Thursday, February 26, 2009

Exclusive: The world's first Neo-Con - English translation service

The internet is full of dictionaries that can translate words and sometimes even phrases, from one language to another. But there's one glaring omission. None of the online dictionaries I have yet seen feature Neo-Con.

Neo-Con may be a very rare language- spoken by no more than 200 people worldwide- and it is undoubtedly dying out. But I think it's a pity that there's no online Neo-Con - English dictionary.

That is, until now. As a free service to readers, I intend to offer, on this blog, the world's first Neo-Con- English translation service.

Neo-Con is a language like no other. Because it's speakers never, ever mean what they say.

If a Neo-Con speaker says 'Iran has a nuclear weapons programme' he/she really means 'Iran has no nuclear weapons programme'.

If a Neo-Con speaker says 'Saddam Hussein's Iraq possesses WMD and is a threat to the west', he/she really means 'Saddam Hussein's Iraq possesses no WMD and is not a threat to the west'.

If a neo-con speaker says 'Slobodan Milosevic was a dictator who started six wars', he/she really means 'Slobodan Milosevic was a democratically elected leader who started no wars'.

In time I hope to set up a website which will automatically translate words and phrases used by Neo-Con speakers into English. But in the meantime, I'll be translating Neo-Con articles on an ad hoc basis.

To kick off, here's a translation of a letter, written in Neo-Con by the writer William Shawcross to The Daily Telegraph.

SIR – Andrew Pierce (Comment, February 20) condemns Tony Blair for taking Britain into Iraq: “the most disastrous British foreign policy foray since Suez”. Iraq, he says, is a “stain” for which Mr Blair “will never be forgiven”.
How so? The invasion rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, a tyrant who had killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims, at home and abroad. Serious mistakes by the occupiers were brutally exploited by al-Qaeda and other Islamist enemies of Iraq, but that does not mean that Mr Blair is to blame for the suicide bombers.

Thanks largely to the tactics of General David Petraeus, accepted by President Bush, those ideologues have (at least for now) been defeated. Iraqis have just conducted the most democratic elections ever to have taken place in the Arab world. The results strengthened the secular parties, not the religious extremists.
The Iraqis I know don’t excoriate Mr Blair or Mr Bush; they recognise that their chance for a decent future could never have arisen had Saddam and his gangster sons been allowed to remain in power.
William Shawcross
London W2

Here's a translation of Shawcross' letter, from Neo-Con to English.

How so? The invasion got rid of Saddam Hussein, a man who stood in the way of US hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East. Iraq also possessed very large oil reserves which the US wanted to control.

Iraq’s elections were not the most democratic elections ever to have taken place in the Arab world: those took place in Palestine in 2006, but as the ‘wrong side’ won those elections, we don’t acknowledge them to have been democratic.

The war has been great for corporate profiteers and has also removed from power a supporter of the Palestinian cause.

I know about five or six Iraqis.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Criminal Conspiracy

A propos of Justice Minister Jack Straw’s shameful decision to veto the release of minutes that were taken in the Blair Cabinet meetings that led up to the invasion of Iraq, and HM Opposition's support for his decision, Mick Hall writes:

One would have expected today’s British newspapers to be full of this attempt by the Government and Tory opposition to deny the right of the British people to know what their politicians got up to in this vital period. Yet not one of the three main UK broadsheets carries this story on their front page.

The Times leads with a government powder-puff about forcing the train franchisees to cut fares. The Guardian led with a ‘may happen' tale about the “Fight against Terror spells end of privacy,” alongside a large photo of a statue of Betty’s mum, which this bastion of liberal democracy felt the need to repeat on page 5. The Daily Telegraph leads with Betty’s mum’s statue, plus what amounts to fillers about strokes linked to the number of cups of tea we drink; a piece of nonsense about savers withdrawing their cash as interest rates slide, and council tax being raised this April.

Not only should the papers have led with this story it was in the public interest that they did so.

It is becoming increasingly clear that there was a conspiracy between the leaders of the Labour government and the Conservative party to support Bush’s criminal adventure in Iraq. That this coalition is still in place became clear from the Conservative front bench’s behavior in the Commons yesterday.

