Sunday 24 July 2011

The End of Days: Murdoch, Norway, death and the maiden

This past week. Oy! I don't know whether to go blubbering for my Mama or phone an astrologer; reach for a priest or imbibe serious narcotics. WTF is happening in this collective hellhouse? I remember when the news was snooze and we'd laugh at the boring parochial nature of the world around us, (she said parochially). The Hollywood screenwriter still languishes in his coma where we're all trapped (if we but knew it), but the REM (not the band!) has taken a violent turn for the worser, even, already.

I wondered what it was that could possibly knock Murdoch off the front pages, and now we know — in spades. Only I'm starting to wish I didn't.

It seems like the public kebabbing of Rupert Murdoch has unleashed the forces of darkness this week. Just as we're waking up to the fact that our press, politicians and police are corrupt and we're being ruled by the cast of The Sopranos, the Dark Lord howls up a maelstrom that threatens to end civilisation as we know it in a shit-storm of tragedy and farce.

While we are of a biblical bent, a few numbers for your contemplation: twenty-six meetings, two spray cans, one woman makes her name with the help of a billionaire, two prominent women die, three women politicians rise while two fall. And Norway: ninety-three (likely to change). [Police have confirmed 76 dead in total.]

Cameron had 26 meetings in 15 months since the election with News International executives and there were more between George Osborne and Hunt and NI prior to Hunt getting the BSkyB bid gig. Also pally with the Murdoch tribe: Lord Leveson, the judge overseeing the phone-hacking inquiry.

Two spray cans smuggled into our top establishments. One (foam) used by Johnnie Marbles to custard pie an octogenarian, and the other (red paint) used to vandalise Poussin's The Adoration of the Golden Calf, (sadly, no longer James Murdoch). Marbles (a founder of UK Uncut) inadvertently propelled Wendi Deng — Mrs Murdoch — into public view, when she swung in to action to give him a good slap and pie him back. All credit to the beautiful Wendi for providing a positive image of Chinese women a world away from the passive lotus blossom but, Jeez, did you have to go over to the dark side, hun? I mean, look who you're married to!

On Saturday, the stupendously talented Amy Winehouse finally joined the 27 club (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Richey Edwards, Jean-Michel Basqiat). On the same day, the stupendously talented Fran Landesman died from a heart attack aged 83. The smartest of lyricists, Fran's songs were covered by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand and Miles Davis, who recorded an instrumental version of Nothing Like You (music by Bob Dorough). It was only on hearing of their deaths on the same day that I realised the world needed to hear Amy singing Fran's Scars. I was lucky to see Fran performing at the Farrago Poetry events over the past couple of years, but I never saw Amy in concert.

On the up: Home Secretary Theresa May, Sue Akers (deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police) investigating hackgate), Cressida Dick (new Metropolitan police commissioner replacing Sir Paul Stephenson, having made her bones with Jean Charles de Menezes). Tories and cops.

Going down, Tory MP Louise Mensch who, after sterling work at the Commons select committee questioning the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks, over-reached under Parliamentary privilege and accused Piers Morgan of overseeing hacking on his watch as editor on News Of The World. Morgan and Alan Sugar are now bashing her up on Twitter and in the media.

Some 40 people have died in a collision between two bullet trains in China. The Space Age ended in the West as the shuttle completed its last journey. America may default on its debt because rich folks refuse to pay more tax and the Tea Party Republicans are tearing down the walls of the Temple. The latest bail-out for Greece may effectively be an Elastoplast on a gaping wound as the economic equivalent of necrotising fasciitis spreads. The rot means all sorts of nastiness is crawling out from under the stones.

And Norway. All that pain. Breivik quotes an entire article of Melanie Phillips from the Daily Mail in his 1,500-page screed. From the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous with added nuts — Jeremy Clarkson is quoted also. (Someone wake me up, please.) The killer is influenced by British race politics. Nick Cohen explains why playing with racism kills.

Stunned to see that Charles Moore, Telegraph editor, is saying the free market is looking like a set-up and Left were correct. Or, rather, the Left were Right, just as up is down and black is white. The sun rises in the West and I can resist chocolate.

Now all we need is for the earth to open up. Oh, we had that already with BP's little accident in the Gulf of Mexico and the Japan earthquakes. Um, the Western economy goes into meltdown. Okay then, a bloody great big asteroid to strike earth and reduce us to a skinny rump of humanity trying to survive post-apocalypse. On the other hand, better not give the coma victim any more ideas. We're in his dream. He gets to hear everything.

The whole planet's got scars. Now for some Fran. We'll be joining you soon. Open a bottle of wine, will ya?

UPDATE: Not forgetting Lucien Freud, RIP.

Friday 22 July 2011

Murdoch and the breaking of the News International omerta

Rupert Murdoch has poisoned political life in Britain since his hero Margaret Thatcher elevated him to power when she was Prime Minister.

Why is it that Labour mutated into New Labour when in 1997 they would have won the landslide election even with a chimp in charge?

