Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Cullen supports Tertiary Education Savings Scheme

Questions for Oral Answer
Tuesday May 17

Michael Cullen
"I was the strongest supporter of the tertiary savings scheme."

Make sure he knows its a bad idea. Here is a press release I wrote for Liz Gordon MP while I was working in Parliament.

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Labour's 2005 tertiary policy

As part of their 2005 Tertiary Education Policy Labour have promised to remove all interest from Student loans from next year. This is a progressive step, but long overdue. In fact, the idea comes directly from the Alliance 1999 Education policy, which called for student loans to become immediately interest free, pending an inquiry into how to get rid of the rest of the debt.

National supporting blogger David Farrar is unhappy with the policy - I will deal with his criticisms point by point.

"1) You will be insane if as a student you do not take out a student loan. 100% of students will take loans out."

With fees and student living costs continuing to rise under National and Labour Governments attempting to portray the student loan scheme as "an option" simply is not credible. I desperately attempted to avoid a student loan while I was a student (1995-2000), as I regarded the whole system as immoral as well as representing a very bad financial arrangement. As costs increased every year it became more and more of a struggle to avoid the loan - if I had not taken out a loan in my final year I would not have been able to do honours. If I had been studying a few years later, I would now have 5 years of student loan to pay off. So much for the 'free market', if you want an education a student loan is now a 'forced sale'.

This is confirmed by the statistics. In 1994 64.4% of full time students took out a student loan. By 1999 this had risen to 73.7%*. For later figures I could only find (handy) the figures for all students, including part-time students who are more able to avoid loans through part-time employment. In 1994 39.6% of all students took out a student loan, rising to 47.9% by 1999, with around 60% of all students taking out a student loan in 2003.

"2) You will also be insane if you do not borrow the maximum amount. Even to stick it in the bank. Students are not stupid and like interest free money."

Which is a darn good reason to reintroduce a universal student allowance and limit student loan borrowings to just tuition fees and course costs. Better still, reintroduce free education.

It would be ridiculous for the Nats to run this kind of argument given that their initial student loan scheme allowed students to borrow thousands in big chunks at the start of term. Thankfully they stopped this and restricted living costs borrowings to every two weeks, but this did not stop the ideological idiots at the OCED expressing regret at this change.

"3) Likewise one would be insane to ever make a voluntary repayment. Given a choice of repaying a student loan or paying off a mortgage or even sticking money in a bank, there will be zero incentive to make voluntary repayments."

David is right that interest free loans will not encourage voluntary repayments. But this is not a crushing blow - there are many things that could be done to encourage repayments under an interest free system. For example the Government could introduce a $1 for $1 scheme (as Labour promised in 1996) or offer a partial or full writeoff of the interest accured on existing loans provided people made an arrangement with the IRD to make additional payments.

In any case I doubt many people are making voluntary repayments anyway, the only people I know making voluntary repayments are those currently living overseas.

While this policy is a step in the right direction students should not be blindly voting for Labour. Their slowness to make any real changes over 6 long years and other aspects of the policy indicate Labour still should not be trusted on tertiary education issues.

On the list line of the policy is a threat that should not be ignored. "Investigate the viability of a long-term savings scheme for parents saving for their children's education". By mentioning this they are testing the water for an idea that obviously has support among right wing Labour caucus members and United Future. At election meetings people have a chance to make it clear to Labour such a policy is yet another significant break with its social-democratic heritage and a very bad idea. Make sure those Labour MPs get the message - drop it!

Despite signaling some progressive moves today, student fees will continue to rise under Labour, they only promise a system of 'caps' (fees will be even higher under National). Labour want to keep the student loan scheme.

Those that want free education should vote elsewhere.

* Source: "Inquiry into Fees, loans, allowances and the overall resourcing of tertiary education", Report of the Education and Science Select Committee October 2001.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Time to go Jim!

Garth Lomax has a wonderful letter in today's Christchurch Press (25/7/05).

Time to go

Jim Anderton has been in the Labour Party (until 1989), the NewLabour party (1989 to 1993), the Alliance (1993-2002), the Progressive Coalition (2002), Jim Anderton's Progressive Coalition (2002-2004), the Progressive Party (2004-2005) and now Jim Anderton's Progressive Party (2005).

