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Rupert, Guinness and the Potato Famine

Sláinte!

Happy Saint Paddy’s Day!

In honor of this day, Rupert Murdoch is promoting Guinness in a reverse psychology PSA.  I had almost completely forgotten about stocking up today so, thanks, Rupert, for reminding me that Guinness is standing up for equality.

******************************************************************************

Timothy Egan, author of The Worst Hard Time, wrote an Op/Ed in the NYTimes this past weekend on Paul Ryan’s Irish Amnesia.  Egan says that Ryan has adopted the same attitudes towards the poor as the British politicians that let the Irish starve during the 1840’s.  It’s an attitude that a lot of older white conservative voters, who don’t have a clue about what it’s like to find a job these days, are thinking and saying about the less fortunate.  It’s an attitude of harshness, lacking in compassion and kindness.  It is absent of the values they once held dear.  It’s judgmental and narcissistic.  (more on that in another post)

But Egan is wrong when he says that Irish historian John Kelly was the first to pick up on the similarities between the Famine Years and The Great Recession.  I picked up on it back in 2010.  So, here’s my reprise of that post that I wrote back then when it dawned on me that America was getting ready to go full blight:

A bit of history: The Great Famine of Ireland

Posted on July 11, 2010 by riverdaughter | Edit
Bridget O’Donnel and her children

I can’t remember what free association web surfing lead me to the history of theIrish Potato Famine of 1845-1851.  Some have referred to it as genocide.  But it is a genocide of a peculiar sort, not necessarily motivated by racism.  Maybe the resentment of the English for the Irish had its roots in the era of Reformation when the Irish stayed with the Roman Catholic church.  Maybe it had something to do with Charles I using the Irish to quash his opponents during the English Civil War.  Maybe Oliver Cromwell’s brutal revenge on the Irish had something to do with the punitive laws that lead to widespread poverty in Ireland distinct from any other country in Europe.  Half of the country was dependent on a single crop, the potato, for sustenance, while the fruits of their labor in service to their absent landlords were shipped away to England.

When the potato blight struck, the effects were devastating and the news of the horror of the famine spread far and wide.  The Choctow native Americans contributed money for the starving in Ireland.  This was not the first failure of the potato crop.  In the late 1700′s, another failure threatened widespread starvation.  But during that crisis, the government ordered the ports closed so that crops and livestock raised in Ireland would be used to ameliorate the conditions of the starving.  No such measures were taken in the 1845 famine.  During the famine years, the Irish exported more food to England than it received.  The landlords’ agents used the famine and loss of rent revenue to throw the tenant farmers off their lands.  Their houses were torn down.  A new law was passed prohibiting a farmer in possession of more than a quarter acre of land from receiving food relief, to prevent him from getting lazy and too dependent on help.  To qualify for food, the farmer had to give up his land.  This further exacerbated the problem.  Farmers couldn’t plant crops without land and that land reverted back to the landlord to be used as pasture for more lucrative livestock.

The suffering from starvation and disease was severe but human kindness was in short supply.  The absent aristocracy, some of whom rarely set foot in Ireland, were spared the gaunt visages of peasants and their dying children making their way to the coasts to board coffin ships for America and Canada.  What counted was how much rent each peasant could bring.  When they couldn’t pay, they were better off dead.  John Mitchel, the blogger of this time wrote, “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine.”


Lest we forget…

You can make a donation to Feeding America here.

How will the Emperor strike back?

If Rupert Murdoch is unfit to lead his British journal empire, doesn’t that suggest that he is unfit to lead his American news empire as well?  From the NYTimes article on the subject:

The report said that Mr. Murdoch exhibited “willful blindness” toward wrongdoing at his organization and saidNews Corporation, his conglomerate based in New York, had made “huge failings of corporate governance.” The consequences of the panel’s findings were not immediately clear.

The committee’s report said: “On the basis of the facts and evidence before the committee, we conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited willful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications.”

“This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organization and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International,” its British newspaper subsidiary.

“We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”

In a statement from its New York headquarters, News Corporation said it was “carefully reviewing the select committee’s report and will respond shortly.” It also said the company “fully acknowledges significant wrongdoing at News of the World” — the now-shuttered Sunday tabloid at the heart of the scandal — “and apologizes to everyone whose privacy was invaded.”

One dissenting Conservative, Philip Davies, told reporters: “To me, very clearly, Rupert Murdoch is a fit and proper person to run a major company.”

In a statement after the report was published, Ofcom, the British media regulator, said it had a legal duty “to be satisfied that any person holding a broadcasting license is, and remains, fit and proper to do so. Ofcom is continuing to assess the evidence — including the new and emerging evidence — that may assist it in discharging these duties.”

In its report, the committee itself did not use the full term “fit and proper” in its condemnation of Mr. Murdoch.

Oh, those silly Brits, splitting hairs and taking care to not quite meet the legal definition of criminal incompetence.  They just can’t come right out and say the Rupert Murdoch needs to be stripped of his broadcast and “journalism” licenses- yet.  Maybe they’re all busily calling their wives and mistresses and boyfriends with “a bit of bad news” before they bring the hammer down on Murdoch.  It can’t come a minute too soon.  If they bring the bloody bastard down, I say we kiss and make up and offer Britain a US statehood.  Rupert Murdoch has been a bigger threat to the world than Osama bin Laden ever was.

Now, if we could only get the FCC to investigate Pat Robertson…

 

Friday: Messaging

Forget Michelle Bachmann. Get these two guys.

The left blogosphere continues to spin its wheels.  It’s everyone else’s fault for the mess we’re in.

Digby has yet another post about Michelle Bachmann.  Can I just ask what the point of this exercise is?  Who is the target of this particular post?  None of the Clintonistas turned Tea Partiers are going to read it but if they do manage to pick up on it, it’s only going to make them love her more.  Are WE, the Democrats in Exile, the targets?  Please.  We know that Michelle Bachmann is a Republican nutcase.  We don’t need Digby to point this out.  We’d only vote for her to put a woman in office.  No, it doesn’t matter if she’s conservative just like it didn’t matter that Obama was one when he was elected to be the first African American president.  Oh, I’m only kidding (sort of).  I’m sure I can find a third party candidate to vote or write in Hillary.  For sure Obama is not getting my vote.  But would I really vote for Bachmann?  Hmmm, if a woman ever got to the top of the ticket in any major party, it would be very hard not to vote for her.  Even Digby might do it.  Ok, she wouldn’t but I could see her struggling with it in the voting booth.