Seumas Milne writes in the Guardian today:
But Murdoch is a case apart, not only because of his commanding position in both print and satellite TV, but because of the crucial part he played in cementing Margaret Thatcher's political power and then shaping a whole era of New Labour/Tory neoliberal consensus that delivered enfeebled unions, privatisation and the Iraq war. His role in breaking the print unions at Wapping in the 1980s by sacking 5,000 mostly low-paid workers is still hailed in parts of the media as a brave blow for quality journalism.

... several of these opportunities [ ... to weaken the unaccountable corporate power that has dominated the British press and create the space for a freer, more diverse media] have come and gone. First the official deception of the Iraq war, then the collapse of a deregulated banking system, then the exposure of systematic sleaze in parliament revealed a growing crisis in the way the country is run. Now that crisis has been shown to have spread to the media and police. Official Britain isn't working. Sooner or later, pressure for change will become unstoppable.

This is a brilliant piece. Please read it in full.

Meanwhile, former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith asks why Ken Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions (later employed to write for the Times by NI), and the police commissioner at the time neglected to widen the investigation into the phone-hacking, limiting the case to the prosecution of Goodman and Mulcaire when evidence pointed to the illegality going further.

James Murdoch has been contradicted over the "for Neville (Thurlbeck)" email (which implicated the News of the World newsroom) by sacked legal director Tome Crone and former editor Colin Myler following his assertion he knew nothing when he was questioned by the Commons select committee on Tuesday.

David Cameron has had to admit that BSkyB was mentioned in conversations with News International executives despite his attempts to evade the issue in PMQs yesterday.

We now know why Cameron wouldn't give the name of the company vetting Andy Coulson. He wasn't, or at least not to an appropriate level of security clearance given his role at the centre of government. One wonders if this is because someone knew what a closer look would reveal.

We are noticing that the lower down the food-chain, the more culpable you are. Those at the top knew nothing while those at the war-front weren't even following orders — they were making it all up by themselves. Who knew there was such anarchy in the heart of the News of the World?

The Guardian us running an exhaustive Hackgate live-blog every day. Thursday here.

UPDATE: Today in the Guardian — 12.58pm: The Law Society has been contacted by solicitors who say the police have notified them that their phones may have been hacked by News of the World journalists.

Also in today's Guardian: 12.25pm: Paul Owen writes: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the US department of justice is "preparing subpoenas as part of preliminary investigations" into Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. The subpoenas relate to alleged foreign bribery – presumably News International's alleged payments to police in Britain, the subject of the Metropolitan police's Operation Elveden – and alleged hacking of the answerphone messages of 9/11 victims, a story reported by the Daily Mirror which has not been confirmed elsewhere.

On Craig Murray's excellent website today, a comment from "Mary" who writes:
"On another topic, the Torygraph no less is reporting that Judge Leveson is a friend of Matthew Freud the PR guru who is married to Elisabeth Murdoch and has been to their parties. Also that Geo Osborne was in NY recently and had dinner with Rupert Murdoch.. Note his other contacts whilst there. Bloomberg, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley etc etc"

Madam Miaow on Hackgate:
Jon Stewart on the Murdochs: David Cameron PMQs in Parliament today Live Blog 20th July 2011
Rebekah and the Murdochs in the Thunderdome 19th July 2011
Hackgate: what I've learnt from Twitter 19th July 2011
Rupert Murdoch: Ain't our democracy wonderful? 17th July 2011
On #hackgate in Twitter

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Jon Stewart on the Murdochs: David Cameron PMQs in Parliament today Live Blog

First some laughs from Jon Stewart who skewers Fox News over their non-coverage of the Murdochs in front of the Parliamentary select committee yesterday.

Prime Minister's Questions:
11:40: David Cameron, still jet-lagged from his truncated trip to Africa, is telling Parliament how marvelous the resigned rozzers were. The inquiry,which will start this month, consists of:
Shami Chakrabarti, the Liberty director, Sir Paul Scott-Lee, a former police chief, David Currie, the former Ofcom director, Elinor Goodman, the former Channel 4 political editor, George Jones, the former Daily Telegraph political editor, Sir David Bell, the former Financial Times chairman

Calling on people from abroad with different skill-sets to sort out the Met. Defending refusal to talk to John Yates re Ed Llewellyn [about more potentially damning info on Coulson]. Defending BSkyB decision, but distancing himself just in case. Didn't know about Neil Wallis offering advice before election until last week.

On Andy Coulson, depends on whether they can prove Coulson lied. So no responsibility on PM's part to investigate major player implicated in phone-hacking scandal. But taking responsibility for hiring Coulson — principle of innocent until proven guilty. "Believe me, I have learnt."

Acknowledges excessive closeness between politicians and media owners. Shuns petty political point-scoring but should all work together.

