At times like this I'm glad we have a left/liberal paper like the Guardian/Observer. Consider these crucial pieces.
1. Despite menacing noises from Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's leading centre-left daily has refused to stop demanding answers to 10 questions put to him over his relationship with a Neapolitan teenager, Noemi Letizia.
Nor has there been any explanation of the latest revelation that the 18-year-old Ms Letizia is the owner of four houses. This is about more than media prurience. His wife has said she can no longer stay with a man who "frequents minors" and that he is "not well".
The press remains one of the few forces of critical appraisal in a society where almost all the television channels are answerable to Mr Berlusconi.
When a reporter from La Repubblica tackled him this week, Mr Berlusconi lost his rag. "What right have you to ask?" he stormed. The answer in a democratic society must be: "All the right in the world." La Repubblica is ploughing a lonely furrow and deserves support.
Doesn't this piece remind us of Totnes MP Anthony Steen? The South Devon Herald Express said,
“In his interview, broadcast at lunchtime yesterday, Mr Steen insisted his behaviour was 'impeccable' and he had merely been 'caught on the wrong foot'.
"I've done nothing criminal, that's the most awful thing, and do you know what it's about? Jealousy," he told World at One.
"I've got a very, very large house. Some people say it looks like Balmoral. It's a merchant's house of the 19th century. It's not particularly attractive, it just does me nicely."
“What right does the public have to interfere with my private life? None."
Of course he eventually came to his senses and apologised, but not before his party leader, Mr Cameron, told BBC Radio 4 it was "an appalling thing to say".
"I gave him a very clear instruction after that interview - one more squeak like that and he will have the whip taken away from him so fast his feet won't touch the ground," Mr Cameron told BBC Radio 4's the World at One.
"It was a completely unacceptable interview. It was a completely unacceptable thing to say. He's announced his retirement from Parliament."
The problem with Berlusconi, of course, is that he's the leader of his party and the leader of his country.
2. A wonderful piece in “Face To Faith” in yesterday's paper, by Nitin Mehta, founder of the Indian Cultural Centre:
Faiths that originated in India have a long history of toleration and openness to new ideas, says Nitin Mehta
Religions that have their roots in India – namely, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism – believe all paths to God are valid, and over the centuries this sublime belief has helped avoid violence and strife. There are thousands of sects within Hinduism, and violence between them is unknown.
There is a great parable in Buddhism that describes a blind man touching different parts of an elephant and describing what he thinks it looks like. In his own way he is correct in his description, and the same is true of religions.
According to the time, circumstances and the culture it is born in, a religion will interpret the truth as it sees it. Indic religions believe there is nothing to fight about in these apparent differences. Indeed the whole concept of "my religion" is an extension of my race, my country, all of which the Indic religions call maya or illusion – at death all these attachments are severed.
When the Zoroastrians known as the Parsees came to India having been driven out of Persia for their religious beliefs, the Hindu king welcomed them and not only tolerated but encouraged them to continue practising their faith. Parsees have lived happily in India over the centuries, and there has not been a single incident of confrontation with the majority Hindus. Indeed the Parsees have paid back by excelling in so many fields that have put India on the map as a economic giant. Sikhs have defended other faiths facing persecution.
This unshakable belief in diversity has meant that religions of India have never sought to convert others. The root of cause of violence in the name of religion is the desire to convert – indeed entire civilisations have perished whenever a new ideology believing in the supremacy of its truth has decided to impose its version of truth on others.
The other unique advantage the Indic religions have is that precisely because of their tolerance of ideas they are able to reform whenever negative practices creep in, as they do in any long-established religion. Mahatma Gandhi and many others in India were able to confront long-established but outdated and corrupt practices which had taken root in Hinduism. Much earlier Lord Buddha and Lord Mahavira had also challenged practices such as animal sacrifices that had crept into some Hindu sects. In many faiths such reformers have faced violent persecution, but Hinduism welcomes valid criticism.
This permanent revolution, to use a Trotskyite term, keeps the faith in touch with the ever-changing world. And this freedom of thought and expression is the reason why democracy is thriving in India. Until the recent Indian elections, the communists had been in power in West Bengal for a long time; in true Indian tradition, they had become integral to the all-encompassing mosaic of Indian life. The significance of this can only be realised when one considers the likelihood of communists running the show in one of the states of America!
New thoughts and new ideas do not frighten the people of Indic religions; neither do they stifle them. As Mahatma Gandhi said: "Let my windows be open to receive new ideas but let me also be strong enough not to be blown away by them." In the heart of New Delhi there is a beautiful Baha'i temple. This new temple sits comfortably in its new home and Indians visit it in large numbers hoping that there will be something new to learn from it which will enrich their lives. Until and unless all faiths around the world acknowledge the unique diversity and the rainbow of different cultures and faiths that God has given us and which so enrich our lives, religions will create strife instead of the peace that is the main purpose of religion.
3. “We want real contrition for our abuse.” Some excellent letters in the paper yesterday:
“It is entirely of a piece with the fact that the English Catholic hierarchy have made no statement about, nor set up an independent inquiry into, the possibility of child sex abuse in Catholic institutions in England, despite the fact that it is inconceivable that the church in England should have completely escaped the practices that have been shown to be endemic in the churches in the US and Ireland. I do not believe the church has any concern for the victims of the child sex abuse that has taken place and instead is primarily concerned to limit the damage to itself.”
And so on.