In any case, going after the personal or mocking her intelligence is not scoring points with us.  We would much rather that people like Digby focus on her policies.  But let’s put logic aside, because that’s all that matters here.  Voting for Obama in the 2008 primary was about as illogical as voting for Bachmann now.  Yes, I mean that.  Dems who voted for Obama back in 2008 knew even less about him than we know about Bachmann today.  I take that back.  We knew that Obama admired Reagan.  But other than that, what legislative accomplishments did Obama have?  What was his record in the community at large?  Bachmann is a foster parent and has juggled a boatload of kids at one time while running for office, working as a tax attorney and suffering from migraines (Get rid of some of your committments, Michelle, like, oh, I don’t know, running for office?  Just sayin’.)  When it comes to sheer energy, committment and sticking to her principles, as whacked out crazy as they are, Michelle Bachmann whups Obama’s ass.

I predicted a couple of weeks ago that Bachmann would keep creeping up in the polls.  And you want to know why, Digby?  It’s because women hate people like us, the snooty, smartass lefty liberals who gave them Obama in place of the person they wanted to vote for.  Yes, I am including me among the smartass liberal set.  Regular women identify with that whole “I am a mother first” thingy, even if she spends most of her time politicking.  They’re sick to death of people like us shoving men in suits in their faces and then having those men screw their economic livelihoods behind their backs.  You can mock their lack of education (to your peril, IMHO) but they know how to balance their checkbooks, Digby, and they don’t like what they see.  No, they most certainly do not.  You can’t tell them there’s a recovery going on when they’re taking in all of their laid off grown up children.  They’re plotting revenge.  You don’t want to encourage them.

They know that Bachmann is out there.  They know she’s a Republican.  And they also know that the best way to stick it to the Democrats who screwed them over is to keep pumping her up.

So, why are we dumping on Michelle Bachmann?  Aren’t there looney, religiously conservative Republican men we can pick on?  Why, yes!  Yes, there are.  What about Mitt Romney and his Bakelite hair?  What about Huntsman?  Doesn’t anyone besides me think it’s weird that two of the right wing’s political aspirants are Mormans and that Glenn Beck, Tea Partier master of ceremonies, is also a Morman?  And what do we know about Mormans?  They tithe pretty heavily to their churches and have their own social welfare system for their members.  They are the ultimate libertarians.  But no, we are focussing with laser like intensity on Bachmann.  That suggests a couple of things to me.  One is that the Democrats know they have a problem with women voters and two, the Democrats have a problem with women in general.

But why does Digby have a problem with women?  Who is running the show at Hullabaloo?

Amanda Marcotte ponders whether Obama is benevolent but ineffective or an evil Republican in disguise.  I thought we settled this question last week sometime.  Obama is an anti- New Deal Democrat at the precise moment in time when the country needs a FDR.  He never admired his mother’s brand of idealistic humanism and striving to right the wrongs of the world.  He thinks that’s a naive waste of time and that people should stop trying so hard to address inequality and learn to be content with the measley bits that life hands out to them.  Trying to do otherwise is setting yourself up for disappointment.

This philosophy goes against everything Americans have believed in since the day the nation was founded.  Americans believe in progress and evolution, sometimes in big whopping chunks, not puny, ineffective increments.  Obama may have spent a little too much time in Indonesia or the golf course.

Of course the primary problem is that the country elects too many Republicans.  That goes without saying.  But you have to wonder why Democrats, AND OBAMA, made so little effort to control the message when they had the chance.  Where was the fight over the “fairness doctrine”?  Why do we have to drag them kicking and screaming to endorse net neutrality?  Why the hell do they put up with so much passivity on NPR?  And why did they squander so much political capital in the first two years of Obama’s term on mindless, boring coverage of Obama’s every bowel movement day after day with the endless TV spots at lunchtime?  Pretty soon, his bully pulpit faded into background noise.  Who’s bright idea was that?

As much as the Republicans are to blame for everything bad that has happened to this country in the past 40 years, you have to wonder why it is that Obama cooperates with them so flawlessly.  Why is it that deals on spending cuts and social security are carried out in closed door sessions where people like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are not invited?  Better yet, why are WE not invited?  Are we just supposed to accept what comes out of those doors, those mighty deals deliberated by our elders and written down in stone that we must obey now and for all time?  Where are the floor fights?  How come all of this is happening in the middle of the summer when Americans are on vacation and are oblivious to all of this wheeling and dealing in DC that will substantially change their future standard of living?  Oh, yeah, I forgot that this is how Democrats have operated since the primary and convention of 2008.  Agreements are made in secret and then a big spectacle is arranged to demonstrate that we’re all unified.  That’s bullshit, Amanda.

At some point, you have to demand that Obama and the Democrats stop acting like the Republicans we despise.  If they won’t do that, then they might as well join one big party and sing Kumbaya.

As for Clinton, it’s nice to see that Amanda acknowledges what the rest of us have known for a long time.  The Big Dawg did a phenomenal job holding the Republicans off under circumstances that were much tougher politically and personally than Obama encountered when he first took office.  At least Clinton knew where to draw the line and make the Republicans crazy.   That’s why they went after him so hard on personal issues.  They wanted to impeach him because he was getting in their way.  I haven’t seen the same over the top nuttiness directed at Obama.  What is Obama’s excuse for refusing to step up?  So some Republicans can’t distinguish between communists and fascists.  BFD.  We know he’s neither.  But other than that, Amanda?  Where are the piles of legal bills, the testimonies and depositions, the ritual humiliation of his wife, the constant distractions and media mania?  It’s not there because Obama decided early on to cooperate with the lunatics instead of fighting them.  It’s much easier to not put oneself forward instead of living with disappointment.

