Haiti: history and the shock doctrine

January 31, 2010

I made a welcome appearance on National Radio’s MediaWatch programme this morning to discuss the recent coverage of Haiti with TV3’s Mike McRoberts and MW host, Colin Peacock.

MediaWatch 31 January – on coverage of Haiti – MP3

MediaWatch 31 January – on coverage of Haiti MediaPlayer

The initial prompt for the chat was the rash of stories about TV reporters rescuing survivors and getting them to medical aid – without which they faced an uncertain, if not shortly to be fatal future.

But I also was keen to make the point that, for me a real problem with the coverage was context.

Why is Haiti one of the poorest nation’s on earth? Why did the TV reporters keep referring to Haiti as “doomed” and “blighted”?

My argument is that without this context, it just seems like the reason is the “foreignness” of the Haitians. They’re black and they don’t speak English and when we see them on television they are either “victims”, or they’re criminalised into some large, organic faceless mob that has to be kept in line by the blue-helmeted UN troops wielding riot shields and pepper-spray.

UN blue helmets pepper spray hungry Haitians

This leads to a situation in which the Haitians are seen as “animals”, as this report from the Australian ABC suggests, quoting a UN soldier:

A UN trooper, who declined to be named, struggled to hold back the jostling crowd with a hard plastic shield.

“Whatever we do, it doesn’t matter – they are animals,” he cried in Spanish, when asked why the peacekeepers were not trying to explain anything in French or Creole.

Troops waved pepper spray into the queue’s front line. Others standing atop a grubby white UN armoured vehicle fired off steady rounds of rubber bullets into the air.

Well actually, the hungry people demanding food and shelter are not animals. They are human beings whose dignity has been stripped away from them in the aftermath of an awful tragedy. An earthquake is a natural disaster, but the humanitarian disaster that is now affecting Haiti so badly is of human design.

What we are seeing today in Haiti is the application of what Naomi Klein has christened the “shock doctrine”. This is the policy of taking advantage of natural disasters in order to impose some kind of austerity programme, or other unpopular measure, on a civilian population that is too traumatised to resist. Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine devastatingly demonstrates how this has been done time and time again-particularly by the Americans-in Latin and Central America, Eastern Europe and Asia. Most recently we’ve seen it used internally in Burma and in China.

Read the rest of this entry »


What’s “Our Willie” up to? Full disclosure necessary

January 24, 2010

So what is Willie Apiata up to in Kabul?

Certainly he’s not visiting night clubs or giving road safety lectures to school kids.

According to reports from overseas papers and pieced together by Jon Stephenson and Anthony Hubbard in today’s Sunday Star Times, the corporal and his SAS comrades-in-arms have been training Afghan army commandos and playing shoot-em-ups with the local insurgents.

And it seems “Honest John” may have broken a promise that Kiwi troops on the ground in Afghanistan wouldn’t be involved in combat operations.

This is why we need full disclosure.

The ongoing occupations of Afghanistan (8 years+) and Iraq (6 years +) are not cut-and-dried affairs where it’s “obvious” we should be supporting “our” troops and their mission. There can only be real debate on these issues when all of us are in possession of the facts.

Now the issue of identifying Willie and his mates has become a political football and, ridiculously, linked to the issue of name suppression in our courts. [Clark blamed for SAS exposure]


Martini reading: There’s joy in the art of everyday drinking

January 23, 2010

Moac and Em are blessed with some very good friends; the sort who buy you really good books that they know you’ll enjoy.
Over the holidays I’ve been lucky to have friends who care for me and want to help me on my quest to build a good library of drinking books.

I’ve already mentioned, several times, the excellent Martini: A memoir, by the Australian writer Frank Moorhouse. His stories of martini-drinking and avoidance of the dreaded crazy drinks are a real pleasure.

I haven’t mentioned so often the great little book about whisky, Raw Spirit, by Scottish writer Ian M Banks. Banksy is usually known for his sci-fi, or humorous and fantastic novels, but his whisky book is a good read and a handy primer on some of the finer single malts available to the serious tippler.

Raw Spirit is as much a travel story as it is a serious guide to drinking good Scotch. Banks and his fellow-travelers move around the various distilling areas of Scotland in search of the perfect dram. They have fun doing it too.

But this summer my reading has been a little more eclectic courtesy of Kingsley Amis and Victoria Moore.

Amis is well known to most adults who’ve ever read a book in English. He was a British novelist and essayist of some note and one of his most treasured pass-times was sharing a glass with pals. Amis wasn’t a fussy drinker. He pretty much would drink anything, but he hated stingey hosts with a passion.

In 2008 three of his less famous texts on drinking were published together for the first time in one volume: Everyday drinking: The distilled Kingsley Amis. What I like about this book is that it is unpretentious. It’s not all about the most expensive French wines, or the finest Cognacs (though they do get a mention).

This is a book about everyday drinking: the sort we like to do with friends on a Friday after work, or on a weekend. In daylight hours, during the evening, late at night and into the early hours of the following day.

But of course, I’m not advocating binge drinking. Let’s remember, it’s not what you drink, but how you drink that counts.

