Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Careering to the right ...

Post about Nicky Hager's book "Dirty Politics' on The Standard.

In May 2013 Andrea Vance wrote an article about far-Right National Party member and political strategist, Simon Lusk.  Four of Lusk’s clients in 2008 and three in 2011 were successful in being selected as National Party candidates. These included Nicky Wagner, Sam Lotu-liga, Chris Tremain and Louise Upston who was appointed Chief Whip in the 2013 cabinet reshuffle that also saw Jamie-Lee Ross, another client of Lusk’s in the 2011 selection round, promoted to Third Whip.
Vance’s article is worth re-reading to see how much of what she reported as ‘political lore’, ‘claims’, ‘rumours’ and Labour Party ‘fixation’ has been confirmed by the disclosures in Nicky Hager’s book, ‘Dirty Politics”.
Hager argues that, since Key took over as party leader from Don Brash, National has been following a ‘two-track’ strategy – fabricating a public image of Key as personable, populist and politically moderate, while a covert strategy relies heavily on unscrupulous and vicious attack politics delivered via social media – in particular, Cameron Slater’s Whaleoil blog.
These attacks have not just been on political opponents, they’ve also been used against moderates and the ‘old guard’ in the National Party itself.
Hager’s book proves that Lusk and Slater worked together to further the selection of far-Right candidates by attacking their opponents and non-compliant Party officials. The exposure of this far-Right agenda within the National Party is one of the book’s most important elements so it’s interesting that most of the mainstream media have ignored or downplayed it 1.
The internal attacks were sometimes couched in Slater’s trademark belligerent and ungracious style, and sometimes in a more subtle way – such as damning by faint praise or by posing as the guardians of ethical standards in candidate selection.
When Stuart Smith, an ex-President of the NZ Winemakers Association, successfully challenged the incumbent in the safe National seat of Kaikoura, a post on Whaleoil said:
Challenges are good for the party, they should be encouraged as they drive membership and engagement.  This challenge should also pose as a warming (sic) to meddling board members that their days of whispering campaigns and threats are over. The next people to be rinsed will be them…especially the longer serving and out of touch ones.
On November 10th 2013, in more typical Slater-style, it was claimed that Whaleoil would never take sides
unless some stupid fundy tries to break all the rules and rig selection, or if some factional war lords wearing drag try to impose a candidate on an electorate.
These sort of statements are typical of the mendacity and hypocrisy of the cabal that has used Whaleoil to conduct dirty tricks campaigns within the National Party aimed at advancing candidates who were current or potential clients of Simon Lusk.  Those who Lusk and Slater advised and helped get selected had to be a good fit with Lusk’s stated plan to build a “loose alliance of committed fiscal conservatives” to take the National Party more to the far-Right.
In “Dirty Politics”, Hager details a 2011 Whaleoil smear campaign against two candidates for the Rodney seat, Brent Robinson and Scott Simpson, and the electorate chair Cehill Pienaar.   Simpson eventually gave up and sought and won selection in Coromandel, and Pienaar resigned. The Rodney selection was won by Mark Mitchell, who was one of Lusk’s clients. (Somewhat bizarrely, in light of his attacks on him, Slater now refers to Simpson as ‘my best friend in caucus’.)
On March 21st 2014, in a post headed ‘Skullduggery in Hunua Selection” Whaleoil was at its hypocritical and mendacious worst:
Long time readers will know this blog does not support any candidate for selection in National seats, believing in fair play and ethics in selections at all times. In 2011 WOBH outed the skullduggery in Rodney where Brent Robinson and Cehill Pienaar tried to jack up a selection by not following the rules or the unwritten selection etiquette of the party. ….The electorate chair was forced to resign the day after the selection, and deservedly so as there is no place for dodgy behaviour from impartial office-holders in the National Party.
It goes on to say that “certain electorate chairs haven’t learned that they need to remain impartial” and accuses the Hunua chair, Ian McDougall, of committing the same ‘skullduggery’ as Pienaar had in Rodney – trying to influence branches over who to select to replace Paul Hutchinson who had resigned.
If this is true is (sic) an absolute disgrace and McDougall should be forced to resign immediately. There is no place in the National Party for officials elected in the expectation that they will be impartial to take partisan positions.…..The Party hierarchy needs to investigate the skullduggery in Hunua immediately. 
The gall of this is breathtaking if you know that Slater and Lusk had smeared candidates and officials in Rodney in 2011 to ensure the selection of Lusk’s client, Mark Mitchell. Lusk and Slater set up camp on the moral high ground and claimed to be acting as impartial guardians of National Party ethics and procedures whilst taking pot shots at yet another electorate chair who got in the way of their preferred candidate.
In November Slater claimed MacDougall had tried to ‘rinse’ the outgoing MP Paul Hutchinson in the past. In March Slater said that Paul Hutchinson was an ‘old duffer’ who ‘was going to get hammered by a well-organised selection challenge’.
Slater was not referring to a challenge from Kael Roberts who he’d alleged McDougall was supporting, but to the eventual winner, Andrew Bayly. Even if Andrew Bayly has no connection to Lusk or Slater, their attacks on his opponent via a smear campaign against the electorate chair means suspicion hangs over him.
In truth, anyone who has been selected for a safe National seat over the past three elections who paid for Lusk’s services, attended Lusk’s candidates’ colleges, or whose opponents were attacked on Whaleoil is tainted by association. 
