Monday Message Board

It’s time again for the Monday Message Board to resume. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language. Lengthy side discussions to the sandpit, please.

How are people finding the site’s response time at present. It seems to me to have improved, but I’m still looking at options

After the Sauds

The downfall of the Gaddafi dictatorship now seems certain, despite brutal and bloody attempts at repression. The failure of these attempts kills off what was briefly the conventional wisdom, that dictatorships in the region can hold on if they “don’t blink“. At this point, Gaddafi and his remaining supporters will be lucky if they can make it to The Hague for their trials, rather than sharing the fate of the Ceaucescus.

Now a new conventional wisdom seems to be emerging, at least according to this article in the NY Times. The central idea is that while dictatorships (more accurately perhaps, tyrannies, in the classical sense of monarchs who have seized their thrones with no prior hereditary claim) are doomed, but that monarchies can survive with cosmetic concessions. In particular, on this analysis, the US relationship with the House of Saud can go on more or less as before.

There’s an element of truth here, but the central claim is wishful thinking

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The Bureau fights back

The idea that the Bureau of Meteorology is part of a global conspiracy to destroy Australia’s economy impose communist world government (or in some more prosaic versions, to increase its funding[1]) sounds like the basis of a bad comedy sketch. But, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, this claim is put forward, in apparent seriousness, by numerous anti-science advocates in Australia (Andrew Bolt, Jennifer Marohasy, and Warwick Hughes are leading examples) and implicily accepted by many others.

Now, as Graham Readfearn (h/t Tim Lambert) points out, the Bureau is fighting back.

Back in October last year, the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee agreed to table a letter from Cardinal Pell which quoted heavily from Heaven and Earth to claim there were “good reasons for doubting that carbon dioxide causes warmer temperatures”.

The Director of the Bureau of Meteorology Dr Greg Ayers has now responded at an estimates hearing, demolishing Plimer’s bogus claims and pointing to numerous scathing reviews of his trashy and dishonest book. Ayers is great value, but the real fun in reading the Hansard transcript comes from the frantic attempts of Senators MacDonald and Boswell to stop him talking.

Update This post was critical of the Australian Academy of Science for what I’ve seen as a “missing in action” response to the attacks on climate science in Australia. In response, Martin Callinan of the Academy points me to this ABC Radio Interview with AAS President Kurt Lambeck, in which he gives a very critical review of Plimer’s book. I’ll also link to the AAS pamphlet, which is very good. That said, I don’t retract my main point which is that the Academy needs to take a much more vigorous line against the attacks on science and individual scientists which have become a pervasive feature of Australian political commentary.
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Epic #NewsCorpFail

Ms. Regan had once been involved in an affair with Mr. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner whose mentor and supporter, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, was in the nascent stages of a presidential campaign. The News Corporation executive, whom she did not name, wanted to protect Mr. Giuliani and conceal the affair, she said.

Now, court documents filed in a lawsuit make clear whom Ms. Regan was accusing of urging her to lie: Roger E. Ailes, the powerful chairman of Fox News and a longtime friend of Mr. Giuliani. What is more, the documents say that Ms. Regan taped the telephone call from Mr. Ailes in which Mr. Ailes discussed her relationship with Mr. Kerik.

It is unclear whether the existence of the tape played a role in News Corporation’s decision to move quickly to settle a wrongful termination suit filed by Ms. Regan, paying her $10.75 million in a confidential settlement reached two months after she filed it in 2007.

Depending on the specifics, the taped conversation could possibly rise to the level of conspiring to lie to federal officials, a federal crime, but prosecutors rarely pursue such cases, said Daniel C. Richman, a Columbia University law professor and a former federal prosecutor.

