Monday, January 31, 2022

Bulgaria's Falling Population

 Bulgaria’s population has declined by 11.5% in the past decade.

The nation has shrunk by 844,000 people, from some 7.3 million in 2011 to 6.5 million today.

The ageing of the population is another lasting trend.

Experts attribute the decline to low birth rates, high mortality, and a steady migration flow that has seen working-age people leaving to look for better jobs and education prospects.

U.N. experts estimate that if these trends continue, Bulgaria will contract further to about 5.4 million people by 2050.

UK Inequality


The richest 1% of households in the UK each have fortunes of at least £3.6m.

At the other end of the scale, the poorest 10% of households have just £15,400 or less, with almost half burdened with more debts than they had in assets.

The wealthiest 10% of households held 43% of all the wealth in Great Britain 

The bottom 50% held only 9%.

There are an estimated 27.8m households in the UK. There are just 263,000 in the top 1%.



Hundreds of workers at NHS hospitals in London including porters, cleaners and catering staff are to go on strike from Monday in a dispute over pay.

The staff employed by the outsourcing company Serco at St Bartholomew’s, the Royal London and Whipps Cross are walking out for two weeks.

They are members of the Unite union, which claims that mainly black, Asian and ethnic minority staff are paid up to 15% less than directly employed NHS workers.

Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said: “The NHS workers taking strike action have their union’s unwavering support. They face the same risks as NHS-employed staff. Why on earth are they being paid significantly worse while being treated disgracefully? “It’s time to end this injustice. It’s time to bring these workers, employed by Serco not the NHS, back into NHS employment.”

Peter Kavanagh, a regional secretary for Unite, said: “Our members have worked tirelessly through the pandemic, they deserve better. Serco and Barts need to deliver a pay increase that addresses the poor pay and the inequality of treatment compared to directly employed NHS staff at other hospitals in London.”

Meanwhile, families planning half-term getaways face having their travel plans disrupted by a three-day strike by baggage handlers and aircraft refuellers at Heathrow airport.

About 400 Unite members employed by Menzies Aviation will begin their walkout at 00.01am on 11 February, resuming work on 14 February. Unite says the company is refusing to enter into negotiations about a pay rise after firing and rehiring hundreds of workers during the pandemic.

Porters and cleaners at London NHS hospitals begin two-week strike | NHS | The Guardian

The Gig Economy Grows

 Young people who lost their jobs during the pandemic in the UK have returned to less secure work, often in gig economy roles, according to research from a leading thinktank, the Resolution Foundation.

It also found almost 50,000 more men under the age of 24 are now economically inactive.

Young people had returned to work rapidly in late 2021, with unemployment now slightly lower than pre-pandemic levels, but a third of the 18- to 34-year-olds back in the workplace were now in atypical, insecure work.

The young “returners” – those who were employed pre-Covid but became unemployed in the pandemic – were now much more likely than those who stayed in work to be on a temporary or zero-hours contract, or doing agency work or unsteady hours. Thirty-three per cent of the returners, among 6,100 people surveyed by YouGov for the study, were now in such roles, compared with 12% of those who had stayed in work throughout the pandemic.

Although the youth unemployment rate decreased from 10.5% to 9.8% from spring 2020 to autumn 2021, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who are economically inactive and not in full-time education, known as Neets, rose by 75,000 last year – with young men accounting for more than 60% of the increase, the report said.

Louise Murphy, an economist at the Resolution Foundation and author of the report, said: “One in three young people who experienced worklessness during the last lockdown have returned to atypical contracts, which often means insecure work. The fact that they are more likely to be looking for new or additional work suggests higher dissatisfaction with their current jobs.

“And while unemployment has fallen, the number of young people dropping out of education and the labour market altogether has risen – especially young men.

“A return to the workplace, on its own, is not enough. Ensuring that young people have the confidence and knowledge to find and apply for work, and access to good quality jobs and sufficient hours, must be a priority for employers and policymakers in the months and years to come.”

Young people who lost jobs in pandemic in UK ‘returning to insecure work’ | Gig economy | The Guardian

Global Food Price Inflation

 The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says global food prices rose 28% in 2021.

"The last time food prices were this high was in 2011, when policymakers were actually warning about a global food crisis," says Dr Abdul Abiad of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Even in a wealthy nation like Singapore, it means that the number of families seeking help has increased.

"What we have seen when we make the door-to-door deliveries is that young families with both husband and wife working a part-time job or in the gig economy - these were the families that got impacted when Covid hit and all the part-time work dried up," says Nichol Ng, co-founder of Food Bank Singapore.