Mick is absolutely right. Any real opposition would have made great political capital out of Jack Straw's shameful decision, as I pointed out yesterday. But in one-party Britain the one thing we do not have is a real opposition.

Iraq was a criminal conspiracy on a monster scale- one which has led to the deaths of up to 1m people. And the conspirators must not only be swept from the corridors of power, they must be held to answer for their crimes before a court of law.

Don't think it will ever be done? Don't be disheartened.

Remember, we are the many and they are the few.

It's about time we made our superior numbers count.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

'New Labour' and 'New' Tories: Spot the Difference

Another day and yet more evidence, as if we needed it, that we in Britain are living in a one-party state.

Jack Straw, surprise surprise, announces that he would take the unprecedented step of vetoing the release of cabinet minutes relating to the decision to invade Iraq.

The Guardian reports:

The justice secretary made his announcement in response to a decision from the information tribunal, which last month ordered the publication of the minutes of two cabinet meetings, held on 13 and 17 March 2003.
It is the first time the government has used its power to veto the release of documents under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act .
In a statement to MPs, Straw said he had not taken the decision "lightly".

He added that the public interest in disclosure of the minutes could not "supplant the public interest in maintaining the integrity of our system of government".
"It is a necessary decision to protect the public interest in effective cabinet government," he said.

(a translation of the last sentence into honest ie non-politician's English:
"It is a necessary decision as otherwise the public would see how they were lied to and tricked into supporting a blatantly illegal war sold on a fradulent prospectus".)

Now, you might have thought that HM Opposition would have made great political capital out of Straw's shameful decision.

You might have thought they would have called for the minutes to be published, asking what the government had to hide.

But of course, not in One-Party Britain.

Yes, you've guessed it, Straw's shameful decision was "supported by the Tories", with shadow spokesman Dominic Grieve's only complaint being that Straw should have ruled out release of the minutes a long time ago.

It's a similar scenario with the planned privatisation of the Royal Mail. The government's plans are hugely unpopular and are opposed by 75% of the British public. Yet what is the policy of H.M.Opposition (and the Lib Dems too)?

Yes, that's right. To support the sell-off.

The Daily Telegraph informs us that the government has the support of Shadow business secretary Ken Clarke, a former postal minister who failed to persuade Margaret Thatcher to privatise the service when she was prime minister. Clarke urged Lord Mandelson not to "cave in".

Throughout history dictatorial systems have created their own opposition in order to give their regime the semblance of democracy. Can anyone, looking at the whole range of issues in which the Labour, the Conservatives (and the Lib Dems) are singing from the same hymn sheet, seriously argue that this hasn't happened in Britain as well?

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Great Royal Mail Betrayal

This column of mine appears in the Morning Star. You can also read it at the website of the Campaign for Public Ownership.

If you're among the 75% of Britons opposed to the planned privatisation of the Royal Mail- and you believe in the renationalisation of Britain's railways, transport, infrastructure and public utilities, and the end to the creeping privatisation of the NHS, then please get involved in the CPO's campaigns.

A royal disgrace

First they came for the aerospace industry. Then the oil. After that electricity, gas and water. Then the railways. Then air traffic control. Thirty years after the great theft of Britain's national assets was launched and the corporate profiteers still aren't satisfied. Now they want Royal Mail.

The three leading contenders for a 49.9 per cent stake in the Royal Mail are Dutch postal operator TNT, Deutsche Post subsidiary DHL and private equity firm CVC Capital Partners. The Sunday Express informs us that "TNT and CVC are serious in their intentions."

In fact, CVC is very serious in its intentions - it has been lobbying the government to sell off a stake in Royal Mail since 2005.

Founded in 1981, CVC describes itself as a "global private equity and investment advisory firm headquartered in Luxembourg with a network of 19 offices across Europe, Asia and the USA."

To see how a CVC-owned Royal Mail might operate, we need only look at the way the company ran another British institution it acquired, along with another private equity firm Permira - the Automobile Association.

Since its transformation from a mutual organisation to one owned by private equity sharks, the whole ethos of this once much-loved British institution has changed.
Over 3,000 staff have been laid off. The organisation consequently slumped from first to third place for response times.

