COMBATTING GLOBAL CAPITALISM & ITS COMPRADOR CHEERLEADERS
- Dennis Small
- Murray Horton
Remember that old saying about a week being a long time in politics. Dennis Small's below article is the proof. The deadline for this Watchdog was July 1, and the article is up to date as of then. Key point - Todd Muller was Leader of the National Party. Not anymore. Other National MPs to have lost their Shadow Cabinet portfolios or to have resigned from Parliament altogether include Nikki Kaye, Amy Adams and Michael Woodhouse. Not to mention the resignations in disgrace of National MPs Hamish Walker and Andrew Falloon. Who knows who will be left standing in the National Party at the time this issue comes out, let alone at election time?
The change of National's Leader from Todd Muller to Judith Collins doesn't make any difference to the central thesis of the article. In fact, it reinforces that thesis. I refer you to Gordon Campbell's article "On The Mainstream Media's Romance With Judith Collins" (Scoop, 17/7/20).
Watchdog is a journal of analysis, not a newspaper, so we don't try to keep up with the regular twists and turns of political parties and Parliamentary politics. We'll leave our analysis of the October election until afterwards. In the meantime, please bear in mind that Dennis' article is up to date as of July 2020. Some of the Tory chess pieces may been moved around but the game remains the same. And this was written before Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway was fired by Jacinda.
"The limit on industrial growth therefore depends in the end on the tolerance of the eco-sphere for the absorption of heat... Indeed, once we approached the threshold of a 'noticeable' change in climate, even the maintenance of a given level of industrial level of activity might pour dangerous amounts of man-made heat into the atmosphere, necessitating a deliberate cutting back in energy use" ("An Inquiry Into The Human Prospect", Robert Heilbroner, Calder & Boyars, 1974/5, pp50-2).
"The warnings of ecologists and 'green' campaigners about the effects of global warming, the destruction of the ozone layer, and the tide of pollution in our rivers, lakes and seas" sometimes fails to note "that environmental decay has already begun to have an impact on human health" ("Future Plagues: Biohazard, Disease And Pestilence: Mankind's Battle For Survival", Peter Brookesmith, in ch. 6: "The Ruin Of Nature: How Human Activity Is Creating New Opportunities For Ancient Afflictions", Brown Books, 1997, p119).
"A natural sequence of [(ecological) succession took us from the Age of Exuberance and the American Dream into the age of over-population and the global trauma" "Overshoot: The Ecological Basis Of Revolutionary Change", William R Catton Jr. (University of Illinois, 1980, p112).
"The world has passed through the takeover stage, as (Professor) Catton calls it, when burgeoning human populations pillaged the supplies of weaker people or helpless animals. It is deep into the drawdown stage, consuming the accumulated wealth of past aeons as though it would last forever. Someone needed to say clearly and forcefully that we have overshot our limits; Catton has done so. We most emphatically must start to pay attention to the things Catton is writing about, or we are all lost" (Anthony Wayne Smith, for 22 years President and General Counsel of the US National Parks and Conservation Association, quoted on the back cover blurb of "Overshoot" [see above]).
"While untold profits accrue to imperialism's ruling elite - the 1% of society at home and abroad - the 99% of the world's population experience greater hardship and misery. The imperial system of the 21st Century is one marked by growing uncertainty, instability, and ecological disaster" ("Imperialism In The Twenty-First Century: Globalisation, Super-Exploitation And Capitalism's Final Crisis", John Smith, Monthly Review Press, 2010).
"The survival of humanity during our uncertain and fragile future, along with our ability to thrive as human beings, will depend on what we do with our non-physical needs, our tangles of (evidently endemic) trauma, the root causes of our problems, and the epic challenge of being human" (concluding sentence to the ninth and final part of the series "Navigating Struggle, Uncertainty, And Crisis: Transcendence", Rick Wayman: Nuclear Age Peace Foundation:). We must grapple positively with our human psychology in cooperating to overcome the challenges ahead!
"The Black Lives Matter eruption is the outcome of a civilsational inflection point - a point of no return - beyond which we face two choices: escalating collapse, or systemic transformation. The imperial system of structural racism and ecological plunder is crumbling beneath the weight of its own diminishing returns. Where does your allegiance belong? To that which is already doomed, or to an emerging life-world of possibility?" ("White Supremacism And The Earth System - Resilience": Nafeez Ahmed, 8/6/20:); Ahmed is the author of "Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers Of Political Violence", SpringerBriefs in Energy, 2017).
"O how the business elites bleat,
Backlash From Mother Earth
Covid-19, another version of the SARS virus, has ravaged peoples and the global economy in 2020. At the time of writing, the world total of cases had surpassed ten million, with over half a million dead. Officially designated SARS-CoV-2, this latest virus is "genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003. While related, the two viruses are different" (World Heath Organisation).
Our own Government, like so many governments around the world, has not yet grasped the changes heralded by these global disease outbreaks. It keeps talking about a "one in 100 years" event. While the NZ Coalition Government has handled the Covid-19 crisis in exemplary fashion, most justifiably winning both international praise and overwhelming support for its phased lockdown programme from the NZ public, it too fails to grasp the deeper significance of the outbreak.
The pandemic represents another backlash from Gaia Mother Earth, another bout of natural population control imposed on the planet's dominant species ("Future Plagues", op. cit.). To all the capitalist growth pundits - overwhelmingly just about all Western political parties, including in NZ, along with business groupings like the NZ Initiative, etc. - the message is very simple.
Capitalist globalisation is evolutionary overshoot in action! Moreover, industrialisation on a small, fragile planet - whatever the politics driving it - leads inevitably to growing competition over resources, environmental collapse, and eventual catastrophe - one way or the other! It's the environment, stupid!! For a humane future, humankind must urgently implement an international cooperative programme of transformative transition to genuinely sustainable development. This approach must include the far fairer sharing of resources worldwide and improved incentives for much better birth control. We have to really start getting serious!
Ominously, the latest SARS virus has proved by and away the most devastating yet. Its pernicious fall-out in multiple forms still goes on. But, at the same time, the global pandemic crisis is also offering an unprecedented window of opportunity to embrace a radically new direction for humankind. Yet, again, the associated challenges are certainly on an unprecedented and enormous scale.
Up to Covid-19's real impact in early 2020, the global economy was still guided by the prescriptions of the so-called "masters of the universe", the suited corporate managers of capitalist neo-liberalism. But as governments around the world moved to take drastic measures of control to choke off Covid-19, the neo-liberal economic model got a very bloody nose! New maxims for behaviour took off virtually overnight.
We are in the midst of a global economic meltdown, with a babel of contending voices. At the same time, the Covid-19 crisis continues to grow both in reach and intensity worldwide. Somehow, on the Green Left, we have to act more than ever before in helping chart ways forward to a better and more stable future.
Most ironically, sounding through the tumult, some new maxims have been bruited about even to the effect that "we are all socialists now!" In Aotearoa/NZ, we have had the extraordinary experience of a host of free market groups and businesses, including transnational corporations (TNCs), holding out their hands eagerly for Governmental subsidies or support of one sort or another.
For sure, the Opposition National Party would just give cash handouts, purportedly to small businesses! When closely examined, its policy would in fact favour the larger enterprises, as well as increasing the "churn" of unemployment. This is consistent with its class position and corresponding free market ideology. Free direct cash handouts or tax cuts are the main calls made by National across the spectrum of their approach, such as it is. In essence, this prescription amounts to the sum total of their policy for economic recovery, leaving the fallout to market forces.
Most hilariously, National criticises the Government for allegedly not having a plan, and for throwing money around unaccountably like confetti, when its own policies embody exactly that syndrome! As intimated, it would, of course, prioritise economic concerns over properly suppressing the virus; give tax breaks; and essentially let the market rip as much as possible. Their approach would include a free hand for foreign investment and takeovers of NZ-owned businesses. Stuff the country, the national interest, and the public good, along with meaningful democracy - such is National's plan for a so-called "better economy"!
Meantime, the mainstream media have been in meltdown. Among the begging TNCs, there have been the mainstream media conglomerates of Stuff and MediaWorks. Indeed, these two TNCs, which are often blazoned with Rightwing propaganda, while masquerading as local media - have figured prominently! Stuff has even been openly canvassing for public support in the form of donations, etc.
Most ironically, the Coalition Government has been freely dishing out largesse to those that then go on to bite the hands feeding them. By 11 June 2020, Stuff Ltd had received $6.3m from the Government's wage scheme on behalf of 907 employees. Meantime, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MediaWorks, Michael Anderson, has acknowledged that the Government's subsidy help has been "not insignificant".
It would all be grotesquely comical if it were not so serious. Yet, there is still some hope for a more public service media outcome, if our Government plays its cards judiciously and thoughtfully ("Crisis, Disintegration And Hope: Where To For New Zealand's News Media?", Daily Blog, 5/6/20).
