Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Harry - Like a P pipe in the dark?

Harry lit up the underbelly of the "P" or methamphetamine trade in Auckland like a "P" pipe in the dark. Brightly illuminating the trials police and criminals face in their daily war with each other but obscuring the wider social reality in which the pipe gets lit.

Through six episodes, this TV3 series led us up the drug labyrinth from street dealers through cooks and importers as it wound its way around Auckland's suburban streetscapes.

The critics didn't like him but Oscar Kightley was perfect as the lead detective (Harry Angelsea) and Sam Neill in his role as Kightley's boss gave the show a solid feel. The acting throughout was superb as was the tempo of the main storyline unfolding, as most crime shows do, through autopsys and apprehensions.

By the end of the series however one could sense something missing. Unlike the American drug crime show The Wire, TV3's Harry never came close to dealing with the political economy of the meth trade.

There was an early warning of the superficiality of the show when Angelsea comforted the working-class Samoan parents of a young, meth fueled, armed robber with the words, "Sometimes it doesn't matter what you do they end up mixing with the wrong crowd."

Instead of attempting to examine the decline of manufacturing and heavy industry and the rise of unemployment in South Auckland's suburbs which has made it an easy recruiting ground for  narco-employment in gangs or the problems with the struggling school system Harry made it look like people fell into the meth trade by pure chance.

Indeed the political economy of meth in Auckland was at no point engaged with and Harry  never really showed us the end users of P and the damage it was doing to our communities. This damage is serious. Earlier this year a small Far North community was torn apart by whanau becoming involved in the meth trade. Indeed the psycho-social factors driving people to meth use, such as increasing workloads and short deadlines or even post-traumatic stress disorder, as was the case for one now infamous user were never delved into. Indeed the absence of the "P" scene being part of the story ended up being the missing link between a good and a great show.

This meant the show never provoked any serious reflection in the audience on how to tackle the meth trade. In contrast in Season Three of The Wire producer and drug reform advocate David Simon explored the possibility of de facto legalising the drug trade in a few blocks of Baltimore known as Hamsterdam.

This is the stuff New Zealand desperately needs on television. Indepth social commentary and provocative solutions being proposed.

The latest Government report on meth shows that the state's strategy to tackle the meth trade is not just the sort of criminal investigative policing we were exposed to on Harry but also increased help for meth addicts. This appears to be working with the number of New Zealanders who have tried meth in the last twelve months having more than halved between 2008 and 2012. Yet sadly in the last half of 2012, 34% of frequent meth users reported they sought help but did not receive it and meth related hospital admissions continue to increase.

It would have been fantastic to have seen the self-organisation of communities who are fighting meth dramatised on our screens. Like the work of iwi raising awareness about the damage meth does, or the mahi of old school gang members working within gangs to stop the trade, or Murupara's innovative fight to make it "P" free.

It would have been interesting to have seen the environmental effects of the meth trade shown as well. Toxic waste bring poured into stormwater drains, the effect on buildings used as labs and the fires and explosions that often result.

Harry could have easily pulled this side of the meth story into the plot; maybe by leaving out some of the more psycho-dramatic stuff about Angelsea and his daughter.

In fact despite being enjoyable drama, Harry would have left viewers with the impression that savvy policing is responsible for winning the war on drugs when the reality is starkly different. Treating users like patients and not criminals is key to lowering demand.

As NZ Drug Foundation boss Ross Bell said last month,
What the last three years has shown us is that investing in addiction treatment and trying to sign post these people to get help brings some real benefit. 
The big challenge now is, how do we get those 25,000 the right support so they can recover from that dependency? 
We need to be put new resources into treating our drug problem as a health issue.
 -Omar, SA

Brazilian Revolution - The writing's on the wall

Brazil is currently experiencing the most intense and widespread protests for a generation. The mainstream media has been largely silent over the last week as street demonstrations have grown in response to police attacks against peaceful protestors.The state has deployed huge numbers of riot police using rubber bullets, tear gas and batons in an effort to intimidate protesters and drive them off the streets. This strategy has backfired, on Monday night the protests swelled to hundreds of thousands of people in eight major cities including Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Belem, Belo Horizonte and Salvador. Sources even 
saying that there are over million people on the streets across the country. Commentary, videos and photos have exploded across social networks such as Twitter and Facebook and finally the international media has sprung into action. The Guardian is reporting that the protests are 'some of biggest the country has ever seen' and Reuters claiming that they are the 'biggest protests in 20 years'.

