Thursday, December 27, 2007
Some breaking news: Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto (above) has been killed in a suicide bomb attack in Rawalpindi. More details here.
And here is Seumas Milne's brilliant piece from The Guardian on the background to the current crisis in Pakistan. Martin Meenagh has an excellent piece too on today's events which you can read here.
The best of times is always then but never now, so the saying goes. But in regards to National Hunt racing, this truly is a golden age. Yesterday, Kauto Star (above, with trainer Paul Nicholls), took the mickey out of a small, but select field for the King George at Kempton, winning the race even more impressively than he did twelve months ago. Kauto Star has now lost only once in his last nine races, a run of form which has seen him win two King Georges, a Cheltenham Gold Cup, a Tingle Creek and two Betfair Chases. And in most of those victories he's done it without being asked a serious question by his jockey. Quite simply, Kauto Star is the best NH performer we've seen since Desert Orchid, and already has claims to be considered one of the best steeplechasers of all time. I'd certainly place him above three-times Gold Cup winner Best Mate, for his sheer versatility and the way he travels through his races. How about you?
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
WRITING ABOUT KOSOVA CAN BE UNHEALTHY FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY
Well, k050v4, I can only inform you that sending that message will be 'unhealthy' for you as I will be reporting your attempts at intimidation to the police. Disagreeing with journalists is one thing: threatening them and their family with violence, as is the clear implication of your message, is quite another.
Monday, December 24, 2007
"Socialism which means love, cooperation and brotherhood in every department of human affairs, is the only outward expression of a Christian's faith. I am firmly convinced that whether they know it or not, all who approve and accept competition and struggle against each other as the means whereby we gain our daily bread, do indeed betray and make of no effect the will of God. Keep in mind the fact that the Son of Man, the Christ who lived and was executed by the people of His day, was a great leader, and leader of the common people. It was His great message of love and Brotherhood which brought him to his death. Whatever else I may write, the most important and undying truth is that without love all our efforts at building Jerusalem will fail."
The words of George Lansbury, the greatest- and most inspirational- of all 20th century Labour Party leaders.
A very happy- and peaceful- Christmas to all readers of this blog.
And to help you get into a good festive mood, click on the video above to watch a classic clip from the Christmas episode of the 1970s BBCtv series The Good Life.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
"Here's one we 'liberated' earlier. The mounting crisis over Kosovo, which is set to come to a head in the new year, is a grim epitaph for the Blair years and the doctrine of 'liberal interventionism'. The war in 1999 was held up as a success story- NATO air strikes on make-up women, refugee columns and market squares not withstanding. Scalpelled out of the complexities of this part of the world was a modern-day morality tale, absolute and Manichean. Many, even on the left, were taken in.....A lot has happened since 1999. Above all we have the "war on terror" against Afghanistan and Iraq, with threats against Iran. I very much hope that those who were caught up in the rhetoric of 'liberal humanitarianism' eight years ago will see where it has led. As they saying goes, fool me once, shame on you, fool twice, shame on me".
You can read more of George Galloway's brilliant piece on the toxic legacy of Blairite 'liberal intervention' in today's Morning Star.
Here's my piece on how Britain's turbo-capitalist system ruins social life and destroys friendship, from The Guardian. And how it was all predicted by Erich Fromm (above) one of the 20th century's most prescient thinkers, many years ago.
As if we didn't know. New research by Ofcom has revealed that Britons spend far more time on social networking sites than their European counterparts. Almost 40% of British adults with internet access were found to use social networking sites compared with 22% in Italy, 17% in France and 12% in Germany. Britons devote 5.3 hours a month to sites such as Facebook and MySpace, visiting them an average of 23 times.
There will be those who see these figures as something to be proud of - claiming that they show how technologically advanced and computer savvy us Brits are, compared to the Luddites in the rest of the continent.
But in fact they show that as far as social interaction is concerned, it's us Brits who are well behind the rest of Europe. The French, Germans, Belgians and Spanish are not spending their spare time on Facebook and MySpace because they are too busy socialising and making friends for real - in the real world. The fact that so many of us are doing our social networking in front of a computer screen is an indictment not only of the poor quality of social life in Britain, but also of the money obsessed turbo-capitalist system we live under.
Let's face it: compared to the continent, social life in Britain is, er ... crap. In Belgium, Spain, France and elsewhere there are a wide range of cafes, bars and pubs to frequent. Many of these establishments are locally/family owned, meaning not only do they have more individual character, but the atmosphere is very different from corresponding establishments back home. Instead of enticing cafes, bars and pubs, in which people of all ages and all walks of life are made to feel welcome, Britain is dominated by bland chain bars, owned by profit-hungry plcs, whose only concern is to cater for younger drinkers, because they spend more. I recently spent a midweek night in Ghent, Belgium. The numerous bars and cafes were heaving with people, of all ages and from all walks of life. I met the town crier, several students, a painter and decorator, a furniture maker and an architect just nearing retirement. You can be sure that very few of the people I met had even heard of Facebook. The citizens of Ghent have too good a social life to spend all their spare time in front of a computer screen.
The particularly aggressive and ultra-materialistic turbo capitalist system we live under in Britain undoubtedly makes it harder for people to make friends, as Erich Fromm, one of the most prescient thinkers of the 20th century, predicted over 50 years ago.
In his book The Sane Society, Fromm advanced his theory of social character - that "every society produces the character it needs". Post-war capitalism, Fromm argued, produces the neurotic "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". Modern 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 a society where marketing characters abound, such as Britain today, true friendship will always be at a premium. But in less rapacious, less materialistic societies- ones where productive characters can be found, it will always be easier to make friends. If you are a Facebook addict and are wont to boast about how many friends you have "collected", let me ask you this simple question. How many of your Facebook "friends" would give up a day, or even a whole weekend, to help you move house?
The answer, I suspect, is very few. In a society where marketing characters abound, those we label "friends" are often no more than acquaintances. Yet when I moved to Hungary in the 1990s, old-style friendship - defined by doing things to help people rather than just giving them a "poke" on Facebook - still persisted. I moved house three times and each time, I received offers of help with the moving, with friends sometimes giving up their whole weekend to help me. Hungary taught me what true friendship was all about.
Modern turbo capitalism, by turning everything into a commodity and encouraging us to be selfish and materialistic, destroys trust - the basis for friendship. We live in a society where hardly anyone trusts anyone else, one in which narcissism and the cult of self, instead of being decried, is positively encouraged, by television, the media and by the big corporations who benefit from it.
If we want to have a society where true friendship will flourish again, we need more than a keyboard and a mouse and access to social networking websites. We need a radical overhaul of society itself.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Well, the gentleman pictured above gets my vote, for his commitment to democracy, for ruling his country in the interests of its people and not foreign capital and for his implacable opposition to the neoconservative/neoliberal globalist agenda.
Who gets your vote?
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Here's the latest in our series of videos of hits from Christmas time in years gone past.
Today, our Tardis takes us back to December 1971. It's the decade of detente and greater cooperation between East and West, much to the disgust of Henry 'Scoop' Jackson and his fellow neocons. In Britain, Ted Heath leads a Tory government that is far to the left of New Labour (admittedly that's not too difficult). Britain is still just a year away from joining the EEC, and surrendering much sovereignty, but has just adopted decimalisation.
And riding high in the charts:
it's Clive Dunn and 'Grandad'.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Why did Tony Blair back the Iraq war? Various theories have been put forward. He did so out of a sense of personal conviction. He did so because he saw it as his Christian duty to rid the world of an evil dictator and spread democracy and human rights. He did so because he genuinely believed Iraq possessed WMD.
There's only one thing wrong with those theories.
