Thursday, January 31, 2008

Old Labour and New Labour contrasted

"The only incontrovertible achievement - which nobody can plausibly deny - of Tony Blair's decade in office is that he himself has ended up as a very rich man. It was very different under old Labour.
One of my first jobs as a young journalist in the 1950s was to interview Herbert Morrison - who had been a leading light in two historic administrations, including Churchill's glorious wartime coalition - and to my amazement he was still occupying the humble semi from which he sprang. Driven around in a small Austin by his wife, Clement Attlee's last years were equally modest. Say what you like about old Labour's failure to fill the public purse, as least it had the good grace not to fill its own pockets."
Well, I'd take issue with Perry Worsthrone's assertion that old Labour failed to fill the public purse (it did), but the rest of his First Post article is spot on.

Why Tony did it: the growing consensus

"The money which any modern British Prime Minister earns on retirement will come in large measure from the U.S.- from book sales, speeches and 'jobs' at banks. If Tony Blair had not stood shoulder to shoulder with George Bush, would he be such hot property in the U.S.? Of course not. Be assured that I write largely as a pro-American. But the next time we team up with Uncle Sam on a perilous international adventure, we want to make sure the Government is acting with only this country's best interests in mind. As I look at Tony Blair lining his pockets at a preposterous rate, I do not believe we can be certain that this was the case when he was prime minister."
writes Stephen Glover, in today's Daily Mail.

The author of this blog has never had any doubts as to the main reason why Tony Blair took Britain to war. It's nice to see that other commentators are coming to the same conclusion.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Michel Polnareff: Musical Genius

And if you loved the Raymond Lefèvre
version of Âme Câline I posted earlier, you'll love the original too: sung here by the song's composer Michel Polnareff. The word 'genius' is much overused, but when it comes to Polnareff, its use is entirely appropriate.

The Sounds of 1968: Raymond Lefèvre -Âme Câline

We're going to be hearing a lot more in the weeks ahead about that incredible year, 1968.
It was a year of revolt, protests, assassinations and disturbances- but it was also the year that some of the greatest popular music ever written was released. Back in 1968, the pop charts were incredibly varied, including not just the latest hits from the Beatles or other major bands, but plenty of orchestral/instrumental works too. From France, a country which was the centre of attention for much of 1968, here is an absolute classic - Michel Polnareff's hauntingly beautiful 'Âme Câline', perfomed by Raymond Lefèvre and his Orchestra. The record was released exactly forty years ago this month- in January 1968. Those of you who were around in 1968 will remember 'Âme Câline' as being a major favourite on 'Radio Caroline', and I hope it brings back happy memories. Those who have never heard it are in for a real treat.


The Real Divide- and How to End It

"What is it about our political class that makes them believe they are above the laws they make?",
asks today's Daily Mail, as Tory MP Derek Conway (above) faces a ban for paying his two student sons £77,000 from public funds for doing nothing. As The Mail's editorial argues, Conway's misuse of public funds surely warrants a police investigation, not just a ten-day suspension from Parliament. Let's not forget that the £77,000 he handed over to his sons was our money, dear British reader, not Conway's. What Conway's case highlights is that the big divide in British politics is not between Labour and Conservative parties, but between the political class and the rest of us. With one or two honourable exceptions, MPs represent not the interests of their constituents, but themselves. The case for moving towards a more direct form of democracy, bypassing the corrupt middle men and women who only go into politics for self-enrichment, has never been stronger.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Suharto: The Silence of the NeoCons

Well, the old butcher (above) has been dead a day and half now. And what has been the response of our dear friends, the neocons- you know that group of principled and passionate exporters of democracy who love to 'liberate' people from tyrannical governments the world over? The answer: Nothing. I've been trawling neocon and liberal hawk websites and blogs in Britain and the US and none of them it seems feel that the death of a genocidal dictator like Suharto is worthy of comment.

How very different it was in March 2006, when Slobodan Milosevic died. Then, the neocons and liberal hawks couldn't wait to put the boot in, cheering on the fact that a 'mass murderer'/'war criminal' had died- even though after four years of trial at The Hague no compelling evidence had been produced that the democratically elected Milosevic was either a 'mass murderer', or a 'war criminal'.

Yet as regards Suharto, a man whose crimes are proven, there is silence. One wonders whether the fact that Paul Wolfowitz, ideological guru of the neocon movement (and the man regarded by many as the architect of the Iraq War), has been described as 'the primary architect of US policy' towards Indonesia in the 1980s has anything to do with it?

In the comments section to John Pilger's excellent Guardian piece on the Butcher of Jakarta, commenter 'timetomoveon' writes:

"If Holbrooke is to believed, he and Wolfowitz tried to keep the long, sordid history of American involvement with Suharto hidden from the American ..."

"Prior to that, Wolfowitz served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 1982 to 1986, and as ambassador to Indonesia during the Reagan administration's final three years. He thus was the primary architect of U.S. policy toward the resource-rich country in the 1980s. During his tenure, U.S. support for the TNI peaked despite, among many crimes, the military's illegal occupation of East Timor, which resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people."

So come on you neocons and liberal hawks. Stop hiding and answer a simple question. Do you, like your movement's leading intellectual 'heavyweight', defend the Suharto regime and its genocidal policies? Or do you join me in condemning, unequivocally, Wolfowitz and co's support for one of the 20th century's most evil despots?

UPDATE: Well, its getting on for 48 hours since the news of Suharto's death was announced. And still not a word from Planet NeoCon.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Suharto: The West's Favourite Butcher

The former dictator of Indonesia, General Suharto has died.
To mark the occasion, here's my piece on the west's favourite bloodstained tyrant, and the selective nature of New World Order 'justice', from October 2005.

He was responsible for the deaths of over 1m people and launched a brutal invasion of his neighbour. He presided over a tyrannical and corrupt government with an appalling record on human rights. And he amassed a personal fortune of $10bn dollars while his people were starving. I refer not to Saddam Hussein, who stands trial today before a U.S. backed show court- but to General Suharto, the former President of Indonesia. For Saddam, the ‘guilty’ verdict has already been written and execution in the presence of an already invited team of foreign observers- including the BBC's John Simpson- awaits.

But for Suharto, whose crimes, in the words of John Pilger, make Saddam’s ‘seem like second-division’, a much more pleasant fate lies in store: seeing out his retirement in a luxury mansion in Jakarta. No CNN televised trial for the man whose army put to death one quarter of the population of East Timor and who oversaw the killing of up to 1m Indonesian civilians when he came to power in a CIA backed coup in 1965. No trial either for the former Chilean leader General Auguste Pinochet, who like his south-east Asian counterpart, came to power with the help of Uncle Sam and who also massacred thousands of his own people.

The pro-war lobby will attempt to use this week’s sight of ‘The Dictator in the Dock’ to bolster support for the invasion of Iraq, which to date has claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 civilians. But let us be under no illusions that Saddam is on trial not because of any atrocities he may have committed, but because he had the temerity to stand in the way of U.S. plans to establish hegemony over the entire Middle East. Had the Iraqi dictator ‘done a Suharto’ - sold off his economy to Western multinationals, allowed Starbucks and Macdonalds to multiply in the streets of Baghdad and US oil majors plunder his country’s black gold, we can rest assured that he would not now be in a dark and dusty cell, but safely ensconced in one of his palaces, lighting up a Monte Cristo and sitting down to watch his favourite video of the Sound of Music.

Let us not forget that the worst of Saddam's alleged crimes, such as the gassing of the Kurds at Halabjah in 1988, occured at a time when he had the full backing of the U.S. and Britain.