In 2006, the AA chief executive conceded on an audio tape leaked to a national newspaper that the slimmed-down workforce was struggling to get to stranded motorists.

The prospective sell-off of the Royal Mail is already providing lucrative business for some.

TNT is being advised by the international law firm Allen & Overy, while CVC is working with Clifford Chance, the largest legal firm in the world. TNT has reportedly been sounding out investment bankers to advise it, including new Labour's favourite money men at Goldman Sachs.

And what do the British public think of the planned sell-off? Not a lot. According to a new poll, around 75 per cent of Britons who had heard of the possibility of Royal Mail being sold opposed the idea.

The latest news is that the government, faced with the possible rebellion of 130 Labour MPs, may yet decide to drop its plans for privatisation.

Is Britain a democracy or a country where capital always gets what it wants? We'll soon find out.

How the pendulum's swung

THIS month marks the 115th anniversary of former Tory PM Harold Macmillan's birth.
He famously lambasted Margaret Thatcher in 1985 for selling off the family silver and was among a group of one nation Tories whose thinking was shaped by the horrors of World War I and depression.

Under Macmillan's premiership, the welfare state expanded and Britain's large publicly owned sector, which included not only the commanding heights of the economy but also a travel agent and pubs in Carlisle, remained intact.

I'm sure that if "Supermac" and his fellow one nation Tories were to come back to life and engage in political debate, they would be denounced in the editorials of The Times and Daily Telegraph as "hard-leftists" for their pro-mixed economy views and opposition to Thatcherite economics.

Doesn't it show you have far the pendulum has swung when the grouse-moor Tories of 50years ago were further to the left than today's Labour Party?

Czechs take leaf from British book

YOU would have thought that, after the disastrous example of airport privatisation in Britain, no-one in their right mind would think of following suit.

But that's exactly what the neoliberal fanatics currently in charge of the Czech Republic are doing.

The Czech government - yes, that's the same one that enthusiastically supports the siting of the US anti-missile defence system in the country and backs the banning of the Young Communist League because it is in favour of public ownership - is keen to flog off Prague Airport, despite the fact it earns around 100 million euros (£99m) for the Czech state coffers every year.

Once again, there'll be rich pickings for Western capital. We are told that Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, NM Rothschild and JP Morgan are all in the frame to advise the Czech government on the 3 billion euros (£2.6bn) sale. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar is 80

This piece of mine appears in The Daily Express.

Today, very few people remember the film stars Emil Jannings and Janet Gaynor.

But the duo will always hold an important place in film history, as they were the winners of the very first Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Actress.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded in 1927, but it was not until the following year that the idea came for recognising merit in the film industry. Studios were invited to submit lists of films released between 1st August 1927- 31st July 1928 in 12 categories, the winners decided by a team of judges.

And it was on the 18th February 1929, exactly 80 years ago this week, that the very first results were announced.

The inaugural Awards ceremony, held at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood, was a far cry from the much-hyped, multi-million dollar Oscar ceremonies of today. Just 250 people attended, at a cost of $5 each, with the event hosted by film star Douglas Fairbanks and director William C. De Mille (elder brother of Cecil B). It didn’t take long, however, for the Awards to gain in prestige.

From the beginning the winners were awarded a gold-plated statuette. But the trophies didn’t officially get the name of Oscars until 1939; the origin of the name is thought to derive from Margaret Herrick, the wife of the Academy’s Executive Secretary, who reportedly said that the statuette reminded her of her Uncle Oscar.

In 1941 the Academy adopted the famous sealed-envelope system of announcing the winners, after the Los Angeles Times had broken the embargo by revealing the results in its evening edition on the day of the awards.

The early Academy Awards ceremonies were broadcast live on radio, but in 1953 they were televised live for the first time. In 1970, an estimated 43 per cent of households in America watched the ceremony live- an all-time record. Today, though there are many other film awards, the Academy Awards remain the most important. “In the myth of cinema, the Oscar is the supreme prize,” said Italian director Federico Fellini.

As the film industry’s most illustrious names gather for the 81st Academy Awards ceremony, to be held in the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood, on Sunday, here are some interesting facts you may or may not know about the most famous awards in the world.