It is not just the poorest 10% of the population who now need help, she says: "It has slowly crept to maybe 20% of the population including middle-income families that might not even know where to get help in the first place."

Global food prices are expected to remain high this year and the FAO's David Dawe says this is of concern for Asian governments because price hikes have not yet worked their way through the system.

"If global prices continue to rise, there will be an impact, especially for lower income families who spend bigger proportion of their income on food."

How the high cost of living is hitting Singapore's poor - BBC News

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Thirteen Derry Dead

 Many other groups and organisations are commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. 

The blog re-publishes the Socialist Standard's editorial of the event. 


On Sunday 30 January thirteen men were shot dead in Derry as the British Army moved in to halt a march held in defiance of the Stormont government’s ban. The immediate result was an upsurge of Irish nationalism, both in the South and amongst the Catholic minority in the North.

The thirteen Derry dead has completed the alienation of the Catholic population of Northern Ireland from the regime there. After fifty years of passively accepting the role of what its first Prime Minister called “a Protestant parliament for Protestant people”, they are now actively rejecting its authority—to the extent of regarding the IRA as a useful counter to the British Army which is virtually occupying their ghettos in Belfast and Derry as well as whole towns such as Newry and Strabane where they form the overwhelming majority of the population.

The Unionist government at Stormont, and the British government at Westminster, see this as an armed insurrection against the will of the Northern Ireland majority, and to a certain extent it is. But it is well to remember that it was the political predecessors of Faulkner and Co. who in 1914 introduced the gun into Northern Irish politics when they armed themselves to resist the will of the British parliament that Ireland should be given Home Rule. The capitalists in and around Belfast did not want to be cut off from the markets of the British Empire behind the tariff walls of an industrially-backward Ireland. So, from the 1880’s onward, they created a mass political following by stirring up the traditional anti-Catholic fears and prejudices of their Protestant workmen. The strategy worked. When in 1921 an Irish Free State was set up, the six counties of North East Ireland were excluded. The one-third Catholic minority in this area was by gerrymandering and intimidation excluded from playing any effective role in politics there. They were just awkward outsiders which the Unionist government, relying on the support of the Protestant majority, felt it could easily handle. As indeed it did until 1968, despite the occasional IRA “campaign” which fizzled out through lack of popular support. In October of that year part of the official armed forces of the Stormont regime—the notorious B specials—brutally suppressed another march, once again in Derry. From then on the Stormont government lost control and the British Army had to be called in to maintain “law and order”, i.e., to get the Catholic population to once again passively accept Stormont and British rule.

The British government extracted a price from Stormont for this support: gerrymandering and intimidation was to stop; the Catholics in Northern Ireland were to be treated in the same way as they would if they lived in England. Since, with the coming of Common Market capitalism, the original economic reason for Partition had gone the political representatives of the Belfast capitalists were prepared to accept this (even if many of the Protestant workers they had duped in the past were not).

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the Northern Ireland situation is that the term “socialist” has become associated with pro-Catholic politics. Protestant and Catholic alike expect someone who calls himself a socialist to back the IRA or at least support a United Ireland. Well, we support neither. We know that “independence” for Ireland in 1921 was just a change of masters which left the basic position, and problems, of the Irish worker unchanged. We know that Irish nationalism and republicanism was the ideology of the up-and-coming capitalists in the South who, being weaker than their counterparts in Belfast, wanted Home Rule and tariffs as a protection against British competition.

The tragedy of Northern Ireland is that the present political division of the working class there reflects yesterday’s divisions amongst the Irish capitalist class, divisions which now have no relevance even for capitalism since both Britain and Ireland are about to join the Common Market and since the same international companies have investments both sides of the Border.

Our advice to the worker in Northern Ireland is, first: Do not do anything, in word or deed, which might encourage further killings of your working-class brothers, whether Protestant or Catholic or, for that matter, British soldiers. And, secondly: Think carefully about the situation to see if the issue of a United Ireland versus a British Ulster is worth a single drop of working-class blood.

The British government’s declared aim is that Northern Ireland should become a part of Britain like Scotland or the West Country so that being a Catholic would not affect your job or house prospects. The IRA, and now Bernadette Devlin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and others, stand (despite their socialist pretensions) for a United Ireland, in which the Protestant worker would retain the “civil and religious liberties” he now has (i.e., freedom from the interference of the Catholic Church in what he reads, or thinks, or does).

True, both programmes are somewhat unrealistic since the Catholics of Northern Ireland, with some justice, distrust the Unionist politicians who would continue to rule Northern Ireland while the Protestants, again with some justice, doubt the ability of Irish politicians to control the Catholic hierarchy. But, for the moment, suppose both aims could be achieved.