Thats a lot of parties for an old bloke.

No wonder Pam Corkery once predicted they would have to wheel him out onto the balconies. His ego must weigh a tonne.

Time to go, Jim!

Garth Lomax

Despite Anderton's best destructive efforts the Alliance is standing in the upcoming elections. As a party the Progressives have no future. Anderton's ego driven antics have ensured the party will not survive his retirement. Eventually I predict a new party of the left will emerge, and will include many of the younger activists who are standing for the Alliance in this election.

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New blog - Chris Ford - Alliance Dunedin South Candidate

Alliance disability spokesperson and Dunedin South candidate Chris Ford, now has a blog.

Add it to your links, and you won't have to retype the long url! :)

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

UK police shoot dead innocent civilian in the name of the 'war on terror'

UK Police have admitted that man they shot dead in Stockwell tube station yesterday was not connected to the attempted bombings of London on July 21.

In other words - he was an innocent civilian.

This wasn't just a shooting - this was a summary execution, as NRT points out.
"They pushed him to the floor, bundled on top of him and unloaded five shots into him" - Witness Mark Whitby

This amply demonstrates the reason why shooting people dead on the 'suspicion' of being involved in a terrorist activities is a foolish and dangerous precedent.

I simply do not buy the argument that the only way to stop a suspected bomber in a tube station is to ensure he/she dies by shooting them 5 times. Incapacitating/injuring someone may be justified in some circumstances, but death should only be the absolute last resort, and only when a threat is established as being genuine. In this case it is pretty clear the evidence of a threat was circumstantial at best.

While one passenger may have reported the man wearing a belt with wires coming out of it - the man was only guilty of being an electrician.

And last I checked, running away from plain clothes armed men was not a capital offence, even if they did attempt to identify themselves. While we may hear calls for sympathy for the officer who was forced to make a 'split second' decision, we should also have some sympathy for an civilian who was understandably freaked.

A tube station is a very controlled and predictable environment - there are few places for a person to go. The first thing I would have done in this situation if I was the police would have been to clear the station of any trains - and given the word, this can happen very quickly.

Given that most tubes have CCTV and the train was in the station at the time there is a high chance there will be video evidence of the execution.

Chefen from Sir Humphreys attempts to justify the police action on the basis of a cruel utilitarian logic.
"When it comes to mass murder, the numbers say take a hardline because you'll save more people that way. Tough, but such is life."

In a sense Chefen is arguing that innocent civilians should die on account of the slightest chance it may save others - and this is only a short step from celebrating them as martyrs in the war against terror. In doing so, we would only be adopting the justifications of the terrorists, as well as providing Mr Bin Laden rhetorical means to recruit more martyrs for 'his side'.

And if you want to justify actions on the cold calculation of numbers, Iraqis may also see the logic in taking a 'hard line' against the UK, given the mass murder of 39,000 Iraqi civilians since the American/UK invasion.

Worst of all, Chefen erroneously attributes the guilt for terrorism to racial groups.
"I'm sure all those out there who are expert in the deployment of root-causes arguments can word it much better than "Sorry missus, but your son was running away from armed police towards a tube station and we had four terrorist attacks yesterday and we couldn't take the chance he was going to murder a few dozen commuters just for jollies. I can't wait for the crowd who plead for understanding of why certain populaces have brought terrorism on themselves to try and wiggle this one around 180 degrees."

And 'bought it on themselves' sounds a lot like how the Nazi's attempt to justify the infamous persecution of another racial and other groups - the holocaust.

I was talking to someone last night who compared the Stockwell incident to the bus bombers in Israel. But this example really crystallizes the point - the vast majority of people do not want to live in a society where the police and the armed forces are permitted to kill on sight those who are suspected of a crime.

Perhaps a reason why right wing 'liberals' rail against the 'Nanny State', a state that aims to care for and value the lives of its citizens is that such misnamed 'liberals' really want another type of state altogether - an oppressive state, governed by fear, where the state has unlimited license for indiscriminate violence and persecution. Mostly in the name of defending gross property and income inequalities from the democratic majority.

