Friday, 9 October 2015

Selling The Bigger Picture: Tim Groser Brings Home The TPP.

Adding Perspective: New Zealand's Trade Minister, Tim Groser, interjects during the Atlanta media conference announcing the settlement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership: “Look, long after the details of this negotiation on things like tons of butter have been regarded as a footnote in history, the bigger picture of what we’ve achieved today will be what remains.”
ON THE DAY the deal was done, Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, had this to say about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP):
“You will hear much about the importance of the TPP for ‘free trade’. The reality is that this is an agreement to manage its members’ trade and investment relations – and to do so on behalf of each country’s most powerful business lobbies. Make no mistake: It is evident from the main outstanding issues, over which the negotiators are still haggling, that the TPP is not about free trade.”
Certainly a genuine free trade agreement would have offered New Zealand much more than the TPP. Rather than trying to work up some enthusiasm for a deal that offers staggered tariff reductions over decades, a genuine free trade agreement would have had New Zealanders celebrating their farmers’ full and immediate access to the vast markets of the USA and Japan.
Tim Groser, New Zealand’s acerbic Trade Minister, would dismiss such expectations as wholly inappropriate to what he calls the world of power politics. At the media conference marking the negotiations’ successful conclusion, Mr Groser summed-up his view of the TPP with the following interjection:
“Look, long after the details of this negotiation on things like tons of butter have been regarded as a footnote in history, the bigger picture of what we’ve achieved today will be what remains.”
By which he meant, presumably, that the TPP represents much more than the sum of its thirty (still secret) chapters: that it is in and of itself a positive contribution to the welfare of the human species.
And yet, on the basis of what little information has so far been released about the TPP, this is a difficult argument to stand up. What, for example, is positive about the extension of copyright from 50 to 70 years? Or the ability of powerful pharmaceutical companies to extend the life of their patents for an additional three years? Far from freeing-up the commerce of the Pacific Rim, these measures will only restrict it further. Since when was free trade about increasing the monopoly power of huge corporations?
“Since forever!”, Noam Chomsky would, waspishly, reply. According to the dissident professor from MIT: “Globalisation [of which the TPP is a classic manifestation] is the result of powerful governments, especially that of the United States, pushing trade deals and other accords down the throats of the world’s people to make it easier for corporations and the wealthy to dominate the economies of nations around the world without having obligations to the peoples of those nations.”
If this is, indeed, the “bigger picture” to which the efforts of our Trade Minister and his negotiating team have contributed, then the people of New Zealand could be in trouble.
Under the provisions of the TPP, the New Zealand tradition of coming up with creative collective solutions to specific social problems (ACC and Pharmac spring to mind) will no longer be permissible. Henceforth, “solutions” will be the exclusive purview of big (i.e. foreign) corporations. Massive financial compensation will be extracted from any government foolhardy enough to put itself between these corporate predators and their prey. Adjudicated by tribunals composed of three carefully vetted corporate lawyers, “Investor State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) referrals now constitute a clear and present danger to the sovereignty of all but the most powerful nation states.
In the words of Professor Andrew Geddis of the University of Otago, if New Zealand signs up to the TPP “we are going to change how our country is run into something else.”
That “something else” may turn out to be a big deal, says Professor Geddis, or it may not. But why put our constitution at risk in the first place? Do we really want to “find ourselves reasonably frequently hanging on the decision of three private individuals who are deciding if we are allowed to have a policy in place without having to pay many millions of dollars to an overseas company.”
Very little in the Trade Minister’s “bigger picture”, it seems, is “free”. Nor does “trade” constitute the TPP’s dominant theme. Rather, Mr Groser’s “achievement” is mostly about the application of constant and irresistible pressure to force open the markets of weaker economies to the investors of the stronger.
“Managed” trade, indeed – but not by us.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 October 2015.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Securing "Buy-In" For The TPP: The Deep State Takes Over.

Checkmate! Labour must be forced to restore the bi-partisan consensus on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for fear that the voters might be given the chance to elect a government committed to its rejection.
IT IS NOW CLEAR that Helen Clark's Trans-Pacific Partnership advocacy in New York was just the beginning. The opening move in a chess game that will end with the Labour Party knocking over its King and returning to the bi-partisan fold on the issue of Free Trade. To achieve this turnaround will require the mobilisation of all of the non-elected elements of the New Zealand political system.

