Monday, 30 November 2009

Quick Note on Media Stuff

As you may be aware, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is planning to charge for access to the websites of its publications. It is also drawing up an alliance with Microsoft, while Google will be unable to index News Corp publications when people ‘Google’ for stuff on the Net. There appears to be no set timetable for this to happen, just some time next year.

Rupert Murdoch has never liked the internet, on the grounds that so much of its content is free. He would much prefer it if there were a series of firewalls blocking access unless one is prepared to cough up the readies. I am sure he looks on with envy at the way his mates in the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party block access to various internet sites in mainland China.

Glenn 'The Poor Man's Bill O'Reilly' Beck exposes the Chinese Communist connections of Rupert Murdoch on Fox TV. (Hat-tip: News Corpse)

I seriously wonder if people will pay good money (or any money) to access Murdoch’s various publications. I mean, news is much the same wherever one goes. Most people, if they cannot go to websites of The Times and The Sun will go the websites of other newspapers here. Whether it is highbrow stuff, business news, sports coverage to just plain old celebrity gossip, there are more than enough other places to go. I am pretty familiar with the output of The Times, Sunday Times, News of the World and Stun. The only part of the whole ensemble I would think of paying for in its own right is the Sunday Times ‘Culture’ section, and some weekends that would be touch and go (particularly at the moment when all culture/review/book sections of all papers are going through their Xmas Books/Books of the Year phase. It is just one big mutual backscratch amongst writers who get published. It is almost as bad as the period of late Spring/early Summer when the papers give us page after page of their Summer/Holiday reading the very same people who gave us their recommendations six months before! Give me some proper reviews!).

Perhaps the best comment I have heard about Murdoch’s plan’s is by principled anarcho-capitalist/Libertarian Lew Rockwell:

Neocon billionaire Rupert Murdoch has been threatening to stop Google from indexing his newspapers and other media outlets. Google pointed out that any business may have its site de-indexed on request. Now the Rupester is negotiating with MSMFT to de-Googleize and join up with Bing. Please go ahead, Rupert. Anything that cuts your readership is good for the world.

Moving away from Planet Murdoch, a quick prediction: within the next 5 years ie by 2015, The Guardian and New York Times will merge, probably through a friendly take-over by the former. The Guardian Media Group has wanted to make The Guardian the world’s leading ‘Liberal’ newspaper for a few years now and the New York Times has its financial problems (so has GMG, but not to the same extent). It would be a logical tie-up.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Cultural Parish Notices

A few events in the coming weeks people may be interested in going along to.

First a couple of 'big-ups' (as The Kids say) for London's two Roller Derby Leagues. This Friday sees The London Rockin'Rollers present:

Saturday sees another social, this time by The London Roller Girls:

I hope to get along to both. I keep meaning to get along to a match or two, but they keep falling when I'm working, out of London etc. There are a couple in the next few weeks, but I'm working. One of my Resolutions for 2010: watch more Roller Derby! There is a film out, which may hit these shores by the Spring of 2010, about Roller Derby, Whip It, which should help increase its popularity this side of The Pond.

My final Roller Derby plug before moving on...I must mention Vancouver's Terminal City Roller Girls, without which the whole Roller Derby experience would have passed me by:

Hat-tip: Suzy Shameless!

Still with things Vancouverish, my Coova friend and all round clever person Sara Bynoe will be back in Olde Londone Towne next month, for a night of Teenage Angst. I started typing this post having flashbacks remembering writing really bad poetry about the possiblity of nuclear war when I was 13-14, which I was glad to get rid of! Looking back, it could have come in handy for the following. (To make it really Teen Angstist I'm also listening to Simple Minds as I type this- 'Don't you forget about meee....'):

Teen Angst: A Celebration of Inadvertantly Hilarious Adolescent Writing
The London Version

Tuesday, 08 December 2009, 19:00 - 23:00
Bethnal Green Working Men's Club - BASEMENT
42-46 Pollard Row, E2 6NB
London, United Kingdom

Teen Angst is an open mic comedic reading series where everyday people read from their embarrassing old journals, poems, songs, essays (and more), in front of an audience.

