Eventually, they started pulling us out of the building one by one.  Although ultimately it wasn’t the case, they gave the impression we were being placed under arrest when they dragged us out.  Still, almost no one moved until forced.

I was one of the last remaining people in the lobby.  I was holding a blind woman’s hand and trying to tell her what was happening.  The police assumed she would leave on request because she was blind.  The police forced a clear path for us, and then they yelled at us to go.  I asked her, “do you want to leave?” and she replied “No.  No, I’m not going anywhere.”  I turned back to the cop and said, “We’re staying right here.”  The crowd cheered.  The cops wrenched our arms and dragged us out.

Once we were outside and had been amassed on the sidewalk, the column of horses came back.  The workers stood their ground.  Twice the horses were forced to retreat.  Each time, the workers chased them as they walked away, hurling vicious insults at the cops.  Riot police from the state building were brought out.  They formed a line further up the street and began marching toward us, brandishing their batons and chanting thuggishly.  This time, the workers advanced to meet the line.

We linked arms and chanted “Whose streets?  Our streets!”  They pulled one person from the line and arrested him.  In the end, they only succeeded in pushing us back a few feet, hitting us in the chest, neck, and face with their batons, before the mass of thousands of workers flooding the street to defend the line could sufficiently buttress those of us in the front.  Other workers and press swarmed behind them, and soon the cops were surrounded.  A tense stand off ensued.

We continued chanting and as we sang solidarity forever, the cops began to retreat.  Workers were hesitant to celebrate at first, unsure if it was really a retreat or if they were preparing another way to attack us.  Soon it became clear that we had won the standoff though, and everyone began hugging each other.

I will fight on until you take my union card from my cold, dead hand.

The workers of Michigan came to the state capitol ready to fight, to do whatever it took to win.  Ultimately, however, the militancy of the workers alone was not enough to stop the passage of the bill.  Some commentators have used this to bolster their ludicrous claims that unions are outdated and unnecessary.  In fact, the events in Lansing yesterday show exactly how desperately we still need unions.  The question is: what type of union do we need?

Especially for those of us who were in Chicago for the CTU strike, the importance of rank-and-file leadership–both in terms of having a widely activated rank-and-file membership and having officers who have been elected as the result of rank and file struggle–become clearer by the day.  If we are to have any hope of reversing these attacks, we certainly can’t rely on the government (we already knew that), but we also have begin the process of transforming our unions so they have the power and political will to act, to embody the readiness to fight that was so apparent yesterday.  To borrow a phrase, we need to rebuild our unions, as rank-and-file members, from the bottom up.   In that sense, the Chicago Teachers are not just the workers who educate our children, they were teaching us a lesson in class struggle unionism.

Under what could have been utterly demoralizing circumstances, the workers of Michigan fought back.  Why?  Because even if you are spared being beaten with a baton, they will beat you in another way–lowering wages and living standards, or whatever it happens to be that day. But if you stand up and are willing to fight them, you’ll lose sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time, but there’s a chance you can win.  And the more we fight, the more we learn about what works and what doesn’t. For once it’s not just about what they’re doing to you, how they’re keeping you down, exploiting and oppressing you. For once it’s about you, and the actions that as workers you take together. Even on such a bitter day of defeat, it was hard to feel totally demoralized, because the fighting potential of the working class, that went untapped yesterday, was clear.

First published by I Can't Believe We Still Have To Protest This Bullshit

'ANOTHER OLD DUNGER GONE'

An arson attack wipes out an historic Christchurch building purchased by the Christchurch Heritage Trust. It was one of the few remaining historic buildings left in the central city.

A week ago,  on December 7th, the historic England  Brothers Building in central Christchurch was destroyed in what has been generally accepted to be the  random work of arsonists.

The historic  building on High Street , which had been purchased by the Christchurch Heritage Trust, went up in flames.

This is how one small business owner in the Red Zone interprets the arson: 

A late night phone call  from a High Street neighbour to inform me that High Street is on fire from end to end, sends a feeling of dismay through us.

