I am not “Charlie Hebdo” I am not an “Journal Irresponsable”

The Charlie Hebdo and anti-Jewish attacks in Paris is a story of two distinct parts. The second is only too familiar.

The first is the story of a few mad, misguided, violent criminals, known to the authorities, murdering innocent people at will and in turn being killed.
The human story of grieving families.
The story of the role of the authorities which must have missed something as they had the perpetrators on their radar.
The story of misguided religious beliefs. When are religious leaders of all creeds start telling their followers that there is no reward in heaven for martyrdom and murder ? Or even better, when are they telling us that there is indeed no heaven at all and we all must live a decent life caring for ourselves and others without fear of punishment or hope of reward in non-existing hell or heaven ?

All the above is the story of these particular crimes.

The second story is the story of the aftermath in the media, politics and the public.

First the media.

Voltaire everywhere.

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It is understandable that the media immediately defined the narrative as that of the right to free speech for a journal nobody had ever heard of, which apparently was offensive to many and which prided itself in their Title as “Journal Irresponsable”. Colleagues from their own tribe got murdered and they now must defend their almost divine right to piss off the rest of us with biased, incorrect and often insulting reporting and opinions. Just one example :

pencilsThis cartoonist conveniently overlooks that for over a decade it is not pencils and quills raining down on the terrorists and civilians alike in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and where ever the West sees fit but bombs and rockets killing women and children alike.

Second the politics.
The most disgusting picture summing it all up is that of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – told not to attend – muscling his way into the front row of the Paris march to be in the same picture with world leaders like Hollande and Merkel.

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In other words the political reaction was also totally predictable tailored for their domestic and international audiences, which can be described with one word : Hypocrisy !

The latest example is Israel laying an official complaint against a cartoon in the Sunday Times, which they might have rightly interpreted as anti-semitic.

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Wasn’t Israel’s Netanyahu marching in the front row to defend the rights of free speech and the right of the ‘Journal Irresponsable’ to insult and offend religious minorities.

Third the public reaction.

Here comes the interesting part. In New Zealand started of by Derek Fox at least part of the public have not swallowed the narrative and look through the hypocrisy. Initially it was reported in the NZ Herald that he was slammed for his ‘disgusting ‘ Facebook post. In the meantime following the discussion in the letters to the editor and on social media it appears that the bullshit detectors are working.

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or Evans

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Conclusion

All this of course is designed to distract us from thinking about and discussing the real causes of the tragic events.

One who is not distracted is Chris Hedges in ‘truthdig’.

What about his narrative in the opening paragraph :

The terrorist attack in France that took place at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was not about free speech. It was not about radical Islam. It did not illustrate the fictitious clash of civilizations. It was a harbinger of an emerging dystopia where the wretched of the earth, deprived of resources to survive, devoid of hope, brutally controlled, belittled and mocked by the privileged who live in the splendor and indolence of the industrial West, lash out in nihilistic fury.

Makes you think.

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Who are the real (war) criminals ?

One of the most frustrating stories to follow over the years must be the Israeli / Palestinian conflict.

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Heavy smoke billows from a section of Gaza City in the Gaza Strip following an Israeli military strike Tuesday. | AFP-JIJI

The latest outrage committed by the Palestinians is their request to join the International Court of Justice and thereby pledge TO ABIDE BY INTERNATIONAL LAW!
As Robert Fisk in the Independent of 4 January writes sarcastically but rightfully: Heavens preserve us from such a thought, but these chappies – after all their past calls for Israel’s extinction, after all the suicide bombings and intifadas – are asking to join one of the most prestigious judicial bodies on earth. For years, the Palestinians have demanded justice. They went to the international court in The Hague to have Israel’s apartheid wall dismantled – they even won, and Israel didn’t give a hoot. Any sane Palestinian, you might think, would long ago have turned his or her back on such peaceful initiatives. 

