Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Looking in the Mirror

Election time is when politicians strut their stuff!
And sometimes the public is not at all interested or look the other way!

I don't think I have ever blogged about politics before, but I feel compelled to say something this time rather than silently let this moment pass without expressing my unease. To say nothing at all would make me feel complicit and tainted.

I hope I am wrong
This coming weekend is election time in New Zealand. The National Party, who have led the country for the last 6 years, have been so far ahead in the Polls that I assumed that this election would be a rather sad, tedious, and boring affair that would end with a predictable outcome.

Thus far I have been right about the "sad" bit, but wrong about "tedious" and "boring". It is my great hope that I will also be wrong about the "predictable outcome"!

When the room goes Quiet
Probably most people have had the experience of walking into a room and conversation ceasing. You know that something has been interrupted, that your unexpected presence is an imposition, or an embarrassment. Seconds later, the babble of talk starts again, more loudly than before, but you have a feeling that the topic has abruptly changed.

It is a troubling experience as there is really no way for you to find out what was going on before, or why your entry to the room should bring about this awkwardness.

Living in New Zealand over the last few years has been a bit like that for me. There have been odd and troubling things happening in the news, and in society, that have been hard to label or quantify, but I have had a growing sense that something has changed and that something is deeply wrong.

Spin and Silence
I listen to Radio New Zealand quite a bit when I am working in the studio, our publicly funded non-commercial broadcaster. There are two main programmes throughout the working day where there are interviews about anything from kayaking to breast feeding, politics to new music, and of course there are book reviews. It passes the time in a fairly entertaining and quietly educational way. The afternoon programme also has a panel discussion, where commentators from various parts of the political and social spectrum discuss current affairs.

Around the time of the 2011 election, Martyn Bradbury, then a regular commentator from the political Left, began a rather heated monologue that was critical of our Prime Minister, John Key. Unfortunately I was very busy with glazing pots at the time, and only picked up on the first part of what Bradbury said. Later that afternoon there was an announcement to say that Martyn Bradbury would no longer be appearing on National Radio.

An hour or two later I fired up my computer and went to the Radio New Zealand website where it is possible to replay programmes that have been broadcast throughout the day. To my astonishment, the section where Martyn Bradbury had spoken had been removed.

It took me quite some time to track down more information about what had actually been said on the programme, and my conclusion after reading it was that Martyn Bradbury had been "silenced" because of his criticism of the Prime Minister, and not for breaking any broadcasting standards.

(There is a transcript of what Martyn Bradbury said on Brian Edwards Media )

Two issues had led to Bradbury being critical of the Prime Minister. The first was that, in the run up to the 2011 election, a commercial radio station, Radio Live, had given the Prime Minister a whole hour of time in which he hosted the show. Whilst he did not directly talk about politics, so managed to narrowly skate past the electoral finance rules, the programme served as a soft one hour "feel good" commercial for the PM, a chance to portray himself as a good Kiwi bloke, family man, and all round nice guy. This opportunity to host Radio Live for an hour in the run up to the election was not given to the leaders of the other political parties. Bradbury made the suggestion that there just might have been a connection between a $43 million dollar government loan to Mediaworks, and the appearance of the PM on their programme.

The other issue that incensed Bradbury, and may have been the main cause of his outburst, was that the day before Bradbury spoke for the last time on National Radio, a man had attempted to throw himself off the public balcony of the parliamentary debating chamber when a debate was happening, and whilst the man was dangling from the balcony, Prime Minister John Key had yelled "It's your fault, It's your fault" whilst making a throat cutting gesture to Phil Goff (the then leader of the opposition). Bradbury was shocked by the Prime Minister's behaviour at such a time.

My feeling that Martyn Bradbury had been "silenced" for his political views, worried me at the time, and was one relatively small event that made me start to take notice when other odd things happened over the next few years. It woke me up!

Looking in the Mirror
I am in my mid 50s now, and I am shocked when I see myself in the mirror, because I feel like "me" on the inside, but I see someone different looking on the outside! I dare say that anyone bothering to read this who is of a similar age has probably had the same experience!

One thing that is desperately difficult in any society that is undergoing change, is that you are part of that change. So it is hard to see objectively when things are going wrong. There are few "mirrors" to awaken you to reality, and it is so easy to forget the little things that we do notice that ring "alarm bells" for us.

Main Concerns
I recently asked myself what are the main concerns I have now about New Zealand, and how they differ from the ones I had a few years ago, and the difference is revealing.

