Hard News by Russell Brown


Vision and dumbassery

Part way through last night, the Moment of Truth event at the Auckland Town Hall felt history-making. Journalist Glenn Greenwald had presented documentary evidence -- not a lot, and it was more blasted Powerpoint slides, but easily enough to be troubling -- that the Prime Minister is lying when he guarantees New Zealanders are not subject to mass surveillance from their own intelligence agency, and was lying when he said last year's GCSB bill did not validate such an activity.

And NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, appearing on a video link from Russia, had borne witness to the same, eloquently outlining the basic democratic issues in the fact that we, the electors, do not make that choice. He was clear, calm and compelling.

So how did it end in a rancorous, poorly-handled press conference in which it seemed that the bearers of witness were the ones on trial?

The credit and the blame must go to Kim Dotcom. No one else would have had the vision to conceive (and fund) such an event. The Town Hall was packed, with hundreds turned away. It was streamed to thousands more, in New Zealand and around the world, and live-blogged by The Guardian. Bringing together Snowden, Greenwald and Julian Assange was not so much ambitious as utterly audacious.

And no one else could be such a dumbass as to undermine the event in the way Kim Dotcom did.

The journalists who demanded afterwards to know aabout the elephant missing from the room -- Dotcom's proof that John Key had lied about having no foreknowledge of the Dotcom raid, and not even having heard of Dotcom -- had every right to do so. The whole event had been billed for months on that revelation, long before there was any mention of the famous whistleblowers.

So what the hell happened? My guess is this. Greenwald arrived, got the lay of the land, and wanted no part of the email Dotcom believed implicated Key in a conspiracy to entrap him in return for the favours of Warner Brothers. The email fits into various other elements of reporting -- most notably the Herald's discovery via OIA of the weird way that objections to the granting of Dotcom's residence was turned around -- like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. It's so perfect as to be too perfect. On its own, it could be anything.

The lineup of the event was altered on Sunday. Robert Amsterdam, who was to be the moderator, joined the speaking lineup, perhaps to fill Dotcom's place (he gave a heartfelt, if occasionally torturous, explanation of why we should care about the loss of sovereignty implicit in the Trans Pacific Partnership agreemwent). Dotcom impulsively passed the email to the Herald yesterday [NB: I am now told it was not Dotcom who supplied the email to the Herald], it was immediately denied as a fake and there was no way to prove its provenance. In the hours between that release and the event itself, Hone Harawira lodged it with the Speaker of Parliament for a complaint to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee -- meaning, Laila Harre insisted, it could not be discussed on the night. Shambles.

There were other problems on the night. Harre repeatedly gave the crowd the impression that Assange is ensconced in the Ecuadorian embassy because a US prosecutor wants to get at him, rather than because he refuses to return to Sweden for questioning over two alleged sex offences. Dotcom's advertisement on the night for Mega's forthcoming encrypted videoconferencing service sat awkwardly. The repeated baiting of John Key, however questionable his words and actions have been, distracted from the substance of the evening.

And I'm fairly sure Nicky Hager would have been horrified at Harre ending the event by waving around his Dirty Politics book in what was basically a pitch for votes. He separates himself assiduously from partisan politics, and yet here he was, being co-opted into a campaign in his absence.

The press conference was also a work less of media management than media muppetry. Rather than ride out the questions about the no-show email and get on to the substance of what Snowden and Greenwald had said, they cut it off after 15 minutes, so the only content was the thing they didn't want to talk about. This video by OccupyNZ captures what happened. Dotcom harangues Patrick Gower about what questions he should be asking -- at the same time as the party's press chief John Mitchell calls an end to further questions. Duh.

This, I think, will be the story of the Internet Party: vision and dumbassery. I find things to greatly admire in the party -- candidates like Chris Yong, Miriam Pierard and Pani Farvid would probably not have come through a mainstream party process but have much to offer, and the party has has made crowdsourced policy-making work really well in several areas -- and things at which one can only despair. 

This should not overshadow the crucially important issues aired last night. You do absolutely need to read Keith Ng on on what a risible red herring Key's allegedly exculpatory document release yesterday was, Andrea Vance's concise explanation of why this really, really matters, Greenwald's own detailed story for The Intercept, and Snowden's column on the same site.

But you won't bat back the flannel and spin from the usual suspects (seriously -- I am not about to give Michelle Boag one solitary second of my attention on a matter of which she knows nothing) by pretending no part of what happened last night was unsatisfactory. It needs acknowledging that it was both a remarkable and compromised event. It couldn't have happened without Kim Dotcom and it would manifestly have been better without him. Now, let's get on with the substance.

NB: MediaTake, at 10.20pm on Maori Television tonight, includes some video from the Moment of Truth event, and also from the press conference itself. Have a watch.


