Accountability at last

December 2, 2008 at 9:16 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, Idiot Hall of Fame | 2 Comments
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Since I still remember the right-wing gloating which accompanied Bush’s victory over John Kerry, I tried to stop myself from indulging in any schadenfreude over the Democrats’ victory this time around. Granted, I had to quit blogging for a few days, but I reckon that was some admirable self-restraint on my part.

That said, there was no misery I enjoyed more than that of Melanie Phillips. Phillips, in case you need reminding, exists in two very different political spheres. In Britain, she writes for the respectable Spectator, where she spits out the same yawnsome yarn about how the liberal-left is responsible for the end of civilisation. But when writing about America, she exists on a diet of hard-right partisans and part-time ‘journalists’ whose obsessive, inaccurate and heavily deterministic reading of the President-elect’s past leads them all to one magical conclusion: the dude’s basically Chairman Mao with better cheekbones.

Yep, Mel was so certain of Obama’s radical socialism that in the aftermath of the election she wrote a post declaring the end of America and everything in it, but then the President-elect went & picked a bunch of moderates to head his economic & national security teams, and some on the right started wondering whether their panic attacks were a little misplaced. We should count ourselves lucky, then, that Phillips still pokes her head out of that nuclear bunker in Londonistan to remind everyone of the hammer & sickle which remains tatooed to his chest:

For sure, he has made some solid and reassuring appointments, such as his Treasury team. But did anyone really believe that a radical president would appoint obvious radicals to key roles in his administration? Maybe he really was a centrist all along. But if not, the one thing Obama is not going to do is torpedo his presidency at the very start by displaying a radical bent.

As rhetorically speaking puts it, “you see, Obama’s failure to behave like a crazy radical is in fact proof that he is a crazy radical. It is a double-super-secret-reverse-blind to trick us all.”

She doesn’t stop there, of course; the burden of being a supersleuth is that you’ll stop at nothing until the whole horrible truth has been revealed. And so she brings us ‘news’ about the ‘Obama advisor’, ‘terrorist apologist’ and ‘Israel-hater’ Robert Malley, who has, on strict instruction from Obama, been asking Egypt & Syria how America might bend to their ‘dastardly’ will:

There are other unsettling indications that Obama may already be running a shadow foreign policy. Robert Malley, one of Clinton’s Oslo negotiators, is one of America’s most outspoken apologists for Palestinian terrorism against Israel and claims that Syrian, Lebanese and Iranian attacks against Israel are all Israel’s fault. The Obama campaign distanced itself from Malley last May after the Times reported that he was meeting regularly with Hamas leaders. But a few days after Obama’s election, Malley travelled to Syria, ostensibly under the aegis of the appeasement-minded International Crisis Group. Yet one of his aides told FrontPage Magazine that acting on Obama’s instructions, Malley traveled to Cairo and Damascus to tell Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Syria’s President Assad that ‘the Obama administration would take into greater account Egyptian and Syrian interests.’ And as Caroline Glick reported, Hamas terror operative Ahmad Youssef told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper that in the months leading up to his election, Obama’s advisers held steady contacts with the leaders of the terror group in Gaza, and had asked that Hamas keep the meetings secret in order not to harm Obama’s chances of being elected.

Gosh, sounds horrible. So why did I use surround ‘Obama advisor’, ‘terrorist apologist’ and ‘Israel-hater’ in quotation marks? Well, as Lord Patten points out in this letter of complaint to the Spectator, none of those descriptions are even remotely true:

From: The Rt Hon Lord Patten of Barnes C.H.
Dear Sir,

Your article, “Carpe diem — or can we all relax now?” by Melanie Phillips (26 November 2008), repeats a number of patently false assertions about Robert Malley that are currently blighting the more dubious corners of the internet and do not belong in a respected publication.

