Oprah and the end of the American century

Oprah, The Rock, Beyonce and Marge Simpson, please join the White House race in 2020

When I somewhat rashly predicted two years ago that a Republican victory in the US presidential election would see the USA fall apart within five years and within 10 years if the Democrats won, I was laughed out of court.

Who’s laughing now? With this week’s “news” that daytime TV hostess and billionaire African American …oops “person of colour” … Oprah Winfrey may stand in the 2020 presidential election, the end of the American Century has just been accelerated.

And if Ms Winfrey doesn’t stand, another legend in his own dreams, The Rock, aka actor and professional wrestler Dwayne Johnson, is in the wings testing his presidential prospects.

Why stop at Oprah and The Rock, who not draft Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber or Marge Simpson? That would be a real contest of intellects and the social media bosses would just love it. Ratings would skyrocket.

CNN fell so deliriously in love with Oprah Winfrey after her incoherent shouty-shout at the Golden Globes that the Democrat-loving network tweeted its total support for “our next president”. There was such a public outcry over the message’s blatant partisanship that CNN took it down.

Broede Carmody of the Sydney Morning Herald was infatuated as well, describing her speech as “a powerful call-to-arms” and the whole Hollywood charade a “powerful moment”.

While audiences across the world were throwing up or curled up in side-splitting laughter at the parade of Botoxians in fashioned-designer black dresses, none of the Metoo movement’s supporters were addressing the main issues of blatant discrimination, sexual exploitation, class oppression, intimidation and repression or dismantling the system which produces all of the above.

The next news items on US networks covered firestorms across California [now it’s mud slides], freezing floods in the Mid-West while New York and some eastern states were buried in snow and record below-zero temperatures. Outside Hollywood’s self-absorbed bubble, working people were simply struggling just to survive. Some Golden Globe carpet strollers caught private jets back home or to the locations where they are on contract.

Another Razer attack

Firebrand arts commentator Helen Razer saw the Hollywood event somewhat unconventionally. (‘The “Black Gown” Golden Globes “inspired” no one but the empty-headed stars in them’, Daily Review, 9 January 2018)

She commented: “I watch this particular show only to despise the rich and celebrated, just as any sane person should. After all, a hatred of the ruling class is love of one’s own class. But this year, all those celebrated pricks had agreed to wear black garments to falsely reveal their ‘solidarity’ with the likes of me. I was not convinced.”

Red carpet activism at the Golden Globes

Razer researched the celebrity apparel and found that many of the red carpeteers were dressed in high-premium designer clobber. Reese Witherspoon’s custom-made gown was by Zac Posen [who he?], Nicole Kidman wore a black Givenchy number worth thousands of dollars while Dame Helen Mirren wore a bag of Harry Winston-supplied diamonds. “Mined by slaves?” Razer asked. “They usually are.”

While I have no issue whatsoever with women wearing beautifully made and designed clothes, I draw the line at obscenely wealthy white, black and brown women (and men) in an orgy of self-promotion making fake gestures about world peace, ending discrimination and stopping child slavery.

Thanks very much for the black dresses with plunging neck lines and all the black shirts but oppression and exploitation will only be ended with the removal of the system which breeds it.

Meryl Streep is a perfect example of the primitive, apolitical level of current Hollywood feminism. As jury president at the Berlin Film Festival she was asked about the low representation of black actors in American-made films. She replied: “There is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture, and after all, we’re all from Africa originally. Berliners, we’re all Africans really.”

When translated, this mumbo jumbo simply means stop complaining about discrimination and leave Hollywood alone!

A Hollywood veteran with a 30-year career, Ms Streep was “surprised” to learn of Weinstein’s depravity only a few weeks  ago. Really?  I can’t believe that an actress of such talent can be so dumb.

Another thing, every US feminist movement since the 19th century has raised the banner of sexual equality and sought an end to discrimination against women. The 21st century version, on display at the Golden Globes, reveals a self-righteous movement driven by its sense of moral superiority: we’re right and the rest of you aren’t.

The trouble with moral superiority is that it has to find something over which to be superior. And in this particular case that, of course, is men. This leads to the dangerous world where all the woes of middle class women in wealthy Western nations are the fault of men. If only it were that simple.

