An investigation by the Telegraph newspaper has found that some British abortion clinics are agreeing to terminate pregnancies based on the sex of the unborn baby — a practice which is not just immoral, but illegal under UK law.
Undercover reporters accompanied a number of pregnant women to clinics where they asked for their unborn baby to be terminated because it was the “wrong sex.” In some cases, Asian women carrying baby girls asked for the abortion on “cultural” grounds; in others, the women cited a desire for “family balancing.”
Some of the clinics approached explained that they could not perform sex-selection abortions, but others agreed to carry out the procedure. In most cases no counseling was offered, and one doctor was secretly filmed telling a women who enquired about having her baby girl aborted: “I don’t ask questions.”
The Telegraph has said it will publish further disclosures from its investigation tomorrow. Britain’s Health Secretary has said he will report the clinics caught in the sting to the police and the General Medical Council, the medical profession’s governing body.
The exposé is welcome, and will be a setback for the UK’s increasingly assertive pro-abortion movement. But it only hints at a wider, ongoing, and largely tolerated scandal.
In 2010, according to government figures, just under 190,000 abortions were carried out in England and Wales, and of those, 98% were carried out on the grounds that going through with the pregnancy carried a risk to the woman’s mental health. Pro-life campaigners have long alleged that the “mental health” provision is routinely abused and amounts to abortion-on-demand, and the Telegraph report lends credence to those claims: if abortion clinics are prepared to perform blatantly illegal sex-selection terminations, one can only imagine how widely the subjective “mental health” provision is being exploited.
Commenting on the Telegraph report, Anthony Ozimic, spokesman for British pro-life organization Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, said:
This investigation confirms the reality of eugenics in modern British medicine, in which some innocent human beings are deemed too inconvenient to be allowed to live. Sex-selective abortion is an inevitable consequence of easy access to abortion, a situation to which the pro-abortion lobby has no convincing answer.
The current laws and regulations are loosely interpreted and routinely flouted. The abortion lobby are shedding crocodile tears over sex-selective abortion because it calls the abortion industry and their feminist credentials into question.
Anyone who doubts, as the row over HHS contraception mandate rages on, where America is headed if Obamacare isn’t repealed should note that 96% of the abortions performed in 2010 were funded by the National Health Service — that is, by British taxpayers — yet while there’s an active pro-life lobby in the UK, abortion is nothing like as big an issue here as it is in the U.S. Perhaps this scandal will help to generate a new and badly needed debate.
The umpteenth agreement to save Greece and the Eurozone was reached at around 3am this morning British time, so unfortunately I was tucked up in bed and missed all the excitement. But it was probably for the best: with an ‘historic’ deal seemingly being signed every few weeks for the last couple of years, my neighbours must be sick of me running out into the street each time a new bailout is announced, waving the European Union flag and singing Ode to Joy (yes, we Europeans have our own
national transnational anthem) at the top of my voice.
Forgive the sarcasm, but it’s becoming increasingly hard to take these eleventh-hour, continent-saving announcements seriously. If you’re interested in the details of the latest can-kicking exercise, the Wall Street Journal has a summary here, but essentially, in return for 130 billion euros in bailout loans, Greece has agreed to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio from 160% to 120.5% by 2020, with private investors taking a haircut of up to 70% on their Greek bond holdings.
To reduce the debt, Greeks will be subjected to another round of punishing austerity measures: tens of thousands of public sector jobs will go, and there will be further cuts to pensions and wages. As a condition of the agreement, monitors from the European Union, European Central Bank and IMF will be permanently stationed in Athens to enforce compliance.
Anyone who’s been following the eurozone crisis will know that elements of the deal are likely to unravel, and we’ll be back here in a few weeks, or a few months. Some private investors have still to sign up to today’s agreement, and the Greek government must commit to three billion euro’s worth of cuts in the next few days in order to get the bailout money; not surprisingly, some eurocrats believe yet another bailout will be required in short order.
Europe’s leaders have at least – for the time being anyway – decided that they want to keep Greece in the death grip of the eurozone. Last week several officials and politicians, including Germany’s finance minister, were making noises about Greece being forced out of the single currency. It may be that those noises were a bluff designed to concentrate the minds of the country’s politicians, although it could also be the case that the eurocrats haven’t ruled out an eventual Greek exit, and are simply buying time to shore up their banking systems in readiness.
Either way, Greece remains stuck with the worst of both worlds: condemned to decades of austerity, massive unemployment, social unrest and low economic growth, but unable to cut itself loose, return to the drachma and devalue its way back to competitiveness.
The big question is how long the Greek people will put up with this state of affairs. The governing coaltion parties have been losing support, and extremist parties on both the right and left are set to make gains in elections scheduled for April on the promise of opposing further cuts (the communist KKE party is organizing street protests for tomorrow). If some of those parties end up in government, they may demand a renegotiation of the bailout on less harsh terms, threatening to take Greece out of the euro if they don’t get their way.
The Greek people remain understandably schizophrenic about their predicament, with opinion polls showing that a majority both want to remain in the euro, but oppose the spending cuts that are a prerequisite of continued membership. It’s no surprise that some European officials have suggested postponing the elections and installing a technocratic government along the lines of that imposed on Italy last year – a move which would be the final humiliation for the cradle of democracy.
Greece’s Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos claimed this morning that his country had avoided the ‘nightmare scenario’, but for millions of ordinary Greeks the nightmare is just beginning.
Tensions have been rising between Britain and Argentina in recent weeks over the Falkland Islands. The Falklands lie around 300 miles east of Argentina in the South Atlantic but have been British since 1833, and the 3,000-odd inhabitants have made it clear that they want to remain British subjects.
Argentina invaded the islands in 1982, and Britain retook them in a conflict which cost the lives of 255 British and 649 Argentine servicemen. The ‘Argies’, as we Brits call them, haven’t renounced their claim to the islands, and Argentina’s socialist President Cristina Kirchner has stepped up the sabre rattling in recent months. Kirchner would love to get her hands on oil deposits which Britain is hoping to tap, and she may also be calculating that, with doubts growing about the sustainability of the country’s economic boom, she may soon need to divert the attention of her subjects with a unifying military escapade.
Things have been brought to a head by Britain’s decision to send its newest warship, HMS Dauntless, to patrol the waters around the Falklands, and by the arrival on the islands of Prince William, the Queen’s grandson and second in line to the throne, in his capacity as a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot. Argentina’s foreign ministry has called the Prince a ‘conquistador’.
The Obama administration, always eager to support a South American rabble-rouser over a proven ally, has been giving encouragement to the Argentines for some time, and now Kirchner has received the support of leftist clown and occasional thespian Sean Penn. On a visit to Buenos Aires Penn backed Argentina’s claim to the islands, accusing Britain of “archaic” colonialism.
Penn is of course notorious for supporting anti-US tyrants, and in particular Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Now it seems he’s adding Argentina to his Latin American sphere of influence, and it’s no surprise that he’s thrown his lot in with Kirchner, a shrill populist who’s a sort of cross between Chavez and Eva Peron (both ideologically and, it has to be said, physically).
Referring to the islands by their Argentine name, the ‘Malvinas’, Penn claimed the world “is not going to tolerate any ludicrous and archaic commitment to colonialist ideology”. Penn called on Britain to negotiate with Argentina over the islands, as has spineless UN chief Ban Ki-moon. However the British government has made clear that the future of the Falklands isn’t up for discussion, so it’s a case of Kirchner either putting up or shutting up.