Bush and Blair harp on about 'defending our values' yet pass draconian anti-terror legislation that takes away the values worth defending, such as the right to a fair trial and the assurance no free person will be imprisoned without charge.

When the terrorists are caught and convicted I don't want them to be executed or put in a jail cell 'with the key thrown away' - that's too easy. Following an open and public court process I would like to see prison, along with an involved and challenging restorative justice process that will allow families of victims the chance to force the terrorists to face the human costs of their actions.

The best weapon we have in the 'war on terror' is the maintenance of our own humanity and the highest level of respect for human life - this is one thing the terrorists can never have.

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PS: I do think it would be unfortunate if the good work of the UK police in the aftermath of the July 7th bombings was overshadowed by the latest incident. While they were unable to stop the bombs, they were on the case quickly with some good leads, information they shared with the public. I have a suspicion we will find the 'police' involved in the shooting were not ordinary bobbies.

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

Reflections on the latest Marae Digipoll

While the latest Marae-Digipoll of Tai Tokerau shows the Maori party continuing to lead Labour in the electorate, Hone Harawira's support has slumped by 12%.

Dover Samuels currently holds the seat with a 5336 majority. Since April support for Mr Samuels rose from 24% to 30% in the latest poll, while Mr Harawira dropped from 58% to 46%. Independent candidate Mere Mangu gained 15% support. Despite Bishop Brian Tamaki's claims of high levels of support for his cult from Maori, Destiny only attracted 2% support. (I will link to the figures when they become available)

While it would be expected that Harawira's support would drop as the election approached, it is highly likely that the release of their more-right-wing-than-national tax cut policy has cost the Maori party support. Their 'see-no-evil-on-my-tv-screen-in-front-of-me' stance on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe has not helped either.

While I can understand Tariana Turia's party not wanting to be taken for granted by Labour, especially after the foreshore fraccas, I believe their continued refusal to rule out supporting National after the election will cost them significant support. Their position is likely to be the best political gift given to the Labour party during this election campaign. In the Listener, Helen Clark gives a pretty clear indication of what the Labour line of attack on the Maori party is likely to be.

Do you regard the Maori Party as being on the centre left? Definitely not. The Maori Party was last week trying to outbid the National Party on tax cuts and has made extraordinary statements about not being prepared to believe what is on the television screens about the crisis in Zimbabwe. So, they're not automatically being counted as numbers on the centre left? Absolutely not. They're on another spectrum altogether. Not the left/right spectrum. They're on the sovereignty versus the "let's all live here together" spectrum.

A better option for the Maori party would have been to rule out forming a coalition with National, and refuse Labour confidence and supply for the next term of parliament*, unless they repealed or made significant changes to the Foreshore and Seabed Act. Assuming Labour made no such compromises, the Maori party could abstain from confidence and supply votes and not be tarred by supporting a National government (unless of course by abstaining meant National did have the numbers, then they could reasonably reassess).

Labour will have a lot to gain by reminding New Zealand how NZ First went with National in 1996, after giving indications they would 'change the government' during the campaign. This message also has a good chance of resonating with Maori voters, especially if they emphasize the similarity of the opportunistic 'coalition policy' of the Maori party and NZ First.

Over 60 years of New Zealand history suggests Maori prefer centre-left governments. One of the books I read on the 2002 Election (I think it was the Vowles one) included an interesting chapter on Maori voting patterns. It commented that over two MMP elections Maori had been keen vote splitters, often voting conservatively with their party vote (usually Labour) and voting for an electorate candidate with a more radical edge. This pattern seems likely to be repeated in this election, where Maori will be able to punish Labour by voting out the 'turncoat' MPs, and voting for centre-left parties with their party vote. Unless of course, the Maori party show more signs of wanting to be Brash babies.

If the Maori party support National after the election, they will be a one term wonder.

* I think the Greens made a mistake when they did not place a time limit on a similar position on coalition options in 2002, therefore making a backdown over GE virtually inevitable given Labour's genetically modified pig-headedness.

