Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Nepali king restores the 2002 Parliament

Great to hear the Nepalese King Gyanendra give in to people power and reinstate the parliament that was dissolved by the monarch in 2002. This was a key demand of the seven Nepali political parties.

Based on the number of seats secured in the 1999 Nepali Election, as reported by Kantipur, the Nepali Congress party has a clear majority of 113 of the 205 parliamentary seats. The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) is the next largest party with 68 seats.

The right-wing pro-monarchy National Democratic Party (Rashtriya Prajatantra) has 12 seats. The related Rashtriya Janashakti Party has five seats.

This is good news, but the Nepali people still need to hear from you!

The seven political parties pushing for constitution reform are meeting to discuss their next step following the reinstatement of the 2002 parliament. While a return to a constitutional monarchy is a possibility, the parties may want to consider stripping the king of his position of head of the armed forces - to ensure he is not able to withdraw democracy again.

King Gyanedra tightened his grip on power in February 2005, suspending any remaining hint of democracy, clamping down on civil liberties, shutting down phone and internet connections and declaring a state of emergency. This was defended on the grounds of fighting Maoist "terrorists and insurgents". It looks highly likely the language of Bush's phoney 'war on terror' has been used as an excuse by the Nepali king for violent repression of his own population, as well as a means to clamp down on the "ememies" who existed had long before 2001 (like the Philippines and Russia/Chechnya in this respect)

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Take action: Pro-democracy movement in Nepal needs your support now!

Earlier this week I received an email from Lee Yu Kyung, a Korean journalist currently reporting from Nepal. Lee highlighted how the Nepali army and the police are attempting to supress the efforts of independent journalists currently working in Nepal - by beating them up.

In the email Lee also stressed the need for the international community to show its support for the Nepali people through solidarity movements, solidarity messages and whatever else people could do.

So I sent a message of solidarity to Lee, and wished both Lee and the Nepali pro-democracy movement "kai kaha" for the days and months ahead. I also asked where people would be best to send messages of solidarity, and for any suggestions of good Nepali media to 'keep up with the news', saying I would be happy to publicise both on my blog if it would help.

I received the following reply from Lee Yu Kyung ( last night.

"Hi, Joe Hendren
thank you so much for this reply. i don't mind anything! you can put down my email or whatever from my appealing message. and the message, i think, should be delivered to the both, people as well as the government. but people are now thirsty for solidarity message from international community."

Lee suggested sending solidarity messages to the two main political parties, who are part of the seven party coalition calling for the resumption of democracy.

These are
Communist Party of Nepal (UML):
(have been part of government before)
Nepali Congress:
(looks like equivalent of the Labour party, including a liking for privatisation during the 1980s!)

"For media, 'Kantipur publication' is most popular daily with best coverage. it publishes also 'kathmandu post' which is english paper. here some journalist contacts. they can use the international solidarity message. i strongly believe. more soon...the cafe is gonna close for day curfew..sorry! best Lee.,,,,,,,,, "

After a bit of hunting I found the Kantipur website in English. I also found this fantastic recent editorial from the Kathmandu Post. Well worth a read!

"Currently, Nepal stands at a crossroads. On the right side of it is a new Nepal where people are fully sovereign; insurgency is resolved and the Maoists join the political mainstream; the state is restructured to accommodate the disfranchised populace; and the society makes a peaceful transition towards prosperity. On the wrong side of it is the status quo, where the fundamental issue of sovereignty remains unresolved; the Maoist insurgency continues; state, under the direct control of the king, remains unitary and unwilling to address the issue of widespread exclusion. As Nepal has entered the final stage of the labor pain, the international community, unfortunately, seems to be supportive of the status quo. The international community's euphoric reaction to Friday's royal address is ludicrous, to say the least. It also shows how shallow is their reading of Nepali history and how far removed they are from the present ground reality.
If the [countries of the world] do not review their stance immediately, and continue to dishonor one of the most peaceful and colossal uprisings in modern history, they will soon find themselves on the wrong side of Nepali history."

Through my own searching around I also found another couple of useful sites, including Nepal News and United We Blog for a Democratic Nepal. The blog includes some photos of recent pro-democracy demonstrations.

Dear blog readers, please consider sending a message of solidarity to the political parties or email one of the journalists listed by Lee. Also feel free to pass on/link these contacts - it would be great if we could get a small solidarity movement going - the people of Nepal and the independent journalists in the country need our support.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Violent suppression of independent media in Nepal

Interesting first hand account of recent events in Nepal by a Korean journalist, detailing how the Nepali army and police (no doubt under orders from the King) are attempting to suppress negative media coverage, by beating up journalists and refusing to issue a 'curfew pass' to media not thought to be sympathetic to the King.