Friday Music: Mo' Nina

It's customary now to lament the downward spiral in the dollar value of music created by first piracy, then Spotify and finally the free, unsummoned delivery of new U2 albums to people who don't even fucking want them. But it's worth noting that there are some remarkable bargains to be had in old-fashioned compact discs.

Last week, I dropped by JB Hi-Fi, which more or less functions as my local record shop, to get a birthday present for my friend. I had an idea what I was looking for: the five-disc Nina Simone: Original Album Classics, which packages up five of Nina's albums from her RCA period in the late 60s and early 70s, including the once quite rare live album 'Nuff Said, for $19.99.

But that doesn't seem to be available any more, so I had to settle for The Real Nina Simone, which bills itself as "The Ultimate Nina Simone Collection".

It plainly isn't, but it is functionally the same deal as the five-disc set noted above -- a collection of all Nina's works for RCA, but across three discs and for a faintly ridiculous $9.99. And it's bloody fantastic.

The RCA years cover not only some of her most trenchant political work -- 'Backlash Blues', 'Mississippi Goddamn', 'Young, Gifted and Black' -- but some of her quirkiest. Did you realise she covered The Beatles' 'Revolution (Parts 1 & 2)'? Leonard Cohen's 'Suzanne'? There's also her stunning versions of the blues standard 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' and the brilliant Jimmy Webb song 'Do What You Gotta Do', which has survived an appearace in the soundtrack of Bridget Jones's Diary. The performance of 'Why? The King of Love is Dead', a song written and performed in the three days after the assasination of Martin Luther King, is a just a moment in time.

There are a few misfires -- I could have done without 'Everyone's Gone to Moon' -- but in very large part these 65 songs for ten bucks represent a prodigious slice of the working life of a great artist. Is her estate due more of a price? Perhaps. But that's where it's at.

There are quite a few more from this SonyBMG series and others at JB, and not all of them are as good or as interesting as this one. I'm interested in discoveries you might have made in the bargain bins, so do share the nowledge.

For now -- o, happy timing! -- RocknRolla Soundsystem (yes, those Dutch guys again) have just put their wonderful edit of 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' up on sale at Bandcamp. You want this:


Shihad play their free arena gig in Christchurch tonight -- and their share of proceeds from the Sky Box Office screening will go to the Canterbury Earthquake Appeal. I'd definitely get in there, except (1) I don't know how to use Sky Box Office with a VOIP phone, (2) I actually don't know how to use Sky Box Office at all, but I definitely approve of live-TV concerts as a thing, and (3) I'll be at something called An Evening With Arianna Huffington tonight.

At Audioculture, a beautifully-written series on the late, talented, troubled Paul Hewson of Dragon, by Glen Moffat. Amazing stuff.


Hey, this is neat. Pete and Johnny from the Hallelujuah Picassos remix the band's own little comeback pop smash for their new EP, Bullet that breaks the key.

A majestic song from Robert Scott's new album The Green Room, which you can buy here at the Flying Out store. (Note that you can also pre-order/crowdfund a vinyl version there too):

Miloux -- confusing also known as Milou -- is Auckland singer-songwriter Rebecca Melrose and her various percussive devices. There's a pretty cool tune you can download from Soundcloud:

And, as of this week, a really nice remix of that by The Basement Tapes:

There's also this on TheAudience:

Also on TheAudience, this track from a forthcoming album is cinematic like Portishead. Goodness.

Hot Chip cover Dinosaur L's 'Go Bang', for the forthcoming AIDS-fundraising album Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell, a tribute to the dancefloor pioneer, which also Sufjan Stevens, Jose Gonzalez and others:

A visually entrancing new video from Grayson Gilmour:


And finally, Countdown Point Chevalier does not have much to recommend it, apart from the fact that it's not quite as terrible as it used to be. But here's one thing you say for the place: it has better buskers, most notably Chris Murray, who hails from the long-lost bands Russia and Red House and is not averse to adapting his covers of country and blues standards to contemporary political ends. I give the man money.


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



2014: The Meth Election

The Guardian today has a story about how North Korea's system of official graft has evolved such that crystal methamphetamine is now seen as "an ideal gift" for government officials who need bribing, alongside more traditional considerations like beef.

I need hardly explain to you how this might go wrong. Bureaucrats on meth would fairly swiftly become crazy, even by North Korean standards. Indeed, the only thing worse than a jobsworth on the P would be one who's not getting his P.

I submit to you that the latter scenario is, in fact, the past week of New Zealand's election campaign. Dirty Politics is the methamphetamine of Decision 2014. Remember how it made you feel 10 feet tall? Remember when Guyon demanded the Prime Minister account for the behaviour of his errant Justice Minister? It was titanic. Now he's just demanding that his subjects confess the election result; sucking on the blackened, empty glass pipe of accountability as if it'll deliver the hit he needs.

