Monday, November 30, 2009

How Tony Bliar lied over the legality of the Iraq war

The Mail on Sunday reports:

Tony Blair was accused of a 'gross betrayal' of the Queen and Parliament last night after it emerged that the Government's chief law officer warned him eight months before the Iraq invasion that regime change would be illegal.

In a previously undisclosed memo, described as 'the most vital piece of the jigsaw so far', Attorney General Lord Goldsmith told the then prime minister that the war would be a blatant breach of international law.

But rather than slow his rush to war, Mr Blair froze Lord Goldsmith out of Cabinet meetings and sent two of his closest allies to menace him into changing his mind. Lord Goldsmith was so furious at his treatment he threatened to resign- and lost three stone as Mr Blair and his cronies bullied him into backing down

What lovely people Bliar and his cronies are, don't you think? Starting blatantly illegal wars. Bullying those who get in the way of their plans.

Tony Bliar, the man the neocons wanted to be EU President- is now a totally disgraced figure. He- and his few remaining supporters- need to be treated with utter contempt. But that's not enough. There is abundant evidence that Bliar is guilty of war crimes. The 'supreme' international crime is to launch a war of aggression against a sovereign state- and that's what Bliar did in 2003.
He- and his US counter-part George W. Bush- and the neocon fanatics who pushed so aggressively for war, need to be brought before a war crimes tribunal as soon as possible.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The great WMD hoax- and why David Aaronovitch owes Tony Benn an apology


says today's Daily Mail headline. Who'd have thought it eh? Tony Blair lying? I'm sure that news comes as a huge surprise to readers of this blog.

Reading the Mail's headline reminded me of the events of February 2003. Veteran socialist politician and peace campaigner Tony Benn travelled to Baghdad to ask Saddam Hussein if he did indeed possess WMDs. (you can watch part one of Tony's interview above, and you can watch parts two and three here and here).

For going to Baghdad and meeting with Saddam, Benn was savaged by the pro-war hawks in the media. David Aaronovitch, wrote this sneering, sarcastic piece poking fun at Benn in The Guardian. What a silly old naïve fool Tony Benn was the neocons and 'liberal interventionists' chimed, going to Baghdad and asking Saddam if he had WMD. Of course Saddam would say he hadn't and of course he was lying.

But it wasn’t Saddam Hussein who was telling porkies, but the British and American governments.

Of course, some of us said the WMD line was baloney. It wasn't a difficult call to make- for if Bush and Blair had genuinely believed Iraq possessed WMDs they would not have been so keen to attack the country, as I argued here.

But many, many journalists did swallow the lies about WMDs, hook, line and sinker.
As I said here, the pundits who parroted the U.S. and Britain's deceitful propaganda on Iraq have never been properly held to account.

Far from it, they've actually been rewarded for getting things so badly wrong.

Melanie Phillips, and not John Pilger or Seumas Milne, is on Question Time tonight.

UPDATE: Blair and Bush's Bush and Blair’s secret, illegal plan to ‘regime change’ in Iraq. Read all about it here and here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Imagination takes flight

This essay of mine on the life, work and values of one of my favourite writers, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of The Little Prince, appears in the anti-war magazine The American Conservative. I hope you enjoy it.

Neil Clark
The humane values of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

What moves me so deeply about this little prince sleeping here is his loyalty to a flower, the image of a rose shining through his whole being like the flame of a lamp, even when he is asleep. I found him to be more fragile still. Lamps should be protected with great care: a gust of wind can extinguish them.

In one of the more poignant moments of Michael Jackson’s memorial service, actress Brooke Shields, a close friend of the pop star, said that Jackson was not “The King”—the title he appropriated—but “The Little Prince.” She quoted the above passage from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s famous book, along with its most memorable lines: “It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The fact that nearly 70 years after its publication The Little Prince is mentioned at the funeral of one of the most famous men on the planet is a testament to its enduring popularity and the universality of its themes. It is also a tribute to the remarkable French aviator-poet who disappeared 65 years ago on a reconnaissance flight over the Mediterranean.

Saint-Exupéry’s work, with its bird’s eye view of humanity, contains some of the most profound observations on the human condition ever written. “A person taking off from the ground,” he said, “elevates himself above the trivialities of life into a new understanding.”

Born into an old French family at the turn of the century, he enjoyed a privileged upbringing. According to his biographer, Curtis Cate, Saint-Ex’s passion for aviation was stimulated when he was 9, when his family relocated to Le Mans, the city where American flying pioneer Wilbur Wright had moved a year earlier. At the age of 12, he was taken up in the air by a flying ace, and the event moved him so deeply that he wrote a poem about it.

He trained to be a pilot, but after breaking his skull in a crash gave in to pressure from his family and took a desk job in Paris, working as a production supervisor at a tile-making company. But at the age of 26, he returned to the air, becoming one of the pioneers of early postal flight. The job, which entailed opening up new routes in Africa and South America across mountains and deserts, was extremely hazardous, but Saint-Ex, bored of the artificiality of Parisian society, had found his calling. “Despite the dangers of the work, and in a sense because of the dangers, the next five years were to be the happiest and most secure of his life after his exile from the magical domain of childhood,” writes William Rees, one of the writer’s English translators.

Saint-Exupéry’s flying adventures also provided a rich source of writing material.

His first book, Courrier Sud (Southern Mail) appeared in 1929. But it was the publication of Vol de Nuit (Night Flight) two years later that made his name. The book, which became an international bestseller, tells the story of an airmail pilot sent to deliver mail in life-threatening weather conditions. The theme of brave individuals putting their lives on the line for the common good and achieving fulfillment through a sense of duty resurfaces throughout Saint-Exupéry’s work.