Would the working class be worse or better off under one or the other? Would there be anything to choose between the two “solutions”? Surely, in both a British Ulster or a United Ireland, the workers’ standard of living would be much the same. So would the slums, the unemployment and the other problems of capitalist society. And world Socialism would remain the only solution to these problems. The only difference would be the colour of the flag that would fly over the government buildings in Belfast: Union Jack or Irish Tricolour? Is this an issue worth killing and being killed over? No, Socialists reply, a thousand times No!

Editorial: The Thirteen Derry Dead – (

War Beckons in Ukraine

Much is unclear about the situation in and around Ukraine. Does Putin really intend to invade all or part of Ukraine? Or is the buildup of Russian troops along Ukraine’s eastern and northern border, in Belarus as well as southern Russia, merely a means to exert pressure, demonstrate resolve, and win a few concessions from the West? Is the confrontation mainly about the fate of the separatist ‘republics’ in eastern Ukraine? Why does Russia place so much emphasis on preventing the admission of Ukraine to NATO, given how unlikely it is that this will happen any time in the foreseeable future?  

Background: developments within Ukraine

Ukraine has been in the grip of civil war for several years now – ever since the coups of 2014 — the Ukrainian-nationalist coup in Kiev and the west and the counter-coup in the Russian-speaking east. The covert involvement of Russia on the eastern side is also nothing new. The question is whether its involvement is about to become much deeper and more overt.  

The separation between western and eastern Ukraine goes back to the 19th century, when Ukraine was split between the Austro-Hungarian and tsarist empires. Eastern Ukraine, where the country’s industry is concentrated, is mainly Russian-speaking and depends on economic ties with Russia, while western Ukraine is oriented toward Europe. Yanukovych, who was president in 2010—2014, tried to hold Ukraine together by developing closer economic relations both with the EU and with Russia, but the EU insisted that he choose – he could not do both. As a representative of east Ukrainian capital and its Party of Regions, he could not afford to break ties with Russia. This placed him at loggerheads with west Ukrainians, who aspired to a future in an idealized ‘Europe,’ and in 2014 he was overthrown.

The ‘Maidan’ or ‘Euro-Maidan’ – the movement that overthrew Yanukovych – began with peaceful mass protests against corruption, but developed into a violent struggle between riot police and extreme Ukrainian nationalists. The regime that emerged, with the support and guidance of Western politicians and propagandists, was semi-fascist in spirit despite a thin democratic veneer.[1] Its hostility to ethnic Russians and citizens of mixed ethnic identity and a massacre of Russian-speaking activists in Odessa struck terror in the hearts of easterners, who responded with the ‘anti-Maidan’ – an uprising against the uprising.

The anti-Maidan also began with peaceful demonstrations and even shared certain themes with the Maidan – notably, a concern with corruption. But it too was taken over by militaristic nationalists – Russian nationalists in this case. The process went furthest in the two easternmost provinces, which recast themselves as the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), supported and manipulated by the Russian government and Russian nationalist organizations. 

The new Ukrainian government has been conducting an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ to crush the DPR and LPR and reincorporate their territory. The civil war has dragged on spasmodically, without decisive results. Two million people have fled the war zone and are now refugees.    

Background: Russia and its ‘near abroad’

A key security requirement for Soviet leaders was that the USSR be surrounded by a belt of states that were either allies or at least ‘friendly neutrals’ (like postwar Finland). ‘Friendship’ entailed willingness to develop economic and cultural ties, consult regularly with the Kremlin, and refrain from offensive propaganda campaigns. This attitude was inherited by leaders of post-Soviet Russia, except that now the belt of friendly neighbors had to consist mainly of other post-Soviet states. Due to their shared Soviet and tsarist heritage, these states are felt to be less ‘foreign’ than countries beyond the old borders. The two zones came to be referred to as ‘the near abroad’ and ‘the far abroad.’ 

It is no longer regarded as essential that all former Soviet republics belong to this ‘friendly neighborhood.’ It is now accepted as a fact of life that the Baltic states are going to remain ‘unfriendly.’ However, such tolerance does not extend to the three large inner states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. Belarus and Kazakhstan remain ‘friendly’ but since 2014 Ukraine has not behaved in a ‘friendly’ manner.

This has an immediate impact on Moscow’s approach to border issues. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the internal administrative borders between its ‘union republics’ suddenly turned into interstate borders, even though they did not at all closely reflect the pattern of ethnic settlement. The international community nonetheless soon began to treat them as no less inviolable than any other interstate borders. 