They're complete claptrap.
Back in April, I wrote in The Spectator:
Blair’s apologists would like us to believe that their man acted out of conviction, but the truth may be rather more prosaic. The going rates for retired politicians on the American lecture circuit are impressive: Bill Clinton gets $250,000 a time, and Blair, as Washington’s most loyal lapdog, will certainly be at the top of the scale. In addition, there are those lucrative book contracts. As Wheatcroft concludes, vast numbers of lives may have been cruelly sacrificed by the Iraq enterprise, but Anthony Charles Linton Blair will surely be a richer man as a result.
Now, six months after leaving Downing Street, The Daily Express's Patrick O'Flynn reveals what our Tone, the 'conviction' politician has been up to.
His cack-handedness in the property market used to be a national joke but within six months of leaving Downing Street,Tony Blair is already a millionaire several times over. He is estimated to be earning up to £1million every month, mainly through lucrative after-dinner speeches in North America. He has also secured a £5million deal for his memoirs.
While Mr Blair has done very well out of his relationship with America, the awkward fact is that there are many who have not.
The botched invasion of Iraq has been the biggest foreign policy disaster for decades. Its impact has made the world a more dangerous place. It has so far cost the lives of 174 British service personnel. Thousands more have been injured.
The compensation they have received has been scant. Lifetime awards for those maimed in battle range from just £1,000 to a maximum of £285,000 for those with permanent and multiple debilitating injuries – that’s a couple of nights’ work for Mr Blair these days.
As Britain prepares for its final, inglorious withdrawal from southern Iraq in circumstances that fall far short of victory or vindication, the sight of Mr Blair hitting the jackpot must leave a sour taste for thousands of forces’ families.
I'm sure "the sight of Mr Blair hitting the jackpot" must indeed leave a sour taste for thousands of forces' families. And let's hope it makes those naive idiots who thought the British Prime Minister was a "conviction" politician who sincerely meant well, realise how they were duped.
The simple truth is that Bliar did it for the money.
Like the rest of them.
Britain is now a centralised single-ideology state, as secure in the grip of a superpower as any former eastern bloc country. The Whitehall executive has prerogative powers as effective as politburo decrees. Unlike Venezuela, critical issues such as the EU constitution or treaty are denied a referendum, regardless of Blair's "solemn pledge". Thanks largely to a parliament in which a majority of the members cannot bring themselves to denounce the crime in Iraq or even vote for an inquiry, New Labour has added to the statutes a record 3,000 criminal offences…
In 1977, at the height of the cold war, I interviewed the Charter 77 dissidents in Czechoslovakia. They warned that complacency and silence could destroy liberty and democracy as effectively as tanks. "We're actually better off than you in the west," said a writer, measuring his irony. "Unlike you, we have no illusions."
You can read more of John Pilger's brilliant Guardian article on One Party Britain here.
Around half of Hungary's state-owned train services were affected Monday by an open-ended strike against the Socialist-led government's intention to privatize health insurance services and lower pensions from next year, officials said.
Shorter strikes also were held at several hospitals, hundreds of schools and some regional bus services. Anti-government protesters formed one-lane roadblocks to slow traffic at about three dozen locations around the country.
reports the IHT.
I've written before on the way ordinary working people are coming together in Hungary to fight against the extremist policies of their pro-war neoliberal government. Support for the completely unsocialist Hungarian Socialist Party is now down to 13%, while their coalition allies, the fanatically Thatcherite, pro-big business SZDSZ are now on 2%.
The government of Ferenc Gyurcsany (above with his pal George W. Bush) while receiving pluadits from foreign capital and the US Embassy, has been a disaster for the Hungarian people. Let's hope it will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Then I’ll begin.
Regular readers will know all about the extremely nasty campaign of harassment against me which started after I critically reviewed a pro-war book by a neo-con hedge fund manager cum blogger called Oliver Kamm for the Daily Telegraph in December 20005. Details of the campaign can be found here.One arena where the campaign was fought was on the pages of wikipedia. My wikipedia entry was consistently maliciously edited: even on the night of 25th December, the smear merchants were at work. (and, on the same night also maliciously editing the page of David Cromwell of Media Lens).
The nastiest and most vindictive of all my wikipedia page editors was a certain ‘Elena Zamm’ Zamm, as I mentioned before, in addition to editing my page, also edited the pages of Oliver Kamm and a translator named Anthea Bell, but this time much more favourably. Who’s Anthea Bell I hear you ask? Why it’s Oliver Kamm’s mother! (After I highlighted her editing activites last month, Ms Zamm mysteriously, after a five month absence, suddenly sprung back to life, frantically editing lots of other pages; but after this was pointed out by reader phildav76, she suddenly stopped again- but don‘t worry Elena, I‘ve got records of all your wikipedia activity).
After several months trashing my wikipedia page, Elena Zamm and her mysterious pseudonymous jazz-loving associate 'Philip Cross’(more on him in a later post,) failed to get the edits they wanted- particularly the inclusion of a highly biased and inaccurate account of the legal action I was forced to bring against Kamm for defamation. So the tactic changed: the aim now was to get my page deleted on grounds of ‘non-notability’.
The editor who took the decision to delete my page- (and also to ban from wikipedia a friend of mine, Martin Meenagh, who had committed the heinous 'crime' of writing in, under his own name to argue that my page should not be deleted,) was a certain ‘slim virgin’ ('slim virgin' had also edited my page, always in a hostile way, on a number of prior occasions)> For someone who was supposed to be an impartial arbritrator in the matter, 'slim virgin' was, from the outset, extraordinarily ill-disposed towards me. Despite the fact that my work appears in British and overseas newspapers and magazines on average around twice a week, 'slim virgin' thought it "would be a stretch" to call me a journalist. (Interestingly she didn’t seem to have the same problem regarding the journalistic credentials of Oliver Kamm, a far less frequently published writer).
I can now reveal that Oliver Kamm, in his own name, was in contact with 'slim virgin'. On 5th July 2007, Kamm wrote to 'Philip Cross'.
I'd like to draw your attention to a note I've just put on the user page of [[User:SlimVirgin|SlimVirgin]], as it refers to you too. Thanks.[[User:OliverKamm|OliverKamm]] 13:01, 5 July 2007 (UTC
Click on the link here (scroll down to Kato's entry) for more and also to read Kamm‘s edits to his own Talk page.
Kato, on the link above, saw quite correctly, saw that 'slim virgin' was no impartial bystander and that she had a political agenda. But I’m not sure that even he could have imagined what sort of agenda.
After some great detective work by Daniel Brandt and Professor Ludwig De Braeckeleer, I'm pleased to inform that 'slim virgin' has now been outed. She is Linda Mack, who is now living under the nom-de-plume of 'Sarah McEwan' in Alberta, Canada. And her background? Please read on.
First, check the proof that 'slim virgin' is Linda Mack by clicking here and then clicking on the name ‘linda mack’- or by following the links here.
And, as I'm sure you'll agree if you read these three articles here, (and please, please do, I promise you won’t be disappointed) - it "would be a stretch" to call Ms Mack an unbiased editor or for that matter a normal, everyday member of the public.
So there we have it.
Oliver Kamm left a note for a wikipedia editor, whose impartiality was a complete fiction. The role of security forces and those associated with them in using wikipedia to smear and dispararge ‘undesirables’, to trash so-called 'conspiracy theories' and to propagandise for a highly politicised agenda was exposed this summer.
It seems that I too have been a victim of the same process.
UPDATE: You can read more of the remarkable story of 'slim Virgin' here.
And have a look at 'slim virgin's highly incriminating comments here too.
