WHAT HAS PAULA BENNETT BEEN UP TO?


While the Minister of Social Development is never slow to tell us what the obligations and responsibilities of beneficiaries are, she seems to think she can do whatever she likes and to hell with the consequences.

Last year, in what was a deliberate political attack, she released the benefit details of two women who had dared to publicly criticise her policies.

When it was pointed out to her that she had violated the privacy of the two women concerned , Bennett insisted she had the 'implied consent' of the two women to release their details - which was news to the two women.

Bennett though claimed that she had found her information about 'implied consent' on the website of the Privacy Commissioner. But there is no reference to 'implied consent' on the website - Bennett was just making it up as she went along, hoping to bluster her way out of an awkward situation.

One of the women, Natasha Fuller, decided to take action against Ms Bennett and complained to the Privacy Commissioner.

Now it has been revealed by Television Three that Bennett had a secret meeting with Fuller yesterday (April 28) in a bid to make the complaint 'disappear'.

Stunningly, TV3 has alleged that Bennett made a financial offer in return for Fuller dropping her complaint.

On Campbell Live Bennett denied she had offered money but did not deny that the meeting had taken place.

When she was asked what the meeting was about, Bennett went into bluster mode and started talking about 'following a process' and 'respecting' the privacy of Natasha Fuller - which was bit rich coming from Bennett since she was the one who deliberately violated her privacy in the first place.

The fact that she chose to secretly approach Ms Fuller is totally unacceptable and could be viewed as Bennett using her position to intimidate a woman who has suffered health and emotional difficulties since Bennett crashed into her life uninvited.

Bennett should be sacked for just approaching the complainant but if she has offered money to Ms Fuller than her position simply becomes untenable.

There is no evidence, as yet, that Bennett did offer a financial deal but what if TV3 has yet to play all its cards? What if they have set up Ms Bennett for further embarrassment?

Let's hope so.

IS SIDESHOW BOB AN EVIL SPACE LIZARD?



Poor old Sideshow Bob. Now his status as a member of the human race is being questioned.

A new Facebook group has been set up which claims that Sideshow Bob is actually an 'evil space lizard' bent on 'conquest and domination'. Or at least helping out his business cronies in Christchurch.

The Bob Parker is an Evil Space Lizard Awareness Movement already has over two hundred members.

Says the group:

It has come to the attention of the vigilant that former gameshow host and Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker is actually a malevolent extraterrestrial being on a mission of conquest and domination.

We the people must join forces and rise up before this interstellar marauder from Zeta Reticuli, an unconvincing latex mask pulled over his hideous reptilian features, brings Earth to her knees.


It kind of makes you wonder about Sideshow Bob's faithful followers like Sue Wells and Barry Corbett. Is there something we should know?

THE CRISIS DEEPENS IN EUROPE


Despite the 'good news' stories about a 'global recovery' peddled incessantly by the corporate media for well over a year , it looks like a new front in the economic crisis has opened out in Europe.

The downgrading by Standard & Poor's ratings of the Greek and Portuguese government debt to the level of junk bond status signals that the economies of Europe are in deep trouble.

The problem would not be so potentially catastrophic if it was just the Greek and Portuguese economies going to hell in a handcart but Italy, Spain and Ireland are teetering on the brink - and Britain is not out of the frame either.

Judging by the talk on the business websites the alarm bells are beginning to ring about the state of the Spanish economy - which is the fifth largest economy in Europe.

The conservative Financial Times said this week that the crisis in Greece 'is Europe’s equivalent of the US subprime crisis. Unless we hear some implausibly good news from Athens by Friday, it will soon blow up.'

If it does blow up it could potentially lead to the collapse of the euro which will spread the contagion throughout the global economy, as more currencies would come under pressure. Amongst these is the Japanese yen, as the national debt there moves up towards 250% of its GDP. As the world’s second largest economy, a sovereign debt crisis of the yen would have an absolutely massive impact.

With the IMF and the EU demanding more austerity measures be implemented by the Greek Government, the level of strike action continues to escalate as workers resist being forced to pay the price for a crisis that they are not responsible for.

The German government (whose banks hold the biggest percentage of the Greek debt) is continuing to insist that the Greek government provide detailed long-term plans for even deeper austerity measures before it will release funds from a $US60 billion rescue package.

The Greek government though is already anxious about the level of political resistance and fears its own position will become untenable if an already tense situation is inflamed by more extreme austerity measures.

The next general strike in Greece will happen on May 5

THE INSPIRATION THAT IS VENEZUELA


What a dull and uninspiring lot our mainstream politicians are. When the future of the planet demands an alternative to neoliberalism and capitalism, what's on offer from our parliamentary democracy?

Absolutely nothing. It's just business as usual.

Come 2011 you will be asked what variant of neoliberalism you want to prevail for the next three years. There is no alternative on offer from any of the parties that presently occupy Parliament. This is, apparently, 'democracy in action.'

The great social democratic experiment of 'capitalism with a human face' has proven to be an historical aberration and the social democratic parties that once followed this reformist doctrine have surrendered to neoliberalism

All that the Labour Party believes in now is 'revitalising capitalism'. Can you think of anything more bereft of vision, of imagination, of passion?

But what else can we expect from a Labour Party whose leader thinks that the free market is the pinnacle of human development and who can barely acknowledge the social democratic history of his own party?

But, while the likes of Phil Goff and the Labour Party might think otherwise, some of us still think there is a world to win.

And many of us draw inspiration from developments in Latin America.