That’s what we signed up for with Obama.  It’s neither evil or naive.  It’s merely self-serving and passive and insensitive to the massive suffering he is letting the corrupt system impose on present and future American livelihoods.  This is what the left signed onto when they forced Obama on the rest of us.  I can’t imagine a worse choice for president in 2008 and we will be paying for it for generations to come.  He doesn’t have to be a Republican to be worse than Bush.

But the question I have for Amanda and the other lefties trying to figure out what Obama is is why they are just now asking this question.  Why did it take 4 years to realize that we know almost nothing about him?  I still submit that the signs were all there in January/February of 2008.  Everything you needed to know about Obama was right there.  His passivity about calling himself a Democrat, his courting of the religious right, the race baiting, the way he blew off the voters of two major states that disadvantaged him in the polls, his supporters caucus activities that he overlooked, his nod towards misogyny, the obscene gobs of cash he was getting from Wall Street that he used to buy superdelegates, his “walking around money” in NJ.  It was all right there.  The fact that he’s president now when we needed a more muscular Democrat is not the fault of Republicans, it’s OUR fault.

But there is something Democrats can do if they’re not cowardly chickenshits.  They can force him out.  No one is “entitled” to a second term.

Update:  Paul Krugman tells us what ails us with respect to Obama in Conceder in Chief and confesses that his frustration with Obama’s 11 Dimensional negotiating skills consists of “suppressed rage and panic” (an excellent description of my feelings as well, Paul).  Then he goes on to say:

It’s very hard to avoid the impression that three things are going on:

1. Obama really just isn’t that into Democratic priorities. He really doesn’t much care about preserving Medicare for all seniors, keeping Social Security intact, and so on.

2. What he is into is his vision of himself as a figure who can transcend the partisan divide. He imagines that he can be the one who brings about a big transformation that settles disputes for decades to come — and has been unwilling to drop that vision no matter how many times the GOP shows itself utterly uninterested in anything except gaining the upper hand.

3. As a result, he can’t or won’t see what’s obvious to everyone else: that any Grand Bargain will last precisely as long as Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and will be torn up in favor of privatization and big tax cuts for the wealthy as soon as the GOP has the chance.

I hope I’m wrong about all this. But when has Obama given progressives any reason to believe they can trust him?

If Amanda is serious about taking on Republicans, she and we would be better off attacking their messaging system, specifically Fox News, News Corp and Rupert Murdoch.  Shutting News Corp down in the US would go a long way towards recovery.  Today, The Guardian reports that James Murdoch’s testimony before Parliament the other day was less than honest and forthcoming and that the US is preparing subpoenas for the Murdochs.  Two former news editors of the now defunct News of the World are spilling the beans about payments that Murdoch approved to victims of some of the hacking.  In short, the payments were too large compared with similar payments to other recipients, suggesting a more serious infraction at the News of the World had occured and that James Murdoch had to have known the true extent and details of the hacking.

If we weren’t so caught up with this debt ceiling problem, we’d be better off holding hearings of our own and accusing News Corp of being the malevolent blight on the republic that it is.   Go after Murdoch, Amanda, and save the world.

Finally, there’s this from The Onion: Congress Continues to Debate Whether or Not Nation Should be Economically Ruined.

Wednesday: Fines, jobs and influence

Does this crown make me look fat?

Podcasts and things that I found interesting:

1.) Yesterday’s Brian Lehrer show on WNYC was the first media presence that I have heard that picked up on the success of Germany in retaining its important industrial and research infrastructure.  When the recession hit, instead of laying off thousands of people with important skills, who might otherwise be sitting around idle and losing their skills, Germany implemented a plan to bump workers and researchers to part time status and then the government stepped in to augment their salaries.  The effect of this plan is that when the economy recovers, these workers and researchers will be able to step back into the workforce with relatively little transition cost.  Their skills have been kept fresh and the economy hasn’t been hit with a deflationary cycle that threatens to take more businesses with it.  Germany used to be like France where the unions protected jobs to such an extent that the workforce was inflexible.  In France, it is almost impossible to lay anyone off.  But when business slows down, you have a lot of extra people cooling their jets doing nothing but still getting paid for it.  In contrast, Americans have zero protection from market forces.  They are completely at the mercy of the quarterly earnings report.  Germany seems to have bridged the two extremes.  Ramping down instead of out preserves their infrastructure for another day while still giving them the flexibility to take it down a notch when the business environment calls for it.

Another advantage that Germany has over the US is that more of their companies are family owned businesses that are not subject to the volatility of the stock market or the pressures of the finance industry to meet quarterly goals for the benefit of the shareholders.  That gives them the latitude to focus on long term goals and quality, which in turn allows them to command higher prices for their products.  This reinforces what I have said before that part of the problem with the demise of American labor is that there is too much reliance on the 401K.  When we all become shareholders, we expect ever increasing returns on our investments.  But this only hurts ourselves as we drive businesses to cut jobs to meet earnings expectations.  It’s a vicious cycle that must be broken and cutting back on social security is exactly the wrong strategy.  What we should be doing is encouraging people to get out of the 401K system.  But the business community and bonus class will never go along with that without a lot of pressure that they aren’t going to get with this president and his lame Democrats.

Nevertheless, if there are going to be any tax cuts in the budget, I would much prefer that they go to the unemployed who have a lot of their money tied up in their 401K accounts.  Right now, that money can’t be removed from the 401K until retirement, which at this point, may be never, especially if social security and medicare is pushed farther and farther out.  Actually, this 401K scheme is looking more and more like the worst possible deal for under 55 year olds.  If you can’t use your pre-tax 401K savings until you retire so you can get a break on taxes at a lower salary because you have to work longer, when the heck are you ever going to get a break on this money???

