Joe Hendren

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Reflections on the natural disasters of 2005 - rebuilding lives is more than just bricks

Looking back on 2005 in the future, the prominence of natural disasters over the past 12 months will be hard to ignore. Due to the sheer scale of these disasters, people will continue to struggle with the ongoing effects the Boxing Day Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistani earthquake, well into the new year and beyond.

Denise Dorsey, president-elect of the New Orleans Psychoanalytic Center, said that for many, the devastation was beyond an ability to cope. "Looking down a street where it's house after house, and the garbage and the innards of the houses, there's something about it that people in general can't grasp," Dorsey said. "It's not within the realm of any experience anyone's ever had. Your ordinary American doesn't have that in their repertoire of experience."

I gained a new appreciation for the sheer scale of the disaster after reading David Helvarg's article in the latest issue of Multinational Monitor. "The Storm this Time: A Personal Account of Natural and Unnatural Disaster in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina" is a fine example of the 'make me see' school of journalism, and is well worth reading. I also really liked the irony of David's introduction.

"I'm flying to New Orleans and the Gulf Region by way of Ronald Reagan (Washington D.C) and George Bush (Houston) airports to see how "less government" functions in the wake of a coastal catastrophe. Actually, given that it's three weeks since Hurricane Katrina made landfall, we already know the answer."

When it comes to rebuilding the areas devastated by disaster, I can understand why there is an immediate focus on rebuilding houses and other infrastructure (especially in the remote areas of Pakistan where being left in cold conditions without shelter is a killer). But at the same time it concerns me so much focus is placed on the physical rebuilding because, in many cases, rebuilding the houses is the easy bit. The media also like the reassurance of the 'rebuilding' stories, and their implied message that the government and private donations are being put to a 'quantifiable' bricks and mortar use, when it is going to a great deal more to rebuild people's lives.

Earlier in the year I highlighted an article looking at the mental health impact of the Asian Tsunami. As hurricane evacuees now return to their homes in New Orleans it is good to see the US media also covering the mental health legacy of Katrina, even if the Herald Tribune story has a 'tabloid like' focus on the expected increase in the number of suicides.

While every suicide is tragic, a great many more people will continue to struggle with grief for the loss of loved ones, survivor guilt, depression and anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress.

I would like to see more coverage of this in the media, as this would help reinforce two things. Firstly, the need for ongoing assistance and aid to the affected areas, long after the houses have been rebuilt. Secondly, it would reinforce the scale of the "mental health disaster" and the need for public (and private) aid money to be spent on helping people cope psychologically with both the short term and long term effects of disaster.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Fab cartoon on global warming

Reading through the latest issue of Multinational Monitor on Tuesday night I came across this cartoon and laughed and laughed :)

The cartoon appears in the September/October edition of multinational Monitor (US). "Reproduction of all or part of MM for non-commercial use is allowed with proper credit to the Monitor."

When the cost of petrol reaches a level that even the Fendalton set can no longer justify driving SUVs to the shops, we might as well put the pile of discarded SUVs to good use!

And yes, for the record I think there should be a levy placed on SUVs, perhaps with an exemption for those that can show they have a genuine use for an all terrain vehicle (farming, fishing etc). SUVs were never designed to be used as inner city runabouts. Around close concentrations of people and traffic SUVs are an entirely avoidable hazard, as their height means there is a dangerous rear blindspot for the driver, as well as regularly blocking the view of other drivers. SUVs are more likely to roll when involved in a traffic accident, endangering the occupants, and accidents involving SUVs are more likely to kill people unlucky enough to be in the other car. In 2003 Researchers at the State University of New York (Buffalo) found that in crashes between small cars and SUVs, the risk of death was 24 times greater in the car.

I shudder whenever I see an SUV lining the road outside a school at 3pm - they are simply a tragic accident waiting to happen.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Carbon tax - Labour's broken promise

In September this year Labour went into the election campaign with a Carbon tax as a central part of its Energy policy.