The Kremlin too accepted these borders – but not unconditionally. Borders with ‘friendly’ neighbors were accepted, however anomalous they might seem, because border issues were not felt to be important enough to justify spoiling good relations by raising them. Thus, Russia has never objected to the inclusion in Kazakhstan of large areas in the north and east with predominantly Russian-speaking populations, and has lent no support to attempts at secession by Russian nationalists in those areas. Nor did the Kremlin contest Russia’s border with Ukraine until 2014, when the overthrow of Yanukovych was quickly followed by its annexation of Crimea, thereby reversing Khrushchev’s much-resented transfer of the peninsula from Soviet Russia to Soviet Ukraine. In the eyes of the Kremlin the anti-Russian stance of the new government in Kiev also legitimized support of the secessionist ‘people’s republics’ in eastern Ukraine, perhaps to be followed by their recognition as independent states and subsequent incorporation into Russia.

The current crisis

Thanks in large part to Western arms supplies to Kiev, the Ukrainian forces may now be strong enough to break the stalemate and penetrate the core areas of the DPR and LPR. While the People’s Republics do not have much genuine popular support, residents fear what may happen to them in the event of Ukrainian military occupation, especially as the forces facing them contain Nazi formations like the Azov Battalion. Russian commentators too envision a scenario like the massacre of Moslems that occurred at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war – in which case, they say, Russia would be obliged to intervene in defense of its ‘compatriots.’  

Russian forces are now drawn up along the eastern border of the DPR and LPR, which Kiev as well as the international community, not recognizing the People’s Republics, regard as the eastern border of Ukraine. Ukrainian forces are drawn up along the western border of the DPR and LPR. The core areas of the People’s Republics therefore constitute a fragile buffer zone between the main Russian and Ukrainian forces, although some Russian armed personnel already have a covert presence there. 

Moscow’s position is that it will not be the first to violate the status quo. However, a Ukrainian offensive against the DPR and LPR will be regarded as a violation of the status quo and Russia will respond forcefully to such a ‘provocation.’ Kiev takes the view that it has a perfect right to move against secessionists on its own territory. Each side will therefore be able to blame war on the other.  

If open hostilities break out, will they be confined to Donetsk and Lugansk provinces? The concentration of Russian forces in southern Belarus, close to the border with Ukraine and a mere 120 kilometers from the Ukrainian capital, suggests contingency planning for a blitzkrieg against Kiev with a view to installing a ‘friendly’ government. The Kremlin’s options are constrained by the fact that the currently very high level of mobilization of its forces cannot be sustained for very long: they will either have to be set in motion fairly soon or else demobilized.  

Keeping Ukraine out of NATO

An important Russian goal, perhaps the most important, is to prevent Ukraine’s admission to NATO. In this regard, a precedent or even template for Russia’s intervention in Ukraine may be its 2008 war in Georgia, designed to avert that country’s admission to NATO. Insofar as Georgia has still not joined NATO, that war – together with Russia’s subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states — may have achieved its purpose, although of course Georgia may have remained outside NATO even in the absence of Russian intervention. 

The alarm of Russia’s power elite at the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO arises out of the security requirement of a ‘friendly neighborhood’ that is so deeply rooted in their psyche. In reality, it is not so easy to join NATO. A new member can be admitted only by consensus of all existing members. Moreover, according to the rules of the organization:

States which have ethnic disputes or external territorial disputes … or internal jurisdictional disputes must settle those disputes by peaceful means in accordance with OSCE principles. Resolution of such disputes would be a factor in determining whether to invite a state to join the Alliance (Study on NATO Enlargement, Chapter 1, point A6: 

Surely Russia could block Ukraine joining NATO by means of a twofold strategy. On the one hand, it could perpetuate the civil war in eastern Ukraine but keep it at a low level, avoiding its resolution by either military or diplomatic means, so that it will continue to hinder Ukraine’s admission to NATO. On the other hand, quiet diplomacy could strengthen the doubts that some European members of NATO already entertain concerning the expediency of admitting Ukraine, thereby ensuring that Ukraine – like Georgia — will remain outside NATO for the foreseeable future. 

Rescuing the people of eastern Ukraine?

It may appear that the entire population of Russia and Ukraine is in the grip of nationalist hysteria. However, many people have shown themselves immune to official propaganda. During the civil war in eastern Ukraine, for example, whole communities in parts of Ukraine resisted the draft, unwilling to sacrifice their sons in a cause of no concern to them. Such immunity is especially characteristic of people with mixed ethnic identities, such as Ukrainians long resident in Russia and children of Russian-Ukrainian marriages. Most people in eastern Ukraine see no contradiction in identifying simultaneously as Russians and Ukrainians (in many places they speak a mixture of the two languages called Surzhyk). When interviewed, residents of the war zone are inclined to blame both the Ukrainian and the Russian government. 