The selective justice of the New World Order, whereby those leaders who defy the world’s superpower are to subject to the law, but those who comply with its dictates are free to carry on killing and maiming as they feel fit- is no form of justice at all. Only if the U.S. announced that they supported the trial of all world leaders responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians and war crimes, then would we able to take this week’s events in Baghdad a little more seriously. But of course this will not happen- for it would mean that in addition to Suharto, Pinochet and a whole host of Western backed despots, those responsible for the illegal and murderous invasion of Iraq would also find themselves in need of a very good lawyer.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Happy Burns Night!

A very Happy Burns Night to Jock McTrousers, Martin Kelly and all other commenters and readers of this blog from North of the Border.

To celebrate, here's a classic clip from Dad's Army, the episode in which Captain Mainwaring demonstrates surprising skill with the bagpipes.....
They don't make comedies like this any more, more's the pity.


Boring, Boring Premiership

This article by Maz Plechinger on the mind-numbing predictability of the English Premier League, and which includes an interview with me and Express and Star blogger Jarrod Hill, appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Here's the English translation:


by Maz Plechinger

Excitement and watchable matches are history in the Premier League. The title is a struggle for four teams only, the rest fight, in a panic race, to avoid relegation. So if you want to see enjoyable football, turn your eyes towards the second best league instead.

"I’m sorry to sound so pessimistic, but the future does really look bleak. The dream is no more." With your expectable English sense of politeness, it is obvious that Neil Clark hesitates to disappoint his Danish audience.

He’s a journalist with papers such as The Guardian and Daily Express in his roster. But in this roster is as well a packet of bad news on one of his great loves: English football.

The hopelessness regards the Premier League, a league which, in Neil Clark’s view, delivers as much excitement as an episode of Teletubbies. Where the equality between the top four teams and the rest of the table is like a boxing match between Mikkel Kessler and a bag of salted peanuts. And where the playing itself keeps standards with a nice yawn.

"The quality in the top flight is the lowest in the many years, I’ve been a follower. I watch matches from the 70’s and 80’s, and the quality then was just so much better."

But what in the world is this man babbling about? The Premier League is in the shape of its life. There’s more people on the stands than any other league, the best players in the world fight to get to play there, and for the second year in a row, there’s four Premier League teams represented in the Champions League’s play-offs. It has indeed become the best league in the world, and it’s glowing of solid gold.

The only problem is, that Neil Clark isn’t a marginalized maniac. In recent years the same yell has rung out loud, that money is destroying everything. Money has transformed Arsenal, Man. Utd., Chelsea and Liverpool into an eternal quartet in the top, and has left Premier League ridden of excitement and fought out like with trench warfare.


"The Premier League has become so predictable that we now always can tell who the top four’s going to be every year, which was unthinkable before the league was formed in 1992. You’d always have a couple of unfashionable teams that would surprise, either by winning or being close to winning the league. In the early stages of the PL, Blackburn managed to become champions, but since then the top four haven’t had any challenge at all, and it’s getting harder and harder to imagine this change", Neil Clark estimates.

The downwind spiral began when the best league in England in 1992 broke loose from the Football League and became its own institution called the Premier League, primarily to avoid sharing the tv-fundings with the lower divisions. In the first couple of seasons a few different teams managed to end in top four, but since 1997, at least three of the big four have ended in the top.

"The same four teams then qualify for the Champions League, which is where the real money is. This means that they in the following season can use the money they’ve earned in the Champions League to wind up in the top four. It’s impossible for the other teams to break through the glass ceiling. Man. City may be fourth at the moment, but it’s not very likely to end that way," Neil Clark sighs.

"We Englishmen used to look at Scotland to say, there’s really a one-sided league. We don’t anymore. The big four only lose to each other, and on rare occasions when playing away. Previously the champions used to loose at least seven or eight matches in a season."

Better than other

The English journalist admits to being both a romantic and somewhat a nostalgic. Frankly, there’s nothing directly incriminating in some teams being better than other. If in doubt, you could have a chat with alot of fans from one of the dominant teams concerning this issue. But he is also an aesthetic, and it does bother him to see the other teams becoming weaker. Partly because their best players are shipped to the top four’s benches, partly because they don’t dare to play football against the top four. And finally due to as well that they don’t dare to play against each other, panic-stricken with the ghost of relegation and a long goodbye to the moneyship.

"All teams – even the ones near the bottom of the table – used to have good players, but now only the top four have them. When a bottom team like for instance Derby played a top flight like Liverpool in the 80’s, it wasn’t a question of stopping your oppenent’s game, but about joining in yourself. Now it’s safety first, because everybody suffers from economical angst, and the idea of an flamboyant approach is far-fatched. As soon as fear takes control, your thoughts become negative: You play to avoid loosing, and that leads to negative football," Clark estimates.

"It’s sad, but the death of romance is final. Even in the FA Cup, which used to be the magical tournament, where everybody could win. It’s quite symbolic that when West Ham and Liverpool faced each other in the final of last year’s cup, a lot of Liverpool-fans told me, that they sincerely hoped, that West Ham could win. Then it would be like in the good old days, when Liverpool were a dominant force in the league, but still could stumble in the cups. Now Liverpool scored in the dying seconds. It was like it couldn’t be any other way."

Just for the record, since Everton’s triumph in 1995, there’s been no other FA Cup-winners but the big four.

"I spoke to a Birmingham fan earlier today, and he was really demoralized, because what have Birmingham to play for this year? What can they amount to? To avoid relegation, and that’s that. It’s their ambition. They cannot win the league, they cannot reach the final of any cup, success for them is nothing else than finishing above the cruzial line. The dream is dead for many fans, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel," Neil Clark tells, and despite the hopelessness amongst the fans, change must come from the same followers.

Massive event

It’s not easy, and he’s honestly not convinced it’s going to happen, but it’s the only way. At some point in time, he hopes that the qualms of predictableness and sad football becomes too intense. On the 16th of December the four top teams played each other, in what was dubbed Super Sunday. A massive event that had quite a big fuzz about itself in England – to put it mildly. But to matches meant two goals, and football made in heaven. Unfortunately a rather boring version of heaven.

"The media encourages this worshipping of the big four. It’s up to the fans to say, that they don’t want this anymore. Super Sunday showed miserable football, and hopefully things like that helps in this regard. I haven’t heard anyone say other than it was horrible, overhyped. Hopefully there’s fans of the big four as well, who are getting bored with their playing styles. The danger is though, that young people cannot remember the time, where other sides could win, so they don’t know that it could be different."

The day before Super Sunday another and much less hyped game were played. It was between West Bromwich Albion and Charlton in the second best division, the Championship.

Not only did it with a 4-2 scoreline have three times as many goals in it than the top four put together, but the match itself was of a much better quality altogether. Admittedly: It was a match between two of more beautifully playing sides of the table, but a lot of praises these years do go to the Championship for being the nest of real English Football. Here the equality flourishes, the teams dare to play football and nothing is spared during the matches.

So far this season the newly promoted Bristol City has been the league’s positive surprise, currently ranked as nr. 3, whilst a team like Queens Park Rangers surprises in equal amounts by facing relegation. Here you’ve got 20 point dividing the top from the bottom, in Premier League there’s 36. Despite the fact that there’s four more teams in the Championship.