Amis is advocating educated drinking, without it becoming a form of one-upmanship. Though his tips for how to shill your guests if they overstay their welcome is priceless.

The other great part of this book is the recipes, most of which are not available in modern cocktail books. One that I tried a few times over the Xmas period – with a dozen Clevedon oysters – was Black Velvet. This is a heady combination of champagne and stout. Delicious, refreshing and so, so good with ice-cold oysters on a warm summer evening.

I’ve never been one for self-help books, but Victoria Moore’s How to Drink, was on my Christmas list (thanks Moac) and I’ve really enjoyed it. How to Drink is an updated version of Amis for the noughties. It has recipes too, but the main difference is that it also has sections on coffee, tea and soft drinks. It’s not a soak’s progress, it’s a serious (well, semi-serious) guide to modern drinking etiquette and some historical stuff about gin, brandy, various teas and coffee blends and the all important Armagnac V. Cognac debate.

I don’t have a position on that yet, but I bought a bottle of armagnac this weekend and I’m sure I’ll be comparing notes with Ms Moore soon enough.

Just so you know how things have changed since Kingsley Amis wrote the material that has been collected in Everyday Drinking. If you want to keep up with Victoria Moore, you can join her Facebook page, or follow her blog at The Guardian.

Mr Amis would be growling into his porter, right about now…punk, soul brother, but that’s for later.

Tonight I’m having an Empire State of mind.


Soldiers in harms way: Don’t ask, don’t tell

January 22, 2010

Philip Poupin/NZH 21-01-2010

Good on the New Zealand Herald for publishing this picture of two NZ SAS soldiers in Kabul.

And cheers to the Dominion Post for going for it again today.

It’s a Kiwi version of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and really quite pathetic that the Defence Minister is upset about this image. He’s said that identifying the soldiers puts them in harm’s way. Presumably because now those pesky Taleban can put a name or a face to the troopers.

That’s just bullshit. These guys wander around Kabul in heavy body armour, armed to the teeth and ready to take potshots at anyone who looks remotely suspicious. That’s about 90 per cent of the population in the reasoning of the occupying forces.

Let’s be clear about this; these SAS troopers are in harms way because of a series of political decisions taken in Washington and Wellington. Read the rest of this entry »


Mike McRoberts: our man in the middle while Haiti rots

January 20, 2010

Donate to Haiti relief at the grassroots level, not through the pockets of dubious religious charities.

You can make a donation to the Haiti aid effort via:

TUC Aid-Haiti Appeal The British trade Union Council is sending aid to the trade union movement for emergency relief in collaboration with the International Trade Union Confederation.  » www.tuc.org.uk

In Australia: APHEDA-ACTU Haiti appeal Any funds raised in this appeal for Haiti will be directed to the relief efforts being undertaken by the Canadian Auto Workers and other Canadian unions.

Haiti Emergency Relief Fund: organised by Haiti Action, an organisation which directs resources to grassroots organisations in Haiti. Donate at » www.haitiaction.net

It’s interesting that when there’s a gut-wrenching, heart-string tugging, tear-jerking human interest story of tragic proportions that the network’s star reporters can safely own up to having a heart of their own and to becoming emotionally and physically involved in a story.

So it is with TV3’s Mike McRoberts who’s in Haiti covering a real tragedy. He explained his involvement in the story on his Mediaworks/TV3 blog:

Whether or not journalists should be part of a story or not is one of those issues that surface from time to time.

I was reminded of it again today when I “stepped in” to a story. We found a five year old girl at a relief camp who had a badly broken arm and a gaping infected wound in her leg. She hadn’t been treated since the earthquake and medics at the camp were concerned she may lose her leg if she wasn’t operated on that day.

Trouble was neither they or anyone else at the camp had a vehicle. We did and we stepped in.

I carried her around the hospital grounds as we sought the right treatment for her and after the best part of the day waiting she had her operation.

Clearly I have no problem with journalists stepping into a story. The whole “a journalist must stay detached” stuff is just crap.

I’ve always said that I’m a human being first and a journalist second, and if I’m in a position to help someone I will.

In saying that I don’t think a journalist should be the story either. Unfortunately too many reporters these days seem to get the two things confused?

Yes, the question mark is there in the original.

But, Mike’s been upstaged by the BBC’s Matt Price. He and his crew were able to save two lives… Read the rest of this entry »


Three strikes in one day for brave judge: silly man

January 20, 2010

A Christchurch judge has probably brought his tenure to a premature end after a  comment from the bench in an opposed bail hearing. Brave and right but probably career-limiting.

Christchurch District Court Judge David Saunders made some very apt political comments from the bench about the government’s ridiculously popularist, but pisspoor “three strikes” legislation for punishing habitual offenders, most of whom are likely to be pisspoor and P-addicted.

Read the rest of this entry »


Three strikes = bad policy: mortgaging the future for a root

January 20, 2010

Let’s face it, the Government’s “three strikes” legislation is bad policy, but good politics.

It might also get two little Hitlers a rub’n’tug from Laura Norder.

Getting tough on crime is pure populism. Criminologists are united in arguing that it doesn’t work for a bunch of reasons, but that doesn’t deter the little Hitlers.

Read the rest of this entry »


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