A reflection on the side of a building of the river of protesters in Sao Paulo.

This mass uprising has been triggered in part by a bus fare rise of 20 cents which many say is the last straw in a spiral of high costs and persistently poor public services. This is contrasted by the immense amounts of funding that have been allocated to international sports events being hosted in Brazil; the 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Government corruption has been called into question following a decision by ministers to give themselves a three month pay bonus, putting family members on the government payroll and showing no leadership in times of economic, environmental and social crisis. 

Indigenous rights are central to the what is manifesting on the streets. There is growing anger that people are being evicted from their homes in the lead up to the 2014 Football World Cup. On the 30th May, police killed an indigenous Terena protestor and wounded several others while evicting them from their ancestral land. These attacks coincided with the release of a controversial report into the state sanctioned murder and land dispossession of indigenous people in the 1960s.

Av. Rio Branco on Monday night (17/06/2013)

Social media has once again played a critical role in getting people out onto the streets; in Sao Paulo banners read 'We come from Facebook'. People from all walks of life are showing their justified anger at the current system. Families from the favelas who suffer the indignity of living in persistent, structural poverty, people totally excluded from mainstream society. Low wage earners who can't afford to eat let alone participate in consumer society. Working professionals such as teachers who get paid only slightly more than the abysmally low minimum wage. University graduates who have no confidence that jobs even exist for them. Skilled workers who have been made redundant in the economic crisis. Literally thousands upon thousands of angry young people who feel that their future is being stolen from under them. In Sao Paulo protesters marched on the governor's palace, in Rio they surrounded the state legislature building and in Brasilia they are occupying the National Congress.

Protesters occupying the National Congress in Brasilia

Brazil has arguably the strongest economy in Latin america but also has some of the highest levels of inequality in the world. What happens now will influence social movement everywhere. There is no going back, the only choice is to push forwards. This is an indigenous struggle, a working class struggle and an environmental struggle. In cities across Brazil there is writing on the wall, it says, 'Revolution', 'Down with the government' and 'Fuck the Police'.

It is hard to predict when something will ignite mass mobilisations but one thing's certain, the struggle in Brazil is the same one we face here in Aotearoa. The parallels are obvious; a rising cost of living, stagnating wages, increasinging unemployment, structural poverty and marginalisation from society, a non functioning public transport system, a history of land theft and the terrorising of indigenous communities. In neighbourhoods like Glen Innes we see people being evicted from their homes to make way for the rich. You only have to look at the National party to see a corrupt government that funds sports events instead of deal with social problems. Our common enemy is neo-liberal capitalism.

Members of Auckland's Brazilian community have organised a Solidarity protest in Albert park at 2pm on Saturday the 22nd June. There are already over 1800 people attending on facebook. Here we have an opportunity for community figures, indigenous rights leaders, trade union organisers, environmental activists, workers and students to re-energise the social movements that have been developing over the last few years. N
one of us can afford to miss an opportunity to advance the fight for our future. 

See you in Albert park on Saturday.

Shane Malva - S.A.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Guillotine by The Coup - A revolutionary anthem for our times

All great art is ideological weaponry. The song 'The Guillotine' by 'The Coup' is a perfect example. A mixture of funk and hip-hop, it is explicitly an attack on the ruling class and can be comfortably categorised as both a 'text of resistance' and 'authentic subcultural activity'. The radical ideology that is integral to the cultural content of the song is both feminist and anti-capitalist. The characters in the music video are taken from 'The Wizard of Oz', allowing for pre-established symbolism to be used to express meanings and ideas to a greater extent than would otherwise be possible. The artists, through an independent record label, have used the internet and social media to reach a mass audience whilst being in active opposition to the 'culture industry'; thus breaking free of the material control and ideological 'hegemony' of the capitalist media corporations. The song is accessible to an audience of politically aware fans who access music through websites such as Youtube.