Jarrod Hill’s blogging for the largest regional newspaper in England, the Express and Star. He writes about his big love, West Bromwich Albion, and he’s quite satisfied with life. Despite the fact that his team got relegated two seasons ago.
»The Quality in the Championship is really high, and you’ll see bottom teams beating top teams every other week. Everybody can beat everybody. In Premier League it happens very, very seldom. Even as an Albion, you’d be facing surprises every weekend. We could face a team like Scunthorpe, and still we cannot be sure of a win. That’s what is really satisfying about this league,« the entusiastic blogger tells.
»And when people talk about the big gulf in quality between Premier Leauge and the Championship; There aren’t any. The truth is that the major gulf is around nr. 7-8 in the Premier League table. Below that invisible line, the teams aren’t any better than the top 5 in the Championship. The real gulf is solely that they’ve got more money.«

Which is where he joins the same theme as Neil Clark, and by the way pretty much everybody else mentions first, when talking about English football. The voluminous amounts of money.

»Get any English football supporter to mention three good things about Premier League, and he’ll mention money. In all three sentences. Nobody would mention entertainment and well played matches. It’s all about that you could earn a lot more money than in Championship,« Jarrod Hill claims, and mentions Sky, the owners of the tv-rights, as the culprit.

The middle finger

»They’re the one, who has the money, and literally they’re the ones who have taken over English football. They give fortunes to the Premier League-teams and the relegators recieve as much as £23 mio., so they can get back in right away. What do they give the teams in the Championship? The middle finger Because they doesn’t show the matches anyway. All their focus are directed at Premier League’s top.«

Despite the media’s one sided focus he do feel some kind of opposition. Fans who doesn’t want to play along anymore. Which is visible on many Championship fan-forums as well – as well as some forums for the bottom clubs in the Premier League. Fans arguing that the second best league is actually to be preferred. He himself would still prefer to get promoted, but not at the hands of being forced to play destructive football.

»I hear a lot of Albion-fans who honestly say, that if we doesn’t get promoted, then good riddance. Rather play great in Championship and win matches. You hear this in all clubs. The dominating big four destroys hope for a lot of people.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hain resigns: Oh Dear, How Sad, Never Mind

He supported the illegal bombing of Yugoslavia. He defended the genocidal sanctions on Iraq. He supported the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003: and even had the nerve to try and blame the French government for the war.

His name is Peter Hain. A careerist politician who sacrificed every principle he ever believed in in order to cling on to office. On the day that he leaves office due to a corruption inquiry, one phrase springs readily to mind.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Brendan O'Neill loses the plot

Sometimes you read an article that is so wrong-headed you really don't know where to start in trying to responding to it.

This review of Oliver James' book by Brendan O'Neill is one such piece. As I've said earlier, I've met O'Neill and found him to be affable. So I certainly don't want to hurl insults at him over the blogosphere. But really, Brendan. You purport to be a man of the left, yet your defence of anglo-saxon turbo-capitalism could have been penned by a director of Goldman Sachs. Instead of properly addressing James' thesis about the social harm which turbo-capitalism causes, you throw the silly jibe that James and those of us who are alarmed at the impact rampant consumerism has had on our society are 'herbal-tea socialists'. The evidence that turbo-capitalism is making us mentally ill is all around us, in record levels of drug addiction, alcohol abuse, crime and what Erich Fromm labelled 'acts of destruction': self-abuse, arson, vandalism. By writing what you have I can only conclude that (a) you walk around with your eyes closed; or (b) you have decided to throw your lot in with big business.

If you do happen to read this post, then please, please accept two friendly pieces of advice, before you next pen an article on this subject.

1. Read Erich Fromm (and in particular, 'To Have and To Be' and 'The Sane Society').

2. Spend some time travelling around continental Europe in places where turbo-capitalism still doesn't dominate and hopefully you'll understand better the point that Oliver James is trying to make.

Neocons: Natural Born Liars

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. Or, puts pen to paper or starts typing on a computer keyboard. Believe me, it really is that simple.

But anyone who still has their doubts, should take a look at a study released yesterday which found that President Bush (above) and his top officials ran roughshod over the truth in the run-up to the Iraq war lying a total of 935 times.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, eight administration officials "made at least 935 false statements" about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, or links to Al-Qaeda, on 532 separate occasions.
"In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003."
The publication of this report will not of course bring back the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their lives as a result of the neocons deceitful war of aggression. But as The Exile points out, it should help to persuade people not to believe a word that the political class says to them ever again.

Hat tip: The Exile.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Let's Not Overhype Heath

Well, I've heard of Ted Heath, former British Prime Minister, and Ted Heath the bandleader. I've also heard of Adrian Heath, the Everton striker of the 1980s and Heath Robinson, the drawer of fabulous contraptions. And having a working knowledge of accounts, I also know what a ledger is. But I must admit that until last Sunday evening, when I read an article about him in the newspaper, I had never heard of Heath Ledger. Three days later and Ledger (above) is dead: at the age of just 28. The death of anyone at such an early age is tragic, but am I the only person who feels that the media reaction to the young actor's death has been completely over the top? Ledger's death was the main story on Radio 5's news bulletins last night, even though I'd wager that the vast majority of the station's listeners had never heard of the man. It's not enough to say that an up-and-coming actor had died at a tragically early age: no, we are informed that Ledger was a 'great actor', an 'amazing talent' and so on and so forth.

Compare the attention given to the comparatively little known Heath Ledger over the past twenty four hours, with the way the death of Deborah Kerr, a truly great actress, was covered when she died last year. Kerr's death, far from being the main story, was relegated to the final item on the BBC1 main news bulletin that evening.

We live in an age of hype, where those who haven't really achieved very much are
lauded in a ridiculously o.t.t. way, whereas those who have, like Kerr, are often forgotten.

Socialism for the rich; capitalism for the poor

"Behold the hypocrisy. The free marketeers have spent the past two decades preaching against the evils of state intervention, the dead hand of government, the need to roll back the frontiers, and so on. Yet what happens when these buccaneers of unfettered capitalism run into trouble? They go running to the nanny state they so deplore, sob into her lap and beg for help."

You can read the rest of Jonathan Freedland’s piece on the double standards which underpin modern turbo-capitalism here. And if you agree that not a penny of taxpayers money should be given to privately owned companies without the taxpayer gaining equity in that company, then this is the campaign for you.

ps it's nice to see that the term 'turbo-capitalism', which I have longed used to describe today's profit obsessed, socially damaging Anglo-Saxon model is being used by more and more people.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dr Strangelove is alive and well (and advising NATO)

"Dr Strangelove was never put back in his box. He is lurking in the shadows waiting for his chance to strike." says Dan Plesch, as quoted in this excellent Comment is Free piece by Martin Butcher on the truly outrageous recommendation by five former military bigwigs that NATO should adopt a nuclear first strike policy.

One of those military bigwigs is Klaus Naumann. The Guardian provides a pen portrait:

"Viewed as one of Germany's and Nato's top military strategists in the 90s, Naumann served as his country's armed forces commander from 1991 to 1996 when he became chairman of Nato's military committee. On his watch, Germany overcame its post-WWII taboo about combat operations, with the Luftwaffe taking to the skies for the first time since 1945 in the Nato air campaign against Serbia."

So the man who was in charge of NATO's military committee when Luftwaffe bombs once again rained down death on the population of Yugoslavia, is now calling for NATO to pre-emptively strike, with nuclear weapons, any states that get in the way of the alliance's global ambitions. As Martin Butcher asks: is this the ultimate end of Tony Blair's 'liberal interventionism'?

Fasten your seat belts......

Last summer in the Daily Express I wrote:

"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 (above), buckle your seat-belts-this one could be a bumpy ride."

After the events of the last 24 hours, does anyone think otherwise?

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Crisis of the West's Own Making

(US special envoy Richard Holbrooke with a KLA terrorist-oops- freedom fighter chum.)

Due to the Christmas/New Year break, I've got a backlog of published articles for posting. This article of mine on the current Kosovo crisis appeared over Christmas in The Australian. I'll be posting my reflections on the first round of the Presidential elections in Serbia shortly.