AND, a special extra treat: here's proof that our old friend 'elena zamm' was in contact with 'slim virgin' too:
Reply about your request
Thanks for replying so quickly SlimVirgin. I haven't made any edits since you posted your request and so long as that's what you ask then I won't edit any further on those pages and will comment just on the Talk pages. You're entitled to ask this from a user. However, I've tried to edit always in line with policies and I don't know what's swayed you to this request. I appreciate your efforts to calm things down though and it's good that these pages are being looked at thoroughly.--ElenaZam 21:35, 12 March 2007 (UTC
ps Elena: if you think you'll just pop over to delete your communication to slim virgin, don't bother: a full copy has already been made.
UPDATE: Guess whose wikipedia page 'slim virgin' has recently been editing? (this time in a very benign fashion)
Go on, have a guess! The answer is here.
In the run-up to Christmas, I'll be posting videos of some of my favourite seasonal hits of the past.
Today, our Tardis takes us back to December 1983. Thatcherism is in full flow and up and down the country communities are being destroyed by neoliberal dogma and the rule of money power. And at number one in the charts? A group of unreconstructed pro-Clause Four leftists called 'The Flying Pickets- probably the finest a cappella outfit Britain has ever produced.
A brilliant band who, as they often announced before their live concerts- were proud to share their name with the National Union of Mineworkers.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Ben, as you can see by looking at his record in international contests, here and here, is a world class memory man (he was the 2004 World Memory Champion). Clearly his Blue Peter performance was a one-off, though he does say that he is better at memorising numbers rather than names. But as brilliant a Memory Man he undoubtedly is, by volunteering to get a You Tube recording of his most embarrassing tv moment, Ben has also shown that he is also something far more important. Someone who is able to laugh at himself. More power to you Ben, your reaction to Wednesday's performance shows what a real star you are.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The think tank in question is Policy Exchange. It's an interesting little outfit. Its former Chief Director was the pro-war hawk and unsuccessful Tory candidate Nicholas Boles, a signatory to the statement of principles to the notoriously neocon Henry Jackson Society. Its current Director is a former Times journalist named Anthony Browne, a man who once wrote a hysterically alarmist piece claiming that "73 million Eastern Europeans" who suffer from "high disease rates" would pose a major public health risk to Britons.
But the real driving force behind Policy Exchange is Dean Godson, former "special assistant" to disgraced neocon fraudster Conrad Black, who this week was sentenced to six and a half years in jail. Have a read of this Spinwatch report on Godson; as I'm sure you'll agree, it makes very interesting reading.
Whether or not Policy Exhange's report was based on fabricated evidence, as Newsnight claims, one thing is sure. The think-tank very clearly has an agenda: to stir up tensions between Britain's Muslim and non-Muslim communities in order to maintain the fiction of a 'clash of civilisations' which can only be won by launching more wars and more military interventions.
UPDATE: Commenter Shaun has asked if I have any information about who funds 'Policy Exchange'. I don't, but I've been to their website where they say they accept donations from individuals. The lady in charge of this is Sian Hansen and, if like me, you'd like to ask her if she would be willing to make public, in the interests of transparency, the names of large donors to the think-tank, then she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Quite rightly we have calls today for our political parties to come clean and reveal their sources of funding: the principle should surely be applied to think-tanks too.
UPDATE: Saturday. Seumas Milne blogs about the agenda of neocon think tanks such as 'Policy Exhange' and the ludicrously entitled 'Centre for Social Cohesion' here. 'Poisonous' and 'dangerous': apart from 'deceitful', it's hard to think of two other words which describe neocons so accurately, don't you agree?
All a load of baloney? I agree. But so too is this.
"What is certain is that the end of the long boom will have a profound ideological impact. So long as market fundamentalists appeared to be delivering the goods - however unequally and insecurely - their political dominance was assured. That is now clearly no longer the case. As Martin Wolf, conservative doyen of British economic commentators, wrote in yesterday's Financial Times: "What is happening in credit markets today is a huge blow to the credibility of the Anglo-Saxon model of transactions-orientated financial capitalism." If the credit squeeze does indeed trigger a wider economic meltdown, that will certainly mean the end of the neoliberal consensus that has dominated politics for almost a generation."
You can read the rest of Seumas Milne's article on why it's game over for the Anglo-Saxon model of transactions-orientated financial capitalism, here.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
If you weren't watching BBC1 at approximately 5.20pm this evening, you missed one of the most unintentionally funny moments on British tv in many a year. Blue Peter proudly announced that a 'Memory Man' was going to recite the names, birthdays and desired Xmas presents of around twenty or so children in the studio. Only one flaw in the excellent plan: Mr Memory proved to be extremely forgetful.
As funny as watching Mr Memory's bout of amnesia undoubtedly was, the hysterical part of the show was watching the presenters try to gloss over the embarrassment afterwards. Memories of the Alan Partridge Show and 'Cheeky Monkey' springed readily to mind, except that this time, the embarrassment was all for real. Hopefully 'Mr Memory's Blue Peter performance will turn up on You Tube very shortly, and when it does I'll post it here, but in the meantime, here are some classic Blue Peter funny bits.
Most boys today would rather walk to school bareheaded than wear a hat, even in driving sleet, bitter cold or downright blizzard, but they are only following their elders. A photograph of a football match in 1960 shows all the crowd in hats or cloth caps; even the goalie wore his own cap, and a woollen jumper. Go to a game now on a nasty wet day and you can see scores of thousands of fans - not to mention Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger - with rain streaming down their bare heads. It's absurd, but seemingly incorrigible absurdity.
I've often thought the same myself. Not wearing hats (and I don't include baseball caps) has become an unnatural national obsession. If you go to any other country in Europe, you will see people wearing a wide variety of hats; in Britain it is somehow deemed 'fashionable' not to wear one- in the same way it is deemed 'trendy' to go out of cold winter evenings without a proper coat.
We really have become a very peculiar people over the last decade or so. And the fact that Britons spend far more time on 'social networking' sites such as 'Facebook' and 'My Space' than their European counterparts is further evidence of how dysfunctional normal social interraction has become. The Spanish, French, Belgians and Italians don't spend their spare time logging into Facebook because they are too busy socialising in the real world. And because of this, they know, far better than the British seem to do, the difference between a 'friend' and an acquaintance.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Cyprus Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Markoullis said her government wanted a negotiated settlement backed by the UN security council.
"Otherwise we risk undermining the whole UN system and its institutions, and this could create a very dangerous precedent,"
Quite. It’s shameful that no fewer than twenty EU members, led by Britain, were prepared to support the breaking of international law and the undermining of the UN and its institutions.
All those who think that international law- and the "UN system" should be respected, should thank Cyprus and the other EU 'rebels' for the stand they have taken.
Monday, December 10, 2007
I don't know about you, but for me the highlight of last night's BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards was the very moving acceptance speech given by Sir Bobby Robson (above) on being presented with his Lifetime Achievement Award. Robson has been battling cancer and got a tremendous reception from the audience.
While Robson is quite rightly regarded as one of England's greatest managers, it's interesting to consider what would have happened had he been born twenty years later. Robson was appointed England manager in 1982 and inherited a good team which had gone close in that summer's World Cup. Robson's England failed however to qualify for the 1984 European Championships. When Steve McClaren, who inherited a team that
had performed badly at the preceding World Cup failed to qualify for Euro 2008 he was summarily dismissed. But a quarter of a century ago things were done rather differently.
Robson was given more time and repayed the confidence shown in him by guiding England to the World Cup quarter-Finals in 1986 (when only the 'Hand of God' aka Diego Maradona, denied them a semi-final place) and the semi-finals in 1990, where they lost in a penalty shoot out to West Germany. Robson took England nearer to World Cup glory than any manager since Sir Alf Ramsey, yet if he had been managing the national side twenty years later, he would probabby have been sacked after just two years in charge.