Increase support for renewable fuel and electricity, and by encourage electricity generators to pursue environmentally sustainable electricity generation in preference to environmentally harmful generation (for example through the carbon tax).
Increase support for renewable fuel and electricity, and by encourage electricity generators to pursue environmentally sustainable electricity generation in preference to environmentally harmful generation (for example through the carbon tax).

Today the Government announced it is scrapping its own policy to introduce a carbon tax in 2007 in favour of some vague commitments to look at other ways to meet New Zealand's obligations under the Kyoto protocol. By denying that parliamentary numbers were a factor in the u-turn, new Energy Minister David Parker is saying Labour have changed their mind in the three months since the last election - thereby making it a simple broken promise.

No Right Turn already has some excellent analysis of why the carbon tax is needed, and explains why the lack of a carbon tax could actually end up costing New Zealand more money as we will have to buy more carbon credits to cover the 13 million tonnes of carbon reductions the tax was expected to save.

So for now I will concentrate on a few political aspects of this decision I find alarming.

The timing of this announcement is very interesting. It is also extremely cynical.

It will be no accident Labour chose today to also announce the welcome but underweight increase in the minimum wage. No doubt it hopes the attention of Labour supporters will be on the minimum wage increase in tomorrows papers, and not the broken electoral promise to introduce the carbon tax (especially those who voted Labour who might have voted Green).

On the other hand, Labour will hope business groups will welcome Labour adopting another right wing policy and will not get too snarky about having to pay their lowest paid employees a little more to feed their families (business groups are still complaining, only proving the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge is alive and well this Christmas). Christmas week is also a handy sideshow for Labour.

David Parker says the decision to axe the tax was made independently of coalition partners NZ First and United Future. Given the short time frame since the election, this claim appears to be of questionable credibility. Under Labour's unusual support arrangements cabinet collective responsibility is only meant to apply to their cabinet portfolios. Do you think Peter Dunne as Minister of Revenue (as aspects of the carbon tax would clearly fall within his portfolio) would have been happy defending the Government's position on the carbon tax? I think not. Was a little quiet deal done at the time of the coalition negotiations? I think likely. It is about time Labour came clean and told the electorate what other policies it has sold out to its new right wing friends.

Interestingly, the Energy policy I quoted from above is dated 5th of October 2005, at least according to Labour's website.

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Solid Energy, endangered snails and the corporate paparazzi

On Monday I joined around 25 others in a protest outside Solid Energy's Christchurch office calling on the Government and Solid Energy to halt plans to mine Happy Valley on the West Coast, a development that will destroy the habitat of an endangered giant land snail Powelliphanta ‘Augustus’. Happy Valley is also home for a large population of spotted kiwi.

I also went along to express my disgust at the intimidatory tactics of Solid Energy towards opponents of the development, tactics that have included using a security company to take uninvited video footage of a tramping group legally on Department of Conservation land.

I got to the action around 15 minutes late, and began to stand on the grass verge of the footpath and greet a few people I knew. I was barely off the footpath, and at least a good three metres away from the boundary of Solid Energy's headquarters, a boundary I had shown any no interest in crossing, and had only began to talk to a couple of people when a security guard approached.

"Would you like to read a statement from Solid Energy?"

I turned around to face the security guard, only to find another security guard standing behind him with a video camera aimed at my face. I immediately told them I had no wish to be filmed and turned my back to the guards. If Solid Energy had handed out a statement outlining their point of view and politely informing people where boundary was, this would have been a reasonable response to the action, but no, Solid Energy decided to be duplicitous and unreasonable.

Asking people to 'read' their statement was a pure pretence to capture people on film. Any foot powered member of the public who showed any interest in what was going on was subjected to the same treatment. Intimidation appeared to be the main aim of the game.

I informed the Press photographer what was happening and he took a photo as they approached someone else.

This is not the first time. Around a month ago Save Happy Valley campaigners led a tramping group of 33, included children and overseas visitors on an education trip to see the valley. Around dinner time, Gibson security burst into their campsite and filmed the group against their express wishes.

Who are they trying to be? The corporate paparazzi?

