Blogging, forgetting, and legacy

Giovanni Tiso has some good serious thoughts on the efforts of one Dirty Politics-affiliated blogger to get her writing stricken from the national record:

The case of lawyer Cathy Odgers is even more interesting. Odgers deleted her first blog in 2005, before embarking on the very popular Cactus Kate. This too she deleted in 2013, long before its contents became relevant to stories uncovered by Nicky Hager and other investigative journalists. It was at this later time, however, that Cactus Kate went through a second, deeper deletion, as it now evidently became important to Odgers to remove all existing traces of it. This had the opposite effect to what she might have intended.

There has been a lot of thought-provoking debate about this – the right to be forgotten, how we define the “public interest” or “national good”, the pointlessness of trying to ever permanently delete something from the internet – and a lot of silly debate, largely encapsulated by the efforts of some commenters at The Standard to compare the National Library’s collation of Kiwi blogs to the GCSB’s mass surveillance of personal communication.

It’s super ironic that the same kinds of people who would’ve murmured darkly about leftwing plots and untrustworthiness when John Key’s blatant photo op with John Banks was accidentally recorded – and who say all kinds of nasty things about journalists publishing their edited emails in pursuit of speaking truth to power – suddenly get all precious about confidentiality and privacy when it’s one of their own being hoist by her own petard.

Personally, I’m quietly chuffed that the National Library has included my little blog in its web archive. I’m sure in ten or fifteen years’ time I’ll look back on it and feel a little rueful about some things I commit to screen, but on the other hand, one of the things we really have to get used to in the internet age is that there’s no hiding the fact people change throughout their lives. Even if your core ideals remain relatively fixed – I’m pretty sure no amount of time is going to make me a fangirl of short-term capitalism, for one thing – we’re always learning new things and finding different ways to express our ideas.

Change is good. I think we should embrace it more. It shouldn’t be a shameful thing to say “yep, I thought that was the right thing at the time and I was wrong” – god knows it would shut down any number of pointless political mudfights about who said what in 1985. (Of course, both sides would have to maintain the ceasefire or it’d be churlish. And hypocritical.)

I’m not entirely certain where I stand on the argument about blogs-as-national-records-versus-the-right-to-be-forgotten. But when someone is attempting to eradicate their past from the record – a past which possibly involves underhanded activity aimed at manipulating our political system – I’m a little leery.

On the other hand, who’s to say whether a particular site or post is relevant to that issue? You’re not going to find many people who don’t have a stake in it one way or another. But I reckon the National Library of New Zealand are probably the most qualified to make that decision, and I’ll be interested to see what they decide to do with the archives of Cactus Kate.

A glitch in the Matrix


I’m sure there are rational explanations for the hilarious similarities between John Key (or at least, his office) stating that there is “no factual basis” to his allegations that the Snowden documents are fabricated, and a Republican senator called John Kyl excusing his allegations against Planned Parenthood by saying it “was not intended to be a factual statement” – explanations which don’t involve all human life being a computer simulation occupying our brains while robots leech our neural activity for a power source.

But that’s not nearly as much fun.

As the late, lamented Terry Pratchett wrote in The Truth,

‘A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.’

Some politicians have always dealt to people or organisations they don’t like by smearing them. It’s even easier in our ridiculously fast-paced media and online environment, where the damage is done almost immediately, and any retraction or fact-checking is left trying to catch up.

But the tide seems to be changing on Key. Whether it’s journalists (and bloggers) buying into the narrative of third-term arrogance and unconsciously reinforcing it, or whether the disastrous start to the year – Sabin’s resignation, the Northland by-election, Amanda Bailey, the unnamed Cabinet Minister with a brother facing sexual abuse charges – really is just that disastrous, Key’s shine isn’t as shiny as it once was.

Just look at how painstakingly the media are transcribing him now:

“Well, I hope not. I mean we live in a global world where you know all sorts of stories do actually go round the world in varying form. I mean I didn’t pick up any single newspaper in any country I was in and saw it. So, the fact that something goes round the internet is quite standard these days.”

Paraphrasing cannot save you now, John.

