Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Latest war tally: Neo-Cons 0 British Soldiers 100

The 100th British soldier has been killed in Iraq. As yet the poor boy has not been named- but I'd wager his name is not Oliver Kamm, Stephen Pollard, Nick Cohen, Andrew Roberts, Douglas Murray or David Aaronovitch.
www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,1698873,00.html

Monday, January 30, 2006

How We Lost the Art of Loving

The charge list against modern global capitalism is a long one. It propels us to deceitful wars, it pollutes the environment, it dumbs down our cultural life. But for a searing and profound exposition of the most serious charge against the economic system we live under, we have to go back over fifty years - to the work of the brilliant German psycho-analyst and social philosopher Erich Fromm. Fromm has long been one of my heroes and with St Valentine's Day not long off I am posting this article I wrote on the great man- and his thoughts on how modern capitalism destroys love and human solidarity- for the New Statesman a couple of years back.
Any other fans of Erich Fromm out there? I'd like to hear from you.


HOW WE LOST THE ART OF LOVING

This year on St Valentine’s Day, it is estimated that we will spend over £25m on flowers, send 15 million cards and more than 500m text messages. Worldwide, over $500m will be spent. The hijacking by global capitalism of a relatively low key event in the Christian calendar and its transformation into a multi-million dollar spendfest is of course only part of a wider trend which has seen the invasion of commercial values into all aspects of our lives. Yet the very same forces that are so keen to promote the annual festival of love, are themselves, largely responsible for the disintegration of love in our society.
The way in which modern capitalism destroys love is not a topic that many on the left have wished to engage. Far safer to discuss relative wage rates, constitutional reform and tinkering with the tax and benefit system than anything as fundamental as love. For a searing and profound exposition of the most serious charge against the economic system we all live under, we need to go back almost fifty years, to the writing of one of the most neglected, yet prescient thinkers of the 20th Century, Erich Fromm.
Fromm was a German psychoanalyst and social philosopher who fled his homeland when the Nazis came to power. Settling in the U.S. where he combined clinical practice with lecturing at Columbia University, most of Fromm’s earlier works were an attempt to reach some understanding on how totalitarian regimes could come to be accepted and supported by the people. In ‘Fear of Freedom’ 1937, he argued that such regimes, appealed to a deep-seated craving to escape from the freedom of the modern world and return to the womb. But having escaped from the horrors of Nazi Germany, Fromm was under no illusions about that the society he had emigrated to. He was among the first to see that life in twentieth century Western capitalist democracy, constituted in many ways, another escape from freedom.
In ‘The Sane Society’ (1955), Fromm took the ideas Freud had advanced in ‘Civilisation and its Discontents’ one stage further and argued that capitalist society, in which ‘consumption has become the de facto goal’, was itself sick. He developed his theory of social character- the idea that ‘every society produces the character it needs’. Early, Calvanistic capitalism produced the ‘hoarding character’, who hoards possessions and feelings- the classic Victorian man of property. Modern post-war capitalism, Fromm argued was producing another equally neurotic type- the marketing character- who ‘adapts to the market economy by becoming detached from authentic emotions, truth and conviction’. For the marketing character, ‘everything is transformed into a commodity, not only things, but the person himself, his physical energy, his skills, his knowledge, his opinions, his feelings, even his smiles’. Such people are not able to care, ‘not because they are selfish, but because their relationship to each other and to themselves is so thin’.
Global capitalism requires marketing characters in abundance and makes sure it gets them. Meanwhile, Fromm’s ideal character type- the mature ‘productive character’- the person without a mask, who loves and creates’, and for whom being is more important than having, is discouraged.
In ‘The Art of Loving’(1956), Fromm identified five types of love- all of which he believed were under attack in modern society. Brotherly love, ‘the most fundamental kind of love which underlies all others’, was undermined by the reduction of all human beings to commodities. Motherly love, ‘the most difficult love to achieve’ was threatened by narcissism and possessiveness. Self-love, without which we cannot love others- is destroyed by its polar opposite- selfishness, and the love of God, by the regression ‘to an idolatric concept of God’ and the transformation of the love of God into a relationship fitting into an alienated character structure. Finally, erotic love, which Fromm sees ‘as the most deceptive’ of all forms of love is debased by its separation from brotherly love and the absence of tenderness.
‘If love is a capacity of the mature productive character, it follows that the capacity to love in an individual living in any given culture depends on the influence this culture has on the average person’, wrote Fromm. ‘If we speak about love in contemporary Western culture, we mean to ask whether the social structure of Western civilisation and the spirit arising from it are conducive to the development of love. To raise the question is to answer it in the negative’.
Fromm wrote ‘The Art of Loving’ at a time of relatively benign regulated capitalism. Fifty years on, whatever would he have made of modern turbo capitalism ? His belief that ‘a healthy economy is possible only at the price of unhealthy human beings’ could hardly be better proved than by looking at contemporary Britain. Over the last decade we have witnessed the longest period of uninterrupted economic growth and seen the lowest inflation, interest rates and unemployment for forty years. Yet we have also witnessed an unparalleled decline in our society’s collective mental health.
Over 2 million Britons are on anti-depressants, half a million on Class A drugs. Binge drinking, and what Fromm described as ‘destructive acts’ , crime, violence and vandalism, have reached record levels. Newspapers which carry features glorifying self-styled ‘property gurus’ run on the very next page articles reflecting on the loneliness and isolation experienced by vast swathes of the population - failing to understanding that the two phenomena of modern life are inextricably connected.
While the five types of love Fromm identified flounder, forms of pseudo-love abound in the Britain of 2004. ‘Egoism a deux’, in which two, self-centred people come together in marriage or partnership- to escape loneliness, but never arrive at a ‘central relationship’ is clearly thriving in a country where over one third of co-habiting and married couples keep separate bank accounts. And the narcissistic orientation, the overcoming of which is, for Fromm the main condition for achieving love, can now be witnessed everywhere: when we switch on the television, open a tabloid newspaper or overhear casual conversation in the street or on a bus. Meanwhile, Fromm’s marketing character, gaining in ground since the 1950s and given a huge forward push in the 1980s, has become the dominant personality type of the age. Each country, as Aldous Huxley one said, gets the leader it deserves, and in a time and a place where the marketing character rules supreme, it would be difficult to imagine a more appropriate Prime Minister for Britain than Anthony Linton Blair, a man who oozes insincerity from every pore. Love, as defined by Fromm, can of course still be found in modern Britain.
But where it exists, it does so in spite of an economic system whose underlying principle is inherently hostile to it.
A plethora of glossy magazines encourage anti-love sexual permissiveness and the cultivation of selfish and materialistic lifestyles for a new breed of look after number one ‘Metrosexuals’. Multi-million dollar industries promoting the cult of narcissism have grown up, of which reality television is the latest and crudest manifestation. We are sold advice on ‘how to flirt’ and ‘how to dump’ our partners and are encouraged to view all human contacts as expendable, to be ‘traded in’ whenever we can get a better deal.
Conservative commentators, yearning for a gentler, kinder age, are, with one or two exceptions, unable to comprehend that the very economic system they defend, is, through its destruction of love and its desire to create a population of alienated automatons, responsible for most of the social debris. Matthew Parris, who recently spent a week on the dole in Newcastle, was right to say, on his return, that certain individuals will always be unhappy in whatever society they find themselves living in. But he failed to see that a society that is driven by rapacious commercialism, which lauds and promotes the cult of self and which quantifies success in purely material terms, will always produce less love and therefore more unhappy people than one which places human needs first. Global capitalism does many things, but building solidarity is not among them. The challenge for all those who concerned with the seemingly irreversible atomisation of our society is to construct a society where Fromm’s productive orientation becomes the end to which all social arrangements serve, and in which man, and not economics, profit and capital is the centre of all things. Then and only then can love, - ‘the only sane and satisfactory answer to the question of human existence’ flourish.
Luke Johnson, the newly appointed Chairman of Channel Four and the epitome of the modern marketing character has said that Britain ‘would be a better place if we had 500 more Richard Bransons’. But we already have more than enough money makers. What Britain really needs is 500 politicians who have read Erich Fromm.
Copyright N.Clark/New Statesman 2004

Blair in Secret Plot to Dupe the U.N.