Lusk was quoted by Vance as saying that Chris Tremain would not beat Labour’s Stuart Nash (who Lusk described as ‘an exceptionally gifted politician’) and this assertion was repeated on Whaleoil in March this year. Tremain duly resigned his seat.
Kate Wilkinson, who took the fall for the Pike River disaster, resigned her Waimakirriri seat. Slater claims she ‘got the arse at the same time as Heatly,mainly for being far to cosy with the unions’. She has been replaced by Matt Doocey, one of the Carter family.
Phil Heatley, who was ‘given the arse by John Key from cabinet …couldn’t see much point in hanging around’ had taken Whangarei from marginal seat status to a 12000+ majority. He resigned and has been replaced by Shane Reti.
One who did not take the hint was Colin King and in November 2013 Whaleoil was at it again with the headline “Skullduggery in Kaikoura”.
The post contained covert threats about what would happen if there was any attempt by ‘old buggers’ to influence the contest. It reminded people (who supported King) that Whaleoil has ‘eyes and ears everywhere’, that he knows ‘who they speak to, what they say and who they saying to to’ (sic). He ends by reminding people how easily Whaleoil could use its voice against them.
The seat was won by Stuart Smith who has been a National Party member for just two years. The outcome was announced at the meeting but no details were given of the votes cast for each candidate and the voting papers were destroyed immediately.
A commenter on Whaleoil’s Soapbox on June 21st confirmed what I’ve heard that a lot of grass roots National supporters in Kaikoura are angry about King’s deselection and are worried about the strong challenge from the Labour candidate. And of course there’s the off-shore oil drilling issue in Kaikoura itself.
There was widespread speculation that, prior to this election, many National Party MPs in safe seats had been told that it was time to step down. There are rumours of large cash payouts being made to sweeten the deal for some of them. Whatever the reasons and however it was managed, there has been a major clearing out of MPs – something that Slater has been crowing about and has taken delight in contrasting National’s rejuvenation’ with the retrenchment of Labour’s old guard in safe electorate seats.
Andrea Vance quoted Lusk’s prediction that the holders of several safe seats will retire including “John Key, Murray McCully, Gerry Brownlee and Bill English” and says that Lusk “confirms he is acting for potential successors.” Lusk claimed in an email to Slater that he has  “at least half a dozen people in their twenties who will be in caucus one day”.
Predicting that politicians will retire is hardly proof of great political insight, but it’s interesting that one of the senior MPs who Lusk named, resigned his seat to go onto the Party List. Bill English was succeeded in Clutha-Southland by Todd Barclay who, by the age of 23, had got a degree, worked as a lobbyist for a tobacco company and as an intern for Hekia Parata and Gerry Brownlee, and gained sufficient political knowledge and nous to justify his selection for a National citadel formerly occupied by one of the Party’s most senior and respected people.
That’s truly incredible – in the ‘impossible to believe’ sense of the word.
Another young person with political ambitions who Lusk described as a ‘client’, is Sam Johnson, who was catapulted into celebrity by being the public face of the Student Volunteer Army in the aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes.
Johnson, who was named Young New Zealander of the Year in 2012, is the sort of young, politically ambitious National Party member that Lusk wants to get on board – advancing the far-Right agenda by creating long term relationships based on shared ideology and – importantly – indebtedness.
People who get places by being associated with unscrupulous ideologues who use overt and covert dirty tricks, will always be hostages to fortune. That fact alone makes this a serious threat to democracy and should concern all of us – the more so because the influence of far-Right political strategists like Lusk is not the full picture. There’s also the influence of big business in who gets into safe seats in electorates and into high places on the party list.
Hager points to the use of Slater’s blog by commercial interests, like tobacco industry lobbyist Carrick Graham who has deep family roots in the National Party.  In exchange for significant sums of money, Slater placed articles under his name on Whaleoil that were written by Graham. Had these openly promoted smoking that would be bad enough but, like the candidate selection scenario, the Whaleoil articles smeared the reputations of anyone opposed to Big Tobacco.
There are at least two National Party candidates who were lobbyists for tobacco companies, Todd Barclay and Hutt South candidate Chris Bishop who, at 49 on the list, would be expected to make it into Parliament unless National’s vote collapses. Then there’s the influence of the dairy, alcohol and oil industries whose interests are also best served by a government that minimises controls over how big business operates.
The truth the New Zealand electorate needs to face is that the far-Right smear campaigns have not just been against the Left but have been waged against National’s ‘wets’ – those who Slater and Co disparage as ‘old buggers’, ‘old duffers’, ‘old tuskers‘, ‘numpties‘, the ‘sitting scum‘, the MPs with a ‘difficult missus’ – and worse.
We all know how this would have been spun by the Right and their supporters in the media had anything like this grubby shoe been on the other foot.  The evidence of that is in the way the rightwing media has spun innocuous and tangential issues into major controversies to whip up political and moral indignation against the Left in this and the previous two elections.
There is NO leftwing equivalent of Whaleoil or of Lusk whose objective is to take the National Party permanently to the far-Right. The Left and moderates in the National Party need to realize that the polarization that started with the hi-jacking of the Labour Party by neo-liberals in the 1980s is being accelerated and intensified by a National Party that has been hijacked by the same type of soulless, money-grubbing bastards. It’s beyond time we sent them ALL packing.
Te Whare Whero