And journalists like Tova O’Brien are getting a lot less forgiving when Key brushes them off with non-answers, as in this report on the Cabinet Minister’s brother. It’s probably only a matter of time before someone goes full Ed-Miliband-on-striking-teachers on him. (Hope I didn’t blow your election chances, Ed.)

It’s hard for anyone to look credible when all their weasel words and nervous smirks are just being put out there, unfiltered. Even the clearest speaker can look like a numpty in such circumstances, and John Key – whether by nature or design – has never been the clearest speaker.

But is this the beginning of the end? Is the “honeymoon” finally over? God only knows, but I’m of a similar mind to @LewSOS. The end never comes swiftly. The polls never shift 10 points overnight on the basis of one story (or four). But he isn’t getting those free passes any more.

lew on key(Original tweets start here.)

Free GP visits for under 13s – an unequivocally broken election promise

National could not have been clearer in their wording during the election campaign:

national free gp visits

Their own website still says:

More than 400,000 primary school-aged children will be able to go to a doctor for free, any time of the day or night, and get their prescriptions free as well.

Part of our $500 million Budget 2014 package helping families.

National brought in free GP visits and prescriptions for children under six, including free after-hours visits. Thanks to our prudent management of the health budget, we are extending this policy to children under 13.

But when the Green Party received documents through the OIA process showing that the government is funding only 90% of accident-related GP visits for under-13s, suddenly the story changed: it’s not about providing “free GP visits and prescriptions” to under-13s, it’s about encouraging GPs to offer free visits to under-13s.

And today, the really telling bit: Minister of Health Jonathan Coleman, defending the fact that his party promised free GP visits for all and is delivering free GP visits for not-actually all, suggested that parents “shop around” for GPs who do offer free visits.

“If your GP won’t give you your free under 6 consultation then you go a couple of hundred yards down the road,” he said.

The same approach would need to be taken by parents for the under 13 scheme and Coleman advised parents to contact their local District Health Board to find a doctor signed up to the scheme if their own one isn’t.

Because everyone, of course, lives in an area where there’s another GP just “a couple of hundred yards down the road”. And all GPs are accepting new patients. And when your child is sick or injured and needs medical treatment you’re definitely going to ring around and circle the block a few times to get the best deal – healthcare is basically like buying a fridge, right?

And of course, DHBs are so flush with cash and back office staff that they can easily answer calls from every family in their district wanting to know which GPs offer free visits.

It’s the core of National Party ideology laid bare: the market is the Messiah. The customer will decide what they want and the market will adjust accordingly.

They ignore the chronic underfunding of our health system. They ignore the realities of everyday life for people who aren’t on ministerial salaries and don’t live in big cities. They think of sick and injured children as consumers and family doctors as businesses and don’t understand why that’s grotesque.

They don’t seem to understand why we have a public health care system in the first place, or that healthcare is a need, not a nice to have.

But they made a promise, and their own words condemn them. Free GP visits and prescriptions for children under 13. Not “some” GPs. Not “some” visits. Not “some” under-13s.

No matter how they try to spin this, no one can see this as anything other than another broken promise.

It’s almost like John Key doesn’t realise he’s the Prime Minister

There are two John Keys. That’s the only way to explain it. There’s the John Key who has been sitting on the ninth floor of the Beehive for seven years (and in Parliament for six years before that) and then there’s the John Key who gets wheeled out like the Winter Soldier whenever they need plausible deniability.

How else do we reconcile statements like this, on MPs’ pay rises:

Key has expressed his disappointment in the pay rises for MPs for the past five years.

It’s funny how someone who literally leads our country was powerless to do anything about changing the rules his government set for five years. Rules which incidentally they strengthened in favour of themselves in 2012.

And now there’s this, on travel perks:

Prime Minister John Key was bemused that MPs still get to take their spouses along, even in this day and age, and he won’t be alone.


Are we really meant to believe that a man of John Key’s business acumen and managerial experience, with 13 years as an MP, really just didn’t know that the perk existed? Despite the fact that sixteen members of his Party* have gone on such trips in the time he’s been Leader? Including two Speakers and one Deputy Speaker from the National benches? (Hat-tip @philiplyth for the link to reports of those trips.)