The case for impeaching Bliar grows stronger by the day....


Blair in Secret Plot with Bush to Dupe U.N.
By Simon Walters
01/29/06 "Mail On Sunday" -

A White House leak revealing astonishing details of how Tony Blair and George Bush lied about the Iraq war is set to cause a worldwide political storm. A new book exposes how the two men connived to dupe the United Nations and blows the lid off Mr Blair's claim that he was a restraining influence on Mr Bush. He offered his total support for the war at a secret White House summit as Mr Bush displayed his contempt for the UN, made a series of wild threats against Saddam Hussein and showed a devastating ignorance about the catastrophic aftermath of the war. Based on access to information at the highest level, the book by leading British human rights lawyer Philippe Sands QC, Professor of Law at London University, demonstrates how the two men decided to go to war regardless of whether they obtained UN backing. The revelations make a nonsense of Mr Blair's claim that the final decision was not made until MPs voted in the Commons 24 hours before the war - and could revive the risk of him being charged with war crimes or impeached by Parliament itself. The book also makes serious allegations concerning the conduct of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer and Attorney General Lord Goldsmith over Goldsmith's legal advice on the war. And it alleges the British Government boasted that disgraced newspaper tycoon Conrad Black was being used by Mr Bush's allies in America as a channel for pro-war propaganda in the UK via his Daily Telegraph newspaper. The leaks are contained in a new version of Sands' book Lawless World, first published last year, when it emerged that Lord Goldsmith had told Mr Blair the war could be unlawful - before a lastminute U-turn. The new edition, to be published by Penguin on Thursday, is likely to cause a fierce new controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. It follows recent charges against two British men under the Official Secrets Act after a transcript of another conversation between Mr Bush and Blair, in which the President raised the possibility of bombing the Al Jazeera Arab TV station, was leaked by a Whitehall official. Both governments will be horrified that the stream of leaks revealing the grim truth about the war is turning into a flood. The most damaging new revelation concerns the meeting between Mr Blair and Mr Bush at the White House on January 31, 2003, during which Mr Blair urged the President to seek a second UN resolution giving specific backing for the war. The Mail on Sunday has established that the meeting was attended only by Mr Blair, his Downing Street foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning, Mr Bush and the President's then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, plus an official note-taker. The top-secret record of the meeting was circulated to a tiny handful of senior figures in the two administrations. Immediately afterwards, the two leaders gave a Press conference in which a nervous-looking Mr Blair claimed the meeting had been a success. Mr Bush gave qualified support for going down the UN route. But observers noted the awkward body language between the two men. Sands' book explains why. Far from giving a genuine endorsement to Mr Blair's attempt to gain full UN approval, Mr Bush was only going through the motions. And Mr Blair not only knew it, but went along with it. The description of the January 31 meeting echoes the recent memoirs of Britain's former ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer. Meyer, who was excluded from the private session between Blair and Bush, claimed the summit marked the culmination of the Prime Minister's failure to use his influence to hold back Mr Bush. Equally significantly, Meyer was puzzled by Blair's behaviour when the two leaders emerged to join other aides. Meyer writes: "We were all milling around in the State dining room as Bush and Blair put the final touches to what they were going to say to the media. "Bush had a notepad on which he had written a form of words on the second resolution...He read it out...There was silence. I waited for Blair to say he needed something as supportive as possible. He said nothing. I waited for somebody on the No 10 team to say something. Nothing was said. I cursed myself afterwards for not piping up. "At the Press conference, Bush gave only a perfunctory and lukewarm support for a second resolution. It was neither his nor Blair's finest performance." In view of Sands' disclosures, Blair had every reason to look awkward: he knew that despite his public talk of getting UN support, privately he had just committed himself to going to war no matter what the UN did. When, in due course, the UN refused to back the war, Mr Blair seized on the fact that French President Jacques Chirac said he would not support any pro-war resolution, claiming that the French veto was so 'unreasonable' that a UN vote was pointless. In reality, Bush and Blair had decided to go to war before Chirac uttered a word. The disclosures will be seized on by anti-war critics in Britain, including Left-wing MPs who say Mr Blair should be impeached for his handling of the war. However, Ministers will argue that after three major British inquiries into the war, and with thousands of British troops due to be sent home from Iraq this year, it is time to move on. A Downing Street spokeswoman said last night: "These matters have been thoroughly investigated and we stand by our position."
©2006 Associated Newspapers Ltd ·

What Sort of Country Murders Nine-Year Old Children?

What sort of country could fire bullets into- and blow up the stomach of a little nine-year-old girl? Perhaps
Oliver Kamm and Stephen Pollard could tell us- for they were in that country last week.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,,1697825,00.html

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Trial They Don't Want Us to Read About

Wondering why we are hearing so little about the trial of Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague? Read this and you'll understand why.
http://www.slobodan-milosevic.org/news/smorg012506.htm

A Hit-Man Repents

Gary Younge in the Guardian Weekend Magazine has an interview with John Perkins, the former economic hit-man for the US 'corporatocracy' who has now turned whistle-blower.
Perkins' main task was to persuade foreign governments to take large loans for huge engineering and construction projects conducted by US companies- such as Halliburton and Bechtel. To achieve this, he would produce reports which vastly exaggerated the economic benefit of the projects. The aim was simple 'I would work to bankrupt the countries that received those loans so that they would forever be beholden to thier creditors, and so they would present easy targets when we needed favours, including military bases, UN votes, access to oil and other natural resources', he says. If the loans were not taken, Perkins explains- it was over to plan B- 'a mixture of bribery, sex, flattery, prostitution, distortion, extortion, abduction and invasion' to get corporate America's way.
Perkins' revelations are essential reading for those poor deluded souls (yes, Harry's Place groupies, I mean you)- who still believe that Uncle Sam invades other countries and topples world leaders for 'humanitarian' reasons or to spread 'democracy'.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A Simple Question

Tim Worstall asks an interesting question
http://timworstall.typepad.com/timworstall/2006/01/kamm_and_pollar.html
The answer- as far as Kamm was concerned is Israel.
I have a very simple question for Kamm. Who paid for your trip? Was it from your own pocket? Or were you paid by a think tank or political organisation?
Kamm has castigated the New Statesman for not revealing that their book reviewer Richard Gott once received money from the KGB. So he surely can't object to my call for every 'pundit' and commentator to reveal exactly who pays them. My conscience is clear- I am an independent journalist who receives no money from any political party, pressure group or think-tank. Can Kamm say the same?

POSTSCRIPT:
It also transpires that Stephen Pollard was in Israel last week, so Tim Worstall's question was indeed very relevant. Not only Pollard, but Melanie Phillips was another absentee- though she has not as yet revealed where she was, I'd lay odds on that she was in Israel too- one blogger has written that she was travelling with Pollard. The question is- who paid for their trips? If anyone can enlighten us, please get in touch.

A Belated Happy Australia Day!

A belated Happy Australia day to all readers Down Under- and indeed all Aussies wherever you are! I wanted to post these two topical pieces yesterday, but the server was down, so they're a day late. First up is a piece by William Spring, of Christians against NATO Aggression on his nomination for the greatest living Australian- the one and only- John Pilger.
Then, there's a piece I co-wrote with the Australian conservative writer Tom Switzer for Quadrant in which we try to explain why it is that so few Australian conservatives have opposed the Iraq war- compared to their brethren in the UK.
Hope you enjoy them.

William Spring on John Pilger

Today is Australia Day.
Here is my nomination for the greatest living Australian - John Pilger.
I don't know him personally but have heard him speak on several occasions and read his articles in The New Statesman.
Last year the Pope died.
There was a general feeling that the late Pope should be given the additional title "The Great".
John Pilger and the Pope didn't get on very well and about the only thing I disagree with Pilger on are his views on aids and the Pope being a cause of the spread of the HIV virus in Africa on account of his opposition to condom use.
But actually both John Paul (and the present Pope Benedict) and John Pilger are all very similar people, being men of immense moral stature and great courage and dogmatism in defence of right and wrong.
One of the comments made by John Pilger at a public meeting I attended against the Iraq War is that "it isn't a matter of right and left but of right and wrong."
John Pilger originally proved his journalist credentials covering the war in Vietnam.
A measure of his stature is that he is banned from broadcasting on the BBC, a station which sounds more and more like Radio Moscow ( as I recall it in the early 1960s) every day.
Yesterday's 6 PM BBC Radio 4 News Broadcast was fairly typical of the BBC style: " The BBC has learned that more British troops are going to Afghanistan to support the democratic Government. "
Since when has the so called "Government" in Kabul been democratic!
Pilger's articles on the Iraq war prior to the General Election in UK* were masterpieces of journalism. All of his articles are indictments of the moral depravity of Mr Blair and the Silence of the Great and the Good in UK, ( e.g. the Monarchy and Church of England) in the face of Parliament having imposed upon us, the public, as Prime Minister a war criminal committed to the use of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners ( as long as it is not called torture) and the indiscriminate killing of civilians by cluster bombs as e.g. at Fallujah.

