Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rastafari reasoning in Christchurch

I am in Christchurch for a few days, taking part in a spoof of Gordon Ramsey's 'Hells Kitchen" for Childrens TV show 'What now'. There's no real cooking involved, just kids slapstick humour but its kind of fun.

I got to catch up with DJs Nazarite and Dubwise when they played their regular wednesday gig at the Dux. It was upfull to sit and reason with the brothers, who I haven't seen for maybe 6 or so years, and to catch up with news of Papa Levi, who has just put out a new album. Ben the Nazarite hooked me up with a load of new CDs to check out, but I'm really looking forward to the release of the album Dubwise is working on, featuring a heap of top Jamaican and other reggae stars, including some up and comers like 'Elephant wise', a Kenyan brother living in Australia.

I&I were reasoning about how pleasant it would be to see I&I come together for an Aotearoa grounation - to fully establish who I&I are in these islands, to focus on our commonalities rather than our differences, and to begin to look at how I&I can organise and work together.

Blessings to the Rastafari community on the World of Jah website, especially Elders like Ras Flako for the inspiring words pointing I&I forward.

Friday, January 23, 2009

How can the Palestinians be free?

Professor of Middle Eastern History, Mark LeVine, has written an informed and thoughtful piece about the Palestinian freedom struggle. He addresses a question that has been in my mind for some time: Given the low probability of the Palestinians defeating Israel militarily, and the disproportionate Israeli response to Palestinian resistence, where on earth can the Palestinians go, strategically?

In addition, even with an independent Palestine, how could a state geographically divided and surrounded by Israel be viable?

LeVine puts forward the abandonment of a two state solution, and a mass movement nonviolent campaign as the only viable way forward. His column is well worth a read.

For myself, I know there are people in places like NZ who still fail to be moved by the plight of the Palestinian people, even after seeing the slaughter and destruction wrought upon them in this latest invasion of Gaza. I do not really understand why. I long admired the stamina, the persistence and the sheer bloody mindedness of the Israeli people in their fight for the survival of their nation. But I have become ashamed for them, for how their nation grinds the faces of the suffering Palestinian people in the dirt. I have become contemptuous of the claim of their Governments and people to desire peace, seeing these kinds of Israeli attacks and the soaring polls that result.

I know there are Israeli's who do truly desire peace. They understand Peter Tosh's point when he sang against those who do not also cry out for justice. I also know there are Palestinians who see the futility of sending glorified sky rockets and kids with bombs against Israeli citizens. Whether you agree with him or not, LeVine does us all a service by examining some other possibilities.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Another view on Obama

Glen Ford, the executive editor of Black Agenda Report, gives a critical analysis of the promise of Obama in Aljazeera.

He makes a number of interesting points, in particular about Obama's plans to boost the American military presence in Afghanistan (even while planning to withdraw from Iraq and promising in his inaugural speech to have a less aggressive foreign policy). The Taliban is warning Obama to learn the lessons of Bush, and before him the Soviets (they might have added the British before that).

As Dr Martin Luther King recognised, military escapades are generally incompatible with progressive social programmes because of the huge resources they suck up. (A reminder of the old poster about looking forward to the day when the airforce has to run a cake stall to buy a new bomber seems inevitable at this point).

Of course Ford presents some of the reasons why even those of us very happy to see Obama's election, and inspired by his oratory, have nagging worries. He seems to be surrounding himself with conservative advisors and staff, in general. This raises concerns not just about how they may argue against, and place obstacles in the way of, progressive change, but also about who will run things if anything does happen to him. Popping him off would seem less tempting to the CIA / Mafia types if they thought his VP would be even more dangerous to their interestsl.

In addition, his position on Palestine is not promising for Palestinians. It seems to me a positive step would be to start talking to the democratically elected representatives of the Palestinian people, Hamas, rather than just Abbas. Otherwise it looks like America wants the world to have democracy, but only if they vote for approved candidates.

Having said all that, his immediate agenda, set out on the first day, has a number of positive elements. I think that what he will do is create more space for activists to organise and for people to live their lives. I'm still hopeful.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Celebrating Barack Hussein Obama

I stayed up all night to watch Barack Obama's inauguration. Actually I meant to get up at 4.30am but ended up messing around on the computer for so long that I decided I might as well not go to bed. I was a bit fuzzy when I turned on the TV but listening to his speech changed all that.