Restructuring Questions And Quandaries
The formerly Australian-based Stuff has now just truly become a local company (bought by its own NZ CEO Sinead Boucher for a dollar!). Yet it remains in imminent danger of crashing to pieces on the rocks of the Covid-19 crisis while US-owned MediaWorks has been slashing staff numbers, above all in radio and sales.
In the case of the latter, the restructuring of MediaWorks has raised plenty of questions and speculation about the company's future. MediaWork's American owner Oaktree Capital has been wanting to sell off its neo-colonial Antipodes venture for some time. Even more questions and speculation have swirled around the now local company NZME. It had earlier offered to buy Stuff for a measly dollar. But Stuff rejected this offer. According to Stuff's own spin-line: "NZME's Actions Had Whiff Of Panic" (Tom Pullar-Strecker, Press, 13/5/20).
For sure, NZME, which is debt-ridden, had "already responded to the coronavirus crisis by making 200 staff redundant" (ibid.). It obviously does not have any deep pockets for purchases (ibid.). The ironies go on! Indeed, NZME itself could fall apart. "Shareholders of media company NZME are being urged to vote for a breaking up of the company's assets and for a shift in focus towards new media opportunities" ("NZME Break-Up Urged", Catherine Harris, Press, 14/5/20). This situation reflects initiatives put forward by individual shareholders (ibid.). NZME's board was opposed to these proposals but internal debate is continuing.
Meanwhile, various possible interested buyers of Stuff have been bruited about - from the Government-owned but very commercialised TVNZ to MediaWorks (ibid). But the shareholding structure of the future Stuff is still to take shape. There are real possibilities for new forms of genuinely localised community cooperative media ventures to arise from the wreckage, if supplied with a raft of Governmental initiatives, incentives, and support. But this potential is yet to be adopted and effectively cultivated, and may well come to naught.
Foreign Control Is A Most Compelling Issue
Foreign control is still a burning issue so far as we are concerned regarding the mainstream media. By the end of May 2020, the Coalition Government was claiming to have a "further long-term strategy to support NZ's media sector and ensure a strong, sustainable, independent and diverse news media" ("Boucher Puts Stuff Back In Kiwi Hands", Press, 26/5/20). It was "continuing to work through the details with the aim of having more to say" in the near future (ibid.).
But evidently even some people who want a really good public media system can discount the very negative import of foreign control for participatory democracy and the public good. For example, "Myles Thomas, director of lobby group Better Public Media, [has] said: 'The Government and NZ on Air have no qualms about giving money to foreign-owned media companies. Most television companies in NZ are foreign-owned now'" (ibid.).
If Thomas seems content with this prospect, we are certainly not. Foreign control purveyed via the media constitutes a huge ongoing challenge to our sovereignty. This concern can pertain to both content and ownership. For instance, looking at a lot of the "infotainment" on Prime TV and TV3, one can get the impression we might as well be living in America! We also get from them a constant flow of very biased overseas news courtesy of CBS in particular, well known for its US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) orientation.
However, the traditional political economy of transnational capital and its dominant rule over the sphere of the media is now in some increasing turmoil and change. Online giants like Facebook and Google have muscled into the commercialised market. Negative commercial trends have been greatly amplified by the Covid-19 crisis (e.g., "Forget NZME, Where To Now For Stuff And Nine?", Luke Malpass, Press, 15/5/20). But a "public interest news-gathering programme" might well garner "significant taxpayer support" (ibid.).
A Quaking Media Landscape
As highlighted then, online giants like Google and Facebook have hugely intruded into the advertising and "infotainment" space formerly controlled by the established TNCs. So, the media landscape is still shaking down, and there is a lot of fragmentation and niche marketing appeal at the same time. Nine Entertainment in Australia has sloughed off Stuff NZ and America's Oaktree Capital is wanting to do the same with MediaWorks. NZME, owner of the NZ Herald and the ZB radio chain, along with other regional papers and radio networks, may be a stand-alone company but is similarly struggling to keep its feet. How much of this media will eventually end up in overseas hands is still an open question.
Stuff's CEO and now sole owner Sinead Boucher has actually floated the idea of "a news organisation owned by its staff" ("Boucher Puts Stuff Back In Kiwi Hands", op. cit.). Myles Thomas has commended the idea of this proposal as "kind of like a cooperative" (ibid.). While this particular proposal certainly sounds good it is very early days yet.
The firm is seeking private investors and local capitalist control is certainly no guarantee of fairer and balanced media treatment of the Left. As I shall examine in some more detail below, Stuff's campaign to try and unseat the Labour-led Coalition Government may be revving up again, if so far in fits and starts, given the realities of current electoral politics in uncertain times.
Continuing Crony Collaborationism?
It was very easy to predict that the mainstream media's crony collaborationist pitch for the National Party opposition would be the theme of better economic managerial ability. The general approach would be that this particular party is the best one for economic recovery post-Covid 19, or at least, beyond the seeming peak of the crisis. Indeed, National's supposed superior credentials in economic management has been a common theme of the mainstream media.
Movements for real Leftwing change in capitalist societies are always, of course, going to have big problems given the structure and functioning of the system they have to confront. We are up against a host of vested and privileged interests wielding wide powers. Moreover, we face the challenges of changing a whole generation of neo-liberal conditioning. But, again, the Covid-19 crisis and its fallout has opened up a wide range of opportunities for constructive action.
With regard to the Labour Party, since both National and Labour have been like Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum in many ways for so long, there has been little substantive difference between the two parties until fairly recent years. Moving on from the Fourth Labour government and the debacle of the Rogernomics era of the 1980s, Labour can even claim in conventional capitalist market terms that its economic management has matched, or mostly even surpassed, that of National.
Ironically, again, Labour has gained a definite edge through its increasingly more informed managerial approach and growing opposition to deregulation and privatisation ("On The Double Standard That's Bound To Dominate The Election", Gordon Campbell, Scoop, 27/1/20). Furthermore, since today it is much better oriented to the longer-term public good in a rapidly changing world than National, our general societal outlook is correspondingly so much better.
It seems to be working well with the Greens. Both the immediate collective benefits and future prospects for our society are shaping up a lot more realistically and adaptively, e.g., in the sectors of public health, education, welfare, climate change, and the environment. Nowadays we have to face up to all the challenges ahead more urgently than ever. It yet needs to be said that while the current Coalition Government may well outstrip National, it is still nowhere near transformative enough.
Thankfully, however, along with the Green Party, there is a gathering non-government organisation (NGO) movement, e.g. ActionStation's community work, Generation Zero initiatives, and Greenpeace's environmental programme. Such NGO projects and initiatives are growing momentum for real regenerative change. These actions are helping to prod the Government and relevant authorities in a more meaningful direction. We have to gear up to meet the challenges both now upon us, and those shaping up in the near future, as well as further down the track.
Corporate Collaborationist Media In Action
Under the nine years of the previous National-dominated government, the neo-liberal globalist programme of privatisation and deregulation ran free, albeit tailored in a pragmatically opportunistic fashion according to public sentiment, which in turn was regularly subject to crony media manipulation, and even "Dirty Politics".
(See Nicky Hager's "Dirty Politics: How Attack Politics Is Poisoning New Zealand's Political Environment" - reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdog 137, December 2014, - && also my articles: "Deconstructing The Dirty, Neo-Liberal Media. Politics Of The Democratic Deficit" in Watchdog 144, May 2017, & "Contesting Crony Media & Neo-Liberal Dirty Politics" in Watchdog 142, August 2016).
Post-Covid 19 crisis, our society is still lumbered with the traditional framework of public discourse. An important point to note here is that while the peak of the coronavirus crisis might be over (at least for the moment), there is no guarantee that NZ will not have further outbreaks to which we have to respond. Around mid-June 2020 some very hyped up and heated controversy erupted over a breach of our border controls. There were a host of issues connected both with this specific case, and the general ongoing maintenance of our country's border security. Again, National posed as the party which was best able to secure our country's borders.
Meanwhile, the crony corporate media went into overdrive and operated as National's glove puppets, whipping up an almost hysterical sense of insecurity, and laying the blame at the door of the current Coalition Government. This moral panic was cynically contrived and grossly over-the-top (;"On The Media's Collusion With National's Attack Line", Gordon Campbell, 26/6/20: and also Political Science Professor Jack Vowles: "Some In The Media Need To Calm Down", Newsroom, 23/6/20).
I shall comment further on this later below. Suffice it to say here that the legacy of National's erosion and privatisation of the public health system is damning ("The Bottleneck For Almost Everything", Daily Blog, Mike Treen, 21/6/20).
Defining The Parameters For Public Discourse And Debate
Globalist Big Business, in cahoots with the National/ACT duo, along with their foreign controlled media, have together provided many of the defining parameters of conventional public discussion. Stuff, as demonstrated in the Press and Sunday Star Times, gives regular columns to the neo-liberal, politico-economic exponents of the NZ Initiative, e.g. Eric Crampton and Bryce Wilkinson, along with various other Rightwing commentators.