A most unconservative war
Tom Switzer and Neil Clark on why so many British conservatives and so few Australian conservatives have opposed the war in Iraq.
HE'S too old. He's too lazy. He sells cigarettes. He would split the party and in any case he's not as popular as people make out. In their panic over the very real possibility that Britain's Conservative Party may soon be led by a man who does not share their enthusiasm for following George W. Bush to the ends of the earth, the serial regime changers are in danger of losing what little credibility they have left. Kenneth Clarke's rising political stock, though, raises an intriguing question: at a time when Britain's Conservatives could soon be led by a well-known dove on the Iraq war, why have so many co-ideologists in Australia been so hawkish about the democratic project?
The point bears underlining when you consider that Clarke's opposition to the Iraq war is shared by many other high profile British Tories. Former foreign secretaries Douglas Hurd and Sir Malcolm Rifkind as well as other former cabinet ministers such as Lord Gilmour, Douglas Hogg and John Gummer all opposed military action from the outset. And the ranks of Tory dissenters has by now been strengthened by the likes of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont and the party's former foreign affairs spokesman John Maples, who, having backed the war at the start, now concede that it was a colossal mistake.
To be sure, Conservative Party leaders Iain Duncan-Smith and Michael Howard were enthusiastic cheerleaders for toppling Saddam Hussein. But what made their unashamed support particularly puzzling _ and indeed unwise _ was that so few ordinary British conservatives shared their passion for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. Opinion polls, as commentator Geoffrey Wheatcroft has pointed out, regularly confirmed what everyday observation already suggested: that the Iraq war was markedly more unpopular among Tory than among Labour voters. Had the Conservative leadership reflected the views of its own supporters more accurately, and tapped into the widespread anti-war sentiment in the country, May's General Election might have seen a very different result. In Australia, meanwhile, conservatives have strongly supported the hawkish John Howard, the long-time prime minister and one of the three leaders to commit troops to the invasion two-and-a-half-years ago.
At a time when the conservative Liberal-National Coalition has showed tentative signs of splintering on domestic issues (telecommunications privatisation, industrial relations reform, and illegal immigrants), the conservative movement -- at the party, organisational and intellectual levels -- has been solidly united behind the Government from the start and remains committed to staying the course in Iraq indefinitely. True, there are some exceptions, such as former National Interest editor Owen Harries and former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser, but the latter does not really count given that Australia's Ted Heath habitually attacks his much more successful successor from the Left. So why have so many British conservatives questioned their nation's servile relationship with America and been so uneasy about Tony Blair's venture, while their brethren down under have practically wanted the Australian Army to serve as the American Foreign Legion in Mesopotamia?
Well, for one thing, British conservatism, properly understood, has nothing to do with neo-conservatism. ``Conservatives do not believe the political struggle to be the most important thing in life. The simplest among them prefer fox-hunting, the wisest religion.'' Lord Hailsham's words, written almost 60 years ago, remain the definitive exposition of the Tory approach. Simply put, and notwithstanding the Thatcher years, conservatives are more realist than idealist, prudent than ideological and have a very ingrained scepticism about foreign adventures that do not directly affect the national interest. Take, for instance, John Major's non-intervention policy in the Balkan wars. The Conservative government resisted strong US pressure to bomb Belgrade in 1995 (a policy incidentally which most neo-cons strongly supported and one which New Labour adopted with gusto in 1999). The Conservatives' refusal to take sides in the Balkans, in particular with the Bosnian Islamists, earned them the wrath of the ``something must be done'' liberal interventionists. But not only was it the proper Tory policy; it was, as subsequent events have proved, the right policy too.
In contrast, conservatives in the Antipodes talk the language of neo-conservatism without appreciating its historical and cultural relationship to the land of the free. Indeed, listen to Howard talk about democratic idealism taking root in the Middle East, and you might be forgiven for thinking that you were listening to William Kristol with an Aussie accent. On top of this, British conservatives are more critical of Israel and are more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. There was always a strong strain of Arabism which permeated the Foreign Office and which was shared by many leading Tories, the highly respected Lord Gilmour being a prime example. This strain hardly exists on the Australian Right, and Howard and his foreign minister Alexander Downer seem to identify with American neo-conservatives who believe that supporting Jerusalem come what may is the overriding priority in Middle East policy. Most British conservatives, furthermore, remain unconvinced of the suitability of the US to be an imperial power. This stems not from visceral anti-Americanism or jealousy that Pax Americana has replaced Pax Britannica, but more from a sincere belief that the superpower's attempt to export democracy and free markets to the Middle East by way of B52s is at best naive, at worst utterly demented _ and bound to lead to unintended consequences.
For Australian conservatives, on the other hand, support for Washington is more positively masochistic, and foreigners could be excused for thinking that some Australians are happy to see their nation become a US client state. Such undying loyalty is due, in large measure, to a security alliance forged after World War Two to contain communism and guarantee a long peace in the region. But there is also a strategic rationale behind Howard's unhesitating and unqualified support for the US in Iraq: Canberra builds up a lot of credit in Washington with the hope of political payback in the future. Never mind that, as Charles de Gaulle, once warned, great powers are ``cold monsters'' and gratitude is not one of their stronger motivators. Indeed, one only has to recall how US leaders treated Australia with neglect during the Dutch New Guinea and East Timor crises in 1962 and 1999 (and indeed Britain in the Suez Crisis in 1956) respectively to realise that subordinate allies, however loyal, should not expect inconvenient loyalty in return from their great and powerful friend. Still another reason why Australians on the Right are more committed to the neo-con cause is that, in contrast to the British and especially the Americans, they are ideologically tribal and cleave more faithfully to the central tenets of the movement. Bush once famously warned, ``You are either with us or against us'', and many Australian conservatives take his warning quite literally, lest they be lumped in with John Pilger and George Galloway. Of course, Australian conservatives will say that it is they who have been in power for nearly a decade and it is their British co-ideologists who can't win an election, so who's got it right? But the irony here is that US conservatives themselves, far from being doctrinally pure, relish debate and dissent. President Bush Sr's national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger spoke out against the neo-con agenda in the Middle East, with the latter warning months before the invasion that he was ``scared to death'' about ``the Perles and the Wolfowitzes of this world''. Three-time presidential candidate Pat Buchanan stridently opposed the war; his fortnightly magazine The American Conservative is one of the best anti-war publications in Washington. And prominent Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has become the leading voice of dissent within the GOP establishment. Such figures, you see, hardly exist in Australia. Which is a shame. For the war in Iraq, as Kenneth Clarke and many of his colleagues have warned, is profoundly un-conservative. Any threat that Saddam Hussein may have posed could have been dealt with as indeed it had been since 1991: via a traditional conservative policy of deterrence. No strong operational links, remember, existed between the secular Iraqi tyrant and the fanatical al Qaida terrorists bent on martyrdom all over the globe. And the task of creating a viable democratic state that comprised such an ethnically and tribally fractured society was bound to be so messy and so dangerous that it was not worth so much blood and treasure. Besides, since when has it been the business of conservatives to export democracy? The result has been the worst disaster for British and Australian foreign policy since Suez and Vietnam respectively: the formidable insurgency that inflames not just the Sunni heartland but the Shia south; the weak central authority in Baghdad; the rising organised crime syndicates; the undisciplined and under-equipped indigenous army; the CIA's recent conclusion that Iraq is now a breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists; not to mention the more than 2,000 Coalition (and probably 20,000 Iraqi) deaths. By opposing the Iraq war, many British conservatives have kept faith with their better instincts. Too bad their brethren down under have not followed suit.
Copyright TOM SWITZER/NEIL CLARK/QUADRANT

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Quick Quiz

The Things They Said

See how you get on with these:

1. Which snobbish economist said of communism: "How can I adopt a creed which, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above the bourgeois and the intelligensia, who whatever their faults, are the quality of life and carry all the seeds of advancement"?

