SIDESHOW BOB PARKER: 'WE' NEED A MAYORAL LIMOUSINE!


Christchurch mayor Sidehow Bob Parker has uniltaterally decided that the Christchurch City Council needs to bring the mayoral limousine out of mothballs so that various VIPs - and Sidehow - can be driven around in a style befitting their 'status'.

Bob appears oblivious to such issues as fuel conservation and global warming. And, of course, its just a waste of money.

Wasting money though doesn't seem to bother Bob much either. After all Sideshow just recently wasted $2 million of ratepayers money on buying the Ellerslie Garden Show. This pretty much just means buying the 'name' - and since Ellerslie is part of Auckland that'll probably get changed as well.

So what did Christchurch citizens get for $2 million? We don't know because all the financial details are being kept confidential. That's been described as 'appalling' by National Business Review financial journalist Chris Hutchings, who keeps a close eye on the financial affairs of the council.

If Bob really wanted to have a garden show why didn't he get the council bureaucracy to create its own show - and save $2 million in the process?

But, of course, Sideshow Bob did get lots of media coverage when he announced the 'purchase' of the Ellerslie event - that's very important..

NANDOR TANZCOS: DO WHAT I SAY, NOT WHAT I DO



So Nandor Tanczos has announced he will not be putting his name forward as a Green Party candidate for the November general election.

After nine years (which qualifies him for the gold-plated parliamentary pension scheme) Tanzcos is getting out.

There were some curious statements in his press release. After outlining what he thought had been his achievements, he offered some views on the Green Party and the New Zealand green moVement generally.

Either Tanczos is following some subtle political strategy or he's politically schizophrenic.

On the one hand he endorsed the rightward political direction of the Green Party arguing that the party 'needs to be able to work with all parties and cut across old political boundaries. It needs to be seen as a safe pair of hands.'

Of course by 'safe' Tanczos means 'non threatening' to the status quo.

But Tanzcos, bizarrely, goes on to say that "The Green Movement, on the other hand, needs to become far more radical in my view. We must be fearless in challenging the absurd economic system leading us to destruction.'

So Tanczos supports the Green Party upholding and defending the present economic system - the very system that he admits is 'leading us all to destruction' and which he says the 'green movement' must challenge!

Tanczos is a political coward and hypocrite.

Having actively endorsed and supported the rightward direction of the Green Party he can no longer lay claim to any left wing or radical credentials.

For him to urge the green movement to be more radical while he and his party snuggle up to Helen Clark and John Key is contemptible.

It's case of 'do what I say, not what I do'.

THE GREEN PARTY: MARCHING RIGHTWARDS


In December the Green Party put out a self congratulatory video, outlining what it considers to be its achievements in 2007. This can be seen on You Tube.

Frankly I wasn't impressed. While the Green Party grabs at a whole lot of single issue policies, how can anyone take seriously a party that has become the mild-mannered supporter of the Labour Government?

And that's the problem with the Green Party - it offers no alternative vision of the future. Rather, its all about tacking on a few policies, environmental and otherwise, to create a 'kinder and gentler' capitalism. I'm not interesting in 'greening' capitalism - I want a party offering a way out of the free market morass. But you won't find that from the Green Party.

Many people put their hopes in the Green's providing a strong progressive voice in parliament that would cut across the free market consensus that exists between the two major parties. It was a mistaken hope.

Such is the dissatisfaction with the Green Party that its support has dipped under the crucial five percent mark and there is also discontent among some Green Party members that the parliamentary team have taken the party so far to the right that even the National Party feels comfortable about courting the Green's as a possible 'coalition partner'.

The Green Party's move to the right began in 2005 when, shortly before the last election, co-leader Rod Donald invited New Zealand's business elite to Wellington in order to assure them that the Green Party had no intention of frightening the economic horses, that it had no intention of rocking the capitalist boat.

That rightward turn was accelerated when former socialist Russell Norman was voted co-leader to replace Rod Donald who had died.

He was voted in at the 2006 national conference and it was at this conference that the new political direction of the Green Party was announced. There was little discussion within the party about the change in direction - rather it was foisted on the party by the parliamentary MP's. This was hardly conduct becoming of a party that publicly places great emphasis on 'democracy'

In her speech to the conference co-leader Jeanette Fitzmaurice claimed that the party was neither 'right or left' because these were 'old fashioned labels' and then went on to contradict herself when she said that the Greens even had some things in common with the National Party.