If you still have your doubts about the need to give football managers more time, just think of the man who presented Robson with his award last night. Sir Alex Ferguson won nothing in his first three years at Old Trafford, in fact three years after being appointed he had taken Manchester United into a relegation battle. And even after United won the FA Cup in 1990, it was still another three years before Ferguson landed the League title- a full six and a half years after taking charge. Would Ferguson have been allowed so much time today? Of course not. He'd probably have been sacked in the autumn of 1989, if not earlier.
It's strange to reflect though that while 'hire and fire' has become the order of the day among football managers, there's one group of people in Britain whose jobs are far more than secure than twenty-five years ago. Our political elite can take us into illegal, catastrophic wars, lose our bank details in the post and make all manner of cock-ups. Yet very few get sacked, let alone resign. I'd rather live in a country which showed a bit more patience towards its football managers and a bit less patience towards its politicians.
How about you?
And if you're still undecided about whether to sign the petitition: just consider- if the lovely Hernadi Judit performed this routine in any pub, concert arena or enclosed public building in the UK today she'd be arrested.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Who gets your vote in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award? Win, lose or draw in Vegas tonight, for me it has to be Mancunian boxer Ricky "The Hitman" Hatton (above).
He's turned a whole new generation on to the noble art, and would richly deserve to win tomorrow night's award. As for the Foreign Sports Personality of the Year, I'd go for the delightful Ana Ivanovic, who reached the semi-final of Wimbledon and the final of the French Open. And for Team of the Year, my vote goes to the England rugby team for the character they showed in bouncing back from their mauling by South Africa in the World Cup.
How about you?
"Globalisation began its advance in Kosovo in 1999. Let us all hope that 2008 marks its final demise. There can be nowhere more fitting for that final death knell than Kosovo, where it all began."
You can read more of The Exile's thoughts on the Kosovo crisis and its global significance here and here.
Friday, December 07, 2007
What a lovely, modest man. Jonathan Ross (above), BBC presenter joked last night that he was worth "1000 BBC journalists". A pretty obnoxious boast at the best of times, but particularly when 25,000 BBC journalists are threatened with the sack over the corporation's financial difficulties, which, in no small part, have been caused by the outrageous salaries they pay to over-hyped, over-rated performers like Ross.
Thirty years ago the BBC's biggest names: like Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies and Mike Yarwood (all immeasurably more talented than Ross), would have been paid higher salaries than other contracted stars, but the salary differences were nowhere near the level they are today.
For that we've got to thank 'free market' neoliberalism, which has seen incredible differences spring up between the highest paid and the rest- even in publicly owned bodies like the Beeb. The big myth about neoliberalism put about by its supporters, is that everyone benefits from the outrageous salaries paid to a tiny few, by way of 'the trickle down effect'. But it's baloney. Ross' enormous salary is not paid out of fresh air, but by cutting the salaries- and jobs- of others. One Jonathan Ross, or jobs for 1,000 journalists? Ethically, there really is only one answer.
Citing Monday's national intelligence estimate that established "beyond the shadow of a doubt" that since 2003 Iran has developed a massive arsenal of non-existent nuclear weapons, Bush said he had no option but declare immediate pre-emptive war on the obstinate regime in Tehran.
"The complete absence of evidence that Iran has hostile intentions towards the west is the most conclusive evidence we have yet seen that Iran has hostile intentions towards the west." said the President, adding that the report's lack of any indication that Iranians are working on long-range delivery systems for their non-existent nukes can only mean that they are.
Get along down to Comment is Free and read the rest of Tony Hendra's brilliant piece lampooning the neocon reaction to this week's news that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. If there's a funnier piece that has ever been posted on the Guardian's website, I haven't seen it.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Let's hope Serbia tells 'the EU special envoy' to mind his own business.
As the Serb official in question, Alexsander Simic said:
"When someone fails to respect the Security Council, the only body that ought to react in times when there is a threat of aggression and war, particularly when someone does not observe Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter and the resolution that was adopted in line with it, then there is nothing else a country can do. Every state has the right to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity by all means necessary,”
(you can read more of Simic's speech here)
Serbia is faced with the illegal seizure of part of its historic territory, in blatant contravention of international law. Forget the imperialistic claptrap of the 'EU special envoy', Serbia has the right to self-defence, and use military means if necessary to prevent loss of its territory, as any country does. Let's hope that it doesn't come to that, but if war does break out, it will not be the responsibility of Serbia, but of the western countries who have, for their own selfish reasons, fomented separatism and discord in the region.
The ball is now very firmly in the court of the US and the EU. They can end their support for Kosovan separatism here and now, or they can plunge the region into a new war.
EU-fanatic Timothy Garton-Ash, is shall we say, hardly a reliable source when it comes to recent Balkan history. He was, after all, the man who wrote last year:
"One of the most supremely ludicrous moments in recent European history came in 1991, when Jacques Poos hurried to inform the Slovenes, then trying to break away from Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia, that small countries had no future in Europe".
What was "supremely ludicrous" was that in 1991, Slobodan Milosevic was not the leader of Yugoslavia (Ante Markovic was), and the Guardian had to print a correction after the Professor of European Studies' article.
Today, Garton-Ash is at it again. Perhaps still smarting for not being allowed to blame Milosevic for a war he had no part in, he now blames the former Yugoslav President for what he believes will be Serbia's imminent loss of Kosovo.
"The single human being most responsible for this Serbian loss is Slobodan Milosevic - may he rot in hell",Garton-Ash snarls.
Well, Timothy, sorry to disappoint you but I very much doubt if Slobodan Milosevic is rotting in Hell at this present time, not unless The Almighty deems the "crime" of trying to run an independent, socialist economy in Europe in the 1990s worthy of a trip down below. (And, if you saw any evidence that Milosevic was guilty of crimes worthy of being sent to Hell during his four year show trial at the Hague, then please send them to me, because I certainly didn't see any, and unlike you I hold to that quaint old-fashioned notion that a man is innocent until proven guilty).
No, Timothy, if you're looking for people responsible for the current Kosovo crisis, you've picked the wrong man once again. The real culprits are those western meddlers who, in order to break-up Yugoslavia and destabilise Milosevic's unreconstructed socialist government in Belgrade, sided with the fanatical separatist, gun-running, drug-dealing terrorists of the KLA.
One of the most malevolent of all the western actors in the recent history of Kosovo was the former US envoy Richard Holbrooke, described so memorably, and so accurately, by Svetlana on Byzantine Sacred Art blog as "a violent, belligerent asshole", (and seen above with one of his beloved KLA 'freedom fighters') and a man who will, I'm sure, end up in Hell, if such a place does indeed exist. But while Holbrooke will be able to meet Pol Pot, Admiral Tojo, Adolf Hitler, General Franco and Genghis Khan and renew associations with Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Madeline 'the death of half a million Iraqi children from sanctions is a price worth paying' Albright and his other warmongering necon/'liberal' interventionist chums; I'll lay odds of 1-20 that he won't catch sight of Slobo.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
This piece of mine, on why it's time to put a match to the draconian smoking ban, appears in The Guardian.
Five months on from the imposition of the draconian ban on smoking in public places in England, its negative effects are becoming more and more apparent.
For the pub and entertainment business the ban, which followed similar ones in Scotland and Wales, has proved a disaster. Last week, Enterprise Inns, the UK's second-largest pub group, warned of "closures across the industry". It has put 96 of its 2,700 pubs up for sale.
