Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Corporate Takeover of Serbia

"Having decided to commence the public procurement process, the government agreed to send invitations for the placement of bids directly to the following bidders: Rothschild; UBS; Goldman Sachs; BNP Paribas SA; HSBC Bank plc; Morgan Stanley; Citigroup Inc; Merrill Lynch; Lazard; ABN AMRO; Deutsche Bank AG; Deloitte; Lehman Brothers; PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Corp Fin; Ernst & Young; SG; Dresdner Klinwort; JP Morgan; KPMG Corp Fin; Macquarie Bank Ltd (MBL); M&A International Inc; ING; Credit Suisse; CALYON."

reports the Serbia Business website, regarding the imminent sale of JAT- the state-owned airline.

I've repeatedly argued, in articles such as this one, that the western intervention against Yugoslavia was motivated purely by economic and strategic- and not humanitarian concerns, and nothing that has gone on in the country since the fall of President Milosevic contradicts the thesis.

One of the very first things the new "reform" government in Belgrade did
after defeating Milosevic's leftist bloc in elections, was to redraft the country's privatisation law. Under the new law, 70% of a privatised company could be sold to Serbian and foreign investors, with just 15% for the workers and 15% for citizens.
Under the previous law, any privatisation deal would have to allocate 60% of the shares to workers. It's not rocket science to understand why removing Milosevic and his "unreconstructed" socialist bloc from power was such an urgent priority for global capital and the politicans who represent their interest.

But hey- don't get the idea that all things are bad in Serbia these days. Despite the record unemployment and growing numbers of people living in poverty since the country "reformed" its economy, there's still some bright news.

New Belgrade is to have the biggest shopping mall in the Balkans! And the shops "will offer all the major global consumer brands"

Three cheers for President Tadic and Mr Kostunica! They've sold our entire country, but at least we'll be able to go to Starbucks!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mike Blogger, The Game is Up

This piece of mine, on the weird and not-so-wonderful-world of Mike Blogger, lap-top bombadier, appears in the Morning Star.

Mike Blogger is not a happy man. Despite all his blogging efforts, the US and Britain have not yet launched military strikes against Sudan, or the 'Islamofascist dictatorship' in Iran. Mike is also alarmed at talk of a British withdrawal from Iraq. An enthusiastic supporter of the 2003 invasion, (on 'human rights' grounds), he believes British troops should stay in Iraq indefinitely, until "democracy" is firmly established. Mike, suffice to say has never served in the armed forces: the nearest he has ever been to a war zone was when he visited Prague on a long weekend break with university friends during the conflict in the Balkans. But Mike's lack of military experience does not prevent him from urging yet more military interventions-a strong supporter of both the Euston Manifesto and the Henry Jackson Society, he believes the British Army should be deployed throughout the globe in a bid to rid the world of dictators- (or more particularly dictators that the US and Britain don't like).

Mike rejects charges that he is an Islamophobe, pointing out that he was a staunch supporter of both the Bosnian and Kosovan separatist cause in the Balkans. But although he regularly denounces the "human-rights abusing dictatorships" in Syria and Iran, eagled eyed readers of his blog have noticed that he has yet to write a word of criticism of the repressive Wahabi regime in Saudi Arabia.
Mike also denies that he is a warmonger, frequently arguing that the only way 'peace' can be spread is "at the barrel of a gun".

Mike got his taste for military intervention in 1999, when NATO bombed Yugoslavia. To this day he talks of "Milosevic's genocidal campaign" but when asked by his readers to produce evidence to back up his assertion, he angrily denounces them as "genocide deniers" and "apologists for mass murder".

Mike claims to be "passionately concerned" about the fate of 91 Iraqi interpreters, who he believes ought be granted asylum in Britain, yet to date, has shown next to no concern for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed in the war, nor the thousands of refugees who have fled their destroyed country.

Although he calls himself a 'leftist', Mike shows no enthusiasm for public ownership or introducing higher taxes on the wealthy. A member of the Labour Party since 1994, he regards Tony Blair as the greatest Prime Minister Britain has ever had.

Mike says he abhors racism and often boasts of how he took part on anti-apartheid marches while at university. Yet at the same he believes that the US and Britain have a inherent right to "civilise" the Arab and Muslim world, and that all Iraqis who resist the occupation are " barbarians".
Mike writes regularly about his concern for striking bus drivers in Iran, and his commitment to trade union rights in Iraq, but he has never been known to expresses any support for striking workers back home in Britain.

Although Mike campaigns for democracy to be spread around the globe, he doesn't accept the electorate's decision when they vote in leaders he doesn't like. He calls Hugo Chavez a "dictator" despite his regular election victories- a label he also uses when writing about the former democratically-elected leader of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic.

Neither is Mike too keen on democracy back home, believing that decisions are best made to enlightened middle-class university-educated people like himself and not to the "man in the street". Mike's heroes, aside from Tony Blair, are Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen and "the courageous" Salman Rushdie. He has read Cohen's book What's Left' twice from cover to cover- (unlike 'Satantic Verses' which he only pretends to have read). He claims to be passionate defender of free speech, yet he frequently urges people to write in to newspaper editors to sack anti-war columnists whose views he disagrees with.

Mike has few friends and spends most of his time in front of his computer, writing diatribes against those "Stalinists" on the left who don't share his enthusiasm for military interventions. Mike is rather keen on the word "Stalinist", using it to describe all the countries of eastern europe under communism, even the most liberal, progressive regimes such as Janos Kadar's Hungary.

Around 95% of the entries on Mike's blog concern foreign policy: "bread and butter issues", such as old age pensions, the state of NHS dentistry and rising utility bills are simply of interest to him.

Mike's views on foreign policy are held by a tiny proportion of the electorate. Yet, on the blogosphere he is not alone. In the strange world known as cyberspace- there are many, many people like Mike. But the world- and the blogosphere is changing. For far too long the Mike Bloggers of this world have had it all their own way. They got their war in Iraq. They got their interventionist foreign policy. And, because of it, nearly 1 million people have died.

They have every cause to feel unhappy. But they're unhappy not because of the death and destruction which these pro-war foreign policies have caused. They're unhappy because they knows that this time, the game for laptop bombadiers like themselves, is well and truly up.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Saddam Hussein Fan Club's Founder Member

Tonight's starter for ten. Who wrote, in 1976:

"The Baghdad regime is the first oil-producing government to opt for 100-per-cent nationalisation, a process completed with the acquisition of foreign assets in Basrah last December. It was the first to call for the use of oil as a political weapon against Israel and her backers. It gives strong economic and political support to the ‘Rejection Front’ Palestinians who oppose Arafat’s conciliation and are currently trying to outface the Syrians in Beirut. And it has a leader — Saddam Hussain — who has sprung from being an underground revolutionary gunman to perhaps the first visionary Arab statesman since Nasser."

(a) George Galloway
(b) Tony Benn
(c) Christopher Hitchens.

Yup, you've guessed it. The answer is(c). Something to remember next time a neo-con has the audacity to label those who opposed the Iraq war as "apologists for dictators".....

Many thanks to blogger AngloNoel for this classic!

The end of the affair?

This piece of mine appears in today's Daily Express.

Is Gordon Brown's summertime romance with the British voters over?
When Brown took over as Prime Minister at the end of June, Labour received an immediate boost in the polls- so relieved were voters that, at long last, Tony Blair had departed. And in the first few weeks, it must be said that Brown did make a plausible start to his Premiership. His reaction to July's floods was better than that of Tory leader David Cameron who at the height of the crisis, flew off to Rwanda. And Brown's calm handling of the attempted terrorist attacks at Britain's airports also earned him approval.

But now, as summer draws to a close, a new opinion poll indicates that- like all good holiday romances- Brown's with the British people might be coming to an end too.

The ICM poll shows that Labour's lead over the Conservatives is down to just five percentage points. Law and order and health are the issues where the government is losing public support. A 30-point lead on the issue of law and order for Labour in 1996, (the year before they took office) has been transformed into a 10-point deficit, while on health voters think that Labour and not the Conservatives are more likely to worsen the state of the NHS.

The poll is encouraging news for David Cameron who has been under pressure from within his own party after a poor by-election result at Ealing Southall last month. But while the poll suggests that Cameron's ditching of his much-derided "hug a hoodie" approach to youth crime and its replacement with a new, tougher approach is having an impact with voters; it would be wrong to put all of Labour's falling popularity down to a Conservative mini-revival.

Although his spin doctors are keen to portray Gordon Brown as someone who would mark a clean break with the lies and subterfuge of the Blair era, the truth is that the Prime Minister is as much an architect of the discredited New Labour project as his predecessor. It was Brown, who in Labour's first term, helped cause a funding crisis in schools and the NHS by freezing government spending, before massively increasing it again later but in the wrong areas. It was Gordon Brown who championed the wasteful PFI (Private Finance Initiative) scheme, under which the taxpayer pays far more in the long run for private companies to build new schools and hospitals than they would if the government paid for the new schools and hospitals itself. It was Gordon Brown who has introduced more than 100 stealth taxes, meaning that UK taxation has increased from a 39.3% share of GDP in 1997 to 42.4% in 2006. And it was Gordon Brown, the so-called "prudent" Chancellor, who has presided over the largest and most irresponsible credit boom this country has ever seen- one that has resulted in the level of consumer debt spiralling to an incredible £1.13 trillion.