It seems extraordinary to say it, but watching US President Barack Obama talk to America, and the world, has given me a new hope. Maybe I've been distracted by his glamour, maybe I'm deluded, but I feel the potential for a new way forward. I guess what has surprised me is not just that America, a country founded on racism and slavery, could elect an African as leader. That is something I never thought I would see in this lifetime. But on reflection it seems just as astounding that it could elect someone with humility.

I stayed up to watch because the election of the first black American president was too big a historical moment to miss. What riveted me was listening to him talk. It seemed like, in a nation that is obsessed with religion, we were finally seeing a leadership demonstrating true Christ-like values. That he acknowledged the Muslims, Hindus and atheists present just reinforced that.

What did he say? He denounced wanton violence as a tool of foreign policy. He held out his hand to the poor, pledging to work to bring justice to the world. He warned rich nations that their greed must come to an end. He spoke of hard times ahead, and the desire that America be a leader by its example rather than through the might of its armies. He spoke of the need to address climate change and economic recession.

Maybe his words will all prove hollow. Maybe America will continue to be the rapacious imperial power that we have come to know and despise. Maybe nothing will change. But if Obama is true to his words, then such humble leadership could turn the world around. Could his example persuade the rich countries to forgo greed and start to work for the common good of us all when nations meet at Copenhagen to address global warming? I pray so.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wanted: an independent Green Party

This is my column, published in the Waikato Times on January 12:

The summer break is usually a good time for the Greens. People have been away from work, with time to think about more than the daily grind. They go to the beach and maybe reflect on the lack of kai moana (sea food) or whether there is faeces in the water. That will be cold comfort to the Green Party this year. Some people won big when National took the election (or at least felt satisfaction at sticking it to Labour) but it looks like the environment will be the big loser.

The same cannot be said for Maori. John Key met tribal leaders immediately after the election and invited the Maori Party to talk. It was an astute move to pull ACT's teeth, but it also reflects a generational attitude shift. There are great risks, for both sides, but it is already paying off, with two Maori Party ministers and a new focus on Treaty settlements. This would never have happened under Labour. In return, John Key has had the doors to te ao Maori opened to him, as evidenced at Pukawa Marae.

Did the Maori Party get only the shiny wrappings of power and no actual presents, as some suggest? Their relationship agreement contains few policy points. The Greens' experience with Labour suggests everything needs to be in writing and signed in blood. Even then Labour would claw it back. Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia may find it hard to deliver much, if National plays the same game. Yet their agreement starts with the importance of the relationship. In the end it will be about whether Mr Key, and his Cabinet, is serious about that.

There is no relationship for the Greens, however. National has already got rid of the biofuel obligation on petrol companies, and new green investments and jobs have disappeared as a result. The Government's position on climate change is dangerously myopic. ACT (always critical when other people waste money) has demanded a special select committee, hoping to challenge the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its thousands of scientists. The result of this farce: business uncertainty, investments cancelled and valuable time wasted.

National itself is treating climate change negotiations like a trade negotiation, trying to get sweet deals and special favours for New Zealand. These are not trade negotiations. They are an attempt to co-ordinate an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for the good of all people (actually all species) now and for the foreseeable future.

But then National is not an environmental party. It is the Green Party's job to influence governments on the issues that count and why would National listen to them? The Greens made it very clear in the election campaign that they were not interested in talking to National.

I thought at the time that it was an extraordinarily stupid thing to do, to fasten your lifeboat to a sinking ship. Greens do best when there is an outgoing Labour Government, but this election the results were disappointing. The Green Party might well have won their biggest caucus yet, if they had been prepared to stop licking Labour's hand.

There is a question of whether National would have paid any attention to them anyway. Senior National MPs were privately hinting so early last year and Mr Key's approach to the Maori Party indicates a new openness. There was never a better time for the Greens to see if they could forge a new political space, genuinely independent of Labour and National. Unfortunately for us all, they lacked the courage to try.