I have been to Turkey a few weeks ago for my annual detox. For the last 10 years and more I have gone away for a week or so every year and eaten only fruit and vegetables, done some yoga, had a few massages and generally been good to my body and given it a rest. For quite a few years I went to the west of Ireland, last year I went to Egypt near Sinai and this year to a place near Bodrum in Turkey. I think this was the best so far. I have come back determined to have at least one green juice everyday and generally to eat more vegetables and some fruit and much reduced amounts of protein.
Whilst there I watched a number of films about healthy living. The one I recommend is ‘Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead’. It is the story of an Australian who made a lot of money in financial markets but put on a lot of weight and developed a painful skin condition that led to more and more drugs and no solution. He then went on a 60-day green-juice fast and travelled across America whilst doing it talking to people about their food. On this journey he met a massively overweight lorry driver who had the same skin condition as him. He left a phone number and invited him to ring if he wanted to make a change. In time a very depressed lorry driver makes the call, starts a juice fast, takes some exercise, changes his diet and in time becomes an attractive and fit and happy man just like his Australian friend. The film is quite inspiring, I recommend it to everyone. There is also a film available on You Tube called ‘The Men Who Made Us Fat’. There is no doubt when you look around in our shops and supermarkets that people have been misled into believing that unhealthy food is good for them and the consequence is a growing problems of obesity, weakened immune systems and growing ill-health. The food processing industry is behaving like the cigarette industry did before it and profiteering whilst it makes people ill. It is surely time for much more stringent regulation of that industry.
I’ve been very surprised by the way in which the US/EU threats to Russia over Ukraine, and the constant claim that Russia is in breach of International Law. have been a swallowed by all the main political parties and the media.
The first point is that surely the EU should not set up a competition with Russia about the need for Ukraine to choose one or the other as its major trading partner. Surely Ukraine should be to encouraged to trade with both Russia and Europe and have a good relationship with all its neighbours. Secondly, the constant expansion of NATO to surround Russia is a grave mistake and is unsurprisingly making Russia paranoid (just as the USA became paranoid over Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba). The right policy would be to give a firm undertaking that Ukraine will never be invited to join NATO and to have encouraged more autonomy for Crimea and the Russian-speaking parts of the country.
We should recall from history that Russian access to the warm water port of Sebastopol has been a long-term concern and it was not until 1955 that Khrushchev awarded Crimea to Ukraine, when it didn’t have the consequence it now does because Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. The hypocrisy of the US and EU who colluded in Israel’s constant grave breaches of international law getting on their high horse over a dubious claim that Russia is in breach of international law, is pure hypocrisy and double standards. Happily, as I write, it looks as though compromises in the air and the West is going to back off their attempts to reinvent the Cold War by reaching a deal with Russia on the condition that doesn’t seek to annex any more of Ukraine than Crimea.
I went to the funeral of my friend of many years Dennis Turner in Bilston a couple of weeks ago. He was the local MP for many years and then became Lord Bilston. He grew up and lived in the constituency, was always available to anyone who needed him and loved the people and the place. He was my Parliamentary Private Secretary when I was Secretary of State for International Development and was a passionate supporter of justice and a fair world for all its people. He continued to work to spread the fair-trade movement across Wolverhampton. He was a fine and decent man who represented the best of the Labour Party; his funeral was a moving occasion. The world would be a better place if there were more like him.
One million years of human history in Britain
I went last week to an exhibition at the Natural History museum about the efforts over 1 million years for homo sapiens and its ancestors to settle in the UK. Various incursions were made when Britain was linked to the continent and the climate was so different that mammoths, bears and rhinoceroses roamed. But the ice became so intense that our predecessors were driven out a number of times until homo sapiens managed to settle and hold on about 40,000 years ago. One of the most fascinating recent findings is that all humans, except Africans, have up to 5% Neanderthal genes in their DNA. It used to be thought that there was no interbreeding but the genetic evidence is now clear.
After a well-lived life Tony Benn died recently. Here is my tribute.
Capital by Rana Dasgupta
I went to the launch party of this new book by my talented friend Rana Dasgupta. It is non-fiction but a very readable account of the effects of liberalisation on life in Delhi. I recommend the book. Here we can see the picture of the effects of globalisation that we have experienced in our own society, but more exaggerated and gross in its divisive and exploitative effects. It really makes me think of how the cruel exploitation that accompanied the Industrial Revolution in Britain was not really tamed until the people won the social democratic reforms of the 1945 Labour government that brought full employment, the massive reduction of inequality and the welfare state. Since then these reforms have been rolled back worldwide and crude inequality is ripping everywhere. The question is what will be the political consequences of this rise in inequality across the world. Will it lead to new political movements that demand justice and decency, or the continuing growth of hate and division around questions of identity and nationality that we’re seeing now and that preceded the First World War.
A surprising apology from Rebekah Brooks
See here. She has of course never communicated with me but this seems to be part of her defence in court!
- Two thirds of children living in poverty in the UK live in working families (Observer 23/2/14 Jamie Doward)
- The annual meeting of the Chinese National People’s Congress includes 86 renminbi billionaires. The Chinese People’s Political Consultative conference is the main political advisory body and includes 69 renminbi billionaires. The average wealth of the 56 billionaires who have served in one or other political body for more than one five-year term increased by 316% from 2006 to the end of 2013 (FT 25/2/14)
- According to Polity IV database, almost 100 countries are (more or less imperfect) democracies. This is double the number in 1990. In 1800 there were none. The number of true autocracies has gone from 90 in 1990 to about 20 now. But there has been a rise in anocracies (regimes where governance is highly unstable, ineffective and corrupt) (Martin Wolfe FT 25/2/14)
- The Bank of England has noted that the top 5% of households own 40% of the assets boosted by Quantitative Easing ,which currently stands at £375 billion(FT editorial 6/3/14)
- Almost 4 million households now live in private rented accommodation in the UK and one quarter are subsidised by housing benefit (FT 27/2/14)
- 70 million people left Europe for the “New World” between the Napoleonic wars and the Second World War i.e. one 3rd of the European population at the beginning of the period. In addition some 130 million Europeans died in two world wars (Rana Dasgupta Capital 2014)
- In the late 1970s it was estimated that Delhi’s total slum population was 20,000. By the early 21st-century many millions – perhaps one half of the city’s population lived in some kind of unauthorised housing-slums, squatter settlements, lean-tos and the like – while many tens of thousands lived without any shelter at all (Rana Dasgupta Capital)
- After liberalisation, India’s pool of billionaires expanded rapidly, increasing their wealth from less than 1% of national income in 1996 to 22% in 2008. 60% of this billionaire wealth was built up from sectors closely controlled by government (Dasgupta Capital)
- In the decade after 2000 it was conspicuous that tiny Mauritius accounted for over 41% of India’s foreign direct investment; as a report issued by India’s finance Minister in 2012 commented “Mauritius and Singapore with their small economies cannot be the source of such huge investments and it is apparent that the investments are routed through these jurisdictions for avoidance of taxes and /or concealing the identities from the revenue authorities of the ultimate investor, many of whom could actually be Indian residents” (Dasgupta Capital)
- In the 19th century concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich was much less in the US than in Europe. In the 20th century, this situation was reversed. It was because the return to capital exceeded economic growth that inequality widened in the 19th century and these conditions are likely to be repeated in the 21st century. The Forbes global billionaire rankings show that the wealth of the very richest has grown more than 3 times as fast as the size of the world’s economy between 1987 in 2013 (Thomas Piketty FT 29/30 March 2014)