In the music video for the song, Boots Riley dressed as a scarecrow descends from a cross on a basketball hoop and marches down a yellow ‘flashing’ road. He is accompanied by a ‘Dorothy’, a ‘Tinman’, a (not so cowardly) ‘Lion’ and a Guillotine. The parallels with the ‘Wizard of Oz’ are clear. The characters arrive in 'Emerald City' where they find a capitalist ‘wizard’ hiding behind a large mask. The metaphor of the 'wizard's mask' can be interpreted as a symbolic representation of the hegemonic ideology that creates false consciousness amongst working people. The 'wizard's mask' is torn down, exposing that behind the 'mask' exist pure capitalist interests. Henry Littlefield argued that in the original novel 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz' the characters symbolise different elements of real politics. He argued that the Scarecrow represents farmers, the Tinman; industrial workers and the Lion; William Jennings Bryan (a politician at the time). In a famous speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1896, Bryan proclaimed “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” Would it be fair to say that in this case, at the start of the music video for 'The Guillotine' the symbolic message can be interpreted as “You shall not crucify the black man on a basketball hoop?” The characters are taken from a context in which they are both political and representative of the working classes. A critical analysis of both the song and the music video allows us to continue to draw meaning and significance from these symbolic representations. Through the use of existing cultural symbols in an altered narrative the artists have managed to appropriate content from the culture industry and use it to convey a counter-hegemonic political message. This reinforces Raymond William's claim that hegemony “...is also continually resisted, limited, altered, challenged...”

Theodor Adorno argued that we live in a world consumed by 'inauthentic mass culture' and that only 'radical', 'shocking' and 'avant-garde' culture is actually authentic. He claimed that through the 'de-aetheticization' and 'fragmentation' of art that the false 'harmony' and 'beauty' of the culture industry could be ruptured, creating a space for dissonance and negation. In the song, costumes, street art, set props, dance routines and even the music itself provide clear examples of 'de-aetheticization' and 'fragmentation'. The outfits are mix and matched and look homemade. The dancers are not synchronised with the same level of precision as would be considered necessary for 'commercial' music videos. The dance routines are improvisational, irregular and off balance. The instrumental track gives the impression that the musicians are not fixed to a regular tempo but instead speed up and slow down. The location and the street art in the video are typical of industrial working class neighbourhoods; old scooters, car parts and various bits of junk are scattered around. This type of authentic artistic expression has much stronger links to the lived reality of working class people in capitalist society than the plush nightclubs and millionaire pool parties found in 'commercial' hip-hop videos. Through rupturing the ‘false harmonies’ of mainstream music the artists are reclaiming the original function of the hip hop movement as a voice of the people and a space for social criticism and political struggle.

"Theodor Adorno argued that we live in a world consumed by inauthentic mass culture"

The song openly advocates for political violence. The guillotine is presented not as oppressive weapon to be feared but instead as the as an emancipatory tool to be used by the people to execute their capitalist exploiters. It is here that a link is formed between the French Revolution and recent social movements such as ‘Occupy Wall Street’. The guillotine is an iconic tool of the French Revolution, when it was used to decapitate those condemned to death. It is possible that before the Occupy movement the ideas explored in this song might be quite ambiguous for a lot of people but in our post Occupy world millions of people are aware of the 'one percent'. Is it not appropriate to say that the capitalist wizard hiding behind the ‘mask’ in ‘Emerald City’ is a functioning symbol of the ‘one percent’ in our modern content? The support of violence is explicit in the lyrical content of the song:

“May all your guns go off if it's time to bust…
…Let's keep it bangin’ like a shotgun
We're in a war before we fought one
Now if you're tired of workin’ so they can play-
A common enemy, we got one”

It is in this continuation from social criticism towards revolutionary violence that the artists have the potential to further radicalise their audience and present the idea of revolutionary violence for debate.