And in Wales, where a ban on smoking was introduced in April, pubs have lost an estimated 20% of their trade.
Bingo halls and working men's clubs are also feeling the pinch. In Scotland, more than 20 bingo halls have already closed since the ban was introduced; scores more are under threat of closure across Britain. Mick McGlasham, an official with the Club and Institute Union (CIU), which runs 228 working men's clubs, predicts the ban will be "the last straw" that forces clubs to close.
But the smoking bans are wrong not just because they are putting people out of jobs and adversely affecting the economy. The main objection to the anti-smoking legislation is the way it is destroying social life in Britain.
Britain's estimated 12 million smokers have a choice: they go out to a pub or club and then have to stand outside, like social outcasts, on a cold and often wet pavement every time they fancy a smoke; or they simply stay at home. Unsurprisingly, millions are opting for the latter.
It's hard to escape the conclusion of Jemma Freeman, the managing director of cigar importers Hunters and Frankau and a keen cigar smoker herself, that the government does not really want us to meet in public places any more, and would much rather we all stayed home and vegetated in front of the television instead.
Smoking is, first and foremost, a social activity. When I moved to Hungary, in the mid-1990s, the custom was still for everyone to put their packets of cigarettes on the table in the bar/cafe so that people could help themselves to whatever they wanted to smoke. It was considered the height of bad manners not to offer your tobacco around. Offering a cigarette, or a light, was a great ice-breaker, and the way in which many a friendship was forged.
It is no coincidence that in the decades in Britain during which smoking was at its peak - the 1940s and 1950s, when around 80% of the population smoked - social cohesion was also at its strongest; and no coincidence either that the decline of smoking in Britain has coincided with the atomisation of our society.
As well as destroying social life, the smoking ban also marks, as the artist David Hockney has pointed out, the death of bohemia in Britain. Bohemia without smoke simply isn't bohemia. Those looking to escape this dull, sanitised, McDonald's-ised world for a while now have to head to Paris or Brussels: the French House, in Soho, will sadly no longer suffice.
The great tragedy about the ban is that a compromise solution, one that would have respected the rights of smokers and nonsmokers alike, could so easily have been found. Instead of following the example of Ireland, which imposed a blanket ban, why couldn't we have adopted the measures favoured by our neighbours on the continent? I recently spent a week in Belgium, where smoking is allowed in all pubs, cafes and bars, but not in enclosed public spaces, such as railway stations, or establishments that sell food, unless the proprietor can provide a separate, confined smoking area. It's a solution everyone I spoke to - smokers and nonsmokers - seemed perfectly happy with.
But instead of attempting to reach a compromise, the government instead opted for an all-encompassing ban more in line with Nazi Germany (which, unsurprisingly, was the first country in the world to introduce restrictions on smoking in public) than with a supposedly liberal, democratic European nation.
It's good to report, though, that the fightback against the ban has started. A new group that aims to campaign for exemptions from the ban for pubs, clubs and bars is being formed. Expect to hear a lot more about it in the new year.
This is an issue that concerns not just smokers but everyone who wants to live in a society where compromise rules, rather than intolerance.
Let us hope that by this time next year, common sense will rule again, and Britons will once more be able to light up their cigarettes, pipes and cigars in pubs and cafes without riot police surrounding the building.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
This article of mine, on the days when the Labour Party occupied the moral high ground in British politics, appears in today's Morning Star.
In all its 101-year history, has the Labour Party ever been held in such contempt by ordinary people as it is today?
In the last ten years, Labour has taken us into a succession of illegal wars of aggression and made our country even more of a US lapdog than it was under the Tories.
It has extended -not reversed privatisation- and presided over a massive rise in inequality.
Instead of sticking up for ordinary working people, Labour has shamelessly courted the very rich- people like the millionaire property developer David Abrahams- whose donations to the party have caused such a scandal.
How far Labour has descended into the gutter since the times when it could genuinely be said to occupy the high ground in British politics.
Seventy-five years ago, as now, Labour had a new leader. But unlike the change from Blair to Brown, in which one pro-war, pro-big business neoliberal was exchanged for another, the change from Arthur Henderson to George Lansbury (above) in 1932 marked a real turning point.
Lansbury’s accession to his party’s leadership at the age of 73 came as a consequence of the treacherous defection to a new Tory-dominated ‘National Government’ by Labour Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald in 1931.
Many predicted that the split would finish Labour for good: in fact it was the making of it.
The expulsion of phoney leftists like Macdonald, Jimmy Thomas and the ‘Iron Chancellor’ Philip Snowden, who, like their New Labour counterparts sixty years later, put the interests of capital over the interests of ordinary people, meant that Labour was once again a party of the left, determined to advance the interests of the working class. And in Lansbury they had a leader who made no apologies about being a socialist desirous of radical change.
By the time he became Labour leader, Lansbury, who had left school at 14 to unload coal trucks, had spent almost forty years fighting for progressive causes. He was a man of incredible courage and took a principled stance on all the great issues of the day, regardless of the personal consequences.
Elected MP for Bow and Stepney in 1910 he gave up his seat in order to fight a by-election in support of women’s suffrage. He lost and was out of parliament for ten years.
Three years later he was charged with sedition for exhorting a crowd at the Royal Albert Hall to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with the Suffragetes and imprisoned in Pentonville jail.
Together with other councillors, he went to prison again in 1921, after Poplar council dispersed tax monies to the poor instead of setting a ‘legal’ rate. He defended the authors of the ‘Don’t Shoot’ pamphlet, sent out to soldiers called into deal with striking workers and was also a supporter of Irish independence and the Russian Revolution.
Lansbury’s Labour Party adopted a number of left-wing policies, including nationalisation of the banks and worker control of nationalised industries. The party was no longer interested in the tinkering with capitalist system; a motion passed at the 1932 party conference said that the next Labour government must introduce “definite Socialist legislation immediately”.
On foreign affairs, Lansbury’s message was unequivocally anti-war and anti-militarist: Lansbury himself was a convinced pacifist who had strongly opposed World War One. If he became Prime Minister, he once famously said, “I would close every recruiting station, disband the Army and disarm the Air Force. I would abolish the whole dreadful equipment of war and say to the world "do your worst". The use of force was anathema to him: “War becomes more bestial, more sickening every day. Christ said that we had to love one another. I cannot believe that Christ ... for any reason or any cause would be found pouring bombs and poison gas on women, on children or men for any reason whatsoever”.
For Lansbury, socialism wasn’t just a political theory- it was a way of life. Friendly and approachable, he operated an ’open door’ policy at his modest home in Bow.
Rather than seeing politics as route for accumulating wealth, Lansbury gave his money away.
In his autobiography ‘Beyond Nab End‘, the historian William Woodruff, then a young Labour activist, recalls meeting Lansbury at a meeting of the local Labour party in Bow. “Lansbury greeted me as if I was someone important . I felt his great warmth. His blue-grey luminous eyes were smiling. He looked at peace with himself. I was captivated by him”.
Lansbury was deeply loved by the working classes of East London. In fact, it’s hard to think of a 20th century politician who was held in such affection by ordinary people: to many George Lansbury was a saint. When Lansbury died, at the age of 81, in 1940, huge crowds attended his funeral.
I wonder how many of today’s New Labour politicians will be so widely mourned?
Lansbury may never have become Prime Minister; he stood down from the Labour leadership in 1935 after a party conference row over rearmament, but his legacy was long-lasting.
The leftwards shift of the Labour Party under his leadership meant that when the party did return to power again in 1945, it would actually achieve real change, and not betray the working class as Macdonald’s 1929-31 government had done.