“Abuse of children was the norm in Catholic educational institutions in Ireland throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, not the exception. Catholic parents were told suffering would help their children into heaven. I remember the small bumps on the back of my head where nuns would hit me, always leading with the ring finger, I was locked in a cupboard so I would know what the dark hole was like before entering the fires of hell.”
From Richard Lanigan
“As a solicitor representing victims of child abuse, particularly in the Catholic church, I am completely unsurprised by the comments from Vincent Nichols, the new Archbishop of Westminster. As Archbishop of Birmingham he fought legal claims by child abuse victims tooth and nail, delaying justice for many years. Moreover, even when legal claims have succeeded in the courts he has been unwilling to apologise for the archdiocese's failings. His mask may have slipped publicly for the first time, but for Nichols this contempt for victims and unwillingness to learn lessons is par for the course.”
From Richard Scorer.
3. "A reshuffle of these grubby MPs is futile. Try mass exile” - Polly Toynbee
Britain has always held its politicians in low esteem . . .
So will this prove to be the tipping point in which "throw the bastards out" candidates overwhelm the old parties? Pollsters think almost certainly not. Labour may well be thrown out, but probably only a handful of independents will squeeze through the first past the post two-party barrier to uppity citizens.
As that hard reality dawns on people, here is the best opportunity to take electoral reform from the realms of anorak academics into popular politics. If Labour had an ounce of sense left, it would see that radical reform is its last chance to regain a shred of credibility – and the best reason not to hold an election until a constitutional convention draws up propositions for a referendum to be held at the same time.
Only a savage act of House cleaning, with famous faces removed, might persuade voters that Labour is worth listening to again.
It will be for backbenchers and junior ministers to make that happen. I have not a shred of evidence, no wink or nod that she would, but Harriet Harman – again this week declaring herself a non-runner – has a unique authority to galvanise her party to save itself after 5 June. Despite being the one elected minister not dependent on prime ministerial patronage, she may have neither the inclination nor the nerve.
The party may recoil from this cleansing ruthlessness, but after a crushing defeat they will have to do it anyway. So why not now, before disaster strikes?"
Two 'cultural commentators' – Mark Lawson and Hadley Freeman – wrote interesting pieces.
4. Westminster greedy pig fever is tearing up the media rulebook. - Mark Lawson
A solemn principle of higher journalism is that writing a cheque before writing a story devalues the information gained; defence counsel in libel cases often discredit witnesses by pointing out that they sold their evidence. And so parliamentarians and disgruntled journalistic rivals tried to direct attention to the money allegedly going out of the Telegraph rather than the cash spilling into constituencies.
Such bleats, however, are now silent because, even if it were to turn out that the paper got the documents by mugging a blind octogenarian nun, the import of the information would justify almost any way it came to light.
The haughtier newspapers and broadcasters have long decried the pack-attack atmosphere of elimination TV shows such as Big Brother, while many articles have argued that the Blair government was more or less responsible for the death of Dr David Kelly by exposing him to cruel scrutiny. Yet this last fortnight has produced hundreds of Dr Kellys – anonymous figures suddenly squirming in the searchlights – and the mood of the Question Time audience resembled humiliation shows in the savage desperation to vote the House of Commons mates off their show.
Clearly, parliamentarians who see public office as an opportunity to better the accommodation of their ducks have done more to deserve hostility than either late weapons experts or witless twentysomethings in a TV house.
5. Mr Cheney, please, tell us about it. - Hadley Freeman
Babbling away like a Speaker's Corner regular, Bush's former guru is doing him a final favour.
I don't want to start any libellous rumours here, but it's hard not to wonder if someone (Rush Limbaugh? Rahm Emanuel? It could work either way) has been putting cocaine in Cheney's morning coffee. The man just will not shut the hell up. Cheney was once the Republican party's mysterious Thomas Pynchon, but in the past two weeks he has become a media slut of Ulrika Jonsson-type proportions, with an accompanying sense of cringing embarrassment, and I would not be surprised if he turned up in the Big Brother house this summer, railing about the benefits of Abu Ghraib to fellow housemates Vanessa Feltz and Marcus Brigstocke.
On Thursday the all new Chatty Cheney gave a talk at the American Enterprise Institute on his favourite subject – Torture: it's Super! – while, as chance would have it, Obama happened to be giving a talk at almost exactly the same time on the proposed closure of Guantánamo Bay.
There is no question that there is something about Cheney that still fascinates people. Last week, a Newsweek reporter claimed that Joe Biden – another talkative VP, coincidentally – revealed at a dinner that he had been shown an underground "bunker-like room" at the National Observatory in Washington, where Cheney lived during his time as vice-president. With its "steel door secured by an elaborate lock" and a "narrow connecting hallway lined with shelves filled with communications equipment" (neighbours had apparently complained of loud construction work – for some reason that's my favourite detail), it fits in so perfectly with the popular perception of Cheney that not even the Biden office's hastily issued semi-denial (apparently, it was just an "upstairs workplace") could quell the idea that for eight years America was ruled by Dr Strangelove.
But Chatty Cheney may kill that idea himself. The reason for the chat, of course, is that Cheney feels he has a legacy to defend, which says much about who he feels was actually running the country during the past two terms. Yet in defending what little there was left to defend, he has ended up decimating it. The wizard has stepped out from behind the curtain and he has shown himself to be, far from the horrifically fascinating mastermind he occasionally seemed during his time as VP, rather a ranting old man who wouldn't look amiss at Speakers' Corner and who thinks the best way to govern is to incite fear and paranoia.