I mean, it’s not like the topic of pay rises and lifetime travel perks gets a lot of media coverage on a regular basis. David Farrar himself produced a handy guide to the perks as they stood in 2009. The Herald slammed the perks in a 2010 editorial. Maybe Key’s spokeswoman in 2012, who agreed that the perks are out of step with modern remuneration practices, could have explained it to him.

But no. We’re meant to buy that John Key is just a regular chap like us who can’t be expected to know anything about his own organisation and employment practices, much less pay attention to whatever unimportant stuff the newspapers are complaining about now.

Still, you have to wonder if it isn’t a little bit convenient that one of the BFFs of Key’s favourite texting buddy Cameron Slater raised the issue in headline-making terms so he could be “bemused” by it.


*Colin King, Paula Bennett, David Bennett, Jo Goodhew, Kate Wilkinson, Brian Connell, Katherine Rich, Nicky Wagner, Chris Tremain, Lindsay Tisch (as a member and leading as Deputy Speaker), Paul Hutchison, Tim Macindoe, Melissa Lee, Phil Heatley, plus David Carter and Lockwood Smith as Speakers of the day.

How the Dirty Politics machine continues to do its work

“There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours the right more than the left as the right continue to turn out, and drives away the independents.”

Simon Lusk, email to Nicky Hager reproduced in Dirty Politics (p18)

One of the many dispiriting things Nicky Hager described in Dirty Politics was how attack blogs like Whaleoil and two-dimensional shell organisations like the Taxpayers’ Union have been deliberately created by the right to push their narrative on New Zealand politics.

From page 103:

Like the blogs that ‘need not be associated (in name) with your party or campaign’, the NZTU is an example of a supposedly independent organisation designed to back up the work of a political party. Its launch press release described it as a ‘politically independent grassroots campaign’, but it is no more politically independent than the election finance and anti-MMP campaigns. In fact, it was like a rerun of the anti-MMP campaign, with Jordan Williams once again as frontperson and [David] Farrar as founder and main strategist.

The strategy works on a big or small scale. Sometimes it’s specific stories – like Len Brown’s affair, which was “broken” on Whaleoil – and sometimes it’s just general ideas and memes which benefit the right – all politicians are troughers, government spending is out of control, unions are evil.

The point isn’t to stir up the Whaleoil or Kiwiblog commentariat into ever grosser expressions of racism, misogyny and generalised hatred. It’s to make headlines in the mainstream, offline media. To get specifically-chosen language into the common vernacular.

And here we are today, with the Taxpayers’ Union pointing fingers at MPs’ travel expenses – always an easy target and one which literally everyone, besides the MPs themselves, are happy to throw shade at – and specifically, at the extension of those perks to partners. Or as they put it:

‘WAGs’ Should Stay at Home

WAGs is a very particularly British term, applied to the partners (“wives and girlfriends”) of professional football (soccer) players. It’s pretty obviously demeaning and dehumanizing – you’re not a person, you’re a vagina attached to a famous man – and feeds into any number of boring sexist tropes about women as pointless accessories whose “proper” place is in the home.

In this day and age, and when applied to the partners of New Zealand Members of Parliament, it’s also wildly inaccurate, since:

  • Not all MPs are men
  • Not all male MPs are heterosexual
  • Not all women partners of MPs fit into the categories of “wife” or “girlfriend”

But it is a snappy headline, precisely calculated to create indignation among one part of the population (containing me and my very best Killjoy Feminist buddies) and Daily Mail-esque class resentment in another.

And thus it was copy-pasted straight onto an article at Stuff:

MPs’ Europe trip: ‘WAGs should stay home’

And that’s how the machine keeps on ticking.

The irritating thing about it is that there is an important issue to explore here. The idea of partners (who yes, historically were assumed to all be wives) getting subsidised travel, even being automatically included, in work-related travel is a pretty archaic idea, still barely clinging on in some sectors and industries.

But that honestly doesn’t matter to the Taxpayer’s Union. They – and it feels somehow inappropriate to use a plural pronoun – weren’t created to fight issues of government spending on principle. They were created to sow National Party-favouring ideas into mainstream political discussion, and they’ll do that by any means necessary.

Specific reform of MPs’ expenses isn’t the goal. It’s about getting widespread acceptance of the idea that all politicians are troughing scum and all politics is dirty and why bother voting, it just encourages them.

Just like Simon Lusk said.