POWERFUL Western nations make threats to Serbia. Serbia, backed by Russia, ignores the ultimatums. A war ensues. That was the scenario in the summer of 1914, when the world plunged into the war to end all wars. Nearly a century on, the situation is uncannily similar.

Despite Western threats for it to accept Kosovan independence, Belgrade is standing firm. Serbian armed forces are on standby to reclaim the province by force if necessary. Russia has promised Serbia its support.

If war does follow, then Serbia will no doubt be blamed by Western governments for not toeing the line. But it would be an unfair judgment.

The present crisis in Kosovo has been caused not so much by Serbian intransigence, but by the West's policy of intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states, which, over the past decade has caused chaos, not only in the Balkans, but across the globe.

Ten years ago, Kosovo was at relative peace. Albanian demands for independence from Belgrade were being channeled through the peaceful Democratic League party of Ibrahim Rugova, while the small groups of Albanian paramilitaries that did exist were isolated and had little public support.

According to a report by Jane's intelligence agency in 1996, the Kosovo Liberation Army, the most extreme of Albanian paramilitary groups, does not take into consideration the political or economic importance of its victims, nor does it seem at all capable of hurting its enemy. It has not come close to challenging the region's balance of military power. As late as November 1997, the KLA, officially classified by the US as a terrorist organisation, could, it has been estimated, call on the services of only 200 men.

Then, in a policy shift whose repercussions we are witnessing today, the West started to interfere big time. The US, Germany and Britain increasingly saw the KLA as a proxy force which could help them achieve their goal of destabilising and eventually removing from power the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, which showed no inclination to join Euro-Atlantic structures.

Over the following year, the KLA underwent a drastic makeover. The group was taken off the US State Department's list of terrorist organisations and, as with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan a decade or so earlier, became fully fledged freedom fighters. Large-scale assistance was given to the KLA by Western security forces. Britain organised secret training camps in northern Albania. The German secret service provided uniforms, weapons and instructors. The Sunday Times in Britain published a report stating that American intelligence agents admitted they helped to train the KLA before NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, Rugova's Democratic League, which supported negotiations with Belgrade, was given the cold shoulder.

When the KLA's campaign of violence, directed not only against Yugoslav state officials, Serb civilians and Albanian collaborators who did not support their extremist agenda, led to a military response from Belgrade, the British and Americans were ready to hand out the ultimatums.

During the 79-day NATO bombing of Yugoslavia that followed, the West made promises of independence to the KLA which, eight years on, are coming back to haunt them.

Recognising an independent Kosovo will push Serbia from the Western orbit as well as creating a real chance of war. And it will set a precedent: if the rights of self-determination for Kosovan Albanians are to be acknowledged, then what about the rights of self-determination for Serbs in Bosnia, who wish to join Serbia?
Doing a U-turn, and attempting to get independence postponed, runs the risk of violence from Kosovo's Albanian majority. It's an almighty mess, but one of the West's own making.

Had it not intervened in Yugoslav internal affairs 10 years ago, it is likely a peaceful compromise to the Kosovan problem would eventually have been found between the government in Belgrade and the Democratic League. Rugova's goal was independence for Kosovo from Serbia, but only with the agreement of all parties.

What is certain is that without Western patronage the KLA would never have grown to the force it eventually became. By championing the most hardline force in Kosovo, the West not only helped precipitate war, but made the issue of Kosovo much harder to solve.

It is ironic that for supporters of liberal intervention, Western actions in Kosovo are still seen to have been a great success. It was at the height of the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 that the then British prime minister, Tony Blair, made his famous speech at Chicago in which he outlined his doctrine of the international community.

Blair argued that the principle of non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states - long considered an important principle of international order - should be subject to revision. "I say to you: never fall again for the doctrine of isolationism," Blair pleaded.

But after surveying the global debris of a decade of Western interference, from the Balkans to Afghanistan and Iraq, is it any wonder that isolationism and observing the principle of non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states again seems so appealing?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Green City Girl's Suicidal Tendencies

I have written before of the campaign of harassment which has been waged against me in various forums, ever since I critically reviewed a pro-war book by the neo-con hedge-fund trading blogger Oliver Kamm in December 2005. The campaign has taken various forms, including the sending of malicious, pseudonymous emails to my commissioning editors, urging them to drop me as a columnist. One such email, written by a 'Mr George Courtenay', linked to defamatory allegations Oliver Kamm had made about me on his website and was also cced to Kamm. (Mr Courtenay's only footprints on cyber space was to defend Kamm after he had been criticised on a website). Investigations proved that, surprise, surprise 'George Courtenay' did not exist, and was merely an alias. Another aspect of the campaign was the malicious editing of my wikipedia page, which I have discussed here. One of the main culprits was a mysterious and highly obsessive individual named 'elena zam'. Zam showed interest in editing only two other wikipedia pages (this time favourably), those of Oliver Kamm and a translator named Anthea Bell. Anthea Bell is Oliver Kamm's mother. (elena zam has since sprung into action again on wikipedia as 'phildav 76' reveals in the comments section on another thread).

The campaign has also involved leaving defamatory comments about me in the comments section on websites where my articles appear. Now, prior to last October, the law offered little protection to those who had been defamed in this way: the terms of the Data Protection Act meant that newspapers were obliged to keep commenter's identities secret. But in a landmark ruling, the courts held that websites are liable to reveal the true identities of those who post libels under aliases.

Already the tide is turning against the internet cowards.

Mick Hall relates here the case of pro-Palestinian activist Tony Greenstein who was defamed on the website of Times columnist David Aaronovitch. Greenstein managed to force an apology out of both The Times and Aaronovitch as both played a part in an attempt to smear Tony as a racist and anti-semite when they allowed Aaronovitch’s Blog to be used as the vehicle for defamatory comments about Tony Greenstein.

Yet despite the changes in the law, and the fact that I have made it perfectly clear of my intention to make sure the individual/s concerned are bought before the police for their harassment of me, the sick and obsessive individual/s in question continues with their vendetta. The latest (incredibly pathetic) smear attempt was to leave defamatory comments about me (under the pseudonym 'green city girl' in the comments thread of a recent Guardian article I had written. Many of the commenters had written to say how much they liked and agreed with the article- it seems that Neil Clark receiving praise is far too much for my harasser to take. (Incredibly, the commenter's allegation involved editing of my wikipedia page- the very last topic I would have thought he would have been keen to draw attention to. )

Given the changes in the law, you really have to question the sanity of the individual/s in question. It seems that he is so overcome with bitterness towards me, that he is willing to jeopardise his liberty in order to try and smear me.
No longer can my mysterious harasser/s hide behind the cloak of pseudonymity. The person/s responsible will be named and shamed. And of course, they will be reported to the police.

This case has dragged on for far too long.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Let's return to 'The Bad Old Days'

As public support for renationalising our rip-off railway companies and privatised utilities grows by the day, so too does the negative propaganda about public ownership.
One of the worst examples of this occured on ITV's News at Ten on Wednesday night. The government, we were told by the reporter in question, was not too keen on nationalising Northern Rock because it would be like returning to the 'bad old days'. (There was another anti-nationalisation jibe on the BBC News, recorded by Media Lens).
Well, if the 'bad old days' refers to a time when you could just turn up at the railway station and travel anywhere you liked on a whim because the prices didn't cost and arm and a leg and when utility bills weren't a major factor in the household budget, then let's be having them.
And if like me, you really would like to bring back the 'bad old days', then here's the organisation for you.