Mr Malley did not work for the Obama campaign, nor is he working for the transition team. He did not travel anywhere for Obama, neither before nor after the election. His work on the Middle East in recent years has been in his role as the Middle East and North Africa Programme Director of the International Crisis Group, where I am currently co-chairman.

Ms Phillips uses a quote from a US publication, but neither she nor the original author bothered to check the veracity of that statement with Mr Malley or the International Crisis Group. In fact, no “aide” of Mr Malley could have told anyone anything, as Mr Malley has no aides.

A simple phone call to the International Crisis Group when writing the article would have cleared up all of these points, but your author apparently found it easier simply to copy-and-paste a libellous statement from an American web page.

Ms Phillips’ blunt assertions that Mr Malley is somehow anti-Israel also represent a completely unwarranted attack given his dedicated efforts to achieve Middle East peace over the years. What is more, these types of spurious accusations have been publicly addressed — and completely undermined — by a March 2008 letter in The New York Review of Books from a group of other US heavyweights in Arab-Israeli affairs: Samuel (Sandy) Berger, Former National Security Adviser; Ambassador Martin Indyk, Former Ambassador to Israel and Egypt and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs; Ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer, Former Ambassador to Israel; Aaron David Miller, Former Senior Adviser for Arab–Israeli Negotiations, Department of State; Ambassador Dennis Ross, Former Special Envoy of the President to the Middle East.

Whoops!

This incident is symptomatic of Phillips’ sloppy, credibility-crushing approach to writing about American politics. Having seemingly done no research of her own, her posts depend entirely on the slime-drenched stories she finds in the trough of the right wing blogosphere being accurate. But they hardly ever are. As we’ve already documented, her writings are full of basic factual errors, slurs, exaggerations and unreliable, disreputable sources. As examples of journalism, her posts on American politics are thoroughly bankrupt.

Lord Patten closes his complaint with this:

The Spectator article has sullied the reputation of one of the most committed analysts and peace advocates in the field of Middle East affairs today. It is unworthy of your pages, and I believe an immediate apology and correction are in order.

He’ll be waiting a long time for an apology, and probably an eternity before she stops trading in the type of tarring & feathering which has become her raison d’etre, but perhaps this one precious moment of accountability will force this most fact-averse of journalists to briefly clean up her act.

Image by RW Photobug (Creative Commons)

Melanie Phillips’ disreputable sources

September 17, 2008 at 10:45 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment
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For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, let’s go over this one last time. The ‘change’ Barack Obama believes in isn’t just a syrupy by-word for Bambiesque ‘ideals’ like diplomacy, resisting the urge to torture prisoners & restoring Habeas Corpus; rather, it’s a black-powered Marxist death cult determined to enslave ‘whitey’ and hasten the arrival of the End Times. At least, that’s what anyone who’s read Melanie Phillips’ blog over the past few months would be forgiven for believing.

Unable to get too excited about John McCain (she’s written more about Sarah Palin than the Straight Talkin’ One), Mel decided to focus her blogging prowess on uncovering all there is to know about the slippery Illinois Senator, speculating about Obama’s ‘Muslim roots’, the ‘Muslim roots’ of his ex Pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and the ‘Muslim roots’ of shamed former associate, Antoin Rezko. Having done the whole ‘the Muslims are coming!’ thing to death, she’s tried a new tack in recent weeks, reminding her readers about his association with the ‘radical’ Saul Alinsky, the ‘radical terrorist’ William Ayers, and now the ‘radical, black Communist’ Frank Marshall Davis. So what’s this black Senator doing with all these radicals then? Well, obviously because he shares their agenda:

the agenda indeed of Gramsci/Alinsky: patron saints of community organisers, apostles of deeply underground mole-like revolutionary Marxism, architects of the wildly successful undermining of western morality and society in America and Britain — and now poised to embed itself in the White House, epicentre of the oppressive global capitalist regime, itself.

Join up the dots.

