- Jeremy Agar

by Rebecca Macfie
Awa Press, Wellington, 2021

This is a fine book. Helen Kelly died in 2016 (from a very nasty cancer) when she was probably soon to resign from her position as head of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) in order to enter Parliament. She has left us an inspirational legacy. Kelly's life was about reforming the laws and conditions on the job to better the lot of working people. Whether she would achieve more from a base in the union movement or as a politician seems to have been a constant question for her. It turned out that she filled only the former role, and did so with skill and passion.

And there is no better writer to capture the essence of Kelly than Rebecca Macfie. This biography is deeply researched, excellently written, and full of understanding. Author and subject are aligned. While Macfie is clearly a great admirer of Kelly, she is always objective and observant. Macfie has previously written an equally valuable analysis of the Pike River tragedy, which I reviewed in Watchdog 135 (April 2014).

Kelly was always going to be a champion of workers. Her father, Pat, arrived in Wellington in 1954 from desperate poverty in Liverpool. He had, he said, come to Shangri-La. He was a union activist of an old-school variety in that he was an unapologetic communist always up for a showdown with the bosses, and keen on his beer and racing at the weekend. From soon after she arrived in the world ten years later, Helen was very much her father's daughter. The bond of family and union work remained tight until Pat's death.

The chapters covering Helen's younger years are engaging. Cheerful, energetic and versatile, she began her working life as a creative primary teacher, but soon, needing to drive policy, was drawn into unionism. The first sector was early childhood education; the next was with university staff, where the faculty representative was her cousin on her mother Cath's side of the tree, CAFCA life member Bill Rosenberg.

Cath was as fiercely dedicated to progressive ideals as husband Pat, though, quiet and serious, different temperamentally. Author and a friend remark that Helen inherited both strains, combining courage, strength and an energetic concentration. Cath Kelly's obituary is in Watchdog 145 (August 2017). Ed.

Her career coinciding with the onset of Rogernomics, it was inevitable that Helen would incur more than the usual abuse from reactionary forces. When neoliberal policies meet a bright and steadfast woman, conflict is never far away. Breaking workers' solidarity has always been the primary goal of conservative governments but from 1984 the attack was sharpened. The Lange outfit was followed by the Bolger Nationalists and Ruthanasia. Having rendered thousands unemployed, Ruth Richardson, the early 1990s Finance Minister, brought in her 1991 "Mother of all Budgets" which slashed benefits. Kick 'em while they're down.

"Hobbit Law"; Pike River; Forestry Deaths

In the public's mind the "Hobbit Law" stoush might be the most widely known aspect of Helen's career. In 2010 John Key introduced union busting legislation. Peter Jackson was making a trilogy of films, and he and the PM were keen to entice Hollywood, where union solidarity is to be squashed. The new law would dictate that film workers would be "contractors", individuals who could "freely negotiate" terms of employment. It was classic race-to-the bottom blackmail, backed by the threat that if film workers did not accept the company's terms, the studio (Warner Brothers) would run away overseas.

The company was aided and abetted by being backed by a pair of (unfortunately) popular and powerful men. Maturing in a post-social democracy ethos and influenced by Jackson and Key, would-be "contractors" hurled abuse at Helen. The distortions and misinformation generated were to remain in the minds of those who wanted to berate her, and her moral standards, ever after.

Warner Brothers won the 2010 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand. John Key and his Government won the Accomplice Award; Peter Jackson was given a Special Quisling Award. The Judges' Report is available here. Ed.

Two other struggles involved deaths at work. If "The Hobbit" was about crude exploitation, Pike River was about bribery in that miners were granted good wages in return for having to endure wilfully dangerous conditions. As Macfie has documented, the breaches of health and safety measures were numerous. The deaths of the 29 were virtually inevitable.

Even more men have been killed - and repeatedly - in the forests. When Helen heard of one such fatality, she immediately went to the scene to ask questions. The initial explanation from the companies for the deaths of so many was that the loggers were on drugs, but when Helen investigated, she found that the real reason had nothing to do with irresponsible habits.