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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Random Historical Interlude #2: Roman Emperor Constantine

Just watched an interesting documentary about Constantine the Roman Emperor, part of the BBC 'I, Caesar' series. I normally find I am not as interested in ancient as opposed to modern history, I suspect it came from the tendency of classics at school to emphasise 'storytelling' over historiography, and I have always had a preference for the later. But I did enjoy this episode of 'I, Caesar' :)

Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to take steps to remove the persecution of Christians in the Empire, effectively adopting Christianity as his imperial cult following the battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312. The 'Edict of Milan' promoted religious freedom, whether it be Christian or Pagan, returned Church property and established Sunday as a day of worship (Sunday being a reference to the Sun God - so paganism was still a big influence). Christianity was very much a minority religion at this time, some of its unpopularity being due to its rejection of other peoples gods (has that changed?) and the clear preference of soldiers for paganism. It was estimated that only 2% to 10% of the population were Christian around this time.

The way Constantine went about his unofficial sponsorship of Christianity allowed him to achieve his political objectives, with his convoking of the Council of Nicaea in 325, a very deliberate mixer of Church and State. While those that continued to follow Paganism continued to gain appointments, right up to the end of Constantine's life, it was pretty clear that adopting Christianity could be a very shrewd political move for the elites surrounding the Emperor. Leading families who refused Christianity were denied positions of power. Yet most of the ordinary people/peasants kept to the old Pagan faith, some for a generation, some for a few more hundred years.

What struck me was the uncanny similarities to the European Reformation some 15 centuries later, where elites were the first to convert to Lutheranism (and then Calvinism), many for reasons of political expediency, some to ensure their head remained attached. Leading families who refused to 'recant their Catholism' were denied positions of power, while the peasants stayed with the Pope.

Near the end of his life Constantine went a bit paranoid, accused his eldest son Crispus and second wife Fausta of having an affair and had both of them killed (they were not mother and son so its not as Freudian as you might think). Constantine was baptised on his deathbed, thereby gaining absolution for his sins. There is something pretty cynical there (and a bit of Pascal's old wager). I guess Pope Urban’s promise of absolution for killing Muslims during the first crusade was another step worse.

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Monday, July 11, 2005


Q: How many G8 leaders does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: All of them, except the Americans refuse to admit it is dark.

and two I made up...

Q: Why did the OECD, the World Bank and the IMF cross the road?

A: To privatise the chicken

Q: Why did the US corporation cross the road?

A: To sell the privatised chicken to the people who used to own the road.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Make Poverty History into a cheer squad for Tony and Gordon

ZNet carries an interesting article 'Inside the Murky World of the UK's Make Poverty History Campaign' (MPH). Stuart Hodkinson explains how conservative forces within MPH have sought to emphasise the role of celebrities and moderate MPHs anti-neoliberal policies to ensure its public face is indistinguishable from the policies of Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown. This has caused considerable tension within the MPH coalition.

"For the past six months, some of the UK's leading development and environmental NGOs have been increasingly vocal in their unease about a campaign high on celebrity octane but low on radical politics. One insider, active in a key MPH working group, argues there "has often been a complete divergence between the democratically agreed message of our public campaign and the actual spin that greets the outside world". He is angry: "Our real demands on trade, aid and debt, and criticisms of UK government policy in developing countries have been consistently swallowed up by white bands, celebrity luvvies and praise upon praise for Blair and Brown being ahead of other world leaders on these issues."
Critics argue that on paper at least, MPH's policy demands on the UK government are fairly radical, especially its calls for "trade justice not free trade", which would require G8 and EU countries, notably the UK, to stop forcing through free market policies on poor countries as part of aid, trade deals or debt relief....With additional calls for the regulation of multinationals and the democratisation of the IMF and World Bank, John Hilary, Campaigns Director of UK development NGO, War on Want, has a point when he asserts that MPH's policies "strike at the very heart of the neo-liberal agenda."

But when these policies are relayed to a public audience they become virtually indistinguishable from those of the UK Government. This is due, according to Hodkinson, to the conservative role played within the MPH coalition by Oxfam, the Trade Union Federation and Comic Relief co-founder Richard Curtis.