The real story behind this story is the reaction mainly of the US State Department.
Its spokesman told us that his government is “deeply troubled” by the Palestinian application. It is “entirely counterproductive”, he informed the world. It does “nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign state” – though one might have thought that membership of so august a judicial body would have done a lot to persuade the world that Palestinians were ready to shoulder all the burdens of statehood.
The United States, of course – and this fact oddly did not feature in the flurry of news reports on “Palestine’s” request to join – has itself refused to join the International Criminal Court. And with good reason; because, like the Israelis – although this is not quite how the whole fandango was explained to us – Washington is also worried that its soldiers and government officials will be arraigned for war crimes. Think waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, the report on CIA torture…
No wonder Jeffrey Rathke, the windbag who speaks for the State Department, says that the Palestinian request “badly damages the atmosphere” with Israel, “undermines trust” and “creates doubts about their (Palestinian) commitment to a negotiated peace”. And remember, Abbas only made his request after America had vetoed – and it has used its veto more than 40 times on Israel’s behalf to reject Palestine’s self-determination since 1975 – a UN Security Council resolution to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land by 2017. 

The obvious question is who the real (war) criminals are. The ones who want to join the International Court of Justice and thereby be held accountable for their actions or the ones like the US and Israel who steadfastly refused to join and instead constantly block any attempt to enforce international law ?

Don’t answer it if you don’t want to be accused of Anti-Semitism.

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Don’t start another War – Call the Police

At the beginning of the year 2015 it is time to reflect. This is what I am reflecting on this time:

$14 Million (US) an Hour for 13 Years: War on Terror’s Astounding Cost

For the investment in some cardboard cutters and plane tickets on 9/11 the “return” for the terrorists was as unimaginable as the for everyone around the world to watch “perfect” implosion of the towers as a crumbling symbol of the capitalistic world.

However there is not only the “return” for the terrorists in the costs to the US taxpayer. There is also the even more important return to the newly created homeland security industry and the old military industrial complex, which have to thank the terrorists.
Fear is what makes us as governments and consumers spend without thinking and questioning. If we hadn’t the now perpetual “war” on terrorism we would have to invent it. It keeps our economy, which is largely based on the military industrial and homeland security complex, ticking over.
This is the logic of our capitalistic system that wars are there for money to be made.

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Let’s imagine if we hadn’t started just another war as the ingrained reflex of our economic/political system after 9/11. Let’s imagine we had after the outrageous mass murder crime against almost 3000 victims just called the police as you do. What if the police and criminal justice system had dealt with the crime ? What different outcomes would we have ?

This is of course hypothetical as we cannot accurately asses the alternative history. However I dare to say that extremist islamist lunatics would not have gained so many recruits worldwide and the map of the Middle East would at the moment not look like that :

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The Christmas present too much of a temptation !

In desperation on the last day before Christmas I visited a local artist who had supplied beautiful presents before, one of which was sadly destroyed in a recent storm. I didn’t find what I was looking for till he pointed to a sculpture hidden in the back of his studio. I liked it immediately. The artist had called this pear “Adam’s Temptation”.

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I liked it even more when I heard the backstory. The temptation had obviously been to much for some and he was asked to remove the piece from the major gallery in Matakana.

However you look at it

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this raises some interesting issues.

One is that of censorship of art.

The other is the problem some New Zealanders obviously still living in Victorian times are having with nudity. How is it that the naked body – nature itself – can be so offensive even if some are less beautiful than others. The uproar and possible prosecution of naked swimmers or sun bathers especially in the presence of children. What are we teaching our children if we make them feel that naked bodies including their own are something naughty.
And don’t get me started on banning breastfeeding mothers to the toilet because a little bit of nipple might be exposed to the public. It makes me angry.

How do these sick, prudish, moral guardians survive in the age of film, television and the internet. They need serious help before they can be let anyway near our children.

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Thank you Brian Tamaki

Thank you Brian Tamaki for reminding us what religion is all about.
Last Sunday you had the brilliant idea to demonstrate the essence of your Destiny Church by letting your congregation shower cash on you/your stage. Your media stunt however goes beyond Destiny even beyond Christianity covering the essence of all religions. Thank you for being so crass to rub it in that all organised religions essentially want our money even if most disguise this by emphasising their good deeds.