Of course, if it were to be released, the tape could be highly embarrassing to Mr. Ailes, a onetime adviser to Richard M. Nixon whom critics deride as a partisan who engineers Fox News coverage to advance Republicans and damage Democrats, something Fox has long denied. Mr. Ailes also had close ties with Mr. Giuliani, whom he advised in his first mayoral race. Mr. Giuliani officiated at Mr. Ailes’s wedding and intervened on his behalf when Fox News Channel was blocked from securing a cable station in the city.

In a statement released on Wednesday, a News Corporation spokeswoman did not deny that Mr. Ailes was the executive on the recording. But the spokeswoman, Teri Everett, said News Corporation had a letter from Ms. Regan “stating that Mr. Ailes did not intend to influence her with respect to a government investigation.” Ms. Everett added, “The matter is closed.”

Ms. Everett declined to release the letter, and Ms. Regan’s lawyer, Robert E. Brown, said the News Corporation’s description of the letter did not represent Ms. Regan’s complete statement.

The new documents emerged as part of a lawsuit filed in 2008 in which Ms. Regan’s former lawyers in the News Corporation case accused her of firing them on the eve of the settlement to avoid paying them a 25 percent contingency fee. The parties in that case signed an agreement to keep the records confidential, but it does not appear that an order sealing them was ever sent to the clerk at State Supreme Court in Manhattan, and the records were placed in the public case file.

Discussion of the recorded conversation with Mr. Ailes emerges in affidavits from Ms. Regan’s former lawyers who are seeking to document the work they did on her case and for which they argue they deserve the contingency fee. They describe consulting with a forensic audio expert about the tape.

No transcript of the conversation is in the court records.

But Brian C. Kerr, one of Ms. Regan’s former lawyers, describes in an affidavit the physical evidence he reviewed as “including a tape recording of a conversation between her and Roger Ailes, which is alluded to throughout the complaint” that Mr. Kerr and another lawyer, Seth Redniss, drafted for Ms. Regan. That complaint said News Corporation executives “were well aware that Regan had a personal relationship with Kerik.”

“In fact,” the complaint said, “a senior executive in the News Corporation organization told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign. This executive advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik.”

Mr. Redniss, in his affidavit, referred to “a recorded telephone call between Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News (a News Corp. company) and Regan, in which Mr. Ailes discussed with Regan her responses to questions regarding her personal relationship with Bernard Kerik.”

“The ‘Ailes’ matter became a focal point of our work,” Mr. Redniss continued.

The dispute involves a cast of well-known and outsize personalities; it also includes some New Yorkers who have had spectacular career meltdowns.

Mr. Kerik was sent to prison last year after pleading guilty to federal charges including tax fraud and lying to White House officials.

The law firm Ms. Regan hired to draft her complaint against News Corporation was headed by Marc S. Dreier, whose firm was cast into bankruptcy in 2008 when he was charged with a $100 million fraud scheme. The firm’s suit seeking the contingency fee from Ms. Regan is being led by the bankruptcy trustee handling the dissolution of the firm. Mr. Redniss was a co-counsel to the Dreier firm.

Ms. Regan’s own crash was remarkable in itself. While often controversial for her book choices, which ranged from literary novels to sex advice from a pornography star, her imprint at HarperCollins had become one of the more financially successful in the business.

The end came quickly in late 2006. Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation chairman, was quoted saying it had been “ill advised” for her to pursue “If I Did It,” a hypothetical murder confession by O. J. Simpson. A novel that included imagined drunken escapades by Mickey Mantle drew another round of outrage.

Then News Corporation said Ms. Regan had been fired because she made an anti-Semitic remark to a Jewish HarperCollins lawyer, Mark H. Jackson, in describing the internal campaign to fire her as a “Jewish cabal.”

In her 2007 suit, Ms. Regan said the book controversies had been trumped up and the anti-Semitic remark invented to discredit her, should she ever speak out about Mr. Kerik in ways that would harm Mr. Giuliani’s image. The new court documents expand upon that charge and link it to Mr. Ailes. Mr. Redniss wrote in an affidavit that Ms. Regan told him that Mr. Ailes sought to brand her as promiscuous and crazy.