Gordon Brown's serious persona may to some be a welcome change from Tony Blair's Cheshire Cat-style insincerity, but politically there is very little difference between the two men.

Although he said he would "learn the lessons" from Iraq, Brown, like Blair, refuses to acknowledge that the war was a catastrophic mistake. Even though it is clear that the conflict is un-winnable, he dilly-dallies on announcing a date for Britain's withdrawal, putting the lives of British troops in increased danger. On the subject of the new European Constitution, Brown apes Blair too, refusing to put the issue to a referendum, despite Labour's election promises and the massive loss of national sovereignty at stake. On immigration, Brown enthusiastically subscribes to the New Labour belief that the more people in Britain the merrier, announcing plans to build a total of three million new homes by 2020, a programme which threatens to turn our green and pleasant land into a concrete jungle.
And when it comes to tackling violent crime, Brown is as inept as Blair was, offering nothing except platitudes, soundbites and headline catching gimmicks like the gun amnesty announced at the weekend.

Does this mean that an October election is now more unlikely? Ironically, the government's falling support could mean the opposite. A five percent lead would be enough to give Labour a workable majority of around fifty seats in Parliament. But a fall of just two points and the majority would be down to around ten.
At the back of Brown's mind must be the fate of another Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan. Callaghan was widely expected to announce a general election when he appeared on television in a special Prime Ministerial broadcast in September 1978. Unemployment and inflation were both falling and Labour was ahead in the polls. But to everyone's astonishment, Callaghan announced he would be carrying on until the following year.
The rest, as they say, is history. The industrial unrest of the "Winter of Discontent" which followed not only caused Labour to lose the 1979 election, but helped keep the party out of office for the next eighteen years.

For Brown too, delay could prove equally fatal. Unions are threatening a new "winter of discontent" of strike action if the Prime Minister refuses to ditch his two per cent limit on public sector pay increases. Unemployment is rising and with a recession looming in the US, it's odds-on that the economic situation will only get worse in Britain too. And as the weeks go by, the fact that despite the change of personnel at the top, there has been no departure from the failed policies of Tony Blair, will become apparent to more and more voters. Brown's honeymoon with the British public may be over. But the way things are going, an early election might still be his best chance of avoiding a divorce.

Ronaldinho: Too sexy for Mourinho?

This piece of mine appears in today's First Post.

The late Danny Blanchflower (Spurs and N Ireland) had no doubts about what football was really about. "The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom."
It seems that Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's billionaire owner, agrees.
According to reports, Abramovich is prepared to offer the great Brazilian striker Ronaldinho (above) £200,000 a week in an attempt to lure the world's most gifted footballer away from Barcelona. The Russian believes that the toothy Ronaldinho could be the missing link in his attempt to win the Champions League and make Chelsea more entertaining.
But even if Abramovich is successful in bringing Ronaldinho to Stamford Bridge, there remains one major obstacle to his ambitions.
In three years at the club, Jose Mourinho has won two Premiership titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup, making him easily the most successful Chelsea manager of all time. But he has achieved this by playing safety-first football - a style that makes Chelsea extremely hard to beat, but fails to excite.
For all his talk of playing a more expansive game this year, Mourinho finds it hard to shed his natural caution. His first instinct when Chelsea go 1-0 up is to protect the lead: as occurred once again in Saturday's tepid single-goal victory over Portsmouth.

To thrive at Chelsea, Ronaldinho would need to be given a free role, something he is unlikely to get from Mourinho. Abramovich's ambition to create a team that does things the Blanchflower way - in style and with a flourish - is laudable. But if he really wants sexy football, he might need to look for another manager

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Space to wonder: the glory of North Wales

Griff Rhys Jones' BBC1 series Mountain concludes tonight with a programme about one of the most beautiful mountainous areas in the world: Snowdonia. Here's my piece on the beauty of Snowdonia, the charming seaside resort of Llandudno (above) and some other delights of North Wales, from the Sunday Express. If you've never visited the area, you're in for a wonderful surprise. And if you're a reader of this blog and live in North Wales, I'm very envious!

The film The Bluebird came to mind when my wife and I recently visited North Wales.
In the movie, Shirley Temple plays a spoilt little girl who is sent by a fairy on a journey to find “the bird that means happiness”. After a long trek, she finally discovers it – in her back yard.

Many travel to far-flung corners of the globe in search of spectacular scenery, yet right on our doorsteps is one of the most beautiful areas in the world: North Wales. We based ourselves in the splendidly preserved Victorian resort of Llandudno. With its long, spacious promenade, its 1,200ft Grade II listed pier and its idyllic setting on a shallow moon-shaped bay between two headlands, it is easy to understand why Llandudno is known as “the Queen of the Welsh Resorts”.

Llandudno is old-fashioned, but in the nicest possible way. Professor Codman’s Punch and Judy Show (established in 1860) still entertains and donkey rides are available on both beaches, as they have been for 125 years.

With its wrought iron and glass veranda elegance, Mostyn Street remains one of Europe’s most attractive shopping streets.

Count Bismarck, Napoleon III and the exiled Queen Elizabeth of Romania were all patrons of Mostyn Street’s speciality shops in the late 19th century.

But Llandudno’s crowning glory is its very own “mountain”, the 680ft Great Orme, which towers majestically above the pier.

You can get to the top by road or cable car but the most romantic option is the wonderfully quaint San Francisco-style tram, in operation since 1902.

There is something for everyone on the Orme, whose summit affords a view on a sunny day of the vast, shimmering sea with the outlines of Anglesey and the Isle of Man in the distance.

Walkers can explore the miles of footpaths, nature lovers can search for the species of flora and fauna unique to the area, and children will love watching the comical wild goats (descended from a pair of Kashmir goats given as a gift to Queen Victoria by the Shah of Persia).

There is also a disused Bronze Age copper mine, where you can explore the 3,500-year-old passages leading to a ghostly cavern.

Away from Llandudno, the fairy-land beauty of Snowdonia beckons. There is the wonderfully situated village of Betws-y-Coed, with its beautiful cast iron bridge and waterfalls, and the equally picturesque village of Beddgelert, home of Alfred Bestall, who wrote and illustrated the popular Rupert Bear cartoon for more than 30 years.

Much of the landscape in his stories was inspired by Snowdonia, and Sir Paul McCartney is among the many Rupert fans who have made pilgrimages to the area.

We also visited the historic town of Porthmadog, once the busiest slate port in Wales. The narrow gauge Ffestiniog Railway, which opened in 1836, used to carry hundreds of thousands of tons of slate from the mines. Settle back in your seats as the deceptively powerful little red steam engine hauls the carriages up through spectacular mountain scenery on its way to Blaenau Ffestiniog.

On our final day we visited the magnificent Penrhyn Castle, a 19th-century neo-Norman fantasy just outside Bangor. Penryhn has more than 300 rooms and the most striking is the Great Hall, with its beautiful stained glass windows and fabulous Dining Room, where the table is laid out exactly as it was for the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1894.

Allow at least three hours to do justice to the interior but, whatever you do, don’t miss the stunningly landscaped gardens and, in particular, the enchanting Victorian walled garden.

“Collected into a small space, more that is graceful, beautiful and romantic may be found in North Wales than in any other spot in Europe,” wrote Louisea Costello in 1839. She was not exaggerating.

Curb the greedy global financiers

"Globalisation, it is now clear, is run in the interests of a global financial class which has Western governments in its thrall. This class does not give a fig for the interests of savers, clients or wider workforces.The rules of the game are set up solely to benefit the financiers whether in London, New York or Hong Kong........It cannot be right that finance insists on freedoms and lack of regulation to indulge in anti-social recklessness in order to make personal mega-fortunes, but when things go wrong to ask for government bail-outs with no questions asked.

The Americans at least take capitalism so seriously they challenge, monitor and regulate it. No such culture exists in degenerate Britain. We need a party which will speak for an interest other than self-interested, amoral plutocrats. None exists."

You can read the rest of Will Hutton's brilliant Observer article on the hegemony of global finance here.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Draculaisation of Britain

There's a sad piece in the Independent Magazine today about the imminent demolition of the classic 1950s chrome and formica cafe, the New Piccadilly in Soho (above).
The clientele of the cafe has always been eclectic: film stars, pop stars, ordinary members of the public, Hungarian dissidents, West End alcoholics, call girls such as Christine Keeler. "We've always had nutters and eccentrics. You never get them in Starbucks because one of the goddesses on Mount Olympus doesn't let them in. There is something about those places; they have had the blood drained. They have been Draculised- that's a nice word. I just made that up", says the cafe's owner Lorenzo Marioni. "Draculised" is indeed a nice word and it describes exactly what is happening to the British High Street. According to Adrian Maddox, whose website Classic Cafes celebrates the breed and mourns their passing, less than 500 of the fewer 2,000 odd cafes that fed Britain in the 1950s remain. "Very individual places run by characters like Lorenzo are an irritant in the way of turning our streets into huge faceless malls", he says.

Every time I visit London I am struck at just how globalised the place has become: I lost count of the number of Starbucks I saw on a walk through the centre of the city yesterday. The charge sheet against globalisation is a long one; but surely one of its most damaging effects is that it has turned our High Streets into bland, lifeless places. A Starbucks world is a dead world, devoid of character, individuality and charm.