Dear, All

It’s Lee (I am leaving out last names until I hear from him/her), a Korean journalist, your friend or comrade, currently covering the ongoing people’s movement in Nepali soil. As you all probably informed, things have been terrible here in Nepal over the last more than 2 weeks, though some calm period has passed for a few days. The armed force, whoever the police or the army (but more police till now in terms of the number) have suppressed the peaceful demonstrators by beating terribly, fire hundreds of tear gas and shot at them with rubber bullet as well as live one. It’s routinely seen that a demonstrators who desperately appeals with extreme fear was beaten more than 4-5 police surrounding him (or her). Journalists (both Nepali and Foreign media), aid workers, human rights activists are not exception from the brutal action. Especially for local journalist, they got daily arrest and much harassment.

No press freedom respected. Whenever journalists take photo of brutal actions by police, he or she could be beaten or get threatening being beaten at least. Since the police start to beat the people, they care almost no one. Yes it’s their job! The other day, one American doctor who did volunteer for the injured was also beaten by the police and arrested on 12th and the next day deported to Bangladesh, where he lives. It’s done indiscriminately. But I must clarify that those who’s been worst dealt are demonstrators in general.

On April 20, when another biggest rally was held all over the country as the seven political parties’ alliance(SPA) decide, the authority declare a day curfew again and doesn’t issue ‘curfew pass’ for anyone, such as medias (there’s a rumor that only some Indian media that reportedly is favorable King, got it. but let me confirm it later soon), aid workers, human rights activists, who all got it last week curfew. Less journalists, therefore, could manage to get the venues with some questionings or harassment to cover it. I, myself faced that situation, in which my camera was “almost” taken by the police and told I must be taken to their place, ie..police staion. But I managed to avoid it. Human rights activists who used to watch the human rights violation in protest (but, honestly, it looks powerless before the armed force), and even the UN staffs couldn’t be issued a ‘curfew pass’. Logically, the suppression was highest ever on that day with less witness. In Kalanki, the west-south of Kathmandu, 3 were declared to be killed. But rumor says it’s 6 people as of this writting. In Gongabu, the northern part of the capital and once called a ‘war-zone', the police harassed journalists more than ever. I got threatened (reads “positioning to beat in a very threaten manner” by the cop) to be beaten 3 times when I tried to take photo of one poor guy beaten terribly with bloody by 5-6 police. A Japanese journalist told me the similar experience in the same area.

Now, I’d like to urgently & kindly request you to try to organize some solidarity movement, message or whatsoever which is badly needed at this moment for the Nepali people struggling against the autocratic King, Gyanendra and his royalist government. Please, keep watching the news from Nepal. This is “priority”. Thanks.

This morning I emailed Lee to pass on a message of solidarity and kai kaha from New Zealand. I have also asked him/her where people would be best to send messages of support for the pro-democracy movement and independent media currently reporting from Nepal. If he/she gets back to me I will post his/her suggestions.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Go Venezuela! (at least on two counts)

Found a couple of interesting articles about Venezuela. To some in the US, the government of Hugo Chavez is fast becoming a 'threat of a good example', to use Noam Chomsky's phrase.
From Ted Rall's article 'The Grave Danger of Hugo Chavez Successful Socialism'

"When the hated despots of nations like Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan loot their countries' treasuries, transfer their oil wealth to personal Swiss bank accounts and use the rest to finance (in the House of Saud's case) terrorist extremists, American politicians praise them as trusted friends and allies. But when a democratically elected populist president uses Venezuela's oil profits to lift poor people out of poverty, they accuse him of pandering.
In their desperate frenzy to destroy Chavez, state-controlled media is resorting to some of the most transparently and hilariously hypocritical talking points ever. In the April 4th New York Times Juan Forero repeated the trope that Chavez's use of oil revenues is unfair--even cheating somehow: "With Venezuela's oil revenues rising 32 percent last year," the paper exclaimed, "Mr. Chavez has been subsidizing samba parades in Brazil, eye surgery for poor Mexicans and even heating fuel for poor families from Maine to the Bronx to Philadelphia. By some estimates, the spending now surpasses the nearly $2 billion Washington allocates to pay for development programs and the drug war in western South America."

Gosh, how terrible - Hugo Chavez uses oil revenues to pay for eye operations and heating for poor people - The US can't stand that :) Especially when it demonstrates the US suffers from such 'poor governance' the poorest Americans are in need of aid from abroad.

