Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Movie Review: Downfall

Tonight I went to see Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich. Mostly set in the narrow passageways of the Berlin underground bunker Hitler and his staff occupied during the final days of the war, the film is loosely based on 'Until the Final Hour', the memoirs of Hitler's young secretary, Traudl Junge.

The film is at one gripping and slow moving, fascinating yet uncomfortable. A word of warning this film does not attempt to santise war for cinematic consumption. A gritty realism allows the film the latitude of a news report (the emergency surgery is especially brutal). The approach works well.

Downfall is a first rate political film at its most personal. The demands of loyalty jarred with reality, and each person in the bunker had to find a way to swim the uncomfortable waves of doubt and emotion. Some kept their faith in the armed forces, and looked like jingoistic fools. Other sycophants agreed with Hitler's every madness, and kept their glib optimism even when the boss had given up. Himmler looked to negotiate peace, driven by his desire to hold on to power, even if this was at Hitler's expense. Dr. Schenck appears as one of the few heroes, as he desperately attempts to save soliders and civilians.

But Hitler made the greatest betrayal of all with his complete lack of concern for the civilians of Berlin, when he lambasted humanity and compassion as a weakness - that the strong ought to crush the weak - schoolboy Nietzsche. Hitler angrily raged that all the best Germans were already dead.

Bruno Ganz gives a gripping and very believable portrayal of Hitler in his final hours. While Ganz is gaining a lot of attention for his amazing performance, I hope this does not overshadow the outstanding standard of the rest of the cast. I really like the way Downfall does not restrict itself to dealing with the cognitive dissonance and emotion of only a few characters - as this gives the film a lot more depth and interest.

If anyone is ever in Berlin I would highly recommend the walking tours. Many of the older buildings still have bullet holes dating from 1945. Hitler's bunker was destroyed in order that it did not become a monument - the surface area is now a carpark of an apartment building.

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Paul Neazor QC: Rainbow Warrior and Zaoui

Good documentary on Sunday about the Rainbow Warrior bombing. Unfortunately I missed about 15 minutes of it because the video recorder stuffed up. Does anyone know if Sunday will be repeated later in the week? (and I don't mean another day off!)

Alain Mafart and Dominque Prieur were convicted of manslaughter for their part in the bombing of the Greenpeace ship.

I was very interested to learn it was Paul Neazor, as Solicitor General, who reduced the charges against the pair from murder to manslaughter. According to the Police account of 'Operation Wharf' he did so because "with the evidence available it could not be established that Mafart and Prieur were personally responsible for the placing of the explosive devices on the Rainbow Warrior, no that they intended anyone should be killed or injured."

Well I would have thought the use of any bomb implies an intention to injure, unless its a paint bomb or a marshmallow surprise.

The same Paul Neazor Q.C is now the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, charged with the review of the 'Security Risk Certificate' issued to Mr Ahmed Zaoui. Many of the allegations against Zaoui are thought to originate from a smear campaign orchestrated by Algerian security services, agencies who are known to have close links with French security services. As Mr Zaoui says "France has a good big link with the military regime. They are involved with everything in Algeria."

Initially, the French government denied all knowledge of the Rainbow Warrior bombing. But as evidence of their involvement became overwhelming, French Prime Minister Fabius came clean. "Agents of the DGSE (Secret Service) sank this boat. They acted on orders." The French minister of defense resigned.

It would be fascinating to know how the Rainbow Warrior episode formed Neazor's views/attitude towards French intelligence agencies, as this could have quite a bearing on the Zaoui case. As the French and Algerian governments applied "immense pressure" on Switzerland to deport Zaoui to the African nation of Burkina Faso, they are likely to have 'influenced' the views of our own SIS.

Unfortunately, we are unlikely to know how much credence Neazor gives to the self-interested bleatings of French intelligence agencies.