Applying the maximum of public pressure to Labour will be the responsibility of the news media and the numerous business lobby groups. Behind the scenes, however, Labour MPs will find themselves on the receiving end of one-on-one briefings from old friends and colleagues (senior civil servants, leading academics) "deeply concerned" that Labour has positioned itself in the wrong place, on the wrong issue.

These "old friends" of the Labour Party will warn Caucus members that their failure to support the TPP will only end up driving Labour further and further to the Left. Just as they were beginning to make up much-needed ground, the party will spurn Middle New Zealand for the tin-foil-hat-wearing brigade. Not only will this render Labour unelectable, but it will also serve as an invitation for the news media to start casting about for a Caucus member who's prepared to act in a more responsible fashion.

That such individuals exist within Labour's caucus is indisputable. That money and resources will, very swiftly, begin flowing in the direction of these TPP supporters is equally certain. Metaphorical megaphones will also be handed to TPP supporters within the wider labour movement. Expect to see them popping-up again and again on radio and television.

Even further behind the scenes, a mounting surveillance effort will engage the resources of both the SIS and the GCSB. Relying on the legal clauses that empower these agencies to protect the "economic well-being" of New Zealand, leading figures in the Anti-TPP movement will have their communications intercepted and their movements tracked. Opposition strategies, being known, are more easily countered. Any material likely to prove embarrassing, or, even better, discrediting, will find its way to sympathetic bloggers and/or journalists.

Why will the key elements of the Deep State: the upper echelons of the news media; senior civil servants and academics; judges; the Intelligence Community; act in this way? Why is the restoration of bi-partisanship on the Free Trade issue so vital? The answer is brutally simple.

Were Labour's opposition to the TPP allowed to stand, an opportunity would open up for voters to elect a government committed to its rejection. The election of such a government would not only put at risk all the secret material pertaining to the negotiation of the TPP, but it would also force into the open all of the deeply undemocratic assumptions underpinning the deal. Such exposure would seriously compromise the reputations of the politicians and civil servants involved in negotiating the TPP. Even more seriously, it would expose the true intentions of New Zealand's "friends" and "allies". It is the duty of the Deep State to make sure that such potentially catastrophic political revelations never happen.

With Labour and National - the two parties indispensable to the formation of stable government in New Zealand - both singing from the same TPP song-sheet, that fraction of the New Zealand electorate opposed to the TPP will find itself reduced to voting for a party (or parties) too small to successfully negotiate their country's exit from the TPP.

To paraphrase Henry Kissinger: The Deep State doesn't see why it should stand by and watch New Zealand's membership of the TPP put at risk because of the irresponsibility of its own people.

This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Wednesday, 7 October 2015.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Expressions Of Hatred.