He contrasted the selflessness and heroism of the early air pioneers with the pettiness of those left on the ground. In his 1937 memoir, Terre des Hommes (Wind, Sand and Stars), there is a wonderful passage in which he relates the time when he and his radio telegrapher were lost over the sea with their fuel running out. With their lives in mortal danger, they received a delayed message from a government official at Casablanca airport, from where they had taken off, which stated, “Monsieur De Saint-Exupéry, I am obliged to advise Paris to take disciplinary action against you for banking too close to the hangars on take-off.”

Saint-Ex responds, It was true, I had banked too close to the hangars. It was also true that a man was doing his job by getting angry. In an airport office I would have received such a reproach with humility. But here it reached us where it had no right to reach us. It was out of place here among these scattered stars, this bed of fog, this threatening taste of the sea. We held our destiny in our hands with the destiny of the mail and of our vessel, we had trouble enough just steering to stay alive, and that man was purging his petty spite on us. Yet far from being annoyed Neri and I felt a vast and sudden exultation. …We read once more that message from a madman who claimed to have some business with us, and tacked towards Mercury.

In Terre des Hommes, Saint-Ex also relates the story of the pilot Guillaumet, who crash lands during a snowstorm in the Andes. Guillaumet walks for five days and four nights “with no ice-axe, no rope, no food, scaling passes fifteen thousand feet high, crawling along vertical walls with bleeding hands and knees and feet in forty degrees of frost.” All his exhausted body wants to do is sleep, but he knows that if he stops walking, he will die. What keeps him going is the responsibility he owes to others: “If my wife believes I’m alive, she’ll believe I’m on my feet. My comrades believe it, too. They have faith in me. I’m a cowardly bastard if I don’t keep going”.

Guillaumet’s greatness, says Saint-Exupéry, lies in his sense of responsibility—“responsibility for himself, for his mail, for his comrades. To be a man, is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to know shame at the sight of poverty which is not of our making. It is to be proud of a victory won by our comrades. It is to feel, as we place our stone, that we are contributing to the building of the world.”

After France’s armistice with Nazi Germany in 1940, Saint-Ex emigrated to the United States, and it was in a rented Long Island mansion that he wrote his most famous work, Le Petit Prince. The novella has been translated into 180 languages and has sold more than 80 million copies, making it the 14th bestselling book of all time. But to evaluate The Little Prince in facts and figures goes against its very message.

The book’s inspiration was Saint-Ex’s astonishing experience in the desert following a crash in 1935. He and his co-pilot survived four days in the Sahara, with only one day’s supply of liquids. On the third day, they started to hallucinate and see mirages. But on the fourth, they were rescued by a Bedouin tribesman.

The Little Prince tells the story of an aviator who also crashes in the desert. A prince emerges from a far away planet and tells him about his travels through the asteroids. There the prince met six characters: a king; a “conceited individual” desperate to be admired; a drunkard who drinks to forget that he is ashamed of drinking; a businessman who claims to own over 501 million stars; a lamplighter; and a geographer who never leaves his office to see the beauty of the world. The prince finds them all absurd—all except the lamplighter. “That man would be despised by all the others, but he is the only one who doesn’t seem ridiculous to me. Perhaps it is because he is not only concerned with himself.”

In The Little Prince, Saint-Ex doesn’t merely express his contempt for selfishness and materialism, he shows how life should be lived. It’s the Prince’s encounter with a desert fox, whom he meets and befriends, that proves most illuminating. The fox instructs, “Men have forgotten this basic truth. But you must not forget it. For what you have tamed, you become responsible forever. You are responsible for your rose.” It is he who utters the book’s most famous line: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur.”

Sadly, Saint-Exupéry did not live to see the extent of the book’s success. His belief in “contributing to the building of the world” led him to volunteer to fly reconnaissance missions for the Allies.

On July 31, 1944, at the age of 43, he set off from an airbase in Corsica never to return. His disappearance remained a mystery for years, but in 2000, wreckage of his plane was found in the sea near Marseilles, and in March of last year, an 85-year-old former Luftwaffe pilot claimed that he had downed a plane of that description, on that date, in the area where the wreckage was found. The pilot also claimed to have been a great admirer of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s writings.

“Perhaps it was just as well that Saint-Ex died when he did, being thus spared the spectacle of a world which would have pained him even more than the one he had actually experienced,” wrote Curtis Cate in 1970. I’m sure Saint-Ex would think even less of the world of 2009. Like the German social philosopher Erich Fromm, he feared that global capitalism and mass-production techniques would destroy the human spirit and turn us all into money-obsessed automatons.

He would also have been dismissive of the frequent misuse of the word “freedom” by liberal democrats and neoconservatives. “Real freedom consists in the creative act,” he wrote in 1938. “The fisherman is free when his instincts guide his fishing. The sculptor is free when he sculpts a face. But it is nothing but a caricature of freedom to be allowed to choose between four types of General Motors’ cars or three of Mrs. Z’s films. Freedom is then reduced to the choice of a standard item in a range of universal similitude.”

He saw clearly that modern capitalism, in its tendency toward monopoly and greater standardization, by making man serve the economy rather than the other way around, actually reduces freedom.

The man who wrote, “there is only one form of wealth, that of human contact” would be aghast at a world in which friendship, like almost everything else, has been transformed into a commodity, with “friends” becoming something we collect on websites, only to be deleted when we grow tired of them.

