Quote of the day: Wellington City Council on the Taxpayers’ “Union”

Hats off to Richard MacLean of Wellington City Council for nailing the time-wasting pointlessness of the National Party’s most shameless astroturfer:

Mr MacLean said Mr Williams’ comments say more about the Taxpayers’ Union that it does about anything else.

He said the amount of time and money spent responding to the union’s truly pathetic requests is an enormous expense.

‘One day we’ll have to sit down and cost out how much their useless approach to official information requests is costing the ratepayer’.

Doesn’t Jordan Williams have anything better to do, like try to get footage of drunk MPs for his mates or breaching women’s confidentiality?

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.

Language is power

Two otherwise-unconnected stories tell us a lot about how our perceptions and attitudes can be deliberately manipulated with the use of language:

At The Intercept, The Orwellian re-branding of “mass surveillance” as merely “bulk collection”:

Just as the Bush administration and the U.S. media re-labelled “torture” with the Orwellian euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” to make it more palatable, the governments and media of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance are now attempting to re-brand “mass surveillance” as “bulk collection” in order to make it less menacing (and less illegal).

At Ars Technica, NYPD caught red-handed sanitizing police brutality Wikipedia entries:

IP addresses linked to the New York Police Department’s computer network have been used to sanitize Wikipedia entries about cases of police brutality.

One of the edits changed “Garner raised both his arms in the air” to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke.” Another line that said “push Garner’s face into the sidewalk” changed to “push Garner’s head down into the sidewalk.” The word “chokehold,” Capital New York discovered, was twice replaced to “chokehold or headlock” and to “respiratory distress.”

In both cases, you’ve got clear-cut examples of the people at the top of the heap using their influence to rewrite history and law – at least, in the minds of enough people that it suppresses criticism and resistance.

There are many other examples of the power of language in NZ politics, like the “Taxpayer’s Union” co-opting the democratic, mass-member language of the labour movement to sell a few extreme rightwingers’ free market/small government ideology or “Mum and Dad investors” co-opting the idea of hardworking families getting their fair share to sell, well, sales of strategic state assets into private, mostly overseas, hands.

The challenge is to keep saying it like it is and refusing to buy into their framing.

Hey Jordan, pick me!

Yesterday Jordan Williams – head of the Taxpayers’ Onion and courageous fighter for the right to call women ugly in private – sent out a tweet which got me all excited:

I’m a helpful kind of woman, and yes, my household’s income is over 120k. I got ready to put my hand up and aid Jordan in his doubtless completely-unbiased quest to help the media tell a balanced story about National’s stellar economic management whatever it was.

Alas, his next tweet dashed my hopes:

Two strikes and I’m out.

There were some amusing, and some serious, responses to Jordan’s request:

https://twitter.com/MeLlamoLlama_/status/509566079342219265

But it made me think. Why the focus on a non-political person or family? I suppose the obvious answer is to ensure there’s no political agenda behind what a person chooses to tell the journalist, but in that case I wouldn’t be asking Jordan “runs to the Backbencher to film Winston Peters drunk” Williams to be finding my candidates.

The other possibility is: because a non-political person might be more likely to take the question at face value. Do I feel better off now than I did 6 years ago? Hell yes I do. Things now, compared to 6 years ago, are going swimmingly.

Of course that might have something to do with the fact that 6 years ago my household wasn’t earning 120k! Not even close! We didn’t own our house. I was still in university typing dictation part-time, he was at the beginning of his career.

Through a very fortunate series of events, including a decent dollop of sheer good luck, we are now very well off, especially for our age group, and depressingly high on the wealth distribution table.

None of that makes me think “gee, the government’s done a great job.” It makes me think: How are people raising their kids on the low wages in this country? How are other people my age ever going to afford to buy their first home?

And how can we survive another three years of National?

 

 

(I think the answer might be Voting Positive because we #LoveNZ.)