Naturally, there is no such regular balancing Leftist perspective from trade unionists or NGO commentators. Instead, Stuff's Political Editor Luke Malpass (a former employee of the NZ Initiative!) and fellow journalists can even use a term like "apparatchiks" with all its connotations of Russian Communism when referring to members and supporters of the Labour Party. Again, the term "trade unionists" is obviously employed in a sneering sense in this specific connection. But there is no mention, let alone analysis, of the globalist free market agenda and corporate vested interests informing National's strategy and policies, let alone ACT!
Full Of Hot Air, Steaming Crap, And Empty Rhetoric?
A major example of media negativity concerns the Government's long-term policy to curb oil and gas exploration and production because of global warming considerations. This policy position has simply served as further fuel for the corporate brigade to continually criticise the Government rather than address the need for urgent change. And to hell with the planet becoming an inferno!
Anything perceived as negative to economic growth is effectively denied, or shunted aside. To be sure, the TNC-driven NZ Initiative is so wacky that it actually believes in infinite growth on planet Earth! (see my "Tackling the Capitalist Technological Imperative, Climate Crisis, And Class Warfare", in Watchdog 152, December 2019).
Contradictions reign as ever, e.g. Stuff's proclaimed commitment to help counter climate change versus its lukewarm endorsement of Government actions on this very issue. Meantime, it has continued to protect and promote National and ACT despite their abysmal denialist and "do nothing" record. Yet perhaps a bit more balance may be gaining ground (e.g., "Muller Wins, But Does The Climate?", Eloise Gibson, Press, 23/5/20). New National Leader Todd Muller is badly screwed up about the science on climate change, e.g., defending greenhouse gas emissions from dairying and "peak cow" (ibid.).
Naturally, he is also "quite reactionary on the (Government's) freshwater reforms", rejecting improved controls on agricultural pollution out of hand (ibid.). National is, in truth, very antagonistic to the principles of sustainability and sound resource management. It should be under a very searching and constant public spotlight. But the crony media will no doubt still largely cover for this party.
Until it suddenly hit the wall with the Covid-19 crisis, Stuff had been leading a mainstream media campaign in conjunction with National to unseat the Labour-led Coalition Government (see my "Rap Hard The Reactionary Right: Grow the Progressives - Survival Is At Stake!" in Watchdog 153, April 2020). A particular line of attack on several key fronts, e.g., housing (re. Labour) and electoral financial probity (re. NZ First), has been a proclaimed lack of confidence in the competence and ability of the Coalition Government, especially regarding certain key Ministers (ibid.).
Hence, in this vein, the National Party cranked up their assault weaponry early in 2020 election year, with the media acting in "glove puppet" fashion. The corporate brigade mounted an ongoing programme of "Gotcha" politically contrived attacks on certain Government Ministers (ibid.). Besides Stuff's attack approach, other media have been prominent. In particular, TV3's Political Editor Tova O'Brien can indeed be described as the leading exponent of "Gotcha Politics". TV3 is owned by MediaWorks.
There has been a string of "Gotcha"-style assaults on Government Ministers over the last couple of years: e.g., Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and the Karel Sroubek case; Deputy PM Winston Peters and a raft of issues, including charges of electoral fraud and crony capitalism; and Health Minister David Clark with special reference to his violation of the Covid-19 lockdown protocols (ibid.). National's aim, in tandem with its crony media, has been to endeavour to score enough hits on the Government for it to fold at the election.
In stark contrast to the media's treatment of the previous National government during its nine years in office, orchestrated calls for the demotion or sacking of Ministers have been a regular practice directed against the current Government. Such calls are triggered at any sign of apparent incompetence or misbehaviour, however out of proportion these calls may be in regard to the alleged offence and the facts involved.
Bang-On Bully Bias!
The Rightwing attack media can get quite extreme in their politics. Take for instance, an editorial, titled "Has 'Third-Termitis' Come Early To The Ardern Government?", by Tracy Watkins in the Sunday Star Times (SST) (10/5/20). The pretext for this absurd editorial was a leaked Cabinet memo, which seemed to say why bother defending policies to the media since the public "love us anyway" (ibid.).
This memo was in due course shown to be just the internal musings of a Cabinet staff member but Watkins seized on it to beat up on the Government. Well, we certainly know that Watkins, Andrea Vance, and similar SST/Stuff journalists have no love for the Government! Such stuff is par for the course. Watkins & co. bang on about how supposedly they are only seeking the truth in criticising Government, with particular reference here to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. They try to defend themselves in turn from charges of deliberately contrived negativity (e.g., "Deepening Divide At The Worst Time", editorial by Tracy Watkins, SST, 28/6/20).
We need only to go back and compare the media management of the "Dirty Politics" fallout in 2014 and beyond to determine the crap that these media trolls peddle. Again, the editorial that I earlier cited by Tracy Watkins gives us lots of insight into the games so assiduously played ("Has 'Third-Termitis' Come Early ...?", op. cit.).
For another illustration in this particular editorial of the negative attack syndrome identified, take the concerns that Watkins says have been expressed by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists about the huge backlog of operations and appointments (ibid.). Perversely, Watkins comments that "questions about how the Government will deal with this have largely been fobbed off" (ibid.).
So, get this! - our Government, according to Watkins, has not yet explained how it will deal with this backlog. Yet her critical comment was made in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, with a whole raft of immediate and short-term issues pressing on the Government's attention. And this in the wake of a long legacy of cynical neglect and privatisation ("The Bottleneck For Almost Everything", op. cit.).
Grilling The Government
Another of the criticisms levelled by Watkins at our Government related to "the legality of the Covid lockdown" ("Has 'Third-Termitis' Come Early ...?", op. cit.). Attorney-General David Parker was accused of avoiding "a grilling from a journalist" (ibid.). Given the deplorable Rightwing record of Watkins & co. during the previous National government and their consistent negativity and malign attack politics towards the current Labour-led Coalition Government, her posturing pretence is grossly transparent.
While the World Health Organisation (WHO) has singled out our country as an exemplary model of how to deal with Covid-19, the NZ corporate media have been most markedly reticent and grudging on any acknowledgement of this remarkable achievement. Instead, they have eagerly sought out any problems, or alleged problems.
At the daily press conferences during lockdown held by PM Ardern and the Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, a lot of viewers were repelled by the persistent "Gotcha"-style inquisitorial questioning. Tova O'Brien of TV3 was especially prominent in pushing this type of approach. Viewers were often struck by the stupidity and superficiality of the questions posed (see e.g. the Standard; and also the Daily Blog, for plenty of incisive and pertinent commentary on the malicious media). Later on, I shall take another look at the crony bias of the media in regard to recent border breaches from the virus and the resulting controversy.
Destabilising The Government?
A single edition of the Press back in mid-February 2020 can provide a real insight into Stuff's crony media campaign being run in "glove puppet" style with the National Party (Press, 15/2/20). An editorial titled "Neutralising Peters Is A Smart Move" set the general tone (ibid.). This was in tune with the campaign attack angle of chop Winston Peters and NZ First out of the election stakes, and so really give the Coalition Government a serious ongoing set of the wobbles.
It is extremely ironic in the wake of the global Covid-19 crisis to read some of the stuff in this Press editorial. In congratulating the then National Leader Simon Bridges for ruling out an electoral deal with Peters and NZ First, the editorial cut to the chase at the core of its own corporate representation. The editorial remarked that "there is a sector of the voting population that responds to his (i.e. Winston Peters') nostalgic economic nationalism and enjoys the performances that present Peters as an outsider" . . . (ibid.).
There you have it then in a nutshell - an expression of the interests that Stuff and the Press have long represented: - those of the globalist elite and their domestic compradors here in Aotearoa/NZ! What the foreign owned media TNCs embody is the promotion of neo-liberalism and the rule of the rich and powerful, often with a Rupert Murdoch-led News Corp anti-Left angle (a la the Wall Street Journal, the Times, Fox News, etc.). This has been the basic reason in the Rightwing bid to unseat NZ First.
The Press editorial clearly spelt out its unspoken campaign thrust. "By ruling out Peters, Bridges is suggesting that a vote for NZ First is a vote for Labour and vice versa. From now until September, the parties are tied to each other" (ibid.). The corporate agenda here reflects what is peddled by various neoliberal outfits in Aotearoa/NZ. Central in pushing this agenda is the NZ Initiative, the current Big Business successor to the former “free market” NZ Roundtable. Again, it is important to note that Stuff's political editor Luke Malpass has worked for this TNC agency in the past.
The Stinking Hypocrisy Of "Dirty Politics"
Hilariously, the Press editorial even portrayed NZ First's placement of online photos (taken covertly!) of a couple of journalists investigating the Party as an "unwelcome return of dirty politics, last seen during the turbulent 2014 election" (ibid.). Stuff journalist Matt Shand and Radio NZ (RNZ) journalist Guyon Espiner were the two reporters subject to NZ First's scrutiny.