Three films have won 11 Oscars: Ben Hur (1959); Titanic (1998) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Katherine Hepburn is the most successful actress, winning four Best Actress Oscars; while eight actors have won two Best Actor Oscars, among them Daniel Day- Lewis, Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy, the only man to win the Best Actor award two years running.

Some of the famous names who failed to win an Oscar in their careers include Richard Burton (seven nominations), Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Judy Garland.
Director Alfred Hitchcock was nominated five times, but failed to win while British actress Deborah Kerr was nominated six times. The record for most unsuccessful nominations is British actor Peter O’Toole, eight times a loser.

The oldest person to win an Oscar was Jessica Tandy, who won Best Actress Award in 1990 at the age of 80 for her role in Driving Miss Daisy. The youngest Oscar winner was Shirley Temple, who won a Special Award for Outstanding Contribution in 1934 at the age of six.

While winning an Oscar is the greatest ambition of most in the film industry, two actors have refused the award. George C. Scott, who earlier had declined a nomination for his role in The Hustler, declined the 1970 Best Actor award for his role in Patton saying “The whole thing is a goddam meat parade. I want none of it”. In 1973, Marlon Brando turned down his Best Actor Award for his role in ‘The Godfather’ in protest against the depiction of American Indians by the film industry.

Although director John Ford, a four-times Oscar winner, never turned down an award, he didn’t make attending the awards ceremony his greatest priority. “I didn’t show up at the ceremony to collect my Oscars. Once I went fishing, another time there was a war on, and on another occasion, I was suddenly taken drunk”.

The first British actor to win an Oscar was George Arliss, who won Best Actor in 1930 for his role in Disraeli. The first British actress to win was Vivien Leigh (pictured above) for her portrayal of Scarlett O’ Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939). Leigh won her second Best Actress Award playing another Southern belle, Blanche Dubois, in A Streetcar Named Desire, in 1952. The most successful Oscar-winning British film is Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, which won 8 awards in 1983.

Claudette Colbert, convinced she had no chance of winning, was boarding a train for New York when her name was announced as the winner of the Best Actress award in 1935. She was whisked back to receive her award, then went back to the train, which had been held for her return.

“I didn’t think I was that good. I don’t have a speech, I’m too incoherent”
Thomas Mitchell, on winning the Best Supporting Actor award in 1940.

“I am the King of the world”.
James Cameron, on winning the Best Director award in 1998.
“I deserve this”.
Shirley MacLaine, on winning the Best Actress Oscar in 1984.

Cuba Gooding Jnr said “I love you” fourteen times after winning the Best Supporting Actor award in 1996, while in 1985 a hysterical Sally Field screamed “I can‘t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you really like me“.

"In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation's generosities this particular choice may perhaps be found by future generations as a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it – the prodigal, pure, human kindness of it – must be seen as a beautiful star in that firmament which shines upon me at this moment, dazzling me a little, but filling me with warmth of the extraordinary elation, the euphoria that happens to so many of us at the first breath of the majestic glow of a new tomorrow."
Laurence Olivier, on winning an Honorary Oscar, in 1979.

Eric Von Stroheim threatened to sue Paramount after they nominated him as ‘Best Supporting Actor’ and not ‘Best Actor’ for his role in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard.

Ann Baxter and Bette Davis, stars of All About Eve, were both nominated for the Best Actress Oscar in 1950, the only time two women from the same film ever competed against each other for the award. Neither won. Shortly before her death, Baxter admitted she should have campaigned for a Best Supporting Actress award so that Davis might have won her third Oscar. On hearing this, Davis said “Yes, she should have”.

The Academy Awards have been postponed three times. The 1938 ceremony was postponed for a week due to severe flooding in Los Angeles. The 1968 ceremony was postponed for two days out of respect for Dr. Martin Luther King whose funeral was to be held on the same day. The 1981 ceremony were postponed for a day due to the assassination attempt on President Reagan.

