Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

A very Merry Christmas to everyone.

Keep in mind the fact that the Son of Man, the Christ who lived and was executed by the government of His day, was a great leader, and leader of the common people. It was his great message of Love and Brotherhood which brought him to his death. He knew the poor of the earth were oppressed by the rich and wealthy, and in scathing terms denounced the money changers and all those who defiled the Temple and brought suffering to starving humanity.

George Lansbury, 1926.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Open up the factories and get Britain moving again

This piece of mine, on how Britain can escape its deepest recession, appears in the First Post

It's certainly not the sort of news that Gordon Brown wanted to hear just before Christmas. Official figures released yesterday show that despite the Brown government‘s efforts to boost the economy, Britain has remained in recession for a record-breaking sixth quarter.

As The First Post's business correspondent Edward Helmore reports today, the economy shrank by 0.2 per cent between July and September - meaning that Britain is now the only G20 nation still mired in recession.

Why have we got it so bad while our European neighbours are already enjoying a return to economic growth? The opposition have of course been quick to pin the blame on Gordon Brown and Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling. But the problem runs deeper than two individuals. The reason why Britain is still in recession, while France and Germany are not, is because of the type of economy we run.

Britain, since the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, has been a country where manufacturing industry - and a diverse, mixed economy, has been sacrificed at the altar of free market dogma. We have allowed important industries to close, or be sold overseas - mistakenly pinning our hopes on a burgeoning financial services sector fuelling long-term economic growth.

Our continental rivals have pursued a more balanced, less-ideological approach. Unlike Britain, France, Germany and Italy have maintained a strong industrial base. Six of the top 14 automobile manufacturers in the world are from those three countries. Europe‘s largest engineering company - Siemens - is German; the largest energy company - EDF - is French and 85 per cent owned by the French government.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Ghosts of Christmas Past: Xmas 1970


In the run-up to Christmas, the return of our 'Ghosts of Christmas past’ musical feature.

As bookies odds on a white Christmas in 2009 in Britain tumble and most of the country- and indeed much of Europe- enjoys some decent snowfalls- I thought we’d kick off by taking a Tardis ride back to the white Xmas of 1970.

It was the first Xmas of a decade which marked the zenith of 20th century progressive politics. The decade of Palme, Kreisky, Trudeau, Kadar and Nyerere, the National Enterprise Board and détente between east and west.

A decade when the top rate of income tax in Britain rose to 83%- the highest since the second world war. Imagine what the neoliberal fanatics would say if that was proposed today- they already want us to think that a rise in the top rate to 50% in 2010/11, will be the end of the world.

In June 1970, Harold Wilson’s Labour government, had suffered a rather undeserved general election defeat.

But not to worry: Ted Heath’s Conservative government, even with Margaret Thatcher as a cabinet minister, was still far to the left of New Labour (not that that’s too difficult). And a little more than three years later, Wilson and Labour were back in power, elected on an unequivocally socialist economic programme.

Riding high in the charts at Christmas 1970 was Grandad, by Clive Dunn, a star of the era's most popular comedy series, the wonderful Dad's Army.


And please write in with any memories you have of the snowy Xmas of 1970.

Monday, December 14, 2009

War Crime case against Blair now rock solid

This article of mine appears in The First Post.

Neil Clark: A trial would be warmly welcomed by millions – so what happens next?

Tony Blair's extraordinary admission on Sunday to the BBC's Fern Britton - that he would have gone to war to topple Saddam Hussein regardless of the issue of Iraq's alleged WMDs - is sure to give fresh impetus to moves to prosecute our former prime minister for war crimes.

The case against Blair, strong enough before this latest comment, now appears rock solid. Going to war to change another country's regime is prohibited by international law, while the Nuremburg judgment of 1946 laid down that "to initiate a war of aggression", as Blair and Bush clearly did against Iraq, "is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole".

Blair's admission, that Saddam would have been attacked anyway, is also an acknowledgement that he lied to the House of Commons on February 25, 2003, when he told MPs: "I detest his [Saddam's] regime. But even now he [Saddam] can save it by complying with the UN's demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully. I do not want war... But disarmament peacefully can only happen with Saddam's active co-operation."

The view that Blair is a war criminal is now mainstream: when comedian Sandi Toksvig, host of Radio Four's News Quiz, called him one on air, the BBC, according to the Mail on Sunday, did not receive a single complaint.