Catherine Deneuve

I can only applaud Catherine Deneuve, one of a group of 100 Frenchwomen, who have taken a stand against the new hysteria for its “puritanism”. In a statement published in Le Monde  this week they wrote: “This urge to send men to the slaughterhouse, instead of helping women be more autonomous, helps the enemies of sexual freedom.” Well said. Anti-maleness is not a sustainable philosophical basis on which to build a movement to change society. It will simply divide it – between male and female, rich and poor, the so-called elites and the so-called deplorables.

Utterly predictably, Ms Deneuve and her co-signatories have been monstered by Hollywood’s MeToo crowd which proves my point about self-righteous superiority. Instead, shouldn’t we all be learning something from the importance of respecting other opinions and listening?

The real enemy of working women and working men isn’t each other, it’s capitalism.

Love in La La Land

Long before Harvey and Robert Weinstein became Hollywood moguls, another family, the Warner brothers, dominated Tinseltown.

Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack Warner were feared and revered in equal measure. Originally Polish Jews who arrived in America in the 1880s, the Warners struck gold in the emerging world of film production.

Their studio, Warner Bros, made such hits as The Jazz Singer starring a blacked-up Al Jolson, born Asa Yoelson, Little Caesar with Edward G Robinson in the Italian gangster role as Rico, The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart as private investigator Phillip Marlowe, Elia Kazan-directed A Streetcar Named Desire with Marlon Brando, East of Eden directed by Elia Kazan and starring James Dean and the all-time classic, Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Jack Warner

Jack Warner out-schemed his brothers to run the show. He hired Kazan after his infamous testimony to the McCarthyite committee that witch-hunted communists, socialists and militant unionists in the film industry.

When film historian David Thomson was asked to write the Warner story for the Yale University book series on “Jewish Lives” he included the following observation: “Jack Warner is maybe the biggest scumbag ever to get into a ‘Jewish Lives’ series.” He bullied his staff and stars and dismissed Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie and Clyde as “a three-piss picture”. It went on to win two Oscars and secured eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture.

Jack Warner once introduced his mistress Jackie Park to a London audience as having “a heart of gold and a snatch to match.”

When he tired of Ms Park he instructed an associate to tell her that she would “wind up like Monroe” (dead) unless she cleared off. She packed her bags and left.

Shades of Harvey …

America’s “soft power” fraud

If an academic, journalist, retired diplomat or politician delivers a nostalgic comment about the decline of “soft power” in US diplomacy, I’ll scream.

What “soft power”? Since World War Two, the US has invaded and bombed smaller countries across the world, changed their regimes, installed puppets and dictatorships, recruited death squads and tortured or killed socialists, journalists, political opponents, priests, nuns, aid workers and lawyers.

America’s “soft power” is written in blood in Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Panama, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil.

James Risen, the Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist, has blown the whistle on the “soft power” fraud. He was charged with treasonous offences for exposing Washington’s secret surveillance of American citizens after 9/11 and faced a long jail sentence.

James Risen

In his splendid article, My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror, Risen wrote: “My case was part of a broader crackdown on reporters and whistleblowers that had begun during the presidency of George W Bush and continued far more aggressively under the Obama administration, which has already prosecuted more leak cases than all previous administrations combined. The crackdown applied on leaks only applied to low-level dissenters; top officials caught up in leak investigations, like former CIA director David Petraeus, were still treated with kid gloves.” (The Intercept, 3 January 2018).

John Kiriakou, a former CIA counter-terrorism officer, served 23 months in jail under the Espionage Act, a law designed to punish spies. He was the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration for exposing the Bush administration’s torture programme following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

He wrote last week that Obama used the Espionage Act as “an iron fist to stamp out dissent within the US intelligence community”.

He added: “Obama’s Attorney-General Eric Holder prosecuted eight people under the Espionage Act for allegedly giving classified information to the press. That’s nearly three times the number of prosecutions under all previous administrations combined.”

Just after his inauguration, Obama attended the annual Richard M Helms dinner honouring the unindicted war criminal who headed the CIA from 1966 to 1973 when some of its worst atrocities were committed.