Given that the last Inspector General Laurie Greig was forced to resign after he uttered the word 'outski' to the news media, comments interpreted as bias on his part, the new IG is not likely to reveal the personal views that influence how he exercises his discretion. But as David Small argues, this only demonstrates the fundamental problems with the office itself.

"Solicitor-General at the time of the 1985 “Rainbow Warrior” bombing, the new I-G reveals very little about himself. It appears that almost everybody who has had close dealings with the former Solicitor-General vouches for his integrity. However, the same was said about Laurie Greig when he took up the position. While the issue of "apparent bias" brought down Greig, any lack of “apparent bias” does not address the fundamental problems with the office itself.

PS: Being 9 years old at the time of the Rainbow Warrior bombing I remember thinking Ma-fart was a funny name :)

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Economic Tailban - a bunch of fundies

Span's latest takeoff of the ACT billboards is fantastic :)

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Question Time #2: Matt Robson's week in Parliament

Yesterday Matt Robson congratulated "Malcolm Campbell" on his win in the US Open.

Today Matt attempted to ask a supplementary question, only to repeat the previous supplementary question again, word for word. There was much hilarity.

With gaffes like that perhaps he should amend his already reactionary bill to provide for a drinking age of 56, as he may be in need of a hangover remedy. Setting the purchasing age at 20 is arbitary in any case - if he believed his own arguments, why not raise the age further?

Jim Anderton decides everything for Matt anyway, so why should he not leave it to his elder (as Jim constantly reminds him) to decide when Matt should take an early night or make a personal prohibition pledge. Oh and someone needs to ask Jim as Associate Minister of Health the reasons why he does not support complete prohibition - the answers could be useful.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Question Time: Helen and Don are naughty

Today I watched Parliamentary Question Time on the telly for the first time in a number of months.

- Helen Clark, and then Don Brash were kicked out of the chamber by the speaker. Quiet down the back! Pity Helen had already answered all her questions for the day, as it would have been a really funny if Nick Smith got the PM kicked out, only to find she was not longer there to answer questions!
- Prebble uncovering a 1995 question Dr Nick Smith asked the then Minister of the Enviornment, Simon Upton indicating that National also thought NZ would materially gain from the Kyoto protcol.

- Gerry Brownlee's pointless points of order (as always)
- Trevor Mallard ranting about things he knows nothing about.

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

A few eggs Benedict

The new Pope, Benedict XVI, has criticised New Zealand's civil union law. His comments were included in a written message handed to Geoff Ward, New Zealand's new envoy to the Vatican.

"Secular distortions of marriage can never overshadow the splendour of a life-long covenant based on generous self-giving and unconditional love."

I can only hope the Pope was badly advised in this instance. The civil union act does not legalise gay marriages (even thought some would eventually like to see this too), but merely provides an alternative legal framework allowing couples to formalise their relationship.

The NZ Catholic Church says the Pope's criticism of New Zealand's civil union legislation will be heeded by Christians at election time.

The Pope also called on Aotearoa's leaders to "ensure the question of morality is given ample discussion in the public forum". I would humbly suggest the Pope exercise caution when making such comments about a country in the leadup to an election campaign. His comments may be taken as an endorsement by nutters like Destiny New Zealand.

At the launch of Destiny NZ election campaign yesterday Brian Tamaki held up a newspaper article about the Pope's comments. "When it said New Zealand leaders, I said to my wife: 'Oh, that's me'." Later, Tamaki said he was "thrilled" about the Pope's comments. "It's time for morals to be brought back into the public domain."

A particular type of 'morality' was given "ample discussion in the public forum" during the last US Presidential election and helped the reelection of George W. Bush. To his credit the last Pope made it clear he did not support the 2003 invasion of Iraq but this just demonstrates the point - by giving effective endorsements to reactionary conservatives what else are you going to get? Savage cuts to welfare?

Another key problem for "ample discussion of the question of morality" is that such calls are, more often than not, based on a very narrow conception of what 'morality' is.