"Draculised" really is an excellent word to describe what we have allowed to happen.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lost in Translation (and egos)

According to the brilliant blogger The Exile, who is seldom, if ever wrong, the Iraqi translators campaign, so beloved by the "pro-war anti-war", has hit the buffers.
If that is indeed the case, then the words of It Aint Half Hot Mum's legendary RSM Williams (above) spring readily to mind.

Oh Dear. How Sad. Never Mind.

UPDATE: It seems that Dan Hardie, the "brains" behind the translators campaign, really is a humourless little drama queen. Take a look at this hysterical reaction to a piece by former Python Terry Jones.

Letter of the Week: Unfair to Vultures

This week's 'Letter of the Week' is a classic. In Tuesday's Morning Star, ornithologist John Green writes:

"I wish to take issue with your editorial of 17th August in which you say that "ornithologists will be happy to observe the new species of equity firm vultures gathering in Britain, waiting to devour vulnerable companies". As a genuine ornithologist, can I say that this is offensvie to both ornithologists and vultures. The former are certainly not happy to see healthy firms being devoured by private equity beasts. Vultures, unlike private equity firms, do not eat healthy animals, but undertake the vital task of eating dead ones, thus keeping our environment clean".

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Britain: The democracy that isn't

"Were it put to a national vote the public would, without doubt, support a decision to have Chindamo deported.", writes Sue Carroll in today's Daily Mirror.

I've no doubt they would. And I've no doubt too that put to national vote the public would support renationalisation of the railways as well. And the restoration of capital punishment. And higher taxes on the very rich. And the scrapping of the ludicrously undemocratic Human Rights Act. And, had there been a public vote, there would probably not have been war with Iraq.

Far, far better of course, not to put such matters to the "public vote", but to leave decisions up to such wise, civilised people as Sir Henry Hodge, the "human rights campaigner" (and husband of Nu Labour Culture Minister Margaret Hodge) who headed the panel which granted the convicted Italian passport-holding murderer Learco Chindamo the right to live freely in the UK, and the other braying, super-confident middle-class Oxbridge types who dominate the Houses of Commons.

After all, Britain's metropolitan middle class elite have such a great track record at making the right decisions don't they?

Seumas Milne and Neil Clark: Spot the Difference

On being asked why he does not attack Seumas Milne for comments he made on the Iraqi resistance, the aid worker cum Guardian blogger Conor Foley replies:

"I would also agree with the assessments of Neil Clark that have been made. Maybe Seumas Milne has written similarly terrible things, but I have not read him anywhere imply that he is in favour of attacking civilians."

The fact is that neither Neil Clark or Seumas Milne have implied that they are in favour of attacking civilians.
But despite holding very similar (some would say identical), views on Iraq, there is one important difference between us, which will help explain Mr Foley's position.

I am a merely an occasional contributor to the Guardian,(and in this respect a competitor to Mr Foley) whereas Seumas Milne is the paper's Associate Comment Editor.

I suggest that explains why Mr Foley is rather more keen to attack me and not Seumas Milne.

(perhaps Mr Foley will prove me wrong and call for Seumas Milne to be arrested and charged with inciting war crimes, but somehow I rather doubt it. Careerists NEVER kick people above them).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Memories of Britain's Finest Actress

A propos of my recent article to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the death of Vivien Leigh (above) 'anonymous' writes:

Just last night I watched Ship of Fools on video. I had seen it when it first came out 40 years ago and remembered Leigh's performance as being wonderful. My memory did not fail me. She was heartbreaking, especially remembering her health, both physical and mental, at that time, and knowing that she died not long after. The scene of her drunk walking back to her cabin, and then breaking into a Charleston dance is brilliant. A must see film for those who appreciate Leigh.

If you have never seen Ship of Fools, you're in for a real treat. In the words of the New York Times review: "There is such a wealth of reflection on the human condition, so subtle an orchestration of the elements of love and hate, that it is not fair to tag this with the label of any other film".
Oskar Werner, Simone Signoret, Lee Marvin and Michael Dunn all turned in amazing performances, but the performance that will break your heart, as anonymous says, is Vivien Leigh's. Leigh had already won two Best Actress Oscars, for Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind and Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. But for her portrayal of Mary Treadwell in Ship of Fools she really should have won a third.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Everyone's Favourite Marxist

Groucho Marx (above), one of the funniest men who ever lived, died exactly thirty years ago today. Here's some of my favourite Marxist lines. I hope they raise a smile!

I've worked my way up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

I remember the first time I had sex — I kept the receipt.

I made a killing on Wall Steet a few years ago...I shot my broker.

Either the man is dead, or my watch has stopped.

I chased a girl for two years only to discover that her tastes were exactly like mine: We were both crazy about girls.

You've got the brain of a four year old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it!

My favourite poem is the one that starts 'Thirty days hath September' because it actually tells you something.

One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got into my pyjamas I'll never know.

Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?

A child of five could understand this. Fetch me a child of five.

Those are my principles. If you don't like them I have others.

Marry me and I'll never look at another horse!

I've been around so long I can remember Doris Day before she was a virgin.

The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made.

The Big Issue- and a Convenient Diversion

While a group of attention seeking bloggers, whose 'anti-war' credentials are to the say the very least, highly questionable, collaborate with neo-conservative warmongers in a campaign to grant asylum to Iraqi interpreters who worked for the invading forces, today's Independent on Sunday reminds us what should be the biggest issue for all those who consider themseleves anti-war.

Senior military commanders have told the Government that Britain can achieve "nothing more" in south-east Iraq, and that the 5,500 British troops still deployed there should move towards withdrawal without further delay.

I have many objections to the campaign organised by Dan Hardie, but not the least of them is the way it takes the focus away from the big issue: campaigning for the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.

Whether this was the motivation behind the campaign in the first place, only Mr Hardie can tell. But it certainly explains why pro-war bloggers, not known for their concern for the lives of Iraqis, have been so keen to lend their support to it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Way To Beat The Empire for countries threatened by it to come together and build stronger economic and military ties. Which, thankfully, is what's happening.

The website Belarus Today reports that as many as 18 agreements on trade and economic cooperation were signed during the recent visit of an official Belarus delegation to Venezuela. A most important result was Belarus’ plan to launch commercial oil production in Venezuela by the end of 2007. Venezuela allowed Belarus to choose two oil deposits with a developed infrastructure and big oil reserves.
In return, Belarus will also supply Venezuela with $49 million worth of building and road machinery, 1,000 tonnes of whole milk powder and $14.5 million worth of equipment made by Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant (MZKT).
The total of trade and economic contracts, excluding military ones, amounts to $250 million. The total of military contracts exceeds $1bn.

Belarus and Venezuela are natural allies: both are progressive, independent, socialist democracies who are following entirely different economic and social agendas to the neo-liberal one laid down by the Empire, one which benefits only multinationals and the very rich. Because of their independence, the leaders of Belarus and Venezuela have been demonised: both President Lukashenko and President Chavez have been called 'dictators' despite their regular election successes and the overwhelming popularity both men command in their respective countries.

Around the world today we are witnessing the formation of an alternative power bloc, of which the Belarus-Venezuela trade/military agreement is the latest step.
For all those who support the ideas of a truly democratic world, one in which the economic and social path a country follows is decided by the people of the country itself, and not by unelected bankers, it's an extremely positive development.

More Thoughts on Cuba

A propos of my recent article on Cuba, I have received this email from Cathrine Stephenson from Australia.

Hi Neil
I've just read your article 'A bit of socialism wouldn't hurt Cuba' published in The Australian newspaper today. Having recently spent 5 weeks in Cuba, I always read any news about it but for the first time since my visit, I was most pleasantly surprised to read something that accurately portrayed my feelings and opinions of the country.
My lasting impression and experience was of a beautiful country with wonderful people who struggle day to day to get the basics of food for their families and who, despite being the beneficiaries of a well trained health workforce, can't actually enjoy the benefits because the workforce doesn't have access to the equipment and medicines they need - and where a few CUCs might let you jump the queue to get soon to sooner.

The rhetoric of socialism that is prevalent as you know but all around me I saw a distinct division between those with access to CUC (as you say the small percentage of the population who works in tourism or has family overseas sending them hard currency) and the vast majority of people who don't and whose rations aren't even enough to last 2 weeks let alone the month they are designed for. Who can blame those Cubans who hustle tourists - I am sure I would if our roles were reversed.
Learning about the revolution was an eye-opener for me and I can understand why it happened - and the ideals that drove it - but I share your view that the socialist rhetoric is merely that these days and that the reality of life for most Cubans is harsh but not one equally shared by all Cubans.

So thank you for sharing your views - I still think about Cuba often and have struggled within myself to reconcile theory, rhetoric and the reality I experienced (which was only a small part). While I initially went there as I love to dance, Cuba challenged me on many levels and I think it is important that people's views of this country are challenged as well.
Cathrine Stephenson

Is there anyone else out there who has visited Cuba recently and feels the same about the place as Cathrine and I? If so, I'd be interested to hear from you. Or perhaps there are readers who have visited Cuba and who believe it really is a model socialist society?

Friday, August 17, 2007

An Illegal War and a Lying Prime Minister

I've received this comment from "Fat Fred", which I think deserves a better fate than being left in the comments thread of a week old post, where not everyone who visits this blog will read it.