But I’m quite sure if he could see just the depths that Labour has descended to since 1997, with its sleaze, its pro-privatisation policies and its aggressive pro-war stance, ‘Saint George’ would be turning in his grave.
Monday, December 03, 2007
My, oh my, it's been a bad 24 hours for those loveable, truthful, peace-loving creatures, the neo-cons (the intellectual founder of the neo-conservative movement is pictured above). First, the 'evil dictator' Hugo Chavez reacts to his referendum loss by er....accepting defeat and congratulating his opponents, then the party of fellow 'evil dictator' Vladimir Putin wins a landslide victory in Russia, and now this breaking news from The Guardian:
"Iran halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003, intelligence agencies said today, in an unexpected finding. A new national intelligence estimate on Iran concluded, in contrast to two years ago, that Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003."
So, would you believe it? All the time during the past couple of years that those loveable, truthful, peace-loving neo-cons were telling us that Iran was developing nuclear weapons and it really wasn't.
I wonder if this news will stop neocon propagandists like the historian Niall Ferguson from writing about Iran's 'nuclear weapons' as if they are a fact- in the same way they wrote of 'Iraqi WMDs' as if they were a fact, in the lead up to the 2003 invasion?
The author of this blog has maintained all along that the talk of a Iranian nuclear weapons programme was baloney- in the same way he consistently rubbished the claims about Iraq possessing WMD in 2002/3 and disputed the claim that Yugoslav forces were committing genocide in Kosovo in 1999. How was I so sure that the neocons were lying on each occasion? It's very, very easy. Their lips moved.
UPDATE: Talking of serial liars and Iran, the Guardian has, somehow seen fit to publish this execrable piece of neocon propaganda by someone readers of this blog will be quite familiar with.
UPDATE: So incensed was I on Tuesday morning when I saw that the Guardian had published such a vile piece of pro-war propaganda from such a malicious and deceitful individual as Oliver Kamm, who has tried all he could to get me out of The Guardian (and other papers too) for the 'crime' of critically reviewing his book, that I posted here the details of the Guardian's Readers' Editor and Editor for people who wished to complain. But I've taken them down now, because encouraging people to write into complain about articles/particular writers is something the neocons do. When you're dealing with those who live in the sewer as Kamm does, it's important not to let them bring you down to their level. In the end, the Guardian's decision to publish the piece was extremely fortunate. The author was made to look even more ridiculous than usual as the central premise of his piece- that Iran posed a grave threat- was destroyed by the US Security services report published the same day. The writer then made a very misguided attempt, on the Guardian website later on in the day, to argue that the report, which stressed that Iran did not pose a threat, backed his case that it did. The comments underneath the piece show that what little credibility he had with Guardian readers on the morning of December 4th, had evaporated by the evening.
God really does move in mysterious ways.
Hugo Chavez (above) has lost the referendum on constitutional change in Venezuela by the narrowest of margins. So how did the man who the neo-cons would like us to believe is an evil, power-hungry dictator take it? By cancelling the result and declaring the poll invalid? By arresting members of the opposition? By declaring martial law? Er, no.
"I thank you and I congratulate you," Chávez said calmly, referring to his opponents. "I recognise the decision a people have made." Turning to supporters, some of whom were weeping, he added: "Don't feel sad."
In his defeat, Chavez has claimed a great victory. He has exposed the lies of the neo-cons for what they were. Chavez was, and always will be, a committed democrat. Under his leadership, the people of Venezuela have been consulted, by way of a public vote, far more often than the people of Britain and many other countries which claim the moral high ground when it comes to democracy. Chavez is despised by the neo-cons not because he is a dictator, but because he is a democrat, who governs his country in accordance with the wishes of the majority of his people- and not in the interests of global capital. After yesterday's result, and the calm way Chavez accepted it, it's the neocons and their propagandists who are the ones looking even more ridiculous than usual.
UPDATE: You can read The Exile's take on the vote in Venezuela, and what it tells us about the strength of the democratic system Chavez has helped establish, here.
"Opposition parties have called the "most irresponsible and dirty" poll in the post-Soviet era."
Well, they must have pretty short memories. Just 11 years ago there was a very "irresponsible and dirty" poll in Russia, but because the west's man-the drunk Yeltsin won, the result, instead of being condemned was applauded by the neo-cons. (You've probably worked this out by now, but for the neo-cons an election is only deemed "fair" if it produces a pro-US government- any election which doesn't- be it in the former Yugoslavia, in Iran, Venezuela, Belarus or Palestine, is deemed to be "invalid" or "undemocratic").
With western backing, Yeltsin stole the 1996 Presidental election and for the next four years, the ordinary Russian people paid the price. And Yeltsin knew what the deal was: in 1999 when the US led an illegal and barbarous assault on Yugoslavia, the drunken western stooge kept his country out and allowed Russia's historic ally to be bombed into submission.
The neo-cons would love a 'Boris Yeltsin Mark Two' to emerge in Russia, to hand over to them the country's enormous assets and to acquiesce in their planned aggressions against Iran, Syria, Serbia and anyone else who dares to stand up to their bullying.
But it is not going to happen. Russia is growing stronger and more confident by the day. And for all of us who want to see a truly multipolar world, with illegal neo-con aggression defeated, these are encouraging times.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Well,its December 2nd and guess which teams occupy the top four positions in the the Premiership? You've guessed it: Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Liverpool. How wonderfully exciting..... not.
To make up for the dreadful predictabilitity of today's top flight football, here's the start of a new weekly feature, reminding us of those pre-Premiership days when English football was still exciting. A time when teams like Ipswich and Southampton could win the FA Cup, Nottingham Forest could win the League and European Cup (twice) and QPR could get to within 15 minutes of winning the League title.
To start off, here's a classic from New Years Day 1992. Man Utd, the league leaders are at home to QPR. Given the enormous economic balance between the 'Big Four' and the rest that exists nowadays, matches like this simply can't happen today. And I'm sure there's even a few Man U fans out there who prefer things as they used to be.
I was lucky enough to have been at Newbury yesterday afternoon to witness one of the most remarkable performances seen on a British racecourse for many years. Despite having to carry the welterwight of 11st 12lbs on very testing ground in the ultra-competitive Hennessy Gold Cup, Denman (above) annihilated the opposition, galloping to a hugely impressive 11l success. I arrived at Newbury undecided on what to back for the big race, but when I saw Denman in the paddock, my mind was made up. I have seldom seen a horse looking in such fantastic condition in the parade ring.
The sky really is the limit for Denman after yesterday's incredible performance, especially when you consider that his trainer Paul Nicholls insists he'll come on for the run. Don't be put off by the traditionally poor win record many recent Hennessy winners have had after their success; that's because many of them won the race off a low weight and couldn't cope with the handicapper's reassessment. So long as Denman, stable companion Kauto Star and Exotic Dancer can get to Prestbury Park safe and sound on 14th March, we look to be in for a classic Gold Cup.
p.s. I'm sure 'Grease Monkey' a London-based commenter on the Racing Post 'Chatroom' site is pleased he used a pseudonym after leaving this comment before the Hennessy.
"Tim Henman's got more chance of winning Wimbledon in a strait-jacket than Denman has of winning the Hennessy".
That has to be a candidate for one of the worst sporting predictions of all time.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
The Daily Mail reports how an elderly disabled couple whose Christmas shopping trip to Tesco cost more than £300 have been given a warning for taking too long in the store.