If Argentina does try to seize the islands, they’ll find it considerably more difficult than in 1982, when the defenders comprised a handful of Royal Marines. Now four Typhoon fighters are based there, along with air defence systems and some 1,200 personnel, while the waters are patrolled by the aforementioned Dauntless, and according to the Argentinians, a submarine (Britain doesn’t discuss submarine deployments; in the 1982 conflict an Argentine cruiser, the General Belgrano, was sunk by a British sub).
If however, they succeed, Britain will be obliged to retake the islands as they did three decades ago. And when that happens perhaps Penn could volunteer to act as a human shield for the Argie invaders. I’d suggest he set up a ‘peace camp’ at the airfield, which, as in 1982, will be a key strategic target, and which, on that occasion, had the crap bombed out of it by the RAF.
As defenders of religious freedom in the US rail against the Obamacare contraception mandate, today brought another reminder that the campaign by secular extremists to drive religion from public life isn’t confined to the US.
A judge ruled that a town council in Devon, in south-west England, acted unlawfully by beginning its meetings with a prayer, which it had been doing without controversy for around 400 years. The court case was brought by the National Secular Society after an atheist former councillor, Clive Bone, complained. Not surprisingly, Bone represented the Liberal Democrats, who are the Conservative’s coalition partners in the national government and who, in spite of their name, are liberal only when it comes to matters of crime and punishment.
The court ruling wasn’t quite the victory militant atheists are claiming, however. The judge did not find that the saying of prayers breached the human rights of atheists, as the NSS had claimed. Instead he found against the council under legislation relating to the conduct of council meetings; those laws could shortly be scrapped as part of reforms to local government, allowing prayers to resume, and presumably leading to a new legal challenge.
But this case wasn’t about the ‘rights’ of atheists, or the wounded feelings of Bone, who of course wasn’t compelled to join in the pre-meeting prayers. While Bone was probably motivated in part by good old-fashioned British bloody-mindedness, as in the US, the aim of the liberal-left militant atheist movement is to destroy religion as a source of moral authority, clearing the field for the state, when under the control of enlightened liberals, to impose its values on society.
At least in the US there’s a powerful coalition fighting to defend religious liberty. Here we have the Church of England, whose leaders are either too busy engaging in liberal activism or too lacking in self-belief to defend religion, and which is headed by a leftist crank who’s called for elements of sharia to be incorporated into the law of the land, attacked the free market and sided with anti-capitalist mobs.
Groups such as the National Secular Society hardly need to trouble themselves with court cases to banish religion from public life. They could just sit back and let the CofE do the job for them.
Last week I wrote about the impending trial of the Chelsea and England soccer player, John Terry, on charges of racially abusing an opposing player. Shortly after that piece appeared Terry was stripped of his position as England team captain by the sport’s governing body, the Football Association. Now the England team mananger Fabio Capello, who is Italian, has resigned after criticising the decision in an interview for Italian television.
While the prosecution of Terry is absurd, and is motivated primarily by political correctness, it could be argued that the decision to relieve him of the England captaincy is justified because the pressure of the upcoming court case would have made it difficult to focus on his responsiblilties. However it’s hard to believe that the FA’s decision wasn’t influenced by the nature of the alleged offence, and the need to be seen to be ‘doing something’.
Capello certainly thought so, pointing out in the interview that Terry was innocent until proven guilty. However, as the hysteria over the Terry case has shown – commentators both within and outside football have called for Terry not just to be stripped of the captaincy, but dropped from the national team altogether – in Britain, when it comes to accusations of racism the principle of innocent until proven guilty is becoming something of an anachronism.
Coincidentally, the favorite to replace Capello as England boss ahead of this summer’s European Championships tournament is the Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp – who, just a few hours before Capello’s resignation was announced, was cleared of tax evasion following a high-profile trial of his own. At least Redknapp was afforded the courtesy of having his trial confined to a court of law.
Before you rush to leave a comment on the relative “lameness” of soccer compared to the US version of football, this piece isn’t about the game of soccer as such. It’s about allegations of racist abuse against two of the game’s biggest stars in Britain that have been dominating in the news here for the past couple of months; and about the response to one of those cases in particular, which goes to the heart of issues of race relations and free speech.
In the first incident, Liverpool’s Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez was banned by the English game’s governing body, the Football Association, after allegedly directing abuse at Manchester United’s French defender Patrice Evra, who is black, in a game at Liverpool last October. Suarez admitted calling Evra a “negro,” but claimed that the term was not regarded as offensive in South America. He also claimed, rather implausibly, that his remarks were intended to be friendly
The FA banned Suarez for eight matches. Liverpool considered appealing the ban, but dropped that idea after coming under widespread pressure and being accused of undermining attempts to eradicate racism from soccer, and society at large.
Only the most hot-headed Liverpool fans have protested that Suarez is entirely innocent, and shouldn’t have been punished. But the length of the ban was considered harsh by some, and it’s possible, without condoning Suarez’s behaviour, to sympathize with that view — after all, it’s quite possible to break an opposing player’s leg and get away with a ban of just three games. But Suarez was at least dealt with by the soccer authorities in accordance with their rules, and appears to have been given a fair hearing.
The second incident, involving the Chelsea and England defender John Terry, is more troubling. Terry, who is white, faces a criminal trial after being charged with racially abusing the black Queen’s Park Rangers player Anton Ferdinand. Terry denies the charge, and his trial is due to begin in July, shortly after England play in the European Championship tournament (a Europe-only version of the World Cup).
The police became involved after a member of the public made a complaint. Terry at one stage admitted directing an offensive term towards Ferdinand, but claimed that he did so only in the course of denying that he’d said the words in the first place; it’s not clear whether he’ll maintain that defense in court. An inaudible video clip, which you can view here, along with an account of the incident, will be used as evidence against Terry — the prosecution will be employing a lip reader.
England fans are worried that the charge hanging over Terry could affect his performances, and England’s prospects, at the Euro tournament. But they, and the rest of us, should be more concerned about what the decision to charge Terry says about the state of free speech in the UK.
If Terry did indeed racially abuse Ferdinand, there’s no way for the prosecution to prove that his words were motivated by genuine racist malice, rather than an outburst in the heat of adrenalin-fuelled battle between men who tend to come from working-class backgrounds, and who tend not to be particularly sophisticated or articulate. And given that Terry plays alongside players of various hues and nationalities at Chelsea, and with several black players on the England team, it’s certainly questionable whether he harbors real hatred for fellow professionals on account of their skin color.
If French President Nicolas Sarkozy wasn’t the superstitious type before Friday, he surely is now after ratings agency Standard and Poor’s stripped France of its AAA credit rating.
Austria also lost its AAA rating, while several other eurozone countries for whom AAA status is a distant memory, including Italy and Spain, were further downgraded. The announcement reflects continued skepticism by financial markets that Europe is serious about tackling its debt crisis, or capable of doing so.
As if that news wasn’t bad enough, talks between Greece and its creditors broke down Thursday, raising the possibility that the next round of bailout cash for the country will be withheld, and increasing the likelihood of a “hard” Greek default which could spark a new banking crisis.
