Saturday, July 23, 2011

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels cont.

Nearly seven inches of rain fell in about ninety minutes in Chicago early this morning. Awakened by the commotion, I can tell you it was as if my apartment was going through a carwash. It was the highest daily rain total for this city, which is home territory for torrential downpours, in 140 years of record keeping. Number two, by the way, about a half-inch shy of this morning's sum, was three years ago.

Yep my friends, something is abroad in the land, a system-wide disdain for human plans and political positions, an indifference to the best made plans. New rules are in place and even the stupidest climate-change denier must be feeling a certain unease at this summer's events.

No, check that, the stupidest ones likely think this is part of some great plan in which they have starring roles to play. That is certainly the case in D.C. (because everything is connected) where I now put even odds on default, a drop from 3-1 against in a few days. Stated earlier are the four reasons why I think it'll happen. The fifth being that the president, as I thought, for all his high-minded policy flexibility, can and did draw a line.

According to the L.A. Times, the collapse came when the White House wanted to up the scope of the deal to something along the lines of the senate work group proposal (let us note in passing, a fairly rightest plan), while the GOP wanted to hold the health insurance mandate hostage to insure Democratic complicity to tax "reforms". This strikes me as the last cards from both sides; the President wanted something transformative, and the GOP wanted a scalp.

It is worth noting that Republicans are mainly trying to make substantial policy changes divorced from writing and voting on any distinct legislation doing so. I know I'm a little boring on the subject, but this is a tactic of a bankrupt political party; its articulated policies are broadly unpopular, its ruling philosophy utterly schitzophrenic, its leadership fractured, and with yet enough power to presume to control events even as events spin out of anyone's control.

The Republic has been here before, and while I can't say if the collapse of the Whig party led inevitably to the Civil War, or if momentum towards the war tore apart the Whigs, the two events are intimately connected. Though I have been predicting the end of the GOP for a while, what I didn't appreciate until very recently is how when one party in a two party system implodes, the consequences for the nation, in the short term at least, are really very serious.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Day In The Lie

Oh what to make of today's Murdoch hearing? That members of both all three political parties asked tough and pressing questions was enough to make the old man wish this were happening in the U.S. Senate, where the Republican half of his inquisitors could be counted on to tell him what a great man he is, attack the motives of the majority, and apologize for his having to testify in the first place.

No, money does not mean quite as much in Blighty as it does in the States, where it means everything. One might note too the generally higher intelligence level on display in Parliamentary proceedings than in our highest legislative chambers. Fact is, Americans have always been suspicious of smart people in public life, possibly for broadly democratic reasons and the idea that a stupid politician is easier to control and less likely to cause trouble on his or her own.

James Murdoch, with his American accent and occasionally British pronunciation, came off well enough, I reckon--nervous, helpful, deferential, concerned, and opaque when necessary. One senses that he'd much rather spend his days in the relatively clean and cool lairs of TV and new media. I'm betting that when dad goes, so do the messy old print properties.

The Dirty Digger looked done and dusted, gruff and out-of-it, and certainly gave no evidence of being fit enough to helm a multi-national communications corporation--at least one that's publicly traded. His dignity was saved somewhat when that fuckwit assaulted him with shaving cream, a despicable thing to do to any 80-year-old, especially one giving testimony, for which he should spend several years in gaol; but what will be remembered going forward was a stern old man fond of pounding the table who yet claims ignorance with how a good part of his U.K. business operated.

His denials were not particularly convincing and could be capsized by the criminal investigations. Indeed, the next phase of the drama will be if, or when, the Murdochs will be called upon to add to or amend their testimony in light of further revelations. Because young James was both insistant of what he knows now, and evasive enough, especailly in regard to paying hush money, to lead one to believe he was being prudent in light of fresh revelations.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Liar In Winter, Cont.

Rupe is to give testimony (with his son) tomorrow regarding the phone hacking scandal to a panel of MPs. People who know think he won't do well. Be that as it may, as Murdoch's world implodes what should be kept in mind is that no matter the legal outcome--which is years away--the grip he had on the imagination, the public and political mind of Great Britain is gone forever. He might be able to keep some of the juice he has in the States after this, though I doubt it.