  1. A conspiracy theorist could be forgiven for thinking that’s because drawing attention to those sitting MPs and candidates who are associated with Lusk could have far more impact on the outcome of the election than Judith Collins’ leaking of information to Slater and fast tracking OIA requests, and the question of who is in charge of the SIS.

Dirty Politics

I find myself getting impatient with the endless chatter about the legal and technical minutiae of some aspects of Hager's book because the essence of it is abuse of trust and betrayal of democracy. These are issues that, if not resolved properly, will further polarise the country - into rich and poor, left and right,  north and south.

It has definitely polarised journalists. Any media person who wants to be taken seriously (by anyone with intellect and integrity)  should have demanded National take these allegations on board and investigate them - and dug deeper into many of them. Anything less is a complete abrogation of everything a journalist is supposed to be.

Talking heads like Hoskings and Henry are so light weight and so transparently right wing I expect nothing more from them. I expect nothing better from ex-Radio NZ journalist turned Radio Live host, Sean Plunket, who has slipped into his role as a lightweight, rightwing gap filler between noisome advertisements as if it had been tailor-made for him.

But Radio NZ is a different matter - it has to be ethical high ground of broadcasting. We expect intelligent, informed, hard hitting but scrupulously even-handed journalism. Guyon Espiner's interview of David Cunliffe on Morning Report on August 14th was a shameful breach of that trust especially as he had just given National politician Stephen Joyce an easy ride.  RNZ staff are now being more measured in tone and manner and are taking great care to carefully spell out the political allegiances of all people they interview but August 26th's interview suggests that Espiner is incapable of interviewing Cunliffe without falling into a hectoring and personalised style.