After enduring nearly two decades of the same failed neoliberal policies that continue to be pursued in New Zealand, Latin American countries began to reject neoliberalism and it has been Venezuela that has led the charge.

The election of President Hugo Chavez in December 1998 was the beginning of the end for neoliberalism in that country. It is Venezuela that stands as inspiration for all of those who do not accept that is no alternative to capitalism.

According to the Washington-based think tank, The Centre for Economic and Policy Research, during the highpoint of its neoliberal policies, Latin America’s economic growth between 1980 and 2000 was only 9 percent.

Poverty and inequality grew significantly - which is also something, of course, that has happened here during the course of 25 years of neoliberal rule.

But Chavez's '21st century socialism' has produced a dramatic turnaround.

While the failed policies of neoliberalism led ultimately to a global economic meltdown, Venezuela as enjoyed twenty consecutive quarters of economic growth.

The year 2004 stands out with an historical growth of 18.3%. The 2008 rate of growth was 4.9%. The economy has grown by 526.98% compared to the Venezuelan neoliberal economy in 1998.

During his eleven years in office Chavez has nationalized large areas of the economy, including major oil projects along with electricity and telecommunications companies.

The billions of dollars that would have ended up in the pockets of the multinational corporations has been used to improves the lives of the Venezuelan people.

These include long-term programs in the areas of health, education and welfare.

It is estimated that via these social programs, known as 'missions', about half of the Venezuelan population is in one type of educational program, ranging from literacy, high school completion, to university degrees.

Unemployment has fallen nearly 50% during President Chávez’s administration, falling from 12% to 6.1% by early 2009.

In May 2007, the Venezuelan minimum wage became the highest in Latin America. In addition, workers receive a monthly bonus for food amounting to some US$140. Also, pensions have been increased to the minimum wage.

But the forces of neoliberalism continue to agitate against Hugo Chavez and Venezuela.

Indeed in 2002 a US-back coup , supported by Venezuelan business interests, attempted to remove Chavez but he was returned to power in a counter coup by the Venezuelan people some forty-eight hours later.

President Barack Obama, the 'great liberal hope' , is proving to be no friend of Chavez.

The first official report outlining the defence and intelligence priorities of the Obama administration devoted a lot of words to Venezuela.

The Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community targeted President Chavez as a major 'threat' to US interests.

Said the report:

'Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has established himself as one of the US’s foremost international detractors, denouncing liberal democracy and market capitalism and opposing US policies and interests in the region.'

Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has regularly attacked Chavez.

Clinton, who has been warmly praised by Foreign Minister Murray McCully, recently expressed great concern' for democracy and human rights in Venezuela, accusing President Chavez of not “contributing in a constructive manner” to regional progress.

She also warned Venezuela not to develop a close relationship with Cuba.

In response, Venezuela has made it clear that it will not be intimidated by the Obama administration.

The Venezuelan National Assembly President, Cilia Flores said in January;

'When we thought there couldn't be anything worse than Bush along came Obama 'masked' as the 'hero of the film' but who emerged as 'more of the same,'.

Venezuela stands as an inspiration and a focal point for everyone seeking real change and that is why the forces of neoliberalism, of the rich and powerful, would like to see Hugo Chavez removed from office.

WORLD PEOPLES CONFERENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE RELEASES FINAL DECLARATION

Over 20,000 people attended The World Peoples Conference on Climate Change in Cochambamba, Bolivia this week. A final declaration was released on Thursday. The declaration condemns the carbon market, describing it as a lucrative business of commercializing the environment instead of tackling climate change. The declaration calls for a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2020, and an international climate court to penalise non-complying nations.

The World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth culminated Thursday and released the final declaration, the Agreement of the Peoples, calling for the establishment of an International Climate Court to prosecute polluters, condemning REDD and holding polluters responsible for their climate debt.

With the release of the final declaration, Indigenous Peoples proclaimed the outcome as, “The Cochabamba Protocols.”

Describing the damage to Mother Earth and the catastrophic effects of global temperature increases, the Agreement of Peoples states that the so-called developed nations are seizing the bounties of Mother Earth for profit without regard to the consequences for the people or the earth.

The Agreement, released in Spanish Thursday night, states that capitalism requires a strong military industry for the process of accumulation and the control of territories and natural resources, which suppresses peoples’ resistance. It is described as “an imperialist system of colonization of the planet.”

The Agreement of the Peoples proposes a draft Universal Declaration of Mother Earth. Further, it states that the people deplore the attempt by a group of countries to cancel the Kyoto Protocol, the only specific binding instrument for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in developed countries.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be fully recognized, implemented and integrated in the climate change negotiations. The best strategy and action is to avoid deforestation and degradation and protect native forests, while recognizing the rights of Indigenous Peoples, it states.

The market mechanism of REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is condemned, which violates the sovereignty of peoples and their right to free, prior and informed consent and the sovereignty of nation states. REDD violates the rights and customs of Peoples and the Rights of Nature.

The carbon market is described as a lucrative business of commercializing our Mother Earth. Instead of tackling climate change, it is an act of looting and ravaging the land, water and even life itself.

The Agreement of Peoples states the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be fully recognized, implemented and integrated in the climate change negotiations, with forests protected from degradation, especially considering most of the forests are in Indigenous territories.

The final declaration calls for leading industrial nations to cut emissions by 50 percent.

With the release of the final declaration, Bolivian President Evo Morales said the human race can benefit from the wisdom of the world’s indigenous peoples, who understand that humanity must live in harmony with nature.