Part stand-up comedy, part poetry reading, part karaoke (in the way you go to watch people embarrass themselves).

The night started in Canada in 2000 to launch the website - Teen Angst has since gone on to publish an anthology Teen Angst: A Celebration of REALLY BAD Poetry (St. Martin's Press, 2005), performed at the LATITUDE FESTIVAL (UK), BUMBERSHOOT (Seattle), THE KGB BAR (New York City), THE INTERNATIONAL HIGH PERFORMANCE RODEO (Calgary) and at London's BOOK CLUB BOUTIQUE.

Guest readers include: Tim Clare, Rhian Edwards, Angry Sam, Cath Drake, and Sophia Blackwell.

Sara Bynoe, creator of Teen Angst and Michelle Madsen from the Hammer and Tongue Poetry Slam.

PLUS ...WIERD AND WONDERFUL foodstuffs and drinkables to plant you firmly back in the heady days of your adolesence.

Contact sarabynoe(at)


Finally, the Staffordshire Hoard
exhibition is on at the British Museum. The hoard was discovered not far from where my parents live, very near Lichfield. Hopefully it should be an eyeopener for those who think there was no English history, just The Dark Ages, between the Romans leaving in 410 and the Normans imposing their Yoke in 1066. So that's another event in London to go along and see! (For those who cannot, this may be of interest.)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Any old iron, any old iron, any, any, any, old iron?

So, with more of a whimper than a bang, the 'cast-iron' pledge for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty by 'Call Me Dave' Cameron has bitten the dust. I am a bit surprised, as I thought he would abandon the pledge AFTER the General Election (to keep the Lib Dems onside), not before. Obviously he does not think the 'fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists' of UKIP (as he once called them) are a threat to the Cons electorally, although I can see a fair few resignations and defections from the Conservatives to UKIP in the run-up to the General Election. I thought the promise of a referendum would be kept to keep those Conservative voters thinking of voting UKIP onside until May 7th 2010. Instead 'Call Me Dave' has now had his proverbial 'Clause IV' moment. That is, he has told his Party's faithful to like it or lump it and stop 'banging on' (another Dave-ism) about the EU. Well, Dave's not the 'Heir to Blair' for nothing is he?

I laughed when I saw the BBC report of 'Call Me Dave' promising 'never again' would powers be handed over to the EU without a referendum. I'm surprised he didn't pledge 'peace in our time' and 'it will be all over by Christmas' while he was at it. Frankly I think it is pathetic politics, 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'

Of course, one of the great mysteries of life is why, when one considers the historical record, the Conservatives are considered the 'Eurosceptic' Party in British politics. It was a Conservative government that tried to get into the Common Market (as it was known then) back in the early 1960s. In the early 1970s, it was the Conservatives who got us in. They largely backed a 'Yes' vote to stay in the EEC (as it was known then) in the 1975 referendum. Margaret Thatcher's Government, despite her overblown rhetoric, oversaw the acceleration of British integration into the EC (as it became known). To quote Martin Walker, Margaret Thatcher 'talked like Enoch Powell, but acted like Ted Heath'.

Like the photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983, this is worth saving from the Memory Hole. Margaret Thatcher campaigning for Britain staying in the European Economic Community in the 1975 Referendum.

She threw away our national veto so the Single European Act (which introduced Qualified Majority Voting) could be passed. It was then passed through Parliament subject to a three-line whip and guillotining of debate. The number of Tory MPs prepared to vote against the SEA hardly made double figures. Then in 1990 it was Margaret Thatcher who got Sterling into the Exchange Rate Mechanism. It was her successor John Major who signed the Maastricht Treaty. Then Tony Blair took up the Conservative trick of talking Euro-sceptic...while passing more integrationist legislation. Now he wants to be President of the EU- I wonder how he is getting on?