The rash of downgrades also further dents the fragile credibility of the European bailout fund, which depends on several of the affected countries, notably France, for funding. Announcing the downgrades, S&P said: “Today’s rating actions are primarily driven by our assessment that the policy initiatives that have been taken by European policymakers in recent weeks may be insufficient to fully address ongoing systemic stresses in the eurozone.”
The downgrade of France is especially significant because it finally puts paid to the myth of France leading Europe as an equal partner with Germany — France is now well on its way to becoming just another euro basket-case. The news is a humiliation for Sarkozy, and it may well put paid to his dwindling chances of victory in April’s presidential election.
The probable winner, Socialist Francois Hollande, has already pledged to reverse Sarkozy’s modest pension and employment reforms, and renegotiate the deal to shore up the eurozone which was agreed in December of last year. His election would likely hasten the end of the eurozone in its current form.
The BBC’s natural history programmes are highly regarded and hugely popular around the world, but the corporation has come under fire after it emerged that captivating scenes of polar bear cubs being born in its latest hit wildlife documentary, Frozen Planet, were filmed not in the Arctic, but in a German zoo.
As spectacular footage of the Arctic rolled, narrator David Attenborough told viewers in hushed tones “beneath the snow, new lives are beginning”. What the viewers were not told, either during the sequence or in the ‘making of’ segment at the end of the programme, was that the footage was filmed in a specially constructed den at the zoo’s polar bear enclosure.
The BBC has denied misleading viewers, pointing out that it showed how the the footage was obtained on the programme’s website. However, only a tiny fraction of the eight million viewers who watched the programme, which aired last month, will have seen that. The rest were thoroughly duped.
Attenborough defended the fakery with his customary arrogance and condescension (my girlfriend once interviewed him, and found him to be one of the rudest people she’d ever encountered), saying that if the Frozen Planet team had attempted to film in a polar bear den in the wild, either the cubs or the cameraman could have been killed. That’s a crude straw man argument: no one is seriously suggesting that the camera team should have tried to sneak into the den to film; the argument is simply that the viewers should have been told the truth.
UK newspapers and rival broadcasters, which resent the BBC’s privileged position – the licence fee insulates it from market forces, and it has a near-monopoly of television and online news provision – have been having a field day. BBC boss Mark Thompson petulantly claimed that the extensive press coverage of ‘Polarbeargate’ is revenge for the BBC’s saturation coverage of the ongoing inquiry into the newspaper phone hacking scandal. That’s rubbish, but even if it was the case who would blame them?
But the people who are getting the most enjoyment out of this are the many of us – generally of a conservative persuasion – who are sick of the BBC’s well-documented bias, and its insidious promotion of liberal-left ideas in everything from spy dramas to children’s programmes.
Frozen Planet itself is the latest example of BBC peddling climate change propaganda. As the excellent Christopher Booker noted in the Daily Mail recently, in the final episode of the series Attenborough, not for the first time, delivered a sermon on the perils of climate change, rehashing the usual misconceptions and half-truths on the subject. And there’s a direct link between the BBC’s faked footage and its climate change bias: the propaganda is clearly going to be more effective if it’s illustrated with dramatic footage purportedly shot in the wild than if viewers know they’re watching scenes filmed in a zoo.
The BBC didn’t lie about the polar bear footage – it simply didn’t tell the whole truth, and that’s the same method it uses to slant its coverage of climate change and countless other subjects, international and domestic, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the summer riots in UK cities.
The reason that the BBC’s bias and propagandizing is so effective is because of the undeserved reputation the corporation enjoys around the world for honesty and integrity. Anything that dents that reputation, and causes viewers to question what they’re being told, can only be a good thing.
Woo-hoo! Europe has been saved! Again! In the wee small hours of this morning, Europe’s leaders thrashed out the latest in a long line of historic, continent-rescuing agreements.
The details are, as is always the case with these agreements, vague, but essentially the 17 members of the single currency Eurozone, plus other European Union countries that are either hoping to join the euro or have chosen not to adopt it, have agreed to tougher budget rules. These include a commitment to balanced budgets, with sanctions on countries whose deficits exceed 3% of GDP, and a requirement to submit national budgets to Brussels for approval. (When “Brussels” is mentioned in relation to European matters, it generally refers to the European Union and Eurozone bureaucracies, which are based in the Belgian capital).
The balanced budget commitment is laughable – countries cooked their books in order to join the euro in the first place, and continued cooking them for years in order to create the illusion that all was well. The requirement to submit budgets to Brussels for approval is less of a laughing matter, beginning as it does the process of rendering national governments largely irrelevant. The deal also includes additional measures to tackle the ongoing Eurozone debt crisis, but here too the details are hazy.
Never mind that this agreement merely kicks Europe’s problems down the road for a few months; or that the new rules will be flouted; or that the nations of Europe have agreed to surrender a large measure of sovereignty to the technocrats of Brussels. This agreement is about one thing: advancing the political project that is ever-closer European integration, a project driven by transnational bureaucrats, guilt-laden Germans and socialist politicians, but also by nominally conservative politicians who are either afraid of the economic consequences of being left out, or who, like grandeur-deluded French President Nicolas Sarkozy, see a Federal Europe as giving his country more clout than it could muster on its own.
Notably absent from the agreement is Britain, after Prime Minister David Cameron used his veto to block a treaty amendment that would have been binding on all 27 EU members. The British government had objected to proposals for tougher Europe-wide regulation of financial services; these included a new tax on financial transaction, which would have effectively meant a tax on the British financial services sector, with the proceeds being shoveled into the black hole of Eurozone bailouts. “Euroskeptics” in Cameron’s Conservative Party, most of whom had doubted their leader would have the spine to deploy his veto, have been pleasantly surprised.
Not surprisingly, Britain’s pro-European elites – including Cameron’s Liberal Democrat coalition partners and most of the Labour opposition, with the BBC cheerleading – are aghast, and are warning of Britain being “isolated” from the rest of Europe. The inference is that isolation is a bad thing, but Britain’s isolation is akin to that of a would-be passenger who, having sold his ticket, is standing on the dockside watching the Titanic sail majestically into the distance.
You wouldn’t expect Britain’s hard-left Guardian newspaper to be overjoyed about the release of the ‘Climategate 2′ emails, further undermining as they do the reputation of key players in the global warming industry. However, you might at least expect the paper to respect the spirit of inquiry, and the desire for openness and honesty, behind the release of the correspondence – this, after all, is the paper that took a leading role in publishing the Wikileaks documents.
On the contrary, the paper is asking its readers to help it – and the police – track down those responsible for the leaks. At the paper’s environment blog, Leo Hickman has posted the ‘README’ text file that accompanies the emails, inviting readers to “offer your own thoughts, speculations and theories about what this file might tell us about the hacker’s profile (and the police who are sure to be also scrutinising it for potential clues)”. Another Guardian blogger, Damian Carrington, complains that the ‘real scandal’ here is not climate scientists manipulating data, and colluding to suppress dissenting opinions – it’s that the leakers haven’t been caught.
To the casual observer it might seem odd that a paper which champions investigative journalism and rails against secrecy should be seeking to identify the ‘hacker’ and have him bought to justice. But, as I pointed out when writing about the tabloid phone-hacking scandal in Britain earlier this year, the Guardian, along with the rest of the left-wing media, is only in favor of the release of confidential material – whether as a result of ‘hacking’ or of investigative journalism – when it advances the interests of the left.