This line of criticism was reinforced in a separate item by reporter Henry Cooke headlined "PM Silent On Peters Over Covert Photos", delivering a swipe at Jacinda Ardern (ibid.). The photos were posted on "Rightwing political blog The BFD, which has close links to the now defunct blog Whaleoil, which was at the centre of the so-called 'dirty politics' furore in 2014" (ibid.).
Henry Cooke pontificates that "Labour was deeply critical of links between Whaleoil and the National Party in 2014 but PM Jacinda Ardern is now refusing to comment on the matter" (ibid.). So, get this - Cooke is criticising the PM for her lack of comment when the very newspaper he writes for (and the company that owns it) is running a "Dirty Politics" campaign to roll her Government out of office!
Whatever the ethics one way or the other, NZ First was obviously hitting back in self-defence at a concerted media campaign to damage it as much as possible while yet protecting National and ACT to the full. The Press & co had not only turned a blind eye to National's use of Cameron Slater's Whaleoil and David Farrar's Kiwiblog, etc., for years but effectively covered for National following the exposure of "Dirty Politics" in Nicky Hager's book of the same name (op. cit.). National's then Leader and PM John Key even sailed out of the furore practically unscathed! (for this history, see past issues of Watchdog:).
Henry Cooke pointed to Ardern's declared 2020 commitment to a "positive factual robust campaign" ("PM Silent On Peters Over Covert Photos", op. cit.). He next proceeded to report some criticism by National. He cited National's then Deputy Leader, Paula Bennett, as condemning Ardern's silence about the photo snap incident (ibid.).
As the Minister of Social Development in the previous Key-led National government, Paula Bennett played a significant role in helping facilitate the activities of Whaleoil ("Dirty Politics", op. cit., pp41/2). In one such influential case, Whaleoil's Cameron Slater had even said that: "Paula Bennett's office are to be commended for that" help given him (ibid., p42).
Ironies Running Amok!
Ironies indeed run wild here. Both the E tu union and Nicky Hager were also quoted by Cooke as critical of what Peters and NZ First had done ("PM Silent", op.cit.). E tu stuck up for reporters in general. It certainly had a valid point to make about the need to ensure "the freedom of journalists" (ibid.). For his part, Nicky Hager "said Peters should know better as he had been a target of such blogs [like Whaleoil and BFD] himself" (ibid.). Hager elaborated on this, telling Stuff: "It seems a really bad idea for NZ First to use an attack blog involving Cameron Slater as the way that they try to communicate through the media" (ibid.).
Yet the huge irony at the bottom of all this is that Winston Peters and NZ First were the object of a Stuff-led not so covert "Dirty Politics" campaign to get rid of them altogether, and so subvert the Government! In fact, the Press editorial even had the brazen effrontery, let alone outrageous hypocrisy, to charge that in contrast to election year 2014:
"This time it is Labour's much-vaunted positive campaign that risks being tainted by dirty politics" (ibid.). So, the Press called out NZ First for "Dirty Politics" as part of the propaganda integral to its own role in Stuff's dirty campaign to destabilise the Coalition Government! Oh boy, the machinations of the corporate media can be gob-stopping alright!!
But Wait! There's More!
Stuff/Press reporter Henry Cooke had some further reflections in a longer article ("Time To Lay Down The Law To Winston", ibid.). He ran the charges of electoral fraud against NZ First, charges that are still the subject of official investigation. His real target was PM Ardern, who according to Cooke, should have given Deputy PM Peters a jolly good "dressing down" (ibid.).
So, let's be clear again on this sort of stuff. Henry Cooke, as a journalist within his company's media campaign to destabilise the Government, revelled in trying to put the PM on the spot. He wanted to foist on her some responsibility, given the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) scrutiny of Labour's partner party NZ First in Government, for calling this party to account. He even talked about a "rot of silence" (ibid.). Wow!
Well, Henry, just reflect on the years of crony media silence about so much of National's "Dirty Politics". Moreover, what has really been so outrageous in recent years is how the crony corporate mainstream media have protected the National Party's long-entrenched and pervasive corruption from the Chinese Communist Party money trail ("New Zealand Needs To Show It's Serious About Addressing Chinese Interference", Guardian, 23/1/20).
Both the editorial and Cooke cast aspersions on the Green Party as well for not publicly criticising Peters and NZ First. This criticism was further amplified in an American-inspired regular column labelled Below The Beltway. It congratulated National as being "Up" at the top of the column for its continuing "remarkable" success at the time in the opinion polls (ibid.).
Screwing The Scrum And Rorting the System
To be fair, the column also cited "a fairly optimistic forecast" for the economy, in association with "the Government's infrastructure package" (ibid.). But this top section of the Below The Beltway column actually started with the opening comment that: "Dirty politics is back - just when you thought the demise of Cameron Slater would bring about a much-needed cleanout of the political system".
Only this time, somewhat ironically, the bloggers are backing NZ First, the party propping up Jacinda Ardern's Government" (ibid.). What an absolute hoot of hypocrisy! Let's spell it out fully at this point. The Press is actually accusing the Coalition Government of playing "dirty politics" and using bloggers as exemplified by Cameron Slater (courtesy of the new blogsite The BFD).
And this is being promulgated at the very time that Stuff, with its stable of newspapers, including the Press, is publishing this kind of material in its own "Dirty Politics" campaign! ("Rap Hard The Reactionary Right", op. cit.). Note as well the Press's phrase about NZ First as "the party propping up Jacinda Ardern's Government" ("Dirty politics is back", op. cit.). Not only are the words "propping up" a snide swipe at the Government but the subversive TNC campaign orchestrated by Stuff & Co. has aimed to kick this particular prop away ("Rap Hard The Reactionary Right", op. cit.). Dirty Politics is back for sure!!
Moreover, note how this Press column carefully construed its commentary angle in a way that puts all the blame on the attack blogger Cameron Slater for "Dirty Politics" (ibid.). It talks about "the bloggers" as if they are an autonomous bloc, who also just happen to choose a political party to back. Not only, of course, do online bloggers span the whole spectrum of political opinion, but the "Dirty Politics" Whaleoil Cameron Slater/David Farrar Kiwiblog/etc. network was intimately connected to the very top leadership of the National Party during PM John Key's era.
But there is no mention of the National Party in this connection. Now, to reiterate and emphasise, this is despite the glaring fact that the National Party was at the heart of all this poisonous stuff, and PM Key was the covert ringmaster ("Dirty Politics", op. cit.). While reporter Henry Cooke does mention in one of his own articles that "Labour was deeply critical of links between Whaleoil and the National Party in 2014", he also refers to the "Journalist Nicky Hager, who wrote the book 'Dirty Politics' about Whaleoil in 2014" [my emphasis] ("PM Silent On Peters Over Covert Photos", op. cit.).
In other words, Cooke pitches a crony media angle that the focus of Hager's book is Whaleoil when in fact this blockbusting investigation is a revelation of the National Party's subversion of our democracy using attack bloggers and the media. The reality was that Cameron Slater, the operator of Whaleoil, was not only the son of a former National President but functioned as their chief online "dirty tricks" blogger. He had a very close working relationship with PM John Key and Key's prime "black ops" agent, Jason Ede, based in the Beehive ("Dirty Politics", op. cit.). Such then are the ongoing political manipulations of Stuffand their mates right up until today to protect the National Party as much as possible!
Giving The Nats A Kindly Helping Hand
Most damningly, ever since 2014, the mainstream media have effectively conspired to protect as much as possible both National and its leadership from proper accountability in their poisonous politics. In one of many contrasting media treatments to that regularly given National and ACT, Stuff & co, as I have repeatedly stressed, mounted from late 2019 a concerted assault on NZ First and its leader Winston Peters. They have been bent on trying to dethrone what they call the MMP "kingmaker" and thus get National and ACT back in power.
On the first inside page of the particular February edition of The Press (15/2/20) that I am reviewing as illustrative of Stuff's anti-Government campaign, there is a colour photo of the results of a TV1 poll and an accompanying article ("TVNZ 'Made Up' Maori Party Logo", Emily Brookes). This item is positioned just under Henry Cooke's piece on the "PM Silent On Peters Over Covert Photos" (ibid.).
The photo poll article gave an indirect plug for the ACT Party and its Leader David Seymour. But the prime function of the photo of poll results was obviously to highlight National riding high at the top (ibid.). Such a calculated tactic, of course, is never used to give Labour or the Greens a boost, let alone NZ First! To recap then, the single edition of the Press (15/2/20), which I have just examined in some detail, presents a range of tactics employed by the mainstream media like Stuff to influence the voting public. In any election year, these media tactics and the underlying strategy go into maximum gear!
Democratic Accountability And Media Integrity
Holding Government Ministers to account is of course a most necessary and standard practice within a practising democracy. In the case of certain Coalition Government Ministers, criticism has on occasion been well warranted. In others, criticism has obviously been artificially contrived and persistently hyped up to a very considerable degree, e.g. the Karel Sroubek immigration affair.
