Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Magyar Magic- Hernádi Judit

It's a public holiday in Hungary today- to commemorate the 1956 uprising.
So what a great excuse to post this wonderful You Tube video of Hungary's answer to Marlene Dietrich, Hernadi Judit, (the second most beautiful woman to ever come out of Hungary after the author of this piece) singing "Sohase mondd"

If she performed this on British television, no doubt we'd have riot police surrounding the building on account of her smoking....

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Nazi Rocker in New York

Here's something you won't be reading about on the self-proclaimed 'anti-fascist' website Harry's Place.

At $55 per ticket, Croatian popular rock singer Marko Perkovic, known as Thompson, is betting that New Yorkers will flock to the Croatian Center in Manhattan for a night of a Croatian nationalist euphoria that includes a sword-wielding singer, ballads about extermination of Serbs and Jews during the World War Two and massive Seig Heils by the fans (one pictured above).

"A singer who sings nostalgically about Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic and favorably about Croatia's worst World War II concentration camps Jasenovac and Stara Gradiska, is openly urging his fans to identify with the genocidal Ustasha regime which sought to liquidate Croatia's Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies as well as their Croatian political opponents," says a statement issued by the Wiesenthal Center in Israel.

I wonder what the neocons would say if an Iranian artist spouting similar racist and anti-semitic poison to Perkovic was booked to play in the US?

England's World Cup: Lost in Translation

From today's Daily Express:

Australian TV official Stuart Dickinson made his fateful call to rule out Mark Cueto’s World Cup final “try” without the freeze frame picture he needed because of difficulties with French broadcasters. While deciding on his verdict, Dickinson could not make the French TV producer responsible for the pictures understand what he wanted and so was forced to make the decision which turned a final on an unsatisfactory moving image.

If true, then it really does seem that England's World Cup was lost in translation.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Poland: The lesser of two evils

I hold no torch for the Law and Justice party of Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski (above). But a victory in today's general election for Donald Tusk's opposition Civic Platform, a party which wants to privatise virtually all assets still publicly owned, (including the country's health service) and cut back social spending, would hardly represent an improvement in the fortunes of Poland's long suffering population. If the choice for Poland has to be between Kaczynski- who for all his many faults, still believes in the concept of economic justice and Tusk, who clearly doesn't, then I'm afraid it really is a case of "better the devil you know". But what a sad state of affairs that the Poles are faced with such a poor choice of alternative governments.

Hungry in Hungary

In which European country are 200,000 people, including 20,000 children underfed?
Yes, it’s the country led by arguably the most dogmatically neoliberal government in the whole of eastern Europe.
Sadly, for the country’s long suffering population, things are going to get even worse.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A More Interesting Topic

"Acrylics dry as the vehicle that carries them, mostly composed of water, leaves the film. As water evaporates or is absorbed by the substrate, tiny acrylic polymer spheres are forced into ever closer contact. Eventually they are crowded so tightly that the spaces between them create capillary forces, and water is pulled from the paint film. This capillary action packs the acrylic spheres against one another in a honeycomb-like pattern, and they begin to form a continuous, cohesive film. As this occurs, the polymer spheres, composed of long chains of acrylic, actually deform and partially combine with one another in a process of film formation called coalescence
The drying of acrylic paints occurs in two very different stages, hence drying times must be thought of in two different time frames. The first stage, a relatively short period of time, results in the formation of a skin over the surface of the paint. This is the time that it takes for acrylics to "dry to the touch". At this point, the flow of water towards the surface is no longer sufficient to keep the paint film wet. Very thin films can feel dry within seconds, while thick films may take a full day or more to skin over.
The second stage of drying is the time for the entire thickness of the film to be thoroughly dry. That is, the time required for all of the water and solvent (used as freeze-thaw stabilizer and coalescent) to evaporate and leave the film. This is a most crucial time frame, as the ultimate physical properties, such as adhesion, hardness and clarity, do not fully develop until the film is near complete dryness. For very thin films, this time may be a few days, while films of 1/4 inch thickness or more will take months and even years to be completely dry.
Many artists are not aware of this more lengthy drying time. This is the reason that one may find that a rather thick layer of paint has not adhered to the surface when tested a day or two after application. This same layer of paint will also seem very soft. The skin may have dried sufficiently, but the paint in the center is still wet. Regarding development of clarity in gels and/or mediums, one can allow a painting to clear, store it away and later notice that it has become cloudy. The film may have only been partly cured, and is soft enough to allow moisture from the air to penetrate, turning it slightly milky again. Given enough time for more complete drying, these properties should improve dramatically."

Well, I was going to post about the Clegg v Huhne Lib Dem leadership contest. But I thought this article on paint drying was far more interesting.

Hillary Clinton: The War Party's favourite candidate

From the Independent:

The US arms industry is backing Hillary Clinton for President and has all but abandoned its traditional allies in the Republican party. Mrs Clinton has also emerged as Wall Street's favourite. Investment bankers have opened their wallets in unprecedented numbers for the New York senator over the past three months and, in the process, dumped their earlier favourite, Barack Obama.
Employees of the top five US arms manufacturers – Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop-Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon – gave Democratic presidential candidates $103,900, with only $86,800 going to the Republicans. "The contributions clearly suggest the arms industry has reached the conclusion that Democratic prospects for 2008 are very good indeed," said Thomas Edsall, an academic at Columbia University in New York.
After her election to the Senate, she became the first New York senator on the armed services committee, where she revealed her hawkish tendencies by supporting the invasion of Iraq. Although she now favours a withdrawal of US troops, her position on Iran is among the most warlike of all the candidates – Democrat or Republican.
This week, she said that, if elected president, she would not rule out military strikes to destroy Tehran's nuclear weapons facilities. While on the armed services committee, Mrs Clinton has befriended key generals and has won the endorsement of General Wesley Clarke, who ran Nato's war in Kosovo. A former presidential candidate himself, he is spoken of as a potential vice-presidential running mate.

