Sarah Roberts: Taranaki’s Tireless Anti-Fracking Campaigner

 

A Broken Earth

Directed by James Muir (2020)

Film Review

This is a beautifully made film about Taranaki fellow activists Sarah Roberts and David Morrison and their tireless efforts to hold Taranaki’s (mostly foreign-owned) fracking industry to account.

The film begins when the couple literally woke up one morning and discovered their dairy farm was surround by fracking wells and production stations that were discharging fracking wastes into a stream they used to water their herd. Around this time, Sarah began experiencing many of the same health complaints (headaches, nosebleeds, rashes, etc)  as many of her neighbors.

On investigation, they discovered 14 fracking wells to the front of their property, 16 to the rear, and 12 at the side. Although four wells were directly adjacent to their property line, they were never consulted, or even notified, about the well construction. After examining oil industry and Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) records, Sarah also discovered that the casings (linings) of some of the wells had been leaking for two years – without TRC carrying out any required ground water testing.

Most of the film concerns the history of the farm, which David’s father bought after returning from World War II, and the decision by both men to preserve the land surrounding the farm as a conservation estate. Until Sarah and David made the gradual  discovery that unregulated oil and gas drilling had systematically transformed one the most pristine natural landscapes on Earth into an industrial zone. The film also shows the the difficult heartbreaking decision the couple made to sell the farm David had managed for 20 years.

The film also also details the extensive research Sarah did into a failed regulatory process (by TRC, Stratford District Council, New Plymouth District Council, and South Taranaki District Council) that essentially allows oil and gas companies to regulate themselves.

As a result of this “self-regulation,” fossil fuel companies are allowed to dig fracking wells adjacent (and under – via horizontal drilling) people’s homes, schools, hospitals, etc. The end of the film features one of the first public meetings Sarah organized (in 2015) to notify local residents about oil industry plans to drill adjacent to Norfolk School.

As part of her tireless campaigning, she worked with Taranaki Energy Watch to file a lawsuit in Environment Court in 2016 to require that district councils set minimum separation distances between fracking wells and homes, schools, and hospitals. You can find information about the lawsuit at  http://www.taranakienergywatchnz.org/.

You can read the Environment Court’s preliminary findings (which are favorable) below.

You can watch the film free until July 5 at https://festival.docedge.nz/film/a-broken-earth/

Click to access 2018-NZEnvC-227-Taranaki-Energy-Watch-Incorporated-v-South-Taranaki-District-Council.pdf

 

 

How the Madison Anti-Vietnam War Protests Politicized Me

The War at Home: Resistance to the Vietnam War

Directed by Barry Alexander Brown and Glenn Silber (1979)

Film Review

This documentary traces the history of the student antiwar movement at the University of Wisconsin during the sixties and seventies. In 1968, Playboy magazine described the Madison campus as the most radical university in the country. The topic holds particular interest for me as I attended medical school there between June 1969 and June 1971.

A staunch Goldwater Republican at the time, there was no question my Madison experiences politicized me. It was there I learned how Dow Chemical (which manufactured the napalm the US dropped on Vietnamese civilians) and other big corporations controlled Congress by financing their political campaigns. Although I participated in no street protests, I cut class during the National Moratorium on November 15, 1969 to join 15,000 other students at a teach-in at the UW Field House.

UW-Madison held their first antiwar protest (consisting of 200-300 students) a month before the 1963 Kennedy assassinations. As at universities across the US, the protests grew exponentially in February 1965, after Lyndon Johnson broke his campaign promise (not to expand the Vietnam War) and began bombing North Vietnam.

Protests further escalated in 1966, following a police riot during a sit-in at the UW administration building, in which brutal clubbing of nonviolent protestors resulted in 65 hospitalizations. Protests reached their peak during the summer of 1969, with the governor ordering deployment of the National Guard to assist police. There were literal riots on Mifflin Street, largely in response to police brutality, which I directly witnessed.

Rioters engaged in running battles with police, as well as throwing fire bombs, overturning vehicles, and setting up barricades. Prior to 1969, I had only read about barricades in history books.

Anyone with a public library card can view the film free at Kanopy. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into the search engine.

 

New Zealand: Highest Per Capita Homeless Rate in OECD

New Zealand: A Place to Call Home

Al Jazeera (2020)

Film Review

This is a documentary about homelessness in New Zealand, which (as of 2017) has the highest per capita homeless rate in the OECD. The film mainly focuses on Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, and the work of Auckland Action Against Poverty. AAAP has a primary focus of finding emergency housing for homeless Aucklanders. At present a minimum wage family Auckland family spends 70% of their income on rent. This usually leaves them two paychecks away from homelessness.

Although there are currently 14,000 Aucklanders on the waiting list for low income housing, our current government only plans to build 6,000 state houses over the next four years. This despite Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s campaign promise to build 100,000 state houses over 10 years.

Last year despite expert advice to increase benefit levels (for single parents, the unemployed, disabled, and retired) by 50%, our coalition government spent millions of dollars on emergency motel accommodation for homeless families.

In Auckland, filmmakers interview a number of Auckland’s “invisible” homeless residents. Rather than sleeping rough, they are camped out in cars, garages, and the living rooms of friends and extended family.

Filmmakers also visit Northland, a rural area absorbing growing numbers of Auckland’s homeless. Owing to the scarcity of rental accommodation, many of Northland’s homeless families live in buses, sheds, lean-tos, and tents.

A Northland Maori leader talks about mortgage his to purchase for abandoned state houses he has relocated from Auckland. After rehabilitating them, he charges homeless families $275 a week to buy them. He has asked the Prime Minister to declare a Northland housing emergency to help his trust qualify for $11 million in funding. This cover land and rehabilitation costs for an additional 500 abandoned state houses.

Thus far she has declined.

Prime Minister Ardern and Housing Minister Megan Woods also declined to be interviewed for this documentary.

 

North Carolina’s Chinese-Owned Industrial Pig Factories

Soyalism

Directed by Stefano Liberti and Enrico Parenti (2018)

Film Review

The title of this documentary is somewhat misleading: it actually concerns the industrial production of pork for the growing Chinese middle class. Under our present globalized system of industrial agriculture, pigs raised on factory farms (both in China and the US) are fed industrially produced corn and soybeans. Most of this (genetically engineered) soy comes from recently deforested areas of the Brazilian Amazon.

Given the current US trade war with China, I was astonished to learn that a Chinese company (having acquired Smithfields in 2013) is operating gigantic factory pig farms in North Carolina. Most are located in the state’s poor rural (and black) communities that struggle with the toxic aerosols from the (illegal) open pits adjacent to buildings warehousing tends of thousands of hogs.

In addition to visiting North Carolina hog factories and their distressed neighbors,* the filmmakers travel to Brazil to film the massive soybean plantations, as well as local small farmers whose livelihoods have been destroyed by industrial soy production. Together with local environmentalists and indigenous activists, these farmers are fighting the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rainforest by expanding soy plantations.

Predictably only a handful of farmers and international agrobusinesses are becoming fabulously wealthy, while more and more Brazilians struggle to feed themselves.

The filmmakers also visit Mozambique, where local grassroots organizers are successfully fighting the Pro-Savannah initiative. This is a (currently suspended) government initiative involving Japan, Brazil, and Mozambique. It seeks to drive local subsistence farmers off their land to create factory farms producing soy, cotton, and corn for export to China.

Most activists blame these trends on the continued drive, both in the industrial North and China, for cheap meat – irrespective of its quality. Sadly most Chinese consumers are totally unaware of the true cost of their cheap meat. Brazil’s GM soybeans are sprayed with massive amounts of Roundup and other carcinogenic pesticides. This results in serious potential health consequences for human beings who eat pigs that are fed on them.


*North Carolina has its own grassroots organization, the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network fighting their exposure to health-damaging pollution and industry harassment. See https://www.facingsouth.org/2017/02/step-toward-environmental-justice-north-carolinas-hog-country

 

The New Zealand Wars: Parihaka and the Birth of Nonviolent Resistance

The New Zealand Wars Part 5: The East Coast Wars

Directed by Stephen Tainui (2017)

Film Review

Part 5 mainly covers the East Coast wars between 1865-72. Triggered by the Māori murder of a missionary caught spying for the Armed Constabulary, these wars killed more unarmed civilians than the earlier conflicts.

In 1866, despite fighting alongside government forces against Hauhau members of Pai Marire movement, the Māori leader Te Kooti was accused of espionage and imprisoned (without trial), along with captive Hauhau in the Chatham Islands.* Led by Te Kooti, 300 prisoners overwhelmed their guards, seized a supply ship, and forced the crew to return them to the North Island.

Taking refuge in the Urewera Mountains, they survived three unsuccessful attempts to recapture them. Eventually defeated at Ngātapa pā, Te Kooti and his remaining supporters retreated to King Country – still regarded as sovereign Mäori land under the protection of the Mäori king.

In 1870, government forces ambushed Te Kooti and his remaining supporters after luring them to Rotorua under the false pretense of peace negotiations. After Te Kooti himself escaped to the Urewera mountains, the government undertook a brutal campaign of burning farms and slaughtering local Tuhoe who supported him. Nine years later he received a formal pardon and a plot of land (belonging to another iwi) to facilitate government plans to open up King Country to European settlement.

Although most historians date the end of the New Zealand wards as 1873, Mäori continued to exert sovereign control over discrete areas of New Zealand for an extended period.

King Country remained closed to Europeans until the mid-1880s, when iwi leaders agreed to the extension of the North Island Main Trunk Railroad.

South Taranaki resisted settler incursions until the peace colony at Parikaha was invaded in 1881 by 1,500 members of the Armed Constabulary. The latter slaughtered many of the men (and raped many of the women) and sentenced surviving men to forced labor in the South Island.

Parts of Northland remained sovereign until 1890, with Māori losing most of their Northland holdings through the Native Land Court and Public Works Act confiscations.

Parts of the Urewa forest also remained off limits to Europeans until heavily militarized police invaded Maungapohatu in 1916.


An important fact not mentioned in this series is that Māori only lost 4 million acres of land in the New Zealand Wars, in contrast to 8 million acres lost (between 1860 and 1890) via the Native Land Court and legal confiscations. In 1890 they still controlled 40% of New Zealand. By 1910 they controlled only 27%;  in 2000 only 4%. See https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/interactive/maori-land-1860-2000.


*The Chatham Islands form an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean about 800 kilometers east of the South Island of New Zealand.

**Many historians view Parihaka as the birthplace of nonviolent resistance, based on evidence Gandhi was influenced by the history of peace colony’s nonviolent movement. Parihaka’s leaders greeted invading forces by sending children hot with hot bread for the soldiers.

The New Zealand War: Divide and Conquer

The New Zealand War Part 4: Taranaki Prophets

Directed by Tainui Stephens (2017)

Film Review

Part 4 mainly concerns the formation of the New Zealand Armed Constabulary (colonial troops assisted by Irish and Australian volunteers) after the British began withdrawing their forces in 1865; the formation of the Pai Mārire* movement in Taranaki in 1863; and the increasing involvement of kūpapa (Māori warriors) in the Armed Constabulary as British regiments departed.

This segment depicts the growing divide between Māori determined to fight British land confiscation and those who benefited from lucrative trade with the settlers. The motivation of the kūpapa was complex. First they tended not to see other Māori iwi as their own people. Secondly they demanded (and received) vastly better pay than European soldiers. Thirdly they were promised four seats in the New Zealand parliament in return for their military service.**

While the kūpapa were extremely valuable in several campaigns, they believed they were fighting the Pai Marire movement on their own behalf and balked at taking orders from European officers.

The fourth episode mainly covers battles in Taranaki and Whanganui triggered by a new government policy of “creeping confiscation.” Beginning in 1865, the New Zealand government arbitrarily declared vast tracks of Taranaki land “confiscated.” In one of the largest battles, Tītokowaru and 80 warriors defeated 400 New Zealand troops led by Prussian mercenary Gustavus von Tempsky to win back all the confiscated Taranaki land.

Following von Tempsky’s death in the battle of Te Ngutu o te Manu, Colonel George Whitmore rebuilt the colonial forces to march through south Taranaki burning all Māori land and reclaiming it for the government.

Tarananki resistance to government occupation collapsed at this point when Tītokowaru’s warriors abandoned him. Why they did so is a matter of conjecture – the prevailing theory blames an illicit affair he was having with another chieftain’s daughter.


*The Pai Mārire movement was a syncretic Māori religion or cult founded in Taranaki by the prophet Te Ua Haumēne. Opposing British land confiscation, it flourished in the North Island from about 1863 to 1874,

**This was during a period when Māori still vastly outnumbered the settler population.

 

 

 

 

 

New Zealand Wars: The Failed British Effort to Destroy the Maori King Movement

The New Zealand Wars Part 3: The Invasion of Waikato

Directed by Tainui Stephens (2017)

Film Review

Part 3 begins by describing an 1863 audience between 16 Mäori entertainers and Queen Victoria – in which she promises to let them keep their land. This meeting occurs, ironically, just 12 days after British soldiers invade Waikato.

By now Governor Grey’s main objective is to kill the Mäori king and destroy the King movement. Although iwi continue to be divided whether to fight or trade with the British, there is now sufficient unity under the King movement to assemble a force of 4,000 warriors.

By lying to British authorities about a fictitious Mäori plot to invade Auckland, Grey requests and receives several armored battleships with canon and thousands of additional troops.

Again vastly outnumbered (by 18,000 British troops), Mäori lose the Waikato War due to a strategic blunder – failing to allow for an escape route from Ōrākau pā. Although they successfully repulse all British attacks, they eventually run out of water and ammunition and leave the pā, facing overwhelming British fire power.

Following their victory at Ōrākau, British troops proceed to occupy one million acres of Mäori land in the Waikato. Over several decades, settlers convert it to dairy farms.

The British were unsuccessful in their goal of destroying the Māori King movement, which persists to the present day.

 

 

 

Bangladesh: A Study in Western Colonial Exploitation

Scrapped

RT (2015)

Film Review

Scrapped is a documentary about the shipbreaking industry in Chittagong, which dismantles and reclaims the vast majority of the world’s ships. The second largest industry in Bangladesh, it produces enormous profits, given the country has no metal resources of its own.

Located in the poorest region in Bangladesh, the industry pays an average wage of $3 a day. Owners seem oblivious to national child labor and workplace safety laws, with 13 workers killed on the job in 2013 and 12 in 2015. As the mayor of Chittagong runs his own shipbreaking yard, the city is quite lax about legal enforcement.

After paying a yard manager a substantial bribe, cameramen are allowed to film inside one shipyard for three minutes.

Otherwise filmmakers rely on a local “human rights” activist for most of their information. The latter receives a €2,500 annual grant from the European Union to monitor worker safety in his city’s shipbreaking yards.

 

The History of the 20th Century: BBC Propaganda at Its Best

History of the World Episode 8 – Age of Extremes

BBC (2018)

Film Review

This final episode is almost pure BBC propaganda and contains a large number of jingoist assertions that are totally unsupported by historical record.  Age of Extremes covers the rise of Hitler (while neglecting to mention the support he received from Wall Street and German corporations); the founding of the first birth control clinic in Britain by feminist Margaret Sanger and the “sexual revolution” brought about by the birth control pill in the 1960s; Gandhi’s nonviolent struggle for Indian independence; the US invention and deployment of the atomic bomb; the murderous Chinese Cultural Revolution that started in 1967;  the capitalist reforms instigated by Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s; the fall of the Berlin Wall (allegedly ending the Cold War) in 1989; and the defeat of world chess champion Gary Kasparov by IBM computer Deep Blue.

Among the more nauseating claims made:

  • That the US developed and deployed nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki because that was the only way to force the Japanese government to surrender (“Japanese civilians would pay for their leaders’ refusal to surrender”).  Declassified records reveal Japan was attempting to surrender in July 1945 but Truman refused, owing to his determination to intimidate the Soviets by deploying atomic weapons. The deliberate targeting of Japanese civilians (more than 300,000 died within days of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings) was a war crime under the Geneva Convention.
  • That Artificial Intelligence will be as significant for mankind as the agricultural and the industrial revolution
  • That modern day humans live longer, healthier lives than their ancestors.*
  • That despite “altered climate” and mass extinctions “humans have always overcome challenges we are face with and prospered.”**

*This may be true of a few extremely wealthy individuals, but many people of my generation are dying earlier than their parents owing to an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, disease, drug/alcohol addiction, and suicide (US numbers have been high enough to reduce average life expectancy).

**It’s obvious the filmmakers have never read Collapse by Gerard Diamond

The Role of the Industrial Revolution and Modern Warfare in Third World Colonization

History of the World Part 7 – The Age of Industry

BBC (2018)

Film Review

This second-to-last focuses on the role of the Western industrial revolution in facilitating wholesale colonization of the Third World: British opium wars launched against China to make the world safe for western industrial capitalism, the US Civil War, Japan’s war against their traditional Samurai class, and World War I.

In the middle of the episode, the filmmakers take a break from war to depict the brutal enslavement of the Congo (as his personal fiefdom) by Belgian King Leopold II and to re-enact the invention of the steam engine and railroad, as well as Leo Tolstoy’s efforts to educate and free his serfs.

Part 7 begins with the brutal opium wars the UK used to force China to open up to western trade. At the beginning of the 19th century, a massive British demand for tea was draining their treasury of the silver European countries had expropriated from South America. However because China refused to import western goods, the British had no legal way to get  this silver back.

They eventually fell back illegal opium smuggling to pry open the Chinese import market. The result was an estimated 17 million Chinese opium addicts by 1839. The emperor’s clampdown on smuggling led to a British declaration of war. China’s primitive wooden warships were no match for the gunships born of Britain’s industrial revolution. After two wars, the peace treaty the UK imposed ceded Hong Kong to British control and forced China to open all their markets to western trade.

Modern weaponry would also give the industrialized North a clear advantage over the agricultural South in a Civil War resulting that killed over 650,000.

When Japan refused to open their country to international trade, it was US warships that fired on their capitol in 1853. When Japan modernized their military with Western weapons and tens of thousands of new recruits, their elite Samurai class, solely responsible for centuries for the emperor’s protection, rebelled. In 1877 an army of 40,000 Samurai faced certain defeat against a modern military force with at least twice as many men and Western military hardware.

The segment about Leopold II’s personal conquest of the Congo (and its rich mineral and human resources) under the cover of a “humanitarian charity” is well worth watching. Likewise the one about German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann’s efforts to form a military alliance with Mexico during World War I – to help them reclaim territory the US stole during the US-Mexican War (1846-1848).

Otherwise the openly anti-German propaganda in the final segment totally obscures the real origins of World War I, as revealed by recently declassified British and US documents. This is covered really well in James Corbett’s 2018 documentary The World War I Conspiracy:. The World War I Conspiracy