Solid Energy are attempting to push the mining development ahead with all possible speed. While Solid Energy previously accepted it required ministerial consent to move the snails by hand, the company sought to make use of what it saw as a loophole in the Wildlife Act, and move the snails with a digger, without any such consent. Thankfully the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society successfully challenged Solid Energy's dodgy legal interpretation in the High Court. On Friday the High Court called a spade a spade, and told Solid Energy they needed consent to move the snails, no matter how they went about moving them.

This is hardly the sort of behaviour one would expect from a State Owned Enterprise, so I wondered what the State Owned Enterprise (SOE) Act would have to say about Solid Energy's antics. While the Act defines the primary objective of SOEs is to "operate as a sucessful business" the Act also requires Solid Energy to be a "good employer" and be,
"An organisation that exhibits a sense of social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates and by endeavouring to accommodate or encourage these when able to do so." (Section 4(1)(c))

How on earth is attempting to take advantage of a loophole in the Wildlife Act, in order to destroy the only remaining habitat of a endangered species an action of a socially responsible SOE? A parliamentary question would be useful here - it would be very interesting to get the view of the minister on the actions of Solid Energy in regards to their responsibilities under the SOE Act.

How on earth are Solid Energy demonstrating "regard for the interests of the community" or being at all accommodating to the community by hiring bullish security guards to intimidate members of the public with video cameras?

The protest was good natured and made its point. We got a lot of toots from passing motorists, and the Christmas theme made people smile. If Solid Energy regard elves doing cartwheels on a public footpath to be a threat to their interests, then I suspect they are going to have a very paranoid Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Corporate Human Rights Violators

International human rights organisation, Global Exchange have named the multinational corporatations most noted for human rights violations in 2005.

"Corporations carry out some of the most horrific human rights abuses of modern times, but it is increasingly difficult to hold them to account. Economic globalization and the rise of transnational corporate power have created a favorable climate for corporate human rights abusers, which are governed principally by the codes of supply and demand and show genuine loyalty only to their stockholders."

It is a sorry list of 14 big corporates, including
- Caterpillar
- Chevron
- Coca-Cola
- Dow Chemical
- Dyancorp/CSC (private security contractor)
- Ford Motor Company
- Kellog Brown and Root (subsidiary of Halliburton)
- Lockeed Martin
- Monsanto
- Nestle USA
- Phillip Morris USA/Altria Group Inc.
- Pfizer (drug company)
- Suez-Lyonnaise Des Eaux (SLDE) (French water mulitnational)
- Wal-Mart

The Global Exchange report includes a writeup detailing the human right abuses committed by each money hungry corporate, together with some helpful links to other watchdog organisations with a special interest in each company (eg. Coke Watch).

Several of these corporates are being sued under the Alien Tort Claims Act, a law that allows citizens of any nationality to sue in US federal courts for violations of international rights or treaties.

"When corporations act like criminals, we have the right and the power to stop them, holding leaders and multinational corporations alike to the accords they have signed. Around the world, in Venezuela, Argentina, India, and right here in the United States —citizens are stepping up to create democracy and hold corporations accountable to international law.

With the Bush Administration demonstrating nothing but absoulte contempt for international law with its invasion of Iraq in 2003, it ought to be no surprise there are so many US based corporations on the Global Exchange List.

DynCorp, Kellog Brown and Root and Lockeed Martin are all eager Iraq war profiteers, keen to help Bush suck the oil money out of Iraq by exporting the profits back to the States. These three corporates rogues deserve a post of their own.

Some other lowlights,
Caterpillar has refused to end their corporate participation in house demolition by cutting off sales of specially modified D9 and D10 bulldozers to the Israeli military, supplying equipment that kills Palestinian civilians and peace activists.

Chevron: In Nigeria, this large petrochemical company "has collaborated with the Nigerian police and military, who have opened fire on peaceful protestors who oppose oil extraction in the Niger Delta". Watching BBC World last night I caught an advertisement from Chevron aiming to cast doubt at the potential of wind power - the message appeared to have a remarkable similarity to the line promoted by our very own Contact Energy in their the so-called 'Positive Energy' campaign last year!