Just a couple of days ago, Tova O'Brien was reduced to signing off a completely unrelated electoral story with the intonation that "the fight for Mangere just got dirty," as if saying so would turn rock salt into pure ice. And Corin Dann found himself in a surreal fever dream where everyone had been hacked.

And the public? Don't get me started on the public. They're jonesing so hard. They just want to feel like they did that first time, in the bookshop three weeks ago. Is it really only three weeks? They're paranoid, angry, anxious and lashing out at the journalists, who are feeling vulnerable, hurt and confused.

The problem is that the Man has left town. Whaledump, Rawshark, Heisenberg -- whatever you want to call him -- he had the good stuff, and the fucker just skipped. He left a note saying he'd deposited the rest of his supply with some retail dealers, but they're getting heat from the law and the fuckers won't even say if they're holding.

The only happy crew are the gang that used to run things. They figure maybe they'll be able to start dealing that shit stuff they flooded the market with for so long. But even they're feeling the fear. Maybe people don't want that stuff now they know where it's come from. I mean, are you gonna go back to something made of borax, rat poison and water from the toilet bowl?

It's tense out there. Far too fucking tense.


But seriously, drug policy

Whatever the context of Hone Harawira's salty email and however much it does or doesn't signal a critical split in the Internet Mana alliance, the media noise has drowned out the central fact: another political party has officially adopted an evidence-based policy on cannabis and, moreover, pledged to "work towards comprehensive drug law reform."

It's not insignificant that the policy itself is posted and branded as the work of the Internet Party itself, rather than the alliance -- officially, Internet Mana agrees only on the health dimension of cannabis reform and is still "working on" decriminalisation -- but it's concise and clear and worth a look. Its principal points are summed up thus:

  • Immediately legalise medical use of cannabis and set up a licensing system to regulate and administer the cultivation of natural cannabis for medical use.

  • Immediately decriminalise personal use of cannabis so that possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use will no longer carry a criminal penalty.

  • Develop a model for regulating the legal production and distribution of cannabis for personal use to enable the taxation of cannabis and the monitoring of its supply.

The only serious analysis of the policy I've seen is this blog post by Nandor Tanczos, who approves, concluding:

I think this policy is a brave move. No doubt it will lead to some interesting conversations with Mana. It will be controversial. But it is also astute. The Greens still support law reform, and will be important in getting any legislative change through Parliament, but understandably it is a low priority for them. There is now no one in Parliament proactively speaking up for law reform. Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of votes are looking for somewhere more promising than the ALCP.

The Green Party does still offer a more cautious, less concise, policy in this area. Apart from an odd section promising to lean on Pharmac to "take a lead role in seeking to reduce the inappropriate prescribing of drugs such as anti-depressants" (let's leave that up to doctors and health researchers), it does undertake to "eliminate penalties for personal cannabis use for people aged 18 years and over" and "define in law the limits on growing cannabis for personal use."

Basically, the Greens would bring regulation of cannabis into line with that of alcohol, in part by tightening the latter. It's big on harm reduction.

And, apart from the aforementioned Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, that's about it for the manifestos. The bold, shining libertarian warriors of Act have nothing to say beyond law-and-order chest-beating. Jamie Whyte was at pains to emphasise on his election as party leader in February that the party would not be exploring that particular dimension of liberty at all. He acknowledged that Act's board, perhaps mindful of the reception of Don Brash's sincere and thoughtful speech on drug reform in 2011, would not tolerate that.

For Labour's part, David Cunliffe ventured support for a harm-reduction and health-based approach, saying he would be "personally comfortable with a summary offence for personal possession" before adding "but that's a matter of conscience."

In a story late last month by Derek Cheng, following up on a Herald-Digipoll poll that found a striking 80% support for either decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis, Peter Dunne said he opposed reform but could envisage, "over time", the development of a regulatory system similar to that for new psychoactive substances. And John Key gave one of his "just because" answers:

"Even though I know lots of people use cannabis, in my view encouraging drug use is a step in the wrong direction for New Zealand."

As ever, the Prime Minister isn't inclined to listen to experts. His then-Justice Minister Simon Power could hardly wait to dismiss the Law Commission's 2010 review of the Misuse of Drugs Act, which recommended a mandatory cautioning scheme to keep cannabis users out of the criminal justice system and found "no reason why cannabis should not be able to be used for medicinal purposes in limited circumstances."

Power's response was that: "There is not a single solitary chance that as long as I'm the Minister of Justice that we'll be relaxing drug laws in New Zealand."