Anyway, as I was saying, if you need to take money out of your 401K and you have not reached retirement age, you pay a huge tax penalty.  So, no matter how much you need it, to pay your mortgage or your health insurance, buy a new car so you go out and find a job or just feed your kids, you get socked with this amazingly humongous tax.  It is a disincentive to take the money out, which normally wouldn’t be a problem if we were all gainfully employed.  But we’re in a “lost decade (or two)” and there looks to be little chance of a new stimulus package, Obama having blown his one chance to pass one that would have been big enough.  If we need to stimulate the economy, why not let workers do it with their 401K money?  And if we’re going to give people tax cuts, why not let the unemployed go first?  Let them remove that money without penalty so they can spend it and put it back into the economy.  If it’s true that the 401K is not contributing much to the financial market, then it shouldn’t be a problem.  But, you say, what will people live on when they get older?  I dunno, but I suspect I could live on a lot less if I didn’t have a mortgage and could afford to put more money away for a rainy day when I finally do get a job again.  Oo, Oo!  And let’s make this tax break available to the Unemployed who are 55 years of age or younger.  That way we’re not forcing anyone who is nearing retirement to take money out of their 401K.  {{smirk}}

I like my plan.  It cuts a break to the people who need it most while at the same time is sufficiently disconnected from reality to make me a “serious person”.

2.) BBC History Magazine used to be a once monthly podcast, which always left me craving more.  Now, it’s weekly and while the podcast is shorter, there are more of them.  Yessss!  This week’s podcast featured a segment on King Henry III’s Fine Lists.  Wow, that’s pretty obscure, you say.  Not really.  Henry III was the son of King John, aka Lackland.  He’s called Lackland because he was a phenomenally bad king who managed to lose or forfeit just about all of his foreign property.  He was so bad that subsequent kings never took “John” as their monarchical name.  And then there was that whole excessive taxation and tyrannical behavior and double jeopardy and not handing over the body and before you know it, he had a bunch of very hairy, very pissed barons breathing down his neck making him an offer he couldn’t refuse.  So, Henry III was the son of the king who signed Magna Carta.

The project to translate Henry III’s fine lists has uncovered some interesting trends that followed Magna Carta.  A fine is not a punishment for illegal behavior in this context.  A fine was a payment made to the king for certain privileges or protections.  For example, if a town wanted to have a market day or fair, it would apply to the king for a license to hold one.  Or if a lord’s tennants needed protections from that lord’s mismanagement, they could also apply to the king for that.  Or for changes to an inheritance or a number of other things.  What historians have discovered is that during King John’s reign, the payments for the fines were extremely high, ungodly high, which probably partially lead to the baron’s rebellion.  But in Henry III’s day, the fines became much more reasonable.  Speculation is that this was a direct result of the signing of the Magna Carta.  The institution and standardization of common law and gradual introduction of a check on the King’s authority lead to less autocracy at the top.  And who would say there is a problem with that?  It took several more centuries for the king to be thoroughly reined in by Parliament but while the pace of change may have been slow, the evolution towards democracy from monarchy and the rentiers is rooted in the ability of a people to force accountability, laws and standards on their leaders and wealthy.  That’s something we tend to forget.  It’s not rocket science.

3.) Jay Rosen wrote a piece picked up in the Guardian about what Rupert Murdoch’s empire was really built to obtain- influence.  Here’s the money quotes:

Here’s my little theory: News Corp is not a news company at all, but a global media empire that employs its newspapers – and in the US, Fox News – as a lobbying arm. The logic of holding these “press” properties is to wield influence on behalf of the rest of the (much bigger and more profitable) media business and also to satisfy Murdoch’s own power urges.

However, this fact, fairly obvious to outside observers, is actually concealed from the company by its own culture. So here we find the source for the river of denial that runs through News Corp.

Fox News and the newspapers Murdoch owns are described by News Corp, and understood by most who work there as “normal” news organisations. But they aren’t, really. What makes them different is not that they have a more conservative take on the world – that’s the fiction in which opponents and supporters join – but rather: news is not their first business. Wielding influence is.

Scaring politicians into going along with News Corp’s plans. Building up an atmosphere of fear and paranoia, which then admits Rupert into the back door of 10 Downing Street.

But none of these facts can be admitted into company psychology, because the flag that its news-related properties fly, the legend on the licence, doesn’t say “lobbying arm of the Murdoch empire.” No. It says “First Amendment” or “Journalism” or “Public Service” or “news and information.”

In this sense the company is built on a lie, but a necessary lie to preserve certain fictions that matter to Murdoch and his heirs. And that, I believe, explains how it got itself into this phone hacking mess. All the other lies follow from that big one.

Rosen goes on to suggest that Murdoch and his heirs (and presumably other media moguls) know that the reason they’re in the news business is to influence governments but that the rank and file is still under the impression that they’re working for a news business.  While I’m pretty sure Rosen has it nailed about the influence motivation, I’m not sure the minions didn’t know what Murdoch and his crew were up to.  In a way, Murdoch’s “news” organization reminds me of how the Nazis operated in Germany in the years before World War II as described in Eric Larsen’s book In the Garden of Beasts.  Hitler kept getting away with stuff because no one called him on it but the minions were more than happy to go along with it because for many of the rising players in the Third Reich, they had power for the first time in their lives.  They weren’t motivated by their altruistic desire to save the Republic from the ravages of a punitive war reparations schedule.  They did what they did because they could and they liked the idea that they could.  Rebekah Brooks is reported to have adopted the culture and accoutrements of the English “Creative Class” when Tony Blair was in office and then ditched that garb for the Jodphurs and boots of the Horsey Set when David Cameron came into office.  She knew that what she was doing wasn’t news.  And what about Juan Williams?  If he wanted to do “news” and real journalism, he would have stayed with NPR (yes, yes, I know they’ve gone downhill in the past decade but don’t get distracted).  But no, Juan Williams jumped ship for Fox and permanently soiled his reputation as a journalist. And why was that?  Well, you get to reach and influence a lot more people through Fox than through NPR and the money is probably much better for doing it.  Some people are into power.  That’s what motivates them more than anything else.  I suspect that the journalists who flock to Fox and News Corp are those kinds of people just as the finance industry attracts compulsive gamblers and people who value money above everything else.

If pandering to the public’s baser instincts were not so rewarding and didn’t result in greater influence, these people wouldn’t be doing what they do.  The reason they are so successful at it is that there are very few rules in place to make them accountable for their actions.  There is no “fairness doctrine”, no penalties for lying and misleading the public and our laws to keep one person from owning as many media outlets as they like are laughable.