Since 1950, there has been a legal requirement that neither winners nor their heirs may sell the statuettes without first offering to sell them back to the Academy for US$1. If a winner refuses to agree to this stipulation, the Academy keeps the statuette. When Oscar winner Michael Todd’s grandson tried to sell Todd's statuette to a collector, the Academy won the legal battle by getting a permanent injunction.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Another Million in the Kitty: Tony Blair's reward for following the 'right' foreign policy

This article of mine appears in The First Post.

So, Tony Blair has been awarded a $1 million prize for "his exceptional leadership and steadfast determination in helping to engineer agreements and forge lasting solutions to areas in conflict".

Some will argue that Blair should be on trial for war crimes, not receiving prizes. Others will say that the award, made by the Dan David Foundation of Tel Aviv, is a huge own goal for Israel because it sinks the country's international standing even lower after its actions in Gaza.

But they are missing the point.

The award - along with many of the other riches which have come Blair's way since he left Downing Street - is the payback for doing 'the right thing' by way of the US and Israel while he was in office.

The £2m-plus annual fee from JP Morgan Chase... the $250,000 for a 45-minute speech on the US lecture circuit... the all-expenses paid jaunts to Jerusalem as the Quartet's (ineffectual) Middle East envoy... it all serves as a reminder to members of the western political elite of the enormous financial rewards that will come their way if they toe the line.

It makes no difference that the $1m from Dan David will go to the former Prime Minister's 'Faith Foundation'; it is still heading for the overall Blair kitty.

Over the past six years, there has been much debate as to why Blair led Britain into a disastrous and illegal war with Iraq. Some say it was due to a passionate belief in spreading democracy. Others maintain that he genuinely believed that Iraq possessed WMD. But the simple, unavoidable truth is that Anthony Charles Linton Blair is now a far richer man than he would have been had he followed the example of French President Jacques Chirac and opposed the war.

For Chirac there have been no offers from JP Morgan Chase, no US lecture tours and absolutely no prospect of a Dan David leadership prize. John Howard, the former Australian Prime Minister who, like Blair, supported the Iraq war, has fared rather better: he too has been booked to impart his 'wisdom' on the US lecture circuit.

We know that money has always been a major motivator for the Blairs, as it is for most politicians everywhere. The number of genuinely principled politicians - the Tony Benns and Enoch Powells of this world, who are prepared to put their beliefs before their careers and long-term financial security - is very small indeed. And Washington and Tel Aviv know this.

The message from both the US and Israel to Britain's political elite could not be clearer: if you continue to follow the 'right' foreign policy and take your country into wars which we desire - such as Iraq - you can look forward to a very comfortable retirement.

Today it's Blair who’s reaping the financial benefits for his Atlanticism and his pro-Zionism; tomorrow it will be David Cameron, who also supported the Iraq war and who stayed silent as Israel bombarded Gaza.

After the disaster in Iraq, many Britons would love to see a reorientation of our country's foreign policy. But they are likely to be disappointed until other countries can offer our opportunistic and unprincipled leaders the lucrative pension plans that the US and Israel can afford.

UPDATE: Here's some more interesting news about the oh-so-principled former British Prime Minister from today's Sunday Times.

TONY BLAIR is cashing in on his experience as Britain’s longest-serving Labour prime minister by setting up a “commercial partnership” that offers clients political and economic advice.

The business venture, Tony Blair Associates, has been disclosed by the official watchdog that scrutinises paid employment undertaken by former ministers.

The advisory committee on business appointments said in a statement on its website this weekend: “Tony Blair has established Tony Blair Associates which will allow him to provide, in partnership with others, strategic advice on a commercial and pro-bono [free] basis, on political and economic trends and governmental reform.”

Mike Warburton, a senior tax partner at the accountants Grant Thornton, said that if Tony Blair Associates had been set up as a simple partnership rather than as a limited company, it would not have to make public its income and profit.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Vote Conservative- and get David Freud and 'the best bits of Blairism'

I've argued for a while that we in Britain live, for all extents and purposes, in a one-party state. Evidence is the ease with which the elite can shift from one wing of the governing neoliberal, pro-capital party to the other.