“The peoples of the Andes believe in the concept of ‘living well’ instead of wanting to ‘live better’ by consuming more regardless of the cost to our neighbors and our environment. It is with these ancient teachings in mind that, exactly one year ago, the United Nations General Assembly accepted Bolivia’s proposal to celebrate International Mother Earth Day on April 22, which coincides with the final day of our conference.

“We now propose to go one step further and begin collectively drafting a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. This will establish a legal framework for protecting our increasingly threatened natural environment and raising the global consciousness about Mother Earth, on which we all depend for life.”


Indigenous Peoples came from throughout the world to speak out for the Rights of Mother Earth. Western Shoshone grandmother Carrie Dann, 75, fighting new gold mining on sacred Mount Tenabo, and Timbisha Shoshone Chairman Joe Kennedy were among the grassroots American Indians attending. Maori from New Zealand, Navajo, Gwich’in, Lakota, Acoma Pueblo, O’odham, Dakota, Mohawk, Yaqui and Oneida joined First Nations and an Alaskan delegation to uphold the rights of Mother Earth and Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia. Indigenous delegations from the north and south joined President Morales to open the conference with a blessing ceremony.

The Indigenous Environmental Network exposed the deception of REDD.

“REDD is a predatory program that pretends to save forests and the climate, while backhandedly selling out forests out from under our Indigenous People,” said Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), based in Bemidji, Minn. “REDD will encourage continuing pollution and global warming, while displacing those of us least responsible for the crisis, who have been stewards of the forests since time immemorial.”

The declarations forged by the working groups in Cochabamba will be taken to the Cancún summit by President Morales as a counter-proposal to the widely criticized Copenhagen Accord. Movements of Indigenous Peoples, trade unions, farmers and environmentalists are also building momentum out of Cochabamba with plans for mass demonstrations in Cancún.

The Bolivian government said the protection and rational use of natural resources was the main proposal of the conference this week, which also advocated the penalization of nations harming the environment. The creation of an International Court for Climate Justice to judge violators of environmental agreements was presented by Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Morales said the new structure should be validated by the United Nations.



This article is from the International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

DIRE STRAITS


I've lost count of the number of times in the past twelve months various mainstream economic 'experts' or media pundits has informed me that the New Zealand economy is coming out of recession.

Even when factories and offices still continue to close their doors for the final time, the cheerleaders for neoliberalism continue to peddle their 'good news' stories.

It's like a new variation on scientology. The devotees of the free market really do think that the ideas in their head influence the material reality and not the other way round. You just have to think the economy is improving and it will happen, Hallelujah!

A more sophisticated take on this lunacy is those who point to an 'economic recovery' in the United States - the struggling powerhouse of global capitalism - and then suggest that this is all good news for the New Zealand economy.

Television One's business commentator Corin Dann is an enthusiastic subscriber to this view. He points to increases in the Wall Street stockmarket as evidence of the United States coming out of recession. And when American companies announce profits, Dann can be relied on to argue that the economic good times are just around the corner for all of us here in little old New Zealand

This is what he says on his blog today:

...the recovery we are seeing is still pretty muted and we have not yet entered the strong rebound phase that typically follows big economic busts.

Although in saying that, one can't help but sense that a proper recovery (similar to that in Australia) is just around the corner.


But Dann is a cheerleader for neoliberalism and he is still labouring under the impression that what is good for Wall Street is good for the rest of us.

But we get a more accurate picture of the true state of the American economy if we look at the job market. This is something that the neoliberal cheerleaders would prefer not to talk about.

Since the Great recession started in late 2007 the American economy has shed nearly nine million jobs and has failed to find a further three million jobs required simply to absorb the new workers (school leavers, university graduates, etc) arriving on the job market.

The picture is even worse than this when we also include the growing number of people who are underemployed. These are folk who are in part time or casual work but who really need fulltime jobs in order to keep their heads above water. They are part of the growing army of working poor.

It doesn't take a economic wizard to work out there would have to be a spectacular recovery to create t over 11 million jobs. This kind of recovery only exists in cloudcuckooland and in the minds of economic commentators who are a sandwich short of a full lunch box.

In fact it has been estimated that if the American economy produced 300,000 jobs a month it would still take over five years for the economy to return to the state it was on the eve of the biggest global slump since the Great Depression. And this assumes that there's no dip in economic fortunes during the five years or so.

The free market devotees also think that somehow the American and the global economies can simply return, intact and unchanged, to the days before the proverbial hit the fan in November 2007.

But a lot has changed.

For a start, the American owners of capital have used the recession to downsize their operations and which has included shedding staff. And they have used the recession to outsource much of their production to countries where wages levels barely rise above sweatshop levels.

As well many Americans who still have jobs have discovered that they have to work more hours for less pay. Redundant workers who manage to find new jobs find they have to accept less pay and conditions simply to keep those jobs.

That's the economic reality and it hardly suggests that the American economy is on the road to recovery. With the American economy unable to provide anywhere near the jobs that are required and many workers suffering wage cuts, there will be no economic recovery based on rising consumption levels.

And we shouldn't forget that American capitalism has had billions pumped into via Barack Obama's massive bailout. It might have saved Wall Street and the banks but it has failed to deliver any tangible benefits to the American working class.

If the economic 'experts' expect New Zealand to bounce off some American-led economic recovery then they will be waiting for a very long time.

What is required is a clear alternative to neoliberalism and the political will to implement it.

Its time to look beyond the failed free market.