The War Party, as I've said many times before, likes elections which it cannot lose: a Presidential election between Guillani and Clinton would be such a contest, as would a British general election between New Labour and the equally pro-war Conservatives. Believing that a Democrat win in 2008 is inevitable, big money and big armaments, are doing all they can to ensure that Hillary the Hawk gets the party's nomination. In the interests of world peace, let's hope the Clinton bandwaggon can yet be derailed.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Happy Birthday, Dear Blog!

This blog celebrates its 2nd birthday today. A very warm thank you to all its readers, particularly those who have been with us since the start: at 1.08pm on Wednesday 19th October 2005, when I posted this.

If you’ve enjoyed reading the blog, then I hope you will continue to do so in the future (and please tell your friends!). The site’s readership is now hitting 500 a day, and rising by the week.
500 hits a day is a great figure for a one-man band blog, and I'm grateful to everyone who drops by (well, almost everyone: 'I'll make an exception for 'I hope you die of bone marrow cancer' anonymous commenters). As regular readers will know this is a blog which prides itself on variety: if you just want a diet of heavy politics and anti-war comment this is not really the place for you, but if you want your heavy politics and anti-war comment laced with sport, You Tube music and comedy videos, appreciations of great actors and actresses, attacks on illiberal smoking bans, nostalgic articles about the 1940s and 1970s and paeans to Saki, Erich Fromm, Tony Benn and Jimmy Perry and David Croft, then you've come to exactly the right place.

If you enjoy this blog, then the man you should really thanks is the Times' ultra-friendly and supportive deputy comment editor Robbie Millen, who encouraged me to start blogging two years ago. When Robbie first asked me "Do you blog?", I was tempted to reply that my private life was my own concern: I really had no idea what blogging was, or how one went about it. "You really should start blogging" Robbie insisted, "you'd be quite good at it", so I took his advice and joined the blogosphere. So if you really hate this blog, you now know who to blame!

Here's to the next twenty-four months!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Deborah Kerr R.I.P.

Some very sad news: the wonderful British actress Deborah Kerr, star of The King and I, From Here to Eternity and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, among many others, has died, aged 86. I'm not a huge fan of the honours system, but perhaps someone could explain why Deborah Kerr, easily the second greatest British actress of all time after Vivien Leigh, never became Dame Deborah?

Life in the New Labour Reich (2)

You really couldn't make this up.....

Campaigners are demanding the BBC apologise after Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May (above) appeared to flout the smoking ban on the show.
The pair lit up pipes containing herbal tobacco during the news section of Monday's show. Waverley Borough Council said it was investigating the incident which took place at Dunsfold Aerodrome, Surrey, where Top Gear was being filmed.
Amanda Sandford, spokeswoman for Action on Smoking on Health (Ash), said: "Smoking in a studio is illegal. Anything that causes smoke is prohibited.
"We would hope that programme-makers make some form of apology. It was meant to be a fairly light-hearted part of the programme, but the law is the law and it's not appropriate for the BBC, especially for a programme that's very popular and seen by a lot of young people, to be openly flouting the law."

ps I actually had the "pleasure" of debating with Amanda Sandford on the issue of smoking bans once on Radio 5 Live. "Light-hearted" is not a phrase, I think, that could ever be applied to her.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

How Putin can stop an attack on Iran

President Putin today warned the US not to use force against Iran.
Any military intervention in the Caspian Sea area would be unacceptable, Putin declared as he attended a five-country regional summit in Tehran.
"We should not even think of making use of force in this region," Putin told his fellow leaders.
A summit declaration from the five, which include Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan beside Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan, subsequently stressed that "under no circumstances will they allow (the use of their) territories by third countries to launch aggression or other military action against any of the member states".

Today's developments are all very welcome. But more is still needed to deter an illegal U.S. attack on Iran. The formation of a mutual defence pact between Russia, Iran, Syria, Venuezuela and any other countries threatened by neocon aggression is urgently required.
The pact would stipulate that an attack on any of the states would be considered an attack on them all: and would be met with immediate military retalitation, as well as economic measures, such as the disruption of oil supplies.

There's little doubt that had Britain, France, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia signed such a mutual defence pact in the 1930s, Hitler's military aggression would have been halted. And during the Cold War, the self-defence alliances of NATO and the Warsaw Pact prevented war between the US and the Soviet Union.

The lessons of history are clear: to deter aggression, countries with a common foe need to stick together and guarantee to come to each other's defence if attacked.

A US attack on Iran would be a catastrophe. To avoid it, we need more than just words from President Putin, but action to form a new defensive military alliance, to deter the neocon bully boys from dragging us into yet another war.

UPDATE: It seems a loony warmongering website from the outer reaches of Planet Neocon called 'Little Green Footballs', has interpreted a call for a defence pact to prevent war, as a call for an offensive military alliance to attack the USA! Only on Planet Neocon......

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hillary The Hawk

Seeing that she urged the bombing of Yugoslavia and supported the aggression against Iraq, why should we expect anything different from her on Iran?

An Unhappy Commenter

It seems that not everyone is happy that "David T", proprietor and chief blogger of the "decent left" pro-war website Harry's Place, has been outed as City corporate lawyer David S.Toube, an associate with the US multinational law firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton.

Anonymous writes:

"Fact is, David T is a razor-sharp blogger, and immensely courageous to boot. He clearly gets under your skin, as evidenced by the abuse you totalitarian groupies have showered upon him.

Clark, i've been trying to think of an appropriate phrase to describe you, and I think I've got one. You're a fucking cunt. The best thing you can do is to go the way of your friend, Milosevic"

Perhaps anonymous, if he is so inclined, could let us know what he means by the phrase "totalitarian groupies"? And perhaps he could also explain how the word "courageous" can be used to describe a blogger, who under the cloak of pseudonymity, uses his website to smear and defame those with whom he disagrees?