The theoretical justification for this march to the right was offered by Australian political commentator David McKnight and who is senior lecturer in Technology at the University of Sydney. McKnight is an ex-Stalinist and a former member of the Communist Party of Australia

In his book Beyond Left and Right, McKnight claims that there is a general recognition of the "historical universalism of the market as a democratic force" and that "it makes environmental sense to use market mechanisms". McKnight claims that Marxism is now 'defunct'.

Russell Norman, formerly a member of an Australian socialist -orientated youth organisation called Resistance (which he doesn't mention on his CV posted on the Green Party website) reinforced the messages coming from Fitzmaurice and McKnight, going as far as saying that the 'undoubted power' of the free market could be used to 'internalise' the costs of pollution.

These comments went down like a bucket of cold sick with some Green Party members who subsequently left in disgust. I understand, as we head towards the November general election, that the Green Party organisational presence is pretty well non-existent outside Wellington.

This is a party that has divorced environmental, political and economic problems from the capitalist structure in which they exist.

Witness the Green's push for the absurd 'Buy New Zealand' campaign. This campaign (the television commercial features Labour groupie Oliver Driver) claims that 'we' can all be 'better off' if we buy New Zealand goods - although no-one has adequately explained how workers will be 'better off' by buying more expensive New Zealand goods.

I've got a message for the Green Party - we will definitely be better off if we deliver a set of political and economic policies that seek to change New Zealand society rather than just manage it.

The free market model is failing - but you won't hear that from this right wing Green Party.

MORE TROUBLE FOR BENNY...AND HE'S COMING TO NEW ZEALAND


US televangelist Benny Hinn, due in New Zealand in mid February, is going through rough times.

He is currently being investigated, along with five other televangelists by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley to determine if the high-profile preachers violated their organizations' tax-exempt status by living lavishly on the backs of small donors. (see Jan 8 post)

But Hinn has now hit more stormy waters. Last week he and another televangelist, I.V. Hilliard resigned their positions as 'regents' (ie directors of the board) at the debt-ridden Oral University, against the backdrop of a spending scandal involving a former president.

Hinn and Hilliard's resignation followed the resignation of another two televangelists as regents in December, one being Creflo Dollar - also under investigation by Senator Grassley.

The resignations follow that of Richard Roberts, who stepped down as university president in November amid allegations he misspent school funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle. Roberts, the son of school founder Oral Roberts, held the position at the 5,700-student school since 1993.

Former regent Harry McNevin, who resigned 20 years ago over what he says was excessive spending by Oral and Richard Roberts, said Thursday's resignations couldn't have come soon enough.

"The whole board needs to go," McNevin said. "I see (the university) as a corporation belonging to the Robertses."

Oral Roberts is a regular guest on Benny Hinn's This is Your Day television programme. Indeed Hinn regards Roberts as a 'mentor'.

Three professors took a lawsuit out against Oral University, alleging wrongful dismissal.

One professor has since been reinstated but his two colleagues are continuing with the lawsuit

In their lawsuit, the professors accused Richard Roberts of spending school funds on shopping sprees, a stable of horses for his family and a Bahamas trip for his daughter and her friends aboard a university jet - all with the university more than $50 million in debt. Richard Roberts has denied wrongdoing.

Oral University officials declined to say whey Hinn and Hilliard had resigned but, as directors, they were directly involved in making major school decisions.

RUNNING ON EMPTY


OUT OF GAS
David Goodstein (W.W. Norton & Co, New York)
In 1956 Marion Hubbert, a Columbia University academic who went to work for Shell Oil, calculated that the oil being extracted from the lower forty-eight United States would peak around 1970 and would rapidly decline thereafter. Although his calculations were widely dismissed at the time, they subsequently proved to be accurate.

Hubbert used a number of calculations to arrive at his conclusions (too lengthy to discuss in a book review) but, in short, Hubbert said that if the rate of oil being pumped out of the ground were plotted, it would be a bell-shaped curve. So it would rise to a peak which would never be exceeded and then decline forever.