It's clear that News Corp. channeled a river of money flowing from cable TV and network sports into any number of questionable (from a strictly financial perspective) if altogether legal investments, to criminal escapades like bribery, industrial and private espionage run by a cadre of goons masquerading as journalists; the main object being to create and maintain a growing bubble of power with the Dirty Digger at its center.

What's notable is how self-reinforcing the project was, that money paid for access, which led to power, and more money, and access, as the influence spread from Australia to the U.K. to the United States. Soon enough a reputation for brains, ruthlessness, and success became a fantasy which bears very little relation to the easily-disregarded human toll of the many victims, underlying political realities, and financial missteps that cannot be wished away. In the end the whole project became so unfeasibly supercharged that all it took was one little story about a murdered girl's voicemail and the whole rotten thing popped like a dead pig in the sun.

The outsized nature of Murdoch's reputation, the idea that he was smarter and more powerful than he apparently was, has vanished in the last ten days. Depend on it, no one of any consequence is afraid of him anymore, and a lot of his former dependents are sorry they know him. This is a fatal blow to an enterprise which has relied on intimidation and illusion for so long. It was all a stupid dream.

Jumping The Shark Jumps The Pond

On Saturday, I wrote that While evidence of outright thuggery in the States has yet to appear, everyone seems to be taking a sensible wait-and-see attitude [...] You can now rest easy knowing that such evidence has shown up, in fact was in something like the public record, as the estimable David Carr reports this A.M.:

In 2009, a federal case in New Jersey brought by a company called Floorgraphics went to trial, accusing News America [a News Corp. marketing subsidiary] of, wait for it, hacking its way into Floorgraphics’s password protected computer system.

(Really, the whole article is required reading.) The case was settled out-of-court to the tune of 655 million scarole, with the plaintiff company quickly purchased by the defendant too. So let us add over two-thirds of a billion dollars to the list of recent News Corp. losses noted earlier here. What's more, the guilty chief of News America has since been named publisher of the loss-leading N.Y. Post, a position he fills today.

I might be wrong, but it feels that, with Carr's piece, the Times is announcing a more active stance regarding its reporting of the Murdoch crime family here in the States. Who knows where it might lead, and one hopes that this possibly new sense of mission and fight has everything to do with the pending departure of the inane Bill Keller as ed-in-chief.

UPDATE: And of course there's the matter of certain Brit-celebs who had their phones hacked while on U.S. soil.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Numbers Crunk

As much as one agrees with the overall points made by the London Obsever's Will Hutton regarding Murdoch's influence on the D.C. budget madness (and more of that here anon) the notion that, I quote: Fox News, [has] an audience of 100 million... is absurd, and wrong by a factor of 35.

The latest ratings for that mighty propaganda network total on the short side of 2.5 million viewers (aka less than one percent of the population.) It is in fact a measure of the inanity of our media landscape that what Bill Paley would have considered a rounding error 50 years ago is felt to be so goddamn influential. That people who should know better have for years credited the dwarf with a giant's stature, is one more indication of where Murdoch's power will be once the reality principle is finished with him.

Rupe's Snoops' Deep Poop, Cont.

I had to look it up, but, sure enough, I came up with this nearly two years ago about what I suspected was the looming failure of the Dirty Digger's business:

Depend on it, outside of its pathetic share price, we will not hear about the impending collapse of the Murdoch empire until after it has happened and no one can pretend anymore.

As it transpired, the implosion has been very public and in real time. Still, no one can pretend things are okay, and the celerity of the implosion conforms to another truism I'm fond of, namely that when things collapse, they collapse very fast.

While I admire the paranoid verve of the British MP who suspects this morning's unexpected arrest of Rebekah Brooks was to keep her from giving testimony to a Parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday (at the Guardian blog) one has to think it happened because some new evidence of thuggery popped-up sometime in the last 24-48. No, madame was pinched without warning. If it were the States I'd suspect a plea bargain for sworn testimony is on the table, but recall that in Olde Blighty, one is guilty until proven innocent, so maybe the authorities are not looking to make deals right now.