Bad Boy, R&B Entertainer, Chris Brown. While Brown’s lyrics continue to ooze sadistic violence and hate-filled contempt for women, any expressions of contrition and remorse (especially as the price of entry to this country) should not be taken seriously.
HATE, NO LESS THAN LOVE, seeks outward expression. The observation is neither new nor profound, but it’s true. Just consider how much happier and more productive the world would be if only love could be expressed. If hatred’s dreadful energy could be sealed-up completely within the haters themselves – transforming them into tiny black holes of negativity from which nothing hurtful or destructive could ever again escape.
Unfortunately, hatred is seldom satisfied with just one victim. Indeed, it is the corrosive effect on the individual human personality that makes hatred’s outward social expression so devastating. One has only to look at the photograph of Adam Lanza, the 20 year-old perpetrator of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, to see how completely self-hatred can hollow a person out. Behind Lanza’s unnervingly wide eyes there is a terrifying absence. Hatred has created the perfect mechanism for killing 20 children and 7 adults, at point-blank range, with a Bushmaster .223 calibre XM15-E2S rifle.
Adam Lanza - A terrifying absence.
The expression on the face of Chris Mercer, the 26 year-old responsible for the deaths of 9 students at Umpqua Community College, in the US state of Oregon, just last week, is similarly blank. As if all that was worthwhile in this young man has been utterly consumed, leaving only an all-consuming rage against the god he blamed for his increasing isolation and despair. Neighbours describe Mercer “sitting alone in his room, in the dark, with this little light.” On 1 October 2015 even that little light went out. “Are you a Christian?” Mercer is alleged to have asked his victims – before pulling the trigger of his Taurus .40 calibre pistol.
What is it about the United States that generates these mass shootings? Is hatred hollowing-out a whole nation? Will the world soon be faced with an American gaze as blank and pitiless as Lanza’s and Mercer’s. Or, has the United States already reached that point? And, if it has, when did it happen – and why?
In her powerful historical anthem, My Country Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying, the Native American songwriter, Buffy Sainte-Marie, refers to “the genocide basic to this country’s birth” – boldly rendering the whole of US history as an exercise in externalised hatred. In similar vein, President Abraham Lincoln, in his second (1865) inaugural address, speculated that the still-raging civil war might represent God’s judgement on the morally flawed American republic:
“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
Not that the massive death-toll of the American Civil War was enough to slake the thirst of American hatred. As the African-American chanteuse, Billie Holiday, revealed in her haunting 1939 recording of Abel Meeropol’s poem, Strange Fruit, that cup was far from empty:
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Tragically, all the violence inflicted on African-American men has not prevented them from projecting their anger, hurt and self-loathing onto African-American women. Hatred has a way of sucking-up and kicking-down: celebrating the perpetrators’ violence by encouraging its victims to become victimisers themselves. Usually by unleashing pain and suffering on those even lower-down on the social pecking-order.
Chris Maurice Brown was born in Virginia, and raised in a household where this sort of male-on-female domestic violence was commonplace. Sadly, the 26 year-old R&B entertainer has gone on to replicate the dysfunctional behaviour he experienced as a child in his own adult relationships. Even more problematically, he routinely validates the objectification of women, along with the violence it both inspires and excuses, in his music. Brown’s critics have characterised many of the lyrics of his recordings as hate speech against women.
Convicted of assaulting his partner, Rihanna, in February 2009, Brown has found it increasingly difficult to perform overseas. His planned 2015 Australasian tour will proceed only if the Australian and New Zealand authorities grant him a special entry visa. New Zealand Campaigners against domestic violence are urging the National Government to keep him out.
It is difficult to fault their argument. While Brown’s lyrics continue to ooze sadistic violence and hate-filled contempt for women, any expressions of contrition and remorse (especially as the price of entry to this country) should not be taken seriously.
Love expresses itself in forgiveness. Hatred, by contrast, just doubles-down.
This essay was originally published in The Press Of Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

The TPPA Deal Is Done: Reflections On The Struggles To Come.

NEW ZEALANDERS are heading into a great storm of change. Much that is precious to us will pass away. As Pakeha we have grown accustomed to being the colonisers rather than the colonised. Loss of power will be a new experience for us. As the second great wave of colonisation washes over us, our best chance of survival will be to reach out our hands to the tangata whenua - whose feet are sunk deepest in the earth of Aotearoa. In the storm of change that is coming, the strength which that position gives to Maori will make them the only solid point around which everything else twists and turns. If we, as Pakeha, do not reach out and grasp that strength, the fury of the storm will blow us far away.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Deliberate Political Sabotage: The “Darling Of The Left” Comes Out In Favour Of The TPP.