The culture industry is threatening to women; in mainstream hip hop misogyny is the norm. It is common for women in commercial hip hop songs to be referred to as 'bitches' and 'hoes'. The ho-stomping, booty shaking elements of hip hop are heavily promoted by major record labels. Record companies say this is because it results in more record sales, they are just working with the ‘market’, they claim. It is interesting to note that a majority of hip hop record sales are to white, middle class teenage boys. In a lot of videos female dancers are seen as nothing more than eroticised stage props, totally submissive to the hyper-masculine rappers. In the music video for 'The Guillotine', dominant themes present in commercial hip hop such as misogyny and the de-humanisation of black women are challenged. The female dancers are not sexualised but instead take centre stage and perform break dancing routines while the male actors stand by watching. The song is feminist, in this track it is women who are threatening to the culture industry not the other way around. A young, black woman, wearing a red dress and loosely embodying Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, leads the group both vocally and literally at various points in the video. In contrast to commercial hip hop videos she is not sexualised to the point that she is more object than human being and she is not dis-empowered or subjugated. Using the Wizard of Oz allegory Dorothy represents the American people. It is in these ways that the artists are able to use their music to empower women rather than degrade them.

"The song is feminist, in this track it is women who are threatening to the culture industry not the other way around."

The song is overtly revolutionary and anti-capitalist. The lyrics speak of shutting down capitalist production as well as the justification that it's 'not extortion' (presumably because the sections of society they represent create all the wealth). They also contain a line about how all the textbooks said to give the wealth to the elite. In economics, the idea that giving more resources to the rich will benefit everyone is called trickle-down theory. Although it has been proven not to work it is still taught in many business schools.

“We'll shut your shit down - don't call it extortion
Caution - we're coming for your head
So call the feds and get files to shred
Every textbook read said bring you the bread
But guess what we got you instead”

A more subtle example of anti-capitalist ideology present in the track is when they capture the capitalist wizard and there is money flying everywhere, no one cares and no one picks any of it up, they just walk straight over it. This is a huge difference to the way in which money is obsessed over in a lot of commercial hip hop videos, where grown adults can be seen going crazy over paper currency. We live in a world of commodities, a world in which the relations between commodities are elevated above the relations between people. As money is the exchange commodity which can be used to 'buy' all other commodities the fetishisation of money is the most intense. This disregard for money demonstrates a lack of commodity fetishism which negates from the ruling capitalist ideology of our times.

The artists tell us that the police protect the bosses and that capitalists don't write their own lies. The listener is encouraged to 'get offline' and connect with 'this modem' which it seems reasonable to presume if an effort to encourage fans to get involved with the struggle. The audience is given political advice that you can't out vote the elite and that the golden rule of America (that those with the gold make the rules) still stands.

“Tell the boss to call police to escort him
You don't write all them lies, you just quote em
Get offline, plug in to this modem
No you can't out-vote em
The rules are still golden”

These verses which contain both social criticism and political advice enforce the notion that “...new forces of mass communication... [can] be turned against the capitalist relations of production and [can] be used as instruments of political mobilisation and struggle.”

The song reaches an audience of politically aware viewers who use youtube to access media content that is under artist control. Total artistic freedom is only possible using independent record labels that release music and distribute through networks without compromising the ideals of the artist. In recent years, music sales have been declining. This is indicative of the shift that has occurred from conventional means of distribution such as vinyl and CDs towards online and downloadable content. Current trends continue to reduce the profits of music corporations and increase the ability of artists to determine their own content.

This type of independently produced music contains within it the hope of reclaiming more social and cultural spaces for dissidence and resistance. In a world in which corporations have control over almost everything, the ability of everyday people to use new forms of media to voice their opinions and rally for social change is invaluable. Through the use of new networks of production, distribution and communication we are seeing more and more musicians enjoying careers outside of the ‘culture industry’. The song 'The Guillotine' by 'The Coup' is an example of how music can challenge the dominant ideologies in society such as racism, neo-liberal economics, misogyny and conformity. 'The Coup' set an example to us all of how artists can appropriate and alter existing cultural symbols to convey new messages in a modern context. The capitalist elite may fantasise of totally eliminating cultural resistance. However, whilst artists can produce anti-capitalist, feminist music that advocates for violent revolutions against the rich whilst getting 100,000s of views on the internet, the elite will have to keep dreaming.