In Out Of Gas, first published in 2004, David Goodstein writes that, by applying Hubbert's calculations to the world supply of oil, we can work out, approximately, when the peak will occur.

The world is estimated to have had two trillion barrels of oil. Since the Industrial Revolution, it's estimated that we have consumed over half of that total. Goodstein estimated that peak oil will occur within the next ten to fifteen years.

The crisis will emerge and deepen when an increasing demand begins to exceed an diminishing supply - not, as is the popular misconception, when the last drop of oil is pumped from the ground.

Writes Goodstein: 'In an orderly, rational world, it might be possible for the increasing gap between supply and demand to be filled by some substitute. But anyone who remembers the oil crisis of 1973 knows that we don't live in such a world, especially when it comes to an irreversible shortage of oil. It's impossible to predict exactly what will happen, but we can all too easily envisage a dying civilization, the landscape littered with the rusting hulks of useless SUV's. Worse, desperate attempts by one country or region to maintain its standard of living at the expense of others could lead to Oil War 3.

In this short and readable book Goodstein, an academic at the California Institute of Technology, concentrates on the scientific dimension of the looming crisis - of which the increasing oil prices is merely the first ripple.

Can human civilization survive without oil? It's a stark question with no easy answers.

Goodstein examines the alternatives, which largely revolve around nuclear and solar energy. However there are problems associated with these energy forms and Goodstein concludes that 'there is no existing technology capable of replacing the oil we soon will be without, nor is there any on the horizon that we can depend on to replace the remaining fossil fuels when they are exhausted..The best hope for our civilization lies in technologies that have not yet arisen -possibly based on scientific discoveries that have not yet been made. Most likely, progress will lie in incremental advances on many simultaneous fronts, based on principles we already understand: Controlled nuclear fusion, safe breeder reactors, better materials for manipulating energy, more efficient fuel cells, better means of generating hydrogen and so on'.

The problem is that there desperately needs to be concentrated and sustained research done on energy alternatives and there is no commitment to such research from our so-called 'leaders'.

For example, the United States continues to consume oil like there is no tomorrow - which is a possibility. The United States with five percent of the world's population, consumes 25 percent of the world's oil. The American population expect a ready supply of cheap fuel -they pay more for bottled water than they do for fuel. But, as Goodstein points out, cheap petrol is not the solution its part of the problem.

The response of the Bush administration has ben to prop up the energy status quo by gaining ready access to Iraqi oil. Its energy policies lack intelligence, vision and political courage.

Nor is there any real alternatives on offer from the other wing of American big business, the Democrats.

And we can't be smug about the situation in New Zealand either, where we have two right wing parties jostling for political ascendancy. They too base they're energy policies around an assumption of a ready and relatively inexpensive supply of oil.

The Green Party meanwhile, more conscious of the looming crisis than the other parliamentary parties, has hitched its wagon to the Clark Government, with all the compromises and concessions that suggests - which goes some way to explain the Green's decline in electoral support.

Out of Gas is an excellent book, which is increasingly more relevant. Next time you're out and about, check out the cars on the road and you'll quickly realise that the majority only have one person in them. Check out too the large number of gas-guzzling 4WD's clogging the streets. It's akin to partying before the bomb drops.

A crisis will occur - but our politicians and most of the general population remain largely oblivious to the storm clouds on the horizon. Says Goodstein: 'there may be a future for us. The remaining question is, Can we get there?'

THE END IS NIGH FOR BENNY HINN AND FRIENDS?



US televangelist Benny Hinn is returning to New Zealand again this year. Last year he was in Auckland; this year he is conducting two 'Training for Ministry' crusades in my hometown of Christchurch on February 18th and 19th.

But these are dark days for the man who lives in a $7 million sea front mansion, stays in $10,000 a night hotel suites, flies in a private jet and claims to cure people of diseases such as cancer.

The Travelling Benny Hinn Medicine Show returns to New Zealand facing potential fraud and dishonesty charges in the United States.

Six US televangelists are being investigated by Senator Charles Grassley, the highest ranking Republican senator on the Senate Finance Committee.

They are Randy White, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Eddie Long, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn.

Several of these televangelists appear on New Zealand television screens. Benny Hinn appears every weekday on TV2 and also pops up on the fundamentalist Christian station, Shine TV.