Who Loves Ya Baby? Last Thursday’s (1/10/15) statement from the so-called "Darling of the Left", Helen Clark, in which she signalled her strong support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (as it now should be called) was no mistake. It was an act of deliberate political sabotage.
THE MOMENT THE WORDS were out of her mouth the political wreckage began to pile up. On Radio Live, Sean Plunket positively whooped with delight. It took only a nanosecond for the right-wing shock-jock to register the implications of Helen Clark’s public endorsement of John Key’s position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Now that the “Darling of the Left” had come out in its favour, Plunket reassured his talk-back audience, the TPP Debate is surely over. Someone, he said, should tell the “tin-foil hat wearers”.
Those who cherish Clark’s memory as Labour’s most successful leader since Peter Fraser, have offered numerous excuses for her actions. She was misquoted, they insist. She didn’t understand how her words would be distorted, others say. Living in New York, she must have been unaware of the way the TPP debate had evolved in New Zealand. Helen Clark would never have knowingly delivered such a brutal blow to her own party.
Seven years after her defeat by John Key’s National Party, Clark’s interest in Labour remains undiminished. Kept informed of its every move by a coterie of loyal supporters, she cannot credibly claim to have been ignorant of the impact her little encomium on the importance of international trade would have.
“What always haunts a Prime Minister”, said Clark, “is: ‘Will there be a series of trade blocs develop that you are not part of?’ Because that is unthinkable for New Zealand as an export-oriented, small trading nation. So of course New Zealand has to be in on the action with the TPP and go for the very best deal it can as the agreement expands beyond the original four economies to a wider regional agreement.”
John Key and his Trade Minister, Tim Groser, have yet to set out the argument for signing the TPP as succinctly as Clark did in New York – or with more force. There is absolutely no way that such a well-considered statement could’ve just slipped out – by mistake.
Ever since taking up her position as the Head of the United Nations Development Programme, the No. 3 position in the United Nations, Clark has been scrupulously careful to avoid making any kind of statement that could, in the slightest degree, impinge on the domestic politics of her homeland – or those of any other UN member, for that matter. And yet, there she was, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her erstwhile political nemesis, offering eloquent support to one of his government’s most controversial policies.
No, last Thursday’s (1/10/15) statement from Helen Clark was no mistake. It was an act of deliberate political sabotage.
But what could be so important to Labour’s former leader that she was willing to drive a dagger into the back of Andrew Little, its present incumbent? Was it spite? Had Clark taken umbrage at Labour’s decision to move away from the rock-solid bi-partisanship on free-trade that she and Phil Goff had made a cornerstone of their government’s foreign policy? Was she hoping to spook Little into some sort of last minute revision of Labour’s highly conditional support for the TPP? After all, the spectacle of the two people who have governed New Zealand since 1999, speaking with one voice on the TPP, was bound to pack a hefty punch. Or, maybe, it was simply a case of: ‘I’ll agree to scratch your back on TPP, if you’ll agree to scratch mine when the time comes to elect the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.’
No matter how reluctantly arrived at, the only conclusion to be drawn from this episode is that Clark’s transition, from principled social-democrat, to morally desiccated member of the international administrative elite, is now complete. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that, throughout her career, Clark was never comfortable about stepping too far away from the well-trodden path. She may never have liked neoliberalism, but if it was the only game in town, then she would learn to play.
Sean Plunket is quite right about the undermining effect Clark’s words are bound to have on the Anti-TPP Movement – especially among its middle-aged and middle-class supporters. He is, however, quite wrong in his assessment of Clark’s status among genuinely progressive New Zealanders.
“Darling of the Left” she may have been on Thursday morning, but by Thursday evening Helen Clark was anything but.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 5 October 2015.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Is Australia Sending Us A Message?

