Monday, 1 September 2014

Ashburton, 1 September 2014.

Crime Scene: The murder of two WINZ workers and the wounding of a third in Ashburton adds another tragic chapter to New Zealand's grim history of lone men committing multiple murders.

I NEVER WENT BACK to Aramoana after the killing. I had been a frequent visitor to the tiny seaside village back in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Its tall cliffs and broad beaches providing a colourful backdrop to carefree summer days with friends and lovers. But after the carnage of November 1990 I just couldn’t face it. Something dark and savage had erupted from the shadows of Aramoana’s windswept pines; something that would always be there, waiting.
 
Ashburton offers an equally unlikely setting for yet another of New Zealand’s murder sprees. So quintessentially provincial a little town: with its tidy streets and well-kept parks; its sturdily conservative citizens. In Ashburton you can still catch a glimpse of New Zealand as it used to be. That place of bright and brittle friendships where, behind the post-war Kiwis’ welcoming smiles, lust and greed and violence seethed like a sack full of eels.
 
Always a little edgy, these places of multiple killings. Stan Graham’s West Coast: tightly corseted between the Alps and the Tasman Sea. David Gray’s Aramoana: lonely at the harbour’s mouth. Ashburton: beset on every side by the relentlessly level Canterbury Plains. New Zealand’s landscapes have a way of getting inside a man’s head. Sometimes the fit is just too tight.
 
We leave them alone, these men on their dark private journeys. There’s something about them that keeps us aloof – even when, as always happens at some point, usually towards the end of their tragic stories, they reach out to us for help. Like a drowning swimmer, flailing madly, we fear they will drag us down with them. Safer to keep our distance.
 
They make us angry, too, with their wayward rages, their unrealistic demands. The community’s patience is tested to breaking point: “That bloody man!”
 
And then comes the refusal. That last, infuriating and ultimately pointless gesture of defiance that inevitably sets in motion the relentless wheels of the law. Like when Stan Graham threatened his neighbour and the Police came for his guns. Those poor doomed coppers. Just doing their jobs. Gunned down like rabbits.
 
Fire purges and purifies the scenes of these tragedies, these crimes. Always. Something compels us to reach back into the deepest recesses of our social selves: to the very beginnings of our species; when the flames drove away the predatory beasts that lurked in the darkness and kept us safe ‘til morning.
 
Ashburton’s little WINZ Office will, of course, be closed. A new place will be found to conduct the business of our fraying welfare state. It will be a miniature fortress and there will be wariness and suspicion in the WINZ workers’ eyes. Fear will never be far away.
 
And one night the empty office will be torched. The Fire Brigade will stand alongside a gathering crowd and watch it burn. The flames will flare and the smoke will billow until, at length, the glowing embers fade and the ashes of Ashburton’s tragedy of 1 September 2014 are borne away on the wind.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 1 September 2014.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

DIRT ALERT! - Are The Greens And Labour About To Become The Targets Of A Major Negative Advertising Campaign?

Deja Vu All Over Again? Are we about to see a repeat of the 2005 negative advertising campaign  launched in secret against the Greens and Labour?
 
WE’VE SEEN IT ALL BEFORE. In 2005 pamphlets began appearing all over New Zealand attacking Labour and the Greens. For a couple of days both the parties targeted and the news media were flummoxed. Who was behind such an obviously extensive and costly campaign? No one knew – until former members of the Exclusive Brethren Church recognised some of the names of the pamphlets’ authorising agents and put two and two together.
 
The exposure of the Exclusive Brethren Church’s role in printing and distributing the pamphlets, followed by the shock revelation that the National Party leader, Dr Don Brash, had been made aware that such campaign was in the offing, contributed significantly to National’s 2005 election defeat.
 
Could history be repeating itself?
 
Yesterday evening (Thursday, 28 August 2014) I received an e-mail from a sender styling himself “Charlie Taylor” advising me that “a group of concerned citizens just like you are paying for billboards like this”.
 
 
Exactly who “Charlie Taylor” is I have no idea, but the lengthy e-mail send out in his name is clearly intended to inflict maximum damage on both the Greens and, by association, Labour.
 
If I was a betting man, however, I would hazard a reasonable wager that Don Brash’s superb propagandist, John Ansell, was in some way involved. There is something in the cheeky tone of these designs that recalls Ansell’s immensely powerful Iwi/Kiwi billboards of 2005.
 