The victim's family told her that on the day of the accident he had left home at 4.30 in the morning and driven (unpaid) up to two hours to the work site. It had been usual for him to arrive back home at about six or later, tired out. Always the official finding was that the deaths were the loggers' own fault. No allowance was made for the lack of training or supervision that they routinely did not receive. Targets were set high so that the trees had be felled in quick time. Heat, exhaustion, steep slopes and reckless speed killed the men.

As with the "Hobbit" workers, Helen was accused of being a stirrer, an outsider who did not understand local ways. The men were individuals, she was told. They do their own thing in the outdoors. In the hills behind Gisborne and Rotorua most loggers were Maori. The company line, that is, was a blokey, condescending stereotype - as was the unspoken message that she, as a townie and a female, had no place there.

After huge effort, Helen's efforts began to pay off. Although some in the CTU apparently thought she was spending too much time on a crusade that would not succeed, the industry did get nudged into developing a collective ethos and a previously oblivious nation began to respond to the anarchic exploitation. Macfie notes that in the year following Helen's interventions not one death was recorded - but thereafter they began to mount again.

That's the bad news. The good news is that politicians and the media have taken notice and a new attention might temper the rough and tumble of previous decades. Forestry has been the most prolific killer, followed by agriculture. Of course, the nature of the work involved is a reason for this, but so is the other thing they have in common: both tend to have a culture of individualism and a disdain for insisting on explicit policies to ensure safety.

Helen had enough of her father's forthrightness to upset some colleagues. Apparently, some of the academics were at first wary of her working-class directness. More surprising is that she is said to have been disliked by feminists. But who, over the last 40 years, has done more to advance the interests of women? Macfie interviewed several negotiating opponents from the corporate world who spoke respectfully, even warmly, of Helen's personal qualities.

What Ifs. Would She Have Become PM?

Towards the end of Helen's life, when vital battles were being waged, Andrew Little was leading the Parliamentary Labour Party. As a former union official. himself, his relationship with Helen was a key factor in forming policy and advancing tactics. Little, mainstream Labour, thought the times were not yet ready to accept Helen's radicalism, though their relationship seems to have been OK in personal terms.

Helen Kelly's untimely departure has left us some what-ifs. Had she run for Wellington Central in 2007, as she contemplated, would she or another aspirant, Grant Robertson, have been selected as Labour's candidate? She was expected to try for Parliament again ten years later, and at the funeral Bill Rosenberg predicted that she would one day have become Prime Minister. No-one was to know that just ten months afterwards Jacinda Ardern would become the surprise leader of the Labour Party. Had Helen entered the House in 2017 she would almost certainly have gone straight into the Cabinet. Would she or Andrew Little have enjoyed the greater influence?

During the Global Financial Crisis of the late noughties, Bill Rosenberg, then the CTU's Economist, pointed out that the collapsing banks provided "an opportunity to re-engineer New Zealand away from its neoliberal structures and begin to design a fairer society free of poverty, with decent wages and well-funded public services. (His) paper to the 2009 CTU Conference called for higher taxes for very high earners, a financial activities tax, reduced GST, a higher minimum wage, expansion of State housing, investment in skills, and reviews of the Reserve Bank Act, Public Finance Act and Fiscal Responsibility Act, the key laws that kept Governments in a policy straightjacket".


Now, twelve years later, there are signs, if faint, that the Labour government is more open to some of these ideas. When Bill produced his paper the Nats were starting their Administration, and so we've had to wait for any progressive moves. How much of the Ardern government's first tentative shuffles to the Left are due to Helen Kelly's legacy and how much is due to other factors (like Covid) is a question for future historians, but some of the recent signs of respect for unions and the poor is surely due in large measure to her.

And Grant Robertson's introduction of a "wellbeing" economic measure is cause for optimism. What is not in doubt is that the country has lost a marvellous champion. As a guide to what a progressive democracy could look like and how to achieve it, Macfie has provided an essential resource. Read this book soon. Bill Rosenberg's obituary of Helen Kelly is in Watchdog 144 (May 2017). Ed.

