I confess that for the most part I found the Murdoch testimony before Parliament today to be predictable, frustrating, and boring. So boring, in fact, that I dozed off just before the Great Murdoch Pie Face moment. However, there actually were some revelations. One of the more interesting one is the one John Dean discusses with Keith Olbermann in the video above.
In the course of testimony, it came out that Glenn Mulcaire's legal bills are being paid for by News Corp. Mulcaire is the "private investigator" who hacked into murder victim Milly Dowler.
Mr Murdoch said: "I asked the question myself and I was very surprised to find the company had made certain contributions to legal settlements.
"I don't have all of the details around each of those - not legal settlements sorry, legal fees - I was surprised, I was very surprised to find out that had occurred.
"They were done, as I understand it, in accordance with legal counsel and their strong advice."
Asked who signed the cheques, Rupert Murdoch said "it could have been" Les Hinton, head of News International at the time, or, alternatively, the chief legal officer.
It was put to the Murdochs that their company had been paying legal fees for Mulcaire, a "convicted felon" - a charge James Murdoch admitted.
He said: "I do know certain legal fees were paid for Mr Mulcaire by the company and I was as surprised and shocked to learn that as you are."
But he denied the fees were paid to buy Mulcaire's "cooperation and silence", saying: "When the allegations came out I said: 'Are we doing this? Is this what the company's doing?'
"The strong (legal) advice was that from time to time it's important and customary even to pay co-defendants' legal fees."
Other things I learned: James Murdoch is the one to watch out for. Rupert Murdoch is his old, crotchety, middle-finger-in-your-face-as-always guy, but James is one smooth operator. Always ready with a concerned look, contrite words, and a very long-winded answer, he restated what everyone else said, which was basically to say nothing.
This exchange is a perfect example. Yes, we paid his legal fees because someone else told us to, but also yes, we're all about being hands-on with the company and oh, by the way, did I forget to say I'm sorry?
Rebekah Brooks handled her testimony in a similar fashion, but was treated far more harshly by the panel questioning her. Not that she doesn't deserve harsh treatment. She does. But compared to the kid-glove treatment of the Murdoch duo, she was raked a bit harder.
Bottom line? Much like Congressional hearings here in the US, these were largely for show and not substance. The real hearings to watch will be the ones where criminal charges are brought, which I believe will happen at some point.
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By Matthew Cameron
Amid relentlessly depressing news about the national economy and the federal debt situation, The Washington Post reported a rare bit of positive-sounding information this morning:
Gov. Bob McDonnell will announce Tuesday that Virginia ended the fiscal year on June 30 with a surplus of $311 million, according to the governor’s office.
McDonnell (R) will outline how he will spend the surplus in a news conference on Capitol Square, though most of the money is already accounted for ? including funding for roads, education and the Water Quality Improvement Fund, which is used for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.
This is the second year Virginia has had a budget surplus after three years of revenue shortfalls when the state had to cut billions from the budget. Last year, Virginia ended the fiscal year with a surplus of about $403.2 million — almost twice the previous estimate.
Before everyone packs their bags and moves to Virginia, however, it’s worth looking into this situation more closely. Did the state achieve it’s sterling fiscal situation through a balanced package of spending cuts and tax increases? Did it enact a stringent austerity budget along the lines of the Cut, Cap and Balance Act that was up for debate in Congress today?
No on both counts. Instead, let’s flashback to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article from last year detailing the state’s plan for balancing its budget:
Virginia is taking away more than $620 million that would have been paid toward state employee and teacher pensions, but the state is leaving an IOU.
Beginning in 2013, the state will have to repay the money to the Virginia Retirement System over 10 years, with 7.5 percent interest.[...]
Sen. Walter A. Stosch, R-Henrico, called the provision the most important step taken by the assembly to protect the retirement system, even as it relies on deferred pension contributions for almost one-fourth of the money used to balance the two-year budget.
That’s right, Virginia “balanced” its budget and set up this year’s surplus by borrowing money from itself. Coming on top of $17.6 billion worth of unfunded pension liabilities, that would have been a rather audacious move for any governor to approve. But that’s especially so for McDonnell, who is among the leading vice presidential candidates for a party that presently is waging a total war against increasing the federal government’s borrowing authority.
Of course, McDonnell isn’t the only conservative who has embraced these accounting gimmicks. The Virginia House of Delegates, which has a solid Republican majority, also voted for the plan. And this Pew report showed that a number of conservative-led states were guilty of underfunding their pension obligations in 2010, including those of GOP governors-turned-presidential hopefuls Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry.
Climate Progress previously reported on a Brookings Institution study, ?Sizing the Clean Economy.” It demonstrated the ?Clean Economy? has started delivering on its promise of high-wage jobs.
The Christian Science Monitor just did a nice article on the study, “Report: More Americans have green jobs than oil or gas jobs.” They did a nice graphic than the one we reposted from the study (see above). The article also notes:
Lighting standards adopted by Congress in 2007 have also created at least 12,500 jobs by fueling the growth of new, greener technologies, according to separate data from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. The US House recently tried to overturn those regulations…
The liberal American Jewish group J Street came down hard in a statement:
J Street condemns the Knesset?s passage yesterday of a law making the call for boycotts of Israel or the West Bank settlements illegal, as a clear and unabashed violation of the fundamental democratic precept of freedom of speech.