Kevin: One of Us

Excited about the return of Kevin Keegan to English football? Me too. Here's my tribute to Keegan from the The Guardian's Comment is Free website.

Sometimes you hear news that makes you want to jump for joy. The release from jail of Nelson Mandela. The news that Tony Blair, after the longest farewell tour since Frank Sinatra, had finally vacated Downing Street. England regaining the Ashes.

Yesterday's announcement that Kevin Keegan (above) was returning to English football to manage Newcastle United was another such occasion.

Kevin Keegan is more than just a football manager: he is an example of how life should be lived: fearlessly, and flamboyantly - and always remaining true to one's principles.

Keegan's attack-minded teams are responsible for some of the most memorable matches seen in English football in the last 20 years. Who can ever forget Newcastle's 4-3 defeat to Liverpool in 1995/6 season (hailed by many as the greatest Premiership match ever), or 10-man Manchester City's thrilling comeback from 3-0 down to beat Tottenham 4-3 in the FA Cup four years ago?

In this age of spin and insincerity, Keegan's old-fashioned honesty shines like a beacon. Keegan resigned from the England manager's job in 2000 admitting that he had "come up short" in his tactical thinking. How many other failed England managers have been so frank?

Throughout his career in the game Keegan has always been a gracious loser. I was lucky enough to have been at the wonderfully entertaining Champions League match in 1996 when Keegan's Newcastle lost, rather unluckily, 3-2, to the Hungarian champions Ferencvàros in Budapest. Rather than blame the pitch or weather conditions (as Sir Alex Ferguson did when Manchester United lost 1-0 to another Hungarian outfit, Zalaegerszeg in 2002), Keegan instead paid warm tribute to his opponents - saying what a great night it had been for Hungarian football.

Keegan fully understands that one of the greatest myths about football is that fans want their team to win at all costs. The most important thing is that winning is done with style. Which FA Cup winning team will Chelsea fans remember more fondly in the years to come: Jose Mourinho's ultra-defensive outfit of 2007, who grinded out a 1-0 victory in the most boring final in living memory, or the charismatic side which KO'ed Don Revie's Leeds in 1970? QPR finished runners-up to Liverpool in the 1975/6 season, yet Dave Sexton's wonderfully freewheeling team is still more fondly remembered by neutrals today than the functional Aston Villa side that did win the title five years later. And despite losing the final, the team that football fans the world over remember most from the 1974 World Cup will always be Johann Cruyff's super-sexy Dutch outfit, and not the actual winners - West Germany.

Keegan, more than any other coach working today, subscribes to Danny Blanchflower's maxim "Football is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom". Which is why, even though he won no trophies for the club in his previous spell, Keegan's return was greeted with scenes of such unmitigated jubilation on Tyneside yesterday.

With his boyish enthusiasm and love of attacking football, Keegan is a throwback to the time when football really was the people's game. We fans relate to him because he quite clearly is one of us. In today's Guardian, Richard Williams recalls a personal memory of observing Keegan being drawn into conversation with a couple of supporters at Heathrow Airport. "Unusually for Keegan he looked drained, like a businessman at the end of a day of awkward meetings. He could have said a brief hello to the fans, signed an autograph or two and politely retreated into the contents of his briefcase. Instead he gave them the full 30 minutes and every sign of his utmost attention."

With his approachability, his total lack of cynicism and his cavalier philosophy, Keegan is gloriously out of step with the spirit of this dour, win at all costs, Gradgrindian age.

Which is why we love him so much.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The far from 'free' market

"Consider the experience of the last few weeks. At the weekend, new evidence emerged that the six private companies which control Britain's gas and electricity have been holding regular closed meetings and colluding to drive up prices and keep out competition, while preparing to declare record profits of £4.5bn - and this when only 4% of their customers believe they get the good deal that market competition was supposed to deliver. Britain's privatised utilities continue to do their best to confirm the 18th century economist Adam Smith's view that "people of the same trade seldom meet together ... but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices". Meanwhile, over the Christmas and New Year holidays, 200,000 passengers were left stranded because of overruns by the private contractors still tied to Network Rail and because private train operators in an expensive, overcrowded and fragmented industry didn't find it profitable to run services.
But despite such manifest failings, the government and wider political class is locked into an ideological mindset which can't conceive of a modern socialised alternative.
The Northern Rock implosion has highlighted the real nature of what's called the free market in modern capitalist economies - neither free nor transparent, and utterly dependent on state support."

Read the rest of Seumas Milne’s excellent piece on the reality of today’s ‘free market’ here. And if you think something needs to be done about this scandalous situation, then please lend your support to the new Campaign for Public Ownership.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Iran's Supreme Leader denounces nuclear weapons

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly announced that in principle, based on sharia (Islamic law), it is opposed to the production and use of nuclear weapons,” the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei (above) told IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei in Tehran on Saturday.

Many thanks to Martin Meenagh for this, unsurprisingly the story did not receive much publicity in the western media. The neocons have long sought to portray Iran as a theocratic dictatorship, a place where the mullahs call all the shots. But if that's true, surely the Supreme Leader's denouncement of nuclear weapons is of the utmost significance....?

Come on guys, you can't have it both ways.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Happy Birthday to a Comedy Great

It's one day late, but a very happy 74th birthday to the wonderful British comedy actor Richard Briers. To celebrate, here's a clip from that hugely under-rated 1980s sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles, in which Briers played the neurotic, deeply insecure Martin Brice, stalwart of Mole Valley Valves. You couldn't imagine a character more different from the happy-go-lucky Tom Good, yet Briers played the role to perfection. Regular readers will know I'm no supporter of the honours system,
but if we are to have one, why do we give knighthoods to self-obsessed bores like Salman Rushdie, but ignore those like Richard Briers who have brought happiness to millions? Oh, sorry, I forgot. Rushdie, unlike Richard Briers, is a neocon pin-up boy.

Enjoy the clip.

On A Deadly Disease called 'Neoconservatism'

A warmonger named Alan Johnson, writing on the Guardian website believes 'the disease of attacking doctrine termed neoconservative is endemic in the UK and the US'. Johnson goes on: "Neocon has morphed into an all-purpose insult for anyone who still believes that American power is inextricable from global stability and still thinks the muscular anti-totalitarian US interventionism that brought down Slobodan Milosevic has a place."

How tragic. Instead of attacking them, should of course we lavishing praise on those who have brought us so much death and destruction these past few years.

No, Alan. 'Neoconitis' is not the disease. Neoconservatism is. And it's very ,very deadly, as the poor souls in the photograph above will testify.

Monday, January 14, 2008

It's Time to End Serb-Bashing

This article of mine appears on The Guardian's 'Comment is Free' site.

On Cif last week Anna di Lellio, who was a political adviser to the former Kosovan prime minister and one-time Kosovan Liberation Army chief of staff, Agim Çeku, claimed that "Serbian nationalism briefly subdued after the fall of Milosevic" is back in full force with its "old tactics". Di Lellio offers very little evidence to back up her assertion, except a declaration from the Serbian parliament that - horror of horrors - the country is determined to defend its territorial integrity in compliance with international law.

What is undoubtedly "back in force" with all its "old tactics" is Serb-bashing, of which Di Lellio is only one of many culprits in the western media (including, it must sadly be said, Cif). The Serbs have been demonised not because they were the party most responsible for the wars of secession in the 1990s - they were not - but because they have consistently got in the way of the west's hegemonic ambitions in the region.

The west wanted Yugoslavia destroyed, with one militarily strong, independent state replaced by several weak and divided Nato/IMF/EU protectorates. "In post-cold war Europe no place remained for a large, independent-minded socialist state that resisted globalisation," admitted George Kenney, former Yugoslavia desk officer of the US state department.