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When I was in my last year in high school still hanging in there as a good Lutheran boy I had an epiphany. I attended a religious festival in a little mountain village on the Italian island of Sardinia. The crowd were poor subsistence farmers living healthily of the local fare of bread, cheese, olives and wine and with their skinny frames and drawn faces looked more like extras of a holocaust movie. There was only one round belly and face with rosy cheeks : the priest.
Next stop Rome with the St Peters Basilica, which was built on the sale of indulgence.

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In Germany at that time the top indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his ditty “As soon as the gold in the casket rings; the rescued soul to heaven springs” incensed Martin Luther so much that he started the reformation.
However the central role of money is not confined to Christianity. Later visits completed the picture for instance to Istanbul with its magnificent mosques,

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Bangkok with its beautiful temples and golden Buddhas

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and many other countries with their ancient sites, where inevitably the grandest ruins are places of worship.
We just have to remember/imagine how the people who built these cathedrals, temples, mosques lived at the time. Not much better than the slaves who built the pyramids. They all have been victims of the blood sucking class of religious leaders.

And we can be sure when our cities will be dug up by archeologists in 5000 years time they will point to the biggest ruins and say that these must have been the places of worship and they will be right. They will have uncovered the most magnificent buildings in our time the banks and other temples of commerce.

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Don’t get me wrong. I love these buildings and monuments and travelled long distances to see them. But we must not forget that they were built on the blood and sacrifices of mostly the poorest in society. As Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church is sitting smack in the middle of one of the poorest areas in New Zealand.

Thank you Brian Tamaki to make it all crystal clear for everyone to see.

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State’s “social” role : Corporate Welfare

I have to thank Brian Fallow for his article in the NZ Herald of 28 November to have alerted me to the “Productivity Commission’s” inquiry into how to improve the market for social services. My old nightmare predictions were confirmed.
Our neo-liberal right wing governments – lets cut out the centre right euphemism – has sold off most of the valuable state assets to mostly overseas corporate buyers. Some bits and pieces left like state houses are now on the block. However the cupboard is almost empty. So what is the next thing to feather the nests of your corporate mates with, when brick and mortar are gone ? You sell what is left, which is government services.
Brian Fallow points to the consequences especially for the social services.
The charities register showed around $3.3 billion of government funding for charitable providers of social services last year. The charities benefit from around 800,000 hours of volunteer labour a week. And as a general rule, people employed by NGOs don’t do it because the money is goodSo a concern, if the agenda here is increased reliance on that sector, is that it is about saving money by reducing the pay and working conditions of the people actually providing the services. 

The consequence of  poorly paid providers is that the services don’t get better but poorer as well. The article is titled “State’s social role under scrutiny”. The “social” role of the state seems to change from providing for the poorest and most vulnerable to making the rich even richer.
Even right wing commentator and blogger Matthew Hooton on National Radio this week called senior cabinet minister Steven Joyce the minister for “corporate welfare”.

The social role of the state has changed to welfare for the rich. As simple as that.

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Planet Key

Toby Manhire in the NZ Herald on 21 Nov 14 quotes John Key talking on a Northland radio station “When we talk about the Treaty and sovereignty and all those matters, you take a step back and say, well, what was really happening? In my view New Zealand was one of the very few countries in the world that were settled peacefully.” Manhire then asked the question: Or is it just that he can’t remember which side he was on during the Land Wars?
Here of course he refers to the fact that Mr Key pretends not to remember, which side he was on during the 1981 Springbok Tour when he was a young student at Canterbury University.
This goes to show that Key has no roots or sense of history in New Zealand. He is an alien living on planet Key with no apparent loyalty to our country. Where will he go when he quits his job having sold our sovereignty (TPP), last assets and government services to his overseas finance and corporate mates. Will he go back to his spiritual home on Wall Street and play some golf with ex-president Obama? Or will he rock up at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to claim his Israeli citizenship?
New Zealanders have been blinded for to long by the fact that Key made 50 million playing the currency market in London and New York and therefore must be good. When are we waking up to the truth that the man is fake. A construct of a clever PR machine. The kid from the state house making good. As he moved on conveniently forgetting the state house and free education he benefitted from.

