Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dirty Politics

Nicky Hager: Dirty Politics (2014)

Well, I've read the book. Finally. It only came out last week, but it had already sold out from the local bookshop, so I was forced to make my way to the heart of the mall in Albany, where there were still quite a few copies left in the local Whitcoulls.

I'm no stranger to Hager's writing. I read The Hollow Men (2006) back when it first appeared (and was struck by how few of my colleagues who professed an interest in politics bothered to do as much - as if they somehow thought a few reviews from our wonderfully objective New Zealand media could give them the nub of the matter ...) I also read his genuinely shocking book about New Zealand's (so-called) "humanitarian" involvement in Afghanistan: Other People's Wars (2011).

At first I was a little disappointed to see how comparatively thin this one was: the others were thick, meaty tomes, with hundreds of pages of text and almost equally fascinating footnotes. In this case, though, I think one would have to say that size really doesn't matter. And I could also see the point that there's really no excuse for not reading less than 200 pages of material which could vitally affect your view of New Zealand's democracy.

I could recite a few of the shocking things in there: John Key's "sympathy" call to Cameron Slater of the Whale Oil blog (I won't provide a link) when the latter was being criticised for gloating over the death in a car crash of a youth from the West Coast ("One More Feral Down"); Judith Collin's fawning text messages and systematic leaking of material to Slater (for which she's now received a "final final warning" from our Prime Minister - preliminary to a final final final warning, no doubt); the gullible way in which our News Media have permitted Slater and his loathsome buddies to dictate the terms of each new political "scandal" ... It's all in there - all clearly documented, with chapter and verse.

But that isn't really the story, for me. At the time of Watergate, the real shock for Americans was not that their President had authorised a systematic campaign of dirty tricks against his opponents (including burglary, theft and a range of other foolish and counterproductive crimes), but the way he spoke to his White House intimates day to day.

Those endless, heavily edited transcripts of the tapes he released, with all their thousands of "expletive deleted"s, were the thing which really sealed his doom in the eyes of the American public. He'd always been sold to them as a Sunday School teacher, a bit of an old-fashioned, aw-shucks, fuddy-duddy puritan. To discover, now, that Nixon was in the habit of joking about sch loveable topics as how much he hated sitting next to Japanese dignitaries (because they stank of fish), the sheer number of curse words he used in every single sentence, made him sound more like a racist taxi driver than a responsible statesman.

The same is true of this book. Simply being allowed to overhear the kinds of filthy, sexist, abusive, mindless drivel Slater and his intimates - including, it seems, Cabinet Ministers and senior advisers to the Prime Minister (if not actually Gentleman John himself) - trade on a daily basis on their facebook and twitter accounts is like crawling through a tunnel of ordure.

Don't get me wrong. I was never a subscriber to the John Key myth. The mask, after all, is pretty thin whenever the slightest hint of opposition or dissent is heard. But I honestly had no idea that he and his minions actually enjoyed dealing with the likes of Slater. That his rants really and truly represent their view of the world. That came as a genuine surprise, I must say.

The final icing on the cake is the discovery of how much of this activity is motivated by a taste for easy money rather than genuine ideological involvement. It turns out that Slater prints posts from Big Tobacco and various other "responsible" lobby groups under his own name as if they were sincere expressions of opinion - for a substantial monthly sum. Hence, according to Hager, the constant shifts and contradictions on his famous blog. What is it being paid to print this month is more the question than what does it actually stand for?

Read the book. There's far more in there than you've been told. Make up your own mind. Don't be "spun" on this one - it matters too much. If the Slaters of this world continue to flourish, then there really is no hope for our electoral system. If that's of no interest to you, then perhaps the likes of Paul Henry and Cameron Slater really do speak for you. Congratulations!

I don't really believe that, though. Nixon may have his apologists still, but when it came down to it, the citizens of his country were simply not prepared to endorse his doctrine that he never broke the law because "it can't be illegal, if the president did it." Politicians must be subject to the law of the land, and it's about time that we all started to hold them accountable again. Thanks, Nicky Hager.


Richard said...

I hadn't heard of Hagar until the last few weeks. You recommend his other books also?

I am not too surprised by the way these guys think and talk as I worked among men who always were quite literal in their racism etc and many who made jokes of things that "liberals" would find terrible.
But in context these tradesmen (I generalize but I worked in a lot of manual labouring jobs, never in politics though!)

You get used to it all after a while: but, yes, something more dignified is still expected of people in "high" places. That is an interesting phenomena, but I suppose some of those good historical documentaries show a lot of it: Henry the 8th desperately trying to persuade his minister to get rid of one of his wives as she (was hideous to look at) and that she had an "Arse like a huge barn door." Sort of thing we associate with the times.

I also think that is probably the case re Slater (who I hadn't heard of either so maybe something has emerged from all this, I find all this politics a bit tiring, seen and heard all for 50+ years, but still...): now that sounds true, his politics one could imagine would be very 'fluid' as he chases the cash.

The problem is we cant overhear all the other wonderful political parties.