Let’s be clear about this: the Guardian would have no qualms about publishing information damaging to a Conservative politician in Britain, or a Republican presidential candidate in the US, or the state of Israel, or big business – even if that information had been extracted as a result of waterboarding carried out personally by Sarah Palin.
Yes, of course it’s hypocrisy – but leftists can no more avoid being hypocrites than they can avoid breathing.
Multiple news outlets have confirmed reports, which emerged last night, of an exchange between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama at last week’s G20 Summit in Cannes, during which Sarkozy called Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu a liar, and Obama appeared to sympathize.
The remarks were made during a private conversation that was overheard by journalists. The exchange wasn’t covered at the time, but was reported by a French website yesterday. A Reuters reporter was among the group who overheard the remarks, and Reuters is now confirming that the conversation took place.
Sarkozy is reported to have told Obama: “I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar.” The Reuters story paraphrases Obama’s response, but other reports have him replying: “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day.”
Unless audio of the exchange emerges we can only speculate on the emphasis Obama employed, but I think we can safely assume that the stresses in the sentence were as follows:
“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day.” (The Times adds an exclamation point.)
Obama’s response could be regarded as diplomatic. He did not explicitly agree with Sarkozy’s assertion that Netanyahu is a liar, but he didn’t disagree either. This doesn’t, of course, mean that Obama thinks the Israeli leader is a liar; he may simply have thought that, in the context of what he thought was a private conversation, there was no need to argue the point.
As for the substances of Obama’s reply it’s not particularly controversial: it’s no secret that relations between the President and the Prime Minister are strained to say the least after the Israeli leader put Obama straight about a few facts pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute during his visit to the US in May.
British Defense Secretary Liam Fox has been forced to resign following several days of allegations surrounding his dealings with a close friend who styled himself as the Minister’s adviser. The friend, Adam Werritty, was himself funded by assorted groups and lobbyists, creating the impression that Fox was pursuing his own foreign agenda alongside the government’s official policy. There is a good round-up of events here.
There’s no doubt that Fox made serious mistakes, notably by allowing Werritty to give the impression that he worked for Fox in some official capacity. But Fox himself was not proved to have to engaged in any wrong doing. But this was a case of a ‘scandal’ building up a momentum unrelated to the facts, and with British forces still involved in Libya, and heavily engaged in Afghanistan, Fox’s position had become untenable.
Fox was widely regarded as an outstanding Defense Minister; he was also the most conservative member of the cabinet, and a leading figure on the Tory right. He was an uncompromising supporter of close relations with the United States, and with Israel – positions which are not widely shared in Cameron’s coalition government, and which are even less popular among the ‘anything for a quiet life’ time-servers of the permanent government bureaucracy.
America has lost a strong ally, and British conservatives have, for now, lost a politician regarded as the keeper of the Thatcherite flame.
In the wake of the dispatch of Anwar Al-Awlaki, former Bush administration legal advisor John B. Bellinger III wonders if Obama’s use of drone strikes could damage him in the way Guantanamo Bay damaged his predecessor, alienating international allies and leaving officials open to prosecution.
The short answer is ‘No’. While he focuses on the finer points of international law and domestic anti-terror legislation, Bellinger overlooks that fact that the opposition to Bush and Guantanamo was primarily driven not by legal concerns but by partisan politics.
There are, I’m sure, many human rights activists out there who are deeply principled, and would oppose drone strikes, indefinite detention, military tribunals and other controversial counter-terrorism measures under any administration. I can see their arguments, although I believe they’re wrong, often dangerously so.
But many more activists in the ‘rights’ industry are first and foremost leftists, who use human rights issues to advance leftist agendas – a fact Bellinger acknowledges when he writes “Human rights advocates, on the other hand, while quiet for several years (perhaps to avoid criticizing the new administration), have grown increasingly uncomfortable with drone attacks.”
Some of the most vociferous opponents of the Bush administration’s anti-terror policies were individuals so committed in their opposition to the President – from deranged Code Pinkers to cynical Democrats to the National Security Leaks desk at the New York Times – that they were happy to try and undermine those policies, and weaken their nation’s defences, for political gain.
To appreciate this, you only have to recall the
howls of outrage mutterings of mild disappointment from the left when it became clear that Obama was not, after all, going to close Gitmo, nor prosecute CIA operatives accused of involvement in what his Justice Department alleged was the torture of terror suspects.
And principled or not, human rights campaigns are only going to gain traction with coverage in the media; and both the mainstream US and international media, dominated as they are by liberals and leftists, aren’t going to beat up on Obama as they did on Bush (although they might have made a bit of a fuss if his presidency had been going well domestically).
So don’t expect to see activist Spanish judges issuing arrest warrants for Eric Holder or his minions any time soon.
Within hours of the Obama for America campaign launching its AttackWatch website last week, thousands of Americans who have no intention of voting for Obama had signed on for the purposes of mischief and mockery – a wholly predictable development which nonetheless convinced OFA that the project was a spectacular success. If you haven’t done so already I urge you to sign up and join in the fun – I’ve just dutifully reported David Brooks’ orgy of self-pitying buyer’s remorse.
Another benefit of signing up is that you get base-rousing emails from the Obama campaign; aside from being useful in terms of knowing one’s enemy these can be unintentionally entertaining, as well as offering further opportunities for devilry.
Just now I received an email headed ‘It’s officially over’. For a few dizzying seconds I thought Obama had taken the advice of a growing number of liberal pundits and announced he wouldn’t be seeking re-election, but turns out it was just some puffery about the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Earlier I received a missive entitled ‘Class Warfare’ which seemed a rather odd title for a mailshot which insisted Obama’s millionaires tax wasn’t about class warfare – I’d have gone for something like ‘It’s Not About Class Warfare’, but what do I know?
And a couple of days ago I was invited to donate $5 to the 2012 campaign, in return for which I’d be entered into a draw to have dinner with Obama himself. I haven’t taken them up on the offer – as a Brit I don’t think I’m allowed to contribute, and even if I was I don’t think the campaign would stump up the air fare (I’d want Premium Economy at the very least) for someone who can’t actually vote for Obama.
I’d suggest though, that as many eligible conservatives as possible should throw in five bucks on the off-chance that they can hoodwink their way into the White House. I know, I know – it goes against the grain to send money to Obama, but if he’s going to raise a billion next year anyway, I think it’s worth conservatives chipping in a few thousand on the off-chance that one of them will get to wreak some James O’Keefe-style havoc at the presidential dining table.
Interestingly, I’ve noticed that the author of most of these emails, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, signs himself off as ‘Messina’ rather than Jim or Jim Messina. I think this is an affectation designed to make him sound like a no-nonsense political brawler in the mold of Rahm Emmanuel, when he in fact resembles a slightly overweight preppy who’s just asking to have his lunch money taken.
I think it’s also designed to fire up Obama’s volunteer army of wind chime designers, urinal sculptors, trick skateboarders, ethnomusicologists, barristas, performance artists, humanities majors temporarily working as bike messengers, and unemployed basement dwellers, and make them believe that they’re actually a bunch of hardened street fighters.
Republicans be warned!
Amid the parade of straw men, the demagoguing of millionaires and billionaires, the veiled threats and the passing of bucks that made up the bulk of Obama’s speech, this line caught my ear early on:
Pass this jobs bill, and we can put people to work rebuilding America. Everyone here knows that we have badly decaying roads and bridges all over this country. Our highways are clogged with traffic. Our skies are the most congested in the world.