(a) Milton Friedman
(b) J.K. Galbraith
(c) Dr Patrick Minford
(d) J.M.Keynes

2. Which self-confessed 'committed leftist' wrote that the 'greatest achievement' of James Callaghan was 'to destroy socialism as a serious proposition in British politics'

(a) Tony Blair
(b) Dr David Owen
(c) Stephen Byers
(d) Oliver Kamm

3. Who said this of whom?
"He is incredibly big-headed and -in no uncertain terms- told us the amount of famous people he had met, the amount of amazing speeches he had made and the thousands of followers he had. But he is obviously out only for number one."

(a) Tariq Aziz on Saddam Hussein
(b) Sir Bob Geldof on Tony Blair
(c) Tony Blair on Sir Bob Geldof
(d) Rula Lenska on George Galloway

4. Who said this of whom?
"It was huge turn on for him. He couldn't get enough. He's a very troubled man leading a very dangerous life"
(a) Sir Michael Rose on Tony Blair
(b) A House of Commons barman on Charles Kennedy
(c) Rula Lenska on George Galloway
(d) An £80 an hour rent boy on Mark Oaten

5. Who said 'The United States and the Kosovan Liberation Army stand for the same human values and principles. Fighting for the KLA is fighting for human rights and American values"

(a) George W. Bush
(b) Osama bin Laden
(c) Michael Jackson
(d) Senator Joe Lieberman

Oaten is to blame- not the media

I enclose the link to a terrific piece on Mark Oaten from Peter McKay in today's Daily Mail. McKay is on good form on Iraq too. The Daily Mail website is unfortunately not free to read (it costs £2 a week), but paying the 40p for a hard-copy of today's paper is certainly worth it for McKay alone. (Page 14 can always be used for your dartboard afterwards).

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/columnists/archive.html?in_page_id=1772&in_author_id=227

Crisis? What crisis?

Here's my piece on the Iran nuclear 'crisis' from today's Australian.

Deterrence best policy for nuclear states
23 January 2006

'LEADERS meet to discuss Iran crisis." It all sounds rather familiar. In 1999, "leaders" met to discuss the Kosovo "crisis"; we now know there was no genocide in Kosovo. In 2003, "leaders" met to discuss Iraq's weapons of mass destruction crisis; we now know there were no WMD in Iraq.Now it's Iran nuclear ambitions that represent the "crisis". If past form is anything to go by, we can be fairly sure that once again this is a crisis of the Western powers' making. Instead of becoming caught up in the wave of hysteria, the question we should all be asking is: What is really so alarming about Iran exercising its legal right to enrich uranium under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?
The Iranians maintain that developing nuclear energy is an urgent necessity for a rapidly industrialising country with a fast-growing population, and one which is faced with the prospect of steadily dwindling oil reserves. It is hard to dispute the logic. With an abundance of accessible natural uranium ore, a nuclear program would come relatively cheaply for the Islamic republic, far cheaper than the estimated $40 billion it would need to develop the excess capacity for its oil industry.
The objections to Iran developing nuclear energy are, as Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has pointed out, hypocritical. After all, it was the US that provided Iran with its first nuclear research reactor in 1967. And unlike Western allies Pakistan, India and Israel, Iran is a signatory to the NPT. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly denied that Iran has any ambitions to use its uranium enrichment program to develop nuclear weapons, a line reinforced by the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who issued a fatwa last August forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.
Considering that Iran is routinely attacked for the role that Shia clerics play in its governance, how could it be that this strongly worded and unequivocal pronouncement from the only man in Iran who can declare war, gained so little international attention?
Those calling for strong action against Iran are, of course, keen to portray the Islamic republic's determination to go nuclear as a serious threat to world peace.
The usual analogies to the 1930s have been made (for example, see Niall Ferguson's piece on this page last Wednesday): a line of argument that sees Ahmadinejad's Iran (like Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia and Saddam Hussein's Iraq before it) likened to Nazi Germany, a threat that can only be removed by pre-emptive military action.
Such analogies are absurd. In 1939, Nazi Germany had over 1.5 million well-trained men available for action, and possessed the second largest armed forces in the world after the Soviet Union. It could boast some of the planet's most up-to-date military hardware and had already showed its aggressive intent on the international stage. Iran, by contrast, has invaded no one and its armed forces are only the ninth largest in the world. Its number of airborne units (954) and portable and static surface-to-air missile systems (1760) are easily outnumbered by Israel's (1230 and 3153 respectively); and Israel, lest we forget, unlike Iraq, also possesses nuclear weapons.
For Ferguson and fellow advocates of strong action, the preferred solution to the Iranian crisis is a pre-emptive strike by Israel on Iran's nuclear sites. Israel must bomb Iran within the next two months, opines Douglas Murray, author of Neo-Conservatism: Why We Need It. "[It] is the only country with the capability and political will to carry out this important operation."
Such action will, Murray concedes, have appalling repercussions, but, he assures us, the alternatives will be much worse. Would they? There is an alternative to the neo-conservative remedy, one that carries with it no risk of appalling repercussions and which possesses a proven track record of preventing military conflicts.
It's called deterrence. For more than 40 years, deterrence kept the peace in the Cold War, preventing both a Soviet nuclear strike on the West and a Western nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. And for another 12 years, from the end of the first Gulf war up to 2003, it prevented Saddam from launching another attack on Kuwait or against any other of Iraq's neighbours.
Having served us so well in the past, why are we now so keen to believe those who claim that the principle of deterrence no longer applies? Let's just suppose that the scaremongers are right and Iran does secretly intend to develop nuclear weapons. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, it would take Iran to the end of this decade at the earliest to develop a nuclear bomb; other estimates suggest the process would take more than 10 years. Are we seriously expected to believe that Iran's Supreme Leader would authorise a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Tel Aviv, knowing that the result would be the certain annihilation of his country?
President Ahmadinejad (who is not the leader of Iran's armed forces and cannot declare war) may have expressed his desire to wipe Israel off the map, but words and actions are two very different things. If Iran were to launch a pre-emptive strike, it would be the first example in history of a country attacking an opponent that, together with its allies, had the ability to destroy it several times over.
In reality, Ahmadinejad does have one very good reason to develop nuclear weapons. Not for launching a kamikaze raid on Israel or for threatening other pro-Western states, but simply to protect his country from invasion. Iraq had no WMD and got shock and awe; North Korea, by contrast, claims to have WMD and gets offers of aid. The lesson could not be clearer. If you want the respect of Uncle Sam, get a bomb, advises veteran US politician and conservative Pat Buchanan.
If Ahmadinejad has indeed been telling porkies about his nuclear ambitions, then much of the blame must lie with the neo-conservatives in Washington, whose calls for military action against the Islamic republic predate the coming to power of the West's latest bogyman.
True, Ahmadinejad has not helped his or his country's cause by making offensive remarks about Israel and the Holocaust. But since when does a foreign leader saying things we don't like or agree with constitute a crisis? Whipping up a crisis over Iran when in truth none exists serves a purpose for the US, bogged down in an unwinnable war in Iraq, and a European Union wracked by internal division and economic stagnation.
The day after the US and European powers announced their intention to have Iran referred to the UN Security Council, an official assessment of the security situation in Iraq was published by the US Agency for International Development. Iraq is described as being out of control, a country in which foreign jihadists, including those attached to al-Qa'ida, were gaining in number and in which criminals have almost free rein.
How much more convenient it is to shift attention on to an artificially created crisis in Tehran and away from a very real crisis caused by an earlier deviation from the tried and tested path of deterrence.
Copyright N.Clark/The Australian 2006

Sunday, January 22, 2006

MPs- do we need them?