On the Spectator's Coffee House blog on Saturday, Fraser Nelson informed readers:

The first serious Tory defection will be detailed in tomorrow's News of the World. David Freud, the architect of the Purnell welfare refrom that we've been admiring in Coffee House, is to become a Conservative peer and shadow welfare reform minister. So someone with genuine expertise will be in the DWP driving through a desperately-needed agenda. This is a real coup not just for David Cameron but George Osborne whom, I understand, has been working on Freud for months.

The most interesting thing of all was Fraser's reply to a reader in the comments section.

....Freud has defected party - insofar as he was a neutral adviser to Labour but will be advising the Tories. But there has been no ideological conversion - and nor should there be for Blairite voters who go Cameron at the next election. He will offer the best bits of Blairism, plus a whole lot more.
And as for the Blairites, their "choice" agenda for public services is the future for this country.

Fraser Nelson is of course right: for Freud there is no ideological conversion. How can there be when both Labour and the Conservatives espouse the same pro-capital, neoliberal ideology?

UPDATE: Some more info on the much sought after Mr David Freud (above).

In this revealing 2008 newspaper interview, were are told:

Mr Freud made a fortune working on some of the biggest and most controversial deals in the City in the 1980s and 1990s.
Banking at that time, he once said, was a "pioneering piratical industry where we made up the rules"

When asked in early 2008, whether he thought there would be a recession, Mr Freud replied "Yes, because we should have recessions every five or six years and we are due one".

One wonders if Mr Freud would think the same about the desirability of recessions if he were a factory worker and not a multi-millionaire member of Britain's ruling elite.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Weekly Fromm: How we lost the Art of Loving

As we approach St Valentine's Day, here's my 2005 essay from the New Statesman on how modern global capitalism destroys love in society, and how one man- the great Dr Erich Fromm (above)- warned what would happen, over 50 years ago.

There's no room for true love in the age of the "marketing character", who trades on emotions and even smiles. But we were all warned 50 years ago.

This year on St Valentine's Day, it is estimated, we will spend in excess of £40m on flowers, and send 15 million cards and more than 100 million text messages. Worldwide, more than $13bn will be spent. Global capitalism has done for St Valentine's Day, a relatively low-key event in the Christian calendar, what it had already achieved for Christmas, transforming it into a multimillion-dollar spendfest.

Yet the very same forces that are so keen to promote the annual festival of love are largely responsible for the disintegration of love in our society.

This is not a topic with which many on the left have wished to engage. Far safer to discuss relative wage rates, constitutional reform and minor changes to the tax and benefit system than anything as fundamental as love. For a proper exposition of the most serious charge against the economic system we live under, we need to go back 50 years, to the writing of one of the most neglected yet prescient thinkers of the 20th century, Erich Fromm.

Fromm was a German psychoanalyst and social philosopher who fled his homeland when the Nazis came to power. He settled in the US, where he combined clinical practice with lecturing at Columbia University.

Most of his early work was about how totalitarian regimes come to be accepted and supported by the people. In The Fear of Freedom (1942), he argued that such regimes appeal to a deep-seated craving to escape from the freedom of the modern world and return to the womb. But Fromm was under no illusions about the society he had emigrated to. He was among the first to see that 20th-century capitalist democracies offered another form of escape from freedom.

In The Sane Society (1955), Fromm developed the ideas in Freud's Civilisation and its Discontents and argued that capitalist society, in which "consumption has become the de facto goal", was itself sick. He advanced his theory of social character: that "every society produces the character it needs".

Early Calvinistic capitalism produced the "hoarding character", who hoards both possessions and feelings: the classic Victorian man of property. Postwar capi- talism, Fromm argued, produced another, equally neurotic type: the marketing character, who "adapts to the market economy by becoming detached from authentic emotions, truth and conviction". For the marketing character "everything is transformed into a commodity, not only things, but the person himself, his physical energy, his skills, his knowledge, his opinions, his feelings, even his smiles". Such people are not able to care, "not because they are selfish, but because their relationship to each other and to themselves is so thin".

Global capitalism requires marketing characters in abundance and makes sure it gets them. Meanwhile, Fromm's ideal character type, the mature "productive character", the person without a mask, who loves and creates, and for whom being is more important than having, is discouraged.