Shane Malva - S.A.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Behind the Silicon Curtain

“Mister Obama, Tear Down this Wall!” 

Linda M. an IT professional and SA member discusses the recent revelations about US internet spying. Peaceful revolution ultimately brought down the Stalinist surveillance states of Eastern Europe and tore down the Iron Curtain. Now the challenge is to pull down the Silicon Curtain.

In a flurry of articles recently published by the Guardian and substantiated by the Washington Post, it has been revealed that the United States Government has been operating a massive surveillance program targeting US citizens and foreign nationals, without warrant, and without discrimination. Further reports exposed the stunning extent of the partnership between corporate America and the government in spying on innocent individuals, and even journalists. No less than nine of the largest Internet and telecommunications companies in America have been implicated. These companies, which include Microsoft, Google, Apple, YouTube, Skype and Facebook are accused of providing the NSA with direct access to customer data on their servers in real-time, via a system known as PRISM.

The PRISM system
It is impossible to know all of the exact details of what is recorded, because after all, this was a secret, leaked report. The government asserts that the court order leaked pertains only to telephone call Meta-Data. But further revelations about PRISM indicate the NSA has direct access to the servers of these companies. That would mean that virtually everything that you do on the Internet and on the telephone is technically available to the government, whether you have committed a crime or not, so long as it passes through the servers of one or more of the companies named.

Using PRISM, potentially everything you or your children do on the Internet could be recorded. Everything you say to your spouse on the telephone, every search you make in Google and every post you make in Facebook. Every photograph you share can be saved. Every picture you linger over on a porn site. Every word you say when you talk dirty on the telephone to your lover can be preserved forever, and can be accessed at any time by government employees with sufficient clearance. Every time you click Like, every angry comment you post in a blog, every Skype conversation you have, including every friend in every contact list or address book you use. Every email you send, and indeed, every page you navigate to in your web browser. Everything can be captured, and most of it will be available to be read. The primary exception, at least for now, is privately secured, privately encrypted communications, which cannot be read if the encryption keys are strong enough.

Part of the shock of these revelations involves the perceived betrayal by companies which historically have been entrusted with some of the most intimate aspects of our lives. The documents portray these large companies, like Google and Facebook, as acting for all intents and purposes like Junior G-men for the US security apparatus. Although companies like Apple deny their complicity, there is little evidence to suggest that Apple would not cooperate fully with the government if issued with a secret court order compelling them to do so.

Of course, you are not meant to know the details of any of this. The government is purple with rage that it has been leaked. Certainly, Apple, Google and Facebook are likewise not happy at the betrayal of their betrayal. For the most part, the same secret court orders which establish the surveillance also prevent companies from revealing the existence of the surveillance. So denials by Google and Apple of complicity may be reasonably be interpreted as nothing more than continued compliance with the same secret gag orders.

There is no denying however, that something big has been going on for a long time. In the last year, the hunger for detailed personal information about real identities from companies like Google has been intense. Google and Facebook have begun soliciting “real names” and crucial private details, especially pertaining to online friends. Google has brought out Google Glasses, which record continuous live video of users as they move about and meet with people. Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) is used to identify users in real time. Along with information from other devices in the vicinity, FRT is able to create as complete a profile of a person in time and space as it is practically possible to do. Given the Guardian's revelations, there can be no doubt that the government automatically obtains complete records of all of this data, as it is created. Thus every person wearing Google Glasses is, wittingly or unwittingly, acting as an unpaid Federal Informant.

The great irony of all of this is that, at least until Google Glasses becomes more prevalent, the only people who are safe from this surveillance are the terrorists and professional criminals. Terrorists and professional criminals know how to avoid digital information sources, and when necessary, they know how to use the Internet securely. Hence, they are seldom caught. Osama Bin Laden had ceased using virtually all forms of electronic communications from before 9/11. Bin Laden was thus invisible to the global dragnet. It took 10 years to find him. He was ultimately located using nothing more than good old fashioned police work, when he was turned in by a neighbour.