You can bet she felt very smug writing that part. Progressives don’t have anything to fear from the allegations made in Mel’s mega-series; most are second-hand recitations of long-debunked smears (she insists on citing 9/11 conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi despite the fact his book couldn’t even get the date of Barack & Michelle’s wedding correct), whilst the rest rely on the Guilt by Association fallacy. What does baffle me, however, is why she continues to do it. Does she not know that the sources for her smears are discredited? Is she aware they’re discredited but still believe them to be true? Or, worse, does she just not care whether the information she uses is sound or not? To illustrate, let’s look at the credentials of three men credited with the information in Mel’s last post:

Trevor Loudon: An ex-Vice President of New Zealand’s right-wing ACT Party, Loudon is a student of Zenith Applied Philosophy, a small Scientology spin-off founded by a guy who calls himself ‘John Ultimate’ and believes his home to be the centre of the universe. ZAP has attracted some controversy over its reported links with fascist organisations. When he’s not busy suggesting Obama is a Communist, Loudon can occasionally be found comparing cabinet ministers to Himmler.

Cliff Kincaid: Cliff is president of ‘UN watchdog group’ America’s Survival and editor of Accuracy In Media. Once funded by philanthropist of the far-right, Richard Mellon Scaife, AIM achieved notoriety in 2001 by ‘proving’ Bill Clinton had ordered the murder of Vince Foster, despite three independent investigations (including one by Kenneth Starr) finding no evidence for it. Ever eager to jump on a non-story to slime his enemies, in 07 Kincaid pronounced that the ‘Hillary is a lesbian’ lie was ‘as explosive’ as the lie about Obama being raised as a Muslim. Just for laughs, Kincaid also happens to believe that you can stop being gay as easily as you can quit smoking.

Herbert Romerstein: A lower-profile hatchet man than the others. Romerstein’s life’s work has been smearing people as unpatriotic, from his work investigating Un-American Activities in Congress, through to a line of books on the matter. He smeared the writer I.F. Stone as a Communist despite being the sole source for the accusation, and was described by decorated US attorney Martin Garbus as ‘utterly untrustworthy’.

These are the people Melanie Phillips cites, uncritically, to build her latest case against Barack Obama. Not exactly Woodward & Bernstein, is it? I have no idea whether Phillips’ continually clumsy hatchet job on Obama is due to laziness, naivety, delusion or just plain old partisan cynicism. But the last time I checked, there were still some standards of honesty & accuracy in the journalistic profession, and if Phillips can’t adhere to even the most basic of those standards, then perhaps she’d be better off resigning from her posts, taking up blogging full time, and retiring to the world of the hackneyed hard-right, where every conservative is virtuous, every liberal is evil and where nothing they say or write is ever, ever wrong.

Understanding British law, with Melanie Phillips

July 29, 2008 at 6:29 pm | Posted in British Politics, Idiot Hall of Fame | 1 Comment
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You’ll all know by now that policies are complicated things. They use Big Words and Complicated Jargon. They come in large PDFs, and not only do you have to read the whole thing, but you’ll need access to other reading materials to make sure you understand context, history and competing points of view. Phew, that’s enough to work anyone into a sweat – thank God no one actually writes about policy anymore!

Well, one brave woman still does. Ever the wonk, Melanie Phillips has forensically studied the details of the proposed changes in murder law and, for her policy-averse readers, managed to summarise it in just 34 words. To quote The Knowing One, the proposals:

as far as I can see, will mean that if a woman kills her husband she will get away with it whereas if a man kills his wife he will be convicted of murder.

See, before I read this, I was just being spoon-fed lies by demonic feminists who had me thinking the aim was – among other things – to remove the provocation defense so you couldn’t claim ‘she made me go to Matalan! And my mother-in-law’s such a bitch!’ as an excuse for murdering your partner. But no, apparently that’s just a smokescreen to allow more women psychopaths to roam the streets.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, there are lots of well-educated people who disagree with her – Harriet Harman, Baroness Scotland, Geoffrey Robertson QC and the solicitor who founded Justice for Women – and all of these people have a considerable amount of experience in practicing law, whilst Mel is but a meagre journalist who studied English at Oxford. But you, dear reader, would be forgetting Law of Melanie # 49: Just like with that MMR thing, if lots of well-qualified experts disagree with you, that simply means they’re all wrong.