SACKED WORKERS UNHAPPY WITH THE EPMU


Thanks to 'Green Tea' for directing me to a story in the Marlborough Express on more discontent with the officials of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU)

92 aircraft engineers are set to lose their jobs at Safe Air in Blenheim. Safe Air is an Air New Zealand subsidiary.

As usual the EPMU took the path of least resistance and meekly accepted the job losses.

However our old mate Andrew Little, the national secretary of the EPMU, insisted in February that his union would be working 'closely with its members and with Air New Zealand to make sure as few members are displaced as possible.'

According to Safe Air workers however, the EPMU did nothing to prevent the widespread redundancies.

The facts are on the side of the workers. Air NZ announced in February that approximately 100 jobs would go and approximately 100 jobs have gone. Once again, it appears Andrew Little has been telling porkies.

To add insult to injury, workers fear that EPMU officials are prepared to agree to a less than impressive redundancy deal. This is despite union officials saying they were 'working hard' to 'ensure redundant staff were given the best deal possible'.

The redundant workers say they are also being kept in the dark about what is being cooked up between the EPMU and Air New Zealand

The EPMU says that it is in a 'delicate period of negotiations' which, apparently 'constrain' what details can be released.

Safe Air workers though fear they are being stitched up.

The workers have good reason to be worried given the way Andrew Little and the EPMU have sold out Air New Zealand workers in the past.

FORMER ALLIANCE MP TO TAKE ON SIDESHOW BOB


Here's some good news.

Mayor Sideshow Bob faces some serious opposition in his bid to retain the mayoralty in October.

Former Alliance MP Liz Gordon has announced that she will stand as an independent.

In her press statement she says like many Christchurch people she felt the council had done 'a dreadful job'' during its current term.

'Its priorities are all wrong. Council policy appears to be run by its senior managers, not by the elected representatives.'

She also slammed Sideshow Bob's performance saying that he was more suited to being 'an events manager'. Nice one, Liz.

She also slammed his role in the $17 million bailout of failed property developer Dave Henderson, raising housing rents and the council's bid to build a music school in the middle of the Arts Centre.

Meanwhile we await to see if Jim Anderton will make a bid for the Christchurch mayoralty as the official candidate for 2021.

Anderton is keeping his cards close to his chest but the fact that 2021 has been conducting telephone polls and using Anderton's name as a possible mayoral contender, suggests that there is some substance to the story.

Anyway its got old Sideshow Bob rattled who launched attack on Anderton in The Press today, claiming that an Anderton bid for the mayoralty was all about the Labour Party seeking re-election in 2011.

What's his evidence for this claim? None whatsoever. And is this the same Sideshow Bob whose mayoral campaign in 2007 was supported by several prominent National Party members?

MELTDOWN AT NEWSTALK ZB


Mike Yardley was something of an exception to the talkback radio rule - he was a liberal.

For fifteen years or so he hosted an immensely popular 9am-midday talkback and news show on Newstalk ZB. Thanks to his show and the preceding breakfast show show of John Dunne (brother of Peter) and Ken Ellis, Newstalk ZB ruled the commercial radio roost in Christchurch.

Yardley was good at what he did and never avoided asking the hard questions of both national and local politicians. He often hauled Mayor Sideshow Bob over the coals who, I suspect, grew to dislike Yardley. So Yardley must of have been doing something right.

After fifteen years he left his show for new non-radio pastures and was replaced by Ali Jones. More conservative than Yardley she nevertheless maintained the focus on local issues and concerns.

She ran, for example, a series of excellent shows on Sideshow Bob's bailout of Dave Henderson and I posted the transcripts to one interview on this blog.

But all this came to an end when The Radio Network decided that the people of Christchurch didn't really need any local news shows. The breakfast show was axed in 2008 and Ali Jones was shown the door in 2009.

Despite being a major metropolitan centre, Christchurch does not have any local news radio. Instead the people of Christchurch are supposed to make do with the Auckland shows of Mike Hosking and Leighton Smith. Personally I'd rather stick my head in a bucket of ice cold water than listen to the right wing Smith.

Not surprisingly Newstalk ZB in Christchurch has suffered a dramatic drop in ratings, losing over five percent of its audence. In the competitive world of commercial radio losing just one percentage point is a disaster , a drop of over five percent suggests that a station has gone into meltdown.

Mike Yardley has remained silent on events at his former radio station but he broke his silence in his column in the Christchurch Press on Saturday.

He wrote: 'ZB's heart and soul was underpinned by its local stripes' and that it provided the station with 'its winning dimension'.

On the wiping away of its local stripes Yardley commented that ' a surreal situation' had been allowed to develop.

He went on to say; 'Newstalk ZB has been rendered hopelessly incapable of courting or reflecting the public passion over the ECan turmoil - because its a local issue. Similarly what is shaping up to be feverish city council election race can't be covered with any depth due to the network restrictions.'

We're often told how well commercial radio does things. Indeed the present Minister Of Broadcasting seems to think that Radio New Zealand could do with a good dose of these 'superior' commercial values.

Those same commercal values have been responsible for depriving Christchurch of any local radio news shows with the result that thousands of people have tuned out of Newstalk ZB.

THE HYPOCRISY OF SIDESHOW BOB




'It has often been said that a society can be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable.'

That's a very enlightened view but you will be surprised who said it. It was none other than the unenlightened Mayor Sideshow Bob in his weekly column in the Christchurch Star.

The Christchurch City Council has, in principle, agreed to contribute $2 million to the redevelopment of the Christchurch City Mission's central city facilities. Bob thought he shouldn't allow this grant to go unremarked upon especially if it might assist another 'good cause' - namely the re-election chances of Sideshow Bob.