But while it is easy to label Blair a war criminal, what are the chances of him actually standing trial - and how could it be achieved?

You can read the rest of the article here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ryan Giggs is Sports Personality of the Year- and Joe McElderry wins the X Factor

Both pretty good choices I reckon. How about you?

Tony Blair- a liar and a war criminal

By his own admission.
'Regime change' may be popular with neocon fanatics, but it is illegal.

And when you read Bliar's latest comments, think back to the speech he gave to the House of Commons on 25th February 2003.

"I detest his regime....but even now, he (Saddam) could save it by complying with the UN's demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully. I do not want war ... But disarmament peacefully can only happen with Saddam's active co-operation."

What a liar.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Beyond Orwellian: Barack Obama, Nobel Peace Prize winner

A Nobel Peace Prize winner using his acceptance speech to justify war?

The same Peace Prize winner citing NATO’s brutal intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s as an example of a 'just war’?

It’s beyond Orwellian. We have a Noble peace prize winner, who is so committed to peace that he won’t even sign a landmine ban.

At least Obama conceded that there were many people more deserving of the prize than himself. Hundreds of millions of people in fact.

The problem with Obama is not that he's a wicked man, but that he's the prisoner of a wicked, corrupt system. As commenter Deloki puts it in the First Post:

Silly naive people to believe that the elected President of the USA has any say over policy. The people who financed and effectively "bought him", are the ones who decide, not the front man reading pre-prepared speeches. The same applies to Tony Blair who in return for doing what he was told, has a wonderful future ahead of him, clear up the little nonsense and misunderstanding about Iraq and then he can move on to greater things. To believe that there is "democracy" in the USA or Europe is really dumb, for it does not matter which party wins an election, the people with the money remain the same and it is they that "call the shots".

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Murder of Lily Lilley- and Britain's criminal friendly justice system

The Oldham Chronicle reports:

A MURDERESS who killed a frail Failsworth pensioner, bundled her body in a wheelie bin and dumped it in the canal and then became pregnant while a prisoner, is to be given a taxpayer-funded change of identity.

Healey was convicted with fellow schoolgirl Sarah Davey, then 14, of beating and gagging Mrs Lilley before bundling her body into a wheelie bin and dumping it in the Rochdale Canal.

They had gagged her so hard she swallowed her false teeth and the judge, Mr Justice Sachs, described it as “unspeakable cruelty.”

Healey, who is serving her sentence at Askham Grange open prison in York, became pregnant after meeting Doncaster prisoner Michael Dent at a “Service User Forum” and then regularly checked in with him at the Ibis Hotel, York, while on day release.

For that quite horrendous crime, the murderess, Lisa Healey, received just 11 years in prison. The case is enough to make any decent-minded person angry at Britain's criminal justice system- one which puts such a low value on human life and which allows convicted murderers to become pregnant while they are prisoners.

Our good friend The Exile is even more angry. Because Lily Lilley, the murdered pensioner, was his auntie. He's blogged about how he feels here, here and here.

Just ask yourself how you would feel if a murderer of a member of your family was treated so leniently by the authorities. The very essence of justice is that the punishment should fit the crime. 11 years for taking another human being's life? That's taking the mickey. As is expecting the taxpayer to fund a change of the murderer's identity.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Douglas Fairbanks Jnr: A life more thrilling than any film


It's exactly 100 years today since the birth of the great actor Douglas Fairbanks jnr. Below is my Daily Express piece on Fairbanks's incredibly eventful life.

While above, you're in for a real treat. A clip from the Dick Cavett Show from June 1970, where Fairbanks, his usual debonair, very well-mannered self, appears alongside Janis Joplin and Raquel Welch. What a trio of guests! And what interesting conversation. They don't make chat shows like that anymore.
Sadly Joplin died less than three months after the show was recorded, at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose. What a huge loss.

Neil Clark

HE was not only one of the most famous Hollywood stars of the golden era but a war hero who received the highest awards for bravery and a man who counted the Royal ­Family among his many friends.

A man famed for his debonair manner and good looks, he had affairs with the most beautiful women of the day and was involved in one of the most sensational divorce trials of all time.

Given his family background, Douglas Fairbanks Jnr – who was born 100 years ago this week – was always going to be a film star.

His father Douglas Fairbanks Snr was the first great icon of the movie age and was known as the The King of Hollywood. His stepmother Mary Pickford, “America’s sweetheart”, was the most famous female silent movie star of all time.