Coca-Cola Company: "...leads in the abuse of workers' rights, assassinations, water privatization, and worker discrimination. Between 1989 and 2002, eight union leaders from Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia were killed after protesting the company's labor practices. Hundreds of other Coca-Cola workers who have joined or considered joining the Colombian union SINALTRAINAL have been kidnapped, tortured, and detained by paramilitaries who intimidate workers to prevent them from unionizing. In Turkey, 14 Coca-Cola truck drivers and their families were beaten severely by Turkish police hired by the company, while protesting a layoff of 1,000 workers from a local bottling plant in 2005."

Dow Chemical is involved in human rights abuses worldwide: "environmental destruction, water and ground contamination, health violations, chemical poisoning, and chemical warfare.". In their hometown of Midland, Michigan, Dow has been "producing chlorinated chemicals and burning and burying its waste including chemicals that make up Agent Orange. In New Plymouth, New Zealand, 500,000 gallons of Agent Orange were produced and thousands of tons of dioxin-laced waste was dumped in agricultural fields."

Ford Motor Company. "Every year since 1999, the US Environmental Protection Agency has ranked Ford cars, trucks and SUVs as having the worst overall fuel economy of any American automaker. Ford's current car and truck fleet has a lower average fuel efficiency than the original Ford Model-T...Amazingly, despite the company's recent greenwashing PR campaign, its record has actually worsened. According to Ford's own sustainability report, between 2003 and 2004, the company's US fleet-wide fuel economy decreased and its CO2 emissions went up".

Monsanto, more widely known as the largest producer of genetically modified seeds on the planet, are not as well known for their use of child labour. They should be. "In India, an estimated 12,375 children work in cottonseed production for farmers paid by Indian and multinational seed companies, including Monsanto. A number of children have died or became seriously ill due to exposure to pesticides."

Nestle: Earlier this year "the International Labor Rights Fund and a Birmingham law firm filed a class-action lawsuit against Nestlé and several of its suppliers on behalf of former child slaves...In 2001, Save the Children Canada reported that 15,000 children between 9 and 12 years old, many from impoverished Mali, had been tricked or sold into slavery on West African cocoa farms, many for just $30 each."

Pfizer: One of the largest and most profitable pharmaceutical companies in the world (Revenues of $52.5 billion in 2004). Produces Viagra, Zoloft and many HIV/AIDS related drugs (Rescriptor, Viracept and Diflucan/fluconazole). "Like other drug companies, they sell these drugs at prices poor people cannot afford and aggressively fight efforts to make it easier for generic drugs to enter the market....Pfizer and other drug companies have refused to grant generic licenses for HIV/AIDS drugs to countries like Brazil, South Africa, and the Dominican Republic, where patients are forced to pay $20 per weekly pill for drugs like fluconazole, though the average national wage is only $120 per month....To ensure its profits, Pfizer invests heavily in US campaign contributions. Though it can't seem to afford to offer life-saving drugs at affordable prices, it was able to scrounge up $544,900 for mostly Republican candidates in election cycle 2006 (still in progress) and $1,630,556 in the 2004 election cycle."

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wellington and interviews

In Wellington today for a job interview, will be in the capital for a couple of days. I would rather not say at this stage exactly what the job is, just in case I don't get it :)

As part of the interview process I had to do a 10 minute presentation. I found myself quite stressed out about the presentation late late last night as I did not feel the ideas were jelling together at all well.

Well I surprised myself today. I felt the presentation and the interview went very well. I honestly don't know if I will get the job or not, as I expect I am up against some good people, but it served as a good personal lesson not to let my perfectionism gene run rampant in the early hours of the morning. Feeling a lot happier about things now, but in need of sleep!

It was obvious a great deal of thought had gone into designing the interview process and I thought the quality of questions was very high. I was surprised as part of the interview to be asked for my reaction to a series of pictures. For example one picture was a painting of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. As an interview technique I thought this worked far better than I would have expected, but perhaps my tendency to think outside the square did help somewhat :)

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