Life in the New Labour Reich

From today's Daily Mail:

"Having installed himself in his local pub to watch England play India, John Vaughan was enraged when the channel was switched over to football just as the cricket was reaching its thrilling conclusion. So Mr Vaughan lit a cigarette in protest. When he refused to extinguish it, staff pressed a panic button behind the bar. And a few minutes later six riot police officers, wearing protective gear stormed the pub."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Racist Commenter Writes........

I have a policy not to publish any racist comments I receive, but I’m going to make an exception. Last week, after I reported how the blogger ‘David T', proprietor of the ‘decent left’ pro-war website Harry's Place, had been outed as City corporate lawyer David S. Toube, an associate of the US multinational law firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton,‘anonymous’ left the following comment:

Get your Serbian mates to cut his balls off and stick them in his mouth.

That's real socialism in action!!

Well, for the record, I do have some Serbian ‘mates’. (I’m presuming that in ‘Nick’ our anonymous commenter is referring to me, and not regular commenter Mick Hall, but that’s not really the point).
But not a single Serb of my acquaintance believes in cutting people’s balls off and sticking them in their mouths- or that such actions constitute “real socialism in action”. Indeed, I have yet to meet a Serb who believes that violence is the solution for anything- unlike many British neo-cons who clearly do- and whose support for illegal wars of aggression has led to over 1m people losing their lives.
If ’anonymous’ reads this, then I've got a solution on how, for a comparatively sum of money he can be cured of his rather unpleasant anti-Serb racism. Get on the internet and book a return flight ticket to Belgrade, and spend a week or two with some of the gentlest, most hospitable, and well educated people you’ll find anywhere in the world. I can assure you, you’ll find Belgrade at two o'clock on a Saturday morning a lot safer than London, or indeed any British city. And don’t worry. I’m sure no-one will be remotely interested in your balls. And that’s not just because you clearly haven’t got any.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Living in a Neocon Nightmare

In the most-hard hitting attack yet on the Iraq war by a senior US military figure , Retired Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez, the former US military chief in Iraq, has labelled US political leaders as "incompetent" and "corrupted" and said that they would have faced court martials for "dereliction of duty" had they been in the military.
Sanchez rubbished claims that "the surge", enthusiastically urged by the neo-cons, had been a success, and said that the best the US could manage in Iraq was to "stave off defeat".
"There is no question that America is living a nightmare with no end in sight," Sanchez said.

The nightmare that America is currently living in has been brought about by the actions of a tiny group of fanatical extremists: the neocons. As I have written on several occasions, the nightmare, for the US- and the world- will not be ended, until these truly depraved advocates of perpetual war are removed from all positions of power and influence.

Most O.T.T. Che Guevara analogy of the week Award

And the winner a distance- Simon Heffer in today's Daily Telegraph.

"To wear a T-shirt with his (Che's) image on it has also seemed to me like wearing one with a picture of Hitler on it: although there is more evidence for Che's psychopathic tendencies even than of those of the Führer."

Yes, Simon is comparing a man, who even if we accept the figures of his critics, was guilty of the summary execution of "hundreds" of former supporters of the Batista regime, with a man who started a world war in which 72 million people lost their lives.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Al Gore for President?

Will new Nobel Prize winner Al Gore now decide to run for President, as former President Jimmy Carter has urged him to?
Well, if he does, and manages to beat Hilary the Hawk, Barack Obama and co in the battle for the Democratic nomination, let's hope he choses someone better for his running-mate than he did back in 2000, when he plumped for the pro-war neo-con creep Joe KLA/Let's attack Iraq/Let's attack Iran Lieberman.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A 1970s shopping list

"Ah, some things from the seventies are worth bringing back. No, not Bernard Manning. Wildcat strikes! Who’d have thought that it would be the screws to show the way, and the posties to take it…",
writes brilliant blogger Charlie Marks.
Which got me thinking: what else from the 1970s would we like to see brought back?
Here’s my little list- I'd be interested to read yours.

1. The Ellery Queen tv series (above).
2. Tony Benn as Secretary of State for Industry.
3. A government that actually included some people with principles.
4. A truly mixed economy.
5. It Ain't Half Hot Mum (not homophobic or racist as its ill-informed critics say but a very funny series)
6.Being able to smoke in an enclosed public place without being arrested.
7. Truly competitive football-where money didn't rule the roost- a world in which a small club like QPR could come within minutes of winning the title and Second Division sides like Sunderland could still win the FA Cup.
8. British Rail
9. Publicly owned utility companies that were there to serve the public, not rip them off.
10. Any comedy series with Arthur Lowe and Leonard Rossiter.
11. Chris Evert
12. Mannikin cigar boxes
13. Hamlet cigars tv adverts.
14. Upstairs Downstairs
15. Lesley Anne-Down.
16. Van McCoy
17. The Theme from Van der Valk
18. Bamber Gascoigne.
19. Reggie Maudling
and last, but certainly, not least
20. Red Rum.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Outing of "David T"

Three cheers for 'Lenin' of Lenin's Tomb for managing to out one of the most obnoxious and hypocritical members of the blogosphere. "David T" used the forum of the website Harry's Place to attack in a most despicable way possible, anyone who challenged his pro-war, fascistic views. A close ally of the equally execrable and equally malicious Oliver Kamm, "David T" was a natural born bully, who delighted in trying to get people into trouble, or lose their jobs. Back in December, he wrote a disgraceful post directed against the then Guardian Comment editor Seumas Milne, a regular target. (Milne's great "crime" was running the odd article which "David T" disagreed with). "David T" and the website he runs also attacked me on numerous occasions, (most recently in August when Harry's Place urged its readers to write into the Guardian to get me sacked) and also my wife, after she wrote a piece on her childhood experiences of growing up in Hungary. Arguably David T's most disgusting effort (and there are plenty to chose from) was when he posted a highly defamatory comment about someone who had (foolishly it must be said) considered him his friend, the journalist Johann Hari. "David Ts" comment, which was removed after a threat of legal action by Hari, was clearly designed to jeopardise Hari's career. With "friends" like "David T", you certainly don't need enemies.

