Amid all the suffocating claptrap celebrating Margaret Thatcher in the media, only the British themselves seem able to provide a refreshing hit of brisk reality. Over here, she is the paragon of principle known as the “Iron Lady,” devoted to freedom, democracy, and traditional values who bolstered the West against encroaching darkness. Over there, she is seen clearly as a class warrior, whose chief accomplishments involved busting unions and breaking the post-war social contract.
Promoting the economic doctrines of the far right – whose eager acolytes in the Tea Party today revere her – Thatcher helped to hasten the decline of the venerable English village whose values she claimed to represent. “There is no better course for understanding free-market economics than life in a corner shop,” she once wrote, recalling her upbringing in the little grocery store that her father operated in the town of Grantham. But as a left-leaning British writer observed acidly, her “free-market” policies “led to the domination of small-town life by supermarkets and other powerful corporations.”
In the hometown she left behind, factories were shuttered and coal mines closed, owing to her policies – which may be why not so long ago, the vast majority of the town’s residents expressed opposition to erecting a bronze statue of her.
Indeed, much as she emphasized her humble roots – a theme echoed constantly in the American media – the less romantic fact is that Thatcher’s path to 10 Downing Street was paved with the fortune of her husband Denis, a millionaire businessman. It was not an image that matched her self-portrait as a hardworking grocer’s daughter, but it turned out to be the template for the policies she pursued as prime minister – cracking down hard on unruly workers; cutting aid to the poor, even milk for children; and privatizing public services for better or worse, but always to the benefit of the financial class.
At the same time that she and her ideological companion Ronald Reagan were smashing labor on both sides of the Atlantic, with lasting consequences for equality and democracy, they voiced support for workers in Eastern Europe, where unions rose up against Stalinism and Soviet domination. Workers’ rights were to be defended in the East, and abrogated in the West.
Three decades later, her ideological heirs continue to prosecute class warfare against public and private sector workers, seeking to deprive them of the same rights that she and Reagan supposedly held sacrosanct in communist Poland. Seeking to complete the Thatcherite crusade against organized labor, America’s Tea Party governors are now trying to undermine and virtually abolish the right to unionize in their states.
The justification for this sustained assault on working families, then and now, was to prevent inflation and promote economic growth. Yet the result of Thatcher’s policies was unemployment that hovered around 10 percent during most of her rule, and inflation that remained around 5 percent. Hardly a roaring success, even when measured against the current weak recovery.
In a statement released by the White House, President Obama said that her death meant the loss of “one of the world’s great champions of freedom and liberty” – a peculiar tribute from the first black U.S. president, considering that Thatcher, like Reagan, defended the apartheid regime in South Africa from its Western critics.
She opposed the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, the leader of the African National Congress who later became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, referring to him as a “terrorist.” In 1984, she reversed longstanding British foreign policy by hosting a state visit by white South African president P.W. Botha. And although she defeated Argentina’s military junta in the Falklands war, Thatcher befriended the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet – even inviting him to her home in England when he was under investigation for human rights atrocities.
Here in America, at least, the pap mythology surrounding Thatcherism – its putative successes and purity of purpose – contrasts with the reality of a cruel and contradictory ideology whose malignant impact lives on without its namesake.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, April 9, 2013
Today’s Wall Street Journal editorial has the title “News and its Critics”—obviously, it’s missing a word. The piece’s real title should be “News Corp and its Critics,” or even better, “News Corp vs. its Critics.” It’s a piece by News Corp, for News Corp. The problem is, the ugly 1044-word attack on the company’s “competitor-critics” alternates between catty defensiveness, a drunk beat poet, and utter incomprehensibility. One can only stand in awe of a conglomerate that would mass print an “aw-shucks” apology across one country while sending the Journal to do its dirty work in another. Some of the editorial’s phrases are almost self-parodying:
The overnight turn toward righteous independence recalls an eternal truth: Never trust a politician.
The Schadenfreude is so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw.
Especially redolent are lectures about journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur.
But, beyond redolence, imprimaturs, chainsaws, and Schadenfreude, the editorial’s argument—insofar as one is discernible—is so dishonest that it has the opposite of its intended effect. You come out of the piece trusting News Corp and the Journal far less than you might have before.
The first “point”:
Phone-hacking is illegal, and it is up to British authorities to enforce their laws. If Scotland Yard failed to do so adequately when the hacking was first uncovered several years ago, then that is more troubling than the hacking itself.
Of course, when “the hacking was first uncovered several years ago,” News Corp did a more than adequate job of bribing British authorities to keep them at bay. As David Carr pointed out yesterday, the company’s fondness of drowning legal problems in hush money has been pervasive, far from the domain of a single tabloid. “We didn’t get caught” is about as bad an excuse as they come, especially with the tactful omission of “…because we bribed the police.”