“Ohhhh”, the politicians cry, “There’s too much money in politics. We need to run campaigns constantly.  If we don’t solicit funding, whatever shall we do?  Bad, BAD corporations!”

Blaming the candy for being sweet is no excuse for indulging.

And if you don’t like the rules the rulemakers are writing, change the rulemakers.  It’s the only thing that has ever worked.  Ask the English.

4.) Now THIS is interesting.  Barack Obama is the number one recipient of News Corp donations of all time.  Hmmm, what are we to make of that?  Anyone got any ideas?  Raise your hands, don’t be shy.

5.) I found this at Freerangekids.com from The Onion.  If you ever wonder why Americans are overly fearful of everything and can’t estimate risk, you can blame news organizations like FOX that cranks irrational fear up to 11.  This clip is hillarious.

Tuesday: Video day and British Parliament has a barbeque!

Two priceless videos that are somewhat related to each other.  What would the world be like if Rupert Murdoch had never been born?  What would the world be like if media moguls and political parties didn’t make it ok for us to express our hidden biases?

First up, Hugh and Laurie show what the world would be like if Murdoch hadn’t been born:

Second up, Gay scientists isolate the Christian gene:

And finally, the BBC reports that British MPs have grilled John Yates and are now *grilling* Rupert and James Murdoch over the phone hacking activities of the News of the World.  To see all of the festivities, go to the BBC live blog and broadcast of Rupert and James have “the humblest day of [their] lives”  {{rolling eyes}} testifying before Parliament.  Add a little chips and salsa, a beer or two, a game of volleyball, some fresh corn…

What is your favorite barbeque recipe?

Monday: The Thot Plickens

Jaguar earlobes, wolf nipple chips, get'em while their hot!

Lot’s of juicy tidbits going on in the News International scandal (did I hear Milliegate?).

In no particular order:

Scotland Yard’s second in command, John Yates has resigned.

Sean Hoare, the former News of the World reporter who spilled the beans on the hacking has been found dead.  The death is not ruled suspicious, yet, but maybe Scotland Yard doesn’t have time to investigate it thoroughly, what with just about everyone in the police and their brother somehow involved in the scandal.

Rebekah Brooks resigned over the weekend and lo and behold!  Her computer and business papers were dumped in a trash bin by her husband.  I’m sure he was just helping her clean up her office crap.  I have a garage full of office flotsam and jetsom.  But unlike Rebekah, I didn’t take any incriminating work home with me.  Next time, chuck the bloody thing in the river, not the dumpster.

The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial defending its parent company.  This one will go down in history as the most pathetic “Well, everybody does it but we get blamed for everything we do” set of lame ass excuses ever to grace the editorial page.  It’s a doozy.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, President Obama, John Boehner and Eric Cantor met again over the weekend to figure out how the respective parties could screw the middle class and pin the blame on the other party.  No agreement was reached.  Enough, already.  This is not a game of stratego.  There are real people, real countries at stake here.  Raise the debt ceiling and quit f^&*ing around.

You know, I’ll bet we wouldn’t even be discussing this debt ceiling thing if the Milliegate had broken about 6 weeks ago.  Is there a connection between the obsessive focus on the deficit at the expense of the unemployed and Murdoch’s evil empire?

Damn straight there is.

Note to commenters: The words Sarah, Palin and any combination thereof are trigger words that will get your comment relegated to the moderation bin.  The comment will be released when I get around to determining whether or not you are pushing Palin on us.  This afternoon, I found *12* such comments in the moderation bin and have released only a few.  Don’t get me wrong.  We don’t have anything against her personally but she doesn’t share our political philosophy and we’re sick and tired of having to explain this to Palin supporters.  If she’s your kind of gal, you might be more comfortable commenting elsewhere.  This is non-negotiable.  To paraphrase Douglas Adams, “The internet is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to internet.”  It is difficult to be censored in the blogosphere so we encourage you Palin supporters to find your voice and speak up- vigorously- somewhere else.  Ditto for the Ron Paul supporters and their novel-length manifestos.

Holy Hemiola! Rupert Murdoch practically owned the British media

He's an American. How embarrassing.

This is insane.

The latest person to resign under fire in connection with the News of the World phone hacking scandal  was the head of the Metropolitan Police.  That would have been like Rudy Giuliani’s chief of police, Bernard Kerik, who was snogging some tart in the free digs near the World Trade Center.  Sir Paul Stephenson (well, there goes that courtesy title) was the recipient of a rather posh spa vacation after he hired a News International guy as a PR adviser.

But what really shocks me is the number of high profile newspapers Murdoch’s organization owned.  Check out this graphic for the web of connections.  He also had a significant but not controlling interest in British Sky Broadcasting, the media company he was on the verge of acquiring full out when the scandal broke. I’m amazed that any other news organization was able to function with News Corp slouching around the UK like some gigantic cave troll with a mace.

(BTW, Brits, you are going to have to come up with a catchy word and stick “-gate” on the end of it if you want this scandal to be memorable.  Hacking-gate?  I dunno.  Work on it.)

Well, this explains a lot.  Britain is also undergoing what seems to be an unnecessary economic contraction brought on by some severe austerity measures.  Paul Krugman has had several posts on the subject.  England is also laying off a large number of R&D professionals. (pfizer in 2011, others in 2010)   I don’t know what kind of protections labor has in Britain these days but it doesn’t look as strong as it does in France and Germany.  It seems to be a theme in countries where Murdoch’s organization has a lot of pull.  England is notorious for being crazy about child abductions.  Neighbors can’t even babysit for each other without a permit and a background check.  It was the first company to jump into war with us in Afghanistan and Iraq.  And it seems to be doing its best to erase Keynesian economics from our collective memory during the latest recession/depression.

It looks like politicians and other officials have been living in fear of exposure for some time now.  They don’t dare take Murdoch on.  He’s got the goods on anyone who starts to make trouble.

Hmmm, why does that sound so familiar?  This editorial by Jackie Ashley in The Guardian could have been written over here with a few choice substitutions:

This is not – and should never be seen as – a “Westminster village” issue. A wide range of ownership will mean a wider range of ideas being taken seriously in the national media, a better conversation. It will end a form of politics in which a tiny cluster of top politicians and media people (and police, and business leaders) “count” and most MPs are irrelevant followers. We should get better decisions on tax, welfare, immigration and the bread-and-butter issues.