Letters were sent to the six televangelists demanding that financial statements be turned over to the financial committee by December 6.

Because they have tax status as churches, the ministries do not have to file IRS returns like other non-profit secular organisations - leaving much financial information hidden behind closed doors.

The letters sent in December were the culmination of a long investigation fuelled in part by complaints from Ole Anthony, a crusader against religious fraud who operates the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, which describes itself as a watchdog monitoring religious media, fraud and abuse. “We’ve been working with them for two years,” Anthony told CBS News. “We have furnished them with enough information to fill a small Volkswagen.”

Anthony said after twenty years of working with media organizations to expose televangelist's, he saw little reform. He says that’s why he turned to another tactic, going straight to Grassley. He is confident that Grassley’s inquiry will be different, “What we hope is that this will lead to reform in religious nonprofit's.”

Only two of six Christian ministries under scrutiny for allegations of lavish spending turned over documents to a Senate panel by the December 6 deadline, with others either fighting the request or asking for more time.

In the case of Benny Hinn, he has asked for 'more time' to respond. That though hasn't stopped Hinn using his television show to defend himself against charges of financial fraud. On a recent programme (screened on TV2 last week) he declared that he was 'only' paid what a company 'executive' might be expected to receive - although he didn't give any figures. Recent investigations suggest that Hinn is receiving something between $US1.8 and $2.5 million per year.

Hinn's spokesperson has recently said the Benny Hinn Ministry is now 'reviewing' the situation 'to determine the best course of action'.

In an initial statement to CBS News, Creflo Dollar called his ministry an 'open book' and said he would comply with any “valid request” from Grassley.

However Dollar, whose programme screens also on TV2, has since decided he doesn't want to cooperate with the Senate Committee and has refused to hand over his financial records - and has hired a lawyer to fight the Senate Committee.

Dollar, who lives in a $2.5 million mansion in Georgia and drives a church-bought Rolls Royce, claims the church -which he heads and controls- owns some of his luxury items and he paid for the rest.

This investigation is extremely significant because it could lead to criminal charges, the tax-exempt status of various televangelists being revoked, and new legislation introduced to reform religious broadcasting in the United States.

A local senior member of the Anglican Church who I spoke to says he has concerns that Hinn will collect a 'significant' amount of money from people who attend his February events.

He says they are organised and promoted by local evangelical churches.

'Will they be informing people of the Senate investigation in the United States? I doubt it.' he told me. 'I really hope that Benny Hinn and others of his ilk are finally brought to heel because for too long they have been giving the Christian Church a bad name.'

ANTI-TERRORISM LAWS: A THREAT TO CIVIL LIBERTIES



While some politicians and groups are continuing to protest about the limits on election campaign spending (the Election Finance Act) - claiming it is an attack on democracy and free speech - they have had nothing to say about the recent 'anti-terrorism' legislation. Yet this legislation represents a serious threat to our civil liberties.

This legislation puts more power in the agencies of the state, which can operate in secret, and reduces the role and effectiveness of the due legal process.

It will be the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister alone. who will decide which individuals and groups gets labelled 'terrorist'. Furthermore the PM will be judge and jury on the matter - he or she will review their own decisions, removing the High Court from the review process.

And the Prime Minister is under no longer under nay obligation to justify the decisions. A lot of information at the disposal of the Prime Minister will be classified and the individual or group concerned will not be able to see it. In other words an individual or group can be classified as 'terrorist' and will not be able to adequately defend themselves against the charge.

The designation may be based on 'classified security information' provided by an agency or government of another country - yet the legislation does not specify any standard of proof - the 'information' may just be politically motivated 'rumour' but it does not have to be verified.

The consequences of such a designation are serious - bank accounts, property and other assets would be frozen without any warning.

The parliamentary select committee that looked at this legislation said that after the Prime Minister makes a terrorist designation then he or she must report it to the Security and Intelligence Committee in parliament. But this is all rhetoric because this committee hardly ever sits. In fact, since 2005, it has only met for a grand total of approximately two and a half hours.

And this designation process is fraught with dangers. What if you support the liberation of Palestine and support Hamas, even though some Hamas members have engage in violent acts. Does that they make you a terrorist? Or what if you support the liberation of Tibet from China rule does that make you terrorist, even though some Tibetan people have been engaged in violent conflict with the Chinese military?