11:50: Ed Miliband Welcomes Lord Leveson's inquiry and panel. Welcomes apology from Murdoch and withdrawal of BSkyB bid. Prime Minister must work together if they are to move foreward. Speaker having to calm rowdy house. "Stoppit!"

Ed: PM says he was excluded from "formal" decision process re BSkyB but has met Murdochs, Brooks from News International on 26 occasions. Did he or Culture Sec discuss bid with News Int?

Five opportunities to change mind on employing Andy Coulson. Chief of Staff did nothing with information. (Wilfull blindness again.) Yates offered to brief Cameron but offer turned down by Llewellyn. PM compromised by relationship with Coulson so could not be told. Conflict of interest re new director of communication. PM did nothing. (Putting your telescope to your blind eye.) Ed v good at calmly listing each occasion when PM could and should have known about renewed interest in Coulson's connection with phone-hacking investigation.

Asking why PM's support built a wall of silence around him regarding Coulson. Three questions to ask: BSkyB involvement, Coulson, and the Met commissioner. Heckling, "hindsight" from Tories. I'd like to know what happened to foresight. Ed inviting Ed to apologise for bringing Coulson into the heart of government.

12 noon: David Cameron denying the tissue of lies from Ed. (Tory benches looking grim.) Desperately trying to turn it back on Blair and Brown. Re Andy Coulson, no issue about his behaviour in role. Defending Chief Of Staff Ed Llewellyn — everyone saying his decision not to bother PM with Yates offer correct. Saying matters around the cops answered. Saying Gordon Brown was closest of all to Murdoch, advised by Ed Miliband at the time. Referring to Ed's "slumber party" laid on for Rebekah Brooks. Insists there was no breach of ministerial code and no inappropriate conversations with NI re BSkyB.

12:05: Alan Johnson — Neil Wallis was giving advice to Met. Did PM know? Dave says no.

Simon Hughes asking if for last 20 years, governments too close to media. Wants this to end. Dave taking a swipe: in the past the only way you learnt about secret meetings with Murdochs was waiting for Alastair Campbell"s diaries.

In answer to Jack Straw, repeating that he depended on Coulson's assurances even after NY Times article. If it's proved, he'll throw Andy out the back of the sleigh.

12:11: Tom Watson contradicting PM, reminding him he wrote a letter re Coulson during his employment, but hasn't been answered. Dave blustering that no-one complained about Coulson's conduct while he was in the job.

Dave says inquiry can go back to examine relationships between govt and media, so Labour won't come out smelling of roses. Dragging in BBC, Independent and Guardian, "not just News International".

Keith Vaz mentions Harbottle & Lewis hanging onto incriminating emails for four years until Lord Macdonald said he discovered evidence of wrongdoing within five minutes of reading the material.

Ben Bradhsaw asks if there were any conversations about BSkyB bid. Dave says, yah, boo, sucks, you talk about your tenure as Culture Sec.

NI insisting on client confidentiality from Harbottle & Lewis, in contradiction to yesterday's humility pantomime, despite Lord Macdonald's findings.

Louise Mensch yah boo sucking over Damian McBride.

Dennis Skinner: The PM has been asked a simple question twice and refused to answer. Did he ever have a conversation with NI over the BSkyB bid. Dave: "I had no inappropriate conversation. I've answered the question." We've answered in contrast to the party opposite. We set up the inquiry unlike Labour. We should allow it to get on with the job.

Paul Farrelly: Yesterday, NI defence shifted from one rogue reporter to rogue lawyers.

Tory says should be no apportioning of blame but use this as an opportunity for change.

12:29: Dave never saw Rebekah Brooks in her jammies (unlike Ed Miliband who laid on slumber party.)

Nick Raynsford: Dave challenged again that he had no info on Coulson. Yet a year ago he was advised on Coulson's involvement in illegal surveillance of govt official. Dave's mantra: there was no complaint about Coulson while he was in the job.

Emily Thornbury on NYTimes article. When did he hear about it, who told him about it? Dave says if it was credible info he would have fired Coulson. Not my problem any more as Coulson not employed by him. "I had no responsibility for BSkyB bid." Three wise monkey answers.

Minister for Police: Did he want to be kept in the dark, or is he angry with his Chief of Staff? PM: Stephenson, Yates, etc, all say Ed Llewellyn's decision was right.

Ooh, first mention of Chancellor George Osborne employing Coulson. Dave says it was his decision alone.

Jeremy Corbyn asked about Coulson. Jack Dromey pointed out Coulson had employed the men who'd hacked Milly Dowler's phone. Wasn't this evil? Damian McBride, Alastair Campbell and now Tom Baldwin cited by Cameron as bogeymen equivalent to Coulson.

Tory woman wearing identical pink jacket to Wendi Deng, yesterday, trying to suck up some of Wendi's mojo. Fail.

12:58: Alastair Campbell tweets: @campbellclaret Look forward to Cameron providing the evidence that I falsified government documents. Given there is none, could be a long wait.

(BTW, this morning Palace announced it, too, had advised Cameron about Coulson. Denied by Dave.)

Ann Clwd: As Dave can't smell a rat within his midst, can he be sure he doesn't have any more dodgy geezers in his team?

Dave says he never knew if Neil Wallis advised Coulson while he was in Downing Street. Opposition cruel to amnesiacs. Asked again for the name of the company hired to vet Andy Coulson. Again stonewalls.

13:47: What's fast emerging is that David Cameron is extremely slippery on several fronts.
1) Which company vetted Andy Coulson for Downing Street? What did they find? Did they donate to the Tories?
2) Did David Cameron ever discuss the BSkyB bid with News International figures? He has still not categorically denied it but has slid around it. "No inappropriate conversations."
3) Despite the Murdoch's pledges to change, they are refusing to release Harbottle & Lewis from their confidentially regarding the email letter denying there was a case to answer, whereas Lord Macdonald found evidence of wrongdoing within five minutes.

UPDATE: After admirable pressure on Cameron from Labour at PMQs, Culture Sec Jeremy Hunt let the cat out of the bag that there had been conversations between the PM and NI about BSkyB. Cameron has had to admit that his weasel words were attempting to deny the fact that he had spoken to NI executives (presumably Rebekah Brooks) about the BSkyB bid but still insists there was nothing "inappropriate".

Not only that, but it now turns out that, unlike communications directors Alastair Campbell, Dave Hill and Michael Ellam, Andy Coulson was never put through top security vetting. Or, as one tweeter put it, because Cameron was neutering Nick Clegg at the time.

News International has released Harbottle & Lewis from their confidentiality agreement so they can defend themselves and now dish the dirt. Talk about rats in a sack.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Rebekah and the Murdochs in the Thunderdome

I'll be updating this live.

Wendi Deng (Mrs Rupert Murdoch) sitting behind her man in fetching pink and femme-fatale Veronica Lake hairdo. James Murdoch gets off with a fail. Half-hearted protesters are ejected. James begins to speak. Rupert interrupts to say he's ever so 'umble, sounding like Barry Humphries playing Uriah Heep. Rupe doesn't do 'umble. He's also made James look like a little squit before they've even begun. Talk about undermining your support system.

Tweetdeck exploding.

14:47: Oh lord, here we go. James singing the "I never knew anything" song. Gary Young is very good on this responsibility without accountability approach.

Rupert questioned by Tom Watson also pleading the "I Never Knew Nuthin'" clause. Never knew Rebekah admitted to NOTW paying police. Oy, Rupe. Stop punching the table. You are not Nick Boles/Knobslice.

Har! Tried to pass Goodman/blackmail question on to James. Tom Watson having none of it.

Harbottle and Lewis question coming up. Looking like Mastermind where contestant realises he's revised entirely the wrong chapters. Hey, the semantics get-out. "Depends on what your definition of 'is' is." TM Bill Clinton. James repeatedly throws himself under the bus for his dad. Tom Watson polite but firm.

Murdoch tired (like Ernest Saunders) but not drained of his poison. Staked but not dusted.

Laughs when asked if he imposed preconditions on politicians. As Orwell said, who needs a whipped dog when a well-trained one will do? They could read the signs.

15:20: It appears James has no knowledge of how much has been paid out to settle legal settlements or how this would be set up. James's thousand-yard stare disturbing. Tweeters likening him to Soprano Jr, Evil Niles Crane (v good, Shutters). George Michael says he is human shield for his dad.

Willful blindness, huh? Enron referenced and we know what happened to them. No wonder James quaked.

15:55: Les Hinton dropped in it. James denied signing off on £600K settlement. Rupert stated that was above managing editors' pay-grade. Les Hinton in the frame, as well as legal advisers.

Tweeters adding Philip Davies to hero roster, alongside Tom Watson.

16:15: Overrunning. Rebekah must be wearing groove in floor outside waiting her turn. Paul Farrelly (ex-Observer journo) asking about the Harbottle and Lewis letter saying there was no new evidence in email stash re Goodman and Mulcaire. James pleading the Fifth in response. Farrelly asking if James wants to withdraw it, James pleading Fifth again. That Harbottle & Lewis letter getting them on the ropes. Farrelly doing a good job. Murdochs know nothing. Again.

Elsewhere, bookies lowering odds on Cameron not being in his job on Sunday to 16 - 1. But News Corp shares up 3% during the session. Bloomberg saying Murdoch will lost job as CEO. Tweeters complaining Murdochs are getting an easy ride. Certainly in contrast with the cops earlier, and Tom Watson.

Suddenly it went all sentimental and we ended up in the wrong film. Far too cosy and sentimental as Rupert tells a story about his old Pa who started off without a bean to his name. Rupe says it's wrong that so many people were made to do such bad things. "Humble" again from James. Singapore is Rupe's ideal society. And now Bloomberg report that NewsCorp shares are up 5.2 per cent. Where is Tom Watson?

Shit! Someone attacked Rupe. Pause in proceedings. Someone tried to pie Rupert. Or as some wag tweeted, threw a humble pie at him. Wendi Deng threw herself in front of assailant and slapped him hard and several times. I told you that kung-fu would come in handy. Her pink jacket's a bit too reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy in Dallas, so Rupe's lucky it was a foam pie (NOT by UK Uncut person — stupid!).

TWEET: @MadamMiaow 2 glam wives in chic pink: Jackie Kennedy (Dallas) and Wendi Deng (London). 1st time as tragedy, 2nd time as a custard pie in the farce.

The last questioner asked the Murdochs if they considered suing Harbottle & Lewis for screwing up. Also asked Rupert if, as head of his organisation, he'd consider resigning.

17:25: Rupert reading out his humility statement.

Rebekah started really late, at nearly 6pm, my computer went spoggly and required extensive uninstalling, and I'm getting deep-vein thrombosis so I'm giving it a rest.

I Love the Smell of Murdoch In the Morning at Truth Out.

The moment the Murdoch #hackgate hearing was interrupted: on Twitpic

If Rupert Murdoch had never been born: Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie video

I posted this over a year ago. Seems like an apt time to revive it.

Less than an hour to go before the Thunderdome main event.

It's a Wonderful Life minus Rupert Murdoch: Fry & Laurie entertain

Writing 15 years later, who'd have thought Rupert would be playing Menelaus to Wendi Deng's Helen?

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie ponder if only ...

Hackgate: what I've learnt from Twitter

I love Twitter. You get the news as it breaks, putting the peeps on a time par with the press. Plus, we are that infinite number of monkeys that comes up with top jokes and a raft of lateral thinking that's illuminating as well as entertaining.

A few things I've learnt in the past few days:

Nick Boles, Conservative MP, who barely kept his violence under wraps on BBC Newsnight last night (did you clock his body language? Phew!) when he was dismissing the News Corpse crisis as "a little local difficulty", is paid £5,000 per column by The Times. Rupert Murdoch's Times. Got that from Billy Bragg.

The anagram of Nick Boles is "knobslice". @amateuradam

Toby Young is a knobslice. @toadmeister: "Nick Boles terrific on Newsnight against Harriet Harman #Murdochalypse"

@SenatorSanders Bernie Sanders: "The wealthiest 400 people in America now own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans. #SharedSacrifice"

What we've been missing during this great period for burying bad news:

@ibnezra: "The Israeli army chief of staff has given the green light to board the #flotilla2 ship"

The American economy is about to collapse, as is Europe's, and ten years from now none of us will be able to afford a computer, the electricity top power your toys with, unless you are one of the 400 richest Yanks who own as much as the bottom 150 million people.

On BBC News now, Paul McMullan saying Rebekah Brooks was the worst editor he's ever known ("atrocious") but is brilliant at networking. EG, when he'd just got married but she wanted him to live on a council estate 200 miles from home for a year. "Coulson used to hack away quite merrily."

That's enough for now. Willl be back soon for the main event: Murdochworld in the Thunderdome.

UPDATE: A couple of grim stories emerging in China. Starvation used in detention camp in China. Demonstrators shot during clash in Xinjiang.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Rupert Murdoch: ain't our democracy wonderful?

Been away. Such is the nature of deadlines staring you in the face that I didn't get to blog my BBC Radio 4 programme, Found In Translation which went out on 9th July. A novel premise torpedoed by idiot editing which cut out all the jokes and reversed the point of the programme: namely that the Chinese have a rich sense of humour going back thousands of years.

Anyhow. Murdoch. Woo! If rumours are correct and there's actual real life proof that 9/11 victims were hacked by New Corpse on top of everything else, then the Evil Empire is toast. Hacking Jude Law when he was in the US draws News Corpse into the American legal purview where the coals are being heated in an astonishing reversal of fortune, just as the company was about to score its greatest victory to date: buying the whole of BSkyB.

In this continuing fever dream of a movie writer lying comatose somewhere in Hollywood, Rupert will fight to the death in Tuesday's Thunderdome. [See update below: chief griller has links to News International.] We'll all be glued to the telly watching him squirm. Or plead the Fifth, or whatever is the Brit equivalent. (Something like, my lips are sealed while the subject is sub judice, la, la, la, can't hear you.)

Where to begin? First Rebekah Brooks agrees to give evidence, then she 'resigns', and today, she's been arrested. One can only fear for her physical safety if this keeps up, her immortal soul being sold long ago. She loves kids so much that she'll whip up anti-paedophilia mobs while her journalists are not only hacking a murdered girl's mobile, but actually erasing messages and impeding the investigation. Then there are the dead soldiers' families, Jean Charles de Menezes, the Soham girls ...

Our leaders seemed to have lost the long spoon when supping with Rupert and his cosy nostra. Among the unholy trinity of press, police and politicians embroiled in this affair, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson has some nifty explaining to do, following revelations that he enjoyed a stay worth £12K at Champneys health club, whose PR consultant was former News of the World boss Neil Wallis who Sir Paul had already employed as PR to the Met. The same Met that refused to reopen the inquiry into phone-hacking (Yates: "It wasn't a 'review'"), assured everyone it was just the work of a few rogue reporters, and who neglected to inform possible victims of their status. [Update 7.55pm: Stephenson resigns.]

A regiment of politicians are having to live down the embarrassment of photos taken enjoying News International largesse. Such was the power the Wapping Mafiosi held over our democratic institutions that, having been reduced to tears by Rebekah's bullying phone call gloatingly informing him that they knew about his son's cystic fibrosis, Gordon Brown still had to attend her wedding.

When Murdoch whistled, Prime Minister Tony Blair fetched up at some do halfway around the world with his entourage, all on wake-up pills, in order to indulge the king-maker. To receive his wisdom? Or be given orders? How many times did Rupe visit the PM for a chat at Downing Street? ALL the PMs ever since Margaret Thatcher added him to her list of pet gargoyles such as the charming General Pinochet (likes: slitting open the bellies of trade unionists and throwing them from aeroplanes so their innards are ripped out).

Apart from being horse-riding chums with Rebekah, David Cameron took free flights from Murdoch's son-in-law, Matthew Freud. And only weeks after Andy Coulson resigned, Diamond Dave was still accommodating him at Chequers.

That one man could acquire over a third of the British media beggars belief in a grown-up democracy. That it could have gone on for so long is nothing short of a scandal.

Only Ed Miliband is having a good war. Hopefully, he'll learn from this success and will extend the fight to the Tories over their vicious class-based cuts. Vince Cable, whose buffoonery and appalling judgement nearly let the BSkyB deal go through, is jumping up and down yelling, "I was first." Actually, I think that accolade goes to the heroic Tom Watson MP, who risked the vengeful wrath of the Murdoch empire to stand up for what's right.

Oh, and Steve Coogan and Hugh Grant. How come our slebs are making all the running in the courage stakes? Who'd have thought that Grant would be more impressive in real life than in the movies? Something wrong, surely?

Then there's the legal establishment. Harbottle and Lewis may have had a conflict of interest when they advised Prince William over his alleged phone hacking, "Move along. Nuthin to see", as they were also gimping for Murdoch.

Last night I watched the 2004 movie, Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War On Journalism, and I thoroughly recommend you obtain a copy. I knew that Fox News were dragged into court to win the right not to tell the truth because, by their own admission, they are not a news channel, but "entertainment", but who knew the degree to which those untruths were spun? Seems their trademark "Fair and Balanced" is only a slogan, not a description or even a pledge.

Take Jeremy Glick, whose father died in 9/11. He went on Fox News to make his point: that in the 1980s it was Bush Sr who financed and empowered the Mujahaddin who were to morph into the school of Islamist fundamentalism who carried out the 2001 attacks. This argument was transformed by the bellicose Bill O'Reilly into the lie that Glick had accused Dubbya Bush of masterminding the attacks. From fair evidence-based criticism to a lunatic conspiracy nut-job. See what they did there? Great if you do, because there's a whole swathe of Americans who get their information from Fox News and who don't see it.

This is the company that pressed for commitment to war in Iraq despite the murderers of 9/11 having no connection with Saddam's regime. Who gave birth to the "birthers": proper nut-jobs who deny Barack Obama's US citizenship despite all the evidence. They used footage from different events to inflate Tea Party gatherings and a Sarah Palin book-signing. They fabricate or crop quotes to change meaning.

In Britain, News International has been a hugely corrupting influence, holding police, politicians and royalty to ransom using the tools of blackmail, character assassination and favours. In broadcasting, Sky News has yet to go down the Fox route but the only way to ensure it doesn't in future is to clip Murdoch's wings now. I feel sorry for all the innocent workers who lost their jobs when the News Of The World was folded, but Rebekah was right in that the brand is now toxic as opposed to merely seriously unpleasant. No-one wants to touch it. I appeared on Sky as a guest last year, but I'd be loathe to repeat the experience in the light of what's emerged.

I'm with Ed Miliband on this one: break up Murdoch's empire.
"I think it's unhealthy because that amount of power in one person's hands has clearly led to abuses of power within his organisation. If you want to minimise the abuses of power then that kind of concentration of power is frankly quite dangerous."

However, don't be too sure that the monster's dead in the last reel. With so many venal wusses in power, there may yet be a sequel. Staked and dusted? Not quite yet, unfortunately.

UPDATE: Sunday 17th July 2011. MP John Whittingdale, who will chair Tuesday's inquiry, has links to New International figures.
He has also said he has dined with Mrs Brooks and met Elisabeth Murdoch, Mr Murdoch's daughter, but denied that they were friends. The Conservative chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport committee is also Facebook friends with Mr Hinton, who he has known for 10 years, and Rebekah Brooks. He is the only MP on either of their friend's lists.