The Serbs' great "crime" was not reading the script. Out of all the groups in the former Yugoslavia, the Serbs, whose population was spread across the country, had most to lose from the country's disintegration. At a meeting at The Hague in October 1991, the leaders of the six constituent republics were presented with a paper entitled "The End of Yugoslavia from the International Scene" by European Community "arbitrators". Only one of them - the Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic - refused to sign his country's death certificate. "Yugoslavia was not created by the consensus of six men and cannot be dissolved by the consensus of six men," he declared.

For his pro-Yugoslav stance, Milosevic was rewarded with over a decade of demonisation in the west's media. Despite his regular election victories in a country where 21 political parties freely operated, Milosevic was (and is) routinely labelled a "dictator", a description which even his consistently hostile biographer Adam LeBor concedes is "incorrect". Some of the attempts to incriminate Milosevic for events he played no part in have been ludicrous: in a Guardian article in 2006 Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European studies, wrote of Slovenes "trying to break away from Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia in 1991", even though the leader of Yugoslavia at the time was the Croat Ante Markovic (a correction to the claim was published).

In the standard western rewrite of history, Slobo and the Serbs were also to blame for the break-out of war in Bosnia. Yet the man who lit the blue touch paper for that brutal conflict war was not Milosevic, nor the Bosnian-Serb leaders, but the US ambassador Warren Zimmerman, who persuaded Bosnian separatist Alija Izetbegovic to renege on his signing of the 1992 Lisbon agreement, which had provided for the peaceful division of the republic.

Even after the 1995 Dayton agreement brought an end to a totally unnecessary conflict, there was to be no let up in the west's Serbophobia. In Kosovo, the west's strategic objectives meant them siding with the hardliners of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a group, officially classified as a terrorist organisation by the US state department.

No one, certainly no Serb of my acquaintance, denies that Serb forces committed atrocities in the Balkan wars and that those responsible should be held accountable in a court of law (though not one financed by the powers who illegally bombed their country less than 10 years ago). But what makes Serbs so incensed is that whereas Serbian atrocities have received the full glare of the western media spotlight, atrocities committed by other parties in the conflict are all but ignored.

While massive media attention focused on the relatively low-scale tit-for-tat hostilities between Yugoslav forces and the KLA in 1998/9, Operation Storm - where an estimated 200,000 Serbs were driven out of Croatia in an operation which received logistical and technical support from the US - is hardly mentioned. No publicity, either, for massacres such as the slaughter, on Orthodox Christmas Day 1993, of 49 Serbs in the village of Kravice, near Srebrenica. The town recently held a commemorative service to mark the 15th anniversary of the atrocity: no members of "the international community" were present.

Now, with Kosovo again in the headlines, the Serb-bashers are once more out in force. Once again, the dispute is being portrayed in Manichean terms. While much is made of the treatment of Kosovan Albanians by Yugoslav forces in 1998/9, little is said about the KLA's campaign of intimidation which led to an exodus of an estimated 200,000 Serbs, Roma, Bosnians, Jews and other minorities from the province after "the international community" moved in.

"Nowhere in Europe is there such segregation as Kosovo ... Nowhere else are there so many 'ethnically pure' towns and villages scattered across such a small province. Nowhere is there such a level of fear for so many minorities that they will be harassed simply for who they are. For the Serbs and 'other minorities', who suffer from expulsion from their homes, discrimination and restrictions on speaking their own language, the pattern of violence they have endured for so long may be about to be entrenched as law in the new Kosovo, as the future status talks continue."

So concludes the Minority Rights Group report on "liberated" Kosovo - but hey, let's brush that one under the carpet because it doesn't blame Serbs.

The double standards imposed where Serbs are concerned are breathtaking.

Independence for Kosovo is a simple issue of self-determination, we are repeatedly told. Yet the same principle does not apply to Bosnian Serbs who wish to join up with Serbia.

Instead of championing Kosovan secessionism in contravention of international law, Britain and the west should, in fact, be reconsidering its policy towards Serbia. It's too late to undo past crimes - such as the barbarous 1999 Nato bombing campaign - but changing its policy on Kosovo would at least be a start on redressing the injustices of the last 20 years. It's high time we gave the Serbs a break.

With friends like these....

Do you use the social networking site 'Facebook'? If so, Have a read of this brilliant expose of the ruthless neocon ideology behind it- by Tom Hodgkinson in today's Guardian.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Buy back our trains and end this chaos

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

Don't forget, if you are of like mind and believe that it's time to end Britain's Great Privatisation Rip-Off, then join the new Campaign for Public Ownership.

"Christmas Rail chaos leaves thousands stranded"...... ‘Scandal of 27% rise in electricity bills”...... “Rail fares to rise by more than twice the rate of inflation”. Just some of the depressing newspaper headlines that we have seen in the last few weeks.

Nearly thirty years after the privatisation process was started in Britain under Mrs Thatcher, its negative effects are becoming more and more apparent. Supporters of privatisation said it would reduce prices and improve services. But, at least in regard to our railways and public utilities, such as gas, water and electricity, the opposite has occurred.

Britain’s privatised railways are by far and away the most expensive in Europe, despite receiving a record £6.3bn in taxpayers subsidy last year- four times more than the state-owned British Rail received. In Britain, a next day peak-time 200 mile return journey ticket costs £202. In Belgium, just across the North Sea, it costs less than £24.

Not only are Britain’s trains the most expensive, our railway system is easily the most inefficient. Overcrowding is a major problem, because the railway companies refuse to order extra carriages unless their contracts are extended. As a consequence thousands of commuters are forced to stand every day despite paying a fortune for their season tickets.

Delays are commonplace: last year nearly one in five trains operated by First Great Western failed to arrive on time. Yet, despite the deteriorating services, prices continue to rise. First Great Western, the train company with the worst reliability record of all, hiked fares by almost 10% in the New Year, raising the price of a standard open return from Bristol to London to a staggering £137.

Some argue that better regulation of the train companies is the answer. But the basic problem is privatisation itself. Railways in Britain are no longer run as a public service, but to make as much money as possible for shareholders.

Over Christmas we saw a good example of what this means in practice. Britain was the only major country in Europe which did not operate a train service on Christmas Day or Boxing Day. The reason: the privatised railway companies did not think it was profitable enough to do so. “The train companies are not in the business of running services they know will lose money. Undoubtedly there would be some demand, but not enough to justify a commercial service”, explained a spokesman for the train companies.

For our profiteering railway firms, fleecing passengers has become an essential part of their business.

For example, South West Trains, Britain's biggest rail company, which makes profits of more than £1m a week, told its guards they will be disciplined and possibly dismissed if they show discretion to passengers who are unable to buy tickets before boarding because of long queues at stations.

The same company was accused last year of secretly programming its ticket machines not to sell cheaper GroupSave fares: the scandal coming to light when a group of Falklands war veterans on their way to London were charged more than double the cheapest fare available.

When it comes to the railways, one of the standard arguments in favour of privatisation, that it will increase competition, simply does not apply. Railways are a natural monopoly: how on earth can you have competition on the line between London and Bristol? The fact that railways will always require large levels of public subsidies was the reason why even the staunchly Thatcherite Transport Minister Nicholas Ridley decided against privatisation in the 1980s, but that didn’t stop John Major’s government pushing ahead with their ill-thought out scheme to break up our railway network.

It’s a similar story where our public utilities are concerned. While it’s true that gas and electricity prices are rising throughout the world, in Britain the impact is greater because our energy providers are all public limited companies. Like their railway counterparts, the main concern of the energy firms is their shareholders, and not householders struggling to pay rocketing fuel bills.