“Regan believed that Ailes and News Corp. subsidiary Fox News had an interest in protecting Giuliani’s bid for the U.S. presidency,” he wrote.

In addition to serving as chairman of Fox News, Mr. Ailes has taken a broader role at News Corporation, including oversight of Fox’s local television stations and Fox Business Network.

As part of the settlement in January 2008, News Corporation publicly retracted the allegation that Ms. Regan had made an anti-Semitic remark to Mr. Jackson.

The court records examined by The New York Times this week, which have subsequently been taken out of the public case file, also reveal another interesting footnote. After Ms. Regan fired her lawyers, a seemingly unlikely figure came forward to help settle the case: Susan Estrich, a law professor and a regular Fox commentator whose book Ms. Regan had published, according to Ms. Regan’s affidavit.

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

Posted via email from John’s posterous

#Ozfail #6 and #7: Outsourced to Ken Parish and Irfan Yusuf

With a big staff of crack journalists, opinionators headline writers and sub-editors, led by the energetic Chris Mitchell, The Australian produces mistakes, misleading headlines and outright lies much faster than one blogger can possibly document them. So, I’m forced to do some outsourcing, and I’m happy to say, fellow bloggers are eager to help.

Ken Parish writes

I thought I’d draw JQ’s attention to another and equally egregious Oz misinformation campaign, namely to mischaracterise the report of the recent ALP review team of Wise Old Owls Carr, Bracks and Faulkner as recommending entrenching and enhancing trade union power. It’s a theme running through several recent Oz stories, including this one by Ben Packham and James Massola:

Ken focuses on the bizarre claim that recent changes to the internal structure of the ALP give unions power over preselections for the first time. As Ken points out, unions have played a central role in the ALP (including preselections) pretty much since the party was founded. I’m of the view that breaking this nexus would be good for unions, and probably also for Labor, but it had not occurred to me that even the Oz would deny its existence,

And here’s Irfan Yusuf on the paper’s advice to Muslim Australians

Writing editorials that sound like something authored by Glenn Beck doesn’t do much to improve your poor circulation.

Both Ken and Irfan point out that the Fairfax alternative is hardly flawless. In particular, the relentless tabloidisation produced by lists of the 5 most-read stories is highly damaging. Who’s going to read an informed analysis of carbon pricing when something like “AFL sex scandal ‘did not involve goats'” is clamouring for our attention at the bottom of the webpage. Even if you want to avert your eyes, you can’t.

Update #Ozfail #8 And they keep on coming! In comments, SJ points to this amazing beatup in which routine deletion of a tasteless blog comment is turned into “Crikey forced to remove fake Abbott story”. The story apparent started with some ego-Googling by Matthew Franklin (admit it, we all do it), but the task of writing the beatup was handed to Caroline Overington, who seems to be on permanent punishment duty at the Oz, presumably for having once been a real journalist.


It’s been a year full of disasters, but today’s news is worse than any so far with at least 75 killed in the Christchurch earthquake and who knows how many murdered by Gaddafi and his mercenary thugs. There’s not much to say about the earthquake except to hope that many of those listed as missing turn up unharmed. Gaddafi has passed the point of no return – it’s obvious from his threats of house-by-house retribution that the people have no option but to fight it out. The only question is what the rest of the world can do to bring the inevitable end as quickly as possible and with as little bloodshed. One option would be to withdraw recognition from the Gaddafi regime, which is clearly guilty of crimes against humanity. That would be a signal to waverers that the time to switch sides away from Gaddafi is sooner rather than later.

#OzFail #5

In the wake of the revolt against the Gaddafi regime, various deals done with Gaddafi by Western governments, particularly those of the US and UK, have come under scrutiny. Among many dubious deals, the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset Megrahi stands out as a betrayal of the British justice system, one strongly opposed by the Obama Administration[1]. But last year, the Murdoch Sunday Times managed to find a way to blame Obama, accusing him, in its headline, of ‘double-talk‘. This was amplified even further by the amazing Oz subeditorial team, which managed a headline directly contradicted by its own report.

