Sunday, May 29, 2011

Power, wealth, judges, rights, Giggs, misogyny, Murdoch and Goodwin

The media and lawyers specialising in media law are showing great ingenuity in trying to present their reporting of sex gossip stories as issues of high principle. First there was ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of the press’, now a lawyer writing in the Sunday Herald claims it’s a feminist fight against misogynist judges.

You may think that women being raped and murdered at the rate of one a day in Honduras, while the police refuse to do anything about it, is a more serious issue and that the papers should campaign against that instead. You might have thought that 420,000 women a year being raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a civil war that the big powers allow to continue because big firms based in their countries profit from it would be bigger news, if women’s rights were the issue. Unarmed women, men and children are all being shot down by tanks and snipers in Syria and Yemen (over 1,100 killed in Syria so far and over 150 in Yemen, thousands wounded).

The real outrage though, the most terrible oppression of all, is apparently that oppressive misogynist judges in the UK have tried to prevent newspapers and TV stations reporting on who a bank manager who is unpopular for completely unconnected reasons slept with. Even worse, these monsters went on to try to prevent them reporting a second earth shattering atrocity – footballer Ryan Giggs had consensual sex with reality TV star Imogen Thomas. Worst of all, as lawyer Paul March points out, is that Thomas was initially prevented from ‘commoditising’ the affair.

This is an interesting word to use though because it gets down to the real issue. These evil, evil judges were trying to stop newspapers, television stations and lawyers from making money by revealing the details of other peoples’ private lives –and that’s what it’s all about – money, profits, not principles. Rupert Murdoch and other newspaper owners having the right to spy on other peoples’ private lives (e.g by phone hacking and paying people ridiculous amounts of money for sordid details) in order to make himself wealthier and more politically influential is not freedom of speech. It’s not standing up to the powerful and wealthy either – it’s them throwing their weight around to send the message that no courts, laws or legal systems are going to stand in the way of them getting even richer by any means they feel like.

Now to be fair the Sunday Herald is way above the Murdoch press. In fact the Sunday Herald is mostly an excellent paper that doesn’t get involved in the fear and hate mongering, but it and the rest of the broadsheets and TV news stations seem to be moving towards the tabloids reporting priorities because they want a share of the sex gossip market.

The Sunday Herald even ‘commoditised’ the thing further (in a very minor way) by selling limited edition t-shirts of their ground breaking front cover that broke the startling news that some people have affairs with celebrities and sell their stories to newspapers.

Look at the damage it does to peoples’ families when they have affairs, most of the media say, as if plastering it all over the headlines of every newspaper and TV news bulletin for a week will make it so much better for them. Ryan Giggs’ wife has asked the reporters to f*** right off and doesn’t want the media to cover it, but the papers’ attitude seems to be - never mind her, there are bigger principles involved.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Even former Mossad and Shin Bet chiefs say negotiate with Hamas without preconditions

The claim that Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s right to exist and that this makes negotiations with them impossible has been made again, this time by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Neither the first part of the claim nor the second are true  and negotiations should start without preconditions.It’s not just me that says so but many Israeli experts including the former heads of Mossad and of Israel’s Shin Bet military intelligence.

 In 2005 Mohammed Ghazal of Hamas said “The Charter is not the Koran. Historically, we believe all Palestine belongs to Palestinians, but we're talking now about reality, about political solutions ... The realities are different...I don't think there will be a problem of negotiating with the Israelis” (1).

In 2006 Hamas signed up to a document proposing a Palestinian state only on the land annexed by Israel in the 1967 war (2)

In April 2006 CNN reported that a spokesman for the Hamas government "Mahmoud Zahar even mentioned the possibility of a “two-state” solution in which Palestinians have “freedom and independence side by side with our neighbours.”" (3)

In April 2008 Khaled Meshal of Hamas said Hamas would accept the result of any referendum of Palestinians that decided to accept Israel's existence, including on some land taken in the 1967 war. (4).

Photo: Khaled Meshal

In January 2009 Ghazi Hamad of Hamas said “We accept a state in the '67 borders...We are not talking about the destruction of Israel.” (5)

On 11th May this year Hamas' foreign minister (part of the Fatah-Hamas unity) government said he accepted the 1967 borders as the borders of an Israeli state (implying a two state solution, with Israel existing on the rest of its current territory) (6).