In regard to the photo incident described above, as well as the issues swirling around electoral probity, Jacinda Ardern got criticised for supposedly not taking appropriate action against Deputy PM Peters, e.g. demoting him ("Rap Hard The Reactionary Right", op. cit.). Most egregiously and perniciously, Ardern was herself regularly targeted - albeit at times indirectly, or by slimy insinuation - for not intervening properly to deal with the purported sexual abuse running rampant in the Labour Party itself (ibid.).
In fact, any serious allegations of sexual abuse within the Labour Party were proven baseless; as were the related charges of laxity against Ardern (ibid.). Instead, all this stuff had been viciously facilitated and fuelled by very biased, shonky Rightwing journalism (ibid.). This media had indeed so very cynically whipped up a moral panic. But the allegations of sexual abuse within the Labour Party dissolved in the light of day under rigorous scrutiny (ibid.).
The overall concern in this election year (2020) has been that there is a Rightwing media campaign, which is deliberately biased, and indeed systematically and calculatedly construed, in an effort to destabilise the Labour-led Coalition Government (ibid.). How much this campaign continues in the aftermath of the peak of the Covid 19 crisis remains to be seen during the run-up to the election in September.
There are certainly still some worrying signs. Again, as previously indicated, I make some more comment on this below. But, at this point, I shall continue with certain general themes of the National Party/mainstream media. Indeed, overall, my article concentrates on these themes and the politico-cultural context.
A general theme pushed by the corporate media hand-in-glove with the National Party has been the supposed superiority of this Party's shadow Cabinet line-up. National's nine-year record in office, coupled with any objective scrutiny of Parliamentary performance, shows in fact that this claim is a load of old codswallop.
The critical sphere of public health is central these days. On leaving office, National left an underlying wreckage of neglect and public under-funding, e.g., an overall 26% decline in public health funding, and so a huge dysfunctional hole to fill in the face of the Covid-19 crisis. So, let us take a closer look at the claim of superior talent and ability in National's current front ranks. How do background experience, relevant knowledge, and proven ability line up?
For example, the badly compromised but perennial media favourite Judith Collins of "Dirty Politics" infamy is back. She has the roles of both economic development and regional development spokesperson, which is just a sick joke given her Luddite approach to the environment. She is notoriously anti-Green and even a climate change denier! Hence, her appeal to the corporate media!!
Most outrageously, she also has the role of shadow Attorney-General! (see her very unethical role revealed in: "Dirty Politics: How Attack Politics Is Poisoning New Zealand's Political Environment", Nicky Hager, Craig Potton Publishing, 2014). The media are quite content to cite an inquiry and related evidence that supposedly clears Judith Collins of trying to undermine Serious Fraud Office head Adam Feeley. Yet there is evidence counter to this assumption of innocence ("How Much Of A Whitewash Was Judith Collins Inquiry?", Daily Blog, 18/7/15).
Then there is the whole question of whether, or how much, she was lobbying in the interests of Oravida, a company of which her husband was then a director, when on a Governmental trip to China. This particular company had been pillaging wetlands in Northland for swamp kauri to export to China. Collins freely displayed her total ecological ignorance and disregard for our remaining wetlands on TV.
As National's Finance Spokesperson, there is Paul Goldsmith, who has been - comically enough! - misrepresented by his own Party's new leadership as the token Maori on their shadow front bench. Before getting into Parliament, Goldsmith had made a public relations (PR) flunky, sycophantic career out of hagiographies of wealthy businessmen and Rightwing politicians, including the former National and also ACT MP John Banks, ACT co-founder Alan Gibbs, and the Myers brewing family.
Most prominently, and most revealingly and significantly, Goldsmith wrote a notorious "promo puff-piece" in the form of a book for the then hard Right National Leader Dr Don Brash. Our top investigative journalist Nicky Hager exposed the story of Goldsmith's biography of Brash in excoriating detail within the context of National's political machinations at the time (see: "Go The Blue Team!: Lobbyists Join The Campaign", ch.13, in "The Hollow Men: A Study In The Politics Of Deception", Craig Potton Publishing, 2006, pp192-7. Reviewed by Jeremy Agar in Watchdog 114, May 2007).
Blatantly and unashamedly, Goldsmith even lied that his book about Brash was not commissioned by the National Party, when in fact it was! He claimed "it was his own initiative" when the book "in fact [was] the Party's first big budget item in the 2005 election campaign" (Wikipedia). Such scumbag stuff is just routine policy and practice for National in recent decades. It is certainly most appropriate that National now has a proven, outrageous liar as its Finance spokesperson!
Spin Merchants At Work
But never mind, despite all the damning stuff about National MPs and their "Dirty Politics", the crony corporate media can always be counted on to contrive some suitable covering material. Let's have a look at Stuff's spin about Paul Goldsmith joining the coup with overthrew National Leader Simon Bridges and his Deputy Paula Bennett.
Two Stuff "spin doctors", Political Editor Luke Malpass and former Political Editor Tracy Watkins, explain the participation of Goldsmith as they picture it (in "How Todd Muller Took Simon Bridges By Surprise", Press, 24/5/20). In their considered opinion, the circumstances of the coup in the overthrow of National's previous leadership most eminently demonstrated the stamp of integrity here!
Malpass and Watkins expound their interpretation as follows: "According to sources close to Muller, when their new Leader approached National's Finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith about voting for him, Goldsmith told him bluntly and honestly that he was Bridges' man. They were mates, they used to run together, he felt loyal to him and would not vote for Muller" (ibid.).
Malpass and Watkins continue: "Muller is understood to have admired Goldsmith's integrity and so had no hesitation in offering him the Finance portfolio immediately" (ibid.). Which, of course, Goldsmith accepted straight up. Oh right! What an honest man of real integrity!! This stuff is absolutely hilarious in itself, not even taking account of past history! It surely demonstrates how such Rightwing reporters are blind to their own extraordinary self-satire!
New Leader Todd Muller, of course, had his own self-interested calculations, as no doubt do the journalists writing up such crap. But wait, it is another feather in Muller's cap because the new Leader "also showed shrewd political judgment. (You see) Goldsmith is important for his connections to the Auckland business community; he is popular within the Party (!); and he is an economic dry [i.e. fervent corporate free marketeer] which will assuage some fear within caucus that Muller could be too wet economically" (ibid.). So more hilarious stuff then! These people, both National and their media glove puppets, certainly deserve one another!!
The Egregious Pursuit Of Self-Interest Defines National
While Paul Goldsmith is obviously a very self-serving and adaptable politician like Gerry Brownlee, his personal politics certainly gravitate very much to the hard Right, e.g., against progressive taxation, and opposition to justice for Maori (see: Stuff, "National Portrait - Paul Goldsmith: A Career Of Trade-Offs", 10/8/19). Outed from the Waitangi Tribunal when briefly there as a researcher, the irony of Goldsmith being initially attributed Maori heritage by his Party under the new leadership of Todd Muller and Deputy Nikki Kaye was doubly ironic.
It is important in these times of Black Lives Matter, to note that Don Brash - courtesy of the crony corporate mainstream media - is still given public credibility on social matters. This holds despite Brash's blatantly white racist views: - views, that along with his extreme free market ideology, have been cheered on by the likes of Gerry Brownlee, Paul Goldsmith, and so many others in the National Party, let alone ACT.
Thankfully, Nicky Hager's book "The Hollow Men" was instrumental in getting rid of Brash from the National Party leadership. Brash then went over to the far Right minor ACT party. Nicky's revelations saved the nation from horrible racial strife and huge societal damage. We all owe him a heartfelt thanks. This should be more relevant and meaningful than ever in the new era of "Black Lives Matter".
But all the lies, nasty political machinations, cynically calculated false PR and public posturing, and so on - all so searingly exposed in "The Hollow Men" - were quickly forgotten by the media. Instead, NZ's "Fourth Estate", the self-proclaimed guardians of democracy, later moved on into an artificially-contrived covert "Dirty Politics" decade under the cover of a smiley-faced, wavy-handed John Key-headed National government.
It was left to Hager's next book, "Dirty Politics" (op. cit.) to blow this particular cover apart! Racism; sexism; greed; status-seeking; corruption; class warfare on the less fortunate of our society; the deepest kind of deviousness; and even the facilitation of genocide (as in Indonesia 1965-70), etc., have all characterised and exemplified what the National Party really represents over the years.
Rotten To The Crony Corporate Core!
Within this wider context, it cannot yet be stressed enough just how rotten to the core so much of the mainstream media is in terms of journalistic ethics. Overall, their promotion and protection of the National Party, along with the far Right ACT party, has been systematic and pervasive. If the damning derelictions and moral depravity of the National Party, as charted in Nicky Hager's two books cited above, had been exposed in the Labour Party, then the latter would have been by now for all intents and purposes assigned to permanent oblivion. After all, Stuff & co have seen fit to try and destroy NZ First altogether!