With a local body election on the horizon , Bob needs something - anything - to boost his increasingly tarnished reputation. So he has decided that it might be a good idea to bring the 'caring and sharing' Bob out of the closet for a bit of an airing. Hence his fulsome support for the City Mission.

But as is usually the case with Bob, its all smoke and mirrors. Remember - this is the same guy who illegally tried to put council rents up a massive twenty-four percent.

One thing Bob hasn't written abut in any of his columns (which are actually written by Diane Keenan, a former journalist with The Press), is that he was instrumental in making savage cuts to the council's community funding last year.

Some $1.5 million has been cut from the community funding budget.

Welfare groups warned the council that many welfare groups would struggle to survive without the funding it had traditionally received. Bob though thought it was more important to bail out his old mate, failed property developer Dave Henderson, to the tune of $17 million. Oh, and spend $5 million on garden shows, and $1.7 million on consultants reports, a big salary increase for Bob's right hand man, CEO Tony Marryatt, a new Porsche for Bob....

One valuable community organisation not getting any help from Sideshow Bob and his cronies is the Christchurch Youth Medical Centre. It faces closure at the end of the month. It provides free medical and health services for some of Christchurch's most vulnerable youth.

Sideshow Bob's rediscovered 'social conscience' has not extended as far as Christchurch's community-owned childcare centres either. These centres are run as a community service and not for profit.

The childcare centres face massive rent hikes.

A centre not far from where I live is Educare. It is faced with a 102 percent rent increase for the cramped house that it occupies.

It has 70 families on its roll. it At any one time the community-owned centre is looking after some 35 children, from babies to those approaching school age.

Educare are now faced with trying to find another $681 per week to cover the massive hike in the council lease.

The childcare centre is faced with the prospect of having to increase its charges. It is reluctant to do this because many of the parents who use the facilities are on low wages or are on benefits.

Educare's difficulties are typical of all the community-owed childcare centres in Christchurch.

If we can judge mayors by how they treat the most vulnerable people in their city then Sideshow Bob gets a big fat zero out of ten.

KICKING ANDREW LITTLE UP THE BACKSIDE



Of course I would never actually do it, but sometimes I think it would be quite nice to kick Andrew Little up the backside. It would be nice to kick the colourless President of the Labour Party and the national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) up the bum and demand that he had his fellow well-paid union bureaucrats start putting up some real resistance to what is going down in this country right now.

In recent times union leaders have been all too ready to raise the white flag of surrender or simply act like rabbits in the headlights of an on-coming car. They just seem paralysed by the economic crisis.

Personally I want Andrew Little to get angry. I want him to get some fire in his belly. I want him to stop being a dreary technocrat and start acting like a proper trade unionist.

Hell, there must be something happening that gets even Andrew Little's blood boiling, his passion ignited. The rocketing unemployment figures perhaps ? The attacks on beneficiaries? Maybe he's upset about the well-off getting tax breaks and the poor getting nothing? Perhaps he's angry about the threat of more privatisation in the state sector?

You'd think by now that Little would have marched along to the office of the CTU President and angrily told Helen Kelly that enough was enough and that it was time for militant action - and by militant action I don't mean a strongly worded press release.

But we've barely heard a squeak from Little and the other union top brass.

When they do surface in the media they mumble the usual bullshit about being 'disappointed' by a decision and 'concerned' abut the consequences. And then they disappear to from whence they came.

I long for the day when a union leader says to camera: 'Screw you, John Key. We ain't going to take it no more.'

Okay, I'm engaging in a reasonable amount of hyperbole here but the song remains the same - our union 'leaders' are a bunch of do-nothing gutless wonders.

Imagine for a moment if things really got bad and we saw the rise of a neo-fascist government in New Zealand. Imagine if political activists were rounded up and put in detention camps.

What do you think Andrew Little's reaction would be? I'll tell you. He'd say he was 'very disappointed' by the government's actions. Then he'd call for talks to come to ' an agreement that all sides are happy with.'

I'm not joking.

In fact, I'm probably being too kind to Little and his cronies. They actively collaborated with the Clark Government and they are continuing to do that with the Key Government.

Amazingly, despite the intensified offensive against the New Zealand working class, there has actually been a decrease in the number of industrial stoppages.

The CTU has overseen the orderly closure of plants, the introduction of shorter work weeks, and the suppression of any worker resistance. Despite the attacks on jobs, wages and conditions, in 2009 there were just 18 recorded strikes, involving just 2,010 workers — a historic low.

Who is defending workers from the Government's austerity policies? It certainly isn't Andrew Little and co.

Some people might be thinking I need to have a cup of tea and a lie down. I need to view the situation in a more dispassionate light.

Stuff that.

Yes, I do know that the CTU'S strategy is to divert workers into a dead end street, namely supporting Labour and the Green's.

But sometimes prosaic analysis isn't enough.

Sometimes you just want to say that you are fed up with the bullshit and want to kick Andrew Little up the backside.

SAVE THE 198 YOUTH MEDICAL CENTRE!



The 198 Youth Heath Centre in Christchurch will close its doors at the end of this month unless additional funding can be found to cover rising costs.

As I wrote in another post, over 15,000 young people use its free services every year. These services include medical checks ups, health advice, pregnancy tests and counselling.

It is also a place safe place where young people can meet and talk.

Health minister Tony Ryall, displaying remarkable shortsightedness, has refused to step in to save the centre.