A recent cover story of the New Statesman 'Why Oxfam is failing Africa' warned that Oxfam's relationship, both in terms of people and policy was "far too cosy" to New Labour. It also pointed to the key role in MPH played by Oxfam's Sarah Kline, a former World Bank official who champions the organisation's 'constructive dialogue' approach with the IMF and World Bank.

In my previous post I argued that despite its political aims, the commentary of Live 8 was not political enough. Despite noble aims, Live 8 could only be a 'sticking plaster' if it continued to ignore the underlying power issues that lead to humanitarian disasters. Apparently Richard Curtis is to blame here (much as I love his comedy writing).

[T]he most destructive aspect of [Richard] Curtis's involvement, critics argue, has been his personal intervention in the public communications of MPH to ensure that the politics are routinely buried by the personality as part of his own personal and completely unaccountable strategy to change G8 policy: "Richard's philosophy has become painfully obvious to everyone in MPH," one critic argues. "He believes that we should support the efforts of the UK government to bring other G8 countries into its line on aid and debt, and is adamant that Brown and Blair should not be criticised."

A key Comic Relief official reported that Curtis "found it difficult" to turn against the government because of his personal friendship with Gordon Brown.

"Frustration would not perhaps be so intense if there was real pluralism and democracy in MPH's organising practices. But as the G8 draws near, MPH apparatchiks have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that come the 2 July rally in Edinburgh, only the branded, monolithic message and speakers of MPH are seen and heard.
The MPH Coordinating Team, which includes Oxfam, Comic Relief and the TUC, has also twice unanimously vetoed the Stop the War Coalition's (STWC) application to join MPH on the Orwellian grounds that the issues of economic justice and development are separate from that of war, and STWC's participation in Edinburgh on 2 July would confuse the message. It will be interesting, then, to see if Oxfam bans itself - it is currently leading a global campaign for an international arms treaty on the basis that "uncontrolled arms fuels poverty and suffering". STWC has since been banned from even having a stall at the MPH rally.

While a focus on debt, aid and trade does offer opportunities to the global justice movement, Hodkinson warns the direction of the MPH campaign also threatens to actively derail the movement at the same time.

Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of MPH's blending of its message with that of the government's, and its exclusion of critics North and South, is that it enables the state and media to draw a sharp line in the sand between the 'good protester' attending the 2 July Edinburgh rally, and the 'bad protester' - anyone who is contemplating engaging in civil disobedience against what is, after all, an illegitimate institution and set of governments responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people each year.

Those UK development NGOs unhappy with MPH's direction know this only too well, but refuse to publicly walk away from a campaign that is actively derailing the global justice movement. Although it may sound cynical, the reason is simple: MPHistory is a money-spinner. "Although we hate the message and the corporate branding, some NGOs are making thousands of pounds through the wristbands," one arch critic admitted. "We have loads of new people on our database interested in our campaigns, and because the issues of trade, debt and aid are now suddenly sexy again, we have new funding bodies approaching us to do projects and research. MPH is paying for my job for the next 3 years."

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Monday, July 04, 2005

At least there are plenty of ways to undermine the proposed Auckland Toll roads

Via Tumeke : The NZ Herald reports that Auckland drivers without passengers could face fast lane tolls. "Drivers may have to pay tolls to join the fast lanes on costly new Auckland motorways - or earn free use by carrying at least two passengers."

Transit New Zealand Chief executive Rick van Barneveld said "reserving fast lanes for high-occupancy vehicles or those whose drivers were willing to pay would help to limit congestion by "managing" demand for travel, a legal obligation for road-builders."

This raises some interesting possibilities.
If there was no charge for cars with two passengers I wonder if we would see professional 'passengers' who would mingle at either end of the bridge or motorway, offering to be a 'passenger' for less than the cost of the toll!

Better still - people who are opposed to toll roading (like me) could become 'free' passengers to ensure the whole toll collecting shenanigans was totally uneconomic. Hehehe.

The Land Transport Management Act, passed by Labour and the Greens, allows a toll road to be built only if it has strong local support and an alternative free route is available.