Obama relaxed with the CIA community at Washington’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. He had won their loyalty by adopting the agency’s covert assassination programme, its remote control drone killings and had publicly stated: “The CIA gets what it wants.” Throughout his two terms in office, Obama never once criticised the CIA and fully backed its ever-expanding murderous adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Libya.

So next time dimwits start to tell you about the “glory days” of Obama’s rule tell them they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Cricket and our republic

I never thought I would implore England’s Barmy Army to return to Australia for the cricket.

In the Ashes Test series which concluded this week – Australia won 4-0 – the English riff raff served a purpose that I had previously overlooked.

They are a marvellous force for encouraging Australians to alter the Constitution and install an Australian as head of state in place of someone from the Windsor family in England.

The Barmy Army

At every Test match from Brisbane to Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, the Barmoids began by singing Jerusalem, apparently oblivious to the fact that it is a socialist poem penned by William Blake in 1804 and then converted to a hymn in 1916 to support British imperialism during World War One’s mass slaughter on the battlefields of France, Belgium and Germany.

Tens of thousands of Aussie schoolchildren at Test matches were appalled by the drunken behavior of the yobs and louts from the UK “army” and it left a lasting impression on them.

Watching the SCG game on television, I overheard one youngster asking his father: “Why are they singing ‘God Save the Queen’ over and over again when they are being defeated, Dad?” His father replied: “They’re from England, mate, they don’t know any better.”

The final straw was the last day’s play at the SCG when England captain Joe Root rose from his hospital bed to finish his innings, then went back to the dressing sheds and didn’t bother to attend the final hour’s play or the official presentation.

I don’t how ill he was but former England captains, the likes of Wally Hammond, Len Hutton, Brian Close, Ray Illingworth, Tony Greig, Ian Botham, David Gower, Mike Gatting and Graham Gooch, would have attended on crutches or in a wheelchair.

Can you imagine what we would think of an Australian captain if he (or she) decided to forego the final official ceremony of a Test series a few hours after playing an innings? Young Australians watching the current series were rightly gobsmacked: they’ve no time for sore losers.

Tributes continue to flow for Francis Wyndham and Phil Jacobson

Magnus Linklater, a former Sunday Times colleague and editor of The Scotsman, has captured the elegant literary life of Francis Wyndham in an obituary in The Times.

Linklater wrote: “It would be hard to quantify the influence that Francis Wyndham had on English writers of the 20th century because he played down his achievements. But it was pervasive.

“He helped to recast the reputations of Jean Rhys and Ivy Compton- Burnett. He was the first reader of manuscripts by VS Naipaul, Bruce Chatwin and Edward St Aubyn. He was loved and respected by novelists as diverse as Julian Barnes, Alan Hollinghurst, Diana Athill and Edna O’Brien, who treasured his erudition, perception and waspish wit.

The book by Francis Wyndham and David King

“His own books ran to only five — two collections of short stories, a compilation of his own articles, an essay on Trotsky and a slim novel, The Other Garden, which, however, won the Whitbread first novel award in 1987, when Wyndham was 63.”

Linklater recalled Wyndham’s acute ability to spot literary, artistic and cultural talent when he was an editor on the Sunday Times Colour Magazine. He recalled editorial board meetings at which contributions were considered for publication. “’I don’t really warm to it,’ was a Wyndham putdown that would consign a potential idea to the dustbin,” Linklater wrote.

My memory differs. When all the room turned to Francis for his verdict, he would declare languidly, “I think it’s GHASTLY!” The dustbin beckoned.

Another former Gray’s Inn Road colleague, author James Fox, told a quite different story of Francis’s editorial opinions. In his obituary for the UK Guardian, Fox wrote: “His piece-killing line was: ‘I’m not very drawn to that’.” So devastating and so Francis.

Fox threw light on another side of Wyndham’s influence of which I was not familiar. “He commissioned a new batch of gifted photographers – David Bailey, Terence Donovan, Brian Duffy, Tony Snowden, Don McCullin, Eve Arnold – believing, against the orthodoxy, that the image had to come first; and matching them to writers, some of whom had never written journalism before.”

He recalled the issue of the colour magazine in 1972 in which McCullin had 17 pages of war photographs from Vietnam “without an advertisement to be seen”.  Unimaginable in today’s newspaper magazines which are firmly controlled by advertising agencies representing the money-grubbing Big End of Town.