This bill is part of a disturbing anti-democratic trend that undermines its purported purpose by giving fodder to Israel?s critics and alienating many of its friends.
The statement served as the latest salvo of the ongoing tensions between the right-wing government in Israel and J Street, which has drawn the ire of the right-wing pro-Israel lobby for criticizing Israeli policies such as settlement expansion. The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. rejected an invitation from J Street to attend its first ever policy conference in 2009, and this summer Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who usually welcomes Diaspora pro-Israel groups, refused to meet with a J Street delegation.
But J Street’s condemnation of the anti-boycott law brought the war of words to a new level. Speaking to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Jonathan Peled, a spokesperson for Israel’s embassy in Washington, compared J Street to the Klu Klux Klan:
I think our approach to J Street was correct. We disagreed on many issues, but we didn’t boycott them. They are a unique example because they are a Jewish organization that calls itself ‘pro-Israeli.’ To bring some extreme example, if the Ku Klux Klan suddenly proclaim themselves pro-Israel, will it mean they are pro-Israel, or does it contradict our own understanding of what pro-Israel means? They are entitled to their views, but it doesn’t mean we want to invite them to our home.
Reached by ThinkProgress for comment, an official in the embassy’s press office passed along a non-apology “clarification” from Peled:
During my personal conversation with Ha?aretz, I was not intending to compare J Street to an extremist or offensive organization.
I regret any misunderstanding. Such a comparison would be clearly inappropriate and unacceptable.
The comments do not reflect the view of the government.
J Street seemed less than thrilled with the non-apology. Director of media relations Jessica Rosenblum gave a terse statement to ThinkProgress, saying, “We appreciate the clarification and take it at face value.”
The embassy spokesperson’s comparison of J Street to the KKK seems especially out of place because, in the same interview, Peled said that Israel welcomes all points of view. “We are interested in a big tent,” he said.
That was Peled’s dodge of a question about whether or not the government welcomed former Fox News personality Glenn Beck’s rally in Israel. Beck, who recently said Netanyahu had “evidence” to prove his conspiracy theories and addressed the Knesset, just moved his rally — which is to be attended by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) — away from the Temple Mount because it coincides with a holiday when 40,000 Muslims are expected to be worshiping in Jerusalem. Beck intimated that the Muslims might try to kill him and were looking for any excuse to start “World War III.” So it seems that there’s room for Beck in the Netanyahu government’s “big tent,” but according to Peled, J Street doesn’t appear to be welcome.
Although the rate of new housing starts reached a five-month high in June, Jim Glass at the Money Illusion notes that the household formation rate is experiencing its largest plunge of the last 40 years. According to U.S. Census data, before the housing bubble burst in 2007, 1,627,000 new households were created, topping off a decade average of 1,499,000 new households a year. But in 2010, that figure was down to 357,000, a drop of 78 percent from three years before.
I may be overreading the language of finality in the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, but it sure does look like Chris Nolan is leading up to having Bane break Batman’s back and leave him a paraplegic, doesn’t it?
If Nolan does go there, I don’t think he deserves infinite credit ? he would, after all, just be replicating the original storyline ? but he’d be smarter than past interpreters of Bane. And I think it would be of a piece with Nolan’s extreme skepticism about the long-term viability of the whole superhero project. Ra’s al Ghul isn’t an entirely unsympathetic character in Batman Begins ? he’s right that Gotham keeps breeding new and major governance and corruption problems, and neither his genocidal solution nor Batman’s proposal of constant struggle seems terribly appealing. In The Dark Knight, that ongoing struggle isn’t viable unless Batman makes certain ethical compromises that cost him allies ? and even then, goodness from unexpected sources helps save the day. And maybe The Dark Knight Rises will be about the fact that no matter how much cool technology you buy, or no matter how far you venture into your own personal heart of darkness, if your strategy for fighting evil is to put yourself between your city and the people who threaten it, you become the target, and someone will come along who can break you. If you just have to flip Harvey Dent, if you just have to put Commissioner Gordon in the hospital, if you just have to put Batman in a wheelchair, that’s a fairly easy goal to concentrate a lot of super-villainous energy towards solving.
As a side note, I’m fascinated by the role that paraplegia’s playing in a bunch of our big action movies. Whether it’s Jake Sully escaping into an alternative body after he lost the use of his legs in the Marines in Avatar, the badly-aimed bullet that hits Charles Xavier at the deeply moving end to X-Men: First Class, and now this, we’ve got an lot of heroes with disabilities. While Sully gets a do-over, and Xavier seems to accept the limitations to his abilities ? I think it’s useful that we see Sully do things like moving in and out of his wheelchair, where Charles is never presented as physically awkward, even though he’s limited ? I wonder if Batman will rage against what’s happened to him. People with disabilities shouldn’t be required to be saintly to be represented on screen.