For those who don’t know, or haven’t believed in, the tradition of tight, anti-democratic collusion in this country, all I can say is that it has been visible, close-up, since I started reporting politics in the 1980s. There were always in-groups, small parties and dinners for proprietors, cabinet ministers and perhaps the odd political editor, which the rest of us heard about but never got near. Up to a point it has always gone on. Churchill and Beaverbrook, Labour and Maxwell.

Yet it has worsened. Margaret Thatcher was greatly helped by the support of the Murdoch papers, who behaved disgracefully towards Neil Kinnock. But Murdoch and Thatcher were instinctive ideological soulmates and it was clear who was the senior partner. The idea of Thatcher paying court to Murdoch was absurd. It was the other way around.

The rot set in with John Major’s hapless attempts to stay in favour with Murdoch and Tony Blair’s shameless political flirting to win him over. Ideology was no longer relevant. Blair’s team regarded Murdoch’s support with an almost mystical awe. That’s when Murdoch’s summer parties became the most desired places to be seen.

Cameron merely picked up the strategy and pushed it further. It seemed risk-free. He comes from the world of PR and personal contacts, high-fiving Matthew Freud, hugging Rebekah and bringing Coulson into his inner office too. Who was in whose pocket?

We have been sleepwalking into a Berlusconied Britain, a post-democratic state of winks and nods. Suddenly there is a chance to break the spell. It won’t last for ever, and it needs brave, decisive action by MPs. A stronger democracy – whose authority comes from election, not from money? Too much to hope for. But actually, today, it isn’t.

Saturday: Too much news

More beach, less news

July is supposed to be a slow news month. Everyone is on vacation and nothing much is going on. But for some reason, the powers that be, who may also be the idiots in charge, have decided to misbehave and act up and basically do things that piss us off. Too much of this stuff is interesting. Such as:

* Obama has deep sixed Elizabeth Warren as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Speculation is that he is going to appoint some dude named Raj Date who used to work for a bank. Becaaaaaauuuse that makes so much sense from a Consumer Protection POV? Call me skeptical. I know, I always have to be the one who just has to be different but not appointing the woman who created the agency in the first place seems like a really bad idea. I’m sure the usual excuses will be rolled out to justify this: the Republicans were being mean and wouldn’t let me appoint her, she doesn’t have any experience running an agency (variation of the Penis Years argument), and my favorite, she doesn’t have the personality for the job. People found her abrasive and “not a team player”, ie she wouldn’t kiss someone’s ass and actually took the description of the job seriously or she was determined to get the job done in spite of the guys who refused to cooperate and she did not disguise how impatient and displeased she was about their unhelpful behavior. Queue the talking points! In another display of mean spirited misbehavior, the Republican House is trying to pass a bill that would prevent recess appointments to federal agencies from getting paid. (Check out the pic of Warren on this link. Yep, they’re going with the personality excuse) So, unless you’re independently wealthy, you will have the same pay as an unpaid intern. That should encourage plenty of the altruists and experts to apply!

*Rupert Murdoch’s media empire continues to crumble. Two of his long time generals, Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton have resigned under fire. Check out The Guardian UK for the latest fallout to this scandal (Oooo, it just allowed the use of the word *fu^&ed* in a quote on the front page. It must be serious.) The Guardian seems to think that the spread of the scandal to the US through the phone hacking of 9/11 victims phones is going to spell the end of Fox News here. It cites the creation of an investigation of the matter at the FBI. That sounds serious and very promising until you read the news article that says…

*Republicans are holding up the extension of Robert Mueller’s appointment as head of the FBI. He’s been serving a long time, 10 years long, in fact. He needs a special dispensation to serve longer and the Republicans are not going to give it to him. In particular, Rand Paul, the Libertarian nut, has filed a stay of the extension. We can only speculate why but the repercussions are clear:

There may be significantly less time to complete the steps necessary to avoid a disruption at the F.B.I. than had been generally understood.

The widespread understanding has been that Mr. Mueller’s term will expire on Sept. 3, because he started work as F.B.I. director on Sept. 4, 2001.

But the administration legal team has decided that Mr. Mueller’s last day is likely to be Aug. 2, because President George W. Bush signed his appointment on Aug. 3, 2001. Coincidentally, Aug. 2 is also the day the government will hit a debt ceiling if Congress does not raise it.

So, there ya’ go. Mueller could go out with a bang if he ramps up the investigation of News Corp in the three weeks he has left. Scratch that, I read somewhere that the debt ceiling crisis really happens on July 22 because the legislative process takes a certain amount of time to work its way out. Soooo, thanks Rand Paul for leaving this position unfilled on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11! Good job. And how conveeeenient for Fox News. How much you wanna bet the Republicans are holding out for a guarantee that the Fox News investigation goes nowhere? Hey! Maybe this is a good time to call your cable or satellite company and insist on them dropping Fox News from the lineup until the investigation gets to the bottom of the matter. We need a little righteous indignation here. And if I were Democrats who were serious about changing the narrative, I would bring this up at every opportunity.

*And while the Republicans and Obama fiddle with the debt ceiling, Rome burns. Governors of various states are very worried that they will not be able to meet some obligations, such as Medicaid and unemployment benefits. The last one is rather near and dear to my heart at the present time so I am most seriously displeased. Note to the still employed: have at least 6 months savings on hand and a Plan B in the event that your government decides to screw you over. I’ll do ok but I worry about others who have been out longer than me. And, NO, I don’t think we should be forced to fork over our future Social Security and Medicare bennies to satisfy the serious peoples’ desire for a Brave New World without a Safety Net for average American Workers, although this suspiciously looks like a pressure tactic to make the poor and desperate even more poor and desperate. I find this terror tactic completely unacceptable. I want Obama to soak the rich, stop letting them separate themselves from their patriotic tax obligations, or instruct air traffic controllers to redirect their private corporate jets to the Cayman Islands where they can spend more time with their money. Please include an air and naval blockade, landline internet with 512 kb DSL and only the base package cable featuring all the reality TV the bonus class can eat.