Looks like this plan is even more ambitious than anyone had predicted. Obama is going to put Americans to work building more sky?
You may remember how, following last month’s riots in London and elsewhere, liberal politicians and commentators dismissed claims that the violence and looting were acts of wanton criminality as simplistic right-wing rhetoric. They insisted that the riots were, in fact, an understandable if regrettable protest by the poor and disenfranchised against the Conservative government’s austerity measures; another popular liberal theme was that the rioters were impressionable individuals who’d been driven to break the law by the bad example set by greedy bankers.
Turns out the simplistic right-wing rhetoricians were on to something: it’s emerged that more than three-quarters of the adults convicted of involvement in the riots have criminal records. The revelation that most of the rioters were at best repeat offenders and at worst career criminals, rather than the desperate poor rising up against their out-of-touch rulers, will come as no surprise to those who noted that the looters were stealing TVs, iPhones and sports shoes, rather than bread and warm clothing.
However, it doesn’t appear that the government is drawing the appropriate lessons from these figures: Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke thinks they highlight the failure of the UK’s penal system to adequately rehabilitate offenders. While that may be true for some of those involved, it’s also the case that for many criminals, their experience of the system – short prison sentences, or ‘community’ sentences in lieu of prison – isn’t sufficiently disagreeable to dissuade them from committing further crimes. It’s also highly likely that the more hardened law-breakers involved in the riots are incapable of being reformed – whether by tough sentences or by the most sympathetic of rehabilitation programmes – because they are, to use a word that’s not terribly fashionable in discussions of these issues, evil.
Tinkering with the criminal justice system won’t do much to prevent future riots. Fortunately, the government is also committed to education and welfare reforms intended to address the societal and family breakdowns that have created what Mr Clarke, in a rare moment of clarity, called the “feral underclass” responsible for most of the violence and destruction.
And let’s hear no more nonsense about spending cuts.
When the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was founded shortly before World War Two, its members included Jewish musicians fleeing persecution in Europe. Sadly, there are still many in Europe who would like to silence Jewish performers, and tonight the Israel-haters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign did their best to disrupt a concert by the IPO at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Members of the group infiltrated the audience, and began booing and singing at several points during the performance. Around 30 people were removed from the hall to jeers from the majority of the audience. The BBC had to suspend its radio broadcast of the concert.
Back in Israel the IPO’s educational project works with both Jewish and Arab schoolchildren and musicians, and in 1999 the orchestra played to a mixed audience of Israeli and Palestinian children; the Palestinian intifada in 2000 put an end to such bridge-building events. But those efforts aren’t enough to spare it the attentions of the PSC, which clearly sees the orchestra as a soft target against which to vent its hatred of all things Israeli and Jewish.
As sure as night follows day, the civil liberties/human rights lobby is complaining about the long sentences being handed down to some individuals convicted in connection with last week’s riots. And, just as predictably, the BBC has taken up their cause.
The rioters’ rights crowd are particularly upset about four-year prison terms imposed on two men, Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, who didn’t actually take part in any rioting, but who used Facebook to try to incite riots in their town. The maximum sentence the pair could have received is ten years, and even if the sentences aren’t reduced on appeal – which is highly likely – they’ll be out of prison in a little over two years.
That hasn’t stopped campaigners condemning the sentences as “disproportionate”. But if they appear disproportionate, it’s only because sentences for other people convicted in connection with the riots have been relatively lenient, as is the case with sentencing in general in Britain.
Those criticizing the jail terms seem to think that just because Blackshaw and Sutcliffe-Keenan were unsuccessful in their efforts to provoke riots in their neighbourhoods, the seriousness of their offences is somehow diminished. But it’s their intent for which they’re being punished. If their attempts had been successful, then as in other areas shops would have been looted, buildings would have been burned and police officers would have been injured; it’s even possible that the present toll of five deaths as a result of the riots would have been added to.
I’ve been unable to find polling that specifically addresses the length of sentences handed out to last week’s rioters, but the polling data that is available suggests the public is firmly in favour of tough measures. A poll for the Independent newspaper found the 78% of people thought anyone convicted of involvement in the riots should face an automatic prison sentence, no matter how minor their involvement.
And a poll for The Sun newspaper found that clear majorities supported the use of water cannon, plastic bullets, tear gas, Tasers, curfews and troops to deal with riots (one-third, incidentally, favored the use of live ammunition). The poll didn’t ask specifically about prison sentences, but the other findings suggest a distinct lack of sympathy for the rioters.
Yet on the BBC News Channel yesterday, one anchor claimed while interviewing a Conservative politician that certain people – the inference being Conservative politicians and the British public – were “baying” for long sentences, and suggested that those demanding tough punishment for rioters were imposing “mob rule of a different kind”. You couldn’t get a better example of the disconnect between Britain’s ‘national broadcaster’ and the British people.
The smattering of civil liberties activists, liberal commentators and left-wing politicians whining about tough sentences speak for – and I’m being generous here – a tiny minority of the British people. Unfortunately, that smattering includes a considerable number of BBC journalists; and with the BBC providing 70 per cent of TV news in Britain, as well as dominating online and radio news, it’s no wonder that so many people here are repeatedly persuaded to fall for idiotic liberal ideas.
US ‘Supercop’ Becomes Political Football in UK Riots Fallout (and yes, I’ll explain what that means)
American ‘supercop’ Bill Bratton has become embroiled in the political fallout from the riots that have shaken Britain in recent days, as politicians and police chiefs attempt to blame one another for everything that went wrong, while taking credit for the eventual tough response that appears to have restored order to the streets of London and other cities.
Bratton pioneered the ‘zero tolerance’ approach to policing in New York as Commissioner of the NYPD in the mid-1990s. He was appointed Chief of Police for Los Angeles in 2002, and was credited with reducing crime in the city for six years running.
Prime Minister David Cameron has now called in Bratton to advise the government on tackling gang violence and other crime in UK cities; Cameron had reportedly wanted to make Bratton the new head of London’s Metropolitan Police force, but was unable to do so because of a stipulation that the post can only be offered to a British Citizen.
Before he’s even started work, Bratton has become what we in the UK call a ‘political football’. Now that expression might not make sense to American readers right off, but bear in mind that we’re talking about a British football, or what Americans would call a soccer ball: if you’re aware that in a game of soccer the ball is kicked repeatedly from one end of the field to the other and back again, the meaning of the expression should become clear.
One senior policeman, who happens to be a candidate for the ‘Met’ post, observed sniffily: “I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has 400 of them.” But the fact that LA has lots of gangs shouldn’t disqualify Bratton from helping his British colleagues; his success was in reducing crime, not reducing the number of gangs. And I would imagine that British police will be able to learn a great deal from him, not least because gang violence has been a problem in the US for a lot longer than in the UK.
And the Met could barely do any worse that is already the case. While police officers across Britain displayed great courage last week, there are serious questions over the decisions taken by senior commanders. Whoever was responsible for the decisions that ultimately brought the situation under control, the failings on the second and third days of the riots were the Met’s alone: this piece in the Telegraph lays out the operational blunders, and touches on the crisis in morale resulting from the perception of rank and file officers that they cannot count on the full support of their superiors when the manure hits the fan.
Reflexive anti-American snobbery apparently infests the upper echelons of Britain’s police, just as it does the highest levels of other political and cultural institutions (yes, BBC, I’m looking at you). It’ll be a disgrace if that snobbery hinders efforts to introduce reforms to policing that clearly are desperately needed.
