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HARD NEWS 27/7/01 - Scary Movie, Italian Style

Approved: Kiwifruit
HARD NEWS 27/7/01 - Scary Movie, Italian Style

HARD NEWS is first broadcast in Auckland on 95bFM around 9.30am on Fridays and replayed around 5.15pm Friday and 10am Sunday on The Culture Bunker. You can listen to 95bFM live on the Internet. Point your web browser to You will need an MP3 player. Currently New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of GMT.

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... how was your week? Probably not as bad as that of anyone unlucky enough to be on the end of a Carabinieri's baton, I'd wager.

There were doubtless more gross and scary human rights atrocities somewhere in the world this week, but the Italian version of the movie was quite scary enough for me.

The right to public protest was lost in Genoa. People who had done nothing wrong - people who were sleeping - were thrashed and abused. The Italian police raided the Independent Media Centre, wrecked it and arrested and assaulted its journalists - isn't that the kind of thing that's only supposed to happen in dictatorships?

If you still think everybody deserved what they got, you obviously didn't get the email I got this week. Two 20 year old New Zealanders got caught up in the maelstrom and wrote a compelling and horrifying report of their experiences. I would recommend everybody read it - so, with their permission, I've posted it in the Wide Area News section of the Mediawatch website. That's Have a look.

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What happened was not a good advertisement for democracy. In fact, democracy isn't a very good advertisement for democracy in Italy these days. Its Prime Minister is a media magnate who essentially bought himself the job. As opposed to that other democratic embarrassment, George W. Bush, who had some oil companies buy his for him. It's always nicer to get something as a present, isn't it?

On the other hand, some of the things that happened in Genoa weren't a very good advertisement for pro-democratic protesting either. The day before the raid on the gymnasium, supermarkets were looted and - by the eyewitness account of protestors themselves - shops and restaurants with people living above them were firebombed. People who do that are no friends of mine.

And anybody who thinks Carlo Giuliani, the protestor who was shot by a policeman, is a martyr isn't living in my world. You have a 23 year-old middle-class refusenik with a university degree and convictions for assault, drunk driving and a few other things. Along with half a dozen others, he is advancing on a terrified, injured 20 year-old conscript from a poor, rural family with what appears to be every intent of smashing his head in with a fire extinguisher. He gets shot. I'm sorry, but I can't find my sympathy here.

I think the anti-capitalist movement has a serious problem here. The viral, decentralised model on which it is made means it can exercise no quality control - either over the actions or the ideas of those who join it.

This isn't going to get any better. Do we really want a never-ending world tour of pointless pitched battles, which really just serve to curtail everyone's rights?

It's easy to sign up to this stuff when they're fighting in the streets, but the movement's long-term interests might be better served by identifying goals and putting them to the people by democratic means. Thus might we be able to choose between, say, debt cancellation and a global anarcho-communist revolution.

I can't help but think that some of the people cheering the revolution might get a nasty shock if capitalism and global brands did go away. Honey, somebody stole my sponsors. And my clothes, my CDs, my cellphone and my job.

So is trade the issue? Well, I still believe that liberal trade agreements are better than the alternative. If free trade is so bad in essence, why do we persist in CER with Australia? Because it would be insane not to. For all the agitation beforehand, our bilateral pact with Singapore seems only to be delivering benefits.

And who would split up the European Union now that Europe's ability to act in concert has brought us the first, flawed, precious agreement on curbing climate change? Yet the garbled mandate of the last protest round - in Gothenburg - was to fight the "anti-democratic" EU. You can't have it both ways. Knock over all your options and you're left with nothing.

There are limits, of course. The Herald was hilariously off the ball a few weeks ago in an editorial hanging off the end of Simon Collins' excellent Our Turn series. Not only should we go and beg to join Nafta, it said, we should turf in our "ridiculous" nuclear-free policy.

Yes, that's right - at the very time that the US is becoming a foreign policy pariah - one of the "rogue states" it obsesses about, in fact - we should scuttle under its wings in the hope of some undefined economic spin-off. Never mind that our primary industries trade on our nuclear-free reputation. Never mind that it is a focus of national pride that no government in its right mind would mess with.

So from what Ministry of Stupid Fucking Ideas did the Herald's latest contention spring? Why, from Brian Mulroney, who was Prime Minister of Canada until he suffered probably the most extreme rejection ever seen under a Western Parliamentary system. His party went from 155 seats in government to a mere two seats in a single election. So why should we pay any attention to him at all? Er, because he's on the board of Wilson and Horton's parent company?