Of course the meager proportion of national income the US gives other countries as development assistance is called 'development programs' and the actions of Venezuela are a completely different matter.

According to OECD figures, of the 22 wealthiest countries in the world, the US ranks as the second least generous country when it comes to providing foriegn aid (21st out of 22 when aid is measured as a portion of gross national income). On that note, NZ could do better here too!

Ted Rall again,

"The [Venezuelan] government is making billions of dollars [from its state oil company] and spending them on houses, education, medical care," notes CNN. And--gasp--people's lives are improving. What if the rest of us noticed? No wonder Chávez has to go."

Chavez is also a strong proponent of open-source computer software, making Venezeula one of the first countries to encourage its public sector to dump expensive Microsoft bloatware in favour of open-source alternatives.

In 2004 Chavez ordered all Venezuelan public institutions to adopt open source software, a move that could save millions. Chavez said previous governments spent more on licensing fees for proprietary software than social programs to fight poverty.

The Science and Technology ministry of Venezeula recently hosted the Latin American Free Software Installation Fair. The ministry said the fair is part of Venezuela's move toward "technological sovereignty, and taking advantage of knowledge for building national scientific independence."

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Greedy transnational corporations and their tax havens cause poverty

Just finished reading 'Tax us if you can' a report published last year by the Tax Justice Network (TJN).

In 'Tax us if you can', TJN explain how rich individuals and transnational corporations have taken advantage of the 'globalisation' of the world economy to avoid their fair share of tax, by locating their wealth in offshore jurisdictions offering minimal or zero tax rates.

In March 2005, TJN estimated that US$11.5 trillion of personal wealth is held offshore by the rich, with a large amount of this sent to around 70 tax havens scattered around the world. If this income from this wealth was charged to tax in the countries where the rich were resident or derived their wealth, TJN estimate an additional tax revenues of US$255 billion would be available to fund public services and investment around the world. They explain explains how global tax avoidance and fraud has a significantly disproportionate negative impact on developing countries, where the rich minority in these countries hold a far larger proportion of their income in offshore tax havens (70% in the case of the Middle East). Such unethical and sometimes downright illegal behaviour comes at a serious cost. TJN make the point very plainly on the back cover of 'Tax us if you can', in large point type - "Tax havens cause poverty".

TJN are also highly critical of pro-business political actors (such as our own Business Round Table, National and Act) who argue that nations should compete with each other to attract inward international investment by offering lower tax rates, little regulation and other related concessions. TJN point out that such 'tax competition' can lead to investment being directed to territories where, in many cases, it is inefficiently used.

"The only winners in such a process are the mobile businesses that can play one government off another in order to secure tax advantages and subsidies"
"Taken to its logical extreme, tax competition will lead to a race to the bottom, meaning that Governments will be forced to cut tax rates on corporate profits to zero and subsidise those companies choosing to invest."

So the next time you hear the BRT or other business lobbyists bleating for a lower corporate tax rate and a regulation nuddy run - ask the question - do we really want to play their zero sum game?

If our Government bows to pressure to lower tax rates it not only reduces the amount of money available to improve public services in New Zealand - it also places pressure on the governments of other countries keep playing the game. Many developing countries, faced with massive capital flight and tax avoidance have shifted the burden of tax onto consumers through sales taxes (like GST). Such taxes are widely regarded to be regressive as lower income households spend a higher proportion of their income on consumption. So playing any attention at all to the zero sum tax competition game promoted by the transnationals hits the poor of the world, whether they be in New Zealand or overseas.

'Tax us if you can' includes a very telling quote from 'Growth Strategies" from the Economic Policy Institute (2004)
"There is little evidence that state and local tax cuts - when paid for by reducing public services - stimulate economic activity or create jobs. There is evidence, however, that increases in taxes, when used to expand the quality and quantity of public services, can promote economic development and employment growth."

"Tax us if you can" is an excellent introduction to the topic of tax havens and is well worth reading. Especially as the report contains a number of constructive recommendations to stop the transnationals from free riding on the tax paid by everyone else, most notably encouraging greater cooperation between countries on tax matters and insisting transnationals make public who they are, what they do and how much tax they actually pay. I look at some of these recommendations in a future post.

Tags: Politics, Economics, Corporates, Tax, Mulitnationals

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Report on KOPP meeting Chch Town Hall 10 April 2006

The Keep Our Port Public meeting in Christchurch last night went well. I estimate around 250 people attended, making it the largest public meeting I have attended in Christchurch for some time.