The Christchurch City Council has also declined to help - the same council that bailed out failed property developer Dave Henderson to the tune of $17 million and the same council that has spent over $1.7 million on reports on how to 'revitalise' the central city.

As I wrote previously:

This is a time of deep recession and youth unemployment has rocketed up over the past year or so. Yet, despite this, the young people of Christchurch are facing the ugly prospect of having another support organisation kicked out from under them.

This is a short interview with one of the high school students campaigning to keep the centre open.

The interview was conducted by Asher from the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement.

BROWN OUT?


The British people will soon be faced with the prospect of Capitalist Party B taking the reigns of political power at 10 Downing Street from Capitalist Party A.

While the gap between Labour and the Conservatives has narrowed, raising the possibility of a hung Parliament, the odds are against Gordon Brown being returned as Prime Minister.

Labour have consistently trailed in the polls for over three years and, at this late stage in the game, there would have to be a dramatic collapse of the Tory vote for Labour to squeeze out a victory.

If the Conservative Party does win the General Election it'll be because the British working class just couldn't bring themselves to vote Labour again, which will parallel what happened in New Zealand in 2007.

Like the Clark Government, the Labour Party of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has pursued a neoliberal agenda and have been unswerving supporters of privatisation, deregulation and a economy that was based on nothing more than rising property prices and easy credit. That particular economic bubble, of course, burst in 2008.

Labour's problems have been compounded by supporting unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And Labour has been severely damaged by the revelations that many of its ministers and MP's were grossly fiddling their expense claims. This resulted in several resignations but the stench of corruption still surrounds Labour.

While the corporate media continue to pump out good news stories, the economic crisis is far from over. But both Labour and the Conservatives remain committed to exactly the same neoliberal policies that contributed to the crisis in the first place.

Labour has simply been a disgrace. As one British union leader recently told a union conference:

'I say to you that if you judge the government as an employer, this is the worst government in the history of this country. I’ve got no illusions in David Cameron, I know he’ll be dreadful. But in the last four years, we’ve lost 100,000 jobs. We’ve had more privatisation than under Thatcher and Major combined.'

And Brown - like Cameron - has some nasty neoliberal measures awaiting the British people if he does manage to stay in Downing Street.

As one British blogger notes:

But with a budget deficit of close to 12 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), Labour has committed itself to reducing the gap by 50 percent in the lifetime of the next parliament, which will call for deep spending cuts. Although it has sought to keep such plans under wraps until after the election, estimates suggest that a spending reduction of this magnitude would require departmental budget cuts of between 10 and 20 percent over the next four years.


Whichever party gets into power, the British working class face severe austerity policies, designed to make them pay for a continuing economic crisis they are not responsible for.

KIWI FM FAILS IN THE RATINGS YET AGAIN


Despite the best efforts of former station manager Karyn Hay to talk up Kiwi FM in last montn's Next magazine, the reality is that the station has been a complete failure and remains a dismal legacy of the incompetent and duplicitous actions of former Minister of Broadcasting Steve Maharey.

Karyn Hay has moved on to other things, namely being a talkback host on another low rating MediaWorks station, Radio Live.

She has left behind a station that barely registers in the ratings.

The latest radio survey shows that Kiwi FM remains rooted at the bottom of the ratings, pulling in a derisory 0-1 - 0.2 percent of the total radio audience.

The ratings are so low that the station is now lumped into the 'others' category

If this was a commercial station the plug would have been pulled long ago. Indeed that was what former MediaWorks boss Brent Impey was going to do before Maharey, the Minister of Broadcasting in the Clark Government, came to the rescue.

He gave the commercial broadcaster the three valuable FM frequencies that had been reserved for a youth radio network. To quote from a previous post

How all this came about is a bit of mystery - especially since Labour had come up with the idea of an youth radio network in the first place - but its clear that MediaWorks Brent Impey lobbied Maharey hard. Impey was worried that a non-commercial youth radio network would pull audience away from the MediaWorks stable of stations such as The Rock and More FM.

What is also clear is that Maharey sideswiped his own Government's advisory group. The group, made up of representatives from student radio, access radio and some other media-savvy young people, was asked to consider the network among other options for enhancing radio services for youth.

The group strongly recommended a non-commercial youth radio network and the recommendation was backed by , among others, access radio and Mai FM.

As musician Neil Finn noted in 2002:

Those of us who have championed this idea for many years have done so with the belief that it will enliven and empower young people and make New Zealand a more exciting place to live. If we let this opportunity slip away, it will not come again and we will never know what wonderful things might have unfolded.

But instead Maharey, in what amounted to corporate welfare, handed over the three frequencies to MediaWorks and Kiwi FM.

Maharey, in an attempt to justify bailing out a media corporate, claimed that Kiwi FM would have a year to prove itself and then the station's performance would be reviewed.

A year went by and Kiwi FM failed to attract listeners. Maharey though went back on his promise and never conducted any review.

And so Kiwi FM remains on air today and three valuable government owned frequencies are going to waste.

There has, rightly, been widespread opposition to what the National Government has planned for Radio New Zealand. But equally as scandalous was the backroom deal Maharey made with Brent Impey and which effectively torpedoed the proposed youth radio network.

Karyn Hay commented in Next magazine that she hoped that people had moved on from the controversy surrounding Kiwi FM.

Hay may want to sweep this issue under the carpet but as long as Kiwi FM remains squatting in the FM frequencies that rightly belong to the youth radio network, some of us will continue to highlight the dismal performance of this impostor.