Total Information Awareness
What is driving this manic spying effort? It's called, “Total Information Awareness”, a strategy first conceived in the feverish imaginations of hyper-ventilating Pentagon officials in the late 1980's. It was based on a false premise - the idea that given enough information, the actions of all human beings could ultimately be predicted and prevented, at all levels of society. This idea is readily disproved with a bit of simple mathematics, but it has not stopped billions of dollars being spent on these programs.

Bad ideas are no barrier when it comes to Pentagon spending programs. After the Patriot Act was passed, Total Information Awareness finally got its chance to slip past the critical faculties of both Congress and the American people. The Patriot Act enabled the Military-Industrial Complex to do an end run around the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, by effectively creating a permanent emergency in America.

In spite of all the information provided by TIA, human beings are still required to explicitly investigate and examine the data collected on specific individuals. No computer yet devised can make sense of it all as humans can, or use it to predict even the most trivial incident of terrorism. Thus even blundering terrorists are able to escape the net; the Boston Bombers were well-known to both the FBI and Russian Intelligence, but nothing that the brothers did leading up to that day gave any clue as to their ultimate plans. In any event, Total Information Awareness has not delivered the security it promised.

Worse than a failed strategy, it is a pointless strategy. Despite the exceedingly rare exception, the government's surveillance programs reveal the reality; that terrorism is an almost non-existent problem. Your chances of getting taken by a shark are significantly higher than your chances of dying in a terrorist attack. But the government has not seen fit to declare a “War on Sharks”, and plunge the whole country into a state of shark-anoia. So something else must be going on.

The answer is, fear. Fear, and budgets. There are so few genuine attacks, and so few actual terrorists planning mischief online that the FBI has repeatedly resorted to manufacturing plots. The FBI has been involved in the selection, cultivation, training and provisioning of a number of so-called conspirators, who from start to finish give every appearance of being nothing more than hapless patsies. Were it not for the patient, persistent incitement by the FBI, the acts which the FBI “thwart” would never happen. Because in almost every instance, the attacks planned have been shown to be clearly beyond the means, the inclination and in some instances the intelligence of the perpetrators.

It seems that in spite of the best efforts of the United States government, the world is becoming a steadily more peaceful place. That is not to say however, that there is less interest in politics, in direct action or even in resistance – quite the reverse. There is a general awakening amongst the working class, and the middle class, that citizens need to take responsibility and action to end the decades of decline in living standards, and the abuse and corruption in their democracies. The bad news for the security apparatus however is that this awakening is almost universally founded on the principles of non-violent resistance, not terrorism.

The US government is of course not ignorant of the fact that violence is on the wane and they are especially aware that “global terrorism” is largely a fiction. The fact that they are aware of this, yet persist with their surveillance programs is telling in itself; the real focus of all of this surveillance is political protest, and in particular, its organisers. Of almost equal importance is the chilling effect surveillance has on freedom of speech.

The Occupy movement was systematically subjected to extraordinary overt surveillance, with cameras placed prominently all around Zuccotti Park where they could be seen. Undercover Police agents routinely wandered through the camps, and occasionally conducted disruptive actions. Other undercover agents engaged in subversion, incitement and random harassment. Uniformed officers engaged in capricious arrests, and on arrest, protesters found themselves criminalised and subjected to deliberate over-charging by prosecutors. Tear-gas was used, kettles, truncheons, “zoning” and isolation, and every form of physical and emotional repression. It was later discovered that all levels of civil society was engaged in this, from the White House and Federal Law enforcement, including DHS and the FBI, through to State and local authorities and even the National Guard. As well, working in conjunction with civil authorities, the corporate media participated in a wide-spread propaganda campaign, showing themselves selectively deaf and mute to any political content coming from the occupations, while creating the widespread public perception that the Occupiers were filthy bums and hippy free-loaders. The net effect, as intended, was that the public stayed away in droves, with even the most sympathetic people afraid to be seen within the precincts of the Occupy camps, for fear of recrimination.

The object of the state in crushing the Occupy movement was three-fold; to demonstrate the seemingly omniscient power of the government, to engender a feeling of hopelessness and futility in the protesters, and finally, to create a climate of fear. In the systematic suppression of Occupy, we find almost every element of modern state repression demonstrated. At the base of it all, it is fear which best explains the government's almost manic obsession with surveillance and secrecy, particularly post 9/11.