(Given the periods of all out war, politicians' tendencies to tell every audience what they think it wants to hear, the different factions in Hamas and Palestinians's anger after the 2008/9 Gaza "war" some Hamas spokesmen have also said the opposite, but realistically they know they wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of destroying Israel even if they wanted to)

Strictly speaking many of their offers have been of long-term 'hudna' or 'ceasefire' for 10 years or longer, but if there was peace for 10 years that'd give more influence to moderates on both sides and reduce the influence of hardliners. One expert has said the difference between a hudna and recognition is “semantics” (7) – (8).

As former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami and Israeli professor Yossi Alpher (among others) have said, full recognition comes at the end of peace negotiations, it shouldn't be a pre-condition for them. Israel never demanded Jordan or Egypt formally and fully recognise Israel before negotiations began (9) – (10).

Israeli historian and IDF veteran Avi Shlaim has written that “The only way for Israel to achieve security is…through talks with Hamas, which has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with [Israel] within its pre-1967 borders for 20, 30, or even 50 years.” (11)

In case you think all of the above people are some kind of unrealistic liberals, Efraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad says Israel should talk to Hamas, who have have proven they can relied on to abide by and enforce peace agreements and negotiations ; and the former head of Shin Bet (Israeli military intelligence) Shlomo Gazit says the pre-conditions the Israeli government have placed on negotiations are "ridiculous, or an excuse not to negotiate.” (12) – (13).

So Hamas does not need to recognise Israel before negotiations can take place.

Above - Efraim Halevy ; Below - Shlomo Gazit

Not negotiating with Hamas, even after it won Palestinian legislative elections found free and fair by election observers from the EU, the Carter Center and others, has resulted in the political wing of Hamas sometimes losing control of some factions of it’s military wing, the Al Qassam Brigades (14). This shifts influence in Hamas towards those who believe only force will work and undermines the position of those who want to negotiate.

The Israeli government thought that by using military attacks (including targeting civilians and the wounded) and blockades against Fatah under Arafat in the West Bank and Gaza they would force Arafat out of power and get a Palestinian leadership who would be willing to make peace on whatever terms Israel dictated. Predictably, this did not happen. Palestinians reacted to military attacks killing civilians along with combatants (and to many Fatah officials’ corruption) by electing Hamas (15) – (17).

Israeli government attempts to bomb, shell or blockade Palestinians into getting rid of Hamas have similarly failed so far – and if they succeed by continuing these methods the replacement will not be more moderate, but more extreme. It’s hard to believe the Israeli government don’t know this. Do we really expect Palestinians to react differently than Americans or Israelis would to the same treatment? Did September 11th make Americans more moderate?

 (Christian Palestinians iGaza say it’s not Hamas they fear, but those more extreme than them (18).)

UPDATE 5th June 2011 : A second former head of Mossad - Meir Dagan - has said recently that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak are "reckless" in threatening to attack Iran and irresponsible in refusing to make serious offers of peace to the Palestinians.(19)

Dagan is not in the least liberal or left wing. He was appointed head of Shin Bet by the notorious serial war criminal Ariel Sharon (then Israeli Prime Minister) in 2002 and Sharon never replaced him. So if Dagan thinks the Israeli government is heading too far to the right, be worried. The thought that Sharon was moderate compared to his successors is frightening.

Photo : Meir Dagan (left) and Ariel Sharon (right)

Dagan also implied another former Shin Bet head - Yuval Diskin (who has also recently been replaced) was equally at odds with Netanyahu and Barak.

This suggests Israeli governments attempts to keep replacing intelligence agency heads to get ones who'll accept a harder line is spinning out of control. They may end up with the equivalent of George Tenet as CIA director before and during the US invasion of Iraq - men who are more politicians than agents or analysts who tell them what they want to hear, rather than the facts, with potentially disastrous results.

Barak was also Defence Minister under the Labor party led coalition government during 'Operation Cast Lead' or 'the Gaza War' in December 2008/January 2009 and was previously Prime Minister in the 1990s. Dagan classing Netanyau and Barak as equally reckless is a confirmation of what many critics of Israeli government policy have been saying for a long time - the differences between the leadership of the Labor and Likud parties in foreign policy and in relation to the Palestinians are minimal. Both are hardliners.

With two former heads of Mossad and one former head of Shin Bet already openly condemning Israeli policy (under both Labor and Likud led governments) the Israeli government and it's blind adherents will have difficulty presenting this criticism and calls for more constructive policies as "anti-semitic' or "anti-Israeli" or biased. No doubt they'll try though. "Self-hating Jew" is the standard propaganda charge used against Jewish or Israeli critics.