After three nights of rioting, London was relatively quiet last night — I’d like to think that the sight of Prime Minister David Cameron returning early from his villa in Tuscany has struck fear into the hearts of the rioters, but I’m guessing it has more to do with the deployment of an extra 10,000 police.
There was, however, violence and looting in several other cities, notably Manchester and Birmingham. In Birmingham, three Asian men who were on the streets to protect homes and shops were killed when they were hit by a car in an apparently deliberate attack.
As I wrote on the front page yesterday, the riots could take on a whole new dimension if a particular ethnic community feels it’s under attack from another group. There are reports of Turkish, Kurdish and Asian communities organizing patrols in London, and baseball bats and truncheons are selling like hot cakes on Amazon.
Police are now busy rounding up those rioters who were stupid enough to allow themselves to be filmed by security cameras or news crews. Channelling Colonel Gaddafi, a police chief in Manchester warned rioters that his men are “coming for you.”
On a more positive note, thousands of people in London and elsewhere have turned out to clean up their streets – there’s a great photo here. Elsewhere, the Malaysian student who became an unwitting YouTube star after he was filmed being robbed by rioters after he’d been beaten up is recovering in hospital.
A couple of videos for you. Here’s Conservative Education Minister Michael Gove tearing into Labour’s Harriet Harman for trying to blame the riots on government cuts. As Gove points out, Labour was in power for the formative years of most of those doing the burning and looting.
And by way of light relief, here’s a rioter called Alexis Bailey leaving court today. Bailey (who, Heaven help us, works in an infants’ school) was understandably not keen on being filmed, so he covered his face with a newspaper. The trouble with covering your face, though, is that you can’t see where you’re going…
This is a slightly surreal experience. I’m sitting in my living room in my quiet corner of south-west England, with the cat asleep on my lap, watching live TV pictures from London, about 100 miles or a two-hour drive away. The pictures, mostly helicopter shots, are of gangs of youths swarming around burning buildings. Most of the buildings are shops from which the gangs have already looted everything of value. Above many of the shops are apartments, the occupants of which have hopefully long since fled.
In some areas police riot squads move in to drive the mobs away, and firefighters arrive to try and tackle the fires. In other places the police are nowhere to be seen, and the buildings are left to burn. Imagine the LA riots intercut with scenes from the London Blitz. If it’s not live on TV in the US yet, I imagine it soon will be. In the meantime the BBC’s website is a good a place as any for updates.
The first outbreaks of violence, on Saturday night, were peripherally connected to the shooting of a man by police last week, but more about that another time. Things have escalated by an order of magnitude tonight, with violence breaking out in various parts of the capital. Saturday’s riots, and Sunday’s copy-cat violence, were mere scuffles compared to what I, and probably millions of other TV viewers, are watching unfold right now. There are also reports of violence in Birmingham, England’s second city. And it’s only just getting dark here. People’s homes and businesses are being destroyed, and I’m very afraid that someone will be dead by the morning.
I’d planned to write a post about how the hand-wringing liberals and self-appointed ‘community leaders’ have spent the last two days making excuses for the rioters – the usual crap about boredom, lack of opportunity, ‘heavy handed’ policing and so on. But it’s not worth bothering with those idiots just now, and with several parts of the capital in flames the news channels seem to have wisely decided to stop letting those individuals run their stupid mouths.
The Prime Minister is on his way back from holiday. Another politician has just been on the BBC urging parents to phone their children and “tell them to come home”, but something tells me that the rioters are some way past listening to their mothers (I’m assuming that in many cases there’s no father to answer to).
An Irish guy with a colourful turn of phrase was just speaking to the BBC on the phone. He was holed up in his pub with, among others, a 90-year-old woman who’d popped in for a cup of tea, and was desperately worried about his young children. He said he hopes the rioters “rot in hell”. I think most of Britain will agree with him.
I’ll update later if there are significant developments.
Update: Midnight London time.
There are continuing reports of sporadic outbreaks of violence and looting in various parts of London, mobs wielding baseball bats, and more fires. Sounds like the police are basically playing a city-wide game of whack-a-mole. A chap who’s just watched his furniture shop burn down says it’s started raining, which might not do much to put out the fires, but might be a good thing in terms of keeping people off the streets. It’s going to be a long night.
A couple of commenters have asked about the racial aspects of the violence. There’s no doubt that many of the rioters, probably the majority, are black – as was the man whose death sparked the initial trouble. However, many of the rioters I’ve seen on TV are white, and no doubt other groups are involved. And many of those who have lost their homes and businesses are black, asian or from other ethnic groups (I’ve heard one report of Turkish or Kurdish shop owners arming themselves with sticks to chase away gangs of thugs); these riots are taking place in working-class areas with a varied ethnic mix, and the fires that are consuming homes and businesses don’t discriminate.
There’s no getting away from the fact that black gang culture is a major factor here, and it’s also the case that many in the black community who wouldn’t necessarily condone the violence are reflexively anti-police and uncooperative, which isn’t helping matters. But it’s still only a minority of that community, and plenty of opportunist thugs of every race and colour have been happy to join in.
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman bows to no man in his enthusiasm for all things Chinese, and regularly titilates his readers with stories of how China is rapidly catching up to, and will soon outstrip the US in economic and technological achievement.
Ying Ma poured some cold water on Friedman’s ideas here a couple of days ago, citing high-speed rail as one area where China’s apparently rapid progress isn’t all that it seems. Like many Chinese achievements of recent years, its rail projects have been plagued by corruption and corner cutting, and the results haven’t lived up to the hype.
As if to underscore Ma’s point, one Chinese ‘bullet’ train crashed into another, stationary one yesterday – on a bridge, of all places, causing a couple of carriages to topple over the side. At least 35 people are dead.
Mass-transit accidents happen all over the world, of course, but China’s rail network is one of Friedman’s favorite hobby horses (see here and here, for example). Yesterday’s accident is a reminder of the chaos and carnage that are often the by-products of what Friedman likes to call China’s ‘moon shots’.
The heading on Ma’s piece likens Friedman to Walter Duranty for his gullibility, but a better comparison would be Homer Simpson in the Monorail episode. If China’s rail bosses ever need a test-driver for some hastily built 300mph death-trap, they know who to call.
First the mea culpa. As news began to emerge of yesterday’s bombing and mass shooting in Norway, like many people I assumed there was an al-Qaeda or other Islamist connection. From London to Mumbai, simultaneous attacks have been a hallmark of Islamists, and there were several reasons why they might have wanted to target Norway.
I wrote a post for The Tatler on how the BBC listed those potential Islamist motives — the Satanic Verses link; the deployment of Norwegian troops to Afghanistan, although the country wasn’t named; and “cartoons of the prophet” — without mentioning Muslims, Islam or Mohammed. It was ridiculous yesterday and it’s still ridiculous today. The BBC clearly also thought an Islamist connection was likely — they just couldn’t bring themselves to say it.
But I got so caught up in mocking the BBC’s reporting that I failed to consider that it might have been anyone other than Islamists; I could have left open that possibility while still making my point, and not doing so was a mistake.