For a long time I've argued that the real divide in Britain is not between Labour, Conservative and Lib Dems- but between the political elite and the rest of us. Leaving aside for one minute the question of inclination-how many people reading this would have either (a) the time; or (b) the money - to 'do a Mark Oaten'- and indulge in a six month relationship with a prostitute who charged £80 an hour?
The big scandal in all this is not only Oaten's depravity and dishonesty- but how on earth did he get the time and money? The answer of course is simple- he's an MP. Next time MPs have the nerve to vote themselves more money- or to reduce their hours of work still further- just think of Oaten. Or if you prefer, of George Galloway, whose idea of 'representing' his constituents is doing cat impressions on national television.

A Man Without a Country

For any of you who missed it, here is the exclusive extract from Kurt Vonnegut's forthcoming memoir ' A Man Without Country-: A Memoir of Life in George Bush's America' - as published in yesterday's Guardian.
Vonnegut uses the term 'PPs' - ie psychopathic personalities' to describe those 'smart, personable people who have no consciences' and who 'are taking control of everything'. He also identifies the 'tragic flaw' in the US Constitution- that 'only nut cases want to be President'. Politics certanly seems to attract more than its fair share of PPs- and until we finally start to construct a truer, more direct form of democracy, which does away with the need for elected 'representatives' who only ever 'represent' themselves, it's a problem that's not going to go away.


Custodians of chaos
In this exclusive extract from his forthcoming memoirs, Kurt Vonnegut is horrified by the hypocrisy in contemporary US politics
Saturday January 21, 2006The Guardian

"Do unto others what you would have them do unto you." A lot of people think Jesus said that, because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say. But it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, five hundred years before there was that greatest and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.
The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere even knew that there was another one. We sure have come a long way since then. Sometimes I wish we hadn't. I hate H-bombs and the Jerry Springer Show
But back to people like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, each of whom have said in their own way how we could behave more humanely and maybe make the world a less painful place. One of my favourite humans is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana.
Get a load of this. Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was not yet four, ran five times as the Socialist party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, almost 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:
"As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
"As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it.
"As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
Doesn't anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools, or health insurance for all?
When you get out of bed each morning, with the roosters crowing, wouldn't you like to say. "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I am of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
How about Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes?
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
And so on.
Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly George W Bush, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld stuff.
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that's Moses, not Jesus. I haven't heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
"Blessed are the merciful" in a courtroom? "Blessed are the peacemakers" in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
It so happens that idealism enough for anyone is not made of perfumed pink clouds. It is the law! It is the US Constitution.
But I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened instead is that it was taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d'état imaginable.
I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your hair stand on end: "C-Students from Yale".
George W Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.
To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete's foot. The classic medical text on PPs is The Mask of Sanity by Dr Hervey Cleckley, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia, published in 1941. Read it!
Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These were people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything.
PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!
And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankroll George Bush, and not because he's against gay marriage.
So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They have taken charge. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.
They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't. Do this! Do that! Mobilise the reserves! Privatise the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody's telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!
There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president. This was true even in high school. Only clearly disturbed people ran for class president.
The title of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is a parody of the title of Ray Bradbury's great science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451. Four hundred and fifty-one degrees Fahrenheit is the combustion point, incidentally, of paper, of which books are composed. The hero of Bradbury's novel is a municipal worker whose job is burning books.
While on the subject of burning books, I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and destroyed records rather than have to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.
So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House, the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, or the media. The America I loved still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.
And still on the subject of books: our daily news sources, newspapers and TV, are now so craven, so unvigilant on behalf of the American people, so uninformative, that only in books do we learn what's really going on.
I will cite an example: House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger, published in early 2004, that humiliating, shameful, blood-soaked year.
In case you haven't noticed, as the result of a shamelessly rigged election in Florida, in which thousands of African-Americans were arbitrarily disenfranchised, we now present ourselves to the rest of the world as proud, grinning, jut-jawed, pitiless war-lovers with appallingly powerful weaponry - who stand unopposed.
In case you haven't noticed, we are now as feared and hated all over the world as Nazis once were.
And with good reason.
In case you haven't noticed, our unelected leaders have dehumanised millions and millions of human beings simply because of their religion and race. We wound 'em and kill 'em and torture 'em and imprison 'em all we want.
Piece of cake.
In case you haven't noticed, we also dehumanised our own soldiers, not because of their religion or race, but because of their low social class.
Send 'em anywhere. Make 'em do anything.
Piece of cake.
The O'Reilly Factor.
So I am a man without a country, except for the librarians and a Chicago paper called In These Times.
Before we attacked Iraq, the majestic New York Times guaranteed there were weapons of mass destruction there.
Albert Einstein and Mark Twain gave up on the human race at the end of their lives, even though Twain hadn't even seen the first world war. War is now a form of TV entertainment, and what made the first world war so particularly entertaining were two American inventions, barbed wire and the machine gun.
Shrapnel was invented by an Englishman of the same name. Don't you wish you could have something named after you?
Like my distinct betters Einstein and Twain, I now give up on people, too. I am a veteran of the second world war and I have to say this is not the first time I have surrendered to a pitiless war machine.
My last words? "Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a mouse."
Napalm came from Harvard. Veritas
Our president is a Christian? So was Adolf Hitler. What can be said to our young people, now that psychopathic personalities, which is to say persons without consciences, without senses of pity or shame, have taken all the money in the treasuries of our government and corporations, and made it all their own?
© 2005 Kurt Vonnegut Extracted from A Man Without a Country: A Memoir of Life in George W Bush's America, to be published by Bloomsbury on February 6, price £14.99

Friday, January 20, 2006

Credit where credit is due

Never say this blog doesn't give credit where credit's due.
He writes hard-hitting Thunders for the Times, opeds for The Daily Mail, books on David Blunkett and plays for the West End. And now he finds time to spend a whole day swimming up the River Thames. Just how does Stephen Pollard do it?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1691203,00.html

We're Off to See the Emperor

In the Times, a certain neo-conservative writer and apologist for Shock and Awe- praises David Cameron for sending Messrs Fox, Hague and Osborne to Washington to 'mend fences' with President Bush. It shows Cameron is not 'cynical' our war-loving scribe claims. Does it really?
Sending members of his front-bench team to pay homage at the court of the most powerful Empire the world has ever seen is about as cynical (and cowardly) as you can get.
What really would be uncynical - and courageous- would be for Cameron to reverse his party's support for the illegal war in Iraq and to sever our ridiculously obsequious 'special relationship' with the US. If he did so, he would of course face the wrath of Messrs Pollard, Aaronovitch, Kamm, Cohen, Murray(D), Gove, Anderson, Steyn, Phillips and all the other journalistic inhabitants of Planet Neo-Con, who though very unrepresentative of public opinion, nevertheless have a mighty loud voice in this country's media. But against that, Cameron would be carrying out the wishes of a majority of his party's members and the country. What could be more democratic? Nothing really, and that's the reason why it's not going to happen.

It Just Keeps Getting Worse

Just when you thought trains in Britain couldn't get any more expensive......
When will someone have the guts to say enough is enough- renationalise the network and introduce kilometer/mile based pricing- the system which operates all over mainland Europe. I've just spent a week travelling round Bulgaria by rail. Go there, try out their system- and then come back and experience the 'delights' of Britain's railways. Then try and tell me with a straight face that this country is a 'first-world' and Bulgaria is 'backward'.