This, for example:
 

 
The other reason I have for speculating that Mr Ansell might be involved is that some of the text of the e-mail bears a striking similarity to the accusations levelled at the Greens co-leader, Russel Norman, by Mr Ansell when he was interviewed on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report recently. In the course of that interview, Mr Norman was branded a communist in language very similar to that used in this excerpt from the e-mail:
 
“Will you be happy to learn that your Labour party vote has helped ex-Aussie Communist Russel Norman achieve his ambition of becoming Mr Cunliffe’s finance minister?
 
“Will you think it a hoot when, thanks to you, ex-McGillicuddy Serious and Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis candidate Metiria Turei joins Red Russ as ‘Joint’ Deputy Prime Minister?”
 
Nor is this the worst thing the author/s of the e-mail have to say about the Greens. Apparently, they are responsible for the deaths of 50 million Third World children:
 
“Green thinking has a long and black track record of sounding heart-warmingly plausible, but wreaking death and destruction when unleashed in the real world, on real people.
 
“In the 60s, the hysteria over Rachel Carson’s green bible Silent Spring led to the banning of the mosquito-killing chemical DDT.
 
“Which led to 50 million people dying of malaria.
 
“Every day, more children die painful deaths because the Greens continue to deny them the treatment that would save their lives – a treatment that science has long since proven safe.”
 
All good inflammatory stuff! But the real sting (and true target) of the e-mail comes in its tail. The message the “Group of Concerned Kiwis” who sign-off this distribe really want you to take away with you is: “To stop the Greens, you must stop Labour.”
 
“You may think National and Labour are two sides of the same coin. And usually that would be fair comment.
 
But with the Greens now guaranteed to be 30% or more of a Labour government, the economic danger signs just got a whole lot redder.”
 
Better, one assumes, to stick with the blues.
 
Whoever Charlie Taylor turns out to be, his group of “concerned citizens” is almost certain to fall foul of the Electoral Commission.
 
For a start, the designs feature absolutely nothing in the way of an authorising statement. Without the true name and residential address of the person responsible for authorising these political messages, any billboards, pamphlets, stickers and/or posters that may appear between now and 20 September are almost certain to be in breach of the legislation regulating political communications during a General Election campaign.
 
They will also discover that any and all “concerned citizens” wishing to participate in the cut and thrust of the General Election must first register themselves with the Electoral Commission and undertake to keep their expenditure within the legislatively sanctioned limits.
 
The revelation of such identifying details would, naturally, facilitate the full disclosure of who is behind this proposed negative advertising campaign.
 
In the wake of Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics, I do not imagine that the National Party will relish answering questions about the provenance of yet another example of, well, dirty politics. And if, as happened in 2005, incontrovertible evidence emerges that John Key or his party were forewarned of these “Concerned Kiwis’” campaigning intentions, then National’s chances of holding onto power will take yet another hit.

UPDATE on DIRT ALERT!

Thanks to the information passed to Bowalley Road by "Idiot/Savant" of the No Right Turn blogsite it is now possible to identify at least some of the persons involved in this latest example of attack politics. What follows is my response to Idiot/Savant's timely assistance:

Well done and thank you, Idiot/Savant!

I can now reveal more about the e-mail from "Charlie Taylor".

It was sent to a person called John Third.

Following up this detail, I discovered that a John Lawrence Third is the sole director of a registered private company called Guinness Gallagher Corporate Advisory Ltd, based in Wellington.

I acquired Mr Third's telephone number, called him, but, receiving no answer, left a message for him to call me back. He hasn't.*

I did not include this information in the posting above because I didn't want to involve a potentially "innocent civilian" in a breaking political story.

Idiot/Savant's research has, however, obviated the need for me to talk to Mr Third because looking at the latest entry on the Elections New Zealand's Register of Promoters whose name do I see in the column headed "Name of the person authorised to make the application where the promoter is not an individual" but that of John L Third - the very same person to whom "Charlie Taylor's" e-mail was sent.

How did it come to me? I have no idea. Perhaps Mr Third's name was just the first of dozens on a mass e-mail distribution list among which my own - for some unfathomable reason - was included.