"They may say every little helps, but it's clearly only if you're spending your money fast enough," said Mr Hodgson (above with his wife) a retired marine engineer. "Between us we spent around £1.25 a minute – that's better than they'd get from any pay-and-display car park. But they still want more. "
Of course Tescos "still want more". They're a greedy profit-obsessed multinational plc, a company whose sharp practices embody everything that is wrong with today's turbo-capitalism. After the treatment they received from Tesco, Mr Hodgson and his wife will be boycotting the store in future. Let's hope that after reading this sorry tale, millions of other people in Britain will do the same.
* A bit of background to this story. Tesco, who threatened Mr and Mrs Hodgson with a £100 fine should they take "too long" with their shopping in the future, recorded profits of £2.55bn in the last financial year- equivalent to more than £4,800 a minute.
1. "The security situation in Iraq is improving by the day. Don't believe what the doom and gloom anti-war lefties are telling you- the country is not in crisis- the US/UK occupation is popular and the majority of Iraqis are elated that their country has been 'liberated'. The Iraqi resistance has little support and is widely despised by the Iraqi people. And the vast majority of Iraqi people don't want to see British and American troops leave."
2. "We URGENTLY need to write to our MPs so that Iraqis who worked for the British forces can be granted asylum. They're in real danger of their lives because the Iraqis hate them for working with the occupying forces."
Both are positions that are currently being put forward by the neo-cons and their 'pro-war anti-war' allies. But as I'm sure you'll agree, they are, how shall we put it?- rather contradictory. So which is it lads? If Iraq really is as safe as you say it now is, and the 'liberation' is so popular, why all the hysterical posts on your blogs about the need for us to write to our MPs in order to get asylum for Iraqis who worked for the occupiers?
Surely, if the 'liberation' of Iraq is as popular as you maintain, those who helped the 'liberators' would be regarded as heroes and in no need of asylum?
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Back in the autumn of 2005, I was, as far as I'm aware, the first British commentator to draw attention to prospective Conservative Party leader David Cameron's neo-con connections. At that time, the standard line across the British media was that Dave was in some way a 'moderate'. But as I highlighted in my Guardian article here, there really is nothing moderate whatsoever about the MP for Witney.
Today in America Cameron made a bellicose warmongering speech accusing Russia of stoking up tensions in the Balkans, and claimed that Russia's support for Serbia over the issue of Kosovo poses "a direct threat to our security".
What utter neo-con tripe.
The country which has been stoking up tensions in the Balkans is not Russia, but the US, in its fanaticism to establish an independent state of Kosovo. The separation of Kosovo from Serbia is only the latest step in the U.S's plan to dismember the former Yugoslavia: I won't say its the last step, because if Kosovo is stolen from Serbia, then we can soon expect to see the US aggressively championing the cause of an independent state of Voyvodinya, the area of northern Serbia where there is a Hungarian minority. Russia, quite correctly is saying a very firm 'Nyet' to all this nonsense and refuses to be bullied by the Empire's threats. And for standing up to the neocon bully boys, Serbia and Russia are predictably being labelled the 'aggressors'.
To say that Britain's national interests are threatened by Russia's support for Serbian sovereignty is a colossal deceit. In this dispute Britain should be siding with Serbia and Russia, two historical allies who supported our country in two world wars, and any truly patriotic British government- or patriotic opposition leader- should be making quite clear that we oppose the illegal seizure from Serbia of its historic territory.
But at least Cameron's intervention should alert British voters to the sad reality. Both our major parties are in the grips of neocon warmongers, whose first loyalties are not to Britain and the British people, but to the cause of Pax Americana.
What today’s anti-capitalists loathe most is the ‘consumer society’, with its incessant advertising and wicked temptation to buy, buy, buy. On Buy Nothing Day, at the end of November, anti-capitalist protesters on Oxford Street and elsewhere advised shoppers to ‘detox from consumerism’ because ‘everything we buy has an impact on our planet’. Meanwhile, serious psychologists (as well as the seriously psychotic) claim that consumerism makes us ill — it gives us ‘affluenza’, apparently. Geddit?
Well, I’m sorry Brendan, but I believe that today’s brand of consumerism does make us ill, as I think one of the 'serious psychologists' you had in mind, Oliver James, proved beyond doubt in his book ‘Affluenza.’
Brendan seems very happy with a money and wealth-obsessed, turbo-capitalist globalised world, one in which there is a Starbucks or Macdonalds on every corner and in which local and national cultures are replaced by globalised ones. He's happy to see the total eradication of centuries old local culture and believes this is somehow a 'left-wing' cause. Brendan also fails to see that its modern turbo-capitalism which is perpetually driving us to go to war, be it in the Balkans or in the Middle East- wars which he- to his credit-opposes.
As I wrote recently, the real divide in the world today is not so much between traditional socialists and conservatives, but between those who support the neoliberal globalist agenda of privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and running the economy for the benefit of global capital, and those who believe that maintaining economic sovereignty, and safeguarding the interests of ordinary working people should come first. Needless to say, those in the first camp don't care a jot for preserving local or national culture; those in the second camp most definitely do.
Sadly, we now know which side of the divide Brendan is on.
When I wrote recently of the way the blogosphere was dominated by a self-appointed uber-elite of bloggers, one of the bloggers I had in mind was a man called Sunny Hundal (above)
Sunny, despite having won no popular election, (if he has, I've missed it) genuinely seems to believe he is the sole arbiter of what views and stances constitute being on the ’liberal-left’. And woe betide those who, in Sunny's eyes get it wrong.
He furiously shouted down one of his own group blog’s contributors for the crime of- wait for it- congratulating me on my recent award of Best UK Blog. The reason: because I had broken the three-line whip, imposed by Sunny and other 'liberal-leftists' on the Iraqi interpreters issue. Needless to say Sunny, like other members of ‘the not very left-wing or liberal 'liberal- left' tendency is a strong supporter of linking up with notorious neo-con warmongers in the campaign to grant asylum to Iraqis who betrayed their country by collaborating with the the illegal occupying forces. (the reason why the neocons are so keen on this campaign is that they are worried that in any future illegal invasions of sovereign states the locals might not be so keen to collobarate - it is for this reason that anyone who is genuinely left-wing, anti-war and anti-imperialist should have nothing to do with it).
Don't ever make the mistake of thinking that Hundal is open to debate: I did write a friendly email to him once to praise his stated support of free speech, but his response was pompous and condescending. I certainly won't be writing to the man ever again.
Hundal’s 'liberal leftism' is as artificial as that of the other so called ‘liberal-left’- who supported the Iraqi interpreters campaign and, if you still have your doubts, here’s the clinching proof.
On the Guardian CIF blog, Hundal has a piece drooling about a certain country which he believes can be a model for others. And which country do you believe Britain's self-appointed leader of the 'liberal-left' is so taken with?
Austria- with its world class national health system? Norway, with its egalitarian right of public access on all land? Denmark, with its low levels of inequality? Or perhaps Belgium, with its fantastic publicly-owned public transport system?
No, the country Hundal regards as a model which ought to be copied by others is- I kid ye not- the feudal dictatorship of Dubai - which he praises for "its enthusiastic embrace of capitalism", which apparently is "exactly what the city and the Middle East needs as a whole."
Hundal called me an "idiot" for my line on he Iraqi interpreters issue. Well Sunny, after reading your quite ridiculous piece on Dubai I can assure you the sentiment is reciprocated. I think anyone who calls themselves ‘liberal-left' and who writes pieces praising a feudal, shopping-mall dictatorship for its ‘embrace of capitalism' is not only an ‘idiot’ but has absolutely no cause to call themselves ‘liberal-left’ ever again.
Why on earth does the BBC (owned by us, dear reader, let's not forget) see it as its mission to promote this very silly man, whenever they have a programme on blogging?