HOCUS POCUS


While we like to consider ourselves to be a intelligent and rational species, the fact remains that many people still cling to superstitions that were alive and well in the days when religious leaders said that the sun revolved the earth and anyone who said otherwise, like Galileo Galilei for example, were guilty of 'heresy'.

The appeal of superstition helps to explain the enduring attraction of the Turin Shroud.

The Shroud has gone on display for the first time in ten years - and only the fifth time in a hundred years - in the Turin Cathedral. People can't touch it though because its contained within a climate-controlled case.

While some people will go and have a look at it out of curiosity I suspect that the majority of people who will be visiting the Turin Cathedral over the next few weeks will be on something of a pilgrimage.They really do believe that this piece of cloth is the burial shroud of Jesus.

They believe this despite all the best scientific evidence that says that the cloth is a forgery and it was made in Lirey, France, in the fourteenth century. Indeed it was actually condemned as a fake by the local bishop in the area at the time because it was being used to deceive pilgrims that it could heal them of illness. It was kind of a medieval forerunner to the 'miracles' of televangelists like Benny Hinn.

It has been shown that the so-called blood in the cloth is actually red ochre and vermilion tempera paint. And it has been demonstrated it is possible to produce a similar image on cloth by a rubbing technique, using the vermilion and ochre pigments that were available at that time in France.

Moreover, portions of the cloth were carbon-14 dated by three independent laboratories, all of whom reported that it was not nineteen hundred years old, but probably fabricated approximately 700 years ago.Shroud 'believers' have long attacked the carbon 14 tests as 'flawed' but have produced no credible evidence to back up these claims.

The Catholic Church, not adverse to promoting other religious myths, has done little to dispel the myths surrounding its medieval piece of cloth . Officially it will neither confirm or deny the authenticity of the Turin Shroud, but the way that the public appearances of the cloth are carefully stage-managed suggest that the Catholic Church is happy to maintain the cloth's religious 'aura'. I guess they view it as a good way to promote the faith in these difficult times.

This is the same Catholic Church that condemned author Dan Brown for popularising the idea that Jesus married Mary Magadalene and bore his children. The idea that the Turin Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus though is as much fiction as The Da Vinci Code. There's not a lot of intellectual honesty and consistency at work here.

The philosopher David Hume thought it a 'miracle' that people who believe in miracles are willing to subvert all of the evidence of the senses and the processes of rationality in order to accept their beliefs. This certainly is the case with the Turin Shroud.

SUNDOWN


The inevitable happened this morning. TV3's breakfast show, Sunrise, was axed.

The only surprise is that it didn't happen earlier. The show has limped along for over two years or so, consistently rated badly, and never made money for the Australian owners.

This was a badly devised show from the off.

Although it wouldn't of been my cup of tea exactly, I would have taken notice of a liberal alternative to the egotistical and reactionary viewpoint of the loathsome Paul Henry on TV1's Breakfast.

But we didn't get that. It might have been packaged differently, the presenters might have been younger but the politics was much the same as Breakfast, albeit without the caustic and baying tone that Henry lends to everything he does.

Just a fortnight ago hosts Oliver Driver and Carly Flynn were agreeing with each other that Paula Bennett's attack on welfare beneficiaries was a good thing.

Similarly instead of offering a harder news show, Sunrise again aped the opposition. It was more of the 'once over lightly' news stories, more fluff about celebrities, holidays, music, movies, food. Oh, and more cheesy banter between presenters who all thought they were incredibly funny.

Some twenty staff are out of work although some will be redeployed within Mediaworks. Perhaps Oliver and Carly could do another breakfast show - this time on Kiwi FM. No one watched Sunrise and no one listens to Kiwi FM. So Oliver and Carly would feel right at home.

BOB AND JANE


While Mayor Sideshow Bob played a central role in the process that led to the National Government sacking all of Environment Canterbury's (Ecan) councillors, other Bob supporters have done their little bit as well.

Jane Parfitt is the General Manager for City Environment. She oversees a workforce of some 300 people whose task, among other things, is to maintain Christchurch's infrastructure services.

On November 29 Wyatt Creech met with several local mayors and council CEOs.

The former National Party Deputy Prime Minister was appointed by the Government to head the ECan review. At the time he was a Director of a company called Open Country Cheese Dairy Limited. which in 2007 was fined a total of $55,000 in the Hamilton District Court after pleading guilty to 11 charges laid by Environment Waikato relating to illegal effluent discharges and storage.

Jane Parfitt was Sideshow Bob's representative at this meeting. Parfitt may not have the same kind of public profile as CEO Tony Marryatt but she is nevertheless, like Marryatt, a loyal Bob lieutenant.

Parfitt, who ironically once used to work for ECan, delivered a range of criticisms of ECan which included the accusations that it was ' not practical' not 'cost conscious' and adopted a 'master/ servant' attitude in its relationship to the Christchurch City Council.

She also expressed specific concerns about ECan's management of the Red Bus Company. According to the minutes of the meeting released under the Official Information Act , she made the revealing comment that ECan was only interested in 'managing the buses and not the contract'.

As was pointed out in a previous post if the Red Bus Company does pass into the hands of the Christchurch City Council - which seems likely - the council will be legally obliged to sell it.

It is little more than privatisation through the backdoor and it will be the completion of an agenda that began back in 2006 when Parker's predecessor, Garry Moore, succeeded in having the bus company taking off the council's list of strategic assets. This was also the year when Moore attempted to sell the Lyttelton Port Company to a Hong Kong -based corporate but backed down when faced with fierce local opposition against the proposed sale.