It has tried to completely write off Winston Peters and New Zealand First ("Rap Hard The Reactionary Right", op. cit.). Early on in 2020, this was a key aim of Stuff's nasty campaign to topple the current Government (ibid.). The anti-Government campaign got temporarily derailed during the Covid-19 crisis but watch this space as we run up to the election.
It is absolutely outrageous that a globalist Big Business backed media company, i.e. Stuff, has been so undemocratic as to openly try and get rid of an elected Parliamentary political party, i.e. NZ First (ibid.). At the same time, in stark contrast, the crony protection for both National and ACT has been as glaringly evident as ever (ibid.).
The record of NZ First bears no close comparison to that of National's litany of dirty work. Moreover, National has long been corruptly rotten with Chinese Communist Party monies ("New Zealand Needs To Show It's Serious About Addressing Chinese Interference", Guardian, 23/1/20). But the media have effectively protected National from proper critical examination.
NZ First In Line For Frontline Self-Immolation?
When I was rounding off this article in June, Stuff and a lot of the other media were having fun hyping up Winston Peter's efforts to demarcate out his NZ First Party from within the Labour-led Coalition Government as a kind of conservative handbrake. His antics were directed above all at trying to garner votes for his Party. But this sort of posturing has the potential at worst to destabilise the Coalition in public perception. Currently, Labour has been riding high in the polls. The dynamics of electoral MMP politics can yet still make for uncertainty and slippage, especially given the crucial role of the media.
For many of us on the Left, the biggest concern relating to NZ First is its very disconcerting militarist orientation within the Labour-led Coalition Government (see Murray Horton's: "What A Waste Of Bloody Money! Time To Reset Priorities", Peace Researcher (PR) 59, June 2020).
"Indeed, under the influence of Coalition partner NZ First and its key Ministers, Winston Peters (Deputy PM & Foreign Affairs) and Ron Mark (Defence), this Government has become more pro-American and pro-military than its National predecessor" (ibid.). They are both intent on locking us into America's nuclear war strategy just like the National Party would. As indicated, this is of enormous concern!
National's "Black Ops" Rooted In Genocidal Geopolitics
However, I return now to National's own client role in the American empire. A lot of the early practice for National's persistently employed domestic dual tracks of PR camouflage and covert "Black Ops" obviously stems from back in its past. This Party's help for the Anglo-American "Five Eyes" intelligence/covert agencies' orchestration of the Indonesian Genocide 1965-70 set a model for it to follow in terms of deception and duplicity. Its complicity and involvement in State terrorism have continued right up to recent times.
The previous John Key-led government oversaw such special ops in Afghanistan, above all the now notorious American-NZ joint revenge "death squad" raid on two remote villages ("Hit & Run: The New Zealand SAS In Afghanistan And The Meaning Of Honour", Nicky Hager & Jon Stephenson, Potton & Burton, 2017). This particular counter-insurgency raid has been the subject of an official inquiry, which seems to have become somewhat of a farce.
Most chillingly, NZ military intelligence operatives have been instrumental in helping target aerial attacks on US-prescribed enemies, causing "large numbers of civilian casualties" (see: "New Zealand's Role In US Middle East Military Base" in Spooky Bits by Warren Thomson, PR 59, June 2020, op. cit.). Lamentably, NZ participation in "Five Eyes"-perpetrated terrorism continues under the present Government.
Overall, it is evident that lessons from the dark deeds of geopolitical foreign policy, as engineered and guided by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), etc., have been imbibed and adapted by the National Party to the home scene in Aotearoa/NZ. In the 21st Century, there has been plenty of further tutoring by the US Republican Party in political deception and manipulation, along with National's own PR firms like Crosby/Textor (refer to: "The Hollow Men", op. cit.).
Practising "Dark Arts" PR
Richard Allen, a former US National Security Adviser (NSA) in the 1980s' Reagan Administration, was instrumental in helping shape National Party strategy during the Brash era. Very significantly, the political PR player who got Allen as an adviser involved with National was Matthew Hooton. The latter, a well-known PR consultant and hard Rightist, is now a key strategist in National Leader Todd Muller's office. Richard Allen certainly had a notorious "dirty work" reputation, as Hooton even acknowledged. Indeed, Allen was so toxic Hooton & co. worked with him to keep his identity and collaboration as secret as possible (ibid., p99). "Richard V Allen represented the far Right of US politics" (ibid.).
In the years just before the bonding with Brash, etc., "Allen had been one of a who's who of the US far Right who were part of the Project for a New American Century, which was credited with being the main lobby behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq" (ibid., p100). Allen "was a particularly hard-line American hawk" (ibid.; see my "Covert Warrior Comes Out Of The Cold" in PR 24, December, 2001:).
"Black Ops" And White Racism Are Back!!
In late May 2020, TV3's Political Editor Tova O'Brien and news team had surprised its audience with the revelation that National's new Todd Muller-led line-up had established a special covert "Intelligence and Black Ops" unit to try and get embarrassing and incriminating "dirt" on Coalition Government members! (NewsHub Live At 6pm, 27/5/20). "Dirty Politics" has returned with a vengeance!
According to Muller, his Party is now wanting to be "nice". However, in actuality, the Party's covert track is set for another agenda of personalised attack politics (ibid.). The long-experienced Gerry Brownlee is in charge of this special unit (ibid.). While Brownlee denies any such nasty intentions, leaks from within National indicate exactly the opposite!
What is quite fascinating from a wider perspective is how Brownlee, a pretentious bullying "yahoo", has kept his place at the top of National's hierarchy during its various leadership turn-overs. It is certainly most telling how erstwhile leader Bill English once observed to Don Brash that Brownlee was seen by the then "middle of the road caucus people" as someone "who looks after his own interest, not theirs" ("The Hollow Men" op. cit., p147).
A key strategist in the past exulting in the far Right socio-economic and racist agenda of Don Brash as National's Leader, Gerry Brownlee is now clearly very comfortable with National's freshly "whitewashed" front bench, which was initially purged of Maori personnel. Back under Brash's leadership at one point, then Deputy Leader "Brownlee got [so] carried away [that he] called one Maori MP a 'black fella' [my emphasis]" (ibid., p95). Former National Deputy Leader, Paula Bennett, who was ousted in the recent Muller-headed coup, has decided to retire from the Party. At this point, there is only one Maori spokesperson left now in Muller's Shadow Cabinet.
Importing White "Ockerism" About "The Other"
The especially repressive white racism of Australia has been imported into Aotearoa/NZ in various ways over the years, especially the version expressed by Australian far Right agitator Geoff McDonald in his "Shadows Over New Zealand: Defence, Land Rights, And Multiculturalism", Chaston Publishers, 1985.
(See: "Revival Of The Right: New Zealand Politics In The 1980s", Bruce Jesson, Allanah Ryan, & Paul Spoonley, Heinemann Reed, 1988, pp109-114; and also "Reactionary Pakeha Politics: The 100 Days: Claiming Back New Zealand: What Has Gone Wrong And How Can We Control Our Politicians by Amy Brooke. A Reflective View" by Dennis Small, in Watchdog 135, April 2014).
Recent research by academics at the Australian National University has shown that: "Three out of four Australians have negative bias towards Aboriginal people" ("Indigenous Bias", Press, 11/6/20). In a project which surveyed people from 2009 to 2020, the study "found 'negative implicit or unconscious bias against indigenous Australians across the board', adding it was 'likely the cause of the racism that many First Australians experience'" (ibid.).
Meanwhile, there were protests in Australia during June 2020 as part of the international Black Lives Matter movement. Charges were levelled at police violence and other forms of racism. The record in Australia is especially shocking, with hundreds of Aborigines having died in Police custody. But we certainly need to lift the bar substantially in Aotearoa/NZ too in addressing the problem of racial discrimination. Protests here have firmly registered this message.
Dual Tracking Can Be Tricky!
National's new "Black Special Ops" coordinator Gerry Brownlee has plenty of form in orchestrating the Party's nasty aspects. For instance, he was pivotal in hyping up the media in the weeks before Don Brash's notorious, racially inflammatory speech at the Orewa Rotary Club on the 27th January 2004. "Deputy Leader Gerry Brownlee would say later that a key reason for the (Orewa) speech's success had been 'conditioning work' to fire up the media in advance" ("The Hollow Men", op. cit., p88). This comment affords a really revealing and disturbing insight into National's close crony relationship with so much of the mainstream media.
Author Nicky Hager interprets Brash's speech as driven by the National Leader's calculation of the gains for electoral politics, and "not driven by racism" (ibid. p79). Hager is much too kind here. Brash's record on racial issues is damning! We can well assume that Brash had a combination of motives in his toxic Orewa speech. But thankfully Hager's "The Hollow Men" got rid of him!!
As this book showed, most of the time Don Brash's minders were struggling to disguise the openly chilling capitalist extremism of his far Right views, even though the hard core of National members really wanted these views implemented. But any clever and strategic dissembling necessary for increasing public support proved very difficult personally for Brash to adopt and action.