One question I ask myself - and all journalists worthy of the name should be asking - is why didn't Key do the statesmanlike thing and say something along the lines of : "we dispute these allegations obviously but we take them seriously and will investigate them thoroughly because we want to prove to all New Zealanders that they can trust us, that we are above this sort of dirty politicking'.

Another question I ask myself is how would this be playing out if the political shoe was on the other foot?

The answer to the first is pretty obvious - National has been engaging in the two-track strategy that Hager describes and can't own up to the dirty tricks element of it without scuppering the squeaky clean 'President Key' element. It might also be that, having given the likes of Slater, Collins and Lusk the approval to engage in filthy politicking, Key has unleashed something he can't control.

The answer to the second is that those sections of the mainstream media, which are turning themselves inside out to deny, divert and deflect the issue away from Team Key and back onto Hager and the Left, no longer try to maintain even the pretence of journalistic integrity. They spin innocuous and tangential issues into controversies to embarrass, confuse and divide the Left - and to whip up moral panics amongst voters with hair-trigger responses to certain issues.

The double standard that has been operating more and more overtly in the media is now so glaringly obvious that even a dumbed down / cowed / bribed / confused / disheartened populace must surely realise it's beyond time to wake up and take sides.

You either side with the Right on this issue and argue all that matters is winning, even if the race is a complete sham, or you stand up for those core values all Kiwis are supposed to hold dear - egalitarianism, natural justice and common decency.

I know that these took a terrible beating when the neo-libs hi-jacked Labour and took over the economy in the 1980s and bought the Kiwi soul for a handful of baubles with built in obsolescence - but some vestiges are still  there.

I grew up with them but when I came back here after 25 years away I was horrified at the shallow, brittle selfishness of so many Kiwis.  It didn't feel like my country any more. I would rather be that slightly shabby, socially awkward, shy but decent and honest to the core nation which is the idealised image I have of the NZ I grew up in - than this polarised, unfair, mercenary little shit hole it is fast becoming.  I know old NZ had its ugly side but why haven't we dispensed with that and kept the decent bits - instead of the other way round?

This episode has made me ashamed for the second time in my life to be a New Zealander.  The first was when I read the disgusting attacks on Helen Clark in the lead up to the 2008 election. I was critical of her policies and politics for many reasons but the viciousness and cruelty of the attacks on her shocked me to the core - and I'm no shrinking violet.

NZ has become a country where the term 'do-gooder' is used as a pejorative. People who care about and try to protect animals, forests, rivers and the ocean, are mocked and detested and labelled as more dangerous to the common good than callous and heedless exploiters and despoilers.

Kind, empathetic people are derided as  'bleeding heart liberals'.

The singularity of the individual people who make up the  'poor'  is masked by the irremovable label of 'benefit bludger'.

Popular commentators can call poor people the 'feral underclass' and make public calls for their sterilisation and be feted for it.

A conspiracy to influence candidate selection in the National Party to take it further to the far-Right is uncovered and it is almost completely ignored.

An unscrupulous bully makes a most cruelly insensitive comment about a personal tragedy and is given a media award. Many of his fan base thought his ugly comment was funny.

The same person is shown to have engaged in filthy politics and a large number of Kiwis including members of the government and the Prime Minister can happily live with that and excuse it as just the normal rough and tumble of political life.

It is not. It is all corrosive and destructive;  it harms people and it dissolves the glue that binds us together as a society. It is unacceptable on every level and by every civilised standard.

The issues raised in Dirty Politics won't go away.

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Great Race

There is a widespread belief that all the poor are poor because of the ‘bad choices' they make - which  is as absurd as arguing that all the rich are rich because of their ‘good choices'.

Arguing that we can ‘choose’ what level of wealth we want and acquire / retain is either an expression of extreme naivety and ignorance of both contemporary reality and history, or, it’s the work of a Troll. 