He would also be deeply saddened at the advance of militant atheism, the world’s newest religion. For Saint-Ex believed that without God, human brotherhood—the ultimate aim—was impossible. “I am appalled by the difficulty of having authority derive from something else than God,” he wrote. “One needs seeds from above.” Cate writes, “Although he was not a regular church-goer Saint-Ex was imbued with a Christian philosophy of love; a philosophy of love recast in a kind of Platonic mould.”

From 10,000 feet above, Saint-Exupéry gazed down on the world, observed the “scattered lights” of humanity across the globe, and came to the conclusion, “We must surely seek unity.”

In these grasping, narcissistic times, when Western societies have arguably never been so lacking in a spirit of camaraderie, and when division is the order of the day, we urgently need to rediscover the ideas of a man of whom it was said, “He wasn’t of this world” and to learn the Little Prince’s fundamental truth: what is most essential is invisible to the eye.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Iraq War files: Tony Bliar 'misled MPs and the public'

The Sunday Telegraph reports:

Tony Blair, the former prime minister, misled MPs and the public throughout 2002 when he claimed that Britain’s objective was “disarmament, not regime change” and that there had been no planning for military action. In fact, British military planning for a full invasion and regime change began in February 2002.

Throughout most of 2002, Mr Blair’s consistent line was that – though military action could not be ruled out – no decisions had been made, no British military preparations were in train, and any action had to be pursued through the UN. That, today’s documents make clear, was not correct.

You can read more here from the Iraq war files here and here.

Tony Bliar misleading MPs and the public? Who’d ever have thought it!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Celebrate! Tony Bliar is NOT EU President

The man pictured above is the new EU President. His name is Herman van Rompuy, but for all I care it could be Herman Munster. The most important thing is that his name is not Tony Blair. In the words of Kool and The Gang ‘Celebrate’.

Neo-cons sneered at the campaign to block Blair from becoming EU President. They sneered at our petitions and they sneered at those of us who wrote articles opposing Blair’s candidacy.
The Wall Street Journal, which attacked me here in one of its editorials- called those of us who didn’t want Blair to be EU President to be part of an ’angry, fading movement'.

But the movement that is fading, as we saw from last nights announcement, is the one which tried to get an unindicted war-criminal appointed as EU’s President. As far as arrogant, elitist movements go, the campaign to get Blair - a man loathed across the continent- the top job in the EU, really took the biscuit. Blair’s appointment would have been the culmination of the neo-con dream. But happily it failed.

Uber neo-con commentator Daniel Finkelstein does not find the appointment of Baroness Ashton, a former Treasurer of CND, as the EU’s first Foreign Minister, to be ‘reassuring’.
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I find the fact that a hardcore neocon like Finkelstein doesn’t find Ashton’s appointment ‘reassuring’ to be most reassuring.
Take it away, Kool.

video: Abrutis50.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thierry Henry is a cheat and should be punished

Here is an extract from my article from today's The First Post.

It was perhaps the most blatant act of cheating in an important international football match since Diego Maradona's infamous 'Hand of God' knocked England out of the World Cup in 1986.

French striker Thierry Henry openly admits that he handled the ball in the move which led to his country's decisive goal in last night's World Cup qualifier with the Republic of Ireland.

But his attempt to pass responsibility on to the referee - who was unsighted - is unlikely to assuage the anger and sense of outrage felt by Republic of Ireland players and supporters, whose team misses out on next year's World Cup finals in South Africa as a result.

A 'We Irish Hate Thierry Henry the Cheat' Facebook page has already been set up: by 9am this morning, it had over 22,000 fans. "We got robbed. It's cost a lot of us our dreams - as a boy I used to dream of playing in the World Cup, and now I'm not," bemoaned Irish defender Sean St Ledger.

It's not the first time that Henry, once the pride of Arsenal, now with Barcelona, has attempted to gain an unfair advantage at a vital stage of an international match.

You can read the whole of the article - and what we can do to make sure that cheats like Henry don’t prosper-here.

UPDATE: Gavin McDonald has written in asking me to publicise a petition he has organised calling for Thierry Henry to be banned from playing in next year's World Cup.
Here's the link, please consider giving it your support.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Beyond Pinocchio: Iran's fake nuclear threat

If you've been taking the US and Britain's recent pronouncements on Iran seriously, you're probably just about ready to stock up on canned food and start digging a fallout shelter in your back garden.

Secret underground nuclear facilities? Breaches of non-proliferation rules? Dark hints of military action to stop the mad mullahs from a crazed attack on Israel?

To listen to Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, you'd think the world was plunging into a new cold war.

So we should treasure the words of former British diplomat Richard Dalton. They're a rare sign that someone in the Establishment is willing to talk sense on Iran - although Dalton doesn't go nearly far enough.

....Dalton could and should have been far more damning in his criticism of Western sabre-rattling. It's not enough to say there's no solid evidence of Iran's nuclear ambitions and no proof that the Qom facility is designed for making weapons. Technically true, certainly, but not enough by a long way.

Here's what Dalton could have said, if he wanted to tell the whole truth.

He could have said that Iran has no nuclear ambitions and no plans to attack any other country.

Iran has an official policy, restated again and again, of "no first strike." It hasn't started a war of aggression in modern history - unlike, say, the US, Britain or Israel. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has forbidden nuclear weapons as un-Islamic and he maintains that Iran is not trying to develop them.

And the US intelligence agencies all agree that he's telling the truth.

You can read the whole of today’s excellent Morning Star editorial here.

Over the next few weeks and months we can prepare to be bombarded with propaganda that Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons programme poses a ‘threat’ to the west.

