It has been until recently a mild winter and I have spent quite a few weeks at home. This has given me time to read some wonderful books. I reread one of the new Israeli historians, Avi Shlaim’s The Iron Wall, which is a superb and authoritative history of Israel since its foundation. The book shows clearly that Israel has been deliberately expansionist and deceitful from the beginning.

I also read Goliath by Max Blumenthal, who is a Pulitzer-prize-winning American Jew. It shows clearly how Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is poisoning itself. On this I strongly recommend the article ‘Growth Of Racism and Religious Extremism in Israel: a Challenge To Its American Friends‘ by Allan C Brownfeld who is editor of ISSUES: The Journal of the American Council for Judaism. The article shows how monstrously racist Israel has become.

And on the endless peace process which produces no progress but enables Israel to take ever more Palestinian land, this little video says all there is to say in a witty and accessible way:

The Man Who Loved Dogs

More recently I read the novel The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura, who is Cuban. The book has just been translated and published in English. It is an historically accurate novel covering the Spanish Civil War, the murder of Trotsky and the monstrous nature of Stalin, which sounds a bit depressing but is well worth a read if you are remotely interested in those issues.

The UK floods

I also recently made a quick trip to Washington for a meeting, where the weather was crisp, cold and bright but had previously been dangerously blizzarded with snow. Back home, parts of the country were experiencing terrible floods and everyone was trying to blame everyone else, rather than accept the fact that it was nature at work alongside the foolishness of building on flood plains and being unwilling to spend money on flood defences. The waters seem to be receding now and gradually the commentariat are beginning to accept that this kind of turbulent, extreme weather is one of the consequences of climate change.

The most mean-spirited and cheapskate commentary on the floods came from Nigel Farage of UKIP backed by the Daily Mail, who suggested that the costs of the wealthy farmers of Somerset who had had such a bad experience of flooding should be paid from the Aid budget. They quickly forgot that the recent floods in the Philippines cost 8,000 lives and that natural disasters in the poorest countries will be more frequent as a consequence of climate change brought about by countries like us having burned such a large quantity of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution.

Britain is in fact still the sixth wealthiest country in the world and all the talk of overspending by the previous government, and the need for cuts and austerity for those on low incomes, is very misleading. Before the 2008 financial crisis Britain’s borrowing was unproblematic. We then spent £850 billion on the Bank bailout, according to the National Audit Office. The consequence of this, and the effects of the crisis on the economy, increased national debt from 37% of GDP to 56.8%. It hardly seems right that the poor of the world and the poorest in Britain should pay for the misbehaviour of the Banks. It is very odd that Labour fail to contest the repeated claim that the economy is in trouble because of excess spending by the previous government.

Benefits Street

Channel 4 made a reality TV programme in one of the streets of my old constituency which they titled Benefits Street and led people to believe it was typical of people living on benefits. It drew much comment in the media and many people talked with me about it, but I avoided watching the programme until the Radio Times asked me to write a comment. My article is here, it appeared in an edited form in the Radio Times. This kind of programme feeds the attitudes that are justifying the continuing growth of inequality in Britain and the punishment of the poor for the excesses of the banks.

Interesting facts

  • Approximately half the diamonds in the world originate from Sub-Saharan Africa (New York Review of Books 2/07/13 Patrick Radden Keefe).
  • The US currently possesses 4,650 nuclear weapons and has built 70,000 since the end of the Second World War (LRB 23/1/14 Steven Shapin).
  • A sharp rise in agency staff and temporary contracts at the UK’s booming car factories has meant that the average wage for almost one third of the workforce has fallen in real terms over the last 4 years. Meanwhile the average director at the UK’s six largest UK car makers has had pay increases of 19% (FT 17/02/14).
  • Analysis of 40 years of salary details on behalf of the FT shows that in 1975, more than a decade before the Big Bang deregulated the City, the average London financial service worker earned about £3,800 per annum. This salary was outstripped sizeably by other professions – academics earned £5,000, engineers and natural scientists earned 10% more than financial service workers. Now, the average London financial service worker salary is about £102,000, including bonuses, while academics earn about £48,000, natural scientists average £42,000 and mechanical engineers £46,000. In 1975 FE lecturers and teachers made up almost 1 in 10 of the top 5%. Some printers, pit deputies and miners also featured, now none are in that bracket. (FT 15/2/14).
  • The rates of violent crime have been falling across the US for two decades (Neil Munshi FT 18/02/14).
  • At the end of the Second World War the US supplied 63% of the world’s oil and a barrel of oil cost $1 ($17 in 2014 values) (David Petraeus and Ian Bremmer FT 22/2/14)

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