UPDATE: David Lindsay writes on Hundal and his choice of model state here.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Here's my piece from the New Statesman, contrasting Belgium's efficient, affordable and fit-for-purpose publicly owned public transport system, with Britain's inefficient, hideously expensive and not fit-for-purpose privatised one. And for Britain's long-suffering, ripped-off train commuters, things are going to get even worse. Yet, despite the obvious superiority of the Belgian system, neoliberal fanatics are attempting to force the rest of Europe to adopt the flawed British model!
Now that we have a high-speed rail link to Brussels, maybe Britain's transport chiefs could take a look at the rest of the Belgian rail network. For, when it comes to public transport, it's the much-derided Belgians who have the last laugh on us Brits.
Like Britain, Belgium is small and densely populated. But, unlike Britain, it has a co-ordinated, fit-for-purpose, publicly owned public transport system. Belgian Railways is the cheapest network in western Europe, with ticket prices that should make train travellers in the UK green with envy. In Britain, a next-day, peak-time return ticket from Manchester to London (200 miles) costs just over £200. In Belgium, the cost of a similar journey is less than £24.
Not only are Belgian fares cheaper, the ticketing system is simpler. In Britain, there are more than 200 types of railway ticket, depending on dates, time of travel and time of booking. In Belgium, price is determined by distance - a system despised by free-market fundamentalists. Prices don't go up in the rush hour: Belgian Railways simply puts on more trains and carriages. It has no problem meeting capacity because it owns its own rolling stock.
What a contrast to Britain, where commuters on the nation's most overcrowded routes are told they will have to wait three years for an end to their ordeal, because the train companies refuse to order new carriages until their contracts are extended.
A publicly owned transport system also means that the various modes - train, bus, tram - can be co-ordinated. In Ghent, you get off a train and a tram is waiting to take you to the city centre (for E1.50, the set fare on all Belgium's trams and buses). In Britain, despite the government's exhortations, the system remains fragmented.
Anyone who has travelled on both the British and the Belgian systems knows which is better. Yet, incredibly, the Belgian model is under threat from neoliberals in the EU. In the name of "competition", they are calling for the end of national rail monopolies and for transport to be opened to foreign companies.
In October, after intense pressure from corporate lobbyists, the European Parliament voted for the liberalisation of all international rail services from 2010, and for the European Commission to report no later than 2012 on the liberalisation of domestic rail services.
This pressure is coming from Britain; opposition is led by France and Belgium. In other words, we are calling for the rest of Europe to follow our flawed model, dreamt up by the free-market ideologues of the Adam Smith Institute.
On my last trip to Belgium, I travelled by train from Oxford to Waterloo International. At Oxford Station the ticket office was closed, and the departure board was not operating. As a train pulled into Platform 1, bewildered passengers asked each other if they knew where it was going.
A few hours later I was in the Gare du Midi, Brussels, from where an efficient and cheap underground system took me directly into the centre of the city.
Belgium may be only a short distance across the North Sea, but as far as public transport is concerned, it's a different world.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
According to the standard neo-liberal version of history, the last 18 years in Eastern Europe have been years of unbridled success, as largely state-run economies have been transformed into dynamic "free market" ones. The reality is rather different. The adoption of the neoliberal turbo-capitalist model has caused misery for millions across the region, and in Hungary - a country whose living standards were, 30 years ago, among the highest of all the eastern bloc countries - its impact has been particularly severe.
In 2005, a Unicef report highlighted Hungary as a particularly dramatic example of the worsening situation of children, with child poverty now over 20%. And last month, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation reported that 200,000 people in Hungary, including 20,000 children, were under-fed. Around one in 10 Hungarians lives below the poverty line, with leading sociologist Zsuzsa Ferge recently warning a conference of the European and Hungarian Anti-Poverty Network that next year's planned price rises could push a further three million people into poverty. These depressing statistics are a shocking indictment of the hardline policies of what is arguably the most dogmatically neoliberal government in the whole of central and eastern Europe.
Prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, whose personal fortune of $17m was made from controversial privatisation deals in the early 1990s, is the darling of the US embassy and foreign capital - not just for his support for the Iraq war, but for his zeal in following a textbook neoliberal agenda which has involved selling off more than 170 state enterprises, imposing VAT on medical prescriptions and abolishing a tax on stockmarket profits. "Gyurcsany's a socialist, but he's our kind of socialist" is the view of one US junk bond trader, while the verdict of former US ambassador to Hungary George Herbert Walker III (who is George Bush's cousin) is: "Hungary's immediate future is in safe hands."
But while Gyurcsany and his government are toasted in the boardrooms of investment banks and finance houses across the world, his administration is not so popular with those he is supposed to represent. Gyurcsany's MSZP (Socialist Party) ratings are down to just 20%, while their coalition allies, the rabidly pro-capitalist SZDSZ (Free Democrats), whose leaders' views on the economy would make Margaret Thatcher seem like a social democrat, are down to just 3%.
Faced with falling living standards and swingeing cutbacks in welfare and state provision, people are taking to the streets. On Wednesday, several trades unions organised a day of industrial action, which culminated in a rally in Budapest's Kossuth Ter. The strikers were protesting not only about the government's plans to close large chunks of the country's railway network, but also about the planned part-privatisation of health care and reforms to the state pension.
The most interesting thing of all was who was supporting the Day of Solidarity. The anti-government action was not only backed by the unions, the socialist left and communists. It was supported by health service professionals, civic groups, farmers, religious groups and the country's conservative opposition. Zsolt Semlyen, chairman of the staunchly Catholic Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) said earlier in the week that his party would give "all theoretical and moral support to those who are arranging the protests of the Day of Solidarity".
It's not the first time the left and the right have come together to protest against neoliberal extremism in Hungary. Back in 2004, the communist Workers Party (Munkaspart) and the main conservative opposition party, Fidesz, cooperated in a successful campaign to force a referendum on the privatisation of the health service. Such an alliance would have been unthinkable even a few years earlier, given the country's history. But faced with a despised and discredited government, one which governs only in the interest of foreign multinationals and Hungary's own class of super-rich, old foes are forgetting their past differences and are coming together.
Viktor Orban, the leader of Fidesz, once called Hungarians who lived under communism "the lost generation". Now, even he admits that for the majority of Hungarians, life was easier under the benign "goulash communism" of Janos Kadar than it is today.
What Hungary shows is that the real divide in the world today is not so much between traditional socialists and conservatives, but between those who support the neoliberal globalist agenda of privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and running the economy for the benefit of global capital, and those who believe that maintaining economic sovereignty and safeguarding the interests of ordinary working people should come first.
As neoliberal "reforms" become ever more severe and unpopular all over the world, we can expect this new, left-right anti-globalisation alliance to gain even greater strength.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Unless a tiny miracle happens and a new Left Party is formed before the next UK General Election, I doubt that after that election there will be a single working class MP in the Westminister Parliament and by working class I loosely mean manual worker. We have already reached the stage when if you look at the class backgrounds of the current crop of honorable members, it appears to be more like 1907 than 2007. It is as if the major social changes that took place in the UK over the three decades that followed WW2 never happened, as these days almost the entire House of Commons comes from the urban middle classes. The odd Toff still sits on the green benches of the Commons and as place-men in the House of Lords, but the working classes are becoming invisible from both Houses of Parliament.
In the last ten years of a Labour government, we have witnessed the English middle classes gradually clawing back the political and cultural space they lost to the working classes between the years 1945-79.
You can read the rest of Mick Hall's brilliant post on how unrepresentative the British House of Commons has become here. Whether it's our shambolic privatised railway system, the erosion of our ancient civil liberties, the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor or the exclusion of working class voices from the political arena, we really are going backwards in this country.