(1) = Reuters/Ynet(Israel) 21 Sep 2005 ‘Hamas: We'll rethink call to destroy Israel’,,7340,L-3145475,00.html

(2) = BBC News 27 Jun 2006 ‘Hamas 'implicitly accepts Israel’,

(3) = CNN 05 Apr 2006 ‘Hamas official suggests 'two-state' solution’,

(4) = 21 April 2008 ‘We can accept Israel as neighbour, says Hamas’,

(5) = AP/Haaretz 01 Jan 2009 ‘Hamas: We will accept long-term truce if Gaza borders opened’,

(6) = NPR 26 May 2011 ‘Hamas Foreign Minister: We Accept Two-State Solution With '67 Borders’,

(7) = AP 21 Apr 2008 ‘Hamas offers truce in return for 1967 borders’,

(8) = Forward 09 Feb 2007 ‘Experts Question Wisdom of Boycotting Hamas’,

(9) = Times 26 Feb 2009 ‘Peace will be achieved only by talking to Hamas’,

(10) = Forward 20 Oct 2006 ‘Preconditions for a Problematic Partner’,

(11) = Guardian 07 Jan 2009 ‘How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe’,

(12) = Interview with Efraim Halevy in Mother Jones Magazine 10 Feb 2008 ‘Israel's Mossad, Out of the Shadows’,

(13) = Forward 09 Feb 2007 ‘Experts Question Wisdom of Boycotting Hamas’,

(14) = International Herald Tribune 21 July 2006, ‘Gaza militants don't follow Hamas political leadership’,

(15) = 08 Apr 2002 ‘Sharon defies calls to end offensive’,

(16) = CNN 12 Mar 2001 ‘Sharon defends West Bank blockade’

(17) = The Economist 26 Feb 2002 ‘Arafat confined’,

(18) = AFP 25 Oct 2007 ‘Gaza Christians fear 'those more extreme than Hamas'’,

(19) = 03 Jan 2011 'Israel government 'reckless and irresponsible' says ex-Mossad chief',

Monday, May 23, 2011

The outcry against super-injunctions on reporting private lives is about selling papers to make money

The newspapers’ outcry over the super-injunction against reporting which footballer had an affair has nothing to do with the public interest and everything to do with trying to sell papers and make money. Bank executives and footballers are over-paid and under-regulated, but knowing who they had sex with does nothing to sort that.

As I said in my last post (on the injunction taken out by banker Fred Goodwin) the appeals to the public interest are just playing with words. The public interest refers to things that affect the public’s interests – i.e which might harm them if they didn’t know them, or which they have a right to know (e.g because taxpayers’ money is involved). It does not mean whatever gossip some of the public might be interested in.

If newspapers win their battle to keep reporting sex gossip then the public interest will be seriously harmed as media coverage which should be about serious issues that do affect us all will go to who shagged who instead.

I’m pretty sure the original tweets on Giggs will have been sent by Sun or New of the World journalists who were looking to get round the injunction so they could keep publishing their grubby “investigations” of celebrities private lives to make money from them. The twitter users who then responded to the supposed threat to "online freedom" when Giggs tried to sue the original culprits were unwittingly helping out Murdoch and Kelvin Mackenzie and their kind. That's apart from the fact that there's no more moral right for anyone to make other peoples' private lives public online than there is anywhere else.

The press should be pushing for the lifting of some Ministry of Defence D-notices which have been used to cover up issues relating to torture and failure to equip troops properly and ‘commercial confidentiality’ clauses in PFI and PPP contracts which are used to prevent the public knowing how much of their money is going to PPP consortia.

No amount of sex gossip will prevent another financial crisis or reduce the unfairness that sees bankers and footballers paid millions while the average person in the UK earns around £20,000 per year, with many much, much worse off – unemployed, in poverty, or homeless.

Only re-regulation of the banks will prevent another financial crisis. This would have to include a legal ban on high street savings banks being involved in high risk investment banking, a ban on financial derivatives such as the CDOs which package good debt with bad – and a delay of say 10 years for receiving bonuses to force bank executives to look to the long term. The deregulation from the 80s on has forced them to prioritise high profits and high share dividends this quarter or else be replaced by someone who will.

To deal with inequality and unfair pay the minimum wage needs to keep rising above the rate of inflation; and there could be a 90% tax on individual income above £250,000 a year.

For either to work we need to close down the tax havens which allow the wealthiest and the biggest firms to both avoid tax and keep their financial dealings secret so that they can’t be effectively regulated by anyone.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

There is no public interest involved in publishing gossip about sex – only money grubbing and distracting from real issues

Whatever Fred Goodwin's faults, the whole world does not have a right to hear every detail of his private life, or anyone else's

I'm not an admirer of the job Fred Goodwin did as head of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), but who he had an affair with is none of anyone's business except maybe his wife.