Closer to home, what about if you are involved in a struggle against the mining industry in New Zealand? Or what if you are a Tuhoe or Tuhoe-linked actvist campaigning for certain land rights? What if you are a socialist engaged in an anti-capitalist struggle?

In fact, anyone with an agenda for political change that threatens the status quo, runs the risk of being labelled a 'terrorist.'

The real problem which has been identified by, among others, the Green Party and the New Zealand Law Society, is that serious violent offending is already coved by the Crimes Act. We don't need a set of anti-terrorism laws, where higher penalties can be imposed, simply because there is a political agenda involved. In fact the Law Society has pointed out that having two sets of laws will cause confusion within the legal system.

We saw this late last year with the Tuhoe activists who were arrested under the umbrella of the anti-terrorism laws but ended up facing charges under the Crimes Act.

THE FUTURE OF FOOD


The global food industry is dominated by a handful of multinational corporations. This is bad news us all, writes James Ayers.


To quote Raj Patel in his excellent book Stuffed and Starved, 'the hunger of 800 million people happens at the same time as another historical first: that they outnumbered by the one billion people who are overweight'.

How has this contradiction come about? Why does one of the world's largest food companies, Nestle, own Jenny Craig? Is the rise of the fast food and weight control industries together with the global epidemic of heart disease and diabetes a mere coincidence?

Some would argue that they are just the consequences of the choices we make as individuals,a nd in Western society, there is a small amount of truth in that. However do 800 million people choose to go hungry or do they all happen to be inflicted with bulimia? I don't think so. And even in the word's richest country, over 35 million people don't know where their next meal is coming from1

You see, the same forces that have enslaved the world via globalisation and debt, also control vast swathes of the food production, processing and distribution systems. And where they don't yet own the land on which food is grown, their control of key bottlenecks in the international market for food means they can dictate what is grown, where and when,around the globe.

As we all know, New Zealand is currently being transformed into one giant diary farm thanks to 'market forces'.

Controlled by a tiny minority of the world's population, and guided by the profit motive (and perhaps something far more sinister) a handful of transnational corporations not only produce and sell the food we eat (supermarkets), shape and constrain how and what we eat (fast food), they manipulate how we actually think about food (media). Before they can poison our bodies, they need to poison our minds. Or in the case of GE, perhaps it's a case of poisoning the regulators' minds first and then the bodies of all of us.

Here in New Zealand we may not have heard of companies like ADM, Cargill or Bunge, but it is these, along with more well-known operators such as Nestle, Woolworths and McDonald's that are increasingly controlling and manipulating what we eat.

Two years ago I personally challenged McDonald's in a local Christchurch outlet to supply me with a compete list of the ingredients that make up a Big Mac. I was shocked to discover that there were over seventy ingredients, mostly chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens! Of course you won't find these ingredients listed on McDonald's packaging - so it took a rather 'in their face' approach to get them to divulge what I, as a customer, am entitled to know.

What this McDonalds episode highlighted to me is the growing corporate influence over the institutions and regulations, which are supposed to protect us. Whether it's food safety authorities, food labelling regimes, political representatives or international trade 'agreements', it is a reality that the choices we have are becoming less and less, and the decisions made about what we eat are being made by few and fewer.

Unfortunately the future of food availability and choices is bleak. Food prices are already rising dramatically. Small, integrated farming communities are being replaced by huge, energy-intensive corporate factory farms, relying on petroleum-based insecticides and fertilisers as well as tractors.

The growing switch of large scale food crops to bio-fuel (a finger in the dyke solution to the oil running out), climate change and monoculture means the world's poor will be starving to death in increasing numbers so that the rich can fill the gas tanks of their SUV's and jet-skis.

Many people believe that food should be a right for all, not a privilege for a few that happen to have money. Even the slave traders of centuries past were wise enough to keep their slaves fed. Unless we turn back the clock, when the food we eat was grown locally and organically, eaten in season, and shared with our neighbour, then civilization as we know it will not last much longer. Bon Appetite

James Ayers can be heard on The Corporate Nemesis, Plains FM 96.9, Christchurch, every Tuesday at 11am.

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