Moore supported Parker's bid for the mayoralty and was subsequently employed by the council as a 'consultant' on 'urban renewal.'

It appears that Jane Parfitt is entirely comfortable with the privatisation agenda. Nor does she seem to have a problem with local people not only having their elected representaives sacked by central government but are also being denied the right to vote until at least 2013.

Also of major concern is that despite being an employee of the Christchurch City Council and not an elected councillor, she has openly supported and contributed to Mayor Bob's political campaign against ECan.

While she has been a consistent critic of ECan in recent times, in 2007 her husband stood for the ECan Council

Clem Parfitt was a candidate or for the right wing 'Independent Citizens' - basically the National Party in disguise- in the Christchurch South constituency.

Clem Parfitt is in the building industry, running a company that makes lifting and anchoring systems for precast concrete. Before this however he was a farmer for some twenty years.

In a candidate statement he said:

My particular interest is in promoting sustainable, efficient management and use of our natural resources especially water, soils and the natural landscape.

We must commit to ensure appropriate care is given to the enhancement of our living environment in Canterbury. This requires a well governed ECan to take a strong role in delivering cost-effective services for ratepayers.

His running mate in Christchurch South was Murray Francis. Williams is managing director of Road Metals which produces sand and aggregates for, among other things, road construction. It has also been involved in the construction of all of the South Island's major hydro power schemes.

In his candidate statement Francis said:

I don't approve of practical jokes. I've seen too many of them get elected. Central party politics should not be a factor with ECan.


Both men were well beaten by Kerry Burke (the former chairperson of ECan voted out as chairperson by right wing councillors) and by 2021 candidate Bob Kirk.

HELEN CLARK BACKS U.S. CONTROL OF HAITI


It was just a few short weeks ago that Haiti was all over the mainstream media. It was on the front page of the newspapers and it was the lead item on the six o'clock news shows. Even Mark Sainsbury and Close Up wanted to talk about something other than Alison Mau, All Blacks getting into trouble and women who go crazy over clowns.

It couldn't last of course. The media have moved on to other things - like Tiger Woods for example - consigning Haiti to the 'Just Another Natural Disaster in a Faraway Land' file.

Haiti has only got itself to blame because it has not had the decency to have another massive earthquake and thus provide the media with new pictures of death and destruction.

I'm sure TV3's Mike McRobert's would then be on the first plane back to Haiti, to repeat his 'Saint Michael of New Zealand' performance for the cameras.

While the western media ignores Haiti, Washington's consolidation of its power in the Caribbean nation continues unabated. Only the alternative media is sounding the alarm bells.

Just last week, on March 31, there was an significant meeting in New York.

It was euphemistically called the 'International Donors Conference Towards a New Future for Haiti'.

It was attended by, among others, the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Bill Clinton ( who is the UN Special Envoy to Haiti ), the President of the World Bank and the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Also in attendance, as the Chair of the United Nations Development Group and Administrator of the United Nations Development programme was our former Prime Minister, Helen Clark.

Haitian President René Préval also made an appearance. Although he sometimes claims to be in charge of Haitian affairs , he has consistently pursued the neoliberal agenda of Washington against the wishes of his own people.

He is the puppet of the Obama administration and he must do its bidding if he wants to stay in office. When he criticised the Obama administration for sending some 20,000 marines into Haiti, he was described as 'corrupt' by Washington. The implication was clear - don't upset Washington if you know what's good for you.

Preval has returned to his usual cheerleader role.

At the conference he made a point of praising his American masters.

'Today it has been demonstrated that the international community will continue to support Haiti in the long-term and we will meet the needs," he said.

During the conference, Hilary Clinton presented the 'Action Plan for National Recovery and Development of Haiti'. It's sounds impressive and positive but it is another nail in the coffin of Haitian democracy.

Haiti will not be allowed to become a economically and politically independent nation but will have imposed on it the neoliberal agenda of the United States - backed by the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF.

The calls by the Haitian people to revive its agriculture - so it can be come become self-sufficient in food again, have been ignored.

Washington's plan revolves around sweatshops and tourism.

Helen Clark said: 'The UN will support short term job creation; the development of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises; and the creation of the enabling environment needed for investors to help generate sustainable employment over the long term,'

When Clark speaks of 'the enabling environment needed for investors to help generate sustainable employment over the long term' what she is really endorsing is the setting up of more American-owned sweatshops.

Haiti will be chained to the failing American economy. Haitian workers will be forced to assemble imported clothing and electronic goods from the United States. Its either that or act as servants for American tourists. And Haitian workers will continue to be paid next to nothing. This is what Clark calls 'sustainable employment'.

The neoliberal agenda of Washington is opposed by the Haitian people who have simply been ignored in the drive to make Haiti safe for American capitalism.

Progressive Haitian and Dominican groups meeting in Santo Domingo on Mar 17 concluded:

'We must break with economic dependency,We need to build an economic model that encourages national production by focusing on agriculture, livestock, and agro-industry aimed at meeting our own food needs (cereals, tubers, milk, fruit, fish, meats, etc.).'

Wrote Haitian Richard Morse in the Huffington Post:

'Bill Clinton isn’t bringing hope to Haiti. Bill Clinton isn’t bringing change to Haiti. Bill Clinton, along with USAID, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the United Nations are bringing more of the same to Haiti: more for the few and less for the many.'

And all this is happening under the auspices of 'the great liberal hope', Barack Obama - and supported by the likes of Helen Clark.

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