Luckily, for us, it turns out to be “just” the Globe building, which was being restored by the Heritage Trust. It was ablaze from end to end. Gerry will be happy, another old dunger gone.  A disaster for High Street, as it leaves a nasty hole in the block and it was a fabulous frontage. 

The lack of policing in our enclave has been a concern for many months, as the so-called “cordon” is leaking like a sieve. There has been no attempt to protect these buildings from anyone except us owners, who have been excluded for 2 years.  No thanks to the powers that be for this deed, which was entirely predictable.


The historic building was purchased by the Christchurch Heritage Trust in May. The trust had intended to spend more than $4 million to rescue the brick facade.  It then intended to lease the building to tenants.

At the time of the purchase Heritage Trust chairperson Derek  Anderson said: ' Lower High St will be the city's heritage precinct because there's not much left otherwise. We are conscious of preserving what we can now. It's one step forward and two steps back. We'd put in a lot of work to save things, and now they are gone we've really got to make a good job of High St.'

Said trust director Anna Crighton about the arson attack:  "This is devastating. Architecturally, it was one of the best buildings in the area. It's just beyond repair. It's completely collapsed. There's very, very little of the facade left."

There has been a spate of arson attacks in Christchurch this year. On the same night that the  England Brothers  Building went up in flames another building,  which was in the process of being demolished , was also attacked by arsonists.

The England Brothers Building was just a short walk away from  the proposed new  'Innovation Precinct', which will supposedly  facilitate the establishment of technology-based industry and research within the central city. It is part of the 'Grand Plan' devised by the disaster capitalists in conjunction with the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA).

No one has yet been arrested for the arson attack.

THE VULTURES ARE CIRCLING


According to CERA's Roger Sutton, it is important to have the people of Christchurch behind the rebuild project. Sutton's behaviour though has amply demonstrated that he represents the interests of the big corporations and the property developers.  The disaster capitalists  are  out there doing everything they can to ensure that they’re the ones who get the biggest slice of the pie - and the people of Christchurch will be expected to foot the bill. With 'friends' like Roger, who needs enemies?

While the usual  suspects have been praising the grand plan for the rebuild of central Christchurch there has been far less enthusiasm within the local Christchurch community.

This is not surprising. Having contributed their ideas to the Christchurch City Council's draft central city plan, that plan was then scuttled  behind closed doors by the disaster capitalists  (such as  Ngai Tahu Property) with the active assistance of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA). It starkly  told the Council that the draft city plan was unacceptable.

Instead a new corporate-conceived  plan was foisted  on the people of Christchurch by CERA's  Central City Development Unit. It  was praised to the skies by the very people who had a substantial hand in developing it in the first place.

The exception was our good mate Mayor Bob Parker  who, once again, betrayed the people who pay his inflated salary by praising the plan. He simply turned a blind eye to the cold fact  the Council's  own draft plan had been dumped.  It was another dismal episode of a mayoralty that has been disastrous for Christchurch.

How the city will be rebuilt, where the resources will go, who will profit from them and how they will affect communities around the city - these decisions have been made and  are still being made by a small group of people representing the interests of a small group of people.

The mainstream media has largely decided to ignore this. Far too often it has been the uncritical cheerleader for corporate- inspired propaganda about Christchurch's 'exciting  future', that 'we're all in this together', the 'Canterbury spirit' and other PR spin.

The disaster capitalists  -like Ngai Tahu Property -  are vultures circling over Christchurch, hoping to use this period of crisis to replace Christchurch's  distinctive character with the fancy shopping complexes  and  the luxury hotels they’ve always wanted.

It is a monumentally  and wildly extravagant plan that might garner big profits for the disaster capitalists but it  will leave the people of Christchurch with the big bills that an already impoverished people simply cannot accommodate.