I admire and are very happy to work alongside Catholics and Christians motivated by a strong sense of social justice, who see 'love thy neighbour' as a practical obligation to look after the less fortunate. Are these not 'questions of morality' also? Perhaps Michael Joseph Savage said it best - when the National party condemned the 1938 Social Security Act as 'applied lunacy', MJS responded by calling it 'applied Christianity'.

Its a pity the Pope didn't raise these wider issues of 'morality'. IMHO they are more important than narrow debates about marriage, abortion, or how many angels you can fit on the end of a pin.

For the record: In my early years I was bought up as a Catholic, but it steadily became less important in our family as I grew up. I remember one thorny question I threw at the olds when I was about 8 or 9. If women and men are equal, why does the church only talk about 'man' all the time, and why are there no women priests? Although I had no particular commitment to feminism or any other cause at this early age, I remember being more sceptical of churchy stuff from then on. Its probably no wonder I ended up here.

Update: Phantasmagoric makes similar comments.


Friday, June 17, 2005

Labour and National join forces to sell off New Zealand

Labour and National join forces to sell off New Zealand

Alliance Press Release 17 June 2005

The ramming through of the Overseas Investment Bill under urgency late last night will allow multinational corporations and international financial instituions to buy up significant New Zealand assets with far too few effective controls on their behaviour, says the Alliance.

"The new law fails to protect New Zealand's sensitive business and land assets, as it loosens the current rules in most areas." says Alliance Trade spokesperson Joe Hendren.

"It should not be blindly assumed that all overseas investments are in New Zealand's best interests. With the new Overseas Investment Act, Michael Cullen continues the 'no hands' free market mantra of the Fourth Labour Government. Even Don Brash supported this bill."

The Alliance believes New Zealand needs to take a more strategic approach to overseas investment, an approach that values quality over quantity and safeguards the economic, social and environmental interests of the country.

"New Zealand needs the ability to pick and choose 'greenfield' type investments offering new jobs and growth, and reject proposals that are really just simple takeovers offering us little economic benefit," says Joe Hendren.

"In the same week the Government concedes more money will need to be spent to fix up the rail track, a legacy of its privatisation and sale to irresponsible overseas owners, the same Government passes a bill through Parliament that will do nothing to stop such disasters happening again."

The Alliance believes adherence to a corporate code of conduct should be made a condition of consent for foreign purchases. All purchases, not just those involving land, should be subject to a strengthened national interest test.

"In 2001 Government members of the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee made remarkably similar recommendations, but Dr Cullen ignored this advice when drafting the new bill."

"The Alliance fears the new rules will lead to further privatisation of state owned assets, as there will be fewer safeguards to protect the national interest when such sales are proposed. More New Zealand companies will be bought up by the multinationals, as many significant enterprises will fall below the new $100m threshold, meaning that huge chunks of our economy will be sold off with no scrutiny.”

“I expect many of Labour’s grassroots supporters will be very concerned to see National joining Labour to support this bill. A party like the Alliance is urgently needed back in Parliament to stop the Labour party abandoning its history and adopting National's destructive right wing policies," says Joe Hendren.

Earlier this year the Alliance presented a substantial written submission to the Select Committee considering the Overseas Investment Bill. The submission can be read on our website at Joe Hendren is a Christchurch based list candidate for the Alliance.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

ACT's dubious record on advocating violence

According to the Press ACT leader Rodney Hide's recent attack on Labour Cabinet minister David Benson-Pope, whom he accused of physical abuse of students as a teacher, has split the ACT party. This has led to speculation there is a leadership challenge underway, led by Ken Shirley.

It does not surprise me that the Benson-Pope issue has caused splits within the ACT party, as ACT have previously argued that violence against children is normal and we should only act in cases of 'brutality'. Its a very dubious record for a party supposedly defending the rights of students not to be physically assulted by a teacher. Why has no one questioned their credability before? Consider what Stephen Franks said in 2001.