I never could bring myself to read the Papers, seemed so long and we knew they were all bastards - but my father, who always voted National, admired Nixon, and read that huge biography about him. Old tricky Dicky. Johnson increased the bombing and not many know they started attacking Vietnam in the 50s under Eisenhower as soon as the French lost, or not long after. Also interesting is the British involvement: they occupied Vietnam after the war and actually released the Japanese (jailed by the Vietnam freedom fighters) and armed them so they could fight the 'communist rebels'. They had a deal to hold the place while the French held British territories...

The duplicity of the US Imperialists makes me think that 9/11 could well have been engineered by the CIA (it IS the sort of thing they used to - and maybe either do or aid and abet).

However it is impossible to know the truth of these kinds of things.

You just have to arm yourself and keep on the watch out.

We have a system that might be said to be an improvement on the world in say 1800 but that is relative. Whether the much vaunted "democracy" is the thing is moot.

Food for thought in any case. I might even take some interest in this election. I don't like that big fat German bastard or this Slater so it will affect my vote if I do vote. Or is it a waste of time voting?

[I don't think anything we say on Blogs will cause a political crisis! Well, what I say, in any case, I probably sound like one of those lonely old ravers I used to listen to on Radio Pacific in the good old days...Gordon Dryden, he was quite a switched on and enthusiastic chap, (he read a lot of books); I met him once...]

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Richard,

Every vote against National is a vote worth having. The point is not that blogs or bloggers are so very important (recent analyses have shown that it's pretty easy to log up massive traffic stats on a blog if you can be bothered -- so the alleged hundreds of thousands of readers Cameron Slater has probably boil down to just a few hundred bigots like himself) -- it's just that the people in charge of our country have chosen him to represent them …

They've used him, in secret, for pay, to play dirty tricks campaigns. It's not that this is worse than the kind of thing Nixon used to get up to, but that it's just as bad. Slater also apparently provides paid feeds for Israeli and Tobacco propagandists, so you can see how balanced his perspective on the world is. Honestly, do the senior Nats not have enough to do in their jobs as cabinet ministers that they have spend time plotting with creatures such as this?

Richard said...

Yes, I take your point. This is very good. Pity more people don't join in here, as we can "talk" away from the madness of those really ugly Blogs that I have seen briefly (Kiwiblog I think is one, Slater's seems to be another) - I've been 'cut off' - hence my silence. I was rather indifferent to all this until I saw who and what Slater was. But I don't trust any political parties. However, I may (unlikely) vote Labour (National - and let's be Realpolitik a bit - has kept us on an even keel, however I wonder if that is because of Cullen's fiscal restraint? It also may be a fact that NZ has simply been lucky due to its size, and the previous low value of the NZ dollar vs. the US and others, hence we are in a reasonable position: the selling off of state assests etc etc BEGAN with the 1985 Labour Government - now if you want a comparison to Nixon and all the other bastards called US Presidents, then you can take Lange and Douglas, who were aping the US (as NZ aped the US and Britain in 'leading the way' (bollocks) with social welfare (the Japanese had the best social welfare system c.f. Niall Williams on Money): BUT I cant stand that fat man (sorry dot, I just cant believe you love us all...):


I'm a crazy poet! no...

I cant forget the 1985 elections, the Union Suits persuaded unions after union (esp. Govt) and indeed my union, that we needed to vote Labour - that would mean that they, as they promised, would not sell state assets, or raise taxes, or put on a tax like VAT - THE BASTARDS DID ALL THREE THINGS.


Now, when I heard at the last election the Labour Party talking in favour of cuts, including the pension and the welfare system, I wiped them. National has hardly done anything to the welfare system. LABOUR started persecuting those on benefits.

We need to realise that, de facto, Labour and National are chips either side of the same coin. They run a business for the Capitalists. As the Greens and anyone else is.

Honest person? Sue Bradford: possibly the only one.

So I leave the question open...

Maps and that acerbic Italian Tiso should step in here: I'm not really good on politics these days, "my mind's not right" as one of the great poets says in "Skunk Hour": I've stopped believing in anything.
To quote Dudley Moore and Peter Cook in one of their skits:

"I have ceased to care." Or I care so much it hurts to care, so I cut part if not all of my self from these soiliing mundanities.

Richard said...

Jack, with all this deep concern and "reality" and politics, and your (new?) fascination with my part-namesake Dawkins: you are in deep and surely perilous danger of being hurled mightily out of the (card-carrying) Derridean-Geraetzian Post Modernist and Wierd-Taylorian and Innovative Writers Artists and Philosopher's Madness Tree-Club! What about your ghosts and Geisters (Geisten?) and your fragments etc etc?! Given up the ghost, I mean the significant chasers, oops, I mean, chase? ("Defared, deferred, unfared..." he says.) The opulent opacity?

I preferred the older, severer Jack: the deep full of wise instances and modern sawmills, and the academic, the complex and riddling sage of NZ literature...

Richard said...

But this connection with the worst of Israel etc etc and the revealed duplicity must give us pause for sure...Ugly ugly ugly. Let us go by instinct.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Richard,

I hear you. The betrayal of 1984 cut me pretty deeply as well. It's true, too, that my natural ground is a literary one, but I have to say that I've never seen that as contradictory to an interest in politics: such things can never be left to the professionals -- that's far too dangerous.

"We live in freedom by necessity / A mountain people living among mountains" as Auden said so beautifully in his Sonnets from China. That's always been a bit of a touchstone for me -- a mountain people living among mountains.