This was only the story of last week.
Don’t get me started on this week. I am still looking for words to describe the audacity or in his case rather chutzpah deflecting from the Dirty Politics of his administration.
His Australian PR people told him already during the election campaign to lie and deny and deny and lie as their polling showed that New Zealanders were not interested and would let him get away with it. And they were and are right. John Key is the ideal client for ruthless PR people as he has no roots, no history, no loyalty, no morals, no decency just a blank canvass to paint a nice picture on.

What does this really tell us about our gullible selves other then that New Zealand got the Prime Minister she deserves ?

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Open letter to Andrew Little

Dear Andrew Little

The commentariat is running hot over your narrow victory in the Labour leadership contest. Bryce Edwards in a most comprehensive piece with many links gives a good summery. And there is the NZ Herald editorial under the headline: Daring policies will be axed under Little. And these seem to be the daring policies it (Labour) has taken to the past two elections on capital gains tax and the superannuation age. It really speaks for itself if the editorial of the biggest – of course owned by an international corporation – newspaper calls policies, which generally have been supported by most independent mainstream economic and social commentators, “daring“. These days anything not out of the National Party manifesto seems to be ‘daring’ to its print media mouthpiece.

Unfortunately you have given raise to the expectation that perfectly sensible policies will be dumped because they were hard to sell to a deliberately confused public. If I would put myself into the shoes of a CEO of a company with a perfectly good even superior product, which has been hard to sell, would I go to the engineers and tell them to make a product of lesser quality ? No, I would go to the sales and advertising people to do a better job of selling my superior product.

Now I hear you saying that the customer in this case the voter is always right. However they are led and often misled by advertising and spin doctors and not by rational assessment of the quality of the product. And where is the proof that the election outcome would have been different if these and other policies would not have been on Labour’s agenda ?

We all have been watching Mr Key cutting a fine figure at recent important international meetings. He has amiable rounds of golf with the leader of the “free world”. Royalty enjoys barbecues and beer with him. He might not always be telling the truth but that is what we expect of our politicians.

Why would we vote for anyone else if not for some “daring policies”.  Because it is the policies of the present government, which are destroying the future of this country and the planet for that matter. Examples like selling instead of building houses to tackle the housing crises, like pouring money into for profit charter schools instead of supporting good public education, surrendering our sovereignty to foreign corporation through the secretly negotiated TPP, opening up our oceans to deep sea oil drilling instead of weaning us of fossil fuel to keep climate change in check, building roads instead of public transport and so the list goes on. This is where the focus should be and not to find the magical centre where allegedly the votes are.

If you just try to present a lighter shade of blue and hope to win the next election you are badly mistaken.
Be yourself, stick to your roots, do the right thing with your policies and sell them honestly and truthfully to New Zealand and you will have a chance.

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From toll debacle back to the future for the Transport Agency

The editor has opposed toll for over 10 years. He recently was in the High Court in an appeal hearing defending himself against charges for not paying toll on the Northern Gateway toll road. The decision has not come out yet.
Don’t get me wrong I am not generally opposed to building roads and of course accept that they have to be paid for. However I am opposed to paying more than necessary for the privilege to have and use vital infrastructure.
If the road would be financed through – if need be – an increase in petrol tax there would be no extra collection costs. In case of financing the road through toll an extra cost of at least 50% needs to be added.
As the NZ Herald reported the Northern Gateway tolls to last nine extra years. The the Transport Agency previously hoped that by 2045 tolls would pay off a $180 million loan raised towards the full $356 million cost of the 7.5km motorway extension from Orewa, the Johnstone’s Hill tunnels. However as no more toll project have been added and economy of scale not been reached administration costs are still chewing up 34c of every $1 raised in tolls. If we add the extra infrastructure costs like toll gantries and other hard- and software, which has costs millions of dollars the real costs of toll collection is rather 50% or more of each dollar raised. This is pure economic madness if you can have it at no extra costs by financing the road via (regional) petrol tax.

