I am back from my travels and enjoying sleeping in my own bed. It was interesting to note that Zambia has now moved from being a low-income country to a middle income category. The test of this is just over $1000 a head of GDP, which in very unequal countries means that there are still large numbers of very poor people (and most resource-rich countries are very unequal). But the sense of progress in the country reflected the economic progress that is general across Africa, as a consequence of the commodity boom. Of course there is strong evidence that Zambia is not getting a fair return in taxation for its copper wealth, and therefore the condition of the people should be better, but still there is progress. (See ‘Zambia’s transparency on mining revenue good’.)


In Vietnam there were statues of Ho Chi Minh in every village hall, and a lot of pride in local community activity and culture. I was left thinking that Uncle Ho would be pleased with progress, though there are criticisms of corruption and lack of free speech.

South Korea

I visited South Korea for the first time. It was as poor as Ghana in the 1960s and now has a GDP of $32,100 per capita and is one of the 20 richest countries in the world. The worrying fact about Korea is that it has a very high suicide rate, alongside Japan, but the scale of progress is astonishing. Even more interesting is their strong commitment since the 2008 crisis to green growth, which they are taking very seriously both for their own economy and in their development efforts.


Yet again Gaza has been bombarded by Israel, one of the most powerful military forces in the world. And yet again many governments, including that of the UK, accepted the Israeli line that it was a reasonable response to rockets being released from Gaza into southern Israel. This claim is false, the reality is that there are constant Israeli attacks on Gaza and occasional rockets from Gaza into Israel. The massively unbalanced death and destruction rates are a clear measure of that. As the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions made clear in their statement, Gaza is occupied territory and is entitled to resist occupation by violence according to international law, but like all other parties, it is not allowed to target civilians.

In early November there had been exchanges of fire between the two sides with 6 Palestinians killed and 36 wounded and 14 Israelis injured, 8 of whom were civilians. Then a ceasefire was negotiated by the Egyptians which Israel breached by killing Hamas’s top military leader. Palestinians in Gaza responded with rockets and then Israel bombarded Gaza for 8 days and Gaza returned fire with rockets.

The result was that over 8 days 168 Palestinians and 6 Israelis were killed. Many more were injured. There was masses of destruction in Gaza, including according to UN estimates, 10,000 homes destroyed or damaged. A sports stadium was also destroyed. And yet when the ceasefire was negotiated the Gazans celebrated because they felt they had driven Israel back. This reminds me of the statement by Terence McSwiney, the playwright and Mayor of Cork who died after 74 days on hunger strike in Brixton prison in 1920. He said, “It is not those who can inflict the most,but those who can suffer the most who will prevail.”

It seems to me that Israel’s refusal to allow the Palestinians their promised state based on the boundaries of the land Israel has occupied since 1967, which would consist of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, means that the struggle will go on. The culmination is likely to be one state for all its people with guaranteed rights for both communities, as happened in South Africa. The duty of all those concerned for justice for the Palestinians, and to save Israel from itself, is to support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement to bring about this day as rapidly as possible.

Birmingham Campaign against Veolia

I have been involved in a new campaign in Birmingham to persuade the Council to cancel or at least refuse to renew the Veolia contract for handling Birmingham’s waste, because Veolia are providing transport links between illegal settlements and Israel, in breach of international law. There are such campaigns across the world that will I hope have the same result as the BDS campaign against apartheid South Africa. There are brilliant briefings on the Veolia campaign on the Jews for Justice for Palestinians website. There is also a petition here. Please add your name.

Notable shift on UN vote for Palestine’s enhanced status

Growing exasperation with Israel, and fear that the Gaza conflict has strengthened Hamas and further weakened President Abbas, has led to a very large vote, including many Europeans, for Palestine’s Observer State status at the UN. This was despite lots of Israeli and American arm-twisting and threats if Abbas dared to go ahead with the application. There will be no immediate practical effect but what Israel hates is the world recognising the Palestinian right to a state, when Israel would like to give them a series of bantustans.

The UK was as embarrassing as ever in saying it would vote for Palestine if they promised not to invoke the International Criminal Court. Britain is signed up to the Court, unlike the US. Surely that should mean that all should be equal before the law? Later, even more foolishly, the UK said it would support Palestine if they would agree to peace talks. All informed observers are aware that there are no peace talks because Israel continues to take more Palestinian land for its settlements, in total breach of International Law, and despite pleas from the US, thus removing the prospect of a Palestinian state and therefore any point in talks.

Britain’s development programme in India

Britain has announced it is withdrawing its development programme from India. According to Richard Manning writing on the OECD DAC at 50, by 2010 two thirds of the world’s poorest people are living in middle-income countries. India has more stunted children than the whole of Africa. We need to ask ourselves who is development for, poor people or governments?

Are we Thatcher’s children?

I spoke on a panel on this with Cecil Parkinson and others at the Bishopsgate Institute. The podcast is available on their website. My argument was that it was from Thatcher’s government on that the UK became one of the most unequal countries in the OECD and New Labour failed to reverse it. In this sense we are her children and it is a painful reality.

Interesting facts

  • US credit-card debt between 1980 and 2010 quadrupled to 14% of average US household income- and that is only the monthly interest! (Edward Luce citing Prof Elizabeth Warren America and the Spectre of Decline).
  • The oil industry began with 2 inventions. In 1849 a Canadian developed a method of refining the petroleum into a clear liquid kerosene that burned brighter than whale oil and cost less. In 1859 Edwin Drake realised oil could be tapped like water in a well (Luke Mitchell LRB 8 November 2012).
  • Mao on visiting the US as our in the late 50s stunned his hosts by suggesting that war with “the imperialists” was nothing to fear. “If the worst came to the worst and half of mankind died, the other half would remain and imperialism would be destroyed and the whole world would become socialist” (from book review of Ruthless Empire: China and the world since 1750 reviewed by Gideon Rachman FT 9/ 1/120).
  • Dan Quayle, when Vice President of the United States, once apologised to Latin American visitors for not speaking Latin (Satyajit Dass, Extreme Money).
  • In all of human history only about 2 Olympic swimming pools full of gold have been extracted (Ibid.)
  • By 2015 China aims for one third of its generating capacity for energy to come from non-fossil fuel sources (Leslie Hook FT 12/11/12).
  • Saudi Arabia now burns a third of its oil output each day to produce drinkable water and electricity and the proportion so consumed is growing fast (Pilita Clark FT 3/12/12).
  • H.L Mencken, the journalist from Baltimore, wrote “for every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong”.

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