Our schools and our teachers were more secure before we abolished corporal punishment in schools in 1990. Suspension figures were not kept prior to 1991. In that year there were 4,297 suspensions and 175 expulsions. In 2000 there were 22,029 suspensions and stand downs and 157 expulsions. Many of them were for violence or threats of violence to other students, and even teachers. That doesn't necessarily mean cause and effect but it should at least cause us to be hesitant before accepting the proposition that all violence towards children begets violence from children.
I know that good dedicated teachers are now driven from teaching by insolence, lack of respect for learning and the rights of others in class to learn, bullying and even physical fear in their classrooms. Possibly corporal punishment would have left with teachers a tool for controlling boys so that they had not sunk in performance and aspiration in relation to girls schools as they have.

Franks also suggested children's advocates should try to channel violence rather than abolish it. Does that mean Benson-Pope should have used a channel for his tennis balls? Stephen Franks gets worse.

"Violence is very, very normal. Sadly the boundary between brutality and violence ... blurs for some people. But we can't deal with a brutality problem by pretending all forms of aggression are violence." (NZ Herald, 28/6/02)

Forcing a (deflated) tennis ball into a student mouth is clearly unacceptable way for a teacher to treat a student. But given that ACT have attempted to make a crass distinction between 'brutality' and 'violence' their crediability on the issue ought to be questioned. Is ramming a tennis ball into a student's mouth mere 'aggression', 'brutality' or 'violence'?

This only demonstrates the value of discouraging all violence against children. A repeal of outdated provisions such as Section 59 of the Crimes Act would be a fine start. Under such a law change 'a light smack' would not lead to a prosecution, as children would be given the same protection as adults under the general law of assault. And not every 'technical' assault of an adult leads to a prosecution.

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The curious rules of coups

There is a plot within the belegerled ACT party to replace leader Rodney Hide. Senior party members have asked former deputy leader Ken Shirley to challenge Hide for the leadership.

Public statements to the media in such situations that 'all is well' should be taken with a grain of salt, as just about every leadership challenge includes a denial of a leadership challenge, right before there is a leadership challenge. What is not being said is often a better guide to what is going on.

Shirley will only confirm he supported 'the ACT party leadership', but declined to clarify whether this meant he supported Hide.

Former vice-president of ACT Vince Ashworth also declined to say whether he was comfortable with Hide as leader, but added "I always believed that Ken (Shirley) would have been the better leader. I say that because of his experience, and he's a person I've always left I can trust."

So Ashworth thinks Rodney Hide is untrustworthy. Act MP Deborah Coddington declines to comment whether she supports Hide. Roger Douglas and Derek Quigley want no hear or Hide. ACT president Catherine Judd does not really want Hide either, as she supported Franks for the leadership.

Hide desperately attempts to blame the rumours on 'Helen Clark's cheap shots', while the Press confirms no Labour party sources were in any way involved in their reporting.

I would not be surprised at all if it turns out Shirley is the stooge candidate for the leadership, an MP on the way out who is being used to test support for a challenge. Shirley will take the rap for challenging the leader, allowing John Banks or Stephen Franks to mount a clean(er) challenge later.

This will lead to a glorious mess, and ACT will be tossed out of Parliament. Not even their cabal of wealthy backers, with their record dodgy donation deals will be able to save them.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hail to the bus driver

Really pleased to read in the Press yesterday that Environment Canterbury and the bus companies have renegotiated bus service contracts so they can provide staff with pay rises of about $2 an hour. The deal is very welcome and makes a stark contrast with the ideologically driven deregulation of the Christchurch Transport Board in the early 1990s.

ECan is 'co-funding'” the cost of the deal with Land Transport New Zealand. In Auckland bus drivers are set to get a fair pay increase too - but they had to go on strike twice to get it.