However, in one sense yesterday’s attacks are the exception that proves the “BBC rule.” If the gunman (who is also thought to be responsible for the bombing) had been of Middle Eastern appearance, and had shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he mowed down his victims, today many in the media would still be speculating about a possible motive, and the authorities would be urging us not to jump to conclusions, as was the case with Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan. But Norwegian police and media were reporting the “right-wing” connection within hours of the attacks, and by first thing this morning officials were describing the perpetrator, Anders Behring Breivik, as “a right-wing fundamentalist Christian.”
The rush to get Breivik’s profile out their suggests an eagerness to exonerate Muslims by the authorities, and the regularity with which the “right-wing” connection is being repeated by the media suggests both relief and relish: not only do we not have to report bad things about Muslims, we get open season on right-wingers.
Right-wing fundamentalist Christian. It’s a slam-dunk for the liberal-left; the ultimate caricature of conservative extremism; the bogeyman that had until now existed largely in their imaginations made real.
As I argued in this piece for Pajamas, two years ago almost to the day, the very term ‘far-right’ is an invention of the liberal-left, employed to discredit the opinions of anyone holding conservative views – just now I actually heard a BBC newsreader describe Breivik as ‘right-wing’ and ‘conservative’ in the same breath.
Think about it: when was the last time you heard or saw a reference in the mainstream media to the ‘far-left’?
The BBC is, of course, falling over itself to avoiding inserting the ‘M’ word into coverage of the Oslo terror attacks on its website. In that spirit, I’ll comment on their reporting while endeavoring to do the same.
In a piece linked on the front page as ‘End of innocence?’ Jorn Madslien does mention that “the Norwegian publisher of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, William Nygaard, was shot and wounded outside his home in Oslo in 1993, two months after Ayatollah Khamenei issued the fatwa” (the shooter was never found). However, he doesn’t elaborate as to who, other than Khamenei, might have been upset about the book or why. Maybe it was… no, I’d best not say.
Doing an even better job of beating about the bush, walking on eggshells and ignoring the elephant in the room is Gordon Corera. In an analysis piece running alongside the main story he writes:
An al-Qaeda linked group is still a strong possibility, based on opposition to the role of Norwegian forces or issues linked to the publication of cartoons of the prophet. There were arrests last year in Norway linked to an international terrorist plot.
However, at this stage other possibilities, including domestic extremists, cannot be ruled out.
Corera starts promisingly, mentioning that well-known inter-faith organization al-Qaeda, but quickly descends into evasiveness.
Where are those ‘Norwegian forces’ deployed? Could it be somewhere where there are lots of… no, I’d best not say.
And which prophet could he mean? Elijah? Jeremiah? Or maybe that crazy old lady in the Matrix movies? Maybe he means… no, I’d best not say.
And what about those plotters that got arrested – would it be worth mentioning, as we’re speculating about motives, that they all came from parts of the world where the dominant religion is… no, I’d best not say.
Also, I don’t understand while ‘domestic extremists’ falls into the category of ‘other possibilities’. Whether the attackers were mad about ‘Norwegian forces’ or ‘cartoons’, some or all of those involved are highly likely to be home-grown terrorists.
And I’ll bet my bottom krona they won’t be called Bjorn, Lars or Rune.
I’ve got a piece up on the front page focusing on the hypocrisy of many of those who are making the most noise about the UK phone-hacking scandal – namely the Guardian newspaper, the BBC and Labour Party MPs.
If you think I’m making too much of the BBC’s obsession with the story, don’t take my word for it – here’s the BBC’s very own foreign editor, Jon Williams, complaining on Twitter that his employers are covering hacking to the detriment of other important stories around the world.
One of the neglected stories he mentions is the unfolding debt crisis threatening the Euro, and Brit blogger Mark Wallace, who picked up on William’s Twitter post, has done an unscientific but still telling survey, searching the BBC News website for references to ‘Libya’, ‘euro’ and ‘hacking’ over the past week. Libya got 23 mentions, euro 32 and hacking (drumroll) a whopping 246. I rest my case.
As I write on the front page, the BBC wants to damage Murdoch because he’s their biggest rival in the UK, and notwithstanding the fact that the BBC already dominates news output in Britain they’d very much like him out of the way so they can peddle their liberal-left bias unopposed. They’d also like to see the back of Prime Minister David Cameron, and eventually the Tory-led government.
The fall-out from the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World tabloid has, inevitably, forced Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to withdraw its bid to take over British satellite TV company BSkyB.
As I wrote a few days ago, the left-wing Guardian newspaper and liberal-dominated, state-funded BBC had been pushing the phone hacking story for some time with the ultimate aim of derailing the News Corp bid. For the time being they’ve got their wish, although News Corp could come back in for BSkyB at some point in the future if it’s able to ride out the present storm.
However, things could get worse for the Murdoch empire before they get better, as his foes attempt to open a second front in the US. Democrat Senator Jay Rockefeller has called for investigations into whether Americans – and in particular relatives of 9/11 victims – may have been targeted by hackers working for News Corp outlets.
Also attempting to stir things up stateside are left-wing ‘watchdog’ groups such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has a long and noble record of investigating corruption by politicians and public officials, so long as they’re Republicans.
Meanwhile, in the UK, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has levelled accusations against two more papers owned by Murdoch’s News International, The Sun and The Sunday Times. However both papers have strongly denied any wrongdoing, and to do so in the current climate, with new revelations emerging daily, suggests they think they’re in the clear.
As I wrote previously, it’s widely believed that UK papers outslde Murdoch’s stable also engaged in phone-hacking; however, only in the case of the News of the World has hard evidence been produced. News Corp’s opponents in politics and the media are now playing a dangerous game, attempting to cause as much damage as possible to the organization while hoping they don’t suffer collateral damage in the process.
We could soon see something similar happening in the US, where thanks to Fox News Murdoch is probably hated even more by the left than is the case in Britain. No-one would be stupid enough to try to defend the actions of the Murdoch journalists who hacked phones or paid others to do it for them, but it’s important to keep in mind the true motivations of those professing outrage: leveraging a genuine scandal in order to change the balance of political and media power on both sides of the Atlantic.
Other than dedicated media watchers, readers in the United States will be at best only dimly aware of the “phone-hacking” scandal surrounding the News of the World, the UK Sunday tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International, and said to be the most widely read newspaper in the English-speaking world.
Well, you’ll be hearing a bit more about it over the next few days, as it’s been announced that the paper – known colloquially as the “News of the Screws” on account of its predilection for reporting on sex scandals involving politicians and celebrities – will close after this Sunday’s edition is published.
The hacking scandal has dogged the paper for years. In 2007 a reporter and private investigator were jailed for hacking into the voicemail messages of aides to Prince William (the one who just got married). But that was just the beginning. A steady drip of hacking revelations continued to plague the NoW; News International paid out damages to several victims including actress Sienna Miller and British politicians and sports personalities, and Andy Coulson who was editor of the NoW at the time the original offenses were committed, was forced to resign his position as communications director for Prime Minister David Cameron. (For those interested there’s a Q&A on the affair here, and massive coverage on all UK news sites.)
Things came to a head in the last couple of days with revelations that the jailed private investigator had also hacked the voicemail of a murdered schoolgirl – while police were still searching for her, and before it was known she was dead. The final straw came this morning when it emerged that families of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan had likely also been victims of hacking.
Poor old Bono. You spend your life campaigning against poverty and injustice, and making some pretty good music along the way, and what thanks do you get?