How Online Extremists Broke America
by Andrew Marantz
Picador, New York, 2019

Lady Gaga is a Devil worshipper; Kim Kardashian is a "big-butted anti-Christ"; Bill and Hillary Clinton are joint rapists. These grotesque absurdities (among the mildest cited in this penetrating analysis) are the sorts of news items that flash across phones and computers in their millions. A few years ago - if we were aware that they existed - we might have thought such nonsense to be the excesses of youthful bad taste and moved on.

The importance of Andrew Marantz's extensive research is to show that messages of this variety are in fact very political and very significant. Why bother yourself with people you despise? Get a life, we might once have said. "Antisocial" is a powerful expose of how jejune personal comments about celebrities have led America to the brink of an extremist coup against democracy.

Fashers And Normies

Marantz has no trouble calling these people "fascists", which they are. This is the more accurate term than the euphemistic "white nationalist" tag. While overt and violent racism is the most frequent and visible expression of the "alt-Right" crowd, they push all the anti-humanist and anti-democratic tropes. While doing so, they are always self-consciously aware that they are scum, and they are never quite sure how overtly they should spread their poisons. So, they call themselves "fashers". Are you fascists? Are you Nazis? No, just kidding. The rest of us are "normies".

Author and interviewees talk of the "Overton window", a concept advanced in the 1990s which refers to what is acceptable in society at large. Ideas and topics begin to come into view through the window, and at some stage pass across the glass back into obscurity. Marantz refers to Richard Rorty, an American philosopher, whose 1989 book elaborated:

"According to Rorty, the way a society talks to itself - through books, through popular films, through school and universities, through mass media - determines that society's beliefs, its politics, its very culture". Marantz offers the example of how language motivated by anti-racism journeyed over recent decades from being seen as "fringe" to today's better "moral vocabulary". In conventional society openly bigoted talk is unacceptable.

"The Narrative"

This consensus is hated by the social media fascists, who bang on about "The Narrative". As one of them tells the author: "We're setting a template for what the new Rightwing looks like...They can't keep calling us fringe for ever. Wait two years, five years, ten years. You'll see". In June 2021, commenting on the appallingly destructive behaviour reeking from America's Republicans, Barack Obama happened to suggest the same time line when he remarked that "five years ago, a decade ago" their assault on truth and democracy was not foreseeable.

Over those last five years we have been subjected to Trumpery's explicit adoption of "narrative" talk, yet another confirmation that what the last President most wanted was moral and social collapse. This important analysis underlines just how successful he was. (For a closer look at Trump's narratives, check my article "Trumpery" in Watchdog 155, December, 2020. Note also that Thomas Piketty emphasised the importance of vocabulary in shaping politics in "Capital And Ideology", which I reviewed in the same issue.

In 1976 another philosopher, Richard Dawkins, introduced us to the "meme", a "unit of cultural transmission". Marantz cites Dawkins' thesis that "'tunes, ideas, catch phrases, clothes, fashions' might evolve the way plants and animals do". The meme is the child of the narrative. In the old story Rightwing America liked to look through the window and see icons like Edmund Burke from the 18th Century. Of that tradition no sight remains. It's not even regretted by the nostalgic.

If we were to lean through the Overton window conservatives like Burke would not be visible even in the distance. Marantz reminds his older compatriots that the last such old-fashioned Tory who set the tone for Republicans was William Buckley. Buckley would appear on high-brow talk shows murmuring a pompous and polysyllabic narrative about topics that only fellow reactionaries knew of. Since his death earlier this century no-one has replaced him as the (or "an") authoritative voice of the Right.

Having removed the gatekeepers of Republican orthodoxy the digital fascists began their campaign against reasoned discussion. Using the term "gatekeepers" was clever, as it suggests that there is in fact an arbitrary and unaccountable control of power and influence wielded by an elite few in their own interests. For progressives, indeed, even if the term did not then exist, gatekeeping feudal barons and then bourgeois capitalists have been the enemy for centuries. And what young man has not grown up fretting against authority?