The Christchurch deal is in response to a chronic shortage of bus drivers, currently forcing bus companies to cancel between four and forty trips per day. This demonstrates the destructive and counterproductive effects of both low wages and deregulation. Red Bus pays $13.14 to fully qualified collective agreement staff, while Leopard pays $13.13. Every few years, drivers must update their licences at their own expense (Press 16/4/05).

Red Bus driver "Lucy" says drivers have to work 70 hours a week over six days to make a decent living from driving. "We quickly become exhausted, we rarely see or have time with our families and finally have no choice but to leave the industry completely shattered," she told the Press (16/4/05). Bus companies ban their drivers from taking to the media, so even when they are welcoming the latest deal as "excellent news", they need to use fake names.

Why has there been so little attention given to the reasons why this situation came about? To my mind, the dismal pay levels of Christchurch and Auckland bus drivers is a logical consequence of a narrow minded policy of contracting out bus services to the lowest bidder.

As Amalgamated Workers' Union secretary Calvin Fisher says - the competitive tender process has backfired on the public (Press, 16/4/05). "The position is that ever since public transport has been given to regional councils, all that's happened is that (the services) are contracted out on a tender basis, and that's driven down wages," he says. In 1992, following deregulation, patronage figures sank to an all time low of 6.8 million for the year and the bus system of Christchurch was dangerously close to collapsing altogether.

Christchurch Buses - 'A Cautionary Fable'
In 1990, the citizens of the Peoples Republic of Christchurch were very happy. The Christchurch Transport Board, publicly owned by the people, had just replaced its aging fleet of buses with brand new MAN buses. The citizens cheered. But in 1991 an evil scurge of 'deregulation' came from the north, led by city councillor Pansy Wong (now a National MP) and a National Government. The bus company was expected to be privatised, and each of the routes contracted out to whoever could give the council the cheapest price. It was written that the council must be cheapskates, and consider nothing else, said the new right black magic spellbook. While the council buses remained in public ownership, the CTB was turned into a 'Council Controlled Trading Organisation' (similar to an SOE).

Following the scurge of deregulation, new bus companies came to town, in the oldest, cheapest noisiest buses they could find. Even the schoolkiddies (like me), used to riding in old buses, were appalled at the old bangers now on Christchurch streets.

One day citizens were travelling to work in a nice new comfortable MAN bus, and now they were riding in the buses Auckland had just got rid of, buses that were well over 15 years old (and to make matters worse for Cantabs they were still in Auck'’er yellow). Where have our new buses gone cried the Cantabrians? The market is at work was the reply. The citizens were not happy.

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Could Watergate be uncovered today #2 - Palast reaches similar conclusions

Following the revelation that Mark Felt was 'Deep Throat', Bob Woodward now tells his side of the story in a fascinating article 'Deepest Secret' reprinted in this yesterdays Press.

It turns out that Woodward knew Felt a some time before he became a journalist, in a chance meeting in 1970 while Woodward was still a lieutenant in the Navy. One evening he was sent to deliver a package to the lower level of the West Wing of the White House. While in a waiting area near the Situation Room he introduced himself to the man sitting next to him. Mark Felt.

The autobiographical aspects of the article are also interesting. Woodward calls his chance meeting with Felt as a "crucial encounter - one the most important in my life - I see that my patter probably verged on the adolescent. Since he wasn't saying much about himself, I turned it into a career counseling session." Somehow, Woodward succeeded in obtaining Felt's phone number.

The picture Woodward paints of himself as a younger man is not entirely flattering - in a time of his life of "considerable anxiety about his future" he expended "a lot of energy trying to find things or people who were interesting". In other words, he sought people he thought had power, such as the volunteer work he undertook with the office of his local Republican congressman.