Property will inevitably be seized to build over-sized civic edifices  inappropriate for a city of just 350,000. These follies of neoliberalism will be financial burdens on the people of Christchurch for years to come - long after the disaster capitalists have grabbed the profits and disappeared over the horizon.

In stark contrast, the good people of Christchurch, through the 'Share An Idea' campaign, came up with more sensible and  more modest proposals.  But this was the plan that CERA chief Roger Sutton, the complaint spokesperson for the disaster capitalists, described as unacceptable.

In a formal letter to  Mayor Bob Parker on 13 October Sutton wrote that the council plan was not acceptable to the Government because it  did  'not represent  the requirements or aspirations of commercial property owners or  investors'.

This is the same Roger Sutton - like his master Gerry Brownlee - who can often be heard opining that it is important to get the people of Christchurch behind the rebuild project. Sutton - also like Brownlee -  speaks with a forked tongue. 

When former mayor Garry Moore attacked the lack of democracy and the deliberate sidelining of community involvement in the rebuild project, Sutton's response was to tell Moore to 'get real'.

He went on to say, again echoing  Brownlee,  that someone had to 'dictate' the path of the recovery . And no prizes for guessing that 'someone'  are the disaster capitalists - the people who Sutton spends his time with. 

While the Christchurch City Council has effectively been disempowered, at least councillors like Glen Livingstone, Yani Johanson and Peter Beck have been speaking out in what are often impossible circumstances. 

This is in stark contrast to Mayor Parker  and his supporters on council like Barry Corbett and  Sue Wells.

Having shamefully countenanced the dumping of the Council's own draft city plan he has had  little to say other than to bemoan that Christchurch is in danger of becoming a vast retirement centre but still describing CERA's plan as 'desirable'.  Sideshow Bob's tale is one with no sound and fury but still told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

Parker  is someone who is acutely aware of historical judgement and he wants to be seen as a heroic figure who worked hard for Christchurch. The truth is he has   failed the people of Christchurch by his craven cheerleading for the National Government.  In Christchurch's  time of need he has instead  helped to open the door to the city and welcomed in the disaster capitalists to pillage the local economy.

The disaster capitalists  are  out there doing everything they can to ensure that they’re the ones who get the biggest slice of the pie - and the people of Christchurch will be expected to foot the bill.

The only force that prevent this from happening is the people  of Christchurch. The real path to recovery lies in the good people of Christchurch taking control of their own city.

If you want your power to be turned back on, sometimes you’ve got to take it back from the people who turned it off in the first place.



Photo credit: Assorted Goodies

SAVE 'OUR' ASSETS?

Keeping electricity companies in public hands – without making them serve a significant social purpose - isn't progressive and it certainly isn't socialist.

I don't know about you, but I open the envelope containing my monthly  power bill with a degree of anxiety and trepidation - especially during the cold winter months. What ghastly amount will the power company be demanding of me this time around?

As most people are acutely aware of, the bill only heads in one direction and it ain't down. It doesn't matter what people do to try  to save power the prices just keep going  up.

People are  putting  the health of themselves and their families at risk trying to conserve power.

Mangere Budgeting Services chief executive Darryl Evans told the NZ Herald last month that the number of people having trouble paying electricity bills was increasing.

"An awful lot of families are telling me they're not using any heaters, and as a consequence kids are getting sick."

 Household power bills have risen by up to $316 this year alone.

In the year ended August 2012 New  Zealand's  two million power consumers faced an average 5.4 per cent increase in their bills. In the two previous years it was  6.2 per cent and 4.3 per cent.

The rise in the power bill in the Auckland region for Mercury Energy (owned by Mighty River Power)  was $118. For Meridian Energy it was $73 and for Genesis Energy it was $108.

Nationally, the biggest average increase for the year was Genesis Energy's $316 for its Northland consumers.

I mention these three state power companies specifically  because, of course, they are the power companies that the Key Government are seeking to partially privatise. Mighty River is the first company on the chopping block.