The second point is a dicey defense of resigned Journal publisher Les Hinton, which fails to mention the reason for his resignation: ostensibly, the two times he stood before the Houses of Parliament and said that only one News International journalist had ever hacked a phone.
The piece then moves inexplicably into self-defense mode, claiming that, well, even if News Corp is a bit unsavory, the company has improved the Wall Street Journal. Of course, a revitalized Journal must be of great consolation to hacking victims, who must also “shudder to think what the Journal would look like” under the dreary Bancrofts. And so we breeze right along to find the paper arguing for the legality of paying sources for information. But “the Wall Street Journal doesn’t pay sources for information.” So who does? Other News Corp outlets?
Again, we move on too fast to find out, and close with the same shoddy reasoning that Murdoch himself has already aired out in the Journal’s pages. Namely, that News of the World’s behavior constituted nothing more than journalistic overreach, and that cracking down on News Corp means inhibiting freedom of the press:
Do our media brethren really want to invite Congress and prosecutors to regulate how journalists gather the news?
News Corp outlets broke the law. And yet, the word “crime” is not mentioned once in the editorial. The Journal goes for a brazen euphemism, instead claiming that the tabloid’s “excesses” do not damage the reputation of its sister outlets:
The News of the World’s offense—fatal, as it turned out—was to violate the trust of its readers by not coming about its news honestly. We realize how precious that reader trust is, and our obligation is to re-earn it every day.
The News of the World’s “offense” was to commit crimes, then lie and bribe to cover them up. “Trust” is a convenient, slippery term for the Journal to use. But surely, a paper of such clout must realize that its readers know the difference between breaking trust and breaking the law. At any rate, it’s likely that News Corp is soon to find out for itself.
By: Alex Klein, Guest Columnist, The New Republic, July 18, 2011
So here’s the synopsis of my forthcoming exposé emulating Evelyn Waugh’s novel “Scoop.” I conceived it during an email exchange with a French friend who’s an expert on the British satirist.
The working title is “Scantily Clad.”
A tabloid newspaper hires buxom ladies to “have it off,” as the Brits say, with politicians, celebrities, members of the royal family and the Manchester United Football Club. Once done, the editors hire a hitman to kill them off, and a psychic to help Scotland Yard find the bodies — preferably naked in luxury hotel suites or stately country homes with riding stables and formal gardens.
Is there a serial killer among the aristocrats? Millions of yobbos (working-class folks) demand to know. Enter an intrepid French politician with a hyphenated name to expose the plot by exposing himself to a buxom hotel maid dispatched by the Daily Wank to seduce him…
OK, that’s enough. Even if I could write fiction, I couldn’t write British fiction. Besides, satire depends upon comic exaggeration, while the deepening scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s News International corporation has far surpassed my puerile imaginings.
After all, prostitutes get bumped off every day in this fallen world. For a newspaper to exploit the families of kidnapped 13-year-old girls, the victims of terrorist attacks, and the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, implies an indifference to human dignity that can only be described as depraved. All that and more was apparently done by Murdoch’s now-defunct News of the World.
News International shuttered the weekly tabloid in a transparent attempt to pretend that executives have been shocked by the transgressions of overzealous staffers.
Meanwhile, the Sun, Murdoch’s other London tabloid, obtained the medical records of then Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s 4-month-old son. Brown said that he and his wife were “in tears” on learning that their infant’s cystic fibrosis would decorate the newspaper’s front page.
Brown has accused another Murdoch newspaper, the allegedly respectable Sunday Times, of hiring “known criminals” to rummage through his bank accounts, legal records and tax returns.
“If I,” Brown has said, “with all the protection and all the defenses and all the security that a chancellor of the Exchequer or a prime minister, am so vulnerable to unscrupulous tactics, to unlawful tactics, methods that have been used in the way we have found, what about the ordinary citizen?”
So that’s lesson one. Privacy in the digital age no longer exists. The more fortunate or, in the case of victims of terrorism or tragedy, the more unfortunate you are, the more your intimate sins and sorrows will be merchandised as infotainment for the rabble.
Perhaps British audiences titillated to hear of Prince Charles’ wish to become a tampon shouldn’t be so horrified to see innocent crime victims treated as rudely as philandering aristocrats.
After all, Murdoch’s minions may have rationalized, what does it matter why somebody’s famous? Fame has no rights.
Even more than his fiercely competitive business practices, it’s Murdoch’s unsparingly cynical view of human nature that’s made him the most powerful media mogul in the world. Mass audiences respond to voyeurism: sex, violence, personal tragedy, and racial and political melodrama. And in Great Britain particularly, people yearn to see the mighty humiliated.