In The Art of Loving (1956), Fromm identified five types of love, all of them under threat. Brotherly love, "which underlies all others", was undermined by the reduction of human beings to commodities. Motherly love was threatened by narcissism and possessiveness. Self-love, without which we cannot love others, was destroyed by selfishness. The love of God was regressing "to an idolatric concept of God". Finally, erotic love was debased by its separation from brotherly love and the absence of tenderness.

Fromm asked if "the social structure of western civilisation and the spirit arising from it are conducive to the development of love", and concluded that "to raise the question is to answer it in the negative".

He wrote The Art of Loving at a time of relatively benign, regulated capitalism. Fifty years on, contemporary, turbo-capitalist Britain amply confirms his belief that "a healthy economy is possible only at the price of unhealthy human beings". The past decade has brought the lowest inflation, interest rates and unemployment for 40 years and an unprecedented period of uninterrupted growth. Yet mental health has declined sharply. More than two million Britons are on antidepressants, half a million on Class A drugs. Binge drinking, and what Fromm called "acts of destruction" - violence, self-abuse and vandalism - have reached record levels.

The media routinely highlight "property gurus" while also reporting on the loneliness and isolation that so many people experience daily, but they never stop to consider the close connection between the two.

While Fromm's five types of love continue to decline, forms of pseudo-love abound. What Fromm called "egoisme a deux", in which two self-centred people come together in marriage or partnership to escape loneliness, but never arrive at a "central relationship", is clearly thriving in a country where more than a third of cohabiting and married couples keep separate bank accounts. Narcissism, which Fromm said we had to overcome if we were ever to achieve true love, is everywhere: when we switch on the television, open a tabloid newspaper or overhear casual conversation in the street or on a bus.

Meanwhile, Fromm's marketing character has become the dominant personality type of the age. Celebrities sell their opinions to the highest bidder - praising this or that product - and peddle explanations of their innermost feelings and tastes to glossy magazines. Each country, as Aldous Huxley once said, gets the leader it deserves, and it would be difficult to imagine a more appropriate prime minister for Britain than Tony Blair, who markets a patently insincere smile to keep his party (or at least himself and his cronies) in power.

Love, as defined by Fromm, can still be found in modern Britain. Millions of Britons enjoy deep and loving relationships, while the generosity shown by many towards those affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster was an outstanding example of brotherly love in action. Yet where love exists, it does so despite an economic system whose underlying principle is inherently hostile to it.

Glossy magazines encourage anti-love sexual permissiveness and the cultivation of selfish and materialistic lifestyles for a new breed of look-after-number-one "metrosexuals". Multimillion-dollar industries promoting the cult of narcissism have grown up, of which reality television is the latest and crudest manifestation. We are sold advice on "how to flirt" and "how to dump" our partners, and are encouraged to view all human contacts as expendable, to be "traded in" whenever we can get a better deal.

Conservative commentators, yearning for a gentler, kinder age, are, with one or two exceptions, unable to comprehend that the very economic system they defend is, through its destruction of love and its desire to create a population of alienated automatons, responsible for most of the social decay.

Matthew Parris, the former Tory MP who spent a week on the dole in Newcastle for a TV documentary, was right to say, on his return, that certain individuals will always be unhappy, no matter what the society in which they find themselves living. But he failed to see that a society that is driven by rapacious commercialism, which lauds and promotes the cult of self, and which quantifies success in purely material terms, will always produce less love and therefore more unhappy people than one which places human needs first. Global capitalism does many things, but building solidarity is not among them.

Luke Johnson, the millionaire chairman of Channel 4 and epitome of the modern marketing character, believes Britain "would be a better place if we had 500 more Richard Bransons". We already have more than enough money-makers. What we really need is 500 politicians who have read Erich Fromm.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thought for the Day

"What is robbing a bank compared to founding one?"

How appropriate that this happens on the anniversary of the birth of Bertolt Brecht (above), who told us everything we ever need to know about banks and bankers.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Letter(s) of the Week: Ian Johnson & Chris Rowley

Well, for me, it's a dead heat between these two gems, both published in the Daily Telegraph. If there's any good ones that have caught your eye this week, please send them in.