There is a campaign - Save Our Assets - which seeks to stop the partial privatisation and which the Labour Party is at the core of.

That's right - we need to stop the partial sale of the state  power companies that have been inflicting great misery on tens of thousands of  New Zealanders through their exorbitant power prices. I don't particularly feel like rushing to the barricades with David Shearer and co over this one.

The problem  with this campaign  is that it doesn't go far enough. It doesn't challenge the neoliberal consensus, it let's the Labour Party (and the Green's) off the hook and, criminally,  it allows  both Labour and the Green's  to grandstand and pretend that they are on the side of ordinary New Zealanders.

It's not enough to demand that the power companies be kept in state hands.  The real problem is  that the power companies are state owned enterprises (an 'invention' of the Labour Party) and charged with paying an annual dividend to the government. Any credible campaign should  be demanding an end to the  SOEs and that the power companies  be run as nationalised SOCIAL utilities, charged with providing affordable power.

But the Labour Party remains locked into  neoliberalism and won't have a bar of this. It won't promise that, if it becomes  government again, it would not sell off even  more state assets.  Indeed if the power companies are partially privatised the Labour Party isn't even committing itself  to re-nationalising them.  It's a sure bet that it won't.

Unfortunately a large swathe of left wing activists have wheeled in behind this campaign under the mistaken belief that it is somehow  progressive and puts the left on the front foot.

The cold reality is that few activists are challenging the SOE model. This is the point that people like Bryce Edwards and John Moore have been making consistently. Lat year Edwards wrote:

In 2011, no political party (or other political force) really challenges the corporatisation model. Labour and National want the state to own businesses to varying degrees, but they don’t want these organisations to have a social function or do anything other than follow the pursuit of profit.

To paraphrase Edwards, to  keep electricity companies in public hands – without making them serve a significant social purpose - isn't progressive and it certainly isn't socialist. 

To describe these rapacious  power companies as 'our' power companies is just plain ridiculous.

UNDERMINING THE MAINSTREAM

While the New Zealand mainstream media goes ga ga over Hobbits and pregnancies,  RT's  Breaking The Set is an instant antidote to mind numbing tabloid 'journalism'.

I know I should be dispassionate but sometimes I despair at the state of the mainstream media in this country.

I thought the media, especially television, had reached a new low with its  over-the-top and infantile  coverage of The Hobbit premiere. But I was wrong.  Just when I foolishly  thought it was safe to return to the murky waters of the corporate media,  my intelligence was  insulted again  by a whole load of rancidly sycophantic  stories about Princess Muck of Muckly and the announcement she will soon be unloading another Windsor on the embattled people of Britain.

This tabloid  story has given the media another sideshow to cavort in - namely a couple of Australian DJs making a prank call to the hospital where Princess Muck of Muckly  is presently enjoying the services of a private nurse.  TVNZ's hopeless news service actually gave this story greater priority than events in Syria.

I have  to say that I only monitor  the mainstream  media out of some sense of duty - that  there must be witnesses to the  rubbish that passes for news in this country.   For serious journalism that doesn't treat me as if  I was brain dead I have to go elsewhere.

I find myself watching a lot of the stuff on RT (Sky 96), formerly known as Russia Today.

RT America  is producing several good shows and many can be seen  in New Zealand, including  The Keiser Report, The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann, Crosstalk with Peter Savelle  and Capital Account with Lauren Lyster.  None of them I'm glad to say, feature salacious crime stories, celebrity stories and political gossip.

A new addition to the schedule is Breaking The Set with Abby Martin. I wasn't sure if this show was to make it to the New Zealand schedules but, happily, it can now  be seen Tuesday to Saturday.

It's a snappy and provocative show that, frankly, leaves Campbell Live  gasping in its wake. I coludn't imagine Abby Martin going to Wellington for The Hobbit  premiere  and sweeping  Warner Bros'  anti-union activities under the carpet - as did John Campbell and his other TV3 colleagues.   (Like the silly Samantha Hayes for instance - whose main 'contribution' was to severely  interrogate the Prime Minister  about the green bow tie he was wearing. Hayes has now been 'promoted' to  TV3's new current affairs show for 2013, optimistically called 3rd Degree.)  