However, having such well-known parents did not guarantee happiness for the young Fairbanks and his relationship with his father was not a close one. “He was very undemonstrative,” Fairbanks later recalled. “There was no outright unpleasantness between [us] but there was no great warmth either.”

Fairbanks was keen to escape from his father’s shadow. “I was determined to be my own man,” he wrote. He did however admit that having such a famous surname was no disadvantage.

Born on December 9, 1909, Fairbanks made his film debut at the age of 13 (in Stephen Steps Out) and by the time he was 19 he was already receiving star billing (The Forward Pass). It was also in 1929 that the youthful heart-throb married the first of his three wives, actress Joan Crawford.

On their honeymoon to England Fairbanks got his first taste of British high society as the couple were entertained by Prince George, Duke of Kent, the brother of future Kings Edward VIII and George VI.

Fairbanks’s marriage to Crawford was not a success – she had an affair with actor Clark Gable – but despite their divorce in 1933 Fairbanks bore no grudges.

By the mid-Thirties, Fairbanks was established as one of Hollywood’s leading stars, appearing in films such as Catherine The Great (1934) and The Prisoner Of Zenda (1937).

He then became great friends with British actor David Niven, another keen ladies’ man. In his biography of Niven, Graham Lord describes the time when Niven and Fairbanks met a couple of prostitutes in London’s West End during the blackout.
Niven suggested taking the girls back to his flat, where they paid them £5 each, but the girls recognised the two film stars as soon as the lights were switched on. “I have never before or since seen Niv at a loss,” Fairbanks later recalled. “But we shared a silly, embarrassed grin.”

Among Fairbanks’s lovers was actress Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich was famously promiscuous and on one occasion Fairbanks was leaving her suite at Claridge’s in the early hours when he passed another of Dietrich’s lovers on the way up. “I know where you’ve been,” said the other man accusingly, to which Fairbanks replied: “Yes but don’t tell Marlene!”

But there was more to Fairbanks than films and women as he proved during the Second World War. ­Fairbanks became a US Navy ­officer and was assigned to Lord Mountbatten’s commando staff in Britain. His involvement included taking part in the US landings in southern France and sailing on the Arctic convoys, used to bring supplies to the Soviet Union.

For his exploits Fairbanks received the Silver Star Medal and Legion of Merit from the US, the Légion d’honneur and Croix de Guerre with Palm from France and a Distinguished Service Cross from Britain.

After the war, Fairbanks spent much of his time in Britain. He received an honorary knighthood in 1947 from George VI for “furthering Anglo-American amity” and became good friends with the Queen and Prince Philip. He and his second wife Mary Lee Eppling, whom he married in 1939 and with whom he had three daughters, were famous society hosts. It was during his time in Britain that Fairbanks became involved in one of the most sensational divorce trials of all time.

In 1963 the Duke of Argyll brought a divorce case against his wife Margaret for infidelity. Among the evidence produced at the trial were photographs of the Duchess performing oral sex on an unidentified man.

There was enormous speculation as to who the “Headless Man” might be and the Duke produced a list of 88 men he believed had enjoyed his wife’s favours. The list was then whittled down to five, one of whom was Fairbanks.

Judge Lord Denning was hired by the government to identify the “Headless Man” and it was claimed that writing on the reverse of the photo belonged to Fairbanks, though no announcement to this effect was ever made. Fairbanks always denied his involvement, but a Channel 4 documentary made after his death claimed that there were actually two different ‘Headless Men’ featured in the photographs- Fairbanks, and Cabinet minister Duncan Sandys, the son-in-law of Winston Churchill.

Fairbanks returned to films at the age of 71 in the 1981 with Ghost Story. His wife Mary Lee died in 1988 and three years later at the age of 81 Fairbanks married again, this time to Vera Lee Shelton.

Fairbanks died, after a heart attack, at the age of 90 in May 2000.

Film star, lover, war hero and debonair man about town, there’s no denying Fairbanks lived life to the full. “I’ve led an enormously lucky life,” he reflected in 1989.
“I’ve done what I wanted to do. I worked hard and played hard and it was all tremendously rewarding. I just wish it could go on and on and on.”