But while "David T" always talked tough, he was, like all bullies, a coward. While he was always happy to smear and attack those who at least had the guts to write under their own names, he himself operated under an alias, and did all he could to conceal his true identity. The reason he gave to The Guardian was that he did not want to " aggravate" his employer. But that didn't stop "David T" doing all he could to be people into trouble with their employers, as Lenin describes here.

Now, thanks to Lenin, we all know who "David T" is, and who his employer is. And where do you think this self-appointed spokesman of the "decent" left works? For a trade union? A law company that specialises in legal aid? A charity that helps the Third world?

No, David S. Toube, as "David T" is really called, works for the U.S. law firm Cleary, Gottlieb,Steen and Hamilton.

"The company, its website informs us, "is one of the leading international law firms, with 12 closely integrated offices located in major financial centers around the world. For more than 60 years, the firm has been preeminent in shaping the globalization of the legal profession. Our clients include multinational corporations and international financial institutions and sovereign governments and their agencies, as well as domestic corporations and financial institutions in the countries where our offices are located."

Wow, how left-wing can you get!!
Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton are also big on privatisation:
,having won the "Privatisation of the Year" award for Latin America in 2002.

"In Cleary Gottlieb’s innovative practice that crosses borders and boundaries, the firm structures and guides the privatization of state-owned enterprises. Our lawyers regularly advise sovereign governments and private sector bidders when state-owned enterprises change hands."

Of course, the fact that his company profits from privatisation has nothing to do with David T's hostility to governments, which instead of privatising, prefer to nationalise, like that of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

As for David S. Toube himself:

"David S.Toube is an associate based in the London office.
Mr. Toube’s practice focuses on United Kingdom and European regulatory securities law matters, anti-money laundering law and practice, and in particular the Financial Services Authority requirements to which regulated companies are subject. He advises in relation to a broad range of investment banking, fund management, corporate finance and other financial services sector matters. Mr. Toube is a co-author of “A Practitioner's Guide to the FSA Regulation of Investment Banking,” Sweet and Maxwell’s “The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, A practical legal guide” and is a contributor to Oxford University Press’ “Financial Markets and Exchanges Law.”

(I can see now why, in addition to their love of trying to destroy the careers of those who have the temerity to stand up to them, Mr Toube is such good pals with that other City "leftist" the hedge-fund trader Oliver Kamm.)

If you'd like to contact David S. Toube, perhaps for a bit of advice on "fund management", or the legal aspects concerning that $1m of shares in Citibank that you recently bought, his contact details can be found here. I'm sure he provides a very good, and reasonable service.

Or, if, like me, you'd simply like to tell him what a total and utter shit you think he is, his email is:

Do try and keep it as polite as possible.

UPDATE: Here's some more info on David S. Toube.
It seems that according to the Financial Times Style supplement of 30th October 2004, he's a bit of a peacock:

"David Toube, a city lawyer who wears "an unremarkable M &S number" to work yet transforms himself in the evenings with a wide selection of hand-finished creations, all sourced from the back street world of tailors, adds, "If you want fabulous and innovative clothes, the only option is to find a tailor. They are the only people around who really pander to the peacock in the man."

And, although he's quite keen on instigating email campaigns against those who he disagrees with, he doesn't much like being "mailbombed" himself.

The Exile has more on David S. Toube's hypocrisy here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The colossal nerve of Nicolas Sarkozy

'Russia should exercise the responsibilities that go with its aspiration to be a great power.' said Nicolas Sarkozy (above) today. I wonder what "responsiblities" the French President is referring to? Perhaps not making war-like utterances on the illegal bombing of a sovereign state? It seems to me that the country which ought to start exercising its "responsibilities" is not Putin's Russia, which threatens no-one, but Nicolas Sarkozy's increasingly belligerent France.
Do the French people really have to put up with another four and a half years of this pathetic neo-con wanabee and his even more embarrassing Foreign Minister?

A Criminal Enterprise

A few days ago I posted about the campaign of criminal harassment that has been waged against me, ever since my critical review of a book by the neo-con hedge-fund trader cum blogger Oliver Kamm appeared in the Daily Telegraph in December 2005. The campaign has taken many shapes and forms, the favoured technique currently being for untrue and libellous comments about me to be posted on any websites my work appears on, or indeed on any site I leave comments on myself. Today, the malicious attacker struck again, posting the following comment on the New Statesman comments board after my article on NHS dentistry.

09 October 2007
See Neil Clark get banned from Wikipedia for fabricating his own entry (now deleted) and pretending to be a girl.

On my post of September 28th, I revealed that I had passed on all the various information regarding this case on to the legal department of my union, the NUJ, in pursuance of bringing charges of criminal harassment. Those responsible for this campaign really seem to have a deathwish. Let me reiterate this once more, and as clearly as I can, that I will not rest until those responsible for such a cowardly, malicious and criminal campaign of harassment are bought to justice.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Horror of Planet Neocon

This article of mine appears in today's Morning Star.