Update: Turns out it’s also possible for very smart people to disagree with these proposals and still stop short of saying it’ll allow women to murder with impunity. Perhaps he just didn’t read the fine print as clearly as our Mel.

Is Melanie Phillips a racist?

June 12, 2008 at 12:23 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, Idiot Hall of Fame | 8 Comments
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Or an ally of racists? Or merely a discredited hack who’s spent so long slurping at the septic tank of the far right that everything she says, everything she writes and everything she thinks is a slush of gangrenous bile?

Enquiring minds have a right to know!

Under the banner of Truth! Justice! and The Endless Pursuit of Fear-mongering Smears!, Ms Phillips reheats the old lie that a certain candidate for President of the United States of America is/was a Muslim. Uncritically citing one source that’s been debunked and dumped, and another by a blogger whose greatest hits include – get this – advocating bombing the US State Department, Ms Phillips suggests that Obama has been less than truthful about his filthy Muslim past and that his ‘conversion’ to Christianity over two decades ago might have been nothing but a ploy to help get himself elected:

We are entitled therefore to ask whether the Muslim world supports him because it believes he is still a Muslim. We are entitled to ask precisely when he stopped being a Muslim, and why. Did Obama embrace Christianity as a tactical manoeuvre to get himself elected?

Yep, she’s asking you to believe that Obama was planning a run for President 20 years ago!

Now, I’m not going to waste my time debunking that which has already been discredited over and over again, but if anyone’s still anxious about it, the truth is no more than eight clicks away. What I will say, however, is that it’s astonishing that a mainstream British commentator is uncritically parroting a smear that’s only being made by people on the outermost fringes of American politics.

Let’s return to our questions.

Is Melanie Phillips a racist? No. She may sensationalise the scale of the threat from radical Islam, and her work may be quoted by people who are racist, but that doesn’t mean she shares their views.

Is she an ally of racists? Not intentionally, but by spreading such smears under the guise of ‘I’m just asking in the public interest’, she inevitably helps reinforce a narrative being framed by bigots.

Is she “a discredited hack who’s spent so long slurping at the septic tank of the far right that everything she says, everything she writes and everything she thinks is a slush of gangrenous bile?”

Well, I’ll let you make up your own minds.

Climate change: the sceptics’ tough sell

April 10, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Posted in Climate Change | 3 Comments
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If you woke up this morning, stepped out into unseasonably cold weather and thought ‘aha! I always knew this global warming thing was a hoax!’, well, today’s your lucky day: Melanie Phillips, who has quite the reputation for reporting fringe science as absolute truth (see the MMR scandal), brings us the latest round-up of ‘evidence’ against the existence of climate change.

Now, the science of climate change doesn’t interest me in the slightest. Nor, for that matter, does the hyper-emotional street brawl between environmentalists, sceptics, big business and government. I recognise there’s a broad consensus on climate change and I’ll vote for a party that offers sensible policies to reduce our contribution to it, but my passion for and participation in this well-meaning movement won’t extend too far beyond that. But what I find interesting about the politics of climate change is how lousy those sceptics on the right (and they’re overwhelmingly on the right) have been in finding a decent argument.

If there’s one thing people like Melanie are good at, it’s stoking outrage, spreading fear, stretching the smallest policy disagreement into an affront to moral decency. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about: feral, hash-happy teens are prowling our streets with a lust for blood, Islamomurderers hatch sinister plots to turn your church into a Mosque-cum-death-palace, godless liberal hippies plan sex education so our 9-year-olds can learn how to pout and pose and work a stipclub pole. To put it rather less charitably, they practice the politics of Chicken Little.