At a "post-medium" art exhibit Marantz is told that "people have hoity-toity reasons for preferring one kind of entertainment to another. To me it doesn't matter if your cat Photostat inspires you or so called 'high art'...". This remark, influenced as it is by postmodern relativism, sounds egalitarian, but for the blogger it's about "obliterating hierarchy"- any and all hierarchies. These include logic, the scientific method and the social conventions that facilitate civilised life. The original compelling message was for freedom of expression, another seductive appeal, as Mark Zuckerberg's billions attest. For the digital fascists, "freedom" is the ability to post lies, hatred and obscenity, the ability to be outrageous.

Like their man Trump, they know that the thing is to get attention. Bad publicity is better than no publicity. The bypassed gatekeepers complain about you? Good, your on-line followers are hungry for more fun. One blogger we meet was delighted when Hillary called his people "deplorable"; it showed that the gate keepers were worried. It was the "stupidest thing" for Hillary to mention them, and then to provide lots of facts.

Modern audiences don't wait around for actual information. It's too boring. All rational and respectful conversation is boring. The bloggers and posters have slogans like "Conflict is attention" and "Attention is influence". Keep it fast, keep it short, keep it disruptive. So, when Trump announced he was in the race to be President, the candidate and the posters had their moment.

Marantz spent years mixing with his subjects, during which it seems that not one tweet or "joke" referred to actual policy. None of them ever indicated any interest in anything from the real world at all. It seems that, even when "friends" were mixing privately (though in this milieu no privacy exists) they never talked about anything from that world. No interest in acquaintances (who don't exist), local events, movies, sport, hobbies, gardening, real news...

And when they do have a sort of conversation, the "ironic" style does not allow for real connection. And anyway, as the words are uttered, the person who is the "listener" is for ever texting someone else about something else. Politics and economics as they exist in the "normie" world do not appear in this ... narrative.

The first purpose of misogynist flashes about Lady Gaga and the rapist Clintons is to divert attention from the real world while contriving the new narrative of trivia and hate. Once they have dropped the naive and the ignorant into their moral abyss, the "fashers" get to their core message, which is racist hate, anti-Semitism of the most appalling variety being a frequent theme.

There's a "New Zealander" in the book, none other than Peter Thiel, the (in the real world, totally American) founder of PayPal, identified here as Trump's key link to Silicon Valley. Marantz talks to him at a DeploraBall event. Thiel is standing alone. The author tries to draw him out in conversation, looking away so as not to appear too aggressive before a seemingly shy and withdrawing interlocutor, only to find that when he turns to face him, Thiel has slipped away

Marantz meets parents and friends of his subjects, who are an unremarkable cross section of white America. He wants to understand what made mostly middle class and intelligent young men - there are a few women as main characters - into hideous misfits. He concludes that there is a common factor. They are "people with weak real world social ties; people with unstable sense of self; people with too much verbal intelligence and not enough emotional intelligence; people who prize idiosyncrasy over logical consistency, or flashy contrarianism over humble moral dignity".

Republicans Now The Party Of Shitposters & Trolls

How to counter the "fashers"? Direct anti-fascist, anti-racist demos, words and actions won't fix things. "We need a new moral vocabulary". We need, that is, a new narrative. A staffer at the New Yorker, Marantz is an excellent stylist. He lets his characters speak for themselves, and refrains from adjectival comment. His title word does not appear in the book, yet that's what it's all about. The essential link in what they say and do is that they are anti-social - and unsociable.

About 40 years ago Margaret Thatcher notoriously let it be known that "there's no such thing as society". Thatcher, the archetypal conservative of the 20th Century genus, would be bewildered and infuriated by the modern bloggers, but she is their political grandmother. Thatcher (and her mate Ronald Reagan) would have agreed with the fashers' bid to "obliterate hierarchy", by which she had in mind the conventions and institutions that enable social democracy.

The fashers, though, see the Thatchers and Reagans of the world as just more anachronistic gatekeepers. And thus has the "Party of Reagan", as it had complacently called itself, become the Party of Trump, its Congressional members endorsing slime and irrationality and mendacity with the shitposters and the trolls.