And by and large the same people who will be trying to convince you that Iran is a ‘threat’ are the same people who told you that Yugoslav forces were committing ’genocide’ against the Kosovan Albanians in 1999, and that Iraq possessed WMDs in 2003.

Both those claims were totally bogus- as is the claim that Iran threatens us today.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's that time of the year again......

The 2009 Weblog Awards

It’s that time of the year again: the time for nominations for the annual Weblog awards.

If you've enjoyed reading this blog over the past twelve months and would like to nominate it in the category ‘Best UK Blog’, a category which we won in 2007 and finished fourth in last year, you can get to the nomination page by clicking on the logo above.
(nominations close on Friday 20th Nov). If you can't sign in to vote, then you can nominate the blog by clicking on the plus sign against a previous nomination.

I’m also nominating the excellent Madam Miaow blog in the Best Culture blog category-and if you’re a fan of her blog too, you can nominate it here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Backtrack or Derail

This article of mine appears in the New Statesman.
It's also cross-posted at the Campaign For Public Ownership website.

A pledge to renationalise the railways would be a clear vote-winner. So why do passengers’ demands fall on deaf ears?

Public ownership is a puzzle. Voters are in favour of it, but our three main parties offer little to its supporters in terms of viable policy options. Instead, they remain wedded to a pro-privatisation agenda, trying to outdo each other in making lists of what public assets to sell off next.

In the past two years, the government has nationalised Northern Rock, and has taken large stakes in leading banks. Privatisation has never been so unpopular. But the gap between public opinion and the position taken by our politicians is at its greatest in the case of the railways.

Rushed through by John Major's government, privatisation has left us with fragmented and user-unfriendly railways, requiring around four times the public subsidy received by British Rail. Despite the vast amounts of taxpayers' money that have been handed over to private train operators (for example, Virgin Trains received £294.6m this year for running the West Coast Main Line franchise), our railways are easily the most expensive in Europe, with fares 3.4 times the global average.

Research by the investment bank UBS showed that while a 125-mile, second-class train journey in Britain costs £54.39, it costs just £18.94 in Italy, a country with a similar average income. Since privatisation in 1996, fares for long-distance trips have soared by up to three times inflation. This year alone, fares rose by an average of 6 per cent, with services such as CrossCountry hiking prices by 11 per cent.

Add to the equation that rush-hour trains are often overcrowded, owing to the inadequate number of carriages (another result of privatisation that set up rolling stock companies), and it is not surprising that 70 per cent of the public back the renationalisation of the railways. But their calls are falling on deaf ears. The Tories want "longer, better franchises" for the train operators. They also want Network Rail, the not-for-profit, quasi-public body set up by Labour in the aftermath of the collapse of Railtrack, to lose its monopoly on engineering work.

The Liberal Democrats pledged renationalisation in their 2005 election manifesto but the policy has now been dropped, to the consternation of party activists and some MPs. "Where is it written that we have to abandon good ideas simply because Labour and the Tories have abandoned them, too?" Lembit Öpik asked at this year's party conference, where several pleas for taking the railways back into public ownership were rejected by the party.

Labour's stance is perhaps the most baffling of all. Here is a party that is down in the polls, and in desperate need of vote-winning policies. Labour opposed the sell-off of British Rail when in opposition, with Tony Blair promising a "publicly owned, publicly accountable railway". Yet in government it has happily accepted the privatised system.

Loco motives

What would Labour lose by reverting to its earlier stance and committing to full-scale renationalisation? The answer is nothing. The government's inaction can be traced to the man at the top. "The trouble is that Gordon actually believes all this neoliberal dogma about the benefits of privatisation," a former Labour MP told me earlier this year.

Brown's speech at this year's Labour party conference, in which he attacked "right-wing fundamentalism that says you just leave everything to the market", seemed to signal a move away from New Labourism to a more social-democratic agenda. But the Prime Minister showed his true, pro-privatisation colours when, shortly afterwards, he announced a fire-sale of publicly owned assets - including the Tote bookmakers, the Channel Tunnel rail link and the Royal Mint.

We should not forget the crucial role that Brown played in aiding and abetting the Tory sell-off in the 1990s. In Broken Rails: How Privatisation Wrecked Britain's Railways, Christian Wolmar describes how, in the spring of 1996, the shadow chancellor vetoed his party's plan to scupper the forthcoming privatisation of Railtrack by announcing that, on coming to power, they would replace its shares with preference shares. Labour's initiative was "a genuine opportunity to undermine the [privatisation] process fatally". But thanks to Brown's intervention, the knock-out blow was never delivered.

Opponents of renationalisation say that bringing back British Rail would cost the government too much money. But they ignore the fact that we are in a recession and many franchises are in serious trouble. This year, we have already seen the government renationalise the east coast rail service after NXEC, a subsidiary of the troubled transport company National Express, tried to get its contract renegotiated. Eight of the 19 franchises expire in or before 2013, which means that at most only 11would have to be bought out by the government - that's assuming no others default, as in the case of NXEC. Renationalising in this way, and setting 2013 as the date for the establishment of a fully publicly owned network, would not only reduce the costs of the process, but expose the hypocrisy of the free-market critics of public ownership, who would be left arguing for continued taxpayer subsidies for a privately owned railway.

A golden age

Renationalisation could, and should, usher in a new golden age for Britain's railways. For that to happen, we need to acknowledge that railways are a public service and not judge them on how much revenue they generate. That means returning to the spirit of Barbara Castle's 1968 Transport Act, which relieved the railways of what Wolmar describes as "the impossible target" of breaking even or making a profit.