Whoops, sorry. Make that because he's one of "that distinguished cast of statesmen" on the board of Wilson & Horton's. You can always count on Fran O'Sullivan to set you right. Fran wrote - count 'em - three columns in seven days praising Mulroney and his ideas. Fran's bizarre walkabouts inside the Herald - not so long ago she was corporate manager of Wilson and Horton, now she's apparently "assistant editor" -demonstrate the paper's difficulty in separating its corporate interests from its editorial duty.

In fact, Wilson & Horton seems confused full stop. It picked a fight with its own journalists for reasons that still aren't clear.

So what about Nafta, then? Whether Nafta has been a good or a bad thing depends almost exclusively on who's making the assessment. Jobs were lost, trade went into deficit and incomes fell in the first three years of the pact. But two of those years were the time of the Mexican peso crisis; the currency fell by almost two thirds against the US dollar. It's very difficult to separate the trade pact and the peso crash.

Paradoxically - and we ought to know a bit about this in New Zealand - the devaluation also sparked an export boom. Mexico has gone from being the world's 26th largest exporter in 1994 to the 8th largest. The most recent annual export figure I could find was $120 billion. Only $50 billion of that is from Mexican-owned companies, but that's five times the level in 1994.

Since Nafta, Mexico has also finally got itself a multi-party democracy - ending 70 years of rule by a single, corrupt party. Ironically, that move might have been prompted by public dissatisfaction over the impact of Nafta.

Nafta was billed as the greenest trade pact in history. And if you read the original sections of the agreement they seem purposeful and impressive. But they have come to virtually nothing.

Meanwhile, the so-called Chapter 11 provisions - which allow private companies to sue governments for loss of income - are out of control. In 1997, an American company sued the Canadian government for ordering the removal of one nasty fuel additive. The following year, a Canadian company sued the government of California for removing a different nasty fuel additive. Had Gore been re-elected you might have seen an alteration to Chapter 11. Under Bush, forget it.

Dozens of other disputes between the three partners are queued up for resolution. Special interests are piling in all over the place. Some tariffs don't even come off until 2008. In short, Nafta is a minefield and, as Rod Oram pointed out in a typically thoughtful comment in the Star-Times on Sunday, we actually just don't need it.

Anyway, after helping deliver "probably the most comprehensive and difficult agreement in human history" - that was the quote he gave to the Guardian (the Guardian, Pete, the Guardian!) - Energy Minister Pete Hodgson came home to the ugly spectre of a power crisis.

The brave, new electricity industry created by National is on the point of collapse. On Energy has bailed out and sold its customers to Genesis, one of the electricity SOEs created under Max Bradford's deeply flawed reforms. Others may follow. Standard & Poors came out and described the electricity market as "unstable" and expressed concern about the creditworthiness of the companies involved. Only the companies with generating capacity - which includes the three SOEs - look at all solid.

National is now, hilariously, demanding that the government confiscate windfall profits from those SOEs and give them back to companies like Comalco. Yes, this is the same National Party that last month campaigned against the government interfering with SOEs. Apparently it's a sin to steer state-owned enterprises towards any social goal, but forcing them to protect the interests of a large, foreign-owned smelter is quite alright.

Well, at least National knows who its friends are. The Party made all sort of bold noises about revitalising and reinventing itself at its conference over the weekend, but Bob Simcock showed it's still the same old party of smug bigots with a frankly nasty attack on people who are "just too comfortable on the benefit". National, he said, would put the "hassle" back into life for women on the DPB. Yes, Simcock seems to believe being a solo mother on the breadline isn't hassle enough.

The funny thing was, two days after Simcock's moronic tirade, a long-term study showed that the right-wing truth that hordes teenage girls get pregnant just to get the DPB is just a right-wing fiction. The rate of teenage pregnancy is now half what it was before the DPB was introduced in 1973. Only 2.7% of people in the DPB are teenage mothers. And although the appalling Muriel Newman was still insisting this week that such female leeches on the state were spending 20 years on the benefit, the average is only three and a half years.

In the year 2001, with unemployment at its lowest for 13 years and exports booming, the best the National Party can offer is beneficiary-bashing. I fear only Bill English can save them from irrelevance.

Anyway, I'm off now on a somewhat outrageous press junket to Queenstown. Strictly in the line of journalistic duty, of course. I will report next week - G'bye!


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