Fares will treble as cheap tickets go
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent
RAIL fares will more than treble for some journeys under government plans to scrap saver tickets and give private operators greater freedom to set prices,
The Times has learnt.
Passengers who are unable to book ahead will have to pay a substantial premium even if they travel during off-peak hours. Many will be forced to buy a standard open return ticket, which, in the case of the London to Manchester route, will cost £202, compared with the saver price of £57.10.
NI_MPU('middle');
Train companies have persuaded ministers that they will require less subsidy and attract more passengers if they are given more control over fares.
The price cap on saver fares was one of the few guarantees given to passengers by the former Conservative Government when the railways were privatised a decade ago. Savers rose initially by inflation minus 1 per cent each year and are currently capped at inflation plus 1 per cent. In real terms, the price of savers has been frozen since 1995, while other fares have risen by up to four times the rate of inflation. Savers are available on all longer-distance routes but can only be used outside peak hours. Train companies have already reduced the number of services on which savers can by used by stretching their definition of the peak. Yet more than 50 million trips were still made on saver tickets last year.
The companies argue that they offer even cheaper tickets bookable up to 6pm the night before. But numbers for these are very restricted and passengers are forced to stick to specific trains for both outward and return journeys.
Passenger groups yesterday wrote to Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, urging him to keep the saver.
Brian Cooke, chairman of London Travelwatch, wrote: “The saver provides discounted turn-up-and-go travel for people who are unable to commit in advance to travel on a particular train. We do not accept that all such passengers are in a financial position to pay what can sometimes be a very high full fare.”
Mr Cooke said the abolition of savers would force passengers on long-distance routes covered by more than one operator to buy two advance purchase tickets or face paying the full fare.
He said: “We are concerned that train companies will abuse their power to set prices if the saver is scrapped. We could end up with a railway open only to rich people.”
The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) admitted that there would be price increases if the saver were abolished but said that the extra flexibility would also allow operators to offer more discounted advance-purchase tickets. David Mapp, Atoc’s commercial director, said that savers “could exacerbate overcrowding” because companies were unable to set higher prices to deter people from travelling on the busiest off-peak trains.
“Unlike season tickets, there is no economic justification for savers because they are being offered to customers who are using their income on a leisure journey rather than going to the theatre or buying CDs.”
But Chris Irwin, chairman of the South West Passenger Forum, said that many people used savers for essential journeys. “It is sometimes necessary to make a journey at short notice, such as to attend a funeral. The train has to compete with the car, but the car leaves whenever you are ready. The demise of cheap walk-up fares would be a great loss.”

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Phoney Centre

Here's a terrific piece by Seumas Milne in today's Guardian on the battle for the 'phoney' centre ground.
I'm pleased he mentions 'social liberalism' as part of the Blair/Cameron consensus- for too many leftists carrying on the 1960s reforms of Woy Jenkins has become more important than meaningful economic reform. We've surely had enough of the 'permissive society' (just look at our record teenage pregnancy rates), let's now start to build the 'better society'. And that begins with the economy- renationalisation of our public transport, and other utilities flogged off by the Tories, a higher rate of income tax for the wealthy- and a concerted effort to rein in the pernicious effects of monopoly capitalism.


The battle over this phoney centre excludes the majority
Unlike Blair and Cameron, most people want an end to privatisation, higher tax for the rich and a British withdrawal from Iraq
Seumas Milne
Thursday January 19, 2006
The Guardian

No one can doubt that we are in the endgame of the Blair era. Even if the sense of crisis that gripped Downing Street in the run-up to Christmas - when John Prescott lashed out at the government's plans for schools, and Gordon Brown signalled his dissatisfaction with Blair's European rebate deal - has passed, the prime minister's authority is manifestly draining away. He has already been defeated by his own MPs on the flagship terror bill; he has lost control of Labour's national executive, and was unable even to get his candidate elected as general secretary; and he now faces a string of backbench revolts, culminating in the prospect of defeat on education reform, without a climbdown on selection and local authority powers.
Assuming he swallows that indignity, the next crunch is likely to come with the May local elections. They are almost certain to be a gruesome experience for Labour, especially in London, for which the prime minister will find it difficult to pass the buck. And while it's true that Blair relishes nothing so much as the war without end on his own party, an increasingly public cabinet struggle over the timing of his departure can only undermine the government's electoral prospects as the media darling David Cameron drives all before him.
But instead of opening up an unrepresentative political system after years of New Labour control freakery and spin, the prime minister's loss of grip seems to be closing it off still further. The forces that dominate British politics have responded to Blair's enfeeblement by rushing to occupy that narrow strip of territory now taken to be the centre ground. In the case of the Tories, Cameron has presented himself as Blair's natural successor, even as marginally to his left - appearing to challenge business and police privileges, prioritise global poverty and the environment and, in the ultimate pantomime of spin, redistribution and social justice. And whoever wins the Liberal Democrats' leadership election, there is no question that the young turks, with their little Orange Books and neoliberal nostrums, are the rising power in the party.
Gordon Brown has been heading in exactly the same direction. Presumably convinced he has party votes for the leadership succession in the bag, Brown has turned to the right. Declaring himself a Blairite at last, his attempts to woo Rupert Murdoch, the Daily Mail and the corporate world have become ever more shameless: boasting of his role in privatising air traffic control, the exorbitant private finance initiative and the disastrous partial sell-off of the London tube, all the while wrapping himself in an imperial union jack and banging the drum for a US labour market model that has seen workers' hours rise by nearly 40% over the past two decades.
Blair's response to the Cameron challenge has been to insist that only by sticking with the centre ground - and himself as long as possible - can the new Tory threat be seen off. Meanwhile, in case anyone else had any other ideas, he is seeking to clamp down on party pressure points (such as union voting rights) outside the charmed power circle of media and business.
There are two very obvious flaws in this cult of the centre presided over by the political elite. If only mathematically, it is clearly essential for any political party or alliance that wants to win office to straddle the centre ground (though in a first-past-the-post system, its importance will depend on the balance between the other main parties). But that in no way excludes the necessity of representing the majority of voters who are outside that political space.
For all New Labour's claims about its big-tent politics, the party has been less of a genuine political coalition under Blair than at any other time in its history. The result is a crisis in political representation that has fuelled a wider alienation from mainstream politics. And the price for Labour was spelled out at last year's general election, with well over a million votes lost to the apparently left-leaning Liberal Democrats and smaller parties, and a low turnout in its traditional areas. There is no need for Labour to evacuate the centre in order to give a stronger voice to working-class and more radical voters - but, given the Cameron novelty factor, among others, it is only through such an alliance that the party is now likely to be re-elected.
The other flaw at the heart of the current centrist mania is its cockeyed location of the centre ground. The assumption that the broad Blair-Cameron consensus - social liberalism combined with free-market economics, privatisation, low taxes on the rich, and a welfare safety net - reflects the centre of gravity of public opinion is completely unfounded. On the contrary, opinion polls have long recorded large majorities against privatisation and the commercialisation of schools and hospitals, support for stronger workplace rights and higher taxes on the wealthy - as well as opposition to the war in Iraq and kowtowing to Washington, all positions usually regarded as well to the left of centre in official politics. What is described as the centre ground in fact reflects the dominant views of the political, media and corporate establishment - hence the weight it is given across the political system.
But for Labour MPs, trade unions and all those who want to maximise the chances of a more progressive government after Blair has gone, the real centre ground of British politics is a pretty useful starting point. Key parts of an alternative agenda to address public concerns ignored by the Blair administration are in fact already Labour policy. In the last couple of years, Labour's previously docile conference has voted to halt the privatisation and commercialisation of the NHS, keep the Post Office in the public sector, bring rail back into public ownership, restore the pensionsearnings link, and end the ban on Gate Gourmet-style workplace solidarity.
Blair and his fellow ministers have, of course, rejected all this. But, along with withdrawal from Iraq, they are all policies that command public support and could be used to help shape the terms of a post-Blair leadership contest. Now that Labour MPs have started to take things into their own hands - half the English and Welsh backbenchers have already signed up to the alternative education white paper - there is a real basis to challenge New Labour control of the government's direction. But if Blair's legacy is not to be a Cameron administration, that challenge will have to go much further.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

'Out of control' Iraq

Here's a report on the ever-worsening situation in Iraq by the US Agency for International Development- who could hardly be described as a far-left anti-American group!
I wonder if neo-conservative blogs will be covering this story today?