But when it comes to global warming, they just don’t seem able to pull the same stunt. Sure, they might quibble with the science, moan about ‘Climate Change Fascists‘ (how tasteful, by the way, to compare mass-murderers to mass recyclers) and whinge about how composting is just like being in a gulag, but all it really amounts to is the lazy-arsed whinging of obnoxious loudmouths who think they know better than everyone else. In short, they don’t give us anything to fear.

I think their general weakness on this subject can be summed up with the following question. Let’s just assume for a moment that we all wake up in 30 years to find that neither temperatures nor sea levels nor species extinctions have risen dramatically, that the problem’s been grossly exaggerated and all our recycling and energy conservation has been for naught.

Well, so what?

What harm will have been done to our country and our planet by implementing pro-environment policies? When we walk around our villages, towns and cities and see more widespread recycling, increased energy independence, greater use of renewable energy, cleaner air and more responsible, sustainable economic development, will we really hold our hands over our heads and cry “OH MY GOD! WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!!” Yeah, I doubt it, too.

By failing to convince us about the disastrous consequences of tackling climate change, the sceptical right is fast slipping into irrelevancy. Which, if you’ll forgive the pun, should give the rest of us a slightly sunnier outlook

Reflections on the Shannon/Karen Matthews case

April 9, 2008 at 11:56 am | Posted in British Politics, Working Class Britain | 2 Comments
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After septicisle posted a ‘mea culpa‘ admitting that his eloquent and passionate posts on the Shannon Matthews case might now look rather silly in the light of her mother’s arrest on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, I thought I should post an explanation of why I don’t think he needed to, and why I won’t be doing the same.

For those of us who cringed through the (right-wing) media’s coverage of Shannon’s disappearance, we saw much of it as symptomatic of a wider cultural disdain for the poor and a compulsion towards viewing their problems through the myopic looking-glass of moral degeneracy. If only these people would become upstanding citizens, learn to speak properly, stop sleeping around and taking drugs, maybe we wouldn’t have these problems, so the whole tiresome argument goes. They’ll trot out the same shabby straw men – the welfare state, comprehensive schools, a ‘soft’ criminal justice system, liberals, Trots and hippies – as co-conspirators in this ‘societal collapse’ and will then invariably conclude that a return to Victorian values and bare-knuckled Thatcherism is the only way to save ourselves from certain doom.

It’s the same cliched argument-by-numbers that commentators have been using for over a decade now – the Shannon Matthews case was just a perfect opportunity for likes of Melanie Phillips & Allison Pearson to reheat it.

Trouble is, in order to impose this argument on the Matthews case, they had to twist their representations so much that they became a character assassination on a poor, undereducated woman who everyone assumed was worried sick about her missing daughter (that she may have known where she was all along is irrelevant – everyone writing at the time assumed she was a missing person).

Because Karen had five kids by four fathers, she must be a loose-legged slut who sacrificed her kids’ livelihoods for the sake of a drunken shag. Any other explanations for her fractured family – maybe the fathers were too pathetic to stick around, maybe they were unsuitable parents, maybe she was the victim of domestic abuse – were completely ignored. For the conservative argument to work, she must be was responsible, she must be villified.

And not only was Karen Matthews villified, but so was her family and, by extension, working-class families in Dewsbury Moor and beyond. All as a front for the furthering of a political agenda. This was what appalled me most about the initial coverage of Shannon’s disappearance, and though some of the facts in my earlier posts may now be out-of-date, I certainly won’t be retracting the arguments contained therein.