Wyndham was responsible for recruiting Tony Snowden, Princess Margaret’s husband, as the magazine’s resident photographer and famously said of him: “Fascinating to be with, though he never reads a book.”

Fearless Phil calls it a day

Just as friends were mourning Wyndham’s death, a few days later another Sunday Times colleague, Phil Jacobson, died at home in South-West London.

Philip Jacobson during the Yom Kippur war in 1973

Phil was a sharp reporter, fastidious researcher, top investigative journalist and outstanding foreign correspondent. He would be known as “old school” by today’s media people.

His friend Peter Pringle, another Sunday Times reporter of incomparable talent, wrote a loving appreciation which recalled an exciting era of high journalism and hijinks.

“My lasting image of him is with the old foreign fireman’s Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter in a blue plastic case, a sheaf of clippings from the newspaper library, and a wallet of fivers to bribe telex operators,” Pringle wrote. “He sent despatches from many places that people in the 1970s had never heard of, and certainly could not place them on a map until Google arrived to help them.”

Summing up Jacobson as “a courageous, skilful, reporter” Pringle concluded: “Throughout his life, he maintained a healthy independence and a mocking of elites, and also the social whirl.” Hear, hear.

Plight of the Oldies

All ageing citizens are experiencing the relentless march of mortality as it fells one relative, friend or colleague after another.

A garden sculpture at home in Tweed Heads dedicated to Francis Wyndham and Phil Jacobson. 10 January 2018

In the past couple of years my Sunday Times colleagues have been diminished by the devastating departure of Phil Knightley, Murray Sayle, David King, Ron Hall, Colin Simpson, Tony Dawe, Mark Ottaway, Godfrey Smith, Francis Wyndham and Phil Jacobson. If I have neglected a name, my sincerest apologies. Send me anyone I’ve forgotten, and I’ll make a correction.

In the same period of time, I have lost a serious number of my very dearest Sydney friends, including Ian Frykberg, Brian Johns and Colin Lanceley. The question haunting me is this: why has the loss of my English friends affected me so terribly?

The answer probably lies in the fact that friendship is a universal property belonging to all humans as we are social beings. Nationality doesn’t come into it.

Nor does distance. Although I live on the other side of the world to my London friends, the tyranny of distance doesn’t make any loss of life more bearable. I suffer the same pain if they were living in the next street or down south in Sydney.

My bush garden sculpture, Three Pillars, dedicated this week to Ian Frykberg, Brian Johns and Colin Lanceley.

Story of the week from Theresa May’s UK

Jeff Fairburn, CEO of one of Britain’s biggest homebuilders, Persimmon, has rejected criticism of his £110 million annual bonus (189 million Aussie dollars), saying he deserves it.

Meanwhile, 300,000 people in Britain – that’s one in every 200 – are homeless, according to the charity Shelter.



  1. Hi Alex,

    I’ve been reading lately about the Peterloo massacre (Interesting feature in the Guardian recently) and the Chartist movement during the 1800s in the UK. One of their claims – which took a long while to come to fruition – was for the payment of members of parliament so that those not living off rents and stocks could join the machinery of democracy. What worries me about the Oprah surge is that part of her legitimacy rests on the fact that not only is she a celebrity, but also a billionaire. I think this fact puts her just ahead of The Rock as having a chance for the Democratic nomination. But having billions should only be a qualifier for office if you are standing in a plutocracy. I’m not arguing that the US was ever anything but a plutocracy, but still, the idea of democracy as it rose in the early 1800s did so because a lot of lives were lost. To append the name of “democracy” to a system that requires a billionaire qualification for office seems sacrilegious, but through the Oprah example the mystique of wealth becomes increasingly a political reality.



    1. Hi, Chris, Peterloo interest appears to be growing, no doubt spurred on by the anniversary celebrations and Mike Leigh’s film (which has opened to limited release in Manchester). Oprah has converted herself into a commodity; like Trump, she’s a brand. The next thing after making billions and becoming a celebrity appears to be the White House. It’s the natural passage for celebrity stardom in the US. Moral or legal entitlement doesn’t come into any civic/democratic calculation. You’re absolutely correct when you write “the mystique of wealth becomes increasingly a political reality”.

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