I’m not a regular churchgoer, but I do think it’s an appropriate occasion to say: “Three cheers for the Archbishop of Canterbury!” On his return from Syria, where he met Iraqi Christian refugees, Dr Rowan Williams warned of a problem of almost unprecedented scale as up to 1.5 million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries in the light of the illegal US-British invasion. "When people talk about further destabilisation of the region - and you read some American political advisers speaking of action against Syria and Iran - I can only say that I regard that as criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous folly“, the Archbishop told the BBC. "We do hear talk from some quarters of action against Syria and Iran. I can't understand what planet such persons are living on, when you see the conditions that are already there."

The planet ‘such persons’ are living on in called Planet Neo-Con and believe me, it’s a dark and scary place. It’s inhabited by people like David Wurmser, the ultra-hawkish former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. In an ‘exclusive’ interview with the Daily Telegraph last week, Wurmser said that the US had to be prepared to launch full scale attacks against both Syria and Iran. Limited strikes against Iranian nuclear targets would not be enough: "If we start shooting, we must be prepared to fire the last shot. Don't shoot a bear if you're not going to kill
it". Wurmser, like all neo-cons, is addicted to the use of violence to achieve political objectives. He was one of the main authors of the notorious 1996 ‘Clean Break’ report, which urged the new right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanhayu to ditch the Oslo Peace Accords signed by the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and adopt a new aggressive policy towards the Palestinians. The report also called for armed incursions into Lebanon, possible strikes against Syria and Iran and enforced regime change in Iraq. Four year later, Wurmser again called for a “confrontation” with the regime in Damascus, while after 9/11 he played a key role, together with other neo-con warmongers, in lobbying for an invasion of Iraq, which to date has cost the lives of over 1m people.

Yet, even after the all the death and destruction they have caused, the inhabitants of Planet Neo-Con are still not satisfied. Like vampires from Hammer Horror films, the neo-cons’ taste of blood only seems to increase their desire for more. Iraq has been destroyed- so why not do the same to Iran and Syria? After that, let’s move on to enforced ‘regime change’ in Belarus, or perhaps invade Cuba and Venezuela?

The double standards involved where neo-cons are concerned are breathtaking. In an article entitled “Advocating Mass Murder”, the anti-war writer Stephen Gowans has contrasted the treatment of Umran Javed, a British Muslim who led a crowd in chants of “Bomb, bomb Denmark, bomb, bomb USA”, with that of Michael Coren, a newspaper columnist for the Toronto Sun, who called for the US to nuke Iran. Both men were, as Gowans points out, calling for mass murder. Yet while Umran Javed was found guilty in a court of law for incitement to murder, Coren continues to freely spout his warmongering bile, without fear of facing a courtroom.

The double standards apply to political figures too.
The mistranslation of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s words on wishing to see
“the regime occupying Jerusalem vanish from the page of time”, created a massive media storm, yet there was no such outcry when leading US Presidential hopeful Rudolph Guiliano recently said that if Iran should approach nuclear competence, "we will prevent that or set them back five or 10 years. That is not said as a threat. That should be said as a promise."
Guiliano was echoing fellow warmongering Republican John McCain whose response when asked what he would do about Iran, was to sing “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boy’s ‘Barbara Ann”. Hysterical stuff if you’re an inhabitant of Planet Neo-Con, but, when juxtaposed against the 1m people already killed by US-led aggression in neighbouring Iraq, it’s a joke that most normal members of Planet Earth would fine totally depraved.

The neo-cons’ aggressive, intimidatory rhetoric is directed not just at foreign countries who don’t do their bidding, but at anyone who challenges them- and who tries to expose the financial benefits many of them derive from the military interventions they advocate.
When the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed that the arch-neo-con Richard Perle, seen by many to have been the architect of the Iraq war, had set up a company that could benefit from the hostilities, Perle responded by calling Hersh “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist“. But with their constant calls for the bombing of any country that stands in the way of their imperialistic designs, it is the neo-cons themselves who are, in reality, ‘the closest thing’ America has to terrorists. Neo-cons don’t advocate suicide bombings, because they don’t have to. Instead they call for the full military might of the world’s most powerful nation to be unleashed on defenceless third world countries, knowing full well that such military action will cause mass loss of life.

To use a phrase beloved by the warmonger Guiliani himself, it’s time we adopted a “zero tolerance” policy towards all those who call openly for violence, bombings and war. Not just on apostles of violence who have swarthy complexions and pray to Allah, but also on those who are white, wear suits and disseminate their hate from comfortable, well-heated offices in Washington.

Down in the Mouth

This article of mine, on the critical state of NHS dentistry in Britain, appears in the current edition of The New Statesman.

"We are going back to the dark ages of dentistry," says Richard Daniels, chief executive of the Dental Laboratories Association. Eighteen months on from the introduction of new NHS contracts, discontent within the dental profession is growing. The DLA says the current contract "forces dentists to make prescription decisions based on financial resources rather than clinical need" and claims there has been a 57 per cent reduction in "Band 3 treatments" such as crowns and dentures.
The British Dental Association shares DLA's concern. "The contracts are not going to provide quality oral health for the patients. We've got wonderful techniques and equipment now but we're not being encouraged to use them," says Lester Ellman, chairman of the BDA General Dental Practice Committee.

The new contracts were intended to solve an intractable problem. Before their introduction, there were more than 400 fee tariffs for NHS work, which left patients bewildered. Now there are just three and the contracts focus on providing cheap and affordable basic care, not on expensive, often unnecessary, treatments.
The old "payment by procedure" system, whereby dentists were paid for each item of work they undertook, was certainly open to abuse. An Audit Commission reported in 2002 that it gave a "perverse incentive" for dentists to carry out unnecessary work.