It means reintroducing distance-based pricing and scrapping today's market-based pricing, which has led to extortionate fares - such as Virgin's £247 "anytime" return from London to Manchester, or the first fare costing over £1,000 (from Cornwall to Scotland). It means reducing ticket prices to the European average, with 50 per cent reductions of fares at weekends, enabling Britons to travel across the country cheaply. And it also, of course, means more trains.

Nationalisation would have a positive social and environmental impact, and it would also have a wider political significance. It would be a clear sign that the era of neoliberal extremism ushered in by the Thatcher government in 1979 is finally at an end. The sell-off of the railways was the most extreme of all the Conservative privatisations. No other country in western Europe was foolish enough to follow Britain's example - even in "free market" Switzerland, the railways are publicly owned.

If we are serious about constructing a society where the needs of people come before capital, renationalisation of the railways would be a perfect place to start.

UPDATE: Didn't think that things could get any worse for travellers on Britain's privatised railways? Think again.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's time Britain abolished unemployment

This article of mine appears in The First Post.

When the phrase 'Labour isn't working' was made famous by the Saatchi and Saatchi poster which helped Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives win the 1979 general election, around 1.4m Britons were out of work. Today, the official number of jobless is 2.46m. But with around 8m Britons classed as economically inactive, it’s clear that the official unemployment figures are a vast underestimate of the people who could work but who are without jobs.

Most disturbing of all is the level of youth unemployment which has risen to 19.8 per cent, an all-time record. The cost of having so many people economically inactive is enormous. In 2007, when unemployment was officially 1.7m, it was estimated that unemployment was costing the taxpayer £61bn a year in benefits and lost tax revenues.

Yet while opposition politicians are quick to condemn the situation as a 'national disgrace', the solutions they - and the government - are putting forward to solve the problem are timid. All talk of their aim to reduce unemployment. But why not do something really radical and abolish it all together?

Abolishing unemployment and guaranteeing everyone who is physically able to work in Britain a job on state-sponsored programmes, would bring substantial benefits to the economy and to society.

Instead of paying people not to work, the jobless would be employed on government projects - carrying out much needed work to improve the national infrastructure, which would add to the national wealth. Critics would no doubt say that such a scheme would cost too much money in the short-run, but the sums involved would be nowhere near the £1.2tr that the government has already spent to keep bankers in their jobs.

The government would receive tax revenues from the newly employed workers and the extra purchasing power of millions of Britons would stimulate economic growth. Not only that, there'd be other significant savings as government spending on the costs of social breakdown would be greatly reduced.

In their book Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture, Steve Hall et al describe how, after the shipbuilding yards closed down in the 1980s, neighbourhoods in Newcastle and Sunderland were transformed from 'well ordered' communities into crime-ridden sink estates plagued with social problems, including widespread drug abuse. It's a depressing pattern of social breakdown that's been repeated across Britain over the past 30 years.

Today, the problem of unemployment is affecting Britons of all social classes. The middle classes avoided the worst of the job-shedding in the Thatcher years, but now they're losing their jobs in large numbers too.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Seumas Milne on the lessons- and consequences- of 1989

1989 unleashed across the region and then the former Soviet Union free-market shock therapy, mass robbery as privatisation, vast increases in inequality, and poverty and joblessness for tens of millions. Reunification in Germany in fact meant annexation, the takeover and closure of most of its industry, a political purge of more than a million teachers and other white-collar workers, a loss of women's rights, closure of free nurseries and mass unemployment……..

The western failure to recognise the shocking price paid by many east Europeans for a highly qualified freedom – the Economist this week dismissed them as "the old, the timid, the dim" – is only exceeded by the refusal to acknowledge that the communist system had benefits as well as obvious costs…….

Der Spiegel this year found that 57% of eastern Germans believed the GDR had "more good sides than bad sides", and even younger people rejected the idea that the state had been a dictatorship. Just as only one in five Hungarians believes that the country has changed for the better since 1989, only 11% of Bulgarians think ordinary people have benefited from the changes and most Russians and Ukrainians regret the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

This two-sided, Janus-like nature of 1989 is also reflected in its global and ideological impact. It kicked off the process that led to the end of the cold war. But by removing the world's only other superpower from the global stage, it also destroyed the constraints on US global power and paved the way for wars from the Gulf and Yugoslavia to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

You can read the rest of Seumas Milne's brilliant piece here.And what a bunch of obnoxious patronising wallies the folk at The Economist are, branding 89% of Bulgarians and 80% of Hungarians 'old, timid and dim' for not sharing their enthusiasm for neoliberal capitalism.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Defend Joe Glenton!

video: ady cousins.

Stop the War reports:

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, the soldier who faces desertion
charges for refusing to return to Afghanistan, has been
arrested and charged with five further offences for leading
Stop the War's demonstration in London on 24 October and for
expressing his opposition to the media in defiance of orders.

The new charges carry a maximum of ten years imprisonment in
addition to the sentence of three to four years that Joe could
get if the desertion charge is upheld.

Joe's mother, Sue Glenton, has spoken out against his arrest:
"You've got government ministers, army commanders and MPs
speaking every day in support of the war. What's so scary
about a Lance Corporal having his say? My son is only speaking
out for what he thinks is right."

Joe's arrest and imprisonment are signs of panic by the government and military commanders, faced with an ever growing majority of the British public opposing the war and an increasing number of prominent voices in the media calling for
the withdrawal of British troops.