While TV1 and TV3  were devoting a chunk of their limited news coverage to Princess Muck of Muckly, Abby Martin was talking with Michael Ratner.

Michael Ratner is  President of the Centre of Constitutional Rights in the United States  and is an attorney acting on behalf of Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

He is also acting on behalf of Jeremy Hammond, who you may or may not have heard of. He has received next to no coverage in New Zealand  - unlike the extensive news  coverage  devoted to Princess Muck of Muckly.

Jeremy Hammond is a 27-year-old Chicago activist accused of hacking into the private intelligence firm Stratfor and releasing information to Wikileaks.

He was denied bail last month by Judge Loretta Preska who  told Hammond that he could be sentenced to serve anywhere from 360 months-to-life, if convicted on all charges.  Hammond has  been languishing in jail for eight months.

Also last month it  was revealed  that Judge Preska  had  failed to disclose that her husband had been a victim of the hack  because he works for a company which is a  current Stratfor client.

Supporters of Hammond are demanding that Judge Preska remove  herself from the case.

Martin also talked with historian Webster Tarpley about  the  unfolding of events in Syria. Tarpley  is of the opinion that events in that country are being orchestrated by CIA front organisations.

So if you want to watch a show that isn't like wading through custard, trying Breaking the Set.  It's  half an hour of news analysis and discussion  that doesn't hold its punches.  You might not agree with everything but it will get you thinking - as opposed to snoozing with the six o'clock news bulletins.

THE PLANS OF BIG TONY

He helped to dump the Christchurch City Council's draft city plan because he and Ngai Tahu Property didn't like it. Meet one of  the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority's good friends - Tony Sewell.

Over 2000 people marched in Christchurch yesterday to protest the increasing lack of democracy in the city.

Marney Ainsworth, of Bryndwyr summed up the mood when she told the media  that the rebuild of Christchurch was'  ... being done by a small group of people in the interest of a small group of people. We all need to be out here taking a stand.”

One of those 'small group of people' working on behalf of a 'small group of people'   is Tony Sewell.

He's Ngai Tahu  Property's chief executive and National President of the New Zealand Property Council. He is also a director of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce.

Ngai Tahu Property  will be one the major players in the rebuild of the central city.

Despite the fact that thousands of Christchurch people contributed to the Christchurch City Council's draft city plan Sewell  was very happy when it got dumped. In fact he lobbied hard to get it filed in the rubbish bin  by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA). In the Property Council's 2012 Annual report he writes:

'...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 didn't much  like the concept of a low rise green-spaces city and he certainly did not like the  'restrictions' applied to building heights, to parking, vehicle access restrictions, and 'design requirements'.

In stark  contrast Sewell was positively buzzing  about  Christchurch Central Development Unit's 'revised' central city plan 

According to Sewell the plan was 'better than right'. Since he and Ngai Tahu had a major  hand in developing the CCDU plan   his glowing comments about his own work  were hardly surprising.

Sewell's mercenary  attitude to the rebuild was made clear when he was asked about the prospect of providing private residences in the central city.

He said:  'At the moment we can't crack the economic recipe. There's not many buyers in Christchurch for high-rise apartments in the $1m-plus category.'

So its not about providing affordable housing for the people of Christchurch - its all about Ngai Tahu Property  making the biggest bang for its buck.

Sewell told Te Karaka magazine  that Ngai Tahu was ' now entering a period of enormous opportunity, it’s huge. We are in a position to lead.'

And it looks like the people of Christchurch are going to be led by the nose while Ngai Tahu Property  and its corporate mates extract as much profit as they can from the rebuild process.

This cannot be allowed to happen because what will be good for Ngai Tahu Property and its corporate mates  won't be good for the citizens of Christchurch.

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