Whatever the explanation, we now know that the campaign is real, and that it is being run under the collective identity of "The Opinion Partnership" among whose members are Mr Third and Owen Jennings - former head of Federated Farmers, former Act Party MP (1996-2002) and currently the joint owner (with Mr Third) of the registered private company Ideal Energy Holdings Ltd.

We await further developments.

*  I have since spoken to Mr Third who confirmed to me that he and Owen Jennings are, indeed, among the persons calling themselves "The Opinion Partnership". Mr Third also informed me that his company, Guinness Gallagher Corporate Advisory Ltd, has done consultancy work for both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

FURTHER UPDATE on DIRT ALERT!

Propaganda supremo, John Ansell, confirms his involvement in The Opinion Partnership. For more information refer to the commentary thread of this posting.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 29 August 2014.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Entering The Labyrinth

The New Ariadne: In a world of mendacious politicians, giant corporations and impenetrable public bureaucracies, the hacker offers the only credible hope of entering the modern labyrinth. Stieg Larsen's character, Lisbeth Salander, is the archetypal fictional representation of the "White Hat" hacker.
 
LISBETH SALANDER is the archetypal hacker: a damaged outsider; phenomenally clever; contemptuous of society’s rules; but possessed of an unflinching, if somewhat quirky, sense of right and wrong. Without Lisbeth, the journalist hero of Stieg Larsen’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Mikael Blomkvist, could never have brought the guilty to justice. In a world of mendacious millionaires, giant corporations and impenetrable public bureaucracies, the hacker provides the only credible means of moving the plot forward.
 
In mythic terms, Lisbeth is Ariadne, the Cretan princess whose precious linking threads allow the Greek hero, Theseus, to find his way through the impossibly complex Labyrinth and destroy the Minotaur – the monstrous, bull-headed man who dwells in its depths.
 
Another forerunner of the hacker is Arthur Conan Doyle’s inimitable consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. There were, of course, no computers at 221B Baker Street, but Holmes’ phenomenal intellect and his ability to access crucial information – seemingly out of thin air – singles him out as Lisbeth’s literary Godfather.
 
A closer relation, perhaps, is Phillip Marlowe – the hero of Raymond Chandler’s dark detective novel, The Big Sleep. Marlowe is a marginal character who moves more-or-less effortlessly between legality and illegality and yet, in the core of his being, cleaves unerringly to the right and the good. His antagonists are often corrupt authority figures: gangster bosses, bent cops, politicians on the take and crooked businessmen. As a private investigator, operating outside the official structures of law enforcement and justice, Chandler’s hero embodies all the key attributes and instincts of the “White Hat” hacker.
 
Driving all of these literary characters is a determination to discover what lies behind the locked doors of this world: doors which its frustratingly incurious inhabitants are happy to leave unopened. These play-it-safers caution the naturally inquisitive against asking too many questions and tell them not to go poking their noses into places where someone might feel obliged to cut them off.
 
Such advice is ill-received by those who remain unconvinced that not everything is as it appears to be. That below the placid surface of the workaday world plans are unfolding about which most of us know absolutely nothing. Plans hatched by people who are as fascinating as they are terrifying: inhabitants of a parallel universe; separate from our own but accessible to those who know which keys unlock what doors.
 
Think of David Lynch’s cult movie masterpiece, Blue Velvet, in which the chance discovery of a severed human ear propels the hero into a nightmare world of corruption, kidnapping, drug-taking, sado-masochism and murder, the existence of which he’d known absolutely nothing only days before.
 
It is tempting to dismiss the sort of people who seek to penetrate the veils that mask these alternate realities as tin-foil-hat-wearers and “screaming left-wing conspiracy theorists”. And yet, it was no lesser authority than Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1874 until 1880, who remarked that: “The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes.”
 
The sort of person who becomes a hacker is the sort of person who hears in Disraeli’s words not simply a revelation – but a challenge. Who are these different personages? How does one get behind the scenes?
 
In the past one only found out these things by venturing into the Labyrinth, pursuing the Hound of the Baskervilles, interrogating the gangster boss, or hiding in the nightclub singer’s closet. Today, however, top-secret information may be obtained without leaving the room. With a lap-top, an Internet connection, and the requisite knowledge, getting behind the scenes and learning the secrets of all manner of personages – familiar and unfamiliar – is astonishingly easy.
 