Stop the War has organised an EMERGENCY PROTEST at 5pm tomorrow (Thursday 12 November), at the Ministry of Defence, Whitehall (opposite Downing Street). Details of other ways you can help Joe can be found here.

And if you're an anti-war blogger, in the UK or overseas, please do all you can to publicise the campaign to defend Joe. Joe Glenton is not a criminal, he's a national hero. It's the politicians who launch illegal wars which have nothing to do with defending the realm who should be arrested, not the brave soldiers who oppose such conflicts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Those dreadful Communists......

A woman sits bolt upright in the middle of the night. She jumps out of bed and rushes to the bathroom to look in the medicine cabinet. Then, she runs into the kitchen and opens the refrigerator. Finally, she dashes to the window and looks out into the street. Relieved, she returns to the bedroom. Her husband asks, "What's wrong with you?" "I had a terrible nightmare", she says, "I dreamed we could still afford to buy medicine, that the refrigerator was absolutely full, and that the streets were safe and clean. I also dreamed that you had a job, that we could afford to pay our gas and electricity bills and the Hungarian national football team was one of the best in the world.

"How is that a nightmare?" asks her husband. The woman shakes her head, "I thought the communists were back in power."

A Magyarised version of this great Bulgarian joke told by Maria Todorova.
Hat tip: Olching.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Why people are so 'ostalgic' for communism and why western 'liberals' still don't get it


economic liberalism, a la Professor Hayek, because of its starkness and its failure to create a sense of community, is not a safeguard of political freedom but a threat to it...'
I think Sir Ian Gilmour, the old 'One Nation' Tory, had the answer.

Perhaps if the communism had been replaced with other forms of socialism post-1989 there would not now be so much nostaglia for communism in eastern Europe. But it was not. It was replaced by a system which put the interests of Goldman Sachs and international finance capital above ordinary people. The selfish, individualistic ‘elbow’ society, to use Bruni de la Motte's’s excellent phrase, came to eastern Europe and most people, surprise, surprise, don’t like it.

But of course, eastern Europeans aren’t supposed to say that. For so-called western ‘liberals’, it’s ok for anti-communists from emigre families to pen attack pieces on communism, but not for those who actually lived in the countries in question to write about how much they enjoyed their lives there as Bruni de la Motte does here and my wife Zsuzsanna did here.

As our good friend Olching puts in on this thread in replying to a western ‘liberal’ who castigates Bruni de la Motte for writing positively about her life in the GDR:

How dare they, eh, have any fond memories, when clearly they should remember nothing but the cliches we want them to remember!

Postscript: Isn’t it great to have this article published on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall- to remind people who have been the main beneficiaries of the political changes of 20 years ago.

UPDATE: There's a great post by former GDR citizen 'berlin girl' in the comments section to Bruni de la Motte's piece, which I think says it all.

Our lives in the GDR were not just about stasi and the wall, we had parties, got married had kids and had normal lives as well. We didnt take to the streets so that we could have mcdonalds and starbucks, we took to the streets for autonomy and self-determination. We didnt want to be just another part of West Germany, we wanted our own chance at a fairer society. That chance was taken from us by the likes of Kohl and the Western countries who thought they knew best. And the criticism of nostalgia, well, sorry, but how many of you feel nostalgic for your past? Why is it only the east germans who arent allowed to feel nostalgic? As for leaving in droves, yes, we all wanted to travel. But we almost all of us came back. Who wouldnt want to check out the eiffel tower and piccadilly circus, but it doesnt mean youd want to stay!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

All Quiet on the Western Front and the warmongers of 2009

video: Inspector Foyle

It’s Remembrance weekend- so to mark the occasion here’s a clip from what for my money remains the greatest- and most powerful- anti-war film of all time: All Quiet on the Western Front.

At about 7.15 in to the clip, you can watch the wonderful scene when Paul, who has returned from the horror of the trenches, visits his old school and turns on his warmongering teacher Professor Kantorek who is still urging pupils to go out and fight.

Whenever I read articles like this one and this one in the British press, I always think of Kantorek and the other armchair warriors in the bar.

For, as Paul says in the clip, it is much, much easier to tell others to ‘go out and die’ than it is to do it yourself.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Eastern Takeover

This piece of mine, on the human cost of the political changes in eastern Europe in 1989, appears in the Morning Star.

Make 1989 the year you visit the GDR, the brochure of Berolina Travel proclaimed. So that's what my university friend Rob and I decided to do.

Neither of us were card-carrying members of the Young Communist League, but neither were we anti-communist cold war warriors. We were just two young people keen to find out for ourselves what life was really like behind the so-called Iron Curtain.

Twenty years on, the memories of my trip to the German Democratic Republic are still extremely vivid. We travelled to East Germany by rail via Frankfurt. The contrast between Frankfurt and Erfurt, the first city we arrived at over the border, could not have been more striking.

There was the lack of neon and the refreshing absence of advertising. Everything seemed less frenetic - the pace of life was much slower.

The GDR was getting ready to celebrate its 40th birthday. The country had come a long way since its foundation from the ruins of World War II, as John Green has described in recent Morning Star articles.

We had been conditioned to expect a very poor country, but were surprised to see that most people were better dressed than back home in Britain and that the shops, far from being empty, were well-stocked. It was nice to see main streets not dominated by chain stores - and not a Mcdonald's in sight.

Instead of Western fast-food chains serving unhealthy junk food, the GDR, in common with other socialist countries, was full of publicly owned self-service restaurants where ordinary people could eat good hearty fare at affordable prices in a communal atmosphere.