Surveillance, pollution, and poverty would be top of my list now. Several years ago surveillance, and pollution would have hardly made it to the first page. (Do you know that 60 percent of New Zealand rivers are deemed not safe to swim in now? What has happened to this "clean green" country of ours?)

Much of this is the legacy of the last 6 years of the current government. These three concerns are what brand the John Key government for me.

Surveillance. Pollution. Poverty.

Dirty Politics
In January of this year a young man called Judd Hall died when the car in which he was a passenger crashed off the road. It was a tragedy for the family involved, even more so because three of his other bothers had been killed in accidents. One was killed by a drunken driver, one as the result of a fall, and the other in the 2010 Pike River coal mining disaster.

Right wing blogger Cameron Slater wrote a post in his blog for 25 January 2014 entitled, "Feral dies in Greymouth, did world a favour". This was a vicious and insensitive attack on the young man and his grieving family. It caused an understandably furious response from those people who knew him, and it seems likely that some who were upset by this were later responsible for causing a denial of service attack on Cameron Slater's blog site, Whale Oil, and access was gained to his emails.

Some weeks after this, investigative journalist Nicky Hager received a memory stick with thousands of documents on it that were the hacked emails and facebook conversations between blogger Cameron Slater and Cabinet minister Judith Collins, Jason Ede a former press secretary to the Prime Minister, and Simon Lusk a strategy consultant to the National government, and others. Some have referred to the revelations in these emails as New Zealand's Watergate scandal.

The documents were illegally accessed, so some like to criticise Nicky Hager for using them for the basis of his book, Dirty Politics, but Nicky Hager believed that the content of the emails was so serious that it was in the public interest for them to be released.

The emails show clearly how the National Party fed information to Cameron Slater to publish on his right wing blog, Whale Oil, to smear and attack National's opponents.  This was information that the National Party not be seen to directly release themselves as it would harm the conservative middle of the road image that they cultivated for themselves. Some of this information was of the sort that a cabinet minister would have had to use their position improperly to obtain. Once in the public domain via the right wing blog, conventional media would be more able to pick up the information and run with it.What was apparent was that the smear and dirt went much further than just politics, but it also aimed at destroying people. It makes horrible reading.

No More Justice
It would appear from the emails that Judith Collins, former Minister of Justice, was one of the chief sources of the covert flow of information from government to Cameron Slater's blog. Judith Collins was forced to resign from her Ministerial post part way through the current 2014 election campaign. What was revealed about her in Nicky Hager's book was a great distraction for National in their campaign, and I find this interesting, that the Email that finally led to her resignation came, not from Nicky Hager's book, or from someone on the political Left, but it was released by someone from someone on the political Right. I can't help but see this as Collins being "taken out" by her own side, when she was becoming too much of a problem for them. I must add here that Judith Collins strenuously denies any wrong doing and the serious allegation that in 2011 she was involved in a smear campaign against the then head of the Serious Fraud Office, Adam Feeley, is currently being investigated by Judge Lester Chisholm.

The Moment Of Truth
Last night a meeting, called "The Moment Of Truth" was held at the Auckland town hall. The meeting was astonishing for all sorts of reasons, not least because it was organised by Kim Dotcom, an internet millionaire who is in some difficulty with the authorities due to copyright issues. The USA want to extradite him for trial, but, in the meantime he has funded a political party here in New Zealand.

The place was packed to capacity, and hundreds were turned away. For those who couldn't attend, the meeting was streamed live over the internet. Two of the speakers at the meeting took part by video link. One is in Russia in exile, and the other in an Embassy in London, both are wanted men. You will have heard of them, one was Edward Snowden (American computer professional who leaked classified information from the NSA) and the other was Julian Assange (Australian publisher and journalist of wikileaks). The other two speakers that were there in person were Glenn Greenwald (American Pulitzer prize winning journalist), and Robert Amsterdam (Canadian International lawyer).

The main topic of discussion was New Zealand's membership of the Five Eyes intelligence network, and how our emails, phone messages, and internet use is monitored by the intelligence agencies. The presentation also showed how our Prime Minister, John Key, has been knowingly misleading the New Zealand public regarding this. All that probably sounds a bit "dry" and technical, but the evening was very informative and entertaining, the atmosphere was "electric", and Glenn Greenwald managed to inject some humour too.

Within minutes of the meeting taking place, there was a great deal of misinformation spread about via right wing blogs and media regarding this meeting, so it is best to watch it on Youtube and form your own opinion.