Since January, the real-life investigative journalist, Nicky Hager, has, like Mikael Blomkvist in Larsen’s thriller, been working with his very own Lisbeth Salander. The resulting book has, in the manner of David Lynch, revealed to us the existence of a political world very different from the one those of us who have never ventured behind the scenes imagined. We have been introduced to characters every bit as fascinating and terrifying as Arthur Conan Doyle’s and Raymond Chandler’s.
 
What remains to be seen is whether life imitates art and the guilty are brought to electoral justice. It’s one thing to discover the Labyrinth exists, quite another to slay the monster at its heart.
 
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, 29 August 2014.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The First Leaders' Debate: Cunliffe Shows His Quality.

Epic Struggle: Tonight New Zealanders were privileged to witness a truly outstanding encounter between two highly effective politicians. Leaving aside its ridiculous "poll", TVNZ is to be congratulated for screening one of the best leaders' debates in decades.

WHAT A BLOODY SHAME. For 59 minutes TVNZ had hosted one of the best leaders' debates in decades. In spite of many Labour supporters reservations, Mike Hosking chaired the encounter with consummate professionalism. He made sure the debate was free-flowing, allowing both leaders ample opportunity to demonstrate both their command of the relevant facts and their skill at turning those facts to their own and their party's advantage.

But then, in the final minute of the show, TVNZ broadcast the results of a meaningless "poll" of self-selecting respondents purporting to show that John Key had "won" the debate by a margin of 69 percent to 31 percent. Rather than simply allowing New Zealanders to argue among themselves in the best democratic tradition about which man had been the more impressive, the state broadcaster could not forebear from settling the question for them. Immensely satisfying if you were a National Party supporter, utterly infuriating if you were backing Labour.

Because there is absolutely no disputing the fact that David Cunliffe acquitted himself superbly in tonight's debate. He was disarmingly courteous and generous in his interactions with the Prime Minister, but frankly, he could afford to be. Of the two politicians he was easily the more fluent and the more persuasive. Where the Prime Minister aggressively asserted, David Cunliffe calmly and good-humouredly presented the evidence. And, when the moment came for a knockout blow, the Leader of the Opposition was not found wanting.

The "killer punch" came in the discussion about selling New Zealand farmland to foreigners. Responding to Hosking's challenge about no New Zealanders being willing to pay the $70 million Shanghai Pengxin was willing to offer for Lochinver Station, David Cunliffe simply invited the Chairman to "roll the logic forward" and in a bravura demonstration of his economic skills set forth the blunt facts about how such a market would inevitably and permanently bar New Zealanders from ever being able to afford to purchase their own land. Even John Key felt obliged to congratulate his opponent on his spectacular rhetorical performance.

For those not blinded by tribal political loyalties, this was the moment when Cunliffe "won" the debate. Economics and business have always been the Prime Minister's preferred battle-ground. But, even here, in the area of John Key's greatest expertise, David Cunliffe bettered him. For all those New Zealanders who have yet to make up their minds, that extraordinary exchange should be their "Aha!" moment. John Key is a highly accomplished politician and a fine debater, but tonight he met his match. Tonight, for the first time since he became National's leader, John Key lost.

If I were to score the debate out of 100 I would give 60 points to David Cunliffe and 40 points to John Key.

Will that be the judgement of punditry in general? We shall have to wait and see. TVNZ, however, with its meaningless "poll", clearly intends to tell New Zealand that John Key was the victor. As citizens with minds of our own, and as viewers who had just witnessed a truly outstanding encounter between two highly effective politicians, we deserved better than to see the public broadcaster needlessly undermine an otherwise splendid event.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Democracy - Leonard Cohen

 
 
Because I've just come back from Nicky Hager's extraordinary public meeting in the Mt Eden War Memorial Hall, here's Lenny's magnificent paean to the democratic ideal. If it's coming to the USA - why not here too?
 
 
Sail on, sail on, oh mighty ship of state
To the shores of need
Past the reefs of greed
Through the squalls of hate


Video courtesy of YouTube
  
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite

The Pilgrim Of Light: Nicky Hager And New Zealand Politics

Admonishing Angel: Nicky Hager descends periodically to trouble our consciences and wreak merry havoc with the orderly conduct of our political affairs. But, more than any other journalist in New Zealand, he has taught us to read the actions of those who wield power over and around us in the twenty-first century.
 