U2 played the Glastonbury Festival in Britain for the first time last night, and their performance was briefly disrupted when a group protesting about the band’s alleged tax avoidance inflated a large balloon carrying the slogan ‘U Pay Your Tax 2′.
Of course, no conservative is going to quibble about the band’s right to take all legally-available steps to minimize their tax liability. The trouble is, such business dealings sit rather uneasily alongside Bono’s repeated calls for Western governments to send more money to developing nations, and write off outstanding debt.
From the conservative point of view, if Bono devoted his energy to encouraging private individuals and business to hand over their cash to charities, there wouldn’t be an issue here; the problem is, if governments are to send more money to Africa they need to get it from someone, and that someone is you, me and U2.
It’s a minor quibble though, and the self-righteous lefties of Art Uncut, who staged last night’s protest, and other activists, have nothing to complain about — they simply don’t like the idea of people getting rich, whether it’s rock stars or investment bankers.
A small victory for free speech in Europe: right-wing (or, if you’re the BBC, ‘far-right’) Dutch politician Geert Wilders has been cleared of inciting hatred against Muslims.
It should never have come to this, of course. Wilders may have angered Muslims by likening Islam to fascism and the Koran to Mein Kampf, but expressing opinions that some find offensive is not the same thing as inciting hatred. But, as is generally the case in Europe these days, those who called for Wilders to be prosecuted were determined to silence him, partly out of knee-jerk political correctness, and partly because they feared his remarks might provoke a violent response from Muslims – which of course rather helps to make Wilders’ point for him.
Wilders insisted, quite rightly, that his remarks were part of a legitimate debate; unfortunately it’s a debate that European societies and their leaders don’t want to have, which is why Islamic extremism has been allowed to fester across the continent.
The court’s decision doesn’t, as an idiotic piece of analysis attached to the BBC’s report suggests, mean the famously tolerant Dutch people have suddenly become less so. It does mean they should now feel more free to speak out against extremists in their midst whose ideology is blatantly intolerant.
Michelle Obama gave a speech this morning to a U.S.-sponsored Young African Women Leaders Forum in Soweto. It was mostly the usual Hope’n’Change boilerplate, part Sermon on the Mount, part Oprah-esque commencement address. But this bit caught my ear:
Like my husband, I came from a modest background. My parents saved and sacrificed everything they had so that I could get an education. And when I graduated, got a job at a big, fancy law firm — nice salary, big office. My friends were impressed. My family was proud. By all accounts, I was living the dream.
But I knew something was missing. I knew I didn’t want to be way up in some tall building all alone in an office writing memos. I wanted to be down on the ground working with kids, helping families put food on the table and a roof over their heads.
So I left that job for a new job training young people like yourselves for careers in public service. I was making a lot less money. My office wasn’t so nice. (Laughter.) But every day, I got to watch those young people gain skills and build confidence. And then I saw them go on to mentor and inspire other young people. And that made me feel inspired. It still does.
Those listening could have been forgiven for thinking Mrs. Obama went straight from “down on the ground working with kids” and “making a lot less money” to the White House, because – perhaps out of modesty – she left out a significant chunk of her resume: the part where, after she and her husband had established their activist credentials, she took a $120,000-a-year admin job at the University of Chicago Hospital.
You need to watch this all the way to the end – the initial photo mix-up is funny, but it’s as nothing compared to what follows…
(h/t my brother)
The BBC is running an article on its news website on the legacy of the eugenics-inspired forced sterilisations carried out in North Carolina in the middle decades of the last century.
It’s a powerful piece, which begins with an account of how a 13-year-old African-American girl was deemed to be ‘feeble-minded’ and sterilised after she was raped and made pregnant by a neighbour. There’s a fair bit of background on the eugenics movement, and it’s interesting stuff as far as it goes.
There is, however, very little in the way of political context. The article might have mentioned, for example, that eugenics was a pet project of the American Progressive movement, the forebears of the modern liberal-left; or that one of the leading lights of eugenics was Margaret Sanger, who founded the organization that became Planned Parenthood and who remains a hero to liberals, and feminists in particular; or that North Carolina was run by Democrats during the period when forced sterilisation policies were in full swing, as were other southern states in which the practice was prevalent. If reporter Daniel Nasaw wanted to bring the story up to date he might even have written about how the racial aspect of eugenics and forced sterilization is perpetuated in the disproportionately high number of abortions of African-American babies.
A 17-year-old Chinese kid sold one of his kidneys so he could buy an iPad 2. The story reads like fodder for an alternative-universe Tom Friedman column – or maybe just a regular Tom Friedman column, I’m not sure what the difference is. First world consumerism meets third world brutality! We’re all the same! But we’re all different! Funny little foreign guys want the same things as we do! But they’re still a bit backwards aren’t they! And it was all made possible by the interwebs! No doubt this episode is the perfect illustration of how the world is flat, or bumpy, or upside down or whatever that theory of Friedman’s is.
Meanwhile, expect Paul Krugman to pen a column any day now claiming that if Paul Ryan’s Medicare reforms are enacted, millions of Americans will have to sell their iPads to buy a kidney. You heard it here first.
Bryan, I’m not sure how much of that botched toast was Obama’s fault – it seemed to me that the band thought “To her majesty the Queen” was the extent of Obama’s toast, and started up too soon. Whatever, I thought he rescued it pretty well – in fact, speaking as an Englishman I found the spectacle of Obama quoting Shakespeare, his voice soaring above the opening bars of God Save the Queen as he struggled to make himself heard, rather stirring. Which would make this the first time an Obama speech has left me anything other than cold or enraged.
British voters have rejected a proposal to change the voting system for parliamentary elections in spectacular fashion. By a margin of 68% to 32%, they chose to keep the ‘first past the post’ system, under which the candidate who gets the most votes on the first count wins, rather than adopt the Alternative Vote (AV) system, under which if no candidate won 50% or the vote on the first count, second-preference votes – and then third-preference votes, and so on – would be redistributed until a candidate passed the 50% threshold.
The main beneficiaries of AV would have been Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats, currently the junior partner in Britain’s Conservative-led coalition government. And despite their current marriage of convenience with the Tories, the Lib Dems remain at their grassroots a resolutely left-of-center party. Indeed, senior Lib Dem Vince Cable joined with far-left figures in the Labour party in claiming that under AV the two parties would form a ‘progressive alliance’ that would keep the Conservatives out of power for generation.
Unfortunately for what passes for the British Left, this country, like the United States, remains a fundamentally conservative one; New Labour’s recent spell of 13 years in power followed a tectonic shift to the centre. True, under Cameron the conservatives have also moved towards the centre on some issues, but by any measure of public opinion, be it welfare, immigration or the European Union, Britain remains a small-c conservative nation.
That ‘progressive alliance’ exists only in the fevered imagination of the left, a fact neatly illustrated by the fact that the Yes vote prevailed in just handful or areas, several of them in London, and all of which are hotbeds of what can best be described as elite metropolitan opinion – well-to-do areas populated by BBC journalists, other media types, lawyers, professional activists and the like; in other words a hugely influential but minuscule sub-section of British society that has very little in common with their fellow countrymen.
Also yesterday, the Conservatives did rather better than expected in ‘mid-term’ local council elections, and Labour – after several months of savage attacks on the Tory austerity measures made necessary by the years of Blair/Brown profligacy – rather worse. This has been a good day for British conservatives; it seems their progressive foes will have to wait a little longer for their generation in the sun.