The NHS contracts are the latest attempt by the government to reverse years of decline in state provision - a decline triggered by the Conservative government's ill-thought out reforms of the early 1990s. These linked dentists' pay to the number of patients registered. When more patients than anticipated registered, the government reacted by cutting fees rather than increasing funding.
The result was a huge exodus of dentists to the private sector. In 1990, only 5 per cent of dentists' income came from private work; now it is more than 50 per cent.
The private dental market, virtually non-existent 20 years ago, is now worth more than £2.4bn.
Even a salary of £80,000 a year, guaranteed under the new contract, was not enough to persuade a further 2,000 dentists from leaving the NHS. Meanwhile, private chains and insurance companies are rubbing their hands in glee. In the year to April 2007, Denplan announced a 25 per cent increase in take-up of its schemes. In the same period, Oasis, Britain's largest dental chain, reported a doubling of profits.
But for the millions unable to pay to go private, the situation goes from bad to worse. Sixteen months on from the government reforms, an estimated 1.4 million additional people are thought to be without an NHS dentist.
In the sixth richest country in the world, thousands are forced to fly abroad in order to receive dental care. This year it is estimated that more than 25,000 Britons will travel to Hungary for dental treatment. An even more alarming trend is the number of children deprived of proper dental care.
Up and down the country dentists are telling parents they will no longer provide NHS treatment for their children. The long-term consequences for oral health is calamitous.

For most of the postwar period, access to an NHS dentist, paid for out of general taxation, was taken for granted. The idea that by the first decade of the 21st century, 60 per cent of Britons would not have access to an NHS dentist - and that one in five would be deterred on grounds of cost from going to the dentist - would have seemed unthinkable to a member of the public in the 1960s.

In 1999 Tony Blair promised that within two years everyone would once again have access to an NHS dentist. But the experience of the last decade shows that a flourishing private sector is incompatible with the notion of a state-financed system. We have enough dentists: the number has risen to more than 21,000 compared with 12,360 in 1977 and 15,400 in 1992. But so long as dentists can earn up to four-times more by going private, NHS provision will be threatened.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Our Man in Islamabad

When is a democratically elected leader labelled a 'dictator'?
When he doesn't do what the US State Department and the emissaries of global capital tell him to do.

And when is a dictator labelled a 'democratically elected' leader?
When he does.

Mick Hall has more here.

The Year of the Dragon?

Just a couple of hours to go before the greatest race of the Flat season: The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. For what it's worth, my three against the red-hot favourite Authorized (who has a great chance but is plenty short enough in the betting),are Soldier of Fortune, Mandesha (each-way) and, for those who fancy a couple of quid each-way on a rank outsider, Dragon Dancer. I like to side with horses in the Arc who have previously won over course and distance, and Soldier of Fortune, successful in the Prix Niel, historically the best trial for the Arc, and Mandesha, an impressive winer of the Prix de l'Opera exactly twelve months ago fit the bill. And Dragon Dancer, as he proved in last year's Derby is the sort of enigmatic performer who can make the frame at huge odds. Good luck with whatever you back and may the best horse win!

UPDATE: Well, it wasn't the Year of the Dragon, but the Year for Long Dead Welsh Poets. It was looking pretty good when Soldier of Fortune burst clear three from home, but being bumped by his stablemate didn't do his cause much good. Mandesha ran respectably enough without landing a blow, and although Dragon Dancer at 150-1 couldn't make the frame, at least he managed to beat Authorized (5-4)! What odds would you have got on that this morning! Hope you made some money on the event.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Balkanisation of Belgium

Over the next week, I'll be posting a series of my articles on Belgium, one of my favourite countries. As I'm sure you're aware the very existence of the country is now at stake, due to the increased demands of Flemish nationalists.
Here's my piece on why the disappearance of Belgium from the map of the world would be a sad event, from The Australian.

It's given us waffles, the saxophone and the bittersweet ballads of Jacques Brel. Not to mention comic book adventurer Tintin, ace sleuth Hercules Poirot and 400 varieties of some of the best beers in the world. But after 177 years of history, Belgium is facing the biggest threat to its existence since the tanks of the Wehrmacht rolled over its borders in May 1940.

Three months after a general election, the country is in paralysis and still without a government. The elections brought to an end an eight-year period of socialist-liberal rule, with the right-wing Flemish Christian Democrat-Flemish nationalist alliance emerging as the largest parliamentary grouping but without an overall majority. The Flemish nationalists' ambitions are clear: they want independence for the Flanders region from Belgium. The francophone parties refuse to co-operate with parties who demand greater autonomy for Flanders.

If Belgium's Flemish and French-speaking areas do go their own way and the country disappears from the map, it will be a sad moment in modern European history. It's easy - and in some circles almost compulsory - to talk condescendingly about Belgium (usually along the line of "what famous people has Belgium produced?"). But the truth is, the small, densely populated kingdom has much to be proud of.
A rule-of-law democracy, Belgium has lived in peace with its neighbours and in the post-war period has played a constructive role in European affairs, being a founder member of the European Coal and Steel Community, which evolved into the European Economic Community in 1957. Despite its linguistic divisions, Belgium works: over the past half-century there have been far worse places in the world in which to live.

But as worrying as these developments are, the problems facing the country are not unique. The great European paradox is that as the countries of the Continent, under the aegis of the EU, are brought closer together, so separatist movements within countries are gaining ground.

In Britain, the Scottish National Party recently won power in elections for the Scottish Assembly, set up by the Blair government in 1997. SNP leader Alex Salmond has formally launched draft legislation that would give Scots the chance to vote in a 2010 referendum of whether to break away from Britain.
"We in the Government believe that independence would be the best for our country," Salmond has said.

In Spain, the right of self-determination was asserted by the Basque parliament in 2002 and 2006, while in June the Basque terrorist organisation ETA, blamed for 800 deaths since 1968, officially announced the end of a ceasefire that had been in place since March of the year before.