Related posts:

Shorter Melanie Phillips: Shannon Matthews had it coming

March 17, 2008 at 8:04 pm | Posted in Working Class Britain | 4 Comments
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It’s difficult to react substantively to Melanie Phillips’ frenzied hate speech, largely because most of the articles she writes substitute substance for vicious, fear-mongering missives against whomever she considers complicit in Britain’s societal collapse. Today’s screech of self-righteousness tries to turn the murder of Scarlett Keeling & the safe return of Shannon Matthews into a requiem for the death of family values. Specifically, she reheats the old arguments about absent fathers & the existence of an underclass:

The reasons this has happened go far beyond mere criticism of individuals. For these events reveal the existence of an underclass which is a world apart from the lives that most of us lead and the attitudes and social conventions that most of us take for granted.

But it is an underclass which affluent, complacent, materialistic Britain has created.

An underclass composed of whole communities where committed fathers are so rare that any child who actually has one risks being bullied.

Where sex is reduced to an animal activity devoid of love or human dignity, and boys impregnate two, three, four girls with scarcely a second thought.

Where successive generations of women have never known what it is to be loved and cherished by both their parents throughout their childhood.

How can such women know how to parent their own children?

Fuck knows; maybe they saw it on Jeremy Kyle. Of course, she can’t name one child who’s been bullied for having a father, and she can’t name one boy who would readily impregnate four girls without a second thought, and I doubt she’s even known three working class women from successive generations who’d validate her claim that they’ve never known love from their parents. Yet despite offering no evidence for these hysterical caricatures, we apparently have to take Phillips’ word for it that the working classes stew in a cesspit of animalistic iniquity, devoid of love or manners, decency or dignity. In Mel’s world, it’s a surprise Karen Matthews was even upset by her daughters’ disappearance, but no surprise that Shannon disappeared.

But whilst she’s happy to use so much energy dehumanising the victim and her family, the wider family of Dewsbury Moor and thousands of other families who try to make the most of a poverty and urban decay from which they can’t escape, she doesn’t do so out of unbridled spite. No, the Matthews’ are too pathetic a people, too small a target to deserve the full-on-Phillips hatchet job. What’s more worthy of her wrath? I don’t know why you had to ask:

Even though fractured family life vastly increases the risk of abuse, violence and murder, our deeply irresponsible overclass has put rocket fuel behind its exponential growth through tax and welfare incentives.

[…]

The people who are really culpable are all those who, intoning the mantra of “alternative lifestyle choice”, have defeated every attempt to shore up marriage and the traditional family.

In its place, they have deliberately and wickedly created over the years a legal and welfare engine of mass fatherlessness and child abandonment, resulting in a degraded and dependent underclass and a lengthening toll of human wreckage. (emphasis mine)

Expoilting a nine year old girl’s twenty four day disappearance, and in the process vilifying her family and an entire community, to microwave a set of by-numbers arguments against the welfare state. Vile, just vile.

Here are the facts: a little girl went missing for 24 days. Her family was worried sick. Her community was united in solidarity. With luck, hard work and a tireless police investigation, she was eventually found safe and well. Anyone trying to use this case to further their own agendas is just sick. From an earlier post:

Though it wasn’t widely reported in the national media, the people of Dewsbury Moor were magnificent. From the moment Shannon’s disappearance was publicised, hundreds of people dropped what they were doing to try to help. They combed the streets looking for her, organised marches to publicise her plight. They put up posters, made banners and pushed flyers into the palms of passers-by. People who on another day might’ve seen the police as an intrusive enemy put that to one side to volunteer any information they had. On modest resources, they did everything they could think of to help bring her back home. So much for ‘broken Britain.’

They did these things because, whether fractious or not, the complex social lives in this small, densely-populated community are what make it a community in the first place – nearly everyone knew someone who’d dealt with those associated with the Matthews family, whether it was Karen or Shannon, her father, step-father, grandparents, cousins or friends.

The right-wing press is already trying to frame the Matthews case as a sign of the moral & societal collapse of working class Britain. But they can’t have it both ways: if being poor is part of the reason why Shannon went missing, then it’s also responsible for outpouring of humanity, generosity and hard work that came as a response to it.

Everything else is just bullshit.

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