Sir Kerry Burke spoke as a private individual and as a member of the local body community grouping Christchurch 2021. Burke said he remained committed to the vision statement of 2021 which clearly undertakes to retain public ownership and control of strategic trading enterprises, especially the port, the airport and power utilities. Garry Moore, the man who now wants to sell the port, was also elected on a 2021 ticket. Burke said "this proposal disadvantages all citizens, no matter where they come from. I wonder whether selling off is actually the best way to deal with our assets."

Burke described the move by Christchurch City Holdings (CCHL) as clumsy and said there was no need for desperate measures, as there was no 'financial crisis' (I was a little concerned at this point Burke might attempt to justify the selloffs that occurred during the forth Labour Government which Burke was part of - thankfully he didn't)

The stand out speech of the night came from Murray Horton of the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa. His characterisation of the recent about face of the Christchurch City Council was especially well recieved

"And it looks like there will be more to come - the Council has removed both its Red Bus Company and contracting business, City Care, from the list of strategic assets to be protected. The Mayor, Garry Moore, has swung around from being the proud Chairman of the People's Republic to being the Chairman of Christchurch Inc. run, by for and of, Big Business. Actually in honour of who is actually running the show in Tuam Street, I think it should be named the corporate Republic of McTurkey."

[cue biggest laugh of the night]

Referring of course to Lesley McTurk, the City Manager appointed by Moore who has overseen a massive clearout of experienced staff at the same time many people wonder whether McTurk is really acting as an additional and unelected City councilor.

Unfortunately I didn't hear a great deal of RMTU Secretary Wayne Butson's speech as I was busy distributing petition forms around the hall.

Trevor Hansen of the Rail and Maritime Union explained how free trade agreements were assisting the shipping companies in creating 'ports of convenience' - a system that will give large shipping companies more power to drive down wages and export profits at the expense of local communities.

A 2004 issue of Transport International describes what a "port of convenience" looks like: "Inexperienced, untrained, casual non-union labour is gradually replacing skilled unionised workforces in may ports, as terminal operators succumb to pressure from shipowners, shippers and politicians to embrace fundamentalist market ideologies. Ultimately this means the introduction of many labour cost saving policies: reducing the standard of working conditions, introducing total flexibility of working times and tasks, employing unorganised workers and flying in cheap labour from countries where trade unions are forbidden or severely restricted."

Green party MP Metiria Turei explained how the sale of local assets to overseas interests has significant negative impacts on a national scale, such as our horrendous current account deficit. Metiria also found it was shocking there had been no consultation about the proposed sale. I liked her speech - probably because it had a strong focus on the privatisation issue and maintaining public ownership of strategic assets - so it came acrosss as a real lefty speech :)

A few hours before the meeting Christchurch Labour MPs (except Dalziel) released a statement expressing "serious concerns" about the proposal of the city council to sell part of the port to Hutchison. Better late than never! KOPP spokesperson Murray Horton immediately called on the MPs to translate their opposition into Government action.

While the Press reports that no-one from CCHL or LPC attended the meeting we have since found out there was a CCHL mole in attendence, who declined to make him or herself known despite a polite request from the chair. One person owned up to being on the City Council and was welcomed.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Keep Our Port Public Website

The Christchurch coalition set up to oppose the plans of CCHL to sell the Lyttelton Port Company to a Hong Kong multinational now have their own website.

Here you can find PDFs of a poster and petition opposing the sale to Hutchison Port Holdings, as well as Murray Horton's excellent article on why the council should not sell the port.

While it has been reported that Hutchison has pulled out of the deal, this pullout may only be temporary. The city council have made it pretty clear they plan to gain all the shares in the port, and then approach Hutchison once again. The privatisers are still hard at work in Christchurch City Hall! I will post more on this in the next few days.

This is much more than just a Christchurch local body issue. For a number of years there has been speculation of a 'consolidation' in the port sector, meaning that port operations in New Zealand could be concentrated in one or two major ports, with serious economic development ramifications for the regions that lose out. Our city council is being seriously naive to assume that selling to Hutchison is going to make Lyttelton one of the 'chosen few'. As soon as Hutchison gain control of another large port in New Zealand they could attempt to wind down Lyttelton if it meant more money for Hutchison. Secondly, Hutchison have shown an interest in the Auckland Port...

Greater co-operation between New Zealand ports is the best way to ensure shipping companies and large multinationals do not succeed in playing our ports off against each other.