Now we have 'Call Me Dave'. The only 'EU-sceptic' move he has made in his years as Con leader has been to (eventually) withdraw from the European People's Party in the European Parliament. As Peter Oborne points out, the aspiring Party leader made the pledge to leave the EPP during the 2005 Leadership contest to attract votes. In contrast, his opponent David Davis promised to withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy. I hate to sound all practical here, but I think trying to save the British fishing industry is a damn sight more important than where some MEPs sit in the European Parliament. Furthermore, with priorities like that, it is hardly surprising that 'Call Me Dave' has given up on stopping the Lisbon Treaty. He just hopes everybody else stops 'banging on' about it as well.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Getting me down, Part 2: Obamaism!

Emma Goldman Obama-style!

I'm still glad Obama beat McCain a year back, otherwise I think by now that there would have been a serious crisis, with threats to use nuclear weapons, and not necessarily in connection with Iran either. However, after someone decides not to throw themselves over a cliff, you have to stop congratulating them at some point.

I have no time for most of the Republican opposition to Obama. With the notable exception of Ron Paul, most of them are no-nothings who use 'socialism' as a swear word for anything they do not like politically. As Kevin Carson memorably put it, 'anyone who can seriously look at Obama’s economic team and its policies, and suspect him of being a closet "Marxist", probably shouldn’t be allowed to use scissors without adult supervision.' Serious libertarian opposition to Obama I respect a lot more, as it is opposed just as much to the warfare state as the welfare one (the former one is largely supported on a bi-partisan basis).

Possibly the best assessment of Obama from a Libertarian position comes from the pages of Reason magazine:

Obama Is No Radical: But maybe we'd be better off if he were.
Jesse Walker, September 30th, 2009

The conservative firebrand David Horowitz has declared the Obama White House a "radical regime." For the Republican radio host Sean Hannity, the ousted ex-communist "green jobs" czar Van Jones "signifies the radicalism of this administration." Even Andy Williams, the Branson crooner who sang "Moon River" and "Days of Wine and Roses," has joined the chorus, telling Radio Times this week that Barack Obama is "following Marxist theory."

For a chunk of the right—the portion that defines itself by its opposition to "the left"—that's the best explanation for the country's recent political path: Washington has been seized by radicals. But compared to a real radical, Obama is about as middle of the road as Andy Williams' music.

Yes, he gave a job to Van Jones, and if you search his administration you'll find yet more hires whose views are well to the left of most of the country. If you looked through George W. Bush's administration, you'd find hires with views well to the right of most of the country: Eric Keroack, say, the critic of contraception who landed a job atop the family planning office at the Department of Health and Human Services. It's an ideological spoils system, patronage paid to the factions that make up a party's base. And sometimes it has policy consequences, so it's worth monitoring closely.

Yet most people on the right will tell you, quite accurately, that the Bush years didn't do much to shift the country toward greater social or economic conservatism. I expect most people on the left will say something similar when Obama exits office. Thus far, the president's domestic agenda has been many things, but radical it isn't. Radicals make sudden turns. Obama sometimes slams his foot on the accelerator—just look at projected spending for the next few years—but he hardly ever tries to change direction. Radicals tear down centers of power. When Obama is faced with a crumbling institution, his first instinct is to prop it up.

That was most obviously true with the bailouts, a series of corporate preservation programs that began before he took office and have only increased since then. Candidate Obama voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the 2008 bailout for failing financial institutions, and he personally intervened to urge skeptical liberals to support it. After Congress refused to authorize a bailout of the car companies, Obama followed George W. Bush in ignoring the plain language of the law and funneling funds to them anyway. Like Bush before him, Obama took advantage of such moments to adjust the institutional relationship between these nominally private businesses and the state: firing the head of General Motors, urging the company to consolidate brands, pushing for new controls on Wall Street pay. But the institutions themselves were preserved, in some cases enriched. The radical thing to do would have been to let them collapse.

And no, I'm not using "radical" as a euphemism for "free-market libertarian." A radical Obama still might have extended assistance to the people displaced by the corporate failures, perhaps even setting up a generous guaranteed income scheme. He might have broken up the big banks. He might have done all sorts of things, some wiser than others. But he would not have strengthened the corporate-state partnerships bequeathed to him by Bush.