WHAT WILL HISTORY MAKE of Nicky Hager? That slight, perpetually boyish, journalist who descends periodically, like the admonishing angel in a medieval mystery play, to trouble our consciences and wreak merry havoc with the orderly conduct of our political affairs. History will have to make something of him: his interventions have been too important to be dismissed by our political brewers as mere irrelevant froth. But what? That is the question.
 
Perhaps we should begin by telling the world what Nicky Hager is not. Prime Ministerial judgements notwithstanding, he is not “a screaming left-wing conspiracy-theorist”.
 
Hager has never, is not, and never will be some sort of avatar of the “left-wing”. He has far too refined a moral sense to be the representative of anything so fractious and morally compromised as the New Zealand Left. Indeed, most left-wingers have little patience for individuals so weighed down by self-imposed scruples. The preferred left-wing soldier is as reluctant to question the ethics of the party-line as Hager is eager to challenge them. Revolutionary bread is typically made from much more coarsely-ground flour.
 
Nor does Hager scream. His mode of address is invariably polite and carefully measured. Softly-spoken and slow to take offence, Hager is actually the perfect foil for the genuine screamers of the public sphere. These latter cannot abide the fact that Hager is able to inflict so much damage to their cause while speaking in tones of such sweet reasonableness. One imagines their camera lenses, microphones and keyboards flecked with spittle – so great is the rage which he inspires.
 
Of all the epithets hurled at Hager, by far the most common is that he is a “conspiracy theorist”. I recently heard one of Jim Mora’s panellists, a woman who I would wager has never read a single one of his books, dismiss him as “a grassy-knoll fantasist”. I was surprised she didn’t add that he was generally to be found sporting a jaunty tin-foil hat!
 
Methinks the lady – and all those others so quick to dismiss Hager’s work as the rantings of a demented conspiracy theorist – doth protest too much. Such people cannot easily accept that what they happily acknowledge as the truth of things may be something else entirely. That the “official” story is, as often as not, a tissue of lies. Or, that the eruptions of mendacity which periodically disturb the placid surface of public life are anything other than unfortunate accidents: cock-ups – not conspiracies. Hager’s books, so meticulously researched and footnoted, so weighed down with names and dates and places, render the cock-up theory unusable by these poor souls, forcing them to focus on facts as uncomfortable as they are irrefutable. Unsurprisingly, he is not thanked for doing so.
 
Even more upset, however, are the people whose hidden machinations (conspiracies if you like the word better) Hager exposes. Once again, this is hardly surprising. Whether it be the people behind the Echelon spy system; the timber company with its eyes on the native forests of the West Coast; a Labour prime minister who’d neglected to alert the country to the accidental release of genetically-engineered corn; the National Party strategists behind Dr Don Brash’s bid to complete the neoliberal revolution; the New Zealand Defence Force’s strenuous efforts to re-attach New Zealand’s pinky finger to the Anglo-Saxon fist; or, All The Prime Minister’s Men’s e-mail communications with Cameron Slater: these are people who would have preferred their words and deeds to have remained hidden from the public gaze. “Conspiracy theorist!”, in the mouths of such individuals is not a revelation, it’s a diversion.
 
So what has Hager done? In historical terms, he has taught us how to read the actions of those who wield power over and around us in the twenty-first century. Since the publication of his first book, Secret Power, in 1996, Hager has shown us things our leaders would rather we hadn’t seen. He’s taught us to challenge the official media releases; to question the news stories; and to understand the truth of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s (1804-1881) disturbing observation that: “The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes.”
 
Hager is one of that rare breed of men with whom even History is uncomfortable. He represents neither class nor creed; is the servant of neither political party nor economic interest. He comes to us out of storms of malice, steering his fragile little boat of truth across a raging sea of lies. In the words of one of the nineteenth century’s greatest historians, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Nicky Hager is proof that:
 
“In the true Literary Man there is thus ever, acknowledged or not by the world, a sacredness: he is the light of the world; the world’s Priest – guiding it, like a sacred Pillar of Fire, in its dark pilgrimage through the waste of Time.”
 
This essay was posted simultaneously on the Daily Blog and Bowalley Road blogsites on Wednesday, 27 August 2014.

Child Poverty Action Group - On The March



Take steps against child poverty
in Aotearoa New Zealand.
 
Join the
 
End Child Poverty Hikoi
Britomart, Auckland
11:00am, Saturday
6 September 2014
 
 
 
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.