To reiterate, I expected Murdoch's ruin to come in the shape of revelations of financial chicanery, an idea I am loathe to give up on just yet.

UPDATE: Oh, dear. Apparently Mrs. Brooks' arrest comes as part of an investigation by the Crown's Serious Fraud Office.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

News Crips

Yesterday saw an apparently abject R. Murdoch begging forgiveness from the parents of the murdered schoolgirl whose voicemail his goons manipulated; not to mention the resignation of two of his closest fixers who were in charge of things during the in-house phone hacking project. One of these worthies was the head of Dow Jones, the U.S. company Rupe paid way too much money for, which publishes the, uhm, Wall Street Journal.

While evidence of outright thuggery in the States has yet to appear, everyone seems to be taking a sensible wait-and-see attitude about it. Frankly, in such an arrogant, macho, and belligerent corporate culture, one in which paranoia also has its place, conditions seem perfect for some kind of surveillance operation, if only against its own employees, quite distinct from the News of the World campaign.

We shall see, but in the meantime it is getting clearer by the day that even if no smoking wiretap is uncovered by the Feds, the corporate culture at News Corp is about to undergo a pronounced readjustment. A British investment blogger (via the terrific Guardian feed)
spells it out:

[Let's say] that I am the CEO of a public company. If I had indulged in the following:

1. Paid >$500m for MySpace and then sold it for $35m;
2. Paid $5.7bn for Dow Jones and written off $2.8bn;
3. Paid $615m for my daughter's business;
5. My company’s shares had underperformed for 15 years;
6. And some of my staff had engaged in criminal phone hacking and bribing Police officers and this had been covered up by my management.

I think the shareholders would have had me fired.

[...] why hasn't Murdoch been fired?


To the list I'd add the N.Y. Post which has been famously losing a million dollars a week (or more) for almost two decades, and the FOX business channel which--last I heard anyway--was venting money outward at a brisk pace.

Mr. Smith is nice enough to answer his own question: because the Murdoch’s control News Corp through differential voting rights: the Murdoch’s own 40% of the B voting shares. The much more numerous A shares have no votes, so the Murdoch’s are able to control a company in which they own only 13% of the issued share capital.

(And let me say in passing how discouraging it is to see an educated Englishman misusing the apostrophe as thoroughly as any U.S. high-schooler.)

Grammatical issues aside however, Mr. Smith raises a jolly good point, and one suspects that if all those class A shareholders have anything to say about it, the days of News Corp. remaining a family enterprise are numbered and few. (The latest Guardian story about who's up and down in such an eventuality gets the stock class conditions wrong, but is worth a read.)

The writer here seems to think that one winner would be Roger Ailes, but of that I wonder. Rupe has been Roge's chief shield from reasonable voices in and outside the company who consider his propaganda operation something of a national disgrace. The story also repeats the common proposition that FUX News makes money hand over fist--to which I've often wondered here how a channel whose top-rated shows attract no more than 2.5 mil. rather old viewers might qualify as such. If someone feels like explaining in comments, I'm all ears.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels cont.

Being something of a betting individual, I'll stick with my prediction--currently at 3-1--that the House will let the debt limit fail. I noted the main reasons a few days ago, to which I'll add that enough players, albeit a minority, want the thing to crash. It's gone on too long and the tolerances are very tight.

I'll add too that nearly everyone believes that the president will do the adult thing and cave at the last best chance. Me? I'm not so sure. Let's see what Reid and McConnell come up with, but our chief executive has already said he wants a deal that includes new revenues. He's also long railed against Washington business-as-usual and advocated shared sacrifice. (See where this is going?)