The Silicon Curtain
Thus we see that the Silicon Curtain which has come down over America is little different in nature and purpose than the Iron Curtain which was once drawn across Eastern Europe. It exists to protect power and privilege. It is a natural expression of the fevered paranoia of elites. The United States, like Stalin's Russia before it, is an institution which has slowly driven itself insane with fear of retribution, haunted by the ghosts of the tens of millions it has killed in its many wars and the hundreds of millions it has impoverished at home and abroad by its greed and corruption.

This irony cannot be lost on those Americans who grew up during the Cold War. For it was the spectre of Stalin, with Beria, his Chief of Secret Police which most perfectly embodied the image most Americas had of Communism during and following that era. Disappearances, show trials, KGB spies, ubiquitous informants, betrayals by co-workers and friends, the Gulags, torture, outrageous prison sentences, State control of the Press, the universal bugging of telephones, and of course the perpetual manipulation of colonial satellites and engagement in endless proxy wars. All of these were things the American people came to associate uniquely with Stalinism and Soviet Totalitarianism.

Yet all of these techniques are today tools which the United States routinely uses to enforce its power, albeit wrapped in slicker patriotic nonsense and legalise than the Russians could ever muster. Today, that same list reads almost identically, but with a decidedly American flavour, peppered by euphemisms and double-speak without a hint of irony; “Renditions” have replaced disappearances, along with show trials, secret national security orders issued by secret national security courts, and an FBI that is far more shadowy than even Hoover could conceive. Internet surveillance, “If you see something, say something” campaigns, private prisons, and of course, Guantanamo Bay. Waterboarding, which is torture, is condoned without blinking, outrageous prison sentences are doled out to copyright violators, whistleblowers, and people who “annoy” police. And then there are the endless wars and manipulations of both allies and enemies alike. The American government, with all its industrial might, its capitalist zeal and its can-do attitude has finally beaten Stalin at his own game.

The United States government, in cooperation with their “Corporate Partners” has drawn its Silicon Curtain around America, and in the process has cast a wide net over most of the world, including New Zealand. But repression, which relies on constant and ever increasing force is expensive, and ultimately exhausting. Furthermore, it is also futile, if the government continues to alienate a majority of its citizens. The course followed by the Iron Curtain countries lead slowly but inevitably to the collapse of the regimes behind that curtain. When peaceful revolutions broke out in 1989 behind the Iron Curtain the whole, futile surveillance state crumbled under its own weight.

In response to these recent revelations concerning America's Silicon Curtain, we paraphrase with no small irony the words of Ronald Reagan in 1987, when we say, “Mister Obama, tear down this wall!”

-Linda M., SA.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Istanbul is not for sale

Who will control the cities of the future? We will.

Istanbul. Cairo. Athens. Barcelona. Dhaka. Beijing. Montreal. Buenos Aires. London. Auckland.

Humanity is flooding into the mega-cities of the world at an ever increasing rate. Millions are migrating looking for jobs, housing and a future.

But every new day brings fresh signs of revolt in the sprawling urban jungles. In Gezi Park a small group of people stood up to the developers and the government in defence of their park.

The police crackdown ignited a wider rebellion. Now hundreds of thousands are on the streets – workers, professionals, students, the unemployed, Kurds, Muslims and football fans.

Straddling the junction of Europe and the Middle East the revolt in Istanbul poses a serious challenge to the austerity governments in Europe and breathes new life into the revolutions of the Arab Spring.

In Auckland or Istanbul people are worried about the same things. What kind of cities will we live in? A planet of slums or a globe of democratic urbanism. In Aotearoa against National we have seen big protests against electricity privatisation, education cuts, against mining, state housing evictions and for the rights of workers.

These same concerns resonate through the cities of Turkey. Our best solidarity with the people of Turkey is to bring the struggle home to the streets of Auckland.

Whether we say Merhaba or Kia ora to our neighbours does not matter. We all want the right to drink a beer (or not), lie under the trees and have good jobs and homes.