What will happen to these people in the event of a Russian offensive in their region? In the densely populated Donbas ‘collateral damage’ would be immense, even in the unlikely event that civilian infrastructure is not targeted. Although the Kremlin will justify its military campaign as necessary to rescue them from the menace of Ukrainian fascism, they will actually be further endangered by stigmatization as collaborators of the Russian aggressors.   

Our attitude

Socialists need feel no great temptation to take sides should a Russian-Ukrainian war break out. In both Russia and Ukraine wealth is concentrated in the hands of wealthy capitalists known as ‘oligarchs’ who own the mass media and control political parties. (One difference is that Russia under Putin, unlike Ukraine, has acquired a state strong enough to limit the rivalry and political power of the oligarchs.) Corruption remains rampant in both countries, despite the best efforts of Maidan and anti-Maidan activists. Human and democratic rights exist on paper, but just try to exercise them and you will find yourself at the mercy of nationalist vigilantes and paranoid security agencies. Fascist groups are actively engaged on both sides. The anti-nationalist Left is weakened by the depth of ethnic and religious divisions and the continued association of ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ with the Soviet past. 

As always, we call upon our fellow workers in Russia and Ukraine to reflect. Where do their true interests lie? Are the matters at stake really worth the fratricidal bloodbath that awaits them on the road ahead?


[1] For a fuller analysis see my: ‘Ukraine: popular uprising or fascist coup?’

Stephen Shenfield

World Socialist Party of the United States

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Have Superyachts

 A superyacht is typically defined as a privately owned vessel 78 feet (24 metres) or more in length.

 887 superyachts were sold in 2021, a record £5.3bn in superyacht sales and an increase of more than 75% compared with the previous year. 

 They are major polluters. It has been estimated a superyacht with a permanent crew, helicopter pad, submarines and pools emit about 7,020 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, more than 1,500 times higher than a typical family car.

Paul Stretesky, a professor of social sciences at Northumbria University and co-author of a 2019 report, Measuring the Ecological Impact of the Wealthy, explained,  “The damage done by this conspicuous consumption is incredible. It’s not something we should aspire to, it’s something we should stop.” Stretesky’s report found that the annual fuel costs of a superyacht can be about £300,000.

A report last year by the environmental platform EcoWatch analysed the carbon footprint of 20 billionaires. It found a superyacht was “by far the worst asset to own from an environmental standpoint”. 

The Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich, who is reported to have owned at least five superyachts, topped the list published in February last year, accounting for estimated annual carbon emissions of nearly 34,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The biggest vessel in his fleet is the 163-metre (535ft) superyacht Eclipse. It has nine decks, with the top one containing two helipads and a garage. It has a 16-metre (53ft) swimming pool that can be converted into a dancefloor. It is estimated to be worth £1bn after extensive refurbishments.

Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos has commissioned a new superyacht with the project name Y721. The £350m yacht will accommodate 18 guests with a 40-stong crew and will be escorted by its own support vessel.

Superyacht sales surge prompts fresh calls for curbs on their emissions | Shipping emissions | The Guardian

Russia's Population Falls

 Russia's population declined by more than one million people in 2021. The new figures continue a downward trend from the previous year when Russia's population fell by more than half a million.

Birth rates have been falling because the generation now becoming parents were born in the 1990s when the birth rate plunged due to economic uncertainties after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The number of births per woman stands at around 1.5, well short of the minimum of 2.1 necessary to renew the population.

The government has introduced a number of financial incentives for parents with more than one child, such as cash bonuses and favourable mortgage rates.

Last December, Putin stressed that 146 million people are not enough for the country from a "geopolitical standpoint" and leave labour shortages. 

"The demographic crisis is definitely a failure of the state's policies," said Sergei Zakharov, a demography expert at the Higher School of Economics based in Moscow. He said that measures to increase the birth rate encourage families to have children earlier but do not change how many children they want in total, adding that the government's influence on birth rates is "limited" and shifting births to an earlier period will result in a "demographic gap" in the future.

For Stepan Goncharov of the independent Levada Centre pollster, the low birth rate is connected to widespread "uncertainty about the future". Living standards in Russia have continuously deteriorated since 2014, with the economy strained by repeated Western sanctions, dependence on the oil and gas sector