Official US agency paints dire picture of 'out-of-control' Iraq ·
Analysis issued by USAid in reconstruction effort · Account belies picture painted by White House
Julian Borger in Washington
Wednesday January 18, 2006
The Guardian
An official assessment drawn up by the US foreign aid agency depicts the security situation in Iraq as dire, amounting to a "social breakdown" in which criminals have "almost free rein".
The "conflict assessment" is an attachment to an invitation to contractors to bid on a project rehabilitating Iraqi cities published earlier this month by the US Agency for International Development (USAid).
The picture it paints is not only darker than the optimistic accounts from the White House and the Pentagon, it also gives a more complex profile of the insurgency than the straightforward "rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists" described by George Bush.
The USAid analysis talks of an "internecine conflict" involving religious, ethnic, criminal and tribal groups. "It is increasingly common for tribesmen to 'turn in' to the authorities enemies as insurgents - this as a form of tribal revenge," the paper says, casting doubt on the efficacy of counter-insurgent sweeps by coalition and Iraqi forces.
Meanwhile, foreign jihadist groups are growing in strength, the report said.
"External fighters and organisations such as al-Qaida and the Iraqi offshoot led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are gaining in number and notoriety as significant actors," USAid's assessment said. "Recruitment into the ranks of these organisations takes place throughout the Sunni Muslim world, with most suicide bombers coming from Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region."
The assessment conflicted sharply with recent Pentagon claims that Zarqawi's group was in "disarray".
The USAid document was attached to project documents for the Focused Stabilisation in Strategic Cities Initiative, a $1.3bn (£740m) project to curb violence in cities such as Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Najaf, through job creation and investment in local communities.
The paper, whose existence was first reported by the Washington Post, argues that insurgent attacks "significantly damage the country's infrastructure and cause a tide of adverse economic and social effects that ripple across Iraq".
"In the social breakdown that has accompanied the defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime criminal elements within Iraqi society have had almost free rein," the document says. "In the absence of an effective police force capable of ensuring public safety, criminal elements flourish ... Baghdad is reportedly divided into zones controlled by organised criminal groups-clans."
The lawlessness has had an impact on basic freedoms, USAid argues, particularly in the south, where "social liberties have been curtailed dramatically by roving bands of self-appointed religious-moral police".

Monday, January 16, 2006

Simple Simon and the Dictator who Wasn't

Question: What do you call a three times democratically elected leader of a country in which over twenty political parties operated and which had a vibrant, free press?
The answer- A dictator- that is of course if you are a fanatical Blairite New Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington. Enclosed below is an extract from Sion Simon's letter to the Guardian last week. No one would dispute the use of the epithet 'dictator' to describe Saddam Hussein. But Milosevic- a man who lost power in an election he didn't even need to call? Yet 'dictator' is the word neo-cons and Blair luvvies routinely use to describe him. One is reminded here of Chomsky's observations about the word 'democracy'.
There are the great man said- two definitions of the word- the dictionary one- which refers to a system where citizens have ways to participate in decisions about public affairs-and the ideological one -in which a society is held to be 'democratic' only if its business is run in such a way that is subordinate to US business.
It seems it's exactly the same with the word 'dictator'.


'The prime minister's record in tackling dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic is perhaps not best questioned by those whose own record of leadership is so authoritatively criticised.
Siôn Simon MPLab, Birmingham Erdington

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Big Brother really is George Galloway's biggest crime

Pro-war writers- like Nick Cohen in today's Observer- have commented on the 'snobbery' of those who condemn George Galloway for appearing on Big Brother but not for his 'outrageous' defence of Middle East tyrants. Once again, they have completely missed the point. Galloway is no defender of tyrants- he was making speeches attacking Saddam Hussein when Donald Rumsfeld was selling him weapons-but he is a shameful self-publicist who it seems will do anything to gain attention- including appearing on the most brain dead television programme ever to have appeared on British tv screens. To appear on Big Brother and to profess a belief in socialism- or indeed any belief in human progress and advancement is a contradiction in terms. Here's a piece my wife Zsuzsanna wrote for the New Statesman a couple of years back on the way monopoly capitalism is deliberately trying to create zombies of us all- and the role programmes like Big Brother play in that process.

DUMBING DOWN HUNGARIAN STYLE
Zsuzsanna Clark

In a recent Daily Mail column Peter McKay maintained that the success of Big Brother proved that despite the fall of the Berlin Wall, the values of communism had triumphed after all. He could not have been more wrong. Big Brother and the dumbing down process it so typifies owes very little to the ideology of Marx and Engels, but plenty to a monopoly capitalist system which in the name of profit maximisation is deliberately attempting to reduce all of us to zombies. Had Mackay actually been bought up under communism as I was in Hungary, he would have known better. In common with other Eastern bloc countries, the Hungarian government had as one of its stated aims the raising of the cultural life of the people. ‘There can be no socialism without culture- without the culture of the masses’ proclaimed the Hungarian Communist Party’s chief intellectual and ideologist Gyorgy Aczel in 1973. ‘Culture has an indispensable role in the fact that man, who establishes the conditions of material well-being, should not only live well, but should feel well in society’. In practical terms, this meant lavish subsidies being given to orchestras, opera houses, theatres and cinemas in order to make them accessible to everyone.
As far as television went, the public broadcaster, Hungarian State Television (Magyar Televisio), followed a classical Reithian policy to entertain, inform and educate. The mission was, in the words of Aczel ‘to satisfy the viewers demands for entertainment in a way that we do not give way to the demands of inferior tastes.’ Saturday night prime time when I was growing up invariably meant a Jules Verne adventure, a variety show and a Chekhov drama. Foreign imports included The Forsyte Saga and David Attenborough documentaries whilst one of the most popular and talked about programmes of the entire period was ‘Poetry for Everyone’, in which a famous actor or actress would each night recite a different poem.
Fast forward fifteen years and the position could not be more different. The process of dumbing down started with the opening of the country to global capital in 1989. But the government’s liberalising Media Law in 1996, which allowed the creation of privately owned commercial channels and the entry into the market of foreign owned media conglomerates has greatly accelerated the process. The two terrestial commercial channels, RTL Klub, (owned by the German media giant Bertelsmann, who with 22 channels are Europe’s largest broadcaster) and the Scandinavian owned TV2 have from the start pursued a policy of pandering to the lowest possible taste, packing their schedules with soap operas, sensationalist-style news programmes, and of course ‘reality’ tv. Prime time terrestial television in Hungary no longer means poetry recitals, but a choice between TV2’s Big Brother or RTL’s equally vapid Hungarian copy- ‘Real World’. It didn’t take long for the negative impact of liberalisation on public service broadcasting in Hungary to be seen. To make way for RTL Klub and TV2, Magyar Televisio’s second channel, the equivalent of BBC2, was shunted off terrestial frequencies and became available only on subscription. By 1998, Magyar Televisio, funded by a mixture of a licence fee and advertising, had already lost a third of its revenue and was forced to make even more cutbacks in its programming.
Faced with the new competition, the increasingly cash starved state broadcaster has been compelled by the government to follow a more ‘commercial’ strategy’, - in other words to meet trash with trash. Whilst the narcissistic inmates of the commercial channel’s reality shows discuss who is going to bed with whom, MTV counters with American films, Venezuelan soap operas and ‘real-life’ crime documentary programmes. Gyorgy Aczel must be turning in his grave.
As the House of Lords considers the government’s Communications Bill, the lesson from Hungary and indeed everywhere else in Europe where ‘liberalisation’ of the media has taken place could not be more clear.
The German sociologist Erich Fromm once said that the danger of the past was that man became slaves, but that the danger of the future would be that man became robots.
Media liberalisation and the demise of public service broadcasting makes that depressing prospect considerably more likely.
Copyright Zsuzsanna Clark 2003

Friday, January 06, 2006

Howard's not Wright on this one I fear

I am a big fan of Racing Post columnist Howard Wright and usually agree with everything he writes. But I can't bring myself to agree with his view that this year's Cheltenham Festival will not be 'substandard'.
Let's consider the biggest race of the Festival - the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Vying with favouritism for the event is Beef Or Salmon- who, quality chaser that he is- has failed to produce the goods every time he has run at Prestbury Park.
At 8-1 for the race is Monkerhostin, unproven at the trip. Next in the betting comes War of Attrition- another with plenty of questions to answer. And seeing how he jumped at Newbury on his last run- how could anyone in their right mind take the 12-1 currently available with Victor Chandler for Iris's Gift? The most likely winner at this stage to me looks to be Kingscliff, but he has failed to make the line up for the last two seasons due to injury, and the ante-post price of 5-1 looks poor value. The Gold Cup is sure to provide as thrilling spectacle as ever but in the absence of Kicking King, Best Mate and Trabolgan, it's hard to claim that this year's renewal will be a vintage one. As to the other major races at the Festival, the Champion Hurdle will probably be without last year's runner-up Harchibald; the World Hurdle will be missing last year's winner, Inglis Drever and the Champion Chase will be without Azertyuiop and Well Chief.