So what if he decides that shared sacrifice includes a shock to the system--one that abruptly ends business as usual? The senate fix, however expedient, sets a terrible precedent for the future well-being of the state. What if he refuses to trade away core social programs to a radical minority rump lacking any kind of mandate and with a jackass for a leader? Americans are strong and resourceful people, he is fond of saying, and he was sent to Washington to make tough decisions. How tough? We're about to find out.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Face Worse Than Death

It's been fascinating these last few days to see Rupert Murdoch's photographed expression go so rapidly from smarmy arrogance, which was standard for decades, to dotty gramps. Okay, he's 80 and probably has not gotten a lot of sleep--of the unmedicated variety--for ten days; but still I can't decide if the vacant, affable grin now plastered on for the cameras is there on instructions from his image consultant, indicates a steady loss of brain function, or if he is simply drifting into a charmed revery, picturing what he would do if positions were reversed and he had the whip.

Or maybe he's marveling in a grown-up manner at the workings of Fate, on how everything he's built his whole life--after inheriting dad's newspaper business, anyway--is just one grant of immunity in U.S District Court away from crumbling into sand.

UPDATE: Forbes and the phiz

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Liar In Winter

What a difference a day or two makes, huh? The past 24 hours have not only seen the effective, and long-pending, implosion of the GOP (Wonder which of the splinters gets to keep the name? Probably the Banking wing) but the sudden collapse in the fortunes--one long-predicted here--of Rupert Murdoch.

Now admittedly, my suspicions regarding the Dirty Digger's fate relied more on a gut sense than any reading of wind currents. To my way of seeing things, any big operation which relies on swagger, rabble-rousing politics, and intimidation to grow its brand (and, no, I'm not referring to the Republican Party, but the parallel is striking) very likely has something hinkey under the hood, a financial structure over which accountants may disagree, and that may not survive close inspection by legal authorities. Let us recall the fate of the little-remembered Robert Maxwell, once Rupe's main rival in British media piracy whose empire's finances were revealed to be a colossal fraud just hours after the proprietor's fat corpse was found floating in the ocean not far from his yacht. (Was Cap'n Bob pushed? Who cares?)

The main problem of growing big by being Chief Bastard is that, once the image wobbles, those who've had to take shit for so long are eager to return it, with interest. I do believe we'll discover more about News Corp's finances now that its bid for a majority share of BSkyB has been withdrawn, and it's tossed out about $5 billion in a bid to prop-up its stock price, which for years has been oddly soft for a putatively mighty media giant. And honestly, if it turns out that elements of the organization were also spying on Americans, Murdoch's whole rancid operation will be a lovely pile of lawsuits by Christmas.

UPDATE: (via Balloon Juice) If anyone was a target of those goons in the U.S., it was Eliot Spitzer. Is he signaling something here?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

R.I.P. GOP

Mitch McConnell is not a smart person, indeed he may be the dumbest one in the highest position of power in Washington. So it is altogether fitting that today, with his inane proposal on the debt ceiling, that he should ring down the curtain on the GOP as a national force in politics. T'was a day long in the making. Kevin Drum explains (albeit without my gloss.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Midnight In The Garden Of Goobers And Weasels cont.

While conventional, old-hand political observers are certain a debt deal will be made by Aug. 2 I've believed for some time that it will not, and in the wake of the president's pitch-perfect press conference this morning, I'll outline the reasons which no one in the MSM or even Bloglandia have articulated in public. They are simple:

1) Republican leadership in Washington hates President Obama, and will refuse to agree to anything which looks like a win for him.

2) The no-tax pledge is the only issue keeping the dumb GOP coalition together, and they know it. If any House Republicans help pass any new forms of tax revenue, their whole well-funded jackass project implodes forever.

3) Eric Cantor, Jon Kyle, and Mitch McConnell are not very bright, and have no idea what they're screwing with. John Boehner, whom I credit with having more brains than the others put together, never had the needed control of his caucus in the first place, and is now toast.

4) Autocracies and oligarchs are perfectly willing to destroy a social system they can no longer dominate. Examples of this litter history; and we are currently observing the 150th anniversary of the last time it happened here.

The Dirty Digger's Dust

You need to read allll the way to the end of this ABC News write-up of the Murdoch Mess before it mentions that, gee, those sociopaths also own FOX News and the Wall Street Journal. I submit that this information belongs in the second paragraph of a story headlined "Will His Empire Survive?" being, you know, a big part of the empire in the nation Murdoch, presumably, votes in.