After the bailouts we had the "stimulus" package, which boiled down to this: You're cutting back on unsustainable consumption? Here: Spend more! Around the same time we got the cash for clunkers program, which took that same impulse and added incentives that undermined the salvage business and the second-hand car trade—markets that are far more decentralized, dynamic, and open to the participation of the poor than the automakers that accepted Obama's largesse.

Now we have health care reform. Here you might actually expect the president to veer in a new direction and let a powerful institution die. After all, it's been only six years since he described himself as "a proponent of a single-payer, universal health care plan," and if he were serious about that it would mean the end of the private health insurance industry. Single payer isn't on the table right now, but liberal Democrats are trying to push a "public option"—a government-run alternative for people who'd like to opt out of the available private plans—into the legislation. And the public option is, in the words of single-payer advocate Mark Schmitt, "a kind of stealth single-payer." So in health care at least, Obama's a radical, right?

I don't think so, for two reasons. First, it's increasingly unlikely that a public option will be a part of the bill that emerges, in which case we'll be left with an enormous boondoggle for the industry: a law requiring every American to buy health insurance or else face legal sanctions. Every other powerful institution in the health sector already supports the president's proposals. Indeed, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Medical Association, and the Federation of American Hospitals are sponsoring a multi-million-dollar ad campaign on the measures' behalf. If the public-option-free version of ObamaCare becomes the face of reform, don't be surprised if the insurers join them.

Second, and more important, a system with more government-provided insurance, even one with only government-provided insurance, would still accept the institutional premises of the present medical system. Consider the typical American health care transaction. On one side of the exchange you'll have one of an artificially limited number of providers, many of them concentrated in those enormous, faceless institutions called hospitals. On the other side, making the purchase, is not a patient but one of those enormous, faceless institutions called insurers. The insurers, some of which are actual arms of the government and some of which merely owe their customers to the government's tax incentives and shape their coverage to fit the government's mandates, are expected to pay all or a share of even routine medical expenses. The result is higher costs, less competition, less transparency, and, in general, a system where the consumer gets about as much autonomy and respect as the stethoscope. Radical reform would restore power to the patient. Instead, the issue on the table is whether the behemoths we answer to will be purely public or public-private partnerships.

So I can't agree with Horowitz, Hannity, or Andy Williams. The president could pal around with militiamen, hook a money hose from the Treasury to ACORN HQ, and sleep each night with a Zapatista plush doll, but as long as his chief concern is preserving and protecting the country's largest corporate enterprises, the biggest beneficiaries of his reign will be at the core of the American establishment.

I'm pretty sure that if Obama had rolled back the bail-outs to Wall Street, restored the civil liberties Dubya, Darth Cheney et al had curtailed and moved to de-escalate the crisis in 'Af-Pak' it would have split a lot of the Libertarian, isolationist elements of the Republican Party away from it. 'Triangulation' is all very well as a political strategy, but you can give the other side too much respect sometimes, especially one that thinks you are a Marxist-Muslim, terrorist foreigner. Furthermore, going out of your way to disrespect the people who voted for you is a good a cue as any for electoral meltdown, as the Conservatives here found out in 97 and NuLab will discover next year.

Getting me down, Part 1: The Banksters Are Back!

A year or so ago, the global financial system was facing its Dunkirk, with most of those oh-so-clever financial 'products' which were bringing it to its knees playing the role of the Luftwaffe's Stuka dive bombers.

'Dammit Squiffy- Collateralised Debt Obligations at 11 O'Clock!'

Now the strutting peacocks of Wall Street and the Square Mile are back, thanks to the largesse of the taxpayer, of course. Like George Orwell, who saw the retreat from Dunkirk as the signal for an English Revolution, only to see the 'Blimps' get back into control, we have seen the chance to change things dissipate bigtime, at least for the moment. In Britain this is much to do with the lack of a serious Left; in the US the election of Obama alleviated much of the mood of panic which existed there last Autumn. In the US it also helps the status quo that the Obama Administration is full of Goldman Sachs alumni and the economics profession has been largely captured the Federal Reserve. Indeed, a case can be made for disputing how much a crisis there was last Autumn and how much it was a confidence trick played by the banksters on the rest of us.