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Crime of the Century- and some gossip from a taxi driver

The Mail reports:

Gossip from an Iraqi taxi driver was a key source for Tony Blair's 'dodgy dossier'.
A report by a respected MP claims that the unlikely secret agent was one of MI6's top sources when it was building a case to justify the invasion.
He provided the information that Saddam Hussein could fire chemical weapons at British targets within 45 minutes.
Mr Holloway's report says that analysts at the Secret Intelligence Service quickly decided the cab driver's information about missiles was 'verifiably' false and warned that the agent was not reliable.
But a carefully-worded footnote in an MI6 report was apparently brushed aside by Downing Street officials when the dodgy dossier was put together in September 2002.

Gossip from a Iraqi taxi driver being used to sell the case for an illegal war. And the consequences of that war: over 1m people dead.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, the carnage unleashed by the illegal invasion continues.

The Iraq war was the defining event of the first decade of the 21st century.

Let’s make sure that in the second decade of the century those responsible for it are finally brought to justice.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Hugo Chavez litmus test

As I wrote here, there is a simple measure which can be used to differentiate the faux-left from genuine socialists.

The Hugo Chavez litmus test.

For genuine socialists, Chavez is a hero for the way he governs his country in the interests of the majority, for his redistributive economic policies and for his outspoken opposition to the neoconservative war agenda.

But for faux-leftists he's a "demagogue" and sometimes even a "dictator" despite his regular election victories, his frequent use of referendums and his belief in devolving power to local communities.

The Hugo Chavez litmus test works every time. Here's the latest example.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Freedom and its adversaries (supported by Coca-Cola)

Many thanks for Karl over at his excellent blog 'Eastern Europe Watch' for alerting me to the 'Freedom and its Adversaries' conference, which was held in Prague last month to commemorate 20 years since the 'Velvet Revolution', and which was supported by several western multinationals, including the Coca-Cola Company, Deloitte and TNT Post.

You can read a list of the participants here and what a bunch they were too.
Neo-con pin-up boy Vaclav Havel, described by current Czech President Vaclav Klaus as 'the most elitist person I have ever seen in my life', Iraq war supporting philosopher Andre Glucksmann and the fanatically anti-communist playwright Tom Stoppard, who is on the advisory board of the hardcore neocon magazine Standpoint.

And guess who’s there on top left? Yup, former US Secretary of State, 'Mad' Albright (above).

Her bio says:
As Secretary of State, she reinforced America’s alliances, advocated democracy and human rights, and promoted American trade and business, labor, and environmental standards abroad.

Well, I think we can fairly say Mad ‘promoted American trade and business‘- but ‘advocated democracy and human rights’?

By supporting the genocidal sanctions on the people of Iraq?.

"When asked on US television if she thought that the death of half a million Iraqi children was a price worth paying, Albright replied: "This is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it."

Or by bombing innocent Yugoslav citizens and helping to topple a democratically elected government whose only ‘crime’ was continuing to run an economy where social ownership predominated a decade after the Berlin Wall came down?

The 'freedom' that Ms Albright wants is the 'freedom' for big corporations to make money. Certainly not the freedom of people to elect governments the US State Department and global capital disapproves of.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

How the West destroyed Yugoslavia

The trial of Radovan Karadzic in The Hague, which has been stalled by the former Bosnian Serb leader's refusal to show up in court, is likely to be used by the West to justify NATO's current policy of "humanitarian intervention."

At a time when the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly unpopular in countries which have committed troops to this theatre of war, Western officials are likely to propagate the generally accepted notion - created by Western governments to cover up the real, geo-political motives for their involvement in the Yugoslav civil war - that it was NATO intervention which ended the Bosnian war.....

However, as the case of Iraq has shown, the West has no compunction in fabricating a story for its own self-gain.

The Yugoslav civil war was a conflict which could have been averted had it not been for the actions of the US, German and certain other European governments who, according to Lord Peter Carrington, chairman of the Geneva-based conference on Yugoslavia, "made it sure there was going to be a conflict" in that region.

You can read the whole of Marcus Papadopolous’s brilliant Morning Star article on how the west deliberately destroyed socialist Yugoslavia, here.

With the Iraq war widely discredited and the Afghanistan war increasingly unpopular, it really will, as I argued here, be ‘game over’ for the serial warmongers, once people acknowledge the truth about what went on in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Americanisation of Eastern Europe

continues apace....

With rising unemployment, rising poverty, huge disparities of wealth and a massive increase in violent crime, is it any wonder that a majority of Hungarians (and not just my wife, Zsuzsanna), believe that things were better before neoliberalism came to the country in 1989?