This is, of course, emblematic of the system in which that creep has thrived: informed, meritocratic, short-sighted and utterly blinkered to the needs of anything but itself. As newspapers and magazines have withered and died, and TV audiences shrunk, Murdock and his gang gained a certain lustre in the rest of the field. One might disagree over politics and methods, but damn they're smart and what they're doing works. There was also that lingering sense of fear unease that to get on the Dirty Digger's wrong side closed too many doors to count in what may be now laughingly referred to as a profession.

Journalists take pride in access and--in the political and business press especially--the superior knowledge gained thereby. Good stories, interesting, informative, and clear, come out every day, almost none of it of lasting value. In the U.S. the main topic of the biz press is the American Project, and the greatness--albeit with the inevitable shocks that come from a Free Market--of its dynamic results. Political writers love the scrum and the sheltering idea that there are no good actors, only power centers. As a consequence, journalists, ones with mortgages anyway, love to be with winners, and tend to regard the rest of us, the poor, the uneducated, the naive, the dissidents and discontented, as suckers who don't know how things work.

Meanwhile they hew to old narratives, corrosive ideas of balance, and a fealty to white collar hierarchies. Of the latter, the Murdoch Empire is hardly the most sociopathic, only--by the nature of its business--more exposed.

UPDATE: K. Drum, and B. Somersby, on our white collar press.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rupe's Snoops' Deep Poop 2

We interrupt our aimless series of book reports to revisit one of my favorite long-term hobby horses: the pending collapse of the Murdock Empire. Noted here last January was a series of revelations regarding the wiretapping, or phone hacking in contemporary parlance, of British politicians and media figures by stooges of the Dirty Digger. I thought the game was up then; but as outrageous as the revelations were, the whole thing seemed rather par-for-the-course to a mostly jaded U.K. public, and not at all a subject for widespread press inquiry. Then things changed.

Last week news arrived that the Murdocperatives accessed the voice mails of crime victims, the families of dead soldiers, and even deleted messages left for a 13-year-old girl who later turned up dead. Please know that while in America murdered children are subjects of morbid curiosity and--if there's a hot, white mom involved--mainly self-serious media displays, in Britain, a far-more compassionate society than ours, they are taken Very Seriously Indeed. A spark was touched, the gas ignited, and things are still exploding.

How long before folks at FUX are implicated? A matter of days is a decent bet.

UPDATE: Wowie: James Murdoch could face criminal charges on both sides of the Atlantic

UPDATE II: Kevin Drum seems to think so too.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Sunday Review


The Gift
Vladimir Nabokov

A dense and down-to-earth work shot-through with a lyrical imagination that gives certain vividly-seen details of everyday life an enchanted existence of their own; Nabokov stakes a claim to his own genius, his own gift, in rendering the two-tiered interior monologue of his near-double and main character, Fyodor Godunov-Cherdynstev, a young Russian nobleman--a poet and struggling author--negotiating life as an exile in '20s Berlin.

Nabokov's last Russian novel, The Gift is probably his frankest depiction of a poetic mysticism which informs the rest of his mature fiction. Time is an illusion, he posits, and life obscures the true reality of a boundless, and Godless, existence of pure unity and radiant observation we reach upon death. Solitary Fyodor seems to float through a fairly shabby life of rented rooms, mended clothes, genteel poverty, and the loneliness of a society of bickering and pathetic exiles, with the serene indifference of a genius secure on a true path.

Fyodor finds his voice as an author (Chapter Four is his literary biography of the 19th-century Russian political thinker and novelist Chernyshevski) just as fate brings him together with the love of his life. Buoyed by his artist's sense of wonder at the world revealed to him, his victory is one of art and fortitude.

On another plane, The Gift seems to both sum up Russian literature (Nabokov seems to note and review every Russian writer, good or bad, of any consequence) and then cast it aside. His creative sense of self-worth precludes any deep identification with other authors, and his literary sensibility is closer to those French and English writers he admires over every Russian author except Pushkin. It is the Russian language--young Fyodor’s greatest gift--which Nabokov prizes far more than Russian literature and, with this book, bids it farewell forever.