Keeping Up Appearances
As the National Party has long been wont to do, it has tried to push hard Right, or even far Right, "free market" policies under the guise of a friendly smiling face (a la the later John Key). But, again in Brash's case, his usual demeanour is a problem for engaging communication! Most ironically, the long "wannabe" influential party politician had not the political nous to be more subtle in his personal style. National's problem of image-making was hilariously comical in his era!
At worst, under Brash's leadership, National was seeking absolute neo-liberal privatisation of the economy. It was just wanting to keep the Police, security services, and defence under State control to ensure protection for its own privileged societal status. This is, of course, the position of ACT. But, hey again, don't tell the media! As for National, it has indeed long been a shadowy grouping in so much of its real agenda and operations!!
Yet the obvious lurch once more to racial bias and "Dirty Politics" under the new Todd Muller regime has already cost National some damage to its image-making. Furthermore, Muller has had a series of embarrassing PR blunders. He got off to a bad start by being identified as a Trump supporter for sporting a MAGA (Make America Great Again) cap. He was even called out for displaying the Maori Tino Rangatiratanga flag upside down at an early launch speech in Te Puna in mid-June.
Most damningly, for sure, the Maori Party has condemned Todd Muller as "racist". A key trigger for the Maori Party's personal condemnation of Muller was National's challenge, so symbolically led by Muller himself, to a very significant and heartening court finding in favour of indigenous peoples' rights and environmental safeguards ("Motiti Island's Landmark Fishing Ruling Challenged By National Leader", Stuff, 7/6/20).
Backed by NZ Forest & Bird, a hapu group "from Motiti Island [had] battled against the Crown, councils and commercial fishing industries to protect their fish and seabeds in a landmark court ruling" (ibid.). Correspondingly, Whanau Ora Minister Peeni Henare has attacked Todd Muller as "blind to Maori" in a blistering Parliamentary speech ("Minister: Muller 'Blind To Maori'", Press, 28/5/20). Henare said: "The Leader of the Opposition doesn't understand our world; in his own words, he doesn't see our world" (ibid.). Henare was also aptly critical of Judith Collins as a privileged and aggrieved exponent of the informal White Lives Matter movement
Lousy Shadow Cabinet Line-Up Liabilities
If Judith Collins is National's Shadow Attorney-General, another prominent "Dirty Politics" player is also in line for the further warping of our justice system. Notorious mercenary and imperialist "carpet-bagger" Mark Mitchell, who reaped a fortune from the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, has the shadow Justice and also Defence Ministerial portfolios. So, help us all! Let investigative journalist Nicky Hager set the platform for Mark Mitchell and the implications for his portfolios. "Mitchell was a good example of the hard Right MP grouping (that the backroom PR consultant/adviser Simon]) Lusk was trying to build" ("Dirty Politics", op. cit., pp57/8).
In the internal National competition for prime electorate seats, Mitchell - guided by the Whaleoil Cameron Slater and Simon Lusk duo - played dirty. "Mitchell, their selection candidate, was paying big money for this dirty campaigning, and was well aware of what he was buying" (ibid., p62). Given his rotten record, mercenary militarist interests are embedded in what Mark Mitchell represents.
His roles in defence and justice are absolutely outrageous when viewed in the wider context. Sadly, however, all this reflect the realities of NZ's place in the Anglo-American axis of geopolitical power projection and the political Establishment's eminently self-serving hypocrisy to date. NGOs need to work harder in this sphere for real change!
More Suspect Shadowy Cabinet Characters And Their Cronies
Other Shadow Cabinet MPs have backgrounds that should demand close scrutiny, whether for their egregiously shadowy politics and/or cynical pursuit of self-interest. Nikki Kaye, who is the Deputy Leader and also Spokesperson for Education and Sport/Recreation, is someone that stands out for her past involvement in Rightwing blogger politics. She was a participant in the so-called Vast Rightwing Conspiracy (VRWC) (ibid., p19).
In February 2008, Whaleoil's Cameron "Slater convened a gathering of Rightwing bloggers at the Wildfire restaurant on Auckland's Princes Wharf. He told the group, who ... included blogger and future National MP Nikki Kaye ... that their table was 'booked under the name of the VRWC' ... " (ibid., p19). Okay, the name/acronym VRWC might have been "tongue-in-cheek" but it epitomised the type of attitudes, values, and interests that these Rightwing bloggers wanted to push - self-interest, materialist greed, and freedom for the rich and powerful! Most amusingly, as National's new Deputy Leader, Nikki Kaye has declared National has "a moral obligation" to win the coming election.
Special interests connected with corporate globalism indeed loom large in National's line-up. For instance, Michael Woodhouse is National's Health Spokesperson, obviously an important role for the Opposition in 2020. Yet, not only is he representative of private health interests given his background, he has even been indulging in unashamed scaremongering.
Woodhouse even promoted a wild and totally unverified story about a homeless man sneaking in to enjoy luxury hotel accommodation under the Covid-19 quarantine. His intention was obviously to cast doubt on the integrity of this system for people arriving back from overseas. We have seen that malicious lying in multiple forms is endemic to National.
Then we have Chris Bishop, who has the roles of Infrastructure and Transport. Bishop was once a lobbyist for Philip Morris tobacco company. Ironically enough, he lobbied against National's plans to increase the tobacco excise and the introduction of plain packaging. But, on becoming a National candidate, he swiftly endorsed these very same policies!
At this point it is appropriate to add in regard to PR adviser Matthew Hooton, now a key strategist for Muller, that he has had similar experience in pushing "drugs". Hooton has been happy in the past to link up with the alcohol industry in campaigning for National, and with the tobacco industry on behalf of ACT's efforts to oppose governmental controls (ibid., p17 & p81).
Most appropriately, MP Barbara Kuriger - given National's rotten record - has the roles of Rural Communities and Food Safety. Her son was recently convicted in court of animal cruelty to dairy cows! It is certainly fitting then that Barbara Kuriger is National's Chief Whip! "Kuriger is a former director of Oxbow Dairies Ltd, which was charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty and neglect.
Kuriger ceased being a director in 2014, while her husband Louis was still a director until late 2018, during which period the bulk of the charges were laid and offences committed. Her (award-winning!) son, Tony, pleaded guilty in January 2020 for causing 'prolonged and severe pain' to the animals in his care" (Wikipedia).
The Curious Case Of Chinese Cashed-Up Crony MPs
Todd McClay is National's Shadow Cabinet Spokesperson for Trade and Tourism. McClay has been fingered by the American Rightwing brigade (per Freedom House no less!) "as an example of how the Chinese government forges relationships with foreign politicians, who promote Beijing's views in local media. McClay spouted China's official line on Uighur mass detention in an interview, saying 'the existence and purpose of vocational training centres (i.e. concentration brain-washing camps) is a domestic matter for the Chinese government'. McClay has never retracted these remarks" ("New Zealand Needs To Show It's Serious . . ." op. cit.).
"McClay is also infamous for receiving $150,000 from a China-based businessman Lang Lin. The funds were given via Lang's NZ registered company Inner Mongolia Rider Horse" (ibid.). It is still an outrageous anomaly that: "NZ law allows donations via NZ-registered companies. Even if they are foreign-owned" (ibid.). The National Party has "received at least $1.3 million in political donations from figures associated with China's United Front Work Department", operating as an overseas arm of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (ibid.).
It cannot be stressed here enough that these facts alone pertaining to National MP and Shadow Cabinet member Todd McClay unequivocally demonstrate - if so very ironically! - the overwhelmingly Rightwing bias of the NZ mainstream media. If it had been a Labour MP so closely and questionably tied to Chinese Communist Party monies, the media would have been in an ongoing tizzy about alleged subversion! But the media have simply mentioned it in passing, if at all, and moved on as they are so wont to do with matters affecting National.
But wait! TV1's Q & A programme did very recently catch up with the alleged Chinese spy in National's ranks, Dr. Jian Yang, who still refuses a proper interview (28/6/20). He is a former (?) Chinese military intelligence operative, and chief fundraiser in Chinese circles (ibid.). Yet while Q & A gave a pretty caustic portrait of Yang's performance, it did not examine his fundraising role in the Chinese community. So National escaped a proper audit and accounting! (Jian Yang has since announced that he is retiring from Parliament at the 2020 election. Ed.).
A Most Unprepossessing, Dubious, And Ugly Lot
The regular mainstream media message on National's derelictions (aside from the very odd exception just noted) is: nothing really much to see here, so move on! The same holds for National's Shadow Cabinet line-up and all the nasty baggage that these people are carrying. I have identified some of the more outstanding of National's Shadow Cabinet line-up. There are others of course.
They range from Nick Smith, who specialises in the blatantly undemocratic disruption of Parliament (while so ironically having the roles of State Services and Electoral Reform!) to Simon O'Connor (Associate Development & Housing) who is so far to the Right that he thinks the "Keep Left" signs in Parliament comprise a Communist conspiracy!