Hopefully, this link will take you to the video of the meeting for some time... before someone takes it down. For some reason it seems to have a really long wait on the title. If you move to about 22.30 you will find the beginning of the meeting.

Some Links
The Moment of Truth covered in detail by The Guardian
The Moment of Truth meeting got covered by CNN here CNN
John Key Lies here.... archiedarival

You can visit Martyn Bradbury's blog here The Daily Blog
Brian Edwards Media blog is here brianedwardsmedia

Regarding Pollution of NZ rivers see Muddying the waters

Five Eyes Network-Wikipedia


Do buy or borrow a copy of Nicky Hager's book, Dirty Politics. Much is said about this book and the person who wrote it. Many attacks have been made by people who also claim not to have even read it... Do read it and then make up your own mind!

Regarding WhaleOil blog and more....
Senior NZ Herald Reporter My History With Cameron Slater 
Metro Doubling Down

I really dislike and despise this one, but for the record...
Cameron Slater's Whale Oil blog ... WhaleOil


Anna said...

it makes a joke of our vote when you have no confidence in any of the politicians... Oz is no better..

Peter said...

Hi Anna,
Good to hear from you. It is not compulsory to vote in NZ and many don't vote because they are so disenchanted with "dishonest politicians", the trouble with that is we end up with the current power group staying there and getting even more powerful! We desperately need political change. I am confident in what I have seen of our current Green Party, and do hope that they manage to be part of what ever coalition forms after our vote this weekend... but we will have to see!

Arkansas Patti said...

Aw Peter, I am so sorry. It sounds like a scary situation you are having to deal with. Politics in most countries is messy and corrupt. Sounds like NZ has its hands full. I do hope this post does not put you on any "silencing" lists. Do be careful old friend. And do vote, it is the only weapon we have outside of posts like this.

Peter said...

Hi Patti,
Lovely to hear from you. I must admit to having been very careful in what I wrote regarding this. I guess if we have a visit from a rather large couple of men in black wearing those little radio transmitter things we can at least offer them a nice cup of tea in a hand made mug before they take me away! Oh well, the spring flowers are popping up in the garden outside, and there is life and beauty all around too. Pxx Hmmm the word verification for this was conquerors... I wonder if it means something!!

Linda Starr said...

many countries, including my own, have gone to hell in a hand basket. your blog post could have been written by anyone in this country. the rich and powerful get more so and I can't help but think of the Roman Empire falling since history has a way of repeating itself. I wish you luck with your political situations, here a vote is pretty much worthless because no choice is a good one plus our voting populous has been and is being skewed by non citizens; the electoral college and political constituents hold all the cards,

As you sat there is beauty in nature surrounding us and I try to focus on those bits of beauty in a declining society brought about by political corruption and government mismanagement.

Linda Starr said...

should be as you say

Peter said...

Hi Linda,
I think that the rich and powerful know no national boundaries! We are sadly affected with the same blight!
When the big picture gets overwhelming, it is a blessing to be able to focus on the good friends that we have, and to enjoy sharing a simple meal or walking on the beach! I like it that pottery is a constructive occupation. Making a cup or plate, or a vase that someone will cherish is a simple thing that makes life better.

Armelle Léon said...

Hi Peter,
Same here, more and more poor people and more very rich people. Though we knew some times ago about the surveillance of all what we are sharing via email, and Facebook (I do it, yes and I have a page). Politic in France is really dramatic, the new government has no more ecologists in it, though we vote for them. Socialists are doing a right wing politic.
What a pity !!!
Trying to enjoy good moments.

Michèle Hastings said...

Thank you for sharing these insights. I listen to public radio while I work, it seems to be the most logical place to get then news. So many other stations are controlled by big money. Not to say that our NPR stations are not completely un-biased, but I do think they present both sides of most things in the news.

Peter said...

Hi Armelle,
Good to see the photos of your exhibition on your blog, you have done some lovely paintings and pots and I hope the exhibition is doing really well. Politics, it is all madness these days!! In the 1980s in this country we had socialists going further to the right than the right wing parties and eventually forming their own political party! And some in the middle go one way or the other, depending what gives them the most power! If it wasn't so serious it would be rather entertaining!

Hi Michèle,
Good that you have public radio still, it is a wonderful companion to have in the studio! Our public radio certainly cover the news much better than the television broadcasters do, and at least it is possible to make pots whilst listening to the radio!