I remember going to one restaurant in Magdeburg and chatting to a young married couple sitting on the same table. We got on so well that we exchanged addresses after just half an hour together.

Contrary to its usual depiction in the West as a grey, unwelcoming place, I found the GDR to be one of the friendliest places I had ever visited. The best thing about it was the people - kind, friendly and extremely helpful. Interesting, well-read and well-educated people who always looked you in the eye and didn't want to cheat you.

I experienced the same thing on my other visit to a European communist country, Yugoslavia, also in 1989. I stayed in a small guest house close to Lake Bohinj. The owner was a committed communist and strong supporter of the partisans. Each evening he would invite the guests to sit, eat and drink with him and he would tell stories of how the partisans defeated the nazis in WWII.
He told all the guests to feel as if they were at home. He even washed his guest's dirty laundry for no extra charge. He not only advocated socialism, he lived a socialist life - helping others for no monetary reward. He was one of the kindest men I have ever met in my life and I remembered thinking there and then that a system that can produce such warm-hearted and generous people surely must have something going for it.

Not long after my visit to the GDR, the Berlin Wall came down. People I had spoken to in the GDR said that their main criticism of the government was the restriction on foreign travel. But, as the recent BBC documentary series The Lost World Of Communism showed, there was no desire, even among those who did take part in street demonstrations in the autumn of 1989, for a wholesale dismantling of the socialist system. What many people had wanted was a less authoritarian form of socialism - no-one was calling for mass privatisation and the introduction of Thatcherism.

In the mid-1990s I returned to eastern Europe to live and work in Hungary. After four years of harsh economic reforms the Hungarian people had just voted into power the Hungarian Socialist Party. But the hopes of the voters for a government which would retain the best aspects of the communist system were to be dashed. Capital had no intention of allowing any vestiges of socialism to survive in eastern Europe.
Under pressure from Western financial institutions prime minister Gyula Horn, who had earlier attacked the idea of energy privatisation, changed tack. He appointed a fanatically neoliberal economics professor called Lajos Bokros to introduce an austerity package.

While in Britain Thatcherite media commentators enthused over the eastern European countries' transition to a "free market economy," I witnessed at first hand the pain that such policies were causing to ordinary people.

Pensioners who had lived relatively well under the old regime were now having to go from shop to shop to try to save a crucial few forints as prices of basic foodstuffs rocketed. People who had never experienced unemployment under communism, when it did not exist, were forced on to the scrapheap as their factories closed. Beggars - almost non-existent during communism - appeared once again on Budapest's streets.
Yet as harsh as conditions were in Hungary in 1995, they are even worse today.

With the economy shrinking by 7.5 per cent in the second quarter this year and unemployment up to 10 per cent, it's hardly surprising that, according to a recent poll, just one in five Hungarians believe their country has changed for the better since 1989.

It's a similar story of economic hardship across the region, yet the rise in poverty in eastern Europe since 1989 is seldom mentioned by neoliberal commentators in the West when they pen their articles celebrating the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the "liberation" of the people from communism.

Twenty years on from the historic events of 1989 it is clear that what occurred was not so much a liberation but a colonisation. For while ordinary people have seen their living standards plummet and have lost many of the things they once took for granted, such as secure employment, affordable gas and electricity prices, cheap public transport and good-quality education and health care, the giants of Western capital have enjoyed a financial bonanza.

In Hungary alone, over £97 billion of publicly owned assets were sold off in the period 1990-2007, many to Western multinationals.

There was no office of Goldman Sachs in Budapest in 1989. There is now.
There were no Tescos in Hungary in 1989. There are now over 100.
And there was no Coca-Cola for sale when I visited the GDR. The Coca-Cola corporation now dominates the soft drinks market throughout the region.

So if you watched multimillionaire pop-star Bono perform last night in the MTV concert in Berlin to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, remember that it's capital - and not the ordinary people of eastern Europe - that's been the main beneficiary of the political changes of 20 years ago.

Never in the history of the world has the fall of a single wall proved quite so profitable.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

America (and the world's) best hope: A Manifesto for X Street

What this country needs is a new direction, possibly driven by a new foreign policy lobby that recognizes that while all nations have an inalienable right to be treated fairly by the United States, Washington has a clear and compelling responsibility to avoid involvement in other countries’ quarrels so it can put its own people and interests first.

Though "America First" might sound like a crude reversion to some forms of 1930s nationalism, in reality the lobby could spearhead a withdrawal from empire in reaction to the American people’s having been sold down the river by a succession of politicians of both parties who have adhered to an agenda that is completely hypocritical, blindly globalist, and persistently interventionist.

The inside-the-beltway political class has grown fat on empire, shielded from the consequences of its own folly and never held accountable for its sins, largely because both parties adhere to the same basic policies, albeit with slightly different packaging. The sorry result has not benefited the American people in any way unless one is a defense contractor or a Wall Street banker or a politician writing a self-exculpatory book.

You can read the rest of Philip Giraldi's Manifesto for X Street here.
I urge all American readers in particular to take a look: it's the best idea I've heard for ages.

Seumas Milne: Bring the troops back from Afghanistan

video: ady cousins

For those weren't able to make it to London, here, thanks to the wonders of You Tube is Seumas Milne's brilliant speech at the recent anti-war rally organised by Stop the War. As you'll see from the clip Seumas is a great speaker as well as being a great journalist, but to the best of my knowledge he has never appeared on the BBC1's Question Time programme, nor has he ever been a panellist on Radio 4's Any Questions. In fact, ask yourself how many true socialists you have seen/heard on Question Time or Any Questions. Pro-war neoliberals and faux leftists are invited every week and dominate the panels-(they even had a fascist on a few weeks back, I believe), but how many true socialists like Seumas, John Pilger or Jeremy Corbyn ever get invited?