One could well go into continual guffaws of laughter over all this! But a final word about National's new leader Todd Muller. In what he has said to date, Muller has displayed a disturbing egocentric orientation. He clearly rates himself very highly. It is then so funny how Jacinda Ardern runs rings around him in the Parliamentary exchanges and debates! It seems that his affection for his Trumpist MAGA hat reflects his own attitudes and values. These obviously include a kind of self-regard, which is very unhealthy in the NZ political culture.
Despite its conservative political policy, Stuff does give space to some columnists who can articulate genuinely alternative views. This is to be commended and to be encouraged as much as possible. One such columnist is Iranian-born Donna Miles-Mojab. In an opinion piece about National's new leadership, she rightly contended that the: "Outrage over Muller's MAGA hat was justified" (Press, 28/5/20).
Miles-Mojab observed so succinctly that: "Our Prime Minister's hijab (worn in solidarity with the Muslim community after the Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks in March 2019) was a beautiful symbol of unity and love unlike the MAGA hat, which has become an emblem of exclusion and hate" (ibid.). It was a big win for Black Lives Matter, and human rights in general, that public criticism forced Muller to back down from his enthusiasm for his MAGA cap!
The political contortions of National and the media are indeed serpentine and convoluted! A small item in the Press (16/6/20) reported that: "Former National government Minister Steven Joyce has been awarded costs of nearly $269,000, after winning a defamation case last year against (NZ's leading capitalist magazine) National Business Review (NBR) publisher Fourth Estate Holdings Ltd., and its owner Todd Scott".
The court case had concerned "a defamation trial centred on a column written by commentator Matthew Hooton, and tweets about it from Scott. Written in March 2018, the article was critical of Joyce's time in government" (ibid.). Joyce had taken offence. Although Matthew Hooton (had) "issued an apology as part of a legal settlement with Joyce", NBR and Fourth Estate Holdings Ltd. persisted in contesting the "defamation claims from Joyce" (ibid.). While Steven Joyce did not make a claim for damages, he was "awarded costs against Fourth Estate and Scott" (ibid.).
You couldn't make this up better if you tried! Steven Joyce, peddler of the Nazi-type "Big Lie" in the last election (2017), has won a case against a Rightwing business publication, as well as one of National's leading "Dirty Politics" players. The latter is now a key strategist for new National Leader Todd Muller in the 2020 election. When it comes to protecting National (and ACT), the corporate mainstream media obviously have no sense of humour or satire!
Look Out! - Here Comes The Economic Recovery Hype!!
To date, two major lines of National's publicly proclaimed election strategy have emerged. On the one hand, this Rightwing Party has fastened on problems, both real and artificially hyped up, of the Covid-19 crisis in regard to cases of the virus coming in from overseas - mainly via New Zealanders returning or on visits back home. Border breaches got a lot of attention and controversy.
On the other hand, National is not only promoting itself as the best party to handle border issues but eminently the best party to oversee the socio-economic recovery. Yet, as we have already noted above, so far as the latter is concerned, the record does not weigh up in National's favour. This record stands whatever its media mates like TV3 endeavour to portray.
As indicated above, Covid-19 had derailed the media/National Party joint campaign to roll the Coalition Government. There have been signs that this campaign is cranking up again. But with a stuttering National opposition thankfully not yet able to really fire up so far (despite all the crony media help!), the Coalition Government is holding its ground.
Stuff may run a headline about the most recent political poll like "National Makes Enormous Recovery" (25/6/20) when in fact it was just making a bit of a bounce back in public perception and support. Labour, on this particular Colmar Brunton poll, could still govern the country alone. And this despite the posturing by NZ First's Winston Peters and his mates to demarcate out their own peculiar position to get more votes. Such posturing, moreover, is gleefully facilitated by those media eagerly bent on trying to embarrass and divide the Government (e.g. "Coalition Cracks As Economic Pain Looms", Thomas Coughlan & Luke Malpass, Press, 28/5/20).
Mainstream Media Go Into Viral Meltdown!
Following a border coronavirus breach by two women, allowed out of quarantine on compassionate leave, the mainstream media unleashed on the Government. It was yet significant that this case of compassionate leave was obviously facilitated and expedited by the intervention of National MP Chris Bishop. National had worked closely with some of the media, whether directly or indirectly, in agitating strongly for looser controls relating to the conditions for compassionate leave.
TV3's Political Editor Tova O'Brien was to the fore at the Covid-19 lockdown press conferences, starring PM Jacinda Ardern and Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, in trying to paint the Government as "unkind" for the conditions for exemption to quarantine. The media went on to celebrate a court case which loosened these conditions.
So, both National and the media set the scene for the inevitable breaches of border security, given the number of New Zealanders returning from overseas had doubled in a month, with over 4,000 people at a time in quarantine. A system, woefully under-funded and under-prepared by the previous National government, was now under siege and scrambling to cope.
In the context so set, the Coalition Government has undergone a barrage of criticism, after having successfully managed a health crisis better than just about all governments around the world. In the words of Political Science Professor Jack Vowles "Some In The Media Need To Calm Down" (Newsroom, 23/6/20). He writes that journalists like Stuff's Tracey Watkins and the Murdoch-trained Andrea Vance "slamming the Government over new cases of Covid-19", and calling continually for heads to roll, "are over-reacting", given the evidence of Governmental success in controlling the virus (ibid.).
"Glove Puppets", Propaganda, And Bullshit
These two journalists are both committed and cynical "glove puppets" of the National Party in their constantly artificially contrived posturings and malign spin. They are dedicated to their Rightwing anti-Coalition Government propaganda and determined to create as much "Chaos and Mayhem" as possible (in the mode of Whaleoil's Cameron Slater). Both are committed to the purveyance of constant "current negative journalistic coverage" against the Government (ibid.). Their key Rightwing idea is to not just report the news but to shape it in the greedy upper-class capitalist interests they represent.
As Gordon Campbell has well commented on the Covid controversy: "Amidst all this (media language, and) talk of 'fiascos' and 'chaos', anyone could be forgiven for failing to grasp that as yet, not a single person has become ill, let alone died as a result of these allegedly calamitous lapses in border security and quarantine testing. For weeks, no community transmission of the virus has occurred, anywhere, in New Zealand" ("On The Media Collusion With National's Attack Lines", op. cit.).
Even if community transmission were now to occur the Government has already demonstrated that it has the systems ready on alert to trace and contain any spread of the virus. The team of five million New Zealanders is geared up to deal to further border intrusions, which will continue to happen, as well as even cases of community transmission. We need positive national cooperation.
To be sure, the media/National-generated scaremongering propaganda has been riven with contradictions. National is straining at the lead to open up our borders to rampant risks from the virus, while at the same time criticising the Government about problems for which National itself carries so much ultimate responsibility. National's flipflopping and inconsistency has been shambolic. This Party's politics, nowadays, are egregiously nasty, unprincipled, and cynically opportunistic. Its bottom guideline is greed!
The media have often been similarly shambolic in their own posturing. For instance, TV3 has panned the Government for restrictions on compassionate leave, while even simultaneously calling out the authorities for difficulties inherent in the conduct of this very same system. The corporate media can be so bad these days that leading commentators like Mike Hosking have reached new depths of stupidity and superficiality ("The Many And Varied Covid Reckons Of Mike Hosking", Standard, 30/6/20). And so it goes...
Amusingly, there even seems to be some confusion in Stuff itself about the right line to take on the Government. For instance, The Press on 19th June 2020 was in the full attack mode on the border breach. An editorial let loose, proclaiming that: "There's no doubt these two new cases represent a blot on our lauded Covid-19 record" ("Border Bungle Blot On Record").
Similarly, the cover story asked "Should Heads Be Rolling?" with even PM Ardern featuring in a photo line-up (ibid.). Reporter Nikki Macdonald happily put the boot into Ashley Bloomfield, our greatly admired Director-General of Health ("Dents In A Hero", ibid.). She pontificated that: "Now NZ is being derided (my emphasis) internationally for its border bungle" (ibid.). A few overseas' commentators made critical observations but the Stuff reporter's remark is gross hyperbole. This sort of extreme and quite unwarranted language has been common usage for a lot of the media. But some media have flapped and floundered about in their assessments.
By the very next day, the Press had calmed down somewhat (20/6/20). While the editorial line continued with its criticism of Bloomfield it took a more measured perspective, as did a couple of articles (e.g., "Let's Keep Calm And Maintain A Sense Of Perspective", Martin van Beynen, ibid.). Most certainly, Professor Jack Vowles' coolly critical advice should be taken very much to heart ("Some In The Media Need to Calm Down", op. cit.).
Facing Up To The Future
With the virus raging worldwide, the threat is constantly hovering over us all ("The Inevitable New NZ Cases", Press, 6/6/20). The Government acknowledged this some weeks ago. Properly securing the borders within the necessary time frame has clearly been a complex, logistical nightmare, and so the Government called the Army in to oversee this. We now face an unstable future in a dynamically shifting world. We need to redouble our efforts for a fairer and more sustainable society. And we need to promote this vision internationally to our fullest ability.