The Friendly Face Of Australia: In a newspaper advertisement published across the Middle East, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell bluntly informs seaborne refugees that they will not make Australia home. So visceral is Australia's fear of "boat people" that it has proved willing to erode its own and its Pacific neighbours' democratic rights in order to "defend the borders". Not even the strong historical relationship with New Zealand has escaped the Australians' exclusionist madness.
THE NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT puts the number of Kiwis incarcerated in Australian detention centres at 184. Seventy-five of those detained deportees are being held in the isolated detention facility on Christmas Island. This lonely spec of Australian territory rises out of the Indian Ocean 2,608 kilometres north of Perth and 2,748 kilometres west of Darwin. If everybody had their own, Christmas Island would be part of Indonesia – from whose shores it is separated by just 500 kilometres.
That’s the whole point, of course. Christmas Island’s proximity to the Indonesian coast made it the obvious forward staging point in Australia’s long-running battle against refugees making for Australia in boats.
These “boat people” bring out the very worst in Australians. A visceral hatred of “Asians” that erupts from somewhere deep in the Aussie psyche. A primal fear, perhaps, of being over-run and destroyed – just as the First Peoples of Australia were over-run and destroyed by the progeny of Mother England. Australia’s bad conscience is projected onto these terrified human-beings. “Real” Australians see hordes of “illegal migrants” headed for the Lucky Country, and imagine it being swamped under a tsunami of unwanted brown and yellow flesh.
Not that there’s any shortage of dark primal secrets for the Aussie psyche to project. Like the genteelly named “Sunday Hunts”. Those still unacknowledged campaigns of genocidal murder that, in grim historical anticipation of the Nazis best efforts to render Eastern Europe “Juden Frei”, emptied the squatters’ sprawling estates of unwanted Aboriginals. Remembering, too, the “Blackbirders” of the early 1900s. Those sea captains and their brutal crews who raided the islands of Melanesia, carrying off hundreds of men and boys to slave in the sugar plantations of Northern Queensland. Oh yes, there’s much more than just the “White Australia Policy” to lay at our Aussie “cousins’” door.
It would be funny if it wasn’t all so squalid and so sad. A nation founded on the brutal policy of exiling another nation’s “criminal classes” to a far off land on the other side of the world, rounding up their own “convicts” and exiling them to another country of which they know next to nothing. Forty years ago, to be descended from a convict was something an Australian would happily boast about. Proof that even the most wretched of human-beings has something worthwhile to pass down the generations. That the only thing distinguishing the Squatters from the Convicts was that the former’s crimes almost always went unpunished.
But that’s not the way they look at things in Australia’s electorally decisive suburbs. They don’t want to know about their country’s history, and see nothing worth celebrating in its egalitarian traditions. Tragically, the suburbs’ grasping materialism, withered social values, unreconstructed racism and xenophobia has become the Royal Road to electoral success. This brutal fact has made cowards out of virtually the entire Australian political class. To the point where “stop the boats” has become the touchstone of electability for both the Liberal and Labour parties.
The big problem with this bi-partisan “stop the boats” policy, is that it is utterly incompatible with democratic norms and values (not to mention in complete contravention of a multitude of international laws and treaties). It’s why the “boat people” had to be moved to places offshore where the protection of Australia’s laws was no longer available. Hence John Howard’s “Pacific Solution” – a sort of “blackbirding” in reverse.
Papua-New Guinea’s Manus Island presented less of a problem for the Australian authorities than the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru. As a former colony of Australia, Papua-New Guinea has yet to free itself from the corruption choking practically every institution inherited from its colonial masters. Nauru, on the other hand, is a powerless and impoverished statelet for which not only Australia, but the UK and New Zealand, have long-standing responsibilities. Australia’s corruption of Nauru would be harder to hide.
Is it merely coincidence that the arrival of the first Kiwis at Christmas Island coincided with New Zealand’s insistence that the independence and probity of Nauru’s justice system (which New Zealand funds) be fully restored? Australia knows that its Pacific Solution cannot exist alongside functioning courts and democratic institutions. Has New Zealand’s courageous defence of the rule of law in Nauru thrown a spanner in the works? Is the rising number of detained Kiwi citizens some sort of message?
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 2 October 2015.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Investigating The Democratic Sausage: Ika Seafood Bar & Grill’s Table Talk No. 6 “One Year On From Dirty Politics – What Has Changed?”