And, of course, in the Balkans, the region where the separatist fever presently sweeping the Continent began in the 1990s, there's Kosovo, probably the most problematic case of them all. In Kosovo what is at stake is not just the futures of the province's Albanian, Serb and other ethnic minorities, but the battle for regional hegemony between the US and Russia.
The US wants Kosovo to be independent, confident that the new Albanian-dominated state would be a strong ally. Russia wants the province to remain part of Serbia, a country with which it has strong historical ties. And as in Belgium, the parties to the dispute are locked in stalemate.

Some would say the EU's unifying agenda has contributed, inadvertently, to the rise in the popularity of separatist movements. The deflationary economic measures adopted by member states in the 1990s to prepare for the introduction of the euro plunged many European countries into recession. In order to reduce their budget deficits to meet the so-called Maastricht criteria, countries reduced government support to industry and unemployment rocketed.
In Belgium, this hit the French-speaking south, where most of the country's heavy industry was based, particularly hard. The greater relative prosperity of the north has fuelled Flemish demands for independence: why should wealthy Flanders have to pay higher taxes to subsidise unemployed workers in Wallonias, or so the argument goes.

Second, the fact that countries can find a ready-made home in the EU makes independence much more attractive than might otherwise be the case. Europe's separatists may be nationalists, but their nationalism doesn't extend to opposing joining a body to which they must hand over much of their newly won sovereignty. The EU (or the EC, as it was then called), played a not insignificant role in the break-up of Yugoslavia, by prematurely recognising the breakaway republics of Slovenia and Croatia. If Slovenia and Croatia could cede, then why not Bosnia and Macedonia?
As the Balkans showed, the trouble with the separatist bug is that, like all bugs, it's highly contagious. If Kosovo is allowed to divorce from Serbia, why can't the Basques sever their links with Spain? And if Slovakia - a country which, apart from a six-year period during World War II, had no history as a sovereign nation until its independence in 1993 - can have a seat at the UN, then why can't Scotland, which was an independent state until 1707?

Moreover, it's a mistake to think that separatist demands will always rest on ethnicity. What will happen if Europe's sizeable and growing Muslim population starts to demand a right to self-determination? The idea is not as far-fetched as it might seem: in Britain there is already a self-styled Muslim parliament, and a recent poll showed that a clear majority of British Muslims want Sharia law introduced in civil cases relating to their own community.

In principle, of course, self-determination is a noble idea that all good democrats should approve of. But in practice things aren't so clear-cut. Do we really want a Europe split into scores of different statelets? And what guarantee is there that the newly independent countries won't split into even smaller parts too? No European state is ethnically homogenous, and if the ethnic minorities of every country demand the right to nationhood the Continent could be bogged down in separatist disputes for generations to come.

It's a fair bet that many European countries are already wishing the process of fragmentation, begun in the Balkans in 1990s, had never started.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Lost in Translation: Dan Hardie and his pal Ed Vaizey

"It seems almost incredible that after the catastrophe of the Iraq war, but the signs are growing that the Bush administration wants to do it all over again- this time to Iran", writes Seumas Milne in today's Guardian.

It is indeed incredible, but what is even more incredible is that a group of self-styled 'anti-war' bloggers, led by a attention-seeking drama queen named Dan Hardie, seem to think that the most urgent issue facing the anti-war movement is not stepping up public pressure to prevent a war on Iran, but linking arms with pro-war neo-cons in a campaign to grant asylum to Iraqi interpreters who worked for an illegal occupying army.

I've already commented on the rather dubious 'anti-war' credentials of those promoting this particular campaign, here and here. But whatever credibility Hardie et al do have as 'anti-war' campaigners, have surely gone for good when it's been revealed that among the speakers at the group's meeting next week is the notoriously pro-war MP for Wantage, and signatory to the principles of the Henry Jackson Society, Ed Vaizey.

There are, as Mick Hall comments here, much wider implications to this story that go beyond the translators in question.
The campaign takes the focus away from the disastrous invasion of Iraq, and holding those responsible accountable in a court of law- and also, just as importantly, away from the plans being hatched, right at this very minute, for another illegal assualt on Iran.
And, as The Exile has pointed out, the campaign gives the warmongers a last chance to claim a 'victory' and a propaganda coup out of the collosal death and destruction they have caused in Iraq.
A propos of the interpreters campaign, Mick Hall asks:
"It would be interesting to know who originally dropped this particular pebble into the WWW/media pond. Could it have been someone at the heart of the US or UK Administrations?".

The involvement of the Henry Jackson Society in the campaign strongly suggests that Mick's suspicions could be right.

UPDATE. Surprise, surprise: it seems that the government has caved in and will be offering asylum to the intepreters. Little matter that the public has had no say in the matter, and that the cost will be met by taxpayers, the majority of whom never wanted the Iraq war in the first place. And of course, there will no rights of asylum for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, who did not collaborate with an illegal, occupying army and whose lives have been turned upside down by the invasion.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

California Uber Alles

From today's Indie:

"Two California cities are pushing anti-smoking legislation to previously unseen limits by banning tenants from lighting up inside apartment buildings.
Leading the way is Belmont, south of San Francisco, which threatened at one stage to ban smoking anywhere within city limits. Instead, Belmont city council contented itself with a ban on smoking in any building where residents share a common floor or ceiling. It is also banning all smoking within 20ft of a doorway, a common area, and areas used by children. A final vote on the new rules is expected next week, with implementation in November.
In southern California, Calabasas, a suburban community in the hills above Malibu, is going even further. The city council was preparing for a vote last night that would expand anti-smoking laws to encompass apartment buildings."

On the basis that what happens in the US very soon happens in Britain (at least all the bad stuff, like smoking bans, gun crime, muggings, neo-con foreign policy) we can fully expect the fanatical anti-smoking zealots of ASH to be calling for smoking bans in apartment buildings in the UK before too long. Already this week we have heard calls for drivers to be banned from smoking while behind the wheel.