*Virtually Speaking last night was pivotal. Stuart Zechman went all PUMA. (I can almost see Stuart flinching as he reads that) But really, Stuart, what you suggested at the end of the program was what we recommended 3 years ago. We told voters to remain undecided. That was particularly important for Democrats in Exile because so many disenfranchised voters were mad enough to jump to the Republicans. I have always felt that Friends don’t let friends vote Republican, even though I personally logged a protest vote for McCain at the very last second in the voting booth. I cried, Stuart. I was so upset that my former party forced my hand and I wasn’t going to reward them for it. It wasn’t a racist thing. I don’t have that in me and Obama has never struck me as particularly black, to be honest. I just had to draw the line. So, I applaud your sensible suggestions to the new unterbussen to remain undecided. Now, you are partially responsible, as are we, for what comes next. We have to a.) stop people from panicking and screaming “Oh My Gawd We’re All Going To Die if a Republican is Elected!” and b.) we have to find a replacement. We need to identify a different candidate to endorse or draft. You know my preference because it’s actually possible and will put the fear of God into the Democrats but if you still have a strong objection, let’s find an alternative that all Democrats, not just the “creative class” can endorse. You need the people who left the left for the Tea Party (um, that would not be us. We were liberals before, during and after 2008). Welcome to the unaffiliated independent Democrats in Exile. I don’t recommend you actually use the term “Democrats in Exile” in any official capacity as the acronym is not terribly uplifting.

*Avedon Carol found a post about the end of Harry Potter. Let’s face it, it was all about Hermione. What she really thinks of her fellow Gryffindors is truly priceless:

In the final book, the girl has to wipe her parents’ memory of any trace of her so they’ll be protected. Essentially orphaning herself. But do people feel bad? Do they start going all Harry Potter on her? No. They are like, “Oh, hey, Hermione, all of my friends and family who still love me and still know who I am are getting together for a massive party. You can come if you want.” and she’s like, “Jolly, fucking jolly, assholes”

*Finally, this one is for katiebird. Guerilla knitting is something we bitter knitters can get behind. My favorite is the lava-esque emanations from the crack in the pavement. I also like the knitted tree, which looks like one badass Fu^&ing fractal.

Yes, that *is* yarn

* Oo, Oo! I nearly forgot. Brook made me go to an arty indie movie theater last night to see Tree of Life. It was the most incomprehensibly beautiful film I have ever seen. Still have no idea what it’s about but I recommend it anyway. I seriously want the kitchen in that movie.

One final thing: for you new unterbussen who are just tuning in, you may be wondering when we lost the New Deal. I periodically replay this video to show you when it happened. Forget Hillary Clinton for a moment. The two candidates could have been Barack Obama and John Edwards for the purposes of this exercise. Keep that in mind as you watch it and take note who the speaker is. A more potent symbol of the New Deal does not exist. Harold Ickes Jr. Is the son of Harold Ickes, FDR’s right hand man and “get it done” guy for implementing the ABC programs during the Depression. Ickes was a Chicago Republican who Roosevelt converted. He was a witty smartass who helped to execute some of the most successful programs in American history. I’d like to think his son shared that commitment to the American people. In any case, he knew exactly which principles were being violated in May 2008 and that has been our downfall ever since.

The RBC limited the number of Clinton supporters in the venue and gave most of the seats to Obama supporters. We had two front pagers attending the meeting who were lucky enough to get in and report from the inside. The whole thing was a travesty and miscarriage of justice from start to finish. And that is how we got an anti New Deal president. The party is not unified to this day. Many former Clintonistas left for the Tea Party, not from stupidity but out of anger and confusion. And we need those people back.

Here’s the clip:

Tuesday: Hack this

Would you sell an American citizenship to this man?

The phone hacking scandal in Britain is getting pretty hairy.  It turns out that investigators for Scotland Yard who were looking into reports of phone hacking by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp outlets were in turn phone hacked (NYTimes, limited free articles):

The disclosure, based on interviews with current and former officials, raises the question of whether senior investigators feared that if they aggressively investigated, The News of the World would punish them with splashy articles about their private lives. Some of their secrets, tabloid-ready, eventually emerged in other news outlets.

Those damaging allegations, about two of the senior officers’ private lives, involved charges that one had padded his expense reports and was involved in extramarital affairs and that the other used frequent flier miles accrued on the job for personal vacations.

“If it is true that police officers knew their phones had been hacked, it is a serious matter that requires immediate investigation,” said John Whittingdale, the chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which investigated phone hacking. “It would be shocking.”

The lead police investigator on the phone-hacking case, Andy Hayman, left the Metropolitan Police in December 2007 after questions were raised in the news media about business expenses he had filed and the nature of his relationship with a woman who worked for theIndependent Police Complaints Commission.

At the time, Channel 4 News reported details of 400 text messages and phone calls that Mr. Hayman had sent to her.

400 text messages.  Holy Hemiola.  Someone must have been bored out of their gourd sifting through all that minutiae:

Him: Where R U?

Her: At Macy’s

Him: I can’t find the remote

Her: It’s on top of the bookcase

Him: My wife is out for the afternoon.  Where should I meet you?

Her: Ahem, I’ve decided NOT to go out this afternoon.  How about we meet in the kitchen -over my knife?

Remember when we thought that someone had the goods on the Democrats in the past 11 years?  Maybe we weren’t just imagining it.

Meanwhile, Murdoch’s deal to buy up the controlling shares in BSkyB has been put on hold for a few months and his shareholders are shocked, SHOCKED that such shenanigans could be happening right underneath Rupert’s nose.  They’re filing a lawsuit to get to the bottom of it:

Among the lawsuit’s complaints: the company’s purchase of Elisabeth Murodoch’s Shine Group has harmed the shareholder value; the board as it is comprised has numerous conflicts of interest; and the phone-hacking scandal has hurt the company’s reputation and investor value.