However it all makes sense if we envisage the future privatisation of the Queen’s Highways. In that case the private owners will need an established system to collect revenue from the roads, which is only possible through toll. The Transport Agency in its previous incarnation as Transit New Zealand clearly envisaged that future and said in its long term plans when the Northern Gateway was changed from a publicly funded into a toll road that it wanted to be at the forefront of future privatised roading systems. Transit was expanding from road construction to financing and toll collection. I called it empire building.
Now in this latest development the Transport Agency is again adding to its empire by urging their political masters to support an early start to Auckland’s $2.4 billion underground rail project. “The risk of not being involved in these early stages is that the key elements of the project get determined in the meantime,” the agency said. “If the Crown is to be a future funding partner, it needs a mechanism to identify options and risks around planning, design, procurement and financing.” So the empire grows.

It all started with the old Works Department, which built the whole range of public infrastructure from roads to dams to public buildings. Now over thirty years of governments divesting from their responsibilities the Transport Agency is going back to the future by adding ever more strings to its bow. Good on them as long as we get some decent public transport out of it.

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Big money in politics – final proof that TPP is bad for you

New Zealand businesses tell Key they plan campaign to sell Kiwis on trade deal’s merits once it’s signed so the NZ Herald tells us.
This raises some interesting questions. One is the role of money in politics in general. The other is how one sided and really bad is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal going to be for one side, big business, to call for a big money campaign to force it down our throats.
The role of money – and in this context I am talking about big money not bucket collections – in politics is basically antidemocratic. People who spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on political causes are not stupidly wasting it out of the goodness of their hearts. No, they buy results they are otherwise not able to get through democratic means i.e. their vote.
If you google ‘money in politics’ you get ‘about 591,000,000 results’, which make for some depressing reading. Just as an example I pick the first entry, which is from the Economist Nov 7th 2014 about Democracy in America (Big money in politics – Two depressing thoughts). One is the fact that the only seventh costliest Senate race – just for one senate seat – cost more than the entire 2010 general election in Britain. And here is the second depressing thought. Many Americans worry that public faith in democracy is being undermined by vast sums of corrupting money. There is a prevailing suspicion that elected representatives are essentially bought and paid for by wealthy special interests. I would call that rather a fact than a suspicion.
In New Zealand we have so far avoided the worst excesses of big money in politics with our laws around elections. However there are big gaps for the rest of the political cycle with no limits to what big business could spend on the TPP issue.
And we have a terrifying example of how big money in New Zealand was able to (almost) buy the result of the most crucial referendum in our history. In 1992 84.7% of voters opted for a change of the old First-past-the-Post electoral system. A year later in 1993 after only six months of a massive big money anti MMP campaign this result was depressed to 53.9%. If the opponents of the more democratic MMP system would have started their campaign a little bit earlier and had spend a little bit more money they would have bought the result they wanted. This is a prime example how antidemocratic big money campaigns really are. Not only the means – big money spend on an ugly  TV misinformation campaign, remember the brown paper bag people – but the aim was antidemocratic. The money men tried to prevent MMP for the first time giving one person one (equal) vote.

Here the parallel to the TPP campaign becomes clear. That agreement will give big corporations the right via so called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) to overturn decisions democratically made by our parliament (see my previous blog post “Our War Heroes have died in vain“). Again big business is attacking our democracy, which you might say is always part of big business through lobbying and big money corrupting our politicians.
When you read the NZ business leader quoted as saying he was concerned that the public did not understand the benefits of TPP and he wanted to put the facts on the table “rather than things that appeal to people’s gut instincts but aren’t backed by facts” you don’t know if to laugh or cry. The facts are that the negotiations are conducted in secret with just big business around the table. The secrecy however prevents trade unions, environmental and other civil society groups and all of us ‘ordinary New Zealanders’ from knowing the facts. And now the boss is spending big money to tell us – Yeah Right.

If we needed any more proof of how bad the TPP deal will be for us, if we value safe work places, safe to swim rivers, a clean environment, an affordable first class health system and a democratically elected Parliament, which can pass laws in our interest, we have to look no further. The big business run con-job to force TPP down our throats will be it.

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