SIR – How uplifting it would be to see Lord Mandelson’s job outsourced, under the banner of “EU free movement of labour”, to a nice Polish gentleman with less arrogance and a modicum of interpersonal skills.
Ian Johnson
Chelford, Cheshire

SIR – Since the snow probably prevented a few bankers from getting to their desks, perhaps we ought to be counting the net benefit to the taxpayer, rather than dwelling on the costs.
Chris Rowley
London NW8

It's a sign of the massive shift in public opinion against globalisation and neoliberalism that the Daily Telegraph's letters page increasingly resembles that of the Morning Star. We are living in very exciting times.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The end of neoliberalism (and why it's time to pop the champagne corks)

From the paleo-socialist left, Peter Wilby, writing in The New Statesman:

Financialisation is now unravelling, with the state striving desperately to shore it up. With financial institutions facing bankruptcy and credit markets frozen, it can no longer deliver prosperity - or the illusion of it - to the masses. Ruination, which capitalism so regularly visited on the Victorian middle classes and which was portrayed so often in the fiction of the period, threatens to envelop millions. The promises of neoliberalism are revealed for what they were: a sham. An ideology that seduced most of the population is broken. The psychic and political consequences are incalculable.

From the paleo-conservative right, Martin Kelly, writing on his blog:

We are living through one of those once-in-a-generation events, like the rise and fall of fascism, or the rise and fall of Keynesianism. This is the stuff, the bones and sinews, of what history is made of. We are seeing the end of neoliberalism.

Both Peter and Martin are right. It's game over for neoliberalism, the pernicious doctrine which has made the world a much less kind and much more dangerous place over the past thrity years. Neoliberalism has been a disastrous era in world history-a fundamentally regressive period in which only the very greediest members of society have benefited.

Ironic, isn't it, that in the week her daughter was sacked by the BBC, the extremist ideology that Mrs Thatcher first introduced to Britain exactly thirty years ago, draws its final breath.

Of course, the neoliberals will try all they can to cling to power and will continue writing their ludicrous oped and comment pieces on how the free movement of capital and labour and privatisation of our entire economy benefits us all, but no one is listening to them anymore.

It's also ironic that this week, the week that neoliberalism died in Britain, we've also seen the heaviest snowfalls for decades.

Now it's time to combine our splendid 1970s weather, with some splendid 1970s economic policies.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Neocons' Latest Conspiracy Theory

As I've said on many occasions, when it comes to conspiracy theories, the neocons are in a league of their own. In 1999, they peddled the fiction that Yugoslav forces were committing 'genocide' in Kosovo. Four years later, they peddled the lie that Saddam Hussein's Iraq possessed WMD. (whatever happened to them, I wonder?). Now in 2009, the neocon conspiracy theory is that Iran has a nuclear weapons programme.

Never mind that US intelligence agencies published a report claiming that Iran has no such programme, or that not a scrap of evidence exists to show that Iran is developing nuclear weapons- the neocons still continue peddle the theory.

Here's 'Mad' Melanie Phillips, writing on her Spectator blog

As was entirely predictable, the Iranian government has reacted with utter contempt to the exciting new approach of US President Obama towards resolving the crisis over Iran’s nuclear weapons programme

Note that Ms Phillips talks of a 'crisis' regarding a country's non-existent nuclear weapons programme- the neocons, like their jack-booted predecessors, love to stoke up artifical international 'crises' every three years or so to get the wars they are so addicted to.

And in The Times, arch neo-con Daniel Finkelstein writes:
As Iran gets a nuclear weapon , as if Iran getting a nuclear weapon is as inevitable as night following day.

In the same way that neocons felt obliged to write of 'Iraq's WMD' in every article they penned in the lead up to the 2003 war, they now feel obliged to write of 'Iran's nuclear weapons programme' as a matter of fact, when it most clearly isn't.

Now there are conspiracy theories and conspiracy theories: Professor Cornelius Wacky-Backy's view that little green men made of cheese live on Mars might be silly, but it doesn't cost any lives. The neocons' conspiracy theories do - at the latest count 1m in Iraq.

Which is why it is so important that we should not allow their unsubstantiated claims regarding 'Iran's nuclear weapons programme' to go unchallenged.