While it may start out with public and private roads side by side, roading companies no doubt would want to build roads where the alternative is inconvenient or via Temuka to gain 'greater market share' (aiming for a monopoly).

There is a significant danger a two tier roading system would lead to creeping privatisation, especially if a right wing government thought it could penny pinch by not maintaining/extending public roads on the grounds there is a private alternative available - provided by roading companies that just happen to be big financial supporters of said right wing government.

Under a part privatised roading system there would be fewer public roads, and it is likely the remaining public roads would not be maintained as well as they are now.

I was in London when Ken Livingstone bought in the congestion charge - and I suspect this will become a favourite example for Treasury boffins and the usual suspects who love to privatise things. But London has had a well developed public transport system for years, so when Ken says the poor use the buses he is right, but given we lack the same infrastructure here I strongly doubt the same argument could be sustained for NZ cities.

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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Live 8, Gates and Green Day

Rather tired at the moment. But I did stay up late last night watching Live 8.

While it was an enjoyable concert I was disappointed the TV interludes about poverty and Africa, supposedly explaining what the event was about, were not more substantial. Like the appeals for money during Live Aid, the commentary focused on large figures, emotion and sentimentality (the short film about the 'no food diet' was probably the best of the lot).

Given that Geldoff wanted this to be a political event, rather than a telethon I thought the commentary could have been a heck of a lot more political.

But even the moderate commentary was excised in some parts of the world. In the US, MTV consistently cut away from the political speeches and cut many of the songs to screen advertising. One disgusted MTV viewer - "there are more adverts than concert footage".

Most of the TV interludes reduced issues to simply quoting large (and shocking) figures and calling for something to be done. Why not give a short history of third world debt, the causes of global poverty and give some quick fire examples of why the current trade rules are unfair? But that would mean pointing the finger at the West for pushing a lot of debt onto Africa, and of encouraging exports of food _out_ of Ethiopia during the 1980s famine. It would also highlight the hypocrisy of "free" trade. None of the G8 countries developed their economies though a doctrinaire adherence to "free markets" and privatisation - so insisting that third world countries can do is an almighty bullshit pill. It also might lead people to question why they put up with the same bullshit at home.

While such a message would have been a heck of a lot more politically effective, perhaps even a tepid critique of power would have upset Geldoff's new friends, such as Blair, Brown and Bill Gates.

For me, the appearance of Gates was the most sick inducing moment of the whole shebang. Despite Live 8 not being about phillantropy, Geldoff introduced Gates as the "greatest philanthropist of our age". Yet no one mentioned he made his money as head of Microsoft, a corporate who aggressively defends its copyright, and supports extending the provisions of WTO trade agreements such as TRIPS to provide better protection for copyright holders. Yet this same agreement has been one of the key reasons why Africa could not access AIDS drugs - as it lacked the money to pay off the multinational drug companies, and TRIPS forbade them from producing cheaper generic drugs. While provisions were added to TRIPS in 2001 to allow for forms of compulsory licensing during 'national health emergencies' (such as AIDS) it is still very much a live (death!) issue - especially as some nations have been reluctant to enforce these provisions for fear of jeopardising the supply of aid and investment (and brand-named AIDS drugs) from wealthy nations.

While the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given a lot of money to assist AIDS projects, this work, like Geldoff's, can only be a sticking plaster if it ignores the underlying power issues that lead to humanitarian disasters.

Thankfully the appearance of Green Day soon after rehabilitated Live 8 back into what is should be - a political event with lots of rock and roll. First song - American Idiot - "Well maybe I'm the faggot America. I'm not a part of a redneck agenda. Now everybody do the propaganda. And sing along in the age of paranoia.". Billy Joe reminded Berlin of the power of democracy "And remember one thing, regardless of the powers that be are, remember one thing, you're the fucking leaders, you have the power, don't let these bastards dictate the rest of the world or dictate your fucking life, allllrighhhhht!". Green Day then concluded with "We are the Champions" - a song that also doubled as a tribute to Freddie Mercury and Queen - the standout act of the original Live Aid.

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