A comment on legality.

I was serving in the Armed Forces until early 2003. A very good friend of mine was posted as a senior planner in HQ 3 Commando Brigade at the time. In mid-2002 his brigade was involved in detailed preparation (not just planning) for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

I don't know how much knowledge you have about deploying large ground, air and naval assets to a war zone, but it is a very expensive business. This preparation was costing the British taxpayer many millions and is a clear expression of intent. Discussion at the time was never framed in terms of "if we go in" but rather "when we go in, in spring 03".

Any subsequent fumbling for legitimacy was complete window-dressing. The decision had been made long before.

Anecdotal? Surely. But as clear indication that minds had been made up about timescale? Definitely. From a military perspective the attack on Iraq had to take place when it did - any later in the year and various natural elements would have made things vastly more difficult. There is no way in the world that Bush/Blair would have left tens of 1000s of troops in the Middle East for months. No way at all.

They put huge amounts of pressure on all other agencies to secure a legal pretext and failed. What to do?

Oh, yeah. Invade anyway.

Keeping what you've just read in mind, now read what British Prime Minister Tony Blair had to say to the House of Commons on 25th February 2003:

"Even now today we are offering Saddam the prospect of voluntary disarmament through the UN. I detest his regime. But even now he can save it by complying with the UN's demand."

And now ask yourself: what sort of world are we living in, when the man who told such a brazen, shameless lie, which led to a war which was claimed the lives of nearly 1m people, is not facing a trial for war crimes, but trying to rake in £8m for the sale of his autobiography?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

This is what 'instability' looks like

Another day, more death and destruction in Iraq. A couple of readers have written in to ask if I regarded today's suicide attacks against civilians, which have claimed more than 200 lives, as part of the Iraqi 'resistance': of course I don't, the attacks were wicked and totally indefensible.

But we most not forget that the attacks did not take place in a vacuum, and that ultimate responsibility for the violence which is destroying the country must lie with those who created the current state of anarchy.

The fact is that terrorist attacks of the kind we witnessed today were not occuring in Iraq in 2002. I was labelled a 'stability junkie' by the neo-cons for opposing the war, and for advocating that Saddam Hussein's secular, Ba'athist regime should be left alone.
The stability of Saddam and the Ba'ath Party, for all its downsides, but was surely better than the anarchy we have now. There was a quote in the newspaper the other day about an Iraqi- a strong opponent of Saddam, saying that if the ex-Iraqi dictator came back to life and walked down the street, he would go up to him and kiss his feet. That surely says it all.

The neo-cons used to boast about their desire for more 'instability' in the Middle East. Well, gentleman, this is what 'instability' looks like.

The Best of British Films

The Film Council have released their list of the seven best British films of all time.
They chose Goldfinger; Brief Encounter; Billy Liar; Henry V (1944); The Wicker Man, The Dam Busters and Withnail and I
So am I.

Nothing by Korda. Nothing by Ronald Neame, that most underrated of British directors. No Third Man or films by Launder and Gilliat. And no Ealing comedies.
For what it's worth, here's my top ten best British films of all time- in no particular order.

Kind Hearts and Coronets
Whistle Down the Wind
The 39 Steps (Hitchcock version)
The Thief of Bagdad (no, its not about neo-cons....)
The Third Man
Tunes of Glory
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Brief Encounter
Green for Danger

Bubbling under: Millions Like Us, The Naked Truth, The Rebel, Hobson's Choice, I'm All Right Jack, School for Scoundrels, The Remains of the Day, An Inspector Calls, Scrooge.

How about you?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Are we heading for a repeat of 1929?

This article of mine appears in today's Daily Express.

October 29th 1929- the day of the Wall Street Crash, was the day The American Dream turned to dust. Share prices crashed, over 16m shares were sold on a single day alone. Prices and incomes across America fell by as much as 50%. Very soon the entire capitalist world, was in meltdown- the start of what historians call 'The Great Depression'-10 years of slump with catastrophic levels of unemployment. The economic crisis also had profound political consequences; it was the Great Depression which enabled Adolf Hitler to come to power in Germany in 1933 and set the world on course for war.

Could we be heading for a new Great Depression today? That's the question many economists are asking after last week's dramatic stock market falls in the US and Britain, where the FTSE suffered its worst drop in 40 years. To answer it we need to look at the four main causes of the Wall Street Crash in 1929 and then compare them with the situation today.

Firstly, there was over-speculation on the US stock market. The average value of a share rose from $9 in 1924 to $26 in 1929. Share prices of individual companies rose spectacularly: Radio Corporation of America stock stood at $85 a share in early 1928 and had risen to $505 in September 1929. Share-buying became a mania for Americans: many poor people took out bank loans to buy shares, while stockbrokers sold shares on credit. But the share-price of US companies did not match with their actual performance; by the end of the Twenties sales of goods were slowing down.

Secondly, there was the hugely unequal distribution of income. The enormous profits made by the big American corporations were not shared evenly enough among workers: between 1923 and 1929 industrial profits increased by 72%, but industrial wages only rose 8%. The automobile manufacturer Henry Ford understood the economic argument for higher wages, famously arguing he gave higher wages so his workers could buy his cars- but his greedy fellow industrialists didn't follow suit. As a result there was glut of consumer goods, as the ordinary person couldn't afford to buy the products that American companies were producing.
Another factor was growing restrictions on international trade, started when America introduced tariffs in an attempt to protect its industries from foreign competition. With falling profits from their exports to the US, European nations were themselves unable to buy US products and to pay in full their war debts to the US.

Finally, there was the fact that industry was monopolised by large super corporations. By 1929, the wealthiest 5% of corporations took 84% of the total corporation income. The power of these big corporations kept wages lower and prices higher than they should have been, had there been more of a genuinely competitive economy.

The causes of the Great Depression are uncannily similar to the situation in both the US and Britain today.
Our economies are dominated by big corporations controlled by the same groups of powerful short-term investors and the distribution of wealth has become very unequal. Now, as then, we have been living through an age of speculative frenzy, with share prices, house prices and financial institutions' profits rising year after year. But how secure are the economic foundations of our prosperity in the US and Britain?

America, as in 1929, is living beyond its means: the US national debt now stands at nearly $9 trillion and it has only $66bn left in its reserves. Compare that with China's reserves of $1.3 trillion, Japan's of $900billion and Russia's of $330 billion. US and British citizens are the most personally indebted in the world: total UK personal debt, including mortgages, has been estimated at £1.2 trillion, with the average credit card debt of Consumer Debt Counselling Services' clients standing at around £33,000. Debt has played a key role in the so-called 'dynamic economy' New Labour likes to boast of.

One of the big features of the economy in the last few years has been the increased role of speculative financial institutions such as private equity and hedge funds, described by critics as "swarms of locusts that fall on companies, stripping them bare before moving on.". Because both use ridiculously excessive debt in their operations, the positions they can take in the financial markets are much larger than their assets under management. But despite the enormous profits both have recorded up to now,it is debatable how much either adds to the long-term national wealth.

Now it seems, the gravy train for private equity and hedge funds is coming to an end. Last week's events hit the speculators hard as the banks started to call in loans. But the big question is, how will recent events affect the rest of us? The US Housing market crash, which led to the collapse of the US mortgage company Home Banc, will have repercussions the world over. As banks call in the money and interest rates rise, it's not hard to see a major recession looming. We've had plenty of false alarms before, not least when the 9/11 attacks threatened to cause major economic meltdown, but this time the danger signs are unmistakable. While the world is not yet engaged in a tariff war, as it was in the Twenties and the US and UK stock markets recovered some ground yesterday, the other three causes of the Great Depression are all present.

To paraphrase Bette Davis in the classic film All About Eve, buckle your seat-belts-this one could be a bumpy ride. Finger's crossed it isn't.

A 'Humanitarian' writes

I have received this comment from 'anonymous' for my post on 'Iraqi interpreters and phoney humanitarians':

Go ahead and moderate/delete this comment. I know you will. I still hope you and and everyone you love is chainsawed into pieces.

Posted by Anonymous to Neil Clark at 6:14 PM

I have in my possession the ISP number of the sender and also know his/her location.
It is Washington D.C.

Update: another 'anonymous' demands to know why I haven't allowed a comment from Stephen Pollard on this site today. Well Stephen, if you're reading, let me just quote to you what a certain journalist said to me when I tried to ask him a perfectly civil question two years ago.

Mr Clark,

I do not intend to get into an argument with an apologist for mass murder such as yourself. Your email has been placed on my junk filter,

Yup folks, the journalist was none other than Stephen Pollard. You're junk too as far as I'm concerned, Stephen.

(and if you want other bloggers to say thank you for you pointing out their typos, why don't you reciprocate? Your shameless attack on homeopathy was full of mistakes, yet I got no thanks for pointing them out!)

The Pro-War Anti-War: Curiouser and Curiouser

I really think we're on to something quite interesting here. In my Guardian article last week, I drew attention to the fact that pro-war bloggers such as Stephen Pollard and Harry's Place were involved in an internet campaign to grant asylum to 91 Iraqi interpreters. 'So what' shrieked the 'Let's Run Neil Clark Out of Town' Harry's Place instigated Lynch Mob: this is a campaign organised and dominated by good, 'antiwar' blogs - so what if a few warmongers are involved too?'. But, as regular commenter Arabella questioned on Saturday, just how 'anti-war' is this campaign's credentials?