If the minister was not about to risk reading the Commission's report, it was notable that it found a much warmer reception in the editorial columns of both The Dominion Post and the New Zealand Herald.

The mainstream poitical consensus, especially in election year, is not only that there are other priorities (which there clearly are) but that drug reform is wholly separate from those priorities and that it's flat-out impossible to walk and chew gum at the same time. Such are the politics of drug reform.

 It's no accident that it was former, rather than current leaders (including the former presidents of Brazil, Portugal, Switzerland, Chile and Mexico, and establishment figures like George Schultz , Paul Volcker and Kofi Annan) who yesterday called for an end to the War on Drugs on behalf of The Global Commission on Drug Policy. The report to which they have all put their names, Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies That Work, says this:

Putting health and community safety first requires a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions.

"The good news," says the report's Executive Summary, "is that change is in the air." It's a long-ish game: the Commission is targeting the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem in 2016. Between now and then there will be a stark alignment of nations, with the Latin American countries on one side and the likes of Russia on the other.

If we can't expect honesty on the issue from most of our political parties during an election campaign, working to ensure that New Zealand does not find itself on the side of the thug nations two years hence seems more than worthwhile.


Friday Music: The Cool Dancer

If you ever treasured Herbs' What's Be Happen, the Swingers' 'One Good Reason', Sneaky Feelings' Send You or Dave Dobbyn's 'Slice of Heaven'; if you were at that huge David Bowie concert at Western Springs in 1983, or the disastrous Aotea Square show of 1984 or any of dozens of other tours in the 1980s; if you value the renaissance of modern waiata and the phenomenon of 'Poi E'; then you have some connection with Hugh Lynn, who is the subject of a wonderful new Audioculture profile by Murray Cammick.

I used to see Hugh reasonably regularly when I worked for Murray in the mid-80s, usually at Mascot Studios, where the above records were made. He was not an unfriendly man, but always seemed a little mysterious maybe even a bit dangerous. I knew he had a history as a dancer, but not the half of what's in Murray's profile. And I didn't know about the way Hugh continued his commitment to the Māoritanga he discovered in the 80s. He'd make a great biopic, he really would.

Also new on Audiocuture and in a wholly different vein, Robyn Gallagher's pick of 11 Iconic Music Videos of the 1990s. I know a little about one of them -- the 3Ds 'Hey Seuss' -- because I was there in Dunedin when Andrew Moore directed it. It was originally set to look even more Seuss-like than it does, before an anxious call came through from Flying Nun's paul McKessar, who had been made aware of the brutal reputation of the Seuss's estate's lawyers.

Also: Michael Brown's story of the Wellington folk scene of the 1960s, which has some great photographs. Who knew?


Not on Audioculture, but a really good work of history: Peter Mclennan's tribute to Johnny Cooper, "The Maori Cowboy", who cut New Zealand's first rock 'n' roll record (a cover of 'Rock Around the Clock') in 1955 and died this week.

Update: Chris Bourke has now written a Johnny Cooper entry for Audioculture.

And the Christchurch 70s glam rockers Odyssey, who never actually broke up, recently played a show to launch their new single, 'Tell Me'. It's not a bad tune at all:


Turning now to the present and future ...

If you're reading this at work, you're persumably not at the Going Global Music Summit being staged by Independent Music NZ and the New Zeaand Music Commission, but you can still register to go to tonight's live showcase at Galatos. It's a remarkable opportunity to catch 14 contemporary local artists across three stages -- from Race Banyon and Little Bark to Arthur Ahbez, She's So Rad and Chelsea Jade (formerly Watercolours). And you won't have to stay up late -- the first band is on at 7pm.

Tickets are $20 plus booking fee here at NZTix. See you there.


On TheAudience, this haunting track from Wellington's Groeni:

And this one from from "Auckland-based witch-house artist", which is a free download:

More info here.

Courtney Barnett covering the Breeders' 'Cannonball' for the AV Club! There's an MP3 of the performance here. Her September 17 show at the King's Arms is already sold out.

I mentioned RocknRolla Soundsystem last week. Well, here's some good news. Having been asked about it a bajillion times, they're now going to put each new edit they do up for sale on Bandcamp, starting with their take on Marvin gaye's 'Inner City Blues':

And that mixtape I mentioned last week? It's now a download:

@Peace have had their issues in the news lately, but perceptions might be moderated by this great new track:

It's released as a free download in support of their tour for the vinyl version of their Plutonian Noise Symphony album and it falls somewhere between that record and their first album. You can pre-order the vinyl here. Tour tickets from Under the Radar.

Some dirty business with the awesome Betty Davis:

And, finally, The Golden Pony take on Outkast. It's a straight-up free download without their usual somewhat vexing Facebook/Hypem run-around. And it's the business:


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by: