Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Beacon of the vanities?

So, anyway, back in 2003, a certain George W Bush suggested that by invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein, a process would be initiated that would see the country transmogrify in to a "Beacon of democracy" which would serve as a example to the benighted regimes of the Arab world. Iraq would - by some process that was never really made clear - reinvent itself as a sort of Sweden-with-sand, a peaceful, democratic, equal and tolerant society.

So - to quote another rightwing sage - how's that hopey-changey stuff working out for yah?

It isn't looking too good, unfortunately.
Two leading members of Iraq's largest and most powerful Sunni tribe have warned of imminent sectarian chaos in the wake of the US withdrawal, claiming that the government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is promoting an anti-Sunni agenda.

The sheikhs, leaders of the highly influential Duleimi tribe, both insist that Sunnis have been increasingly marginalised over the past year to the point where they now have little input into affairs of state in post-US Iraq.

Their warnings come as Iraq's vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi, defended himself over claims in an arrest warrant issued for him that he had used his guards to act as hit squads to target political rivals and had ordered a recent car bombing near the Iraqi parliament.
Norway, with the occasional racist terrorist maniac on the ramapage, might be a closer analogue.

Ho, hum. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Ha-Ha!

Seasonal good cheer, courtesy of Anthony Watts:
"The fact that they are trying to keep people from replicating their studies -- that's the issue," Watts noted. "Replication is the most important tenet of science."
Obviously, he's already dropped the BEST study, which successfully replicated the work of climate scientists from publically available data, down the Memory Hole.

Scoundrel

Nationalistic bollocks combined with Christian cant in the latest bulletin from Planet cameron, a curious world where poor people don't exist - apart from for moat cleaning and similar menial chores.
"But what I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today."

I hope to God (Boom! Boom!) he means the New Testament and not the psychotic nonsense of the Old Testament. And only the bits in the New Testament that are directly attributeable to Jesus. who was quite a likeable chap, and not the ravings of the bigotted Paul.

But if he does mean that, he needs to actually demonstrate those virtues in action. There's little evidence of the teachings of Jesus affecting our domestic or foreign policy.

In otherwords, another political hypocrite trying to take advantage of one of the few times of a year people really bother about religion in any sense, to proffer shoddy blandishments.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Ah-hahahahahah!!

James Murdoch has told a parliamentary committee that he did not read a critical email sent to him in June 2008 by the editor of the News of the World, which indicated that phone hacking at the Sunday tabloid went beyond the activities of a single "rogue reporter".

Colin Myler forwarded Murdoch a note from the tabloid's legal manager Tom Crone, warning of a "further nightmare scenario," because there was fresh evidence of hacking involving a News of the World journalist other than the jailed former royal editor Clive Goodman.

However, although Murdoch replied to the email from Myler within three minutes of it being sent on 7 June 2008, offering to discuss the situation further, he added that "I am confident that I did not review the full email chain at the time or afterwards".
He received the email, he replied to it, and a few days later Murdoch met with Myler and Crone and agreed to pay £700,000 to settle the Gordon Tayloer hacking case that the email was about.

I repeat: James Murdoch is asking us to believe that met with his editor and top lawyer bloke three days after the email was sent, and agreed to pay someone £700,000. Without having read the email and without being told what it was all about.

Can anyone be less credible candidate for running anything, far less the Entire World's Media?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Frozen planet

What is it with Polar Bears? Is there something about these ursine albinos that makes it impossible to be honest about them/ First we had those claims about millions of Polar Bears being drowned because BP was stealing their ice floes to plug the Deep Water Horizon gusher (or something like that). Now this shocking revelation that parts of David Attenborough's Frozen Planet weren't actually filmed on Arctic ice floes:
The BBC has denied misleading viewers over footage shown on the Frozen Planet series of a polar bear tending her newborn cubs.

The corporation insisted it would have been impossible to have filmed the scenes in the wild amid criticism reported in the Daily Mirror that the commentary had failed to tell the audience that the scenes had been shot in a zoo.

The BBC said the way the footage had been captured had been "clearly explained" online.

"This particular sequence would be impossible to film in the wild," a spokeswoman said.

"The commentary accompanying the sequence is carefully worded so it doesn't mislead the audience and the way the footage was captured is clearly explained on the programme website."
Have to say, whoever composed the "carefully worded" line is stupid beyond the call of duty. I can imagine the nefarious forces of The Right regurgitating it anytime the BBC reports on anything, ever.

Other than that, what of the 'allegations'?

I thought the fact that nature documentaries are manipulated was so fricking obvious it didn't need to be pointed out, by and large. Still, the right are naive fools who accept such lunacies as 'trickle down theory' as gospel, so perhaps it needs to be spelled out in BIG LETTERS OF DOOM. Or the right could be eradicated. Either way, problem solved.

There was some French doco that filmed the goings on in a meadow over the course of a year (n.b. the producers did not take adequate steps to make sure it was clear some of the footage had been edited, even though the resultant documentary did not actually last a year) which had some sort of capitalist bird creature devouring insects and every time its beak struck one of the gallant little proletarian bugs it was accompanied by a ridiculously overdone thonking noise. At no point did a caption flash up advising us that this was not the genuine sound a bird's beak makes when devouring insects.

I mean, with such manipulation of the gullible viewer, how can we possibly accept anything, from the Moon landings, through evolution, to climate change? the Zapruder film was obviously 'enhanced' by the addition of blood and brain material flying across the screen. The real version shows Oswald handing a beaming Jackie O a flower.

In other news, the background music that accompanies animal antics in the wild ISN'T ACTUALLY THERE. It's added in afterwards. Cheetahs do not, as a rule, play musical instruments. So any slow-mo action of them running after a gazelle while the Chariots of Fire theme chunters along is ... whisper it ... not quite authentic. And snails don't generally listen to Bolero while they are procreating. Mind you, that's maybe because they've seen '10' and know that it doesn't work.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Republican candidates II

Iowa must be a strange place. polls there have Obama thrashing Romney and Gingrich, but tied with Paul. New Hampshire polls have Obama thrashing Gingrich, losing narrowly to Romney and just beating Paul.

Looking at the national picture, Obama is beating pretty much everyone pretty much all of the time. Romney and Gingrich run him close-ish. Intruigingly, Paul and Huntsman aren't obscenely far behind Obama, given how marginal they are. The rest of them are currently so far behind I could probably beat them.

Yes, folks, Perry, Cain, Bachmann and Santorum (remember him?) are officially the Republicans that Republicans won't vote for.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Republican candidates

Interesting to see Newt Gingrich - NEWT GINGRICH - moving up in the polls. Have the Republicans decided the only way to defeat a man with a silly name is to find a candidate with an even sillier one?

Jon Huntsman still getting 1%. At least he's consistent. Pundits are generally sympathetic, saying he's performing well at the debates, but no-one seems to be listening. I suspect he's the candidate I would be likely to vote for, which tells you everything you need to know.

Still, he did pass the Captain Beefheart Test, managing to name a Beefheart album - two infact - without sounding like a fool. It might also explain his resolute lack of appeal. Perry is Garth Brooks. Gingrich, Bon Jovi. Romney, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Ron Paul is Neil Diamond. Michele Bachman, Britney Spears. Rick Santorum, all of the Village People. And Huntsman is Captain Beefheart.

Inevitably, because he's sane, we're told Huntsman is a Rhino - Republican In Name Only. Maybe his musical taste is the sticking point, and if he'd only endorse the musical stylings of Shania Twain, the American right would welcome him with open arms and great tumescence.

(Yes, I know, she's a Canadian. I was being amused at the preference for sentimental, conventional faux-American crap to indigenous brilliance.)

I don't think Romney will get the nomination. There are too many people fervently not wanting him, and he isn't winning any new support. Once they can all agree on who to vote for, he's toast. he can't cannibalise Huntsman's support because Huntsman doesn't have any (though he does have three appealing daughters). I don't think the Cain-Bachman-Perry-Gingrich factions aren't going to suddenly decide the Mormon is okay after all. Nor will they agree to vote for each other. I think Ron Paul may emerge as the unity 'anti-Romney' candidate.

Perry has lead, Cain has lead, even Bachmann once managed to get up to the 15% 'contender' threshold. I think Gingrich will fade quite quickly once people actually remember Who He Is. I also think he's too unprincipled for the right (ironically, this might have helped him with the soft middle) whereas Ron Paul is principled to a fault. Paul also opposed the Iraq invasion, interestingly. I don't agree with 99.973% of everything he says and stands for, but I admire his integrity.

Current polling has Gingrich in the lower stratosphere as Cain plummets. Cain expected to withdraw from the race. Romney dead in the water - he's been stuck at about 25% for millenia and he's got no-one to steal support from, except Jon Huntsman's 3% (And if they've stuck with Huntsman this long, they're probably fanatical Captain Beefheart fans voting on that alone). The factions still supporting Paul, Bachmann, Perry and Cain aren't likely to switch to Romney. I can't see Gingrich lasting however, he's too ... Gingrich. I suspect Perry will start to rally, or Ron Paul at a long shot.

Though part of me hopes the anti-Romney's will be so hag-ridden by their hatred that they'll unite behind Huntsman, completely blanking out that he's more of everything they hate about Romney. And, bizarrely, I suspect this is the only scenario that Obama needs to be worried about.

Jeremy Clarkson IS an arse, but let's not get silly

Oh, too late ...

Sometimes, I think the mysths about the unions being infiltrated with Moscow trained agitators must be true, because otherwise how can you explain the totally unBritish response to this little outburst?

I listened to his remarks replayed on the radio and, to be honest, they made me laugh. Yeah, bad taste. But I'm British, that's what we do. Certainly didn't require the creeching of various offended unionists and the upshot was it allowed clarkson to look like the big man for apologising.

The line actually reminded me of something in the book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams. An integalactic rock band, Disaster Area, plans to cap their show by crashing a space ship into a sun, causing who knows what catastrophic effects ont he orbiting planets. This leads to protests by intergalactic environmental protesters. They are invited to a meeting with the record company, to reach a solution. A solution is reached - the protesters are all shot.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Credit where it's due

Don't often have much to say about Pompous Chris, but he deserves some recognition as being the first commentator to foresee the resurgance of Winston Peters, as long ago as 2009. But this could have been written two weeks ago, not two years ago:
Since the loss of 2008, he has watched and he has waited. And now, thanks to John Key’s extraordinary political naiveté, the moment for him to make his move has arrived.
Like his namesake, Winston Churchill, he’s been dwelling in the political wilderness – driven from power by his enemies, and deserted by his friends. But on Sunday, sensing a moment of national peril, and with the people's supposed "representatives" all succumbing to "sickly white liberal" appeasement, he stepped forward to demand action.
This is National’s worst nightmare: Winston live on network television; whistling "Dixie" and flashing that trademark grin. Naturally, Messers Farrar, Slater and Hooton will spit and snarl, but, in their Machiavellian heart-of-hearts, they know that Peters is on his way back – with scores to settle.
Genuinely uncanny.

That 70s show

In the 1970s, contrary to popular belief, trade unions saved Britain. Yeah, I know, you've been told about the 'Winter of Discontent' when 'Councils couldn't bury their dead', plans were being made for mass burials at sea, and rats the size of cats were running happily across the rubbish mountains building up in every city square.

What's usually excluded from this analysis is what happened before. Inflation was running at 26.9% in 1975. It was eventually brought under control through a series of negotiated sub-inflation pay deals, with unions accepting effective pay cuts over several years to bring the crisis to an end. The Winter of Discontent came about whern the government tried to bully the unions into accepting 5% - effectively continuing to cut wages when the crisis was over. Obduracy by the government, not the unions, brought about the crisis.

George Osbourne and David Cameron should be more sensitive to history before crowing about the protests and strikes being a 'damp squib'. By imposing a 1% pay ceiling on long sufferring public servants, they may be repeating the mistakes of the Callaghan government. The paralells are intruiging - a minority government propped up by the Liberals, the Scots getting restive, an international depression, turmoil in the Middle East jeopardising oil supply, a 'socialist' in the White House ...

Saturday, 26 November 2011

2011 Election

Don't know if I'll do the full thing like I did last time, but I'll record whatever vague thoughts I may have.

I voted for the Mana Party, oddly. In the voting booth, I found I still hadn't forgiven Labour for that Free Trade Deal with China. Since Phil Goff had categorically ruled out a deal with Mana it made it a logical place to cast a leftwing, anti-Labour vote. I could have gone with the Greens, but I figured they would simply prop up Labour (or, Heaven forbid, National!). And I figured the Greens were comfortable enough, whereas Mana needed more of a boost.

Prediction @ 7pm - Labour in the low 30s, National in the high 40s. Greens 12%. NZ First 4.8%. No ACT in parliament tommorrow. that's what I think will happen and I think it is likely to be the best result the left can hope for. Probably, stopping the asset sales will be the best outcome.

CLARIFICATION - when I say low thirties, I mean VERY LOW. And when I say high forties, I mean VERY HIGH. I'm not envisaging a patchwork coalition based around Labour and the Greens. 31% or 32% versus 47% or 48%.

7.20 Wonder if this will be a 2005 election, where Labour started 10% behind and dragged it back, point by painful point, or if it will be a 2008 election, where there was very little movement from the initial shares?

Haven't said anything about the voting system referendum, because I've not been able to seriously countenance the idea of MMP being rejected ...

Best list ever

Forget the party lists.

Rolling Stone has released its list of the top 100 guitarists of all time.

Johnny Ramone is at number 16. That in itself makes it a great list. But, even better ...
24 The Edge of U2
Johnny beats The Edge.

Best list ever. Without a doubt.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Coalition scorecard: Tory housing plans

+1 ... Plans to encourage people to build new homes, basically acknowledging that Labour's plan to build our way out of recession was right all along.
OVERALL: -1/10. This hasn't been updated for a long time, basically because the government hasn't been doing anything drastically annoying enough (or, somewhat less lightly, sensible enough) to merit changes. Encouraging building of new homes seems a sensible policy, however.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Only a matter of time?

This morning, I turned on the radio and went back to sleep, and as a result I had a confused series of dreams inspired by whatever Geoff and Simon happen to be talking about. One of them was that John Key had been caught impersonating as police officer, wearing a fake moustache to disguise his identity, in an effort to retreive the recording of his Evil Plans discussed with John Banks. I am not making this up. Or rather, I am, because I'm fairly sure I dreamed it and it hasn't been repeated in subsequent bulletins. But I really did dream it.

Thing is, John Key has become so unstuck over this affiar that I wouldn't have been surprised to discover it had really happedned. In fact, it took me a few minutes after lugging myself out of bed, to realise that it (probably) wasn't true. But given how poorly Key's reacted to it - getting all imperious, invoking Millie Downer, suicidal paarents, bolting out of press conferences and telling the people of New Zealand what they are interested in - I wouldn't be surprised ...

Then there was Don Brash's weird interview with Simon Mercep slightly later on, once I was fully awake. I'm no fan of Brash, but I felt a smiggen of pity for him, as he tried to nervously chuckle his way past every question about his career prospects as ACT leader.

I doubt this will have enough of an impact to lose National the election. But it may cost them their majority. And if the Labour-Green bloc can nudge up to that 45% threshold, who knows what may happen.

A week ago, I'd have laughed (bitterly) at the the use of the words "Goff" and "Prime Minister" in the same sentence. Now I'm not so sure it won't happen. Which must be a worry for Labour, as they've made all those promises in anticipation of not having to keep any of them ...

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Why is it ... ?

John Key can see, so clearly, the recklessness of continuing to run up debt during a recession, yet is so blind to the recklessness of stalling on climate change?

You'd think he was motivated by something other pure principle, wouldn't you?

Still, no different from Labour's masquerade of principled policy.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Is it just me?

... Or is there something a bit suspicious about labour's sudden interest in putting out Good, Substantive Policy for an election that they're almost certain to lose?

Capital gains tax? Great.
Getting agriculture into the ETS in 2013? Great.
Raising the Super age? Great.
Universal child benefit? Great?

These are all good policies. Sensible policies. Mature polices. Probably, since we don't live in a good, sensible mature society, vote costing, election losing policies. So - since lots of the better, more sensible and mature part of Labour's constituency are bemoaning the fact their party has become a bunch of neo-liberal apologists - what better time to offer them a bunch of sops than at a time when it isn't going to make a blind bit of difference to the result?

Then, in 2014, when everyone's a bit sickened of John Key's peculiarly successful brand of politics - essentially doing nothing but smiling at random Big Events and with Important People - Labour can shed some crocodile tears and say to these good, senseible, mature voters, "Well, we offerred the electors all these good, sensible, mature policies in 2011, and they were rejected. So this time around, we'll offer essentially the same things as National, and hoepfully squeak in with a bit of help from the Greens, who are almost as long suffering and naive as you lot. But at least we're not National, so you should vote for us."

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Bloody business as usual

Okay, so some brave soldiers were killed in Afghanistan today.

This is tragic for them, for their families and friends, and for the people of Aghanistan as it's going to speed the withdrawal from that unhappy country, and leave it to blunder back into the dark ages of Taliban-Warlord Hell. We mourn these deaths, because soldiers were sent there to fight a barbaric regime and it's terrorist acolytes. Whatever terribel things have been done by colaition soldiers in Afghanistan, whatever blunders there have been, and however it ends up (I'm betting; badly) there was a moral case to be made for them and that their deaths were in pursuit of some good end.

But also today, another 29 miners were killed in an explosion in China.

The connection might not be immediately obvious. But think about it. These men were working in the ramshackle, corrupt and deadly mining industry in China. Chinese mines drive the Chinese industrial boom, which in turn produces the apparently endless quantities of consumer baubles we're so hungry for. Without those baubles, our quality of life will take a hit; so I suppose you could say these miners also died in pursuit of - from our self interested point of view - some good end.

Last year, over 2,400 people died in mining accidents in the PRC - this is considered an 'improvement' on 2009. Never mind the other deaths related to mining, but which didn't actually happen in mining accidents, and the maimings and sickness associated with the industry.

Only I don't think you'll hear their deaths being discussed or mourned with quite the same intensity. After all, admitting our life style is based on driving people into death trap mines isn't something we're entirely happy thinking about too much.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

I was, of course, completely right - "Murdochs should FOAD," say shareholders

... Some of them, at any rate (1).

Obviously, a good thing. The media world will be far better without the malignant influence of the Murdoch's, though it is likely more Cthulhoid horrors will simply arise in their place, unless Something Is Done to limit ownership of the media.

And, in fairness, while it is edifying to watch the Murdoch's being eviserated in slow motion, it is also a distraction from the reality that they're only one part of a decadent, corrupt and self serving media establishment. Slaying News International should only be a start to the process of ethical cleansing in the media - but it will probably be the end.

To wax French for a moment, should we regard the media as something akin to the means of production? They do not produce value, true, but they do produce meaning and consciousness. And producing consciousness helps create consciousness. Media companies and institutions are sites of hegemonic control, and of hegemonic dispute. They can either be reactionary, or progressive, or (most liekly) both at once. Obviously, no-one wants Pravda and Tass, but equally, we need more than The Sun and Fox News.

We aren't well served by the media in all manner of ways, because we've created a media than finds it is in its interests to work against our interests.

Something needs to be changed.

But nothing will be, most likely.
1 - "Rupert and James Murdoch should leave News Corp board, claims US shareholder advisory group," by Richard Blackden. Published in The Telegraph, 10th of October, 2011. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/media/8818903/Rupert-and-James-Murdoch-should-leave-News-Corp-board-claims-US-shareholder-advisory-group.html)

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Blair admits, "I am hypocritical scum"

Kind of ...
Writing in the Observer, in his first public verdict on the riots, Blair says: "In 1993, following the Bulger case, I made a case in very similar terms to the one being heard today about moral breakdown in Britain. I now believe that speech was good politics but bad policy. Focus on the specific problem and we can begin on a proper solution.

"Elevate this into a highfalutin wail about a Britain that has lost its way morally and we will depress ourselves unnecessarily, trash our own reputation abroad, and worst of all, miss the chance to deal with the problem in the only way that will work." (1)
What a tosspot. He's saying, in effect, that it was okay for him to do it back in 1993, but not for others to do it now; or that he was voicing genuine outrage in 1993, but now realises it was misplaced, in which case he's tacitly admitting he was a lightweight fool, prone to over-reactions and rash judgement; with the further implication that he might not know what he's saying now, and we can expect a similar reversal on other vexing issuers such as Iraq.

Why can't this egregious arsewipe simply go away, forever?
1 - "England's riots shouldn't be blamed on 'moral decline', says Tony Blair," by Daniel Boffey and Toby Helm. Published in The Guardian, 20th of August, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/20/englands-riots-tony-blair)

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

I was, of course, completely wrong - Nick Griffin clings on

The BNP leadership contest has been decided:
Now that all the votes have been counted, we can announce that Nick Griffin MEP has been duly re-elected to lead the British National Party for a fixed term of four years. The winner, Nick Griffin, received 1157 votes, whilst Andrew Brons, the loser, received 1148 votes. Eleven ballots were spoiled. (1)
So less than 2500 people actually give a toss who leads the rabble to oblivion? That's actually reassuring.

Disastrous result for both candidates, really. Brons lost, but Griffin only won by a whisker, so he's got no authority and his opponents will already be scheming against him.
1 - "Party Leadership Election Result: Nick Griffin re-elected Party Chairman," unattributed article. Published on the BNP website, 25th of July, 2011. (http://bnp.org.uk/news/party-leadership-election-result-nick-griffin-re-elected-party-chairman)

Monday, 25 July 2011

The right's responsibility

I wasn't going to make any comment on the politics of the Norwegian massacres, because the idea of dignifying the atrocity with association with political discourse is repugnant. But the picture being revealed around these events; the reaction of the right to the atrocities and the revelation of the killer's identity; and the undeniable links between Anders Behring Breivik and the further right of mainstream politics justifies some comment.

My initial reaction on hearing the identity of the pepetrator (I have the advantage of having been asleep at the time of the initial expllosion and shootings, so don't have to worry about awkward questions along the lines of "Who did you think it was at first?") was that it is a pitiful symptom of How Things Are that they have to clarify the perpetrator wasn't Muslims. That suggests Al Queada's project is coming along nicely.

I imagined there would be a shameless volte face, people moving swiftly from "Islamic terrorists waging JIHAD" (1) to "Unchecked immigration provoking resentment and acts of barbarity in the indigenous population" (2) would be in the offing. While some did manage that about-turn, there were plenty of people refusing to give up the idea that this just had to be a Muslim, that it couldn't actually be a Christianised European behind this. It had to be a convert to Islam. Or even the whole thing was a hoax, an attempt to besmirch the far wright by associating it with psychopaths.

Of course, the kneejerk bigots who were so bloody quick to accuse Muslims and so bloody slow to let the idea go tried to justify their assumption, claiming that it was a reasonable enough mistake in these times, when so much terrorism can be attributed to Muslims. A claim that was only valid if you erase the Western propensity towards terroristic violence from your memory and convinced yourself that only Muslims are likely to be terrorists. Recall:
IRA / Real IRA terror campaigns
UVF campaigns
ETA
Red Army Faction / baader-Meinhoff / Revolutionary Cells Movement
Unabomber
Oklahoma City Bombing
David Copeland, the London Nail Bomber
Robert Cottage and David Jackson, the would be BNP bombers
Greece's Revolutionary Nuclei
Animal Liberation Brigade
That's just off the top of my head. these groups and individuals were all active with in the last 10 to 20 years. Only a long time if you live in some weird world that effectively started on the 11th of September, 2001. Loads more out there. It could have been carried out by Islamists, but it isn't accurate to say it was very likely to be. It would be wrong to rush to attribute an unprecedented act like this to anyone without evidence pointing that way.

The point was there is a strong tendency of terrorist violence in Europe and the US, even before we started importing the Muslims. I'm not suggesting Baader Meinhoff were holding a Scandinavian reunion tour.

It would have been reasonable to say that it might have been an Islamist attack; even that it is was likely to be one. But the automatic assumption that this was an act of jihad and who rushed to accuse Muslims, and who still try to cling to that belief, didn't make an honest mistake because they inaccurately weighed possibilities. To make your presumption reasonable, you have to ignore the whole history of politically motivated violence in Europe. The killer - though he'd reject the comparison - has a lot in common with the Baader Meinhoff mentality. The kneejerk bigots jumped to the wrong conclusion because they're obsessed, fixated bigots. Reasonable people deal in possibilities and likelihoods, and don't immediately spew their bigotry when huge gaps remain.

People abandoned sense and intemperately banged their drums and screamed about J-I-H-A-D before the facts were in. There was no suggestion of 'likelihood' or 'possibility' then, just the immediate, automatic assumption this had to be an Islamist act of terror. Which illuminated their mindset perfectly.

If people are going to go about spouting divisive, bigoted, hatefilled rhetoric (from any ideological standpoint), there are going to be violently inclined idiots who will use it as an excuse for, and an incitement to, violence. The killer cited bloggers like Fjordman and Pamela Geller, who occupy a pretty sinister intellectual space. When they, Geert Wilders, and others of that ilk fulminate about treachery, Eurabia, J-I-H-A-D and the like, it may be irresponsible. Like shouting "Fire" in a crowded theatre, to borrow Wendell Holmes's old analogy.

As Bill Clinton said, when Gabrielle Giffords was shot - "Anything any of us says falls on the unhinged and the hinged alike."
1 - "Terror Attack In Norway, Huge Explosion Rips Through Oslo," posted by ZIP on Weasel Zippers blog, 22nd of July, 2011. The point of interest in this case being the comments following the post. (http://weaselzippers.us/2011/07/22/breaking-possible-terror-attack-in-norway-huge-bomb-blast-rips-through-oslo/)
2 - "Extremism strikes in Norway," by 657. Posted on the EDL website, 23rd of July, 2011. (http://englishdefenceleague.org/extremism-strikes-in-norway/)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Norway shootings & Fjordman

Can we just take everything as said about the atrocity in Norway, which has resulted in the deaths of 91 people, thus far? I'm not even going to waste time linking examples of the disgusting frenzy of assumption that this was perpetrated by Muslims. Just take it as said. Unarmed teenagers being chased around an island by a psychotic gunman sounds like the plot of a really lousy horror film.

A rumour has been swirling round some of the further reaches of the internet, that the killer is an anonymous Norwegian blogger who posts as Fjordman. He's pretty extreme, posting on places like Gates of Vienna and Jihadwatch. The rumour was given legs when it was recycled on Little Green Footballs, a site from which Fjordman has apprently been banned but at this time, it is completely unsubstantiated, and I suspect it will stay that way. It's been pointed out that Fjordman has been posting online since the attacks started, so it could hardly be him.

And yet ...

Checking out Gates of Vienna, I tracked down some of these comments (1). Something odd. Someone under the name 'fjordman' is posting on Gates of Vienna, alright, but their blogger profile has only been active since April (2), whereas Fjordman, as a blogger and a commentator, has been active for far longer than that. The blogger profile associated with his original blog was created in 2005 (3). So why is he now using a different profile under the same name?

Of course, it may be there's no mystery, and he just forgot his password ...
1 - "Terror Attack in Central Oslo," by Baron Bodissey. Posted on the Gates of Vienna blog, 22nd of July, 2011. (http://gatesofvienna.blogspot.com/2011/07/terror-attack-in-central-oslo.html)
2 - Profile of the blogger Fjordman, created in April, 2011. (http://www.blogger.com/profile/17466900069876051351)
3 - Profile of the blogger Fjordman, created February, 2005. (http://www.blogger.com/profile/05991840850036778692)

Friday, 22 July 2011

To all those complaining about the amount of coverage of phone hacking

You don't think systematic illegality, cover ups, obstruction of justice and possible attempts by the people involved in all that to influence police and politicians, possible collusion between the police and politicians with those same people, is not the real issue?

Yes, the discussion has moved on from the phone hacking per se, because the problem has turned out to be much bigger and more more pernicious than just hacking into the voicemail of celebs, John Prescott and the occasional murdered school girl.

You may say that the News of the World acted illegally, and in accessing Millie Dowler's voicemail, it added to the torment of Millie Dowler's family. But it only did so in a misguided, pettily criminal effort to get the exclusive, to sell newspapers. Whereas the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, even the likes of The Telegraph, are exploiting this - and thus adding to the torment of Millie Dowler's family all over again - in pursuit of political ends - the break up of Murdoch's hold on the British media.

Bollocks, say I. News International did a lot more than seek to sell newspapers. They appear to have obstructed a police inquiry, bribed police officers, and possibly attempted to suborn very senior police officers. Senior executives seem to hold too much power of politicians, past an present. I am quite confident there is a lot more shit to be squeezed out of this story, but what is already known is sufficient.

Yes, some of the coverage is a bit over the top, but what do you expect? It isn't just the News of the World that has to sell papers, you know, and I don't think a headline like "New Developments In Alleged Accessing Of Voicemail Messages Some Years Ago That's Been Dragging On For Years" is going to boost sales. Blame the sales driven, profit fixated, lowest common denominator, Jordan-is -automatically-news culture of the press (I blame Thatcher). There is a real issue underneath all the froth and the media wankfest - just like there was with the expenses scandal, which featured a similar wankfest - but you're trying to deny that.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

News Corp RIP?

The Wisdom of Crowds is starting to suggest it is All Up for Rupert Murdoch (1).

This is something of a massive hostage to fortune, but I suspect there won't be a News Corp in a couple of years time.

If Murdoch stays, it will destroy the brand. If he goes, it will destroy the brand.

If the name does survive, it will be for a much reduced rump of companies, with most of the holdings sold off, and no-one called Murdoch anywhere near the levers of power - though possibly still clinging onto the levers of profit.
1 - "News Corp shares fall as pressure grows," unattributed article. Published by the BBC, 18th of July, 2011. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14181119)

Monday, 18 July 2011

Guardian journalist Nick Davies has compiled a handy list of uncomfortable questions Rupe, Jamie and Bekah might have to answer.

A couple, for Brooks, are particularly interesting:
Surrey police, who were investigating Milly Dowler's disappearance, were provided with information about that voicemail by the NoW. Was that done without your authority? Are you confident that Surrey police have no record of your being involved in the decision to tell them about that voicemail?

When you were editor of the Sun, you published confidential medical information about the illness being suffered by Gordon Brown's infant son. Did the Sun obtain that information directly or indirectly from a health worker? Did the Sun pay a health worker or anybody related to a health worker for that information or for a story related to that information? (1)
Sounds like the Guardian Knows Something.
1 - "Rebekah Brooks and the Murdochs: questions that need answering," by Nick Davies. Published in The Guardian, 17th of July, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jul/17/brooks-rupert-james-murdoch-select-committee)

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Gordon Brown vs The Sun

The other day, Gordon Brown laid into The Sun and News International in an interview for the BBC and the Guardian, which was then Streisanded across the rest of the media (1).

The Sun called foul over a claim, attributed to Brown in the Guardian's version of the story, that The Sun obtained Fraser Brown's medical records (2). The information was actually given to the paper by a member of the public who has "has links with the Brown family," though just how he learned of Fraser Brown's condition has not yet made clear.

The Guardian acknowledged an error was made and retracted the statement (3). The Sun, having been at the receiving end for a the last few days, was entitled to crow over the inaccuracy, especially as it was attributed to Nick Davies, the guardian journalist who has been leading the investigation into phone hacking (4).

Only, The Sun appears to piss on its own victory parade by doing exactly what the Guardian did - making a false claim about what gordon Brown said:
The apology came after we told how our source was the dad of another child with cystic fibrosis - and that the ex-PM was mistaken in claiming we were guilty of wrongdoing. (5)
As far as I'm aware, Brown did not claim the Sun was guilty of 'wrongdoing' with regards the information obtained about Fraser Brown. The Guardian described his comments on that topic as follows:
Brown said he had no idea how the Sun had obtained the information and questioned the paper's claim last night that this had been done legitimately.

"They will have to explain themselves. I can't think of any way that the medical condition of a child can be put into the public domain legitimately unless the doctor makes a public statement or the family make a statement. (6)
The way The Sun obtained the information was obtained was certainly not 'legitimate,' as Brown defined it, but at the same time not quite 'wrongdoing' as the Sun claims. Papers are given information by members of the public all the time; it's how they operate. Brown would have known this, and wouldn't have regarded a paper being given a tip as 'wrongdoing' on the part of the paper.

Nor does Gordon Brown state, or even imply, The Sun accessed Fraser Brown's medical records. That appears to have been wholly a mistake by the Guardian, as their apology indicates.

I think this is the quote that is causing the confusion:
I had my bank account broken into. I had my legal files effectively broken into. My tax returns went missing at one point. Medical records were broken into. I don't know how this happened. (7)
Brown mentions 'medical records' being broken into, but does not specify whose records, or who broke into them. Since the interview also described the publicizing of Fraser Brown's condition, people seem to have made the link between one and the other, though brown doesn't actually make it himself. It may be he was referring to his daughter, Jennifer, who died in 2002 and whose condition was also revealed by the media. Or even his own medical records - remember the rumours about him being depressed, psychotic, hooked on anti-depressants and so on?

Importantly, he also doesn't directly accuse News International of being behind this specific :
I do know that in two instances there is absolute proof that News International hired people to do this and the people who are doing this are criminals, known criminals in some cases with records of violence and fraud. (8)
So he is only saying News International were definitely behind two of the instances referred to, but not all of them.

The Guardian blundered, honestly, in its haste to run its story. The Sun seems to have been lead astray by its pathological hatred of Brown.
1 - "Gordon Brown condemns 'disgusting work' of News International journalists," by Nick Davies. Published in The Guardian, 12th of July, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jul/12/gordon-brown-condemns-disgusting-work-news-international)
2 - "Brown Wrong," by Tom Newton Dunn. Published in The Sun, 13th of July, 2011. (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3691926/The-Sun-exposes-the-allegation-that-we-hacked-into-Gordon-Browns-family-medical-records-as-FALSE-and-a-smear.html)
3 - "Corrections and clarifications," by the Corrections and clarifications column editor. Published in The Guardian, 15th of July, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2011/jul/15/corrections-and-clarifications)
4 - "Guardian: Sorry, Sun," by Emily Nash. Published in The Sun, 15th of July, 2011. (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3696513/Guardian-says-sorry-to-The-Sun-after-accusing-us-of-hacking-into-the-medical-records-of-Gordon-Browns-sick-son.html?OTC-RSS&ATTR=News)
5 - ibid.
6 -Davies, op. cit.
7 - ibid.
8 - ibid.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Elephants in the livingroom II

Tomorrow's print edition headlines, apparently:
The Guardian: "Parliament versus Murdoch"
The Sun: "Brown wrong - We didn't probe son's medical records"
The Times: "Crisis talks as Cameron as joins the revolt against the Murdochs"
The Daily Telegraph: "Hacking scandal executives face threat of police inquiry"
The Financial Times: "Parties unite in Commons vote to oppose Murdoch's BSkyB bid"
The Independent: "Party leaders unite against Murdoch"
The Daily Mail: "£1,000 bill for Green energy"
The Daily Express: "EU migrants to get British pensions"
The Daily Star : "Hacking scandal latest - Roo sues over tart leaks" (1)
Notice anything about the stories the Mail and the Express are leading with?

Back when I was just a teeny-weeny little student studying Film & Media at the illustrious instituation that is Stirling University in Scotland, one of my lecturers gave me the following definition of what determines if something is news worthy or not: "News is something that someone, somewhere, doesn't want you to know."

In this case, it's pretty clear that some of the media are trying to downplay the story probably because they're worried they're going to drawn into it. That's the news behind the news, as it were.
1 - "Phone-hacking scandal: live coverage," by Andrew Sparrow and Ben Quinn. Published in The Guardian, 12th of Jult, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/blog/2011/jul/12/phone-hacking-scandal-live-coverage)

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Barefaced cheek

You have to admire the chutzpah of this News International statement:
We note the allegations made today concerning the reporting of matters relating to Gordon Brown. So that we can investigate these matters further, we ask that all information concerning these allegations is provided to us. (1)
Yes, indeed. Having carried out our own whitewash investigation into how we allegedly hacked phones, impersonated people to obtain confidential information, consorted with criminals and insinuated one of our rats into the heart of government, we'd like you to tell us everything you know right now so we can carry out our own investigation.

Brilliant.
1 - From an unattributed statement released by News International. Quoted in the Guardian, 12th of July, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/blog/2011/jul/12/phone-hacking-scandal-live-coverage)

Coalition scorecard - phone hacking scandal

-1 ... Cameron's attempts to brush off perfectly reasonable demands that he account for the hiring of Andy Coulson, in the face of the revelations that warnings were given.
-1 ... The government's slow, dim-witted, fumbling response to the NOTW scandal and failure to move on the BSB buy out until goaded into action by the opposition.
OVERALL: -2/10. Wracked by scandal, shown to be indecisive, corrupt and self-serving, the coalition (assuming it survives this latest trial) appears to be plunging back into the inky depths, never to resurface. Probably. In this and in other recent events, David Cameron's character, which was one of the factors that seemed to be ameliorating the innate hatefulness of Tory governments, has been found wanting, and he has been shown to be a bit of ham fisted blunderer.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Elephants in the livingroom

It seems the Mail is happy to focus anything other than the hacking scandal (wonder why?).

Previously, Wills and Kate provided a couple of days banner headlines across the top of the website.

Now it is, "Pregnant at 15, daughter of Britain's most prolific single mother (... and, of course, she's on benefits just like mum)" (1) and below that, "The new north-south divide: Two families 300 miles apart earn £50,000... but one struggles and the other lives in luxury" (2).

I guess the first rule of phone hacking is: "You do not talk about PHONE HACKING."

EDIT - since composing this, I notice the Mail has bumped both these stories down the page, in favour of a write up on - gosh - Wills and Kate, and another on focusing on the Milly Dowler strand of the hacking saga. But it is still pretty token stuff.
1 - As described previosuly on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2011/07/should-mail-be-next.html
2 - "Pregnant at 15, daughter of Britain's most prolific single mother (... and, of course, she's on benefits just like mum)," by Neil Sears. Published in the Daily Mail, 11th of July, 2011. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2013309/Pregnant-15-daughter-Britains-prolific-single-mother-And-course-shes-benefits--just-like-mum.html)
3 "The new north-south divide: Two families 300 miles apart earn 50k but one struggles and the other lives in luxury," by Alison Smith Squire. Published in the Daily Mail, 11th of July, 2011.
(http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2013278/The-new-north-south-divide-Two-families-300-miles-apart-earn-50k-struggles-lives-luxury.html)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Murdoch's morlocks

Is Rupert Murdoch losing the plot? This from today's Independent:
Mrs Brooks continues to enjoy the support of Rupert Murdoch. Asked yesterday, before he left for London, whether she had his backing, Mr Murdoch replied: "Total." He added: "I'm not throwing innocent people under the bus... we've been let down by people that we trusted, with the result the paper let down its readers." (1)
200 people - mostly unconnected with this scandal - have lost there jobs, but he isn't "throwing innocent people under the bus"?

Or perhaps mere workers don't count as people to Murdoch. They're just morlock labour, to be used when they are useful, and discarded without a second thought.
1 - "The Battle of Wapping, Mk II," by Jane Merrick, James Hanning, Matt Chorley and Brian Brady. Published in The Independent, 10th of July, 2011. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/press/the-battle-of-wapping-mk-ii-2310041.html)

Rupert and Tony (and Gordon and Dave and Ed)

Another scorcher from Peter Oborne, who might be re-classified as an 'honourary leftie' for his recent columns:
David Cameron and Tony Blair both flew round the world to make speeches to Murdoch’s News Corp while they were in opposition. Ed Miliband was primed to follow suit before the latest scandal broke.

There were those who believed that Murdoch had debased and debauched British public life, and there is indeed great evidence that this was the case. For example, the News of the World was a respectable – if racy – family newspaper before Murdoch brought it under his ownership. As we now know, it converted into a flourishing criminal concern that took an evil pleasure in destroying people’s lives.

Though many were appalled, Murdoch himself was protected by his potent political contacts. Tony Blair, for example, would do anything to help out his close friend and ally. I can even disclose that, before the last election, Tony Blair rang Gordon Brown to try to persuade the Labour Prime Minister to stop the Labour MP Tom Watson raising the issue of phone hacking. And as recently as two weeks ago both Ed Miliband and David Cameron attended the News International (News Corp’s British newspaper publishing arm) summer party, despite the fact that the newspaper group was the subject of two separate criminal investigations. (1)
Oborne really goes to town on Cameron's infatuation with Murdoch and the hiring of Coulson, which was apparently driven by George Osborne, who has been out of the shitlight thus far:
It was at this point that George Osborne, then shadow chancellor and also Cameron’s closest strategic advisor, entered the fray. The immensely ambitious Osborne – who was already cultivating his own links with News International – made the case that Cameron should hire Andy Coulson.
Gordon Brown, of course, tried to cultivate the Mail and Paul Dacre, and massive questions need to be asked about that relationship.
1 - "David Cameron is not out of the sewer yet," by Peter Oborne. Published in The Telegraph, 8th of July, 2011. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/phone-hacking/8626421/Phone-hacking-David-Cameron-is-not-out-of-the-sewer-yet.html)

What's next?

Rebekah Brooks says there is 'worse to come' in the phone hacking scandal that destroyed the News of the World and put 200 people - but not Rebekah Brooks - out of work (1).

Obviously, we'll have to wait to find out what further slime has to float to the surface.

My imagination doesn't run to the depths the News of the World seems to plumb so effortlessly. Political dirty tricks, bridery, corruption and blackmailing MPs / cabinet ministers for information and / or dirt on their colleagues is about as far as I can go. Though that would certainly be nice and sleazy.

Worth noting that the much maligned Labour MP Tom Watson has been asking awkward questions about the News of the World and phone hacking for years (2). The same Tom Watson who was falsely smeared by untrue association with the Damian McBride-Red Rag scandal back in 2009.

It was the Mail on Sunday - another close friend of phone-hacking detective Steve Whittamore (3) - that first made the phony link between Watson and McBride, but The Sun also publicised the story and was successfully sued, paying substantial damages to Mr Watson for libeling him. The Sun and The News Of The World are both owned by Murdoch. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.
1 - "The worst is yet to come, Brooks tells journalists as they ask searching questions about paper's demise," by Tamara Cohen. Published in The Daily Mail, 9th of July, 2011. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2012766/Rebekah-Brooks-tells-News-World-journalists-worst-come.html#ixzz1RaZT0DCE)
2 - "Profile: Labour MP Tom Watson," by Victoria King. Published by the BBC, 6th of July, 2011. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-14043436)
3 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2011/07/should-mail-be-next.html

Friday, 8 July 2011

Should the Mail be next?

The top story on the Mail's website today (prior to the announcement of the NOTW closure) was - inevitably - about the scandal surrounding the News of the World, Rebekah Brooks, News international and Rupert Murdoch's increasingly evil looking media empire.

The headline to the story was, "Even war widows were on the News of the World hackers' hit-list: Who else have they targeted?" though it has since been updated and the original version has disappeared down the memory hole (1).

The unasked question was, "Who has the mail been targeting?"

You see, the NOTW was not the only prolific red top employer of shady private detectives. Even though its jounralists seem to have commissioned the most flagrant breaches of decency thus far revealed, they weren't even the most prolific of Steve Whittamore's clients.

Tory grandee Michael Ashcroft obtained a list of 305 journalists who had contacted Whittamore with requests that were either definitely, probably or possibly in breach of the Data Protection Act:
Nevertheless, the ICO data released to me shows that the 305 journalists, the identities of whom have yet to be revealed, commissioned no fewer than 13,343 separate lines of enquiry from Whittamore. These transactions can be subdivided into three categories:-

• those which are positively known to have constituted a breach of the Data Protection Act, of which there were 5,025.

• those in addition which were probably a breach of the Data Protection Act, of which there were 6,330.

• those lines of enquiry which were questionable, but in relation to which there was insufficient information to form a definitive view, of which there were 1,988.

The 305 journalists worked for a total of 21 newspapers and 11 magazines, although some journalists worked for more than one publication. However, the concentration of activity was striking. (2)
Ashcroft goes on to reveal the papers which the unnamed journalists worked for:
Daily Mail 58
Sunday People 50
Daily Mirror 45
Mail on Sunday 33
Sunday Mirror 25
News of the World 23
The People 19
Sunday Express 8
Daily Express 7
The Observer 4
Daily Sport 4
The Sun 4
Daily Star 4
Daily Record 2
The Times 1
Sunday Times 1
Evening Standard 1
Sunday Sport 1
Sunday Business News 1
Mail in Ireland 1
Sunday World 1
The Mail, for all its sanctimonious frothing and screeching, is top of the list. It can't all be harmless tattle about Cheryl Cole type bimbos. Wonder when its time will come?
1 - The original headline was, "Even war widows were on the News of the World hackers' hit-list: Who else have they targeted?" and I know this because I saved the headline. But googling it now redirects to another, unattributed, story, "End of the World: James Murdoch announces News of the World will close this Sunday," published by The Daily mail, 7th of July, 2011. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2012035/News-World-close-Sunday-announces-James-Murdoch.html)
2 - "What Price Privacy Now," by Michael Ashcroft. Date of publication unclear. (http://www.lordashcroft.com/pdf/WhatPricePrivacyFoIAreply.pdf)

NOTW

So, the News of the World is to be closed, to spare Rupert Murdoch's blushes. 168 years, and snuffed out overnight because a geriatric antipodean is worried his other business deals might be affected. This is why Murdoch shouldn't be allowed any further access to the British media market. H's only interested in the NI brand.

Scuttling the NOTW is quite a spectacular act of desperation. If - as has been claimed over and again - it was just the action of a few rogue reporters blah blah blah - why the decapitation of a venerable title? It's a transparent act of sacrifice, the poor poker player throwing down a jack in the hope that everyone else has been bluffing.

It also begs the question, what haven't we heard yet that was so bad it required this sort of sacrifice?

Perhaps this is why:
Mark Stephens, head of media with Finers Stephens Innocent lawyer, said under British law the paper "may not be obliged to retain documents that could be relevant to civil and criminal claims against the newspaper—even in cases that are already underway."

If News of the World is to be liquidated, Stephens told Reuters, it "is a stroke of genius—perhaps evil genius."
"All of the assets of the shuttered newspaper, including its records, will be transferred to a professional liquidator (such as a global accounting firm). The liquidator's obligation is to maximize the estate's assets and minimize its liabilities. So the liquidator could be well within its discretion to decide News of the World would be best served by defaulting on pending claims rather than defending them. That way, the paper could simply destroy its documents to avoid the cost of warehousing them—and to preclude any other time bombs contained in News of the World's records from exploding." (1)
If so, then whatever still awaits revelation must be potent to warrant junking a whole newspaper. News International mustn't be allowed to get away with it.
1 - "News of the World closes – live coverage". Posted by Adam Gabbatt and David Batty, on the Guardian live Blog, 7th of July 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/blog/2011/jul/07/news-of-the-world-closes-live-coverage)

Monday, 4 July 2011

That 'painless' benefits cap

Ther Con Dem coalition has justified its plans to cap total benefit claims for households on the grounds that it is fair, as beneficiaries shouldn't receive more than a typical working family. They've argued it is essential to take these tough measures - while also claiming the cap won't cause any real hardship - because it will save money. They lied.

Straight from the horse's horse's secretary's mouth pen ...
Firstly we are concerned that the savings from this measure, currently estimated at £270m savings p.a from 2014-2015 does not take account of the additional costs to local authorities (through homelessness and temporary accommodation). In fact we think it is likely that the policy as it stands will generate a net cost. In addition Local Authorities will have to calculate and administer reduced Housing Benefit to keep within the cap and this will mean both demands on resource and difficult handling locally.

Secondly, we are worried about the impact of this measure on our ability to build social housing for families through the new affordable rent product. To fund new affordable housing development providers need to be able to charge rents of up to 80% of the market levels but the impact of the Overall Benefit Cap will prevent them from doing so in many areas greatly reducing their financial capacity. Initial analysis suggests that of the 56,000 new affordable rent units up to 23,000 could be lost. And reductions would disproportionately affect family homes rather than small flats. For example it would be extremely difficult to fund any 4 bed properties, so desperately needed, anywhere in the country - disproportionately impacting on families and therefore children.

Finally, our modelling indicates that we could see an additional 20,000 homelessness acceptances as a result of the total benefit cap. This on top of the of the 20,000 additional acceptances already anticipated as a result of other changes to Housing Benefit. We are already seeing increased pressures on homelessness services. I understand that there may be a suggestion around requiring families to divert a percentage of their non-housing (benefit) income to cover housing costs. It is important not to underestimate the level of controversy that this would generate (likely to dwarf anything already seen on the HB only caps) and the difficulty of justifying this in policy terms as well as implementation. (1)
Awesome, Con Dem coalition. A way of reducing economic activity and worsening the housing situation (through fewer social homes being built), increasing homelessness that costs more than the status quo? Outstanding work.

And on top of that, a rather hopeful suggestion that exempting Child Benefit from the housing cap might resolve these issues - finally turning the old stereotype of the benefit queen, who has children to get a better house, into actual policy.

This coalition is so crazed Eric Pickles - ERIC PICKLES - sounds sane and reasoned.

Meanwhile - as the coalition plots to make 40,000 people homeless at the taxpayer's expense, and connives to engineer an unjustified pay cut for public servants - the Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg turned his attention to another group of - apparently more deserving - beneficiaries:
As a result of what I have described the Queen is paying a higher rate of tax than anybody else. We should remember that and I hope that the Chancellor will be generous. I would like the 15% provision to be increased because we want to have a glamorous monarchy that befits the status of our nation. We are a great nation, a noble nation and a nation that has had power across the globe in the past. We have one of the finest histories of any country in the world. When I see the coronation coach being pulled through the streets of London, I want to see it being pulled by the finest horses that money can buy and I want to see it gilded with the finest gold that can be bought. I want Her Majesty to have as a jubilee present the finest window that can be funded by Members of Parliament. That is the status of monarchy that we want and I urge the Chancellor to remember that. Even though I know that we are in this time of austerity, that we are all in it together and that the Opposition spent all the money, maxed out the credit card and so on, we should look after Her Majesty. (2)
Yes, as long as the proles can see the monarch trot past in a pretty carriage pulled by some pampered horses, they'll know their place and accept their lot.

These freaks are beyond satire.
1 - "Full text of letter from the office of Eric Pickles," published in The Guardian, 2nd of July, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jul/02/full-text-letter-eric-pickles-welfare-reform?intcmp=239)
2 - Jacob Rees-Moog, speaking in the house of Commons, 30th of June, 2011. As recorded in Hansard for that date, colum 1172. (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110630/debtext/110630-0003.htm)

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Miliband bashing

So, Ed Miliband is being castigated for refusing to deviate from his prepare lines during an interview (1).

It was a shite performance, a horrible throwback to the Blairite days of always being 'on message' and controlling the media, making sure they could only use one soundbite.

In fairness, he has expanded his argument a bit elsewhere, but it was infuriating to watch him repeat the same thing. Fuck's sake man, seize the moment, Talk To The Nation. Your point isn't a bad one. Run with it. You've got a privileged position where you get to access the media, I don't get to do that, and I've got lots of things I want to say. Stand aside, man, and let me hog the camera!

That said, the thinking behind the obstruction is clear enough - It's also worth noting that Red Ed is trying a rather transparent policy of Following The Public Mood - condemning the government for forcing the crisis and the unions for striking while a deal is still possible.

Courtesy of UK Polling Report:
On balance the public remain opposed to the government’s proposed changes to public sector pensions by 47% to 37%. However, while they oppose the pension changes, they also tend to oppose the strike – 40% of people support the teacher’s strike on Thursday, 49% of people oppose it. (2)
Red Ed, his finger on the People's Pulse.

And there is something else to consider. Miliband has to watch his words because he knows the Conservatives, and the media, are desperate to portray him as some sort of barely reformed trotskyite dreaming of the 'Good old days' of the 1970s.

I think this sort of crap from the right is what is driving Miliband's tactics over the strikes:
But Cameron sought to steer the debate away from health and on to the union strikes due to be staged on Thursday.

He accused Miliband of choosing not to ask him about the forthcoming industrial disruption because he was in the "pocket of the unions".

"That's what we see, week after week – he has to talk about the micro because he can't talk about the macro," the prime minister said.

"What the whole country will have noticed is, at a time when people are worrying about strikes, he can't ask about strikes because he is in the pocket of the unions." (3)
It's also worth noting that what Miliband did was pretty much what Cameron - and every other PM - does at Prime Minister's Question Time.

The Tories are desperate to link 'Red Ed,' the 'pawn of the unions' with these strikes, so they can bang the old Thatcherite drum, like he's a re-heated incarnation of Neil Kinnock. So - while it's not edifying, nor inspirational - Miliband's obstinate refusal to depart from the scripted line is understandable.
1 - "Ed Miliband TV interviewer reveals shame over 'absurd' soundbites," by Mark Sweney. Published in The Guardian, 1st of July, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jul/01/ed-miliband-interviewer-shame-strike-soundbites)
2 - "Latest YouGov polling on teacher's strike," by Anthony Wells. Posted on UK Polling Report, 29th of July, 2011. (http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/3688)
3 - "David Cameron hits out at Ed Miliband in NHS row," by Helene Mulholland. Published in the Guardian, 29th of June, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jun/29/david-cameron-ed-miliband-nhs-row?INTCMP=SRCH)

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Hari McLiary?

Further to yesterday's post on Johann Hari's current troubles: Guy Walters has had another pop at Johann Hari in his blog for the News Statesman, citing further instances of lifting from another's work - in this case John Lee Anderson, writing on Hugo Chavez:
Despite the very slightest of tweaks, it's clearly a straightforward piece of theft from someone else's interview. That's plagiarism. Mr Hari has taken someone else's writing - that of Jon Lee Anderson - and passed it off as his own. Notice how Mr Hari makes it look as though Chavez has actually said this line directly to him - the cheesy pat on the knee, the schlocky looking away. This isn't an 'intellectual portrait', and it is most certainly not exclusive. (1)
For all Mr Walters's fulminations, this doesn't really change very much, because it is just another example of what Hari has already already admitted to: lifting quotes from other interviews and substituting them for interviewee's bungled attempts to say effectively the same thing.

It's unlikely it can be proven that Chavez didn't say pretty much the same thing to Hari 2006 as he did to Anderson in 2001. Famous people probably have their own little favourite suggestive or portentous anecdotes which they've honed and practised over years. I know I tell some stories in virtually the same way every time I recount them, hopefully not to the same people too often.

I think the much more serious charge is the allegation he simply made stuff up to make himself look braver and more daring.
1 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2011/06/that-other-great-voice-of-left-johann.html
2 - "Just before you accept Johann Hari's apology ....," by Guy Walters. Published on the New Statesman blog, 29th of July, 2010. (http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/guy-walters/2011/06/chavez-hari-interview-goodbye)

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

That other great voice of the left, Johann Hari ...

... may be in a spot of bother (1).

The 'official' charges against him are rather flimsy, IMHO. He's accused of substituting interviewees oral attempt to explain something with their previous, more lucid, written statements, while still presenting them as the words spoken to him.

This isn't plagarism: he isn't claiming the credit for something someone else said; the words are still clearly identified as being those of the interviewee.

His crime, on this count, is simply not identifying that he's replaced something someone said to him with something the same person said or wrote previously, when they phrased it more succinctly or more beautifully.

It's a venal sin, though does create an unsettling feeling when reading his work. Did David Irving really say that when talking to Hari about his disabled daughter? Or did he say it on another occasion when he was just talking about disabled people in general, and Hari interpolated it for effect?

Still, if that was all there was to it, I'd be tempted to dismiss the fuss building up around his pudgy, oleaginous face as predictable rightwing excitement at being able to finally squash the wasp that's been sting them for so long; but it isn't.

It has been claimed - back in 2004, but now being eagerly reheated - that he misrepresented and invented events in at least one of his columns. Writes one Rowan Williams Wilson, appending his own observations to a letter published-or-possibly-not-published in the Independent:
I was the so-called ‘publicist’ mentioned in the article(I work for Continuum, the publishers of ‘Time for Revolution’,and was innvolved in organising the ICA event). A few minor, but incorrectly reported, details that I have personal knowledge of (eg,there was no taxi called, I didn’t say the things ascribed to me, Negri wasn’t behaving arrogantly as suggested, there was no angry confontation with ICA staff, etc) casts serious doubt on the veracity of anything that Hari says. (2)
Williams might say the details are minor, but I think they are actually pretty devastating; he's implying that Hari is changing things to make himself look bolder, braver, and more incisive.

If true, Hari has some very big explaining to do.
1 - "When does licence become invention?," by Guy Walters. Published in the New Statesman blogs, 28th of June, 2011. (http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/guy-walters/2011/06/hari-interview-truth-quotes)
2 - The quotation is a footnote to a letter submitted to the Independent, which was either published or not published by that paper, depending on which bit of the interweb you happen to be looking at. The original letter was written by Matteo Mandarini and Alberto Toscano, in 2004, in response to a piece Hari had written on the Italian communist, Toni Negri. (http://www.driftline.org/cgi-bin/archive/archive_msg.cgi?file=spoon-archives/aut-op-sy.archive/aut-op-sy_2004/aut-op-sy.0409&msgnum=232&start=21394)

I'm beginning to get fucked off with Labour

There's something a bit worrying about their continual opportunistic attacks on what's actually good policy:
The justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, faces another embarrassing U-turn over his controversial sentencing reforms on Wednesday as the Labour frontbench combines with rightwing Tory MPs to further attack his prison plans.

Tory backbenchers and Labour spokesmen served notice on Tuesday night that they would fight Clarke's plans to limit the use of remand in custody and tackle the explosion in the use of indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs).

Clarke's Commons opponents scent fresh blood after last week's U-turn when Downing Street disowned his plan to introduce a 50% maximum discount for early guilty pleas, although it would have stabilised the growth in the record 85,000 prison population in England and Wales. The move took out 3,400 of the 6,000 prison places Clarke was hoping to save over four years as part of his "rehabilitation revolution" and left him with a £140m hole in his spending plans.

A fresh revolt against his plans to limit the use of remand in custody would lose a further 1,300 saved places and mean he would have to find a further £40m from his justice budget. The IPP reforms would have saved 600 prison places and £10m. (1)
An occasional ambush or purposeful assault - such as Miliband's original attack - is understandable, because it highlighted how weak Cameron actually was. But the mania for forcing U turns seems to be what's driving Labour's tactics, rather than what's best.

They'd do a lot better in the long run, IMHO, if they supported sound policy, and opposed bad policy. As it is, they're going to look pretty fucking stupid if - supposing they get back into government - they start trying to introduce positive policies which they voted down in opposition. Stupid, short termist tactics, based on heaping humiliation on the government, no matter what.

It might be argued this is what opposition parties are meant to do, and the Conservatives have spent 13 years voting against (the occasional) good Labour policy while they were in opposition.

All that means is that the current opposition is as as spineless and unprincipled as the current government. Which is not a good thing. The fact that the Tories do something is no justification for others doing it as well. Quite the opposite. Isn't the whole point of not being the Tories is to not be the Tories?

Labour should pick and choose their targets, so they can score points; shepherd good policy through while simultaneously pissing off the Tory right; and show they can be constructive and coalitionable?

n.b. Coalitionable isn't really a word. Until now.

This blanket policy of oppositing pretty much everything and seeking to exploit any vulnerability is just weak, crappy opportunism, suggesting a massive degree of insecurity and rampant tribalism in Labour.

Looks like the 'Blue Labour' idea is really just the same old NuLabour authoritariamism, more carefully directed at People We Don't Like (prisoners, furriners, people on benefits and so on) instead of just being generally unpleasant to everyone.
1 - "Kenneth Clarke faces twin-track assault on jail reform plans," by Alan Travis and Owen Bowcott. Published in The Guardian, 28th of June, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jun/28/kenneth-clarke-jail-reform-plans)

Doctors reject NHS plans; where is the Telegraph?

From the BBC:
Doctors have rejected the government's revised NHS plans, urging their union to take a tougher stance.

Delegates at the annual British Medical Association conference voted in favour of calling for the Health and Social Care Bill to be withdrawn by 59%.

Amid mounting criticisms the government put the changes on hold in April. Two weeks ago ministers attempted to appease opponents by watering down certain aspects of the plans.

Dr Jacqueline Applebee, a GP from London, said the overhaul would result in one of the "biggest ever social injustices" as it would lead to charges for services and backdoor privatisation.

"We have a duty to past, present and future generations," she said.

Paddy Glackin, who is also based in London, added: "This is a slippery government that we cannot give any wriggle room to. This is not the time to back off, this is the time to push further and harder." (1)
A while ago, the telegraph ran a front page story about a bunch of Tory affiliated doctors who had written them a letter in support of the government plans. Wonder if they'll be giving this development similar prominence?
1 - "Doctors reject revised NHS plans," by Nick Triggle. Published by the BBC, 28th of June, 2011. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13942819)
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm: http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2011/05/telegraph-vs-balance-and-integrity.html

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

You couldn't make it up

Michelle Bachmann reveals a bit too much:
In an interview before announcing her bid for the Republican presidential nomination in her birthplace of Waterloo, Iowa, Bachmann told a Fox News interviewer:

"John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That's the kind of spirit that I have, too."

Except as the conservative Washington Times reported, John Wayne – the star of movies such as True Grit and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – was born in Winterset, Iowa, more than 100 miles away from Waterloo.

The John Wayne of Waterloo was someone entirely different:

Waterloo's John Wayne was not the beloved movie star, but rather John Wayne Gacy, the homophobic serial killer. (1)
Satirists are really going to struggle to surpass this sort of madness.
1 - "Michele Bachmann gets her John Waynes mixed up," by Richard Adams. Published by The Gaurdian, 27th of June, 2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/richard-adams-blog/2011/jun/27/michele-bachmann-john-wayne)

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Ha ha!!

Just stumbled upon this terrifying image:
And yes, I now have images of Gerry Brownlee stored on my computer. This may be illegal in some jurisdictions.

More amusing than the image itself, is the caption that accompanied it:
National MPs Simon Powell, Katherine Rich, former National leader Don Brash, National MPs Nathan Guy and Gerry Brownlee applaud John Key as he delivers his speech as the New Zealand National Party launch their election campaign at Sky City on October 12, 2008 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Now, I don't know what Gerry's hands may be up to, locked in his pits, but I'm fairly sure they aren't clapping (1).
1 - Photograph courtesy of zimbio.com, 12th October, 2008. Photo by Tim Hales/Getty Images AsiaPac. (http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Simon+Powell/Gerry+Brownlee)

Friday, 24 June 2011

Is this irony?

The Guardian, commenting on the British Labour Party's convoluted policy review:
There is also dark talk of a mechanism to address waste in public spending. An inquiry could be set up on the issue. (1)
Wouldn't that be rather a waste of public money?
1 - "Labour's policy review is to scrutinise the party's decline – then bounce back," by Patrick Wintour. Published in The gaurdian, 22nd of June,2011. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jun/22/labour-policy-review-bounce-back)

Nothing to be proud of

So it's very nice that the Chinese government have decided to release Ai Weiwei. It's even nicer to think that pressure from the west might have had something to do with his realease, though this seems to be wistful thinking. When a regime brags that a newly released prisoner has shown a "good attitude in confessing his crimes," it probably isn't caving in. Ai Weiwei's silence on release speaks volumes, as they say. He's not triumphed over the viciousness of the regime; he's been broken by it and, like Winston Smith in 1984, is drinking at The Chestnut Tree.

Nor is it enough to note, as the Independent does, that Ai Weiwei was just one of over a thousand political prisoners in the PRC, and they remain imprisoned (1). That's better than celebrating a single release; but it's still missing the point. In fact, it seems to me to be a deliberate diversion.

By focusing on this or that celebrity prisoner, we can conveniently excuse our blindness to how we exploit Chinese labour, take advantage of the PRC's totalitarian tendency when it is convenient to us - we like those baubles and trinkets, but we don't like have to pay too much for them. We deliberately ignore the oppression of Tibetans and Uighurs, the arrest of workers who try to form independent trade unions, the thousands killed and injured in Chinese mines where cornoers are cut because of the desperate need to keep costs down, the brutal working conditions imposed by employers who are churning out toys for us to play with. We salve our cosciences by making a token fuss about people like Ai Weiwei, but purposefully ignore our own massive, hypocritical convenient connivance in oppression and state brutality.
1 - "Ai Weiwei is free; another 1,426 are not," unattributed editorial. Published in The Independent, 24th of June, 2011. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-ai-weiwei-is-free-another-1426-are-not-2301849.html)

Has the British government gone mad?

From the Indie:
MPs voted to ban wild animals in circuses last night after David Cameron's attempts to bully Conservative backbenchers into voting against the measure backfired and ended in a humiliating public defeat. In a decision hailed by campaigners as an "historic victory for animal welfare and protection", MPs of all parties unanimously backed a ban and the Government signalled that it would introduce one, ending forever the days of lions, tigers, elephants and other wild animals in the big top.

In an act of desperation, Conservative whips had warned they would impose the most serious parliamentary voting sanction, a three-line whip, to bring recalcitrant backbenchers to heel and get them to support the Government's alternative proposal of a licensing system. (1)
A three line whip? Over a ban on wild animals in circuses?

Clearly, the Conservative part of the government (as distinct from the Conservative Party) has had enough of being forced into U turns. Why the decided to make a stand on this topic is beyond me, and I'm glad to see they're attempt to bully their MPs into voting against their conscience failed.

Note, that this shows how untrue Cameron's claims to be listening and responsive are. He thought he could pull this one off, so suddenly the nice, touchy-feely Dave disappeared, to be replaced by a would-be tyrannical parliamentary autocrat.

A rare day when I'm impressed with the Tories, putting decency ahead of their factional interest.
1 - "Victory in the campaign to ban circus animals," by Martin Hickman,. Published in The Independent, 24th of June, 2011. (http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/victory-in-the-campaign-to-ban-circus-animals-2302073.html)

Funny

Paul Krugman discussing books:
I was at that stage, a college sophomore or thereabouts, when you’re searching around, looking for belief systems. I think it’s actually a point when you’re quite vulnerable, because you are looking for someone who is going to offer you all the answers. Some people turn to religious orthodoxy, other people turn to Ayn Rand. One of my favourite lines – and I haven’t been able to find out who came up with it – is that “There’s an age when boys read one of two books. Either they read Ayn Rand or they read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. One of these books leaves you with no grasp on reality and a deeply warped sense of fantasy in place of real life. The other one is about hobbits and orcs. (1)
To be honest, I think I've heard that before, possibly referencing someone other than Rand as the purveyor of fantastical delusions. Still, it's worth repeating, endlessly.
1- "Paul Krugman on Inspiration for a Liberal Economist," interviewed by Sophie Roell. Published on The Browser, 19th of June, 2011. (http://m.thebrowser.com/interviews/paul-krugman-on-inspiration-liberal-economist?page=1)