I have already highlighted on my last post the fact that the campaign's organiser, Dan Hardie, approached two notoriously pro-war websites asking for support, and commented on his rather interesting blog roll, on which prominent anti-war sites were conspicuous by their absence. More on Hardie later, but here's a bit of background on fellow campaign organiser, the stockbroker and blogger Daniel Davies. It seems Daniel's commitment to the anti-war cause is as strong as Dan's.

Here's what Daniel was writing in 2002 re Iraq:

"I retain my original belief that improvement in Iraq is politically impossible unless there is some sort of shooting war in the area culminating in the removal of Saddam Hussein. I don't set much score by "national-building", and don't really believe that what the Gulf needs is more US client states, and I never believed any of the scare stories related to the "WMD" acronym which is currently doing such sterling duty in picking out weblog authors who don't have a fucking clue what they're talking about. I just think that Saddam needs to go, because it's just one of those Damned Things which Has To Happen. I'm a fatalist, not a moralist.

So, how can we square these beliefs a) that something has to be done and b) that if something is done, it will be a disastrous imperial adventure by George Bush. Here's how, and it's so simple it's beautiful:

The official policy of D-Squared Digest with respect to Iraq is now that we support a policy of containment until after the 2004 Presidential elections, and after that, we will support immediate war with Iraq if and only if someone other than George W Bush is elected."

And in the month that war did break out, March 2003, Daniel was a "troubled" man. But "troubled" not over the lanching of an illegal war and the fate of Iraqis facing 'Shock and Awe'.
Here's what he wrote:

"On a similar note, I have been troubled greatly over the last few days by the following thought; although it is obvious that the USA has an incredible advantage over Iraq in terms of men and materiel, you have to admit that if you were picking a team of leaders to lose this war, you wouldn't be able to do much better than Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Ignorance - check; Hubris - check; Ability to alienate allies - check; Tendency to ignore unfavourable information - check. It's like having Saddam Hussein's fucking fantasy football team in the top job. "

Daniel was "troubled greatly" by the fact that the US might lose the Iraq War.

Nuff said.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Bit of Socialism Okay for Cuba

This article of mine appears in today's Australian.

WHAT'S the first thing that springs to your mind when the name of Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader who today celebrates his 81st birthday, is mentioned? Havana cigars? CIA assassination plots? The Bay of Pigs? The first thing I think of is fox hunting. Let me explain.

A few years ago in England we had an enormous debate about fox hunting. Opponents of the proposed hunting ban claimed foxes were a pest and numbers needed to be controlled. Supporters of the ban argued that foxes were sweet, lovable creatures that never did anyone any harm. But the greatest argument for not banning the sport was one that neither the pro-hunters or anti-hunters could make: the fact that fox hunting means more foxes. Foxes are more plentiful in areas where hunting took place for the simple reason that hunts always made sure there were plenty of animals to hunt. But for obvious reasons, neither the hunt nor anti-hunt lobbies wanted to acknowledge the fact.
The debate on Cuba is rather similar. For the Right, Cuba is an example of where socialism inevitably leads to: repression, poverty and enslavement. For many on the Left, including filmmaker Michael Moore, Cuba is a beacon, a socialist paradise in a hostile sea of capitalism, a progressive model whose policies on education and health care ought to be copied throughout the world.
Yet both the Right and the Left hold a picture of Cuba which is far removed from the truth. Cuba is a repressive, poverty-stricken country, yet it cannot accurately be described as socialist, if by socialism we mean a society which is based on egalitarian principles.
The problem with Cuba is not that it's too socialist, but that it's nowhere near socialist enough. But don't expect either its right-wing detractors or its left-wing supporters to admit it.
The Left, rather than own up to Cuba's deficiencies, instead carry on defending it, on the basis that if the Great Satan from across the Florida Straits is so hostile it must be doing something right. And they take the socialist credentials of Fidel Castro, or El Comandante, on his word.
It's true that in the early years of the Cuban revolution considerable gains were made. The government outlawed racial discrimination, enacted land reform, created a low-income housing program and made health care and education free for all. But, nearly 50 years on, the revolution has gone full circle.

Apartheid may have come to an end in South Africa but in Cuba it lives on, only people are not divided by the colour of their skin but whether or not they have access to Cuban Convertible Pesos, the currency all tourists are forced to spend.
Those who have access to Convertible Pesos (an estimated 30 per cent of the population) are Cuba's new elite; those who don't are really struggling. And I mean struggling. There's virtually nothing to buy with Cuban pesos, Cuba's other, second-class currency, except rationed food and street corner snacks and refreshments. All clothes are sold in Convertible pesos, as are all consumer durables.
One of the saddest sights my wife and I witnessed on a recent visit to Cuba was an 800m queue for ice cream in Havana's famous Ice Cream Park. Families who only have Cuban pesos habitually spend all their Saturday afternoons queueing for an ice cream. But for tourists and those Cubans who had Convertible Pesos, there is no waiting at all.
For the majority of Cubans, life is desperately hard: the average salary is about $US13 ($15.45) a month, and even the Government admits the weekly ration is inadequate.

The Cuban Government blames US sanctions for the poor state of the economy, but while it's true the embargo has hit hard, there's no doubt that they have been used as a convenient excuse for Castro and the party elite to keep attention away from mismanagement and corruption.
Back in January it was reported that a Cuban delegation had been turned away from the $US200-a-night Edderkoppen Hotel in Norway as a consequence of the sanctions. (The hotel had been bought by the American-owned Hilton group.)
But while Cuba's supporters protested at the pettiness of the decision, very few questioned what the Cubans were doing booking into such accommodation in the first place. (It transpired that they had stayed in the same hotel five years running.) While its people make the sacrifices, the Cuban elite continue to enjoy the good life: in March, the Cuban Government ordered Series 1, 3 and 5 BMWs for all its ambassadors and a Series5 model for Raul Castro, in charge after his brother's hospitalisation.
Raul is reported to favour adopting the so-called Chinese model of introducing more capitalism while maintaining the Communist Party's strict political monopoly, as the answer to Cuba's difficulties.
Others in the Politburo are said to favour more socialist solutions, such as the scrapping of Convertible pesos.
But while El Comandante is incapacitated, no major decisions will be made. And that means the growing inequality and hardship will continue.

Who knows what will come after Fidel Castro in Cuba? Neither the Left nor the Right will admit it, but a little bit of socialism wouldn't go amiss

Life on Planet Vulcan

Yes, incredibly there's someone who doesn't think our utilities and infrastructure is privatised enough!
Don't you think it's interesting that 'free market' fanatics like Redwood write so glowingly of continental Europe's public transport, it's efficiency, its use of techonology, yet always fail to mention its most important feature: it's still publicly owned.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dennis Price: British film's brightest light

As the BBC and the British Film Council celebrate a Summer of British Film, here's my piece from today's Sunday Express, telling the sad story of the late, great Dennis Price (above), star of one of the greatest British films of all time, Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Mention 'Classic British films' and its a fair bet that Kind Hearts and Coronets will feature highly on many people's lists. The superb black comedy, in which Dennis Price, playing the black sheep of the aristocratic D'Ascoyne family, murders his way to the family title has been enjoyed by generations since it was first released almost sixty years ago.

At the time Dennis Price was the one of the biggest stars of the British film industry. With his Byronic good looks, charm and intelligence, the young actor was in demand not just by film studios but by London society generally. Popular with the British film-going public and all who knew him, Price looked to have the world at his feet. Why, then, did it all go wrong?

While Price’s post-war contemporaries Alec Guinness, James Mason and John Mills went on to achieve honours and international acclaim, the man who at one time seemed set to fly higher than them all, and who was regarded by John Gielgud, Noel Coward and the film director Michael Powell as one of Britain’s finest acting talents, died penniless after a fall at his home in the Channel Islands at the age of 58.

Dennis Price's later years were ones of a sad, alcohol-fuelled decline. One of my earliest memories is of sitting with my parents on the terrace of the Hermitage Hotel, St Peter Port, Guernsey in the late 1960s. A few yards away at the foot of the steps leading into the bar stood a man: tall and rather distinguished looking, very smartly dressed, with a friendly, worn face and sad grey eyes. The man tottered down the steps and swaying as though he were on a cross channel ferry, greeted the guests, us included, before making his way out. The man, my father whispered to us, was "a very famous actor" called Dennis Price. A few years later, in 1973, the very famous actor was dead. Taken to hospital with a broken hip, Price died there from a heart attack a few days later.

Things could- and should- have turned out very differently.

The youngest son of a long-established upper-class family (father a Brigadier-General, mother a daughter of a High Court Judge), Dennistoun John Franklin Rose-Price was born on 23rd June 1915 at Ruscombe in Berkshire. Educated at Radley (where he shared a room with Desmond Llewellyn, later to be famous as ‘Q’ in the James Bond films) and Worcester College Oxford, Price left university without taking his degree and in the face of strong parental opposition, went to study for the stage at the Embassy Theatre School in London. The problem was one of family expectation: Rose-Prices were meant to serve the British Empire, as colonial governors, military bigwigs or leading judges- and not train to be actors. Undaunted, Price got his first professional break exactly seventy years ago this summer, making his London stage debut in John Gielgud’s 1937 production of Richard II. The outbreak of war halted his fledgling career but in 1942, after being invalided out of the Army, he returned to acting, and appeared in the lead role in Noel Coward’s 1943 production of Blithe Spirit. The launch of Price's film career was soon to follow. Director Michael Powell, who was looking to cast ‘A Canterbury Tale’ saw Price on stage and became determined to give the "impudently well-mannered" young actor his chance in movies.