Announcing half-year profits of £533m last August, boosted by the delay in passing price cuts on to consumers after wholesale gas prices fell, Roger Carr, the Chairman of British Gas’ parent company Centrica, admitted that shareholder value was “top of the agenda”.

Bringing the utilities back into public ownership, would mean that there would be no shareholder dividends to pay and prices for consumers would therefore be lower.

Opponents of nationalisation claim it is ‘left-wing’ and argue that such a move would be turning the clock back. But renationalising our railways and utilities is not a matter of ideology but sheer common sense.

Britain is the only country in Europe which has a fully privatised railway. Even in Switzerland, regarded as one of the most free market countries in the world, the main railway company is publicly owned.

As anyone who has spent any time travelling on Europe’s railways will vouch, trains in the continent are not only much cheaper, but much more reliable than back home. And, you almost always get a seat.

Despite the overwhelming public support for bringing the railways back into public ownership, none of Britain’s three leading political parties currently advocates such a measure. If

If we want the interests of ordinary members of the public to come first again, then our railways and utilities should be renationalised and run, not to make as much profit as possible, but for the good of the whole community.

It’s time to end Britain’s Great Privatisation Rip-Off.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Campaign whose time has come

Did you spend time stranded over Christmas due to the lack of train services? Are you struggling to pay your gas and electric bills? Are you frustrated by waiting for trains that never arrive, or when they do, having to stand, even though you have paid a fortune for your ticket? And are you frustrated that despite all the talk from politicians, things just keep on getting worse?

Then join the Campaign for Public Ownership.

Regular readers of my work will know that a consistent theme has been to highlight and attack the disastrous effects of privatisation, with particular reference to the railways and the utilities. Well, the time for complaining is over; now it's time for action. I'll be writing more about the Campaign and its goals in a series of articles over the next few weeks. The Campaign has a temporary website here: a new website, with full links, articles and details of how you can get involved, will be up shortly.

The Campaign for Public Ownership aims to harness the growing public dissatisfaction with privatisation and campaign for a reversal of the disastrous policies of the last twenty-nine years. The Campaign will expose the cost to the public of privatisation, and highlight the inefficiencies and profiteering of the privatised companies. We also strongly urge that the British government does not give a penny of taxpayers money to a privately owned company without the public receiving equity in that company.

The Campaign will seek to counter the negative propaganda about public ownership put about by those with a vested financial interest in privatisation.

Although the main focus of The Campaign’s activities will be the reversal of privatisation in Britain, we will work with like-minded groups in other countries, who are fighting against privatisation. We will also challenge the pro-privatisation policies being imposed by unelected, undemocratic bodies such as the European Commission, the World Bank and the IMF.

It’s time to bring to an end the Great Privatisation Rip-Off.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Spoils of War

Still think he did it to 'liberate' the people of Iraq, or because he genuinely believed Saddam had WMD?
As one of the commenters on the thread so correctly points out, the former British Prime Minister has made a killing.... in more ways than one.

In Memoriam: Rangi Ram

What do you remember about thirty years ago today- 11th Jan 1978? I remember the day quite well, but for a sad reason. I came home from school to be told the news that the actor Michael Bates who played Indian bearer Rangi Ram, in one of my favourite tv programmes- It Ain’t Half Hot Mum had died of cancer. He was only 57.

Rangi Ram was one of the funniest characters is one of the funniest comedy series of all time. (A series that, to the great shame of the humourless types who now run the BBC and who think that repulsive 'let's sneer at the plebs' shows like ‘Little Britain‘ represent ‘comedy‘, has not been repeated on terrestrial television since 1984).

Bates, who was born in India and spoke fluent Urdu, played his role quite brilliantly. Although IAHHM carried on until 1981, the series undoubtedly lost something when Bates died. As a tribute to Bates, here’s a classic clip from IAHHM in which Rangi Ram is asked, by bullying RSM Williams (played so memorably by the incomparable Windsor Davis) in no uncertain terms, where his loyalties lie.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Bates always ended the show by reciting a wise ‘old Hindu proverb'. There were many very memorable ones, but one of my all-time favourites is:“ house with red lamp over door is not always headquarters of Communist Party". Very wise words indeed for radically minded visitors to Amsterdam and Bangkok.

Enjoy the clip and remember one of Britain’s great comic actors.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Big Business and Britain's Brainwashing

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

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye” wrote Antoine de Saint Exupery, in his classic tale The Little Prince.

I thought of de Saint Exupery’s wise words when I recently returned to Britain after spending some time in Europe.

Britain may be at the same level- or even ’ahead’ of the rest of Europe when it comes to the latest mobile phones or computer games, but, when it comes to the most important things in life- the quality of human interaction, solidarity between people and a rich cultural life- it sadly lags a long way behind.

It does so, not because people in Britain are inherently less sociable or less intelligent than in other European countries, but because, in Britain, we have easily the most rapacious, dehumanising and demoralising capitalist system that exists anywhere on the continent.

What British-style turbo-capitalism wants is not a cultured, well-educated population who read books and discuss political and sociological issues, but materialistic, under-educated consumers: people who will unleash their frustrations at living such unfulfilled, alienated lives not through political agitation and questioning the structure of society but by getting "smashed" each and every weekend.

As long as the masses carry on buying the consumer goods that Nazi-style marketing techniques brainwash them into believing they must possess, turbo-capitalism is content. Concepts such as social interaction, solidarity, culture and education for education’s sake don’t come into it, because they simply don‘t translate into profits for the greedy companies that call all the shots.

To demonstrate the grip that big business has on Britain today just think back to the scenes on Boxing Day, when thousands of shoppers fought among themselves to get the best ‘bargains’ in the sales. In the rest of Europe, Boxing Day is known as the second Day of Christmas- a time for rest and reflection-only in Britain is it turned into a shopping orgy.

The Boxing Day scenes were almost as depressing as the statistic that 4.4m Britons spent Christmas Day shopping online, spending £84m on new purchases.

The dumbing down of television and films is an integral part of the turbo-capitalist scheme that seeks to reduce all of us to materialistic, narcissistic zombies.

The process is not just happening in Britain, but in other countries foolish enough to follow our economic path.

In an article in the New Statesman, my wife Zsuzsanna, who grew up under socialism in Hungary in the 1970s and 80s, compared cultural life then and now. Saturday night prime time when Zsuzsanna was growing up invariably meant a Jules Verne adventure, a variety show and a live theatre performance. Foreign imports included the BBC‘s classic serial The Forsyte Saga and David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries whilst one of the most popular and talked about programmes of the entire period was ‘Poetry for Everyone’, in which a famous actor or actress would each night recite a different poem.

Today, nineteen years on from ‘regime change‘, the position could not be more different. TV schedules abound with soap operas, sensationalist-style news programmes, and of course ‘reality’ tv. Prime time terrestrial television in Hungary in the 21st century no longer means poetry recitals, but a choice between ‘Big Brother’ or the equally vapid Hungarian version- ‘Real World’.

The question which must always be asked when try to understand why these changes occurred is, who beneifts? The answer is the big multinational corporations, whose only interest is profit maximisation, regardless of the social costs. The global corporations and financial institutions which play such a dominant role in our lives today don’t want societies of well-educated, reflective people who read and enjoy poetry, debate political ideologies and discuss the works of Aldous Huxley or Carl Jung, but a nation of materialistic, intellectually shallow consumers, obsessed by brand marks and designer logos.