The Sunday Times piece is a bizarre spin on a letter written by the Obama administration opposing Megrahi’s release, and saying that, if he were released, it would be better to keep him in Scotland than to allow him to return to Libya. The British government ignored this and sent Megrahi back to a hero’s welcome (I wonder where he is now).

In the hands of beatup merchants Jason Allardyce and Tony Allen-Mills this becomes “THE US government secretly advised Scottish ministers it would be “far preferable” to free the Lockerbie bomber than jail him in Libya”

But what’s really starting is the Oz decision to run this piece of nonsense under the headline “White House backed release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi” and this has naturally been picked up by the rightwing blogosphere, most of which is as fact-challenged as the Oz itself.. To quote directly from the letter in question

“The United States maintains its view that in light of the scope of Megrahi’s crime, its heinous nature, and its continuing and devastating impact on the victims and their families, it would be most appropriate for Megrahi to remain imprisoned for the entirety of his sentence,”

As can be expected with the Oz, the headline is the exact opposite of the truth. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that it often runs relatively accurate AP and Reuters material, and weather forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology (while denouncing the Bureau in its opinion pages), the Oz would be a reliable paper – we could just assume the opposite of whatever it reports. #Ozfail #Ausfail (hat tip Gary Lord)

Monday Message Board

It’s time again for the Monday Message Board to resume. Post comments on any topic. As usual, civilised discussion and no coarse language. Lengthy side discussions to the sandpit, please.

BTW, apologies again for slow response time and 503 errors if you are getting them. I’m looking at shifting to an alternative hosting service.

Oz Fail #4

Oz chief political reporter Matthew Franklin tries for a bit of a beat-up with this story about some platitudinous speeches given by Swan and Gillard at the annual conference of the AWU, where, as is customary on such occasions, they said some nice things about their hosts, Bill Ludwig and Paul Howes. Franklin points out, rightly enough, that the AWU supported Gillard in the overthrow of Kevin Rudd. The real problem is with the sub-editor who ran this routine piece of snark with the striking headline “PM, Swan in praise of union ‘saboteurs’ “.

According to the standard, slightly arcane principles that apply here, the use of single quotes around the word “saboteurs” implies that Gillard and Swan actually used the word as a term of praise, with the rest of the headline being a paraphrase. This isn’t quite as crazy as it might sound – the original saboteurs were factory workers who threw their wooden shoes into the machinery as a crude but effective way of protesting against speedup. A historically minded radical might suggest that similar resistance to the work intensification push that began in the 1990s was to be applauded. But of course, Gillard and Swan are never likely to say anything like that, and they didn’t.

The error wouldn’t be so serious if the article quoted someone else calling Ludwig and Howes saboteurs, though it would be more correct to write “PM, Swan ‘in praise of union saboteurs’ “. But in fact there is nothing of the kind, and no hint that anything has been lost in editing. It’s simply that the sub (or maybe the editor) is incorporating his own opinion. If so, it would be more appropriate to run it as a factual description without any quotes. That would entail dropping any pretence of objectivity, but such pretences have worn pretty thin at the Oz.

There are still pockets of good journalism at the Oz. But when even the craft values of subediting are sacrificed to the paper’s political agenda, there isn’t much hope for the future.

Oz Fail#3

In a snark before a totally unrelated item, Oz Strewth columnist James Jeffrey writes

ACCORDING to the UN (there’s a statement that doesn’t exactly carry a a lot of weight, but let’s push on), the world’s human population should pass the 10 billion mark some time around 2040.

As you’d expect of any factual claim made in the Oz, he’s wrong. The UN medium projection is for a population around 9.2 billion in 2050. Even on the high projection, 10 billion isn’t reached until about 2045.