After an impressive film debut further roles swiftly followed. Price’s career in the movies seemed set fair: in 1944 ‘Picturegoer’ magazine named him as one of its ‘three men to watch’. The immediate post-war years saw Price star in a series of Gainsborough Studio dramas, and Price’s performances, especially when playing elegant cads, were invariably full of panache.

In 1949, he landed his most memorable screen role, that of Louis Mazzini in Kind Hearts and Coronets. Today, the enormity of Price’s contribution to the film, for his superbly measured portrayal of the most elegant, articulate and well-mannered serial killer in cinematic history, has at last been properly recognised. But at the time, and for long afterwards, it was Price’s co-star Alec Guinness, for his playing of the eight members of the ill-fated D’Ascoyne family who earned the plaudits. Whether or not it was "mythology", as Guinness claimed, that Price was depressed at the way a performance of a lifetime had been overshadowed; Kind Hearts and Coronets, which should have been the springboard for even greater things from Price, only marked the beginning of his decline. Other worries too were pushing him to despair.

Price had married in 1939 the actress Joan Schofield and had two young daughters. But although film annuals of the day painted a picture of domestic bliss, the reality was somewhat different. Price was bisexual and in addition to having an affair with actress Margaret Lockwood, he also found it hard to resist the attractions of other men. By 1950 Schofield had had enough and a messy and acrimonious divorce action followed. The possibility of being outed as a bisexual would have given Price plenty of reasons to worry : in those days homosexual activity could be punishable by imprisonment and exposure would almost certainly have meant the end of his career.

The ever-sensitive actor increasingly sought refuge in alcohol. "He lived on Guinness" recalls fellow actor John Fraser. "About a crate of Guinness a day was his consumption, starting at breakfast. He was always drunk, but he never fell over and could, with occasional lapses, and in a general sort of way, stick to the script".
The nadir was reached on Easter Monday 1954, when Price was dragged unconscious out of the gas-filled kitchen of a Kensington guest house.

The publicity generated by his suicide attempt ironically helped restart Price’s career. Over the next decade, although rarely seen in leading roles, Price was nevertheless to put in some sterling performances. In Ronald Neame’s ‘Tunes of Glory’ (1960), he was superb as the cowardly Major Charlie Scott. A year later, in Basil Dearden’s ground breaking ‘Victim’, Price played a blackmailed homosexual actor. If Price was indeed being blackmailed in real life, as was rumoured at the time of his death, it makes his performance even more courageous.

From the late 50s onwards Price was also seen to increasing effect in light comedy roles.
In ‘Private’s Progress’ (1957) and its famous sequel ‘I’m All Right Jack’(1959), Price is magnificent as Bertram (later Sir Bertram) Tracepurcel, the snooty officer turned corrupt industrialist- a man "so wrapped up in the Union Jack no one can see what he’s up to behind it". In ‘The Naked Truth ’(1957), he excels as the editor of a society scandal sheet, and in ‘School for Scoundrels(1960)’ he is the slimiest of second-hand car salesmen. Price’s comedy performances, even if they were just the briefest of cameos, such as a fish-tank dwelling beatnik in Tony Hancock‘s ‘The Rebel’(1961), or a gentleman confidence trickster in the Peter Sellers vehicle ‘The Wrong Arm of the Law’ (1962) were always memorable.

"In whatever role he played he always carried with him a twinkle" recalls Richard Attenborough, Price’s co-conspirator in both Private’s Progress and I’m All Right Jack. "He was the most delicate and subtle of actors with a complete understanding of what acting for the cinema entailed. He was wonderful to act with".

In addition to his film career, Price also kept busy with stage, radio and television work. In 1965 Frank Muir was looking for an actor with "an air of reticence and mystery" to play Jeeves in the new BBC tv series ‘World of Wooster’. He enlisted Price, and was rewarded with a portrayal of the eponymous butler which P.G. Wodehouse himself considered the best he had ever seen.

In 1967 however, Price’s fortunes dipped again. Ian Carmichael, who played Bertie Wooster in 'World of Wooster', remembers going to the pub with Price during a break from rehearsals. "Dennis was sitting there rather quietly and looking very sad. I asked him what the matter was and he said he had had to pawn his wrist-watch". Owing £20,000 to the Inland Revenue, Price was declared bankrupt. Citing "extravagant living and most inadequate gambling" for his predicament, he beat, in his own words a "strategic retreat" to the Channel Island of Sark. A series of cameos in low grade horror films followed: although Price himself wrote of the "challenges" of the genre, his appearances in ‘Vampyros Lesbos’ and ‘Erotic Rites of Frankenstein’ were to many a sign of a career in terminal decline. His last film, the comedy-horror Theatre of Blood was at least a good one, though Price’s on screen demise, speared to death in an empty theatre by his wildly homicidal namesake Vincent, was probably not the cinematic farewell he would have wished for.

On the face of it, it is hard to regard a career that starts alongside Gielgud in Richard II and ends in drunken performances in dubbed Spanish horror films as anything other than a failure. Had Price managed to kick the booze and lived at least into the 1980s, he could well have seen a revival in his fortunes, a knighthood and perhaps, like his early mentor, even a belated call from Hollywood.

But despite his sad and premature demise, Price still leaves a rich legacy. He starred in what is now rightly regarded by many as Britain’s greatest ever film, and it is his performance which more than any other, makes it such. He was the best Jeeves there ever was and is ever likely to be and over 100 films are enlightened by his presence.

Furthermore, there is Price the human being to consider. Whatever his inner torment, Price, in his conduct towards his fellow man, rang true every time. Alec Guinness "revered" him. Ian Carmichael remembers "a perfect gentleman"; Richard Attenborough, a "gracious man", with "a total absence of pretensions", while Avengers star Patrick Macnee, who once rented a room from Price, along with the chickens, ducks and assorted wildfowl he shared his flat with, regarded Price as "one of the sweetest men who ever lived". Price once modestly remarked: "I am not a star. I lack the essential spark. I am a second rate feature actor".. But what Price lacked was not "spark", which he had in abundance, but the assertiveness and aptitude for self promotion necessary to survive in the hurly-burly world of film-making. Dirk Bogarde, a contemporary of Price, and a man who was also forced to conceal his true sexuality, promoted himself so well that he ended up knighted and a very wealthy man. Price, easily as good an actor, died without so much as a C.B.E.

With the renewed interest in classic British films, let us hope that one of post-war cinema's finest talents- and undoubtedly one of its kindest hearts- finally receives the acclaim he so richly deserves.

The Return of Ellery Queen

Great news for British tv viewers. The best detective series of them all returns to our television sets at 12.10pm tomorrow on BBC2. Tomorrow's episode is a classic involving the murder of a boxer. I won't give you any clues, but as usual, it's an ingenious solution. Make sure you set your videos (EQ is on again on Tuesday at the same time). They simply don't make television programmes like this anymore.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Iraqi Interpreters and Phoney Humanitarians

Many thanks to all who have written to me in support over my Guardian piece on the Iraqi interpreters yesterday.
And thanks too to those who wrote in to express disagreement with my arguments- and in particular my conclusion. Not all of those who disagreed with the article were pro-war fascists, like the crowd of serial war-mongers at Harry's Place (I think the word 'fascist' is entirely appropriate when referring to a website whose raison d'etre seems to be to propagandise for illegal wars of aggression against sovereign states).

I think the reaction to the piece has highlighted two or three things, which I'd like to comment on.

1. The fascistic, bullying nature of the pro-war 'left'(the Harry's Place blogger 'Brownie' a man who still thinks that the Iraq war, which to date has cost the lives of nearly a million people, was a good thing, has written to the Guardian urging that the 'shameful' Neil Clark be barred from its pages). I must say that I regard being labelled 'shameful' by an apologist for militarist aggression like 'Brownie' is a badge of honour.

2. The muddled- and illogical thinking of some who call themselves 'anti-war'.
As commenter John Hockey says:
"These people say: "Yes the war was wrong, illegal and immoral. We hate the war already!!! We hate the war!!! And yet...and yet....on another level they buy the neo-con line that "we" are now the good guys striving to fix the mess and also accept on some level that those resisting occupation in Iraq are nihilstically bad".