The cost which such a rapacious and soul-destroying economic system exacts on our collective mental health is enormous. More than two million Britons are on antidepressants, a million on Class A drugs. Binge drinking, and what the great German social psychologist Erich Fromm called "acts of destruction" - violence, self-abuse and vandalism - have reached record levels. The Samaritans report that five million people in Britain are "extremely stressed". And last year, a Unicef report listed Britain's brands obsessed children as the unhappiest in Europe.

Elsewhere in Europe things are better because there are still fences put around areas where big business is not allowed to go. Supermarkets and shops stay closed on Sundays- and in many countries on Saturday afternoons too. People still celebrate traditional festivals, which have not become commercialised spend-fests. Children are still treated as children, not as young adults to be bombarded with advertising.

Neighbourhood bars still predominate, places where people of all ages can meet and socialise, or play cards or chess- in contrast to the plc owned ‘horizontal drinking’ chain bars in Britain which only want us to drink as much as possible in as short as possible time.

Yet despite its clear advantages, the mixed economy Rhineland model is under pressure from the more aggressive Anglo-Saxon form of capitalism which has done so much damage to Britain‘s social fabric.

In the interests of our common humanity, it is imperative that the turbo capitalist model be derailed as quickly as possible and replaced by one which puts the real needs of people, and not of capital, first.

It might mean less profits for the few, but for our increasingly dysfunctional and unhappy society, it’s the only path to salvation.

Payback time for Tony

Having spent ten years opening up new markets and making the world safe for Wall Street investment banks, don't you think that JP Morgan's $1m dollars a year salary for the former British Prime Minister is a bit mean?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

How to respond to sledging

Leo McKinstry has an excellent piece in the Daily Telegraph on the subject of 'sledging', the name given to the verbal intimidation of opponents in cricket.

The best way to respond to sledging is a dose of the same, as the Zimbabwean tail-end batsman Eddo Brandes once found when facing the great Aussie pace bowler Glenn McGrath (above). Frustrated that Brandes had somehow managed to keep his wicket intact, McGrath walked up to him and asked: "Hey, how come you're so fat?" Brandes instantly replied: "Because every time I make love to your wife, she gives me a biscuit."

What a great response!

Iraq: January 2008

The reality of the surge is this: the number of people displaced from their homes has quadrupled to over 2 million, and detention without trial has risen dramatically (the US alone holds 25,000 prisoners). Another 2 million have fled the country since the occupation began - and about 30,000 have returned, mostly because of lack of cash and visa restrictions. In oil-rich Iraq, electricity is now available in Baghdad for only eight hours a day, half the level before the invasion; unemployment is over 60%; food rations are being cut; corruption is rampant; and 43% of the population now lives on less than a dollar a day.

You can read here the rest of Seumas Milne’s piece on why the neocon claim that 'the surge is working', is only the latest fantasy tale from those who gave us similar fantasies such as 'Iraqi WMDs', 'Iran’s nuclear weapons programme' and Milosevic‘s 'genocide'.

New Hampshire votes to destroy America

Well, what other conclusion can you come to when they vote for two warmongering candidates who only offer more of the same disastrous blood-drenched foreign policy?
The neocon dream is a Clinton v McCain Presidential election- an election they can't lose. The voters of New Hampshire last night made that depressing prospect much more likely.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Some 2008 Crystal ball- gazing


Welsh sage 'Old Ifan' a.k.a. Robert Griffiths, has been gazing at his crystal ball in the Morning Star and here is a selection of events that he forsees:

FEBRUARY: Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair calls for a military strike against Iran. "When we claimed that Iraq had WMD, we we wrong. Now that US Intelligence say Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapons programme, what's to say that we're not wrong again?", the devout Christian will ask.

MAY: Following a successful appeal for fraud and racketerring, Conrad Black (above) is offered the post of Labour Party treasurer. "After the hands-off style of Jack Dromey, Labour needs someone with a more hand-on approach to help us out of our financial hole," laughs the 21-year-old media consultant who is Brown's deputy chief of staff.

SEPTEMBER: This year's Labour Party conference is sponsored by Northern Rock. "It's the least we could do," chief executive Nick Moolah-Taxhaven says in a live satellite link from his Cayman Islands estate.

Sounds pretty-far fetched, I hear you say. But who would have predicted in the 1980s that Labour, when returned to power, would launch a succession of illegal wars of aggression, carry on with Thatcherite privatisation policies and preside over the biggest rise in inequality for almost a century?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Who's threatening whom?

Iran today alleged that US vessels threatened three of its warships that were patrolling in international waters off the coast of Florida. Well, it didn't actually, for the simple reason that the above event didn't happen. But what did happen was that Pentagon officials alleged that Iranian warships 'threatened' three US Navy vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, between Iraq and Iran.
As always, all we need to do to understand the arrogance of empire is to reverse the situation: can anyone imagine what the US response would be if Iranian warships were patrolling in international waters off the coast of Florida? The reaction of the Pentagon to today's events is almost as hypocritical- and laughable- as the oft repeated accusation that Iran is 'interfering' in internal Iraqi affairs. Goodness me, no one could ever accuse the US and Britain of doing that, could they?

The Christmas Day Massacre That the West Forgets

Svetlana of Byzantine Sacred Art blog and The Exile have excellent posts today to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the horrific massacre of 49 Bosnian Serb civilians in the village of Kravice, near Srebrenica by anti-Yugoslav, pro-separatist Muslim forces in 1993. The massacre would have been a terrible atrocity whenever it took place, but the fact that the attack took place at dawn on the day that Serbs celebrate Christmas Day, made it even more devilish.

There was a memorial service at Kravice today, but, surprise, surprise, no members of the so-called 'international community' were present. The reason, as The Exile so correctly points out, is brutally simple.

"Unlike the Croats and the Muslims, the Serbs were not willing to subordinate their interests to the wishes of globalised capitalism: thus their deaths do not count.
They didn't count when the Croats launched Operation Storm in 1995 to ethnically cleanse over 200,000 Serbs from their homes, an operation that had logistical support from the USA, so why should anyone care about 49 dead on Christmas Day?

The lesson is clear: subordinate yourselves to globalisation and you can do as you please politically. Oppose globalisation and it will demonise you and send its creatures in to kill you."

If you doubt The Exile's analysis, have a trawl of leading neocon and 'liberal' interventionist websites and blogs tonight and see how many have posted about the anniversary of the Kravice massacre. I'd wager it would be the same number as the number of people currently serving prison sentences for taking part in the massacre.

In other words, a big fat zero.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Happy New Year (and Merry Christmas too!)

A very Happy New Year to all readers of this blog. And a very Merry Christmas too to readers in Serbia, Russia, Belarus and Georgia, who celebrate Christmas tomorrow, on the 7th January.

Already, the year has got off to a great start with the humiliating defeat of the neo-cons' favoured Democratic Party candidate Hillary 'The Hawk' Clinton in the Iowa primary. The neocons idea of a 'democratic' election is one in which both leading parties or candidates are signed up to their agenda: like the 2005 election in Britain when the 'choice' was between a pro-war, pro-big business Labour Party led by Tony Bliar and a pro-war pro-big business Tory Party led by Michael 'Dracula' Howard. The PNAC crowd confidently expected a 2008 US Presidental run-off between Hillary the Hawk and either John 'Bomb, Bomb, Iran' McCain or Rudolph Giuliani: now their plans have taken a battering. But elsewhere, the news in 2008 is not so good. Mick Hall has some excellent analysis on the situation in Kenya, while France and several German states have aped Britain by introducing draconian bans on smoking in public places. And, by way of wishing a 'Happy New Year' to its British customers, the rip-off utility company npower has announced price rises of up to 27%. Hasn't privatisation of our public utilities- and our railways- delivered such wonderful benefits to the consumer!
More on that, and other recent news stories, later.