Nevertheless, the British are horrified. They’re outraged about journalists bribing cops, about interfering in murder investigations, about identity theft, and about hacking thousands of cellphones, even as News International executives assured Parliament that a handful of rogue employees were involved. (News flash: Newspaper staffers can’t authorize six-figure payoffs.)
Murdoch’s coziness with Tory and Labour politicians alike has become a problem for him and them. See, something else people love is the vicarious pleasure of watching a coverup come undone. News International big shots are face cards, too. Prominent careers will be ruined; powerful people are going to prison.
Meanwhile, notice how studiously everybody in the United States is concentrating on the purely British aspects of the scandal? Murdoch’s ruthless; he gets even. Besides, a person could end up working for him.
However, cracks have developed in the transatlantic wall. Already, a former New York cop has said News of the World offered him cash to hack the cells of the 9/11 dead. Les Hinton, the longtime aide that Murdoch placed in charge of the Wall Street Journal, is among those who gave now-inoperative testimony to Parliament in 2007. One bad apple, he said.
Even Roger Cohen, for my money the New York Times’ best columnist, defends Murdoch’s “visionary, risk-taking determination” even as he deplores the influence of his biggest moneymaker, Fox News. “[With] its shrill right-wing demagoguery masquerading as news,” he writes, “[Fox has] made a significant contribution to the polarization of American politics, the erosion of reasoned debate, the debunking of reason itself, and the ensuing Washington paralysis.”
Apart from having the moral imagination of a water moccasin, in other words, Rupert Murdoch’s just a terrific guy.
By: Gene Lyons, Columnist, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, published in Salon, July 13, 2011
Our nation confronts a challenge this Fourth of July that we face but rarely: We are at odds over the meaning of our history and why, to quote our Declaration of Independence, “governments are instituted.”
Only divisions this deep can explain why we are taking risks with our country’s future that we’re usually wise enough to avoid. Arguments over how much government should tax and spend are the very stuff of democracy’s give-and-take. Now, the debate is shadowed by worries that if a willful faction does not get what it wants, it might bring the nation to default.
This is, well, crazy. It makes sense only if politicians believe — or have convinced themselves — that they are fighting over matters of principle so profound that any means to defeat their opponents is defensible.
We are closer to that point than we think, and our friends in the Tea Party have offered a helpful clue by naming their movement in honor of the 1773 revolt against tea taxes on that momentous night in Boston Harbor.
Whether they intend it or not, their name suggests they believe that the current elected government in Washington is as illegitimate as was a distant, unelected monarchy. It implies something fundamentally wrong with taxes themselves or, at the least, that current levels of taxation (the lowest in decades) are dangerously oppressive. And it hints that methods outside the normal political channels are justified in confronting such oppression.
We need to recognize the deep flaws in this vision of our present and our past. A reading of the Declaration of Independence makes clear that our forebears were not revolting against taxes as such — and most certainly not against government as such.
In the long list of “abuses and usurpations” the Declaration documents, taxes don’t come up until the 17th item, and that item is neither a complaint about tax rates nor an objection to the idea of taxation. Our Founders remonstrated against the British crown “for imposing taxes on us without our consent.” They were concerned about “consent,” i.e. popular rule, not taxes.
The very first item on their list condemned the king because he “refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Note that the signers wanted to pass laws, not repeal them, and they began by speaking of “the public good,” not about individuals or “the private sector.” They knew that it takes public action — including effective and responsive government — to secure “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Their second grievance reinforced the first, accusing the king of having “forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance.” Again, our forebears wanted to enact laws; they were not anti-government zealots.
Abuses three through nine also referred in some way to how laws were passed or justice was administered. The document doesn’t really get to anything that looks like Big Government oppression (“He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance”) until grievance No. 10.
This misunderstanding of our founding document is paralleled by a misunderstanding of our Constitution. “The federal government was created by the states to be an agent for the states, not the other way around,” Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said recently.
No, our Constitution begins with the words “We the People” not “We the States.” The Constitution’s Preamble speaks of promoting “a more perfect Union,” “Justice,” “the common defense,” “the general Welfare” and “the Blessings of Liberty.” These were national goals.
I know states’ rights advocates revere the 10th Amendment. But when the word “states” appears in the Constitution, it typically is part of a compound word, “United States,” or refers to how the states and their people will be represented in the national government. We learned it in elementary school: The Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation to create a stronger federal government, not a weak confederate government. Perry’s view was rejected in 1787 and again in 1865.
We praise our Founders annually for revolting against royal rule and for creating an exceptionally durable system of self-government. We can wreck that system if we forget our Founders’ purpose of creating a representative form of national authority robust enough to secure the public good. It is still perfectly capable of doing that. But if we pretend we are living in Boston in 1773, we will draw all the wrong conclusions and make some remarkably foolish choices.
By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 3, 2011