(Troll is an acronym for ‘thick, rightwing, obnoxious, loudmouthed lout’, or - the Type II variant – a ‘two-faced, rightwing, opinionated, labrynthine liar’. The latter is far more annoying because they crave attention and will even self-flagellate in order to get people to take notice of them.)

There can be no equality of choice without genuine equality of opportunity and there can be no genuine equality of opportunity because the  system cannot tolerate it.

The simple, inescapable fact is that the capitalist system is based on a fundamental inequality. The only way those who lack economic and / or political power can force positive change is in combination with others to change the system – and history is littered with the evidence of the use of the State by the powerful to prevent the powerless from combining to force change.

The rich and powerful used to argue that god gave them their wealth and power but the pesky little notion of human rights pretty much put the kibosh on that and so the ideology of the ‘meritocracy’ was born. We have the same grossly unequal division of wealth and status but it is justified on the grounds that the rich and powerful are more meritorious or deserving because they are more talented, hard working, better educated etc. They make GOOD CHOICES.

The flip side of that dirty little coin is the notion that the poor are less deserving because they are stupid, feckless, lazy etc. They make BAD CHOICES.

The simple, inescapable fact is that the global capitalist system does not and cannot accommodate ALL people being rich – or even ALL people being well off.  It creates and perpetuates a global class of poor because it needs it.

The ‘poor’ are of course not homogenous – there are degrees of poverty. In relatively affluent NZ we have very few utterly poor people but a growing number of relatively poor. Most working people are kept afloat by credit extended to them by foreign owned banks which gouge profits out of their debtors, and our relative affluence rests on a vast pool of impoverished people in other countries. The presence of the world's utterly poor are a reminder to the relatively poor of countries like ours what might happen to them if they challenge the definition of success or seek to sabotage the Great Race.

Capitalism sets up a continuous and compulsory ‘race’ to what it defines as ‘success’ -ie the accumulation of private wealth in the form of money, land and things. The higher placed you are in the race, the more wealthy you get and the more status, things and advantages you can buy.

By any objective measure, the accumulation of more wealth and things than one can ever need or sensibly use may be said to be the very opposite of ‘success’. It may in fact be said to be a symptom of a highly disordered or poorly formed personality – an extreme form of ‘hoarding’.  It is very telling that, in a poor person, hoarding is judged to be pathological; in a rich person, it’s judged to be a virtue.

There is a cabal of people whose function it is to present the 'race to success' as both essential, desirable and inherently fair, i.e. to skew reality.

A key part of their function is the portrayal of those who have won the race so often they now don’t need to run at all but just collect their winnings, and those who are in the process of winning or being well placed - as being more talented, skilled, harder working. These people are deemed to have  made GOOD CHOICES.

These lackeys also have the job of portraying those who always trail in last, don’t make the finish line or can’t even get to the start line, as being less talented, lazy, feckless, to have wasted their time watching tele instead of training or traded in their running shoes for fags and booze etc etc.  These are the people who have made BAD CHOICES.

An example of the pernicious work of these lackeys is the labelling of the ‘feral underclass’.  These people are so much consigned to the realms of the barely human they don’t have children, they ‘breed’ or ‘spawn’, and proto-fascist commentators can call for their sterilisation and not only keep their jobs, but be feted for their perspicacity and courage for 'telling it like it is'. 

The system's lackeys have to do this sort of thing to disguise the rather obvious fact that the tiny minority of the most advantaged people - the global elite - either don't have to run the race at all or they get to jog along on wide, smooth, level inside lanes.

In contrast,  the outer lanes not only become progressively more crowded with runners, they get more steeply cambered, narrow and uneven.

What makes the race even more inequitable is that the start is not staggered to allow for the far longer distances of the outer lanes. 

Grossly and intrinsically unfair though it is, if the outer lane runners complain or combine to boycott the race until it is made more fair – or – worst sin of all – question the rationale of the race itself– they will find themselves pushed even further back from the start line or forced to run in hobbles or blind folded.  They may even be banned from the race entirely and join the ranks of the utterly poor whose only function is to remind the relatively poor of what might happen to them if they don’t keep running in their allotted lanes.