It's time all those who genuinely believe in the freedom of the individual to say enough is enough.
Instead of extending smoking bans still further we ought to be going the other way, and repealing draconian laws which are more appropriate for fascist dictatorships, and not countries which style themselves liberal democracies.

What do U.S. readers think of all this madness? I'd be interested to know.

Tony Benn for PM!

Back in May, I wrote a piece about what Britain- and the world- would have been like had Tony Benn become Prime Minister. Who knows, we might still have a chance to find out! Go, Tony, go!

Iran is not a threat

"Iran is not a threat. The words are violent but words, as Spaniards say, are feathers. If Iran seeks nuclear weapons it is from a fear of all that might be done to it by US Marines and Israeli warplanes. A stable, civilised American president who acknowledged past ill-treatment, talked of oil as a pure market commodity and who showed a healthy coolness to Israel, would take speculation out of the war zone. A steady course of honest pacific dealing could effect wonders."

You can read more of Edward Pearce's excellent Guardian piece here.

And in similar vein, here's my article from The Australian on why the Iranian 'crisis', is as artificial as previous neo-con fabricated 'crises' in Kosovo and Iraq.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

We don't need a bigger army, Dave

David Cameron is right to say that British Armed Forces are understaffed for the role they are currently being asked to fulfil. But the answer is not a "bigger army" as Dave has promised, but to return our armed forces to the role they were originally intended for: defence of the realm. To quote Mark Steele, we need our boys (and girls) back home playing ping-pong at Aldershot, and not helping to implement the neo-con fantasies of the yellow-bellied, armchair aggressors of the Henry Jackson Society.If the Henry Jacksonites and their Eustonista allies want a 'forward' foreign policy, then by all means let them form their own 'international brigade' and do the fighting- and the dying- themselves. But they should not expect the British taxpayer, who wants nothing more to do with their wretched, illegal wars, to foot the bill.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

One Party Britain: Geras more 'influential' than Pilger

To give themselves a veneer of democratic respectability dictatorships often create an artificial opposition. It seems that Britain is following the same path.
The Daily Telegraph recently published a list of Britain's '100 Most Influential Lefties' - the list being chosen by that wonderfully impartial pair, the pro-war Conservative blogger Iain Dale and the pro-war Euston Manifesto signatory Brian Brivati.
Have a butchers at what they've come up with.

Author of the Normblog. Geras was Professor of Government, University of Manchester until 2003 but now writes one of the most influential left of centre blogs in Britain. A founder of the Euston Manifesto, Geras’s views were important in shaping the pro war left’s view of the war in Iraq.

Columnist, The Times
David Aaronovitch’s influence on the left probably suffered from his move from The Guardian to The Times but he remains one of the essential reads in left wing political journalism in the UK. He was a leading figure in the “pro-war” or decent left before the invasion of Iraq but has since changed his mind about the conflict

With one or two exceptions, you have to get down to Number 100 until you find a real leftie. And here of course, Brivati and Dale's pen portrait is rather less fawning.

Pilger remains able to command the front pages of left wing journals at will. Though he has been writing essentially the same story for the last thirty years – everything that is wrong in the world is the fault of the USA – he continues to exert a waning but visible influence on the younger and more impressionable parts of the left.

Yeh, sure Brian and Iain. Only in a deluded neo-con universe could Norman Geras, the author of a mind-numbingly boring blog which gives details about how its author queues up to buy tickets for cricket matches, be called more 'influential' than a world-famous and hugely respected journalist whose writings, films and television documentaries continue to inspire millions.

And who, I hear you ask, do our two 'expert' judges rate as Number One and Two on the list of 'Influential Lefties'? Yup, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. That invasion of Iraq was oh, so, 'left-wing' wasn't it? And PFI really defines socialism, doesn't it? Pass the sick bag.

The Neo-Con Lie Machine Rolls On....

"The same network of think-tank analysts, media outlets, and government officials who brayed for war in Iraq have set their sights increasingly on Iran. Savvy as ever, they remain focused on consolidating public opinion and seem to be monitoring anti-Iran sentiment closely. Weekly Standard Deputy Online Editor Michael Goldfarb darkly warned in July that opponents of another Mideast war “shouldn’t be too surprised when [the] 60 percent [of Americans] opposing a war with Iran starts to dwindle—it has dropped five points in just the last six months.”In late August, NYU professor and Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin related that a Washington source had told him that the same neoconservative institutions that urged the country into Iraq were preparing to “roll out a campaign for war with Iran” after Labor Day. According to Rubin’s informant, “evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this—they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is ‘plenty.’”
writes Justin Logan in his must-read article in the new edition of the anti-war magazine The American Conservative.

Part of the neo-cons' campaign to get their "35-40 percent support" for an attack on Iran is to spread lies and misinformation about the country, aided and assisted by so-called 'left' blogs, highlighting alleged human rights abuses in the country.
And when it comes to smearing Iran, little thing like facts go out of the window. The picture above, in the words of the press release of "shows a teenage girl buried before being stoned to death for alleged sexual offenses. The stoning took place in Iran.” The picture has been been appearing all over the internet as part of the neo-cons' campaign. How could we not think of bombing a country where such appalling scenes can be witnessed? That is, of course, what the Shock and Awe brigade want you to think. But there's only one thing wrong with the picture. It's a fake. The stoning that it depicts, as the blogger sadlyno reveals, takes place not in Iran, but in a 1994 Dutch film called 'De Steen', directed by Mahnaz Tamizi. The 'teenager girl' is an actress called Smadar Mosinos.

In the weeks ahead we can prepare ourselves for a daily diet of lies and propaganda about Iran, as the warmongers try to get their "35-40 percent support". As I've said before on many occasions, it's easy to know when a neo-con is lying. He/she opens his or her mouth. And, I should also add, puts pen to paper or starts typing on a computer keyboard. Believe me, it really is that simple.