Shock ! Horror! Politician Deceives Public

Another day, another example of neo-conservative hypocrisy. The very same people who told us Iraq possessed WMDs, now accuse Charles Kennedy of 'deceiving the public' , over his battle with alcoholism.
The venom directed towards Kennedy by British neo-conservatives speaks volumes. Not content to have effective control of both our major parties- they now wish for the only leader of our main three parties to oppose the invasion of Iraq to be deposed. Neo-conservative democracy is really quite simple to sum up- you can have any party you like in goverment so long as they are signed up to the Project for a New American Century.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Here's what a Neo-Con Foreign Policy means in practice

As the likes of Oliver Kamm engage in pedantic arguments over what Chomsky did or didn't say about an event which happened over ten years ago- here's a timely reminder of what happens when neo-conservatives do get their way.
ps I have visited several pro-war webblogs and none of them cover today's events. Harry's Place prefers to post on Paris Hilton and Celebrity Big Brother...

More than 100 people were killed in Iraq today as extreme violence continued for a second successive day.
A suicide bomber detonated his explosives in central Kerbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, near one of the country's holiest Shia sites.
The blast, by the Imam Hussein shrine killed at least 49 people and injured 138. The bomber appeared to have sparked the blast around 30 metres from the shrine in a busy pedestrian area surrounded by shops.
A second suicide bomber blew himself up amid a group of police and army recruits in the western city of Ramadi, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 70.
Ramadi, the capital of the semi-lawless Anbar province, is a base for the Sunni Arab-led insurgency. US and Iraqi troops have launched a series of offensives in the city over the past few months with the aim of securing western Iraq against the insurgents.
Elsewhere, a roadside bomb south of Kerbala hit a US convoy, killing five soldiers, Iraqi police Captain Rahim Slaho said. The US military refused to comment.
Another roadside bomb killed two US soldiers and two civilians and wounded seven near Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, police said. In Baghdad, a suicide car bomb killed three Iraqi soldiers, Lieutenantt Colonel Thamir al-Gharawi said. Police also reported that gunmen had killed three people in separate incidents.
The Kerbala bomber detonated a vest with about 8kg (17.5lbs) of explosives and several hand grenades, Mr Taie said. Small steel balls that had been packed into the bomber's vest were found at the site along with one unexploded grenade.
According to the US military, the Ramadi bomb exploded at 10.55am (0755 GMT) near the Ramadi glass and ceramics works "where screening for Iraqi police officers was taking place". Kerbala has been relatively free of violence since December 2004, when seven people were killed and 31 wounded in an attack.
In March 2004, coordinated explosions and suicide bombings at the city's holy sites killed at least 85 people and wounded 230.
The blasts happened during the Ashura festival - which marks the seventh century killing of Imam Hussein - as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and other Shia communities visited the shrines.
They were also centred around the golden-domed shrine where Imam Hussein is buried. Many pilgrims travel to Kerbala on Thursdays to be at the holy site for Friday prayers.
Today's bombings followed a series of attacks in which at least 53 people were killed around Iraq yesterday. The victims included 32 people killed by a suicide bomber at a Shia funeral in Muqdadiya, a town around 60 miles north of Baghdad.
The Guardian 5th January 2006

Neo-Conservative Bully-Boys

What do you do if a reviewer criticises your book in a review?
Well, if you are Oliver Kamm, the answer is easy. You use your webblog to falsely accuse him on not reading it. It seems that neo-conservatives are not content with their disproportionate media influence in Britain and the US- they really want to silence all those who take an alternative view.
We saw the lies the neo-conservatives were prepared to tell to propagandise for an illegal war against Iraq. And we now see the lies they use to libel those of us who dare to stand up to their bully-boy tactics.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Life on Planet Neo-Con

I expect you're as excited as I am to hear that Sir David Attenborough is going to make one last series before he finally retires. In the new Radio Times, television's greatest naturalist talks of the challenges of making 'Life on Planet Neo-Con' which begins on BBC1 next month.
In each of the six episodes, Sir David will introduce us to a different creature from Planet Neo-Con. In week one, he looks at The Pollard- a large, roly-poly type animal- whose cuddly appearance hides a fierce temper and petulant temperament. The Pollard, as Sir David explains, is a creature of habit- every 31st December he can be heard screaming ' I hate New Year's Eve'- and every spring he can be heard shouting 'I want a war! 'I want an illegal invasion of a sovereign state which doesn't threaten Britain'.
In episode two, Sir David introduces 'The Shawcross'. The Shawcross is not so easy to spot as 'The Pollard' and only seems to come out of his lair when an illegal invasion of a sovereign state is in the offing. Then he can be seen perched on every sofa of every television studio in Planet Neo-Con, explaining how the country the US President is currently threatening is the biggest threat to world peace since er.. the last country the US President was threatening. In episode three, we meet 'The Kamm', a strange reptilian creature who can often be found staring at its reflection in the ponds and lakes of Planet Neo-Con. The Kamm, as Sir David explains is an animal of limited intelligence- but limitless self-regard- and woe betide other inhabitants of Planet Neo-Con who fail to greet him with the words' Your book on 'anti-totalitarianism really was the best thing I have read since Crime and Punishment' .
More on the other wierd and unwonderful creatures of Planet Neo Con tomorrow.......

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Stand up for your rights, Mr Putin

Here's my piece from today's First Post: www.thefirstpost.co.uk on the Russian/Ukraine gas dispute.

Stand up for your rights, Mr Putin

Russia should be allowed to charge market rates like anyone else, says Neil Clark

The Evil Empire is back. Not content with taking over the year-long presidency of the G8, those dastardly Ruskies are now using their domination of the European gas market to exert political pressure on countries like the Ukraine which refuse to bow to Moscow's line. So the argument goes.
But in their hysterical over-reaction to the decision by Gazprom, the Russian state owned gas company, to charge Ukraine the market rate for its supplies, the Russophobes are in danger of turning themselves into a complete laughing stock. Many of their number profess to be passionate believers in free markets. Yet their advocacy of market economics is conveniently forgotten when Russia is concerned.
Why on earth should Ukraine, which has been paying a quarter of what Russia is asking for its gas, not pay the market rate?
Why on earth should Ukraine, which has been paying a quarter of what Russia is asking for its gas, not pay the market rate?
And why should Russia continue to subsidise a country which, in a highly-contested election, voted in a government openly hostile to it?
If the decision to increase the price of gas to Ukraine is political - as critics claim - then what's the big deal? Exerting economic pressure for political purposes didn't start with President Putin; it goes back centuries. The British used it against the settlers in America in the 1770s. The Arab states used it in the 1970s against the West for their support of Israel. The US and the EU used it against the rump Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the US and the EU are both using it against Russia's last European ally, Belarus, today.
The Russians have as much right to stand up for their economic and strategic interests as any other country. It's time for those who ludicrously seek to portray President Putin as "the new Stalin" to acknowledge this - and to stop denouncing what every other country in the world would do in Russia's position.

2006 N.Clark/The First Post

Monday, January 02, 2006

Let's honour Poirot- not Paddy

I'm not one for Honours Lists- but if we are going to hand out knighthoods lets give them to people who really are outstanding in their fields.
Like the brilliant David Suchet, an actor whose performances range from excellent to out of this world.
Or comedy writer Jimmy Perry-who has given us such comedy gems as Dad's Army and It Aint Half Hot Mum.
And what about the incomparable Richard Briers?
I think all three people mentioned above have contributed rather more to the happiness of mankind than Lord Paddy Pantsdown- the former Imperial High Consul 0f the Puppet Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina- who has received yet another ill-deserved honour.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Strange and Curious World of Mr Oliver Kamm

The incredibly self-regarding Oliver Kamm seems quite upset that I (in common with other reviewers) couldn't find anything good about his new book in my review for The Daily Telegraph yesterday. He writes on his blog that I have sent 'peevish' emails to him, Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch- but neglects to tell his readers what the emails contained- a very simple question as to whether as pro-war writers they had any plans to join the Territorial Army- which is urgent need of new recruits. Nearly a month on, the only lap-top bombadier to have replied to the question is David Aaronovitch-I'm still waiting to hear from Kamm.
So come on Oliver- when you have a spare moment from your bond trading/ writing 'left-wing' pro-war polemics- please give us an answer! We would like to know!