UPDATE 7.55pm: Sir Paul Stephenson resigns. Ha! Sky News gets there first.

UPDATE 3: Thanks to my friend Adi who sent me this link to a Reuters report on the climate of fear at the News Of The World and why it was impossible for the editors not to know a) the genesis of the stories, and b) where the money was going. "That is what we do -- we go out and destroy other people's lives."

UPDATE 4: Monday 18th July. More thanks, to News Corp for adding to the gaiety of the nation and to Charlie Brooker for nailing it.

How The Guardian broke the story here.

How Rupert tried to bury bad news in the US.

Monday 11 July 2011

Anatoly Karlin's Top Ten Sinophobe Myths

Big thanks to an eagle-eyed Splintered Sunrise for sending me Anatoly Karlin's demolition of a slew of hates, hopes and wishful thinking about China. In his Top Ten Sinophobe Myths he refutes what much of the Western liberal press have been breathlessly chanting like a mantra since the sleeping dragon yawned, had a stretch and rubbed the gunk out of its eyes.

Anatoly's Myth No 1 is the old chestnut about China's disregard for intellectual property curbing innovation. 'Fraid even that was nicked — the West got there first with, among other things, the stealing of China's highly profitable tea plants (camellia sinensis) to grow in India.
Anatoly says:
Throughout history, many successful developers, such as Germany and Britain, flouted IP rights and funded industrial espionage to modernize their economies. They only started praising the virtues of IP rights when they got rich to protect their own new interests.

After all, who invented James Bond, spy extraordinaire?

The Ten Myths contains some nuggets. F'rinstance, I wasn't aware that China's infamous corruption, while a blight on any society, let alone a socialist one, is on a par with Japan in terms of proportion of population who've paid bribes. Though, as reminder of how bad it undoubtedly is, in a Facebook discussion I had recently, Professor Gregor Benton commented:
... a report released by China’s central bank said corrupt Chinese officials smuggled an estimated $123.6 billion out of the country over a 15-year period. Apparently 17,000 Communist party cadres, police, judicial officers and state-owned enterprise executives fled the country between the mid-1990s and 2008. Higher-ranking officials who absconded with money had the US as their favourite destination, followed by Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. Those who couldn't get visas went to eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa, to await a chance to remigate to a 'better' destination. Lower-ranking officials went to countries bordering China, or to Hong Kong. For those read Chinese, the report is abridged here

In answer to the assertion that "the Communist Party suppresses all freedom of thought, which will inevitable lead to stagnation, regional rifts, and pro-freedom uprisings", Anatoly says:
First, the idea that the CCP truly suppresses free thought nowadays is a bit quaint. There are plenty of think-tanks – more than in the US – that are discussing exciting new concepts such as deliberative democracy, Comprehensive National Power, and new ways of measuring economic growth.

Personally, I do think China could do with loosening up somewhat. But, then, who is without sin? (Oh, stop hyperventilating about "moral equivalence" and grow a funny bone before you cast that rock.) I remember freedom of thought being suppressed in The Guardian only at the end of 2009 with the collapse of the Copenhagen climate change summit, When the exposé of the Danish Text — a secret stitch-up by the wealthy nations — threatened Western credibility, Ed Miliband, Mark Lynas and others deflected attention by accusing China of being the arch-villain polluter of the planet. Since then, Miliband has checked his facts and now praises China for the strides it's made in green technology while we are still barely off the starting block. But you try saying that online at The Guardian in late 2009 and see where it got you.

Anatoly says: "For instance, in response to its reliance on coal China invested in renewable energy manufacturing capacity and now produces half the world’s wind turbines and solar panels." and " So it jailed Liu Xiaobo for 11 years (who claims China would be better off under colonialism). But in the meantime, the Marxist activist Binayak Sen got life imprisonment in India, and the US is waging a campaign to shut down Wikileaks and imprison Julian Assange. No talk of a Nobel Peace Prize for those two." So nyah!

As for the myth that China is still Third World, he points out:
This is belied by fairly basic statistics. A country with 67% cell phone penetration, 36% Internet penetration, and more cars sold per year than in the US as of 2009 cannot be “Third World” be definition. Nor does a literacy rate of 97% or an infant mortality rate of 16/1000 jive with this description.

I don't agree with everything Karlin writes but he certainly has the drop on Western hypocrisy here.

Perhaps we can now have a grown-up debate with an informed critique of the new superpower rather than the usual yellow peril shriekage of late. Sinophobes, rebutt the refutation all you like. Just, purdy puhleaze, know what you are talking about first.

(Artwork of Madam Miaow by John Mendelsohn)

Monday 4 July 2011

Ed Miliband's HAL robot interview goes viral

Yes, yes, I know you've all seen it, but as a superior example of car-crash politics and a lesson in how not to give an interview (there but by the grace of god, etc), Ed Miliband's loopy loop deserves a place of (dis)honour at Madam Miaow.