Looking at the reaction of some of the so-called 'anti-war' voices, it's hard to not to share the opinion of 'Arabella' who writes:
" I'm wondering how 'anti-war' Pickled Politics et al really are? Do the people behind these blogs come on the marches or speak at meetings? I certainly don't recognise any of their names."
One of their number, Conor Foley, a man who thinks that I should be arrested and charged for inciting war crimes for saying that people whose country is illegally invaded have a right to resist the occupiers, and that it's understandable that many Iraqis have feeling of animosity towards those who collaborate, takes me to task for another recent article I wrote calling for those who supported the Iraq war to publicly apologise for the disaster they have caused. Foley presumably thinks it's ok for the warmongers to stay in the corridors of power and carry on contributing to the public discourse as if the humanitarian catastrophe that is Iraq never happened.
The glorification of the Iraqi interpreters is another sign of muddled thinking: as I said in my piece, if all Iraqis had followed the interpreters example, and supported the illegal occupation, the cities of Syria and Iran would now be in rubble. That is of course exactly what the neo-cons want- but is it really what those who call themselves 'anti-war' want? The line "I was against the Iraq war, but now that it's started let's hope the illegal invaders win easily and no one fights back" is as absurd as saying '" don't really agree with the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, but let's hope Hitler gets to Moscow before the winter and finishes the job quickly'. In the 1940s the Nazis HAD to be defeated. And today's neo-con war juggernaut has to be derailed too: that is the most urgent priority of our times.

3. The racism which underpinned many comments.
It's a form of racism which seems to say that countries have the right to resist illegal foreign invaders, so long as the people in question don't have dark skins and the occupiers aren't British and American. In this racist version, the 'whites' are the civilising force, bringing democracy and human rights (let's not mention Abu Ghraib or Falluja, or anything seedy like grabbing Iraq's oil wealth and plundering its assets); the 'darkies' who oppose are primeaval barbarians. Unlike the pro-war lobby, I have never condoned indiscriminate violence, the targeting of civilians, the bombing of market places etc, but, as John Pilger pointed out in a recent article, the majority of attacks in Iraq are directed not at civilians, but at military targets. For the record, I do not wish to see ANYONE killed in Iraq, (that's why I opposed the war in the first place and the genocidal sanctions that were then in place); but the best way we can bring peace to the country is to focus on the cause of the instabilility: the presence of British and US troops. British troops should be out of harm's way and withdrawn from Iraq without further delay. If neo-cons want to occupy Iraq, let them do it themselves: patrolling the streets of Basra has got to be more exciting that sitting in front of computers in London offices urging 'pre-emptive' strikes on Iran or calling for a new 'Cold War' against Russia.

What provoked me to write my article was my utter disgust with the phoney humanitarianism of pro-war bloggers such as Harry's Place and the obnoxious uber neo-con Stephen Pollard, who cheered on a war which has caused mass loss of life and a humanitarian catastrophe on a massive scale, and who now profess to show a concern over the fates of 91 Iraqi interpreters.

These pro-war bloggers have shown next to no concern for the Iraqis whose lives have been destroyed by the brutal act of international banditry they championed, or showed no remorse for the part they played in propagandising for what the Nuremburg judgment decreed was 'the supreme international crime'- the launching of an illegal war of aggression. The double standards are glaring.
As commenter 'blowback' says
"Any of you who think that we should take in these "quislings" because they fear for their lives, then surely you should also accept that we should take in all the refugees who have fled Iraq already in fear of their lives and the internally displaced who continue to live in fear for their lives as well until they can return to their country. Having not worked for the British occupation forces they are surely more innocent than the "quislings".

Blowback is right, but the blog campaign is not for all Iraqis whose lives have been destroyed by the war to be able to come to Britain, only those who co-operated with the occupying forces.

Having read through all the comments to my piece I do believe there could be a better solution to the problem of the Iraqi interpreters, and indeed the problem of other Iraqis seeking to flee from the inferno that is 'liberated' Iraq, than the one I suggested yesterday.

commenter 'frizzled' writes:

" I agree with what you're saying. However, I disagree with your conclusion. Of all the countries that can be moralistic about the Iraqi quislings, Britain and American are not included. We do have a moral obligation to protect those Iraqis who collaborated with us from harm. Of course we also had a moral obligation not to start aggressive wars and kill a million people, so it's unlikely we'll help these people anyway.
In fact, I'd draw the opposite conclusion to you: everyone in the US and UK who supported the war should be supporting the millions of Iraq refugees their crime has created. Perhaps they could pay a special tax, or have their houses given to an Iraqi refugee family. In fact, we could settle millions of Iraqi refugees in upmarket Labour strongholds and the Republican States."

frizzled's suggestion, also draws support from commenters arabella and inayat.

The idea that the British people, the majority of whom did not want the Iraq war, should have to pay the price for it, not only in terms of the billions of pounds already spent, but also in the terms of the extra-cost of resettling Iraqi refugees fleeing the hell-hole the policies of the warmongers have created, is outrageous.

So, as frizzled suggests, how about those who supported the war, paying a special 'War Tax' to help pay for the social consequences that their crime has created?
In addition to paying the tax, they would be compelled to either give or share their house to an Iraqi refugee family.

The more I think of frizzled's idea, the more I like it. It is wrong in principle that those who wanted no part of the illegal, murderous assault on Iraq should have to pay for it and its consequences- there has never been a better argument for hypothecated taxes. Let the 'Brownies', the Stephen Pollards, the Andrew Roberts, the Melanie Phillips, the Nick Cohens, the Oliver Kamms, the Niall Fergusons, the David Aaronovtiches and the 'David T's of this world - as well as the politicians who supported the conflict- pay a special 'War Tax' and agree to take personal responsibility for the welfare of individual refugees.

So, by all means allow into Britain, the Iraqis whose lives are in danger due to the illegal intervention. But let's make sure the cost of the war- and all its consequences- is paid by those who caused it.

And in the meantime, we can see just how 'compassionate' and 'humanitarian' the pro-war lobby really is.

Football's Back.....

This piece of mine appears in today's First Post.

Another football season is upon us, but for most armchair television viewers, the 2007/8 campaign will have a rather different look.
Since the Premiership's inception in 1992, Sky have had a monopoly on live Premiership games: in May, the Rupert Murdoch-owned company showed their 1,000th match. But now, thanks to the intervention of the European Commission, who threatened to take legal action against the Premier League if it failed to allow other broadcasters a share of live TV coverage, Sky has competition.
The Irish-based Setanta Sports have won two of the six available live rights packages for the new season, meaning they will broadcast 46 matches, starting on Saturday with the Aston Villa v Liverpool clash.
Setanta's rise up the broadcasting ladder has been meteoric; the company's fortunes mirroring that of Ireland's booming economy.
Launched with the beaming back of a Republic of Ireland World Cup match to the back room of a west London pub in 1990, Setanta now has 12 channels in 24 countries. And the Premiership deal is not the end of it.
Together with ITV , Setanta has also secured the rights to screen England's home matches and live FA Cup matches for four years from August 2008, outbidding Sky and BBC's offer by £125m. Viewers can get Setanta via satellite or cable packages or by paying £9.99 per month on Freeview.
Setanta's team of presenters for the new season includes the vastly experienced Des Lynam and former Football Italia anchor James Richardson. Other signings include former footballers Les Ferdinand and Steve McManaman and the opinionated former Sheffield United boss Neil Warnock.
Sky have been keen to play down the loss of their Premier League monopoly, stressing they will be showing more live games than ever before. But there's no doubting that the momentum is with their Celtic rival

Friday, August 10, 2007

Britain isn't working

The Exile has an excellent post on a piece of news that has escaped the attentions of many others on the blogosphere. Unemployment in Britain is now higher than it was in 1979. Then it was 4.7%, now it is 5.9%. It's likely the true rate is even higher: many economists believe there are an extra 1.7m 'hidden unemployed. Britain has 8m economically inactive people, the highest rate since records began. But unlike the hue and cry in 1979, when we were told that 'Britain isn't working' and that we needed radical change and reform, there is hardly a murmur today.
I've written before on the great neo-liberal re-write of history, a mythical version of the past which portrays pre-1979 Britain as the 'sick man of Europe', and post 1979 Britain as a dynamic, booming, 'market' economy. But the truth of the matter is that we were much better off then, than we are now. But of course in the great, free, liberal democracy that we live in, no one dare say it.

Keep these Quislings out

This piece of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

I love the Yiddish word chutzpah. I first came across it while working at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Budapest in the mid-1990s. My favourite chutzpah joke - and there are some very funny ones - concerns a man who goes to a lawyer and asks for advice.
Man: How much do you charge for legal advice?
Lawyer: A thousand dollars for three questions.
Man: Wow! Isn't that kind of expensive?
Lawyer: Yes, it is. What's your third question?/blockquote>

But, audacious as the lawyer in the joke was, some people are doing all they can to outdo him in the chutzpah stakes. A group of pro-war bloggers is playing a prominent role in a campaign to grant asylum to Iraqis who have been working as translators for the British forces in Iraq. Not all who back the campaign were in favour of the war, but some of its most strident supporters are.
Harry's Place, the favourite watering hole of the pro-war "left", urges its readers to write to their MPs over the issue. "If government policy has not changed by the time parliament returns from the summer recess, we will need to think about a face-to-face lobbying effort," the site warns.
Other pro-war bloggers are backing the campaign, too, including the arch-hawk Stephen Pollard, who once labelled opponents of the Iraq war as "mindless, deluded or malevolent". And yesterday, the Harry's Place contributor Adam Lebor, via an opinion piece in The Times, offered "advice" to Gordon Brown, exhorting him to overrule the bureaucratic "desk murderers" who would deny the Iraqis rights of entry.