There's a ludicrous idea in Britain, promoted by tabloid hacks who profit from it, that if someone is famous, a politician, or was in a high paid job the entire world has the moral right to know about every detail of their private lives. They don't. There's no public interest involved, because 'public interest' does not mean 'anything some of the public are interested in knowing - including gossip about peoples' private lives', it means something that affects the public's interests - i.e which would harm them if they don't know it and/or benefit them if they did.

All this coverage of peoples' sex lives is just a distraction from the real issues - and anyone who thinks the banking crisis was just down to who was running the banks at the time and their personal failings simply doesn't understand the problem.

The problem is deregulation, which results in any executive of a company that doesn't only look to how they can maximise profits this quarter (whatever the long term risks or losses) being replaced by someone who will - or being put out of business, or being taken over by a company that will.

Unless the banks and other firms are regulated properly – which will also require closing down the tax havens that allow enough secrecy to make regulation impossible - this will happen again and again and again.

The money grubbers like Rupert Murdoch, former Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie and the bin raking ‘private detectives’ the Murdoch empire hire, like Glenn Mulcaire, pretend that they are upholding moral values, serving the public interest and exposing hypocrisy. No-one could be greater hypocrites than they are, as they peddle gossip to make money, distracting attention from real issues such as how much tax (if any) billionaires, newspaper editors like Kelvin Mackenzie and big firms like News International pay in the UK.

Kelvin Mackenzie

In fact we know Murdoch’s News International used (legal) tax avoidance to avoid paying any net tax whatsoever in the UK between 1989 and 1999.

We also know that in addition to being involved in buying information obtained by illegal illegal phone hacking, Murdoch’s papers have also paid police for information on peoples’ private lives. Rebekah Wade (now Brooks) slipped up in 2003 by admitting as (then) editor of the Sun that the paper paid police for information on celebrities which it then published. Brooks is now Chief Executive of News International (the UK subsidiary of Murdoch's News Corp).

We also know MacKenzie and the Sun have often printed outright lies based on rumours, such as their stories about Elton John having had sex with underage rent boys and removing the voice boxes of his guard dogs. John Pilger wrote of one headline in The Sun under Mackenzie referring to Australian aborigines as ‘The Abos – brutal and dangerous’.

In fact MacKenzie has sunk so low so many times in his hate-mongering, lies and gossip about others that he really has no moral high ground from which to criticise other people.

There are some real private investigators who investigate the serious issues by looking at the business and political frauds committed by some of the most powerful people, political parties, governments, criminals and companies. These are people who risk vilification and sometimes death to give people the truth – people like John Pilger, Greg Palast, Robert Fisk, Peter Maass, the late Veronica Guerin and Shane Bauer (currently being held as a highly unlikely ‘US spy’ by Iran’s government.) Kelvin Mackenzie and his associates are a joke compared to them, a sad travesty of what real investigative journalists and editors should be.

Some of the other things you will never see raised in most tabloids are the vast rip-off of taxpayers and the NHS through PFI and PPP contracts, which make taxpayers pay more for cut services; the double subsidy they’re paying to privatised rail companies (above inflation fare rises plus government subsidy), the subsidy to the nuclear industry and the subsidies to arms manufacturer British Aerospace; and tax havens used to avoid paying income and corporation tax, pushing up taxes for the majority.

These are all cases of the majority subsidising the very richest on a scale that makes the expenses scandal look like a baby pissing into the Atlantic. Instead the tabloids will tell you that your money is being “stolen” by the unemployed, even though there have never been enough jobs for everyone in booms or recessions, that “immigrants” are “stealing” it (even though many are fleeing death by starvation, lack of medical care or being tortured or shot – and benefits paid to them are well below the amount paid to citizens) , or that trade unions are. Then they’ll tell you who shagged who (or who some false rumour says shagged who) – and sadly many people are taken for mugs, while Murdoch and friends play them for every penny they’ve got.

I remember as a teenager in 1986 seeing a Sun front page with the headline ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’. Not long afterwards Reagan bombed Tripoli in Libya, with Prime Minister Thatcher giving the planes permission to refuel in Britain without even informing parliament never mind having a vote on it. The raid killed a small girl among others. There was a tiny column on this in The Sun that day with a picture of a plane on one side of the page covering this story in two sentences. That sums up the methods of Kelvin Mackenzie and those like him – blind people with bullshit to distract them from the real issues.