Of course, a few of the middle lane runners manage to elbow and barge their way onto the inner tracks, and a tiny number on the outer tracks get well placed by virtue of  extraordinary talent or extreme viciousness or sheer luck. These few exceptions are highlighted by the lackeys to add weight to the lie that where you get to run and where you are placed is down to the CHOICES you make.

But the fact is that, however hard those in the middle and outer lanes run, most of them can never win or even be placed.  Some of the middle lane runners console themselves with the thought that at least they are beating all the deadbeats crammed into the outer most lanes. They know that the innermost lanes are reserved for the exclusive use of the elite – as it has always been – and may know deep in their hearts that it is both grossly unfair and morally indefensible but, instead of protesting the unfairness, some of them get quite brutal in their defence of it and turn on those with fewer advantages than them. 

This of course helps the global elite who continue to glide along on the smooth path of privilege  secure in the knowledge that the ranks of the disadvantaged are being kept busy blaming and beating up on each other. 

Fee fie foe fit, I smell the stench of a hypocrite ….

These head lines on Yahoo!Xtra yesterday - just about sum up the world we live in.

'Kate Middelton's brother making edible selfless' - the clever little chap has set up a business printing Instagram snaps on marshmallows.


'Australian Boy in shocking Syrian picture' - a young boy, reportedly the son of an Australian jihadist in Syria, is seen posing with a Syrian soldier's head. 

The story is that Syrian government soldiers captured by the Islamic State jihadists are beheaded and their heads are impaled on fences and used as props in pictures that the righteous upholders of Islam post on Twitter and Facebook.  

It's funny how these maniacal anti-westerners are so into western media and imagery  - eg. images of them posing, legs spread, in front of a dick extension (car) holding a dick extension (gun) in each hand - how much more junk-American could you get?

I detest all men of violence and all proselytising religious fundamentalists but I especially detest the sociopaths who cynically manipulate them. 

So - why are we suddenly seeing these horrifying images splashed all over the internet (on some Christian fundy sites they're shown in all their gory glory, on MSM sites the heads are tastefully blocked out)?

Could it be to do with the Australian government's plans to introduce changes to the anti-terrorism laws - i.e. "broaden the listing criteria for terrorist organisations, lower the threshold for arrest without warrant for terrorism offences, extend police and intelligence agencies’ powers to stop, question and detain suspects, and make it easier for the Australian federal police to seek control orders on people returning from fighting abroad."

The Muslim community in Australia is justifiably appalled at the implications of these changes which target Muslims - so how very useful to have proof of Australian jihadists involved in heinous war crimes in Syria.

The stench of hypocrisy is unbearable. 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Economy, effectiveness and efficiency - yeah Right

So - Gary Romano who took the fall for the Fonterra botulism scare was head hunted by Shanghai Penguin - the company which bought the Crafar farms (the original purchase of which was financed by loans made to Crafar by Fonterra) and which are managed by the huge State Owned Enterprise  Landcorp which is planning to move out of direct land ownership into land management in partnership with the private sector.

A NZ Herald finance pundit says in March :  "Don't read from this that Pengxin is about to rapidly ramp up its operations in New Zealand anytime soon to form itself into a vertically integrated competitor to Fonterra. The company is more likely to look across the Tasman where Chinese investment in the sector is stepping up in advance of expectations that a bilateral free trade agreement will be notched between Australia and China."

Hmm - this is the company which has majority holding in the Synlait farms in Canterbury 
which included being given conservation land.

At present this company with no plans 'anytime soon to form itself into a vertically integrated competitor to Fonterra' has a deal in train to buy the 14000 hectare Lochinver Station in the central North Island which the Nats support.

Just as the warmongers in Israel launch the accusation of anti-semitism against who criticises their lunatic actions, the National Government in NZ launches the accusation of 'xenophobia' against anyone who criticises their lunatic short-termism which is nowhere more obvious than in the sale of vast tracts of dairy land to an offshore competitor to the 'industry' which has been allowed to become the foundation of our economy.