The Journalist As Hero: “One Year On From Dirty Politics – What Has Changed?” Ika Seafood Restaurant & Bar’s Table Talk No. 6 featured Dirty Politics’ author, Nicky Hager; left-leaning columnist, Dita Di Boni; veteran business writer, Fran O’Sullivan; along with the evening’s emcee, the martyred and marvellous, John Campbell.
BOBBY KENNEDY often joked that democracy is like a good sausage: tastes great – but you really don’t want to know what goes into it. Otto von Bismarck said something very similar about the making of laws. Regardless of its provenance, the point being made is an important one. The stuff of which politics is made: self-interest, class prejudice, religious bigotry, economic and social necessity; is often ugly and disreputable. That the final product so often turns out to be publicly palatable, is proof of our politicians’ over-riding need to preserve the system’s legitimacy in the eyes of those who elect them.
The distinguishing characteristic of left-wing investigative journalism, however, is that its practitioners are never satisfied with just the taste of Democracy’s sausage. They will not rest until a full list of ingredients, how they were combined, and for how long they’ve been cooked, is prepared and presented to the public. As often as not this is done without the slightest public encouragement, and the results are frequently received with considerable animosity. That’s because Democratic Sausage is generally consumed by the voters in blissful (and often wilful) ignorance of its contents.
They really don’t want to know what goes into it.
The people attending the Ika Seafood Bar & Grill's Table Talk No. 6, “One Year On From Dirty Politics – What Has Changed?”, disagreed. That’s because the journalists on stage: Dirty Politics’ author, Nicky Hager; left-leaning columnist, Dita Di Boni; veteran business writer, Fran O’Sullivan; and the evening’s emcee, the martyred and marvellous, John Campbell – along with the people packing out the restaurant to hear them – all fervently believe that the voting public not only has the right, but also the duty, to understand how Democratic Sausage is made.
There’s no disputing that Hager’s Dirty Politics reveals an unprecedented amount of information about what was going on behind the scenes of New Zealand politics in 2014. The wealth of material contained in Hager’s book could not, however, have been acquired outside of the thoroughly digitalised society we’ve become. Thousands of hacked e-mail communications to and from Cameron Slater’s Whaleoil blogsite had been passed on to Hager, revealing a host of startling connections between Slater, the Prime Minister’s Office, Justice Minister Judith Collins, numerous journalists, and a strange coterie of behind-the-scenes movers and shakers calling themselves “The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy”.
That similar exercises in political character assassination, media manipulation, and influence-peddling went on in the past is equally indisputable. It was only very rarely, however, that evidence of such dirty deeds ever came to light. The shrewd operators of the pre-digital era took care to leave no paper trails for pesky journalists to follow. Granted, telephone landlines could be tapped, but not, in the usual course of events, by the Left. Nor was there an Official Information Act to trouble wayward civil servants and Cabinet Ministers. Dirty politics was easier to get away with in those days – and investigative journalism much harder!
The result, paradoxically, was that public trust and confidence in our political institutions was much higher in the past than it is today. What the journalistic eye could not see, the electorate didn’t grieve over.
Everything changed in the 1970s, however, when the whistle-blowing of Daniel Ellsberg, and the investigative efforts of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, forced the American people to confront the realities of Democratic Sausage-making in an unprecedented way. The Pentagon Papers exposed decades of dishonesty about the Vietnam War on the part of the US Government. And the Watergate Scandal revealed to the people of the United States that their President, Richard Nixon, was a crook. Overnight, investigative reporters became heroes, and the fearless Fourth Estate was hailed as a more effective guardian of the citizen’s rights and freedoms than any politician.
Heroic Journalism: The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose reporting brought down all the President's men - and, in August 1974, the President himself.
Many Baby-Boomers convinced themselves that this was how it would be from now on – but they were wrong. The blossoming of media freedom in the 1970s was actually an aberration – not a new and beautiful thing. The owners of the news media, frightened by the effective deposition of a President by the news media, tightened-up their control of newsrooms and reined-in the efforts of investigative journalism worldwide. There would be no more Watergates.
Partly this was in defence of the beleaguered capitalist system, but it was also about giving the news media’s consumers what they wanted. And what the readers, listeners and viewers of the late 1970s wanted most was to get the hell out of the sausage factory. They had seen enough. The truth made them uncomfortable. They wanted to believe that all was well with their democracy. That Richard Nixon was an exception, not the rule. Accordingly, just six years after the villain of Watergate had been driven from the White House, a much more dangerous President, Ronald Reagan, was moving in.
Nicky Hager, Dita Di Boni and Fran O’Sullivan all spoke eloquently about the difficulties facing conscientious journalists in the digital era; about the proliferation of media platforms and the constant shrinkage of newsrooms everywhere. And John Campbell, just by being there, reminded the Ika audience of what can happen to a television current affairs show that strives too earnestly to reveal the composition of Democratic Sausage.
What they didn’t discuss, however, was the one, incontrovertible, fact about the publication of Dirty Politics. Namely, that as a political purgative, it didn’t work. Unlike Richard Nixon, John Key was not forced to resign, and his political party was not voted out of office. In fact, a year (and a bit) after the book’s release, Key’s National Government remains as popular as it ever was. The bitter truth is that an electorally decisive number of New Zealanders reacted to Dirty Politics by moving towards – not away from – the National incumbent. Outside the relatively small circle of New Zealanders who celebrated Nicky Hager’s investigative efforts on their behalf, a great many Kiwis responded to his attempt to show them what was happening behind the fa├žade of their democratic institutions with anger and resentment.
They liked the Democratic Sausages sizzling on John Key’s barbecue. They did not want to know how they were made. And they definitely didn’t want to be told what – or who – went into them.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 30 September 2015.