Lyndon Hood - follower, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Cons, damned cons, and neocons.

Russell Brown's latest on the American neoconservative liars put me in mind of a book I own. Paul Krugman's The Great Unravelling came early in the wave of pre-election anti-Bush publications. Krugman is a Princeton economist and nobody's flake (his unofficial fansite is here). In fact he is named by Naomi Klein as one of the usual suspect sweatshop apologists. Unravelling is a selection of columns concerned, among other things, with the Bush administration's mangling of the US economy. A broader theme is said administration's consistent use of deception.

I'm not talking about the generalised presumption that they meant to govern in the interests of the American people at large, or the belief that cutting taxes and increasing spending in a recession is a good idea, or even that oath Dubya had to make about preserving the constitution. I'm talking specific, shameless and sometimes blatant, lies. I'm quite convinced that George W. Bush is a charming person, but if he told me it was a nice day I would be running to the nearest window to check.

Krugman generally sticks to his field. The story starts with misleading campaign claims (to an economist, obviously misleading) in favour of privatising social security. Later, there is a triumph as they convince almost everybody that Bush's tax cut package was mostly for the middle classes (Democrats who bought that one, and there were plenty, are having trouble renouncing their votes to this day). See also Bushes public outrage over dodgy corporate schemes structurally identical to ones that he had been involved in. It goes on.

Krugman, in his introduction, ascribes this behaviour to the attitude of a "revolutionary power". The phrase was used by, of all people, Henry Kissinger in an early academic work to describe governments like revolutionary France or Nazi Germany, and their dealings with the rest of Europe. Powers that do not accept the legitimacy of the system - either the way their country was or the way the world is - and consequently will happily lie to achieve their ends. And if they are caught out, they can lie again, or intimidate, or just ignore it.

Previous statements by Bush advisors have demonstrated their contempt for the world order and the constitution. And even a whiff of something like Cheney's ongoing links to Halliburton would have been enough to cause a resignation or at least some action - if, that is, they shared any kind of moral compass with the rest of us.

Generally speaking their behaviour is of a character with the way they got "elected", by doctoring the rolls in Florida to a huge extent (and that almost wasn't enough). My faith in politicians' honesty is probably as low as everyone else's, but Krugman confirms that these guys are in a class of their own.

A question of transcription

In parliamentary question time last night Don Brash referred to the Prime Minister's statement that "quote when you have y'know targeted assistance like this you always end up with y'know abatement levels end quote". He used the intruding syllables as if the had some kind of relevance, such that the Hansard transcriber was compelled to write "you know". There was a sense of distaste, as if he were pronouncing a grammatical anomaly at arm's length. Brash is a careful speaker and for all I know he actually does find that kind of thing offensive.

Anyone who's ever tried to transcribe natural speech knows that it's crammed full of these "conversational noises" - ums, ers, y'knows, repetitions, false starts... When transcribing for public consumption, one normally leaves them out. It may be that there is less of this random verbiage in the pre-prepared speeches of Parliament. In fact, one of the things that is intimidating about Helen Clark is the way that, particularly for a woman, she uses very few of them (which has, it seems, led to her being taunted when she does). To generalise: women tend to use them as part of the emotional-connection side of conversation. Men tend to read them as sign of weakness.

To me, who knows all this, Brash is displaying a kind of malicious pedantry. Normally I'm not one to complain about politicians being cruel to each other, but that seems an unusually childish way of going about it.