The Fight To Take Back Our Planet
by Michael E Mann
Scribe, Melbourne and London, 2021

Michael Mann, an American scientist, has a long and distinguished career advocating for a clean planet. He has been recognised as a leading advocate for the environment, and most of what he has to say this time round is both informative and positive. Among his roles he has been an adviser to Hillary Clinton, which might suggest why his thesis is frequently and unnecessarily milder than it needed to be.

Not A "Watermelon"

Mann is anxious to assure us that his work is strictly about the environment. He is not an undercover agent for political and economic action. He is not a "watermelon". This is an unfortunate assurance, the "watermelon" canard being the exclusive property of Reaction, conveying as it does the notion that progressive impulses are subversive and dishonest.

The problem is that by insisting on being green, and green only, the result, whether intentionally or not, is to limit environmental policy to little polite gestures. Some years back conservative opinion in NZ, for example, often talked up the need not to litter. More recently we have heard about a "blue green" manifesto, whose intentions are as vague as they are anodyne.

Mann goes in to knock down a few straw men said to be extreme Lefties. He tells us about an outfit in the UK which banged on about how "hysteria environmentalism" was "scaremongering". It turned out that they were funded by Charles Koch, a malevolent billionaire at the centre of American coal and gas interests. Having established his credentials as a moderate bloke, Mann can get to his point, which is that America - and the world - is in serious trouble from climate change, largely because of the likes of people like Koch.

It used to be that Reaction denied there was a problem. Some politicians resist change by talking down the threat. A conventional Republican like Senator Rubio - whose approach is close to conservative orthodoxy in NZ - argues that it’s possible to "adapt" to climate change. Rubio represents Florida, a low, flat and Evergladed state, so his belief is as absurd as it is empirically empty.

But compared to the madness that has engulfed America recently, Rubio comes across as a moderate.

Trump's America has emboldened the killers and autocrats in Russia and Saudi Arabia to resist any trend against burning fossil fuels. They are leading the forces of filth in the "new climate war". Mann talks of "Climategate", when Trumpian America and its voice, Fox TV, misrepresented hacked emails to distort, confuse and lie. Trump himself has always been reliably sure to spout his own toxic brand of vindictive stupid nonsense, as when he blamed California's bush fires on forestry workers.

A fourth villain is cited: Australia, as represented by its present PM, Scott Morrison and Fox magnate Rupert Murdoch. Misinformation leaks out from the "quality" press. Mann cites a critic who suggests "that the Australian promotes climate change denial in a way that is sometimes ... so astonishing as to be entertaining". Mann emphasises (his italics) that the polluters and their propagandists are "deceivers, dissemblers, downplayers, deflectors, delayers and doomers".

The two chief gambits are to foster helplessness by saying it is not possible to avert the looming catastrophe or to deny the fact of human-caused global warming. The shrug is the more favoured way. This enables Mann to argue that the "doomist" view that "mass extinction" is inevitable is echoed by its ideological opposites like Extinction Rebellion. He wonders if Greta Thunberg is guilty of fostering passive helplessness (she does not retaliate, being one of a long list quoted in praise of the book). At this point we need to step in and tell him that he is not just timid. He is wrong. Thunberg has always explained what we need to do to save our planet.

Worrying Contradiction

At the core of Mann's message lies a worrying contradiction. After having blasted all the "doomsday" talk for throwing up its hands in surrender before a supposedly insuperable foe, Mann does exactly that himself by repeatedly asserting that a direct challenge to the polluters is not on. The necessary political support does not exist, he says, and so the greening of America needs to wait for ... For what? A more propitious climate in Washington? Which will dawn when? And how?

The fatalism is weary. How can America - and the rest of us - avoid the looming environmental collapse if we don't fight for the policies which have a chance of succeeding? Mann's implication is that the challenge is too daunting and the defenders of the existing dispensation are too entrenched for any radical thrust to summon the support to topple them. It's as if the stars are not yet aligned.

But the fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves. Perhaps Mann has spent too much time as an adviser to the likes of Clinton. Establishment politicians have one certain knowledge, and that is that politics is "the art of the possible". This tiresome cliche assumes that what is possible is what the rich and powerful will allow, and that they will allow only small reforms, enough to appease and divide progressive opinion in the short term. But they will never concede enough to lose the war.

We know all too well that this defeatism is the default position of the bureaucratic class, which knows that it cannot range ahead of what is supposed to be public opinion. But what changes society is not like the workings of the universe with its immutable laws. Social change comes from the bottom up, from engaged citizens.

Sanders, Klein & AOC

A good way to build momentum for climate action would be to listen to the likes of Senator Bernie Sanders and Naomi Klein, two examples offered to validate Mann's bridge-too-far proposition. Bernie is said to be bad because he scares people (which is exactly what Reaction says about people like Mann, as he himself argues at length). Of course, the polluting lobby will allege that the sky is falling and Mann's accommodation with their denialism - which is what the tirades against the likes of Sanders amount to - does not help to dispel them.

Mann then furthers the confusion by praising Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), who is OK as she is said to be a part of a new way of seeing policy. Yes, she is, but what she is saying is what Sanders (and Thunberg) is saying. AOC in the House and Bernie in the Senate are partners. Both champion the Green New Deal, a set of policies that Congressional progressives are urging Biden and conservative Democrats to adopt. And AOC is reviled by Reaction even more than Bernie is. So why is she not said to be the dangerous diversion that Sanders and Klein are said to be?

It could be that Mann is anxious to show that he is open to new voices, that he is not a grumpy old man regretting the passing of Hillary's time. Whatever the reason, it ignores the reality that AOC is hated and abused by Reaction because besides being two generations younger than Sanders, and therefore more of a future threat, she is also non-white, Latina and a cosmopolitan New Yorker. She champions Palestinian rights and says that Muslims should be able to live peacefully in America for Heaven's sake (as does Bernie).

Here are two more cliches to consider. Play the ball, not the man - or woman. Stay on message. Bernie's message? With AOC, he is urging America to achieve 100% renewable energy and he wants to encourage public transport. The Green New Deal, he says, should be supported by a $US16 trillion investment.

Mann says nothing about this. Instead, he repeatedly accuses Sanders of having dropped a previous demand for a tax on carbon, the implication being that his supposedly tough stand on polluters is a sham. For his part, Sanders has said that he does not talk about the tax these days only because it is just one detail in a bigger picture. The omission is about the tactics of communication. It's not about principles.

Mann gets personal. At one point he links Sanders to Russian misinformation, suggesting that Putin wanted Sanders rather than Hillary to run for the Presidency, with the clear implication that this would have been bad for America. He calls Sanders a "spoiler" of Clinton's chances. But some observers have suggested that he had the better chance of beating Trump, and it is known that the Democrat bosses rigged the contest rules to thwart Bernie.

"It's Entirely Conceivable She's Right"

Mann knows that the four immediate reasons for the distaste felt by the bigots and morons for Klein is that she is a smart radical Jewish woman. Here he mentions only a fifth problem: she says that the planet cannot be cleansed until neoliberalism is abandoned and this scares polite society. Is that so? Why? Here he is silent. The assertion is enough. This matters in that, readers who (deservedly) respect Mann's record but are unacquainted with Klein's work might be induced by his dismissal to ignore her.

Unless they hang in until the end, by when Mann must have forgotten his earlier warnings because 150 pages after thrice dissing Klein, he writes: "Some environmental progressives profess a distrust of neoliberal economics. And why not? It's got us into this mess. Some prominent figures, such as Naomi Klein, have openly challenged the notion that environmental sustainability is compatible with an underlying neoliberal political framework built on market economics. It's entirely conceivable she's right". This would have been a better book had Mann been brave enough to say this right at the start. And then elaborated as to why. What Naomi is actually saying is the subject of the next review.

by Naomi Klein
Penguin Books, 2021

Despite Michael Mann having warned against Naomi Klein's radicalism (in the review above) he is one of the first four names of quite a few activists, supporters and scientists listed at the end of Klein's new book as endorsing her views. Besides the author herself, the other two are Greta Thunberg - who was also seen as too direct - and Margaret Atwood.

These are curious switches. It's as if Mann, who moves in high official circles, feels he has to check himself when in polite society. Klein feels no such restraints. She wants to remind us that drastic action is needed if we are to preserve our planet, her title echoing an earlier, more detailed polemic. (I reviewed "This Changes Everything" in Watchdog 138 [April 2015] praising it as perhaps the best general account of what the problem is and what we can do about it).

This time Klein is writing for young readers. The book is a brisk 300 small pages of large type, which includes illustrations and sidebars. This might sound condescending, but it is not at all. Both the content and the narrative style assume (correctly) that teens do not need to be humoured. All the essential points are here. Klein explains what fossil fuels are, and why they pollute, tracing the history from the Industrial Revolution till now. Her factual perspective is useful. Unlike so many other lecturers, who too often veer into contemporary identity issues, she explains the context of why and how all those awful dead white men got us into our present mess.

The Green New Deal

Like Mann, Klein looks at the (politically unlikely yet) Green New Deal in America, comparing it to President Roosevelt's Depression-era New Deal, which revived the American economy. A key difference now would be that "instead of the New Deal's highly centralised dams and fossil-fuel power plants, we need wind and solar power that is produced from many sources and, where possible, owned by communities".

This leads into notes of how towns and cities might be transformed into clean, egalitarian and democratic spaces. "The climate movement is good at saying no... The Green New Deal is something different.... It doesn't just tell us what we can't do. It shows us what we can do instead" Klein provides links to online sites and articles which will be useful for readers wanting more detail on topics that interest them.

Right now, in NZ, the school syllabus is getting attention. How about adding this text? It's also a useful resource for older readers who are looking for a clear overview of climate politics and economics. Joe Biden, read this book. And you too, Michael Mann. You might not need to look at any of its science, but you could well pick up on its optimism.

A Film By Andrew Levitas

A Film By Clark Johnson

The little guy fights the evil big guy: the story is as old as the human narrative, and that's OK, because it's not just an oldie, it's a goodie. Usually, you're not supposed to know how stories turn out, but this theme always ends the same way. In any case the title of Johnson's movie hints at the outcome. And as both films are based on true events, many in the audience might already know the plot.

Minamata is a town in Japan where fishermen have sickened from mercury discharged into the sea by a chemical manufacturer which dominates local life. In 1971 a celebrated photographer for Life magazine, now in a reclusive retirement, gets a visitor from the village. He must get to Minamata and photograph the evidence. Please, you must.

Percy is a canola farmer on the Canadian prairie who is sued by Monsanto for using their seeds, genetically modified to be resistant to Roundup. The charge is "intellectual property theft", and the law is on Monsanto's side. Even though Percy has always saved his own seeds and the corporation's ones must have drifted from neighbouring farms, his small-town lawyer explains that the law states that any use of Monsanto's seeds, no matter how it came about, is illegal.

When some years ago Monsanto was in the news in NZ, the issue was genetic modification itself. Here that is not the focus (Monsanto won the 1998 Roger Award for the Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The Judges' Report is available here. Ed.).

Two Corporate Villains: One Violent, One Faceless

The villains are not treated the same way. In Japan the company fights violently, targeting Johnny Depp's character directly; in Saskatchewan, the company is the classic "faceless" enemy, fronted by lawyers. In Japan all the locals have the same reason to hope the hero wins, even if some waver when the company turns up the heat. In Canada, locals who have sold out to the company turn against our hero.

The protagonist of the David versus Goliath genre is always unwilling at first to take on the role. He's modest; he has his own interests. Such is the formula here again. Depp as the American photographer and Christopher Walken as the Canadian farmer are probably the best thing about their movies. In both cases they hold the story together, and in both cases the actors are very different from their usual personas.


It takes a lot of work to compile and write the material presented on these pages - if you value the information, please send a donation to the address below to help us continue the work.

Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa.



Return to Watchdog 157 Index