{{snort!}}

You’ve GOT to be kidding.  When Fox was bailing out Bill O’Reilly because he was phone sexing one of his producers and Glenn Beck became a raving lunatic, the shareholders were pretty OK with the company’s reputation.  Fox News has made a name for itself as being fast and loose with the truth (perfectly legal, so saith the courts) and fellating Bush administration officials on a regular basis.  So, why the big deal NO

There’s more stunning hypocrisy:

The egregious conduct triggering this stunning turn of events was not limited to reporters.  Former News Of The World employees involved in the phone hacking have indicated that at least two editors-in-chief of the paper were aware of and condoned the hacking in order to obtain news stories that would  drive readership.

Rebekah Brooks (“Brooks”), a very close friend of Murdoch and his family who has repeatedly been promoted by Murdoch (most recently to the position of Chief Executive Officer of News International), and Andy Coulson (“Coulson”), a Murdoch political ally and a close friend of Brooks who became an aide to British Prime Minister David Cameron, both were editor-in chief of the paper while the illegal hacking was on-going and have been linked to explicit knowledge of the practice.  Coulson, in fact, has been arrested on suspicion of phone hacking and making payments to police and faces criminal indictment for his conduct.

These revelations should not have taken years to uncover and stop. These revelations show a culture run amuck within News Corp and a Board that provides no effective review or oversight.

Oh, I don’t know, Fox has been extremely effective in undermining the social safety net and standard of living of hundreds of millions of people in North America, Britain and Iraq.  Chaos and lack of oversight appear to be key factors in the success of News Corps winning management style.  Let’s not forget it owns the Wall Street Journal and it’s compassionately conservative editorial page.

And what kind of culture has been damaged?  The kind that stops at nothing to ram ultra conservative ideology and farfetched conspiracy theories down the throats of unsuspecting senior citizens and treats the working class like a bunch of parasites?  Or is it the culture that hour after hour, day after day, terrifies its viewers with stories of abductions and child abuse and murders of innocent young white girls to the point where every adult, male or female, is a potential pedophile?  Or is News Corps culture the kind that stampedes the governments of two nations into a stupid and costly war in Iraq?  Where were the shareholders back then?  Having their pedicures in the back of the limo on the tedious drive to Hamptons?

Rupert Murdoch sounds like an authoritarian sociopath to me and from what I can tell, he’s been one for a long time.  I’m guessing that the shareholders *liked* the ruthless bastard just as he was as long as the stock prices of insurance companies, the security industry, armaments dealers and mercenary merchants were increasing. It’s only now that Britain is turning on him that the shareholders find his company distasteful and his culture uncouth.  What I want to know is who these snobs are that brought us to the brink of global economic catastrophe over the financial system deregulation and the ongoing debt ceiling debacle and now think they can slither away unscathed.  Names, I want names.

I predict this scandal is going to spread and have already cornered the market in popcorn.  Where, Oh, Where, will the Republicans go for sympathetic, soft ball interviews?  Ok, I mean *other* than the rest of the American news media?  And can we get a list of the politicians that have shown up on Fox the most?  Or is this just a ruse by the shareholders to ditch Murdoch, make it look like the cesspool is being cleaned up and then party on under new management?

Butter, please.  Lots of it.

Convergence(?): something Paul Krugman said

The other day, Paul Krugman speculated that Barack Obama was adopting the values and the rhetoric of the serious people, who for some reason always want to impose austerity on the little guy, because he identifies with that class:

OK, here’s an unprofessional speculation: maybe it’s personal. Maybe the president just doesn’t like the kind of people who tell him counterintuitive things, who say that the government is not like a family, that it’s not right for the government to tighten its belt when Americans are tightening theirs, that unemployment is not caused by lack of the right skills. Certainly just about all the people who might have tried to make that argument have left the administration or are leaving soon.
And what’s left, I’m afraid, are the Very Serious People. It looks as if those are the people the president feels comfortable with. And that, of course, is a tragedy.

Today, the front page of the NYTimes reports on the phone hacking scandal by News Corp editors and higher ups in Britain. For those of you not up to date on this scandal, News Corp, owned by Rupert Murdoch, has been accused of tapping the phones of terrorist victims, soldiers from Afghanistan and paying substantial bribes to police officials for juicy tidbits of confidential information on people it doesn’t like. David Cameron’s former aide, Andy Coulson, left the Cameron administration to work for Murdoch’s org. Murdoch is poised to buy the remaining shares in British Sky Broadcasting and the deal is to be finalized today. Coulson has been arrested in connection with this probe. It looks like the political arena was not spared from Murdoch’s tentacles. It isn’t clear to me whether Coulson is being offered up as a sacrificial lamb in order to let the deal proceed. If it does, Murdoch’s lock on the British media would be almost insurmountable.

Kudos to Atrios for keeping on top of this.

As you can imagine, the Britain’s Labor Party is throwing Cameron an anchor. But here’s the paragraph that got my attention:

Fourteen months later, with Mr. Murdoch’s media empire in Britain reeling, Mr. Cameron may feel that his close relationship with Mr. Murdoch, which included a range of social contacts with members of the Murdoch family and the tycoon’s senior executives, has been a costly overreach.

It sounds to me like David Cameron also wanted to schmooze with the Serious People. Is this a characteristic of our national leaders? What about that Canadian dude who just rewon? What the heck is his name?

There is a pattern here with Rupert Murdoch and his media empire. He gets into a country, buys up their media, then his outlets start belching forth child murders and abductions of young white women. Enter the Sean Hannity types and the lies that go uncontested. Gin up the war machine, turn on the gasbags screaming that anyone collecting a government check is a parasite and voile! Austerity for thee but not for me.

Can we get an investigation of Murdoch going here in the US? And who does Steny Hoyer know at Fox News? How did we know about Weiner and Massa? Who else is toeing the conservative line because of some personal secret or minor ethical violation that threatens to become a s#%^storm? And how did Andrew Breitbart jump into the ranks of the serious people?

Of course this is just speculative on my part. Maybe Fox News and Rupert Murdoch arent setting the tone and cracking the whip and hobnobbing with the power in Washington and the other serious people. Neverthless, I’m interested in pursuing an investigation into Murdoch’s ties in Washington. How many times did we wonder what the Bushies had on the Democrats in Congress? And what has changed? And how is that Fox News and the other serious people have gone so easy on Obama? Call me crazy but I think it’s time to clean the Houses.