It's supposed to be 'our' BBC, so shouldn't we try a little bit harder to get panels that actually represent public opinion?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Where have all the flowers gone?

(video: egonchris)

Another day, more dead soldiers in Afghanistan. The British public wants out. So too does former Foreign Office minister Kim Howells. It's time to say enough is enough and bring British troops back from Afghanistan without further delay. And let those who want this wretched, unwinnable war to continue go out and fight it themselves.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Gordon Brown and the great democracy charade

The Morning Star reports:

"The Prime Minister has spoken to President Karzai to congratulate him on his re-election“ a No 10 Downing Street spokesman said.

I wonder if this is the same Prime Minister who failed to congratulate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his election victory in Iran earlier this year? Unlike in Afghanistan where the 're-election' of US appointee Karzai was marked by widespread fraud, no firm evidence that this year's Iranian Presidential election was fraudulent has yet to be be produced.

When the US and its allies talk about 'democratic elections' what they really mean is a vote which puts their man in power. If the vote goes the other way, and a non-western puppet is elected, the election is immediately denounced as fraudulent, and the country in question often has to face sanctions (think Belarus, Yugoslavia and Iran) and air strikes (think Yugoslavia), or full scale military attack and sanctions (think Gaza).

And the leader in question certainly doesn't receive congratulations from Washington or London, but faces a campaign of demonisation (he's usually labelled the 'The New Hitler).

But one good thing- after the farcical 're-election' of Karzai in Afghanistan , there can’t be anyone who hasn’t seen through the great 'democracy' charade.

Monday, November 02, 2009

How neo-liberalism destroys trust

Mixed-economy Britain of the 1950s:

.....this was for the most part an era of trust.
Ken Blackmore, who grew up in a Cheshire village, remembers not only the front door of his home being left unlocked, but bikes generally being left untouched or unchained at the bus stop or the railway station.
It was not until about 1957 that British motorcycles were even fitted with locks or keys. John Humbach parked his 500cc Triumph outside his London house. 'I never had a chain and padlock and never knew anyone who had. The bike was never stolen and I was never worried it might be.'
That these were more lawabiding times than now is not a nostalgic fantasy. The fundamental fact was that, following a sharp upward spike in the post-war years, crime declined markedly during the first half of the Fifties. The numbers started to move up from 1955, but were strikingly low.
Notifiable offences recorded by the police were a little over half a million in 1957. Forty years later, they were almost 4.5 million. Violent crimes against the person numbered under 11,000 in 1957, and 250,000 in 1997.
It was, in short, a different world - whose trusting best was evoked by a premium-collecting Prudential insurance agent in Lincolnshire during the Fifties.
There were homes he went to in his bright yellow Austin Seven where the occupants were out at work and the key was under a brick or on a nail in the shed. 'I would let myself in and find the books and the payment which had been left out for me.
'Many times I would find also a hastily scribbled note: "Please take an extra sixpence and post these letters" and "Tell the doctor Johnnie is not so well".

The neo-liberal Britain of 2009:
‘Don’t trust anybody’
The words of Andrea Hall, mother of 17-year old Ashleigh Hall, victim of a Facebook killer.

In their brilliant book Criminal Identities and Consumer Culture- Crime, exclusion and the new culture of narcissism, (a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how things have gone so badly wrong), Steve Hall, Simon Winlow and Craig Ancrum describe how neoliberalism has destroyed Britain’s social fabric.
Hall et al talk of the ‘crime explosion that characterised Britain and the USA from the late 1960s to the late 1990s as a reality inextricably linked to the increasing dominance of neo-liberal political economy'.

Whenever a society changes from one where money power is contained, to an ultra-competitive, capitalistic one, trust between human beings is destroyed.
In the Morning Star a couple of years back I wrote about an experience I had in Hungary in 1995.

I was in a bank in Budapest waiting to withdraw money to buy a flight ticket back to England for Easter. Unfortunately I was unable to withdraw any money as I had bought the wrong card- and as my flight needed to be paid for that afternoon, I was at my wit’s end. Behind me in the queue was a middle-aged lady. On hearing of my predicament she offered to lend me the amount (over £130). She wrote down her address and said I could pay the money back when I returned to Hungary after the holiday. I was taken aback by the trust the lady had placed in a total stranger.
We can measure the impact of the changes from socialism to capitalism in many ways. But the kindness of the lady, brought up in a society where solidarity and helping others mattered more than personal gain, brought the difference home to me more than any GDP statistics or real income figures.
Would such an incident occur in Hungary today? Sadly, I very much doubt it.

Would such a incident occur in London in 2009? Of course not.

Because we live in a society where profits come before people.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Tony Bliar: Every little helps... (but £1m may be too little)

The Mail on Sunday reports:

Tony Blair has been in talks with Tesco about helping them open supermarkets in the Middle East - allegedly in return for up to £1million.
It is believed the discussions between the former Prime Minister, now a peace envoy to the region, and the supermarket chain, whose slogan is 'Every little helps', ended after the two sides failed to agree terms.
The disclosure could further damage Mr Blair's hopes of becoming the first President of Europe, as critics will seize on it as evidence that he is as interested in making money as he is in reviving his career as a statesman.
According to one source, Mr Blair's proposed role for Tesco would simply have been to act as a figurehead for their drive to break into the Middle East market.

Tony Bliar 'interested in making money'? Never!!