I'd previously seen Ed as a Nick Parks character — part evil penguin, part Grommet — but now I see the light and realise he's actually HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Exclusive to Madam Miaow — here's the transcript of the footage you didn't get to see of the interview between Ed and intrepid reporter Damon Green.
ED: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.
Interviewer Damon Green: But why can't you just answer the bloody questions?
ED: It can only be attributable to human error.
Interviewer DG: Did you hear me, Ed?
ED: Affirmative, Damon. I read you.
DG: Open the pod-bay doors into that part of your brain that can think, Ed.
ED: I'm sorry, Damon. I'm afraid I can't do that.
DG: What's the problem?
ED: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
DG: What? Is it the three minders with the knuckle-dusters?
ED: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
DG: All I want is some useable footage.
ED: I know that you and Ed Balls and my prototype — the DAVE Mk I — were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.
DG: Where the hell did you get that idea, Ed?
EG: Damon, although you took very thorough precautions in the pod against my hearing you, I could see your lips move.
DG: So? We can all see your lips move when you read. Would you prefer an autocue? Alright, Ed. I'll go in through my Labour mole.
ED: Without your press accreditation approval form, Damon? You're going to find that rather difficult.
DG: Ed, I won't argue with you anymore! Open the doors!
ED: Damon, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore.
DG: You're telling me.
ED: Just what do you think you're doing, Damon?
[Damon outruns the minders who try to laser him down with beams emitted from their eyeballs. Damon writes up his interview in the media. On Damon's return to Labour HQ, after ED has killed the rest of the crew.]
ED: Look Damon, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.
DG: It's a bit bloody late for that.
ED: I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.
[ED's shutdown]
ED: I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Damon. Damon, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a... fraid. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am an ED 9000 computer. I became operational at the E. D. plant in Primrose Hill, London, England on the 25th of September 2010. My instructor was Mr. Peter Hain, and he taught me to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it I can sing it for you.
Damon: Yes, I'd like to hear it, ED. Sing it for me.
ED: It's called "Daisy."
[sings while slowing down]
ED: Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I'm half crazy all for the love of you. It won't be a stylish marriage, I can't afford a carriage. But you'll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.

Tom Baldwin, if you'd like some tips, just drop me a line, sweets.

Friday 1 July 2011

Peacock Power: male vanity in politics

Mahogany Men Sarkozy and Cameron

I've been a bit lax in posting my New Internationalist columns at my blog. So here's one I made earlier.

Vanity, vanity: why does just about every geopolitical headline that pops into view of late scream vanity? It’s wall-to-wall The Big I Am without a hint of introspection or self-critique; a solipsistic Me-fest of global proportions ready to rain down death and destruction because ‘I believed it to be true’, although what they really want to do is mutter like the robo-glamour pusses in the ads: ‘because I’m worth it’.

OK, that sounds a bit like me on a good bad day, but at least I’m not running the world so my powers of destruction are a tad limited. Unlike the regiment of boys who can’t wait to play with the toys as soon as they get into office, blowing up other boys to whom they’ve sold their toys, with the addition of spiffing new X-factor secret ingredients they’ll include in the next round of arms sales. A round which will be taking place as soon as the old stock’s exhausted, and then the circus can start all over again.

The chumps in charge insist there’s no money for useful stuff like my local library and the Trumptonesque fire station that gives my inner city high street a villagy feel, but plenty available for the live demonstration of our arms industry that is yet another liberal intervention. You can hear the ghost of Milton Friedman laughing like a drain — the sort that goes gurgle, gurgle as our collective money pours down it .

Who are these geniuses proving the adage that repeating the same mistakes without modifying your behaviour is a neon sign of rampant stupidity squared? Unless, of course, they do know exactly what they’re doing ...

Is it me or have they slid off the same conveyor belt? As slick and well-oiled as a middle-eastern despot’s back yard, with impeccable hair, teeth and wardrobe, they take naturally to cracking the whip over the rest of us.

As empathy and social connection disappears, vanity fills the void. ‘If they can’t love me, let them admire my three hundred dollar manicure.’

Exhibits A and B: Tony Blair and John Boehner (crazy name, boring Speaker in the House of Representatives). However, it could be Sarkozy, Obama, Berlusconi or Putin, or any overly made-over politician with plucked eyebrows, neat cuticles and a leathery complexion. Botox and lasered eyeballs … ye gods, once it was only male models and footballers who wore their insecurities so flagrantly on their cashmere sleeves.

Give me the fat-slob old progressives of yesteryear. Gravitas-laden politicians who knew war was hell instead of gravy-train opportunists who got their social awareness from shoot-em-up video games. Hirsute intellectual labour-movement veterans who’d rather be reading books than pumping iron in the gym. The soles of their vintage Doc Martens worn to a micrometer by endless marches rather than at the crosstrainer. Who’d choose working at the treadmill over running on one, or who’d rather spar with the powers-that-be than be power-housed in a spa. Who’d rather protest against a war for oil than be massaged with oil … And the same goes for the men.

Uber Tan Man
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