(First published in The Dominion Post, August 28.)YOU CAN’T help but feel sorry for John Minto. His brain must hurt when he wakes up every morning. So many downtrodden people, so many heartless capitalists, so many injustices – which one will he deal with today?
Images of Minto addressing rag-tag gatherings with a megaphone are one of the few constants in a chaotic universe. I began compiling a list of the protests he’s been involved in but it would take up more space than the editor allows me.Suffice it to say that in recent years it has encompassed the oppression of Palestine, unhealthy school food, pokie machines, racist television presenters, child poverty, wicked Israeli tennis players, income disparity (Minto was a leading light in the Occupy movement), cricket tours, the Waihopai spy base, the Ports of Auckland dispute, elitist private schools, evicted state house tenants, the jailing of Tame Iti, the axing of college night classes, war mongering in Afghanistan and the war criminal Tony Blair.
You have to admire its broad sweep. Minto is a compulsive serial protester who sees injustice everywhere. There aren’t enough hours in the day to expose it all.As he grows older, he seems to look more intense and haunted. I don’t recall ever seeing him smile. Does he go home at night, put on his slippers and enjoy Coro Street? Does he have a pet cat called Fluffy to which he's devoted? Somehow I doubt it. I suspect he sleeps with a loudhailer under his pillow.
But here’s Minto’s problem: he’s now such a familiar, predictable fixture at demonstrations that it’s hard to take him seriously.There was a time when people swore when they saw him on the TV news, but now they’re just as likely to laugh. There can be no worse fate for someone with such deeply held convictions, but you sense that Minto is so absorbed righting the multifarious wrongs of the world that he’s incapable of seeing himself as others see him.
There was a special poignancy about his latest demo, in which a motley group threw paint bombs – a spectacularly pointless gesture – at the South African Consulate in Auckland* in protest at the police massacre of black miners.It was poignant because Minto first came to prominence as a critic of apartheid. Now he’s bitterly condemning the black government that he was once convinced would deliver liberation and equality.
“Economic apartheid has replaced race-based apartheid,” he laments. “So the people of South Africa are no better off.”He seems oblivious to the irony of this outcome. As the saying goes, you should be careful what you wish for.
* * *
WIKILEAKS founder Julian Assange is a thorough creep – a sleazy megalomaniac with a huge sense of entitlement, as reflected in his expectations of sexual compliance from adoring female followers.There was a time when many considered Assange a champion of free speech and exposer of dark government secrets: a man of pure principle, untainted by ideology. But with the passage of time, it has become clear that he is on a mammoth ego trip and is highly partisan in his politics.
He’s petulant too, as he demonstrated when he severed his relationship with Britain’s Left-leaning Guardian newspaper because it had the temerity to report the Swedish sexual assault accusations against him.Now, on top of everything else, Assange stands exposed as a gross hypocrite. By taking refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London and heaping praise on the Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa , he has aligned himself with one of the most oppressive regimes in the Western hemisphere – a government that jails journalists and ranks 127th on the international press freedom index. So much for his commitment to free speech.
What’s more, he has done a deal with a Russian TV propaganda network controlled by Vladimir Putin, whose regime assassinates dissidents.The only people still standing by Assange are the naïve and gullible and those who, like the sanctimonious Australian journalist John Pilger, are blinded by their contempt for the West. The first lot don’t know any better; the second should.
* * *
BRITISH American Tobacco is on a hiding to nothing with its expensive ad campaign against plain cigarette packaging.With the exception of a tiny minority of smokers’ rights advocates, the public’s phone is off the hook on this issue. The tobacco industry is so despised that no amount of whitewashing can make it look good. Academic arguments about protection of intellectual property may stand up in court, but will cut no ice with the public.
Anti-liquor zealots like to equate tobacco with alcohol, which is also in the news this week, but there are crucial differences.Most drinkers enjoy alcohol in moderation and suffer no adverse consequences. But there’s no such thing as safe smoking; and unlike alcohol, which has served as a social lubricant since time immemorial, tobacco is unredeemed by any social benefits.
* Both TV networks reported that the paint bombs were thrown at the South African consulate, but a letter writer in today's Dominion Post says the building actually houses the offices of a private law firm that occasionally makes a room available to staff from the South African consulate. If true, that makes the vandalism of the protesters even less excusable.