Their system of profit and pollution is falling apart. And when people march in the streets they get attacked. This is not what democracy looks like.

The civil resistance in Turkey is a sign of things to come. Everyone wants freedom. But the capitalist governments of the world cannot coexist with a free people. Their profits are more important to them than our planet.

Yet in every city in every country fires are burning and fights are beginning.

“What are you fighting for?” is what they ask the masked activists and angry workers building barricades. And the answer is the same as it was in 1871 during the Paris Commune uprising. They say, "We are fighting for a city for the millions not the millionaires. Our cities are not for sale."

-Socialist Aotearoa

Police were withdrawn from Istanbul’s main Taksim Square on Saturday of last week, following five days of protests.

This was the government’s first major defeat in 11 years. The place immediately turned into a festival area occupied by tens of thousands of ordinary people. The massive explosion of anger took the government completely by surprise—and the protesters too.

Resistance to plans to restructure Taksim Square and turn the adjacent Gezi Park into a shopping mall had never quite taken off. They have looked like a construction site for many months.

That changed last week when police launched a barbarous attack on a few dozen people who had organised a sit-in to protect trees which were to be cut down.

As the news spread, the protests turned from defence of the trees to a mass movement against police violence. They spread throughout Istanbul as well as Izmir, Ankara and other cities. Police attacked demonstrations large and small and crowds simply refused to be beaten back by a constant barrage of pepper gas.

Spontaneous protests broke out everywhere. People gathered in their own streets, banging pots and pans, blowing whistles and shouting for the prime minister to resign.

Local residents and shop-keepers came out to help those attacked by the police. They gave them refuge, food and lemon juice to combat the effects of the gas. Victory Finally, victory belonged to the people.

Taksim Square had remained police-free for days. There had been quiet and simmering discontent with a spate of neoliberal policies. These range from the proliferation of shopping centres to last month’s legislation to ban the sale of alcohol after 10pm and the frequent heavy-handed use of police against protests.

The government under-estimated the people’s anger and determination—and is now paying the price. The mass movement has influenced and even mobilised some of the ruling AK Party’s electorate.

This may be the beginning of the end for the government. For that to happen the movement needs to spread, rather than become limited.

On the one hand small groups of people wrapped in Turkish flags have been fighting street battles with police. This risks excluding and alienating ordinary people.

On the other hand, a strike by a public sector trade union confederation called some time ago for this Tuesday turned into an act of solidarity with the movement. This is the way forward in the struggle for freedom.

-Ron Margulies is a member of the DSIP socialist organisation in Turkey

Monday, June 03, 2013

The rage after Rana Plaza - Kmart you're next!

Update 7/6/13: Kmart have now signed the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord.

A last minute phone call from Cotton On's Geelong Head Office to Socialist Aotearoa narrowly averted a picket at their Auckland stores last week.

On the night before the picket Cotton On informed us they would now intend to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord after clarification of the details of implementation. It's a big win for human rights and so we took Friday's protest to Foot Locker.

Foot Locker are a global giant who source a significant amount of shoes from Bangladesh but who have so far refused to sign the Accord.

A dozen students and workers drew a crowd of around fifty as Foot Locker's flagship store echoed to chants of 'Blood, blood, blood on your shoes!'

Last week Auckland University Students' Association, New Zealand's largest student union also passed a motion calling for corporations to sign the Accord and sent letters to the CEO's of Foot Locker, Cotton On and Kmart.

But with a new engineering survey showing three out of five of Bangladesh's factories are vulnerable to collapse, it's urgent we continue to push for other Australasian retail companies to sign the Accord.

In early May the Bangladeshi government discovered one of Kmart's factories had cracks in the walls, declared it unsafe and had to evacuate it. The cracks were apparently non-structural but it shows the cavalier attitude taken by Kmart with its suppliers. The same government inspector found Kmart's supplying factory had blocked fire exits and metals bars over windows. This in a factory with 650 people on two floors.

Last Friday's protest shows the power of street protests to push these retail companies to sign the Accord. We can build from the Cotton On protest to take on all companies in New Zealand that import from Bangladesh but have not signed the Fire and Safety Accord.

That's why Kmart must be next!