In my earlier post, I doubted whether modern commercial newspapers would today dedicate the same level of resources to a story like Watergate, especially if that story happened to threaten the powers that be. In his scoop column, Greg Palast reaches similar conclusions, and goes further. He provides an 'investigative reporter body count' - journalists who have found difficulty in their careers once they had broken a major investigative story.
"There's Bob Parry forced out of the Associated Press for the crime of uncovering Ollie North's arms-for-hostages game. And there's Gary Webb, hounded to suicide for documenting the long-known history of the CIA's love-affair with drug runners. The list goes on. Even the prize-laden Seymour Hersh was, he told me, exiled from the New York Times and now has to write from the refuge of a fashion magazine."

Palast says "access" is now a disease epidemic in US journalism, and not even the Washington Post's Bob Woodward is immune (Woodward is now managing editor).
In return for a supposedly "inside" connection to the powers that be, the journalists in fact become conduits for disinformation sewerage. And woe to any journalist who annoys the politicians and loses "access." Career-wise, they're DOA.
After the September 11 attack, when we needed an independent press to keep us from hysteria-driven fascism, Woodward was given "access" to the president, writing Bush at War,a fawning, puke-making fairy tale of a take-charge president brilliantly leading the war against Terror.

The issues with "access" go right to the heart of the highly partisan coverage of the continuing war in Iraq, where news organisations overly rely on so called 'embedded journalists' who accompany US soldiers on their missions. The military gain editorial input, discourage 'unhelpful' stories about civilian casualties and encourage journalists to adopt the dictionary of the occupier, dismissing the Iraqi opposition as terrorists, insurgents or militants, often with a 'helpful' suggestion of a possible connection to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

While the Defence Science Board report (Sept 04) contains some valuable analysis of America's relationships with the Muslim world, it says the use of embedded journalists in Iraq has won broad support in government and the media, as it “reduced the potential for Iraqi disinformation (e.g. on civilian casualties) that could have undermined political support in the U.S. and in other countries.‚”. But on the few occasions such journalists did report civilian casualties, their figures are implausibly low, especially when compared to more credible casualty surveys such as the Lancet report.

From a cynical PR perspective (and PR types are notorious for cynicism) it is in the interests of the US to keep things dangerous in Iraq in order to discourage real journalists from discovering what is really going on. It certainly seems to me that news organisations are more dependant on 'embeddeded journalism' now than at the start of the war, especially since the re-invasion of Fallujah.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Could Watergate be uncovered today - some reflections on the media

Today I was interested to hear that Mark Felt, former deputy director of the FBI has confirmed he was 'Deep Throat', the inside source who leaked the secrets of the Watergate scandal and helped bring down President Nixon. Only last week I was watching 'All the Presidents Men' - the 1975 film which tells the story of how two junior Washington Post journalists uncovered Watergate. 'All the Presidents Men' is a top notch drama, and best of all, its all true.

Could journalists uncover a scandal like Watergate today? Would we see a major commercial newspaper dedicating two staff reporters to a story for more than two years? Somehow I doubt it, especially if such an investigation was seen to challenge the traditional powers that be. Advice to 'follow the money' now means something quite different in journalism - just ask Rupert Murdoch.

Would a genuine whistleblower be treated any better today, if they made themselves publicly known at the time? While it does depend on the attitude of individual countries to 'official secrets' and the provision of adequate legislation to protect genuine whistleblowers - the attitude they face is usually pretty hostile. Consider the case of GCHQ worker Katherine Gunn, who revealed that UK intelligence services were bugging the United Nations.

The modern media appear to place a higher value on an instant stream of new facts instead of hard slog investigative reporting and analysis. Similarly, scientists are encouraged to immediately find 'commercial applications' for their work, with lower 'value' attached to 'blue skies research'.

Sadly there appear to be few opportunities to be involved in genuine investigative reporting without doing years of inconsequential human interest stories. This, in a nutshell, is the reason I have not applied for journalism school.

Occasionally there are some notable and worthy exceptions, such as the recent series in the Press uncovering the dodgy Transpower cross border lease, but this investigation was not led by journalists within the newspaper. The key research for this story is due to work carried out by Sue Newberry as part of her role as a senior lecturer in accountancy at Canterbury University.

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