It seems the Iraqis in question live in real fear of their lives in their newly "liberated" country. Surely, this can't be right. Weren't we told five years ago by the same pro-war bloggers that the Iraqi people were simply baying for a US/UK invasion, and that the "liberators" would be greeted with bouquets of flowers and cucumber sandwiches? Now the cakewalk brigade is telling us those who collaborate with - oops, sorry, work for - the liberators may not actually be the most popular guys and gals in town.
The whole thing would be comical if it weren't so tragic. But the chutzpah of those now exhorting people to write to their MPs to grant asylum to Iraqis who have been put in danger by the very interventionist policies they still enthusiastically support is truly astounding.
The most nauseating aspect of the campaign is the way we are repeatedly told that the Iraqi interpreters worked for "us".
Who exactly is meant by "us"? In common with millions of other Britons, I did not want the Iraq war, an illegal invasion of a sovereign state engineered and egged on by a tiny minority of fanatical neoconservatives whose first loyalty was not to Britain but to the cause of Pax Americana. NHS doctors and nurses, firemen and the police force work for "us", but in no stretch of the imagination do Iraqi interpreters, who are employed by British forces that have no right or cause to be in Iraq.
Analogies with the 44 Gurkha veterans who fought for Britain in the Falklands war and who are yet to receive citizenship rights are absurd. In that conflict, Britain was responding to an illegal act of aggression by Argentina; those who took part in the war cannot be said to have participated in a criminal enterprise. But in Iraq, it was Britain that was the aggressor, and all those who aided the occupation are
complicit in what the Nuremburg judgment laid down as "the supreme international crime": the launching of an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign state.
The interpreters did not work for "us", the British people, but for themselves - they are paid around £16 a day, an excellent wage in Iraq - and for an illegal occupying force. Let's not cast them as heroes. The true heroes in Iraq are those who have resisted the invasion of their country.
As Seumas Milne wrote in yesterday's Guardian: "More than any other single factor, it has been the war of attrition waged by Iraq's armed resistance that has successfully challenged the world's most powerful army and driven the demand for withdrawal to the top of the political agenda in Washington."
If more Iraqis had followed the example of the interpreters and collaborated with British and American forces, it is likely that the cities of Iran and Syria would now be lying in rubble.
Before you rush to condemn Iraqis who feel ill disposed towards the interpreters, ask yourself a simple question: how would you view fellow Britons who worked for the forces of a foreign occupier, if Britain were ever invaded? History tells us that down through history, Quislings have - surprise, surprise - not been well received, and the Iraqi people's animosity towards those who collaborated with US and British forces is only to be expected.
Those who cheered on a brutal, murderous assault on a third-world country that was always going to result in mass loss of life would now like us to believe they are concerned over the fate of 91 people. But what I suspect worries the pro-war brigade most is not the future of the interpreters but that future military "interventions" may be jeopardised unless Britain promises citizenship rights to locals who collaborate.
"Let's not overlook a practical military issue here: who will ever work for the British army in a war zone if they know that later they will be tossed aside like a spent cartridge?" asks Adam Lebor.
There is a simple answer to that "practical military issue": let's do all we can to keep the British army out of war zones. And in the meantime, let's do all we can to keep self-centred mercenaries who betrayed their fellow countrymen and women for financial gain out of Britain.
If that means some of them may lose their lives, then the responsibility lies with those who planned and supported this wicked, deceitful and catastrophic war, and not those of us who tried all we could to stop it.

UPDATE: It seems those so keen to spread freedom of speech and freedom of expression around the globe are not so keen on it at home.

Another Neo-Con Concoction

"And the fact that Saddam, as the final report of the Iraq Survey Group concluded, still aspired to acquire weapons of mass destruction - including a nuclear weapons arsenal - meant that the threat posed by his Iraq was one that, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on America, could not be tolerated."

writes 'Neo' Con Coughlin, in today's Daily Telegraph.

So there you have it. 'Neo' Con Coughlin was the man who provided the fabricated document that the country’s army could access its weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes- the same document that was used in the infamous Iraq Dossier produced by the British intelligence service.
But let's forget the claims that Saddam DID have WMD, made time after time by the same author in the lead up to war, it was enough that he 'aspired' to acquire WMD.

Well, I 'aspire' to go through the card at Epsom ever Derby Day. Using Neo 'Con' Coughlin's logic, the bookies had better stop me entering the shop, just in case I do it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Christopher Hitchens Is Not Great

Yesterday, I saw something very sad: a lady, who looked reasonably intelligent, reading a book entitled 'God is Not Great' by Christopher Hitchens.
Hitchens is a writer who has been proved wrong on just about everything he has ever written.
Here, for instance, was his pre-invasion prediction about Iraq::
"This will be no war -- there will be a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention.... The president will give an order. [The attack] will be rapid, accurate and dazzling.... It will be greeted by the majority of the Iraqi people as an emancipation. And I say, bring it on."

So for anyone who still doubts the existence of the Almighty, here's the incontrovertible proof that God does indeed exist.

Christopher Hitchens thinks he doesn't.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

How to make flying pleasant again

This piece of mine appears in today's First Post.

Across the political spectrum there is widespread agreement that Britain's airports, with their long queues, lack of seats and tacky, shopping mall atmosphere, are a national disgrace. But the solution is not to break up BAA's monopoly and introduce 'more competition' as some have suggested. The answer is to simply take BAA back into public ownership.
Sir Terence Conran, who designed Terminal One at Heathrow and the North Terminal in the 1960s, has contrasted the brief he received from the owners of the airports back then - the British state - with the instructions Lord (Richard) Rogers, the architect of Terminal 5, got from BAA.
Conran was told to put in as many seats as possible, with the priority being to make passengers 'relax and feel at ease'. At Terminal One there were only three shops.
The privatised BAA told Rogers to put in as few seats as possible: there will be only 700 seats for a terminal handling an average of 80,000 passengers a day when it opens in March 2008. BAA wants people to pay to sit down at the terminal's expensive cafes and restaurants - not sit down for free, eating their own sandwiches.
The approach perfectly illustrates the difference in ethos between a publicly-owned company, for whom profit is not the be all and end all, and a privatised one.
We can't blame BAA for treating every square foot at Heathrow as a profit centre: it's a private company which wants to maximise returns for its shareholders. But we can blame the politicians foolish enough to sell off BAA in the first place. Allowing other profit-hungry plcs to compete to run our airports would only mean more of the same.
If we really want Heathrow and our other airports to be comfortable and reasonably easy to negotiate, we need to change the whole philosophy under which they operate. And that means returning them to their most appropriate owners: the British public.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Iraq: Time for a Reckoning

This article of mine appears on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

In his excellent Guardian Comment piece last week, John Gray lauded the end of liberal interventionism. But while liberal interventionism - and its close ideological ally, neoconservatism - are both highly discredited creeds, one problem remains. Despite the death and destruction their ideology has caused, and the lack of public support for their agenda, neoconservatives and liberal interventionists are still disproportionately represented in the corridors of power and in the media.
Both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition supported the Iraq war. So too did their front benches. Tony Blair may have gone, but warmongers still abound in the Palace of Westminster, with Iran next in their line of fire. And in the media, pro-war commentators such as Nick Cohen, Niall Ferguson and Melanie Phillips continue to impart their "wisdom" on international affairs as if the humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq had never happened.

The failure to hold the war lobby properly to account is a sad reflection on the state of democracy in modern Britain. But while moving Britain to a more peaceful foreign policy orientation requires moving away from the present turbo-capitalist economic system which makes wars of plunder like Iraq inevitable; in the short term, there's much we can do to rectify the situation. If your MP supported the Iraq war, write to them to ask if, in the light of events, he/she is ready to publicly recant and to pledge that he/she will support no more illegal attacks on sovereign states. If they refuse to do so, simply inform them that you won't vote for them at the next election. Find out too who the prospective candidates are from the other parties, and ask them if they are prepared to make the same pledge.

Regarding the leaders who took us into war, support the legal moves to prosecute Tony Blair for war crimes. In Scotland, the former SNP MP Jim Sillars has submitted to the Lord Advocate a request that she review the powers of "declaration" which rests with Scottish courts, to have Tony Blair arraigned as a murderer on the general charge that he has led an "aggressive war" in Iraq.
Let's not forget that the Nuremburg judgment held that to initiate a war of aggression was "not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole". Allowing Blair and his fellow warmongers to get off scot-free for the illegal, murderous attack on Iraq would put us - the British people - in the same moral category as the Germans who stood by and watched as Jews were herded on to trains bound for the concentration camps.

And next time you read a hawkish article by a pro-war journalist - arguing for "strong action" against Iran/Russia/Syria or whichever country has been designated the neo-con's baddie of the week - remind him/her of the claims he/she made on Iraq. I'm sure many pro-war journalists wish what they had written five years ago about the Iraqi "threat" could be erased from the public record forever; thanks to the wonders of Google, it never will be.

Until those who supported the assault on Iraq either publicly show remorse, or better still, do the honourable thing and leave public life for good, we must keep up the pressure. Of course, we will be accused by the "let's move on from Iraq" brigade of attempting to claim hollow moral victories. We shouldn't let that worry us. The arrogance of the pro-war brigade, pre-invasion, has been matched only by their arrogance to acknowledge they were wrong, post-invasion.

The issue is not, however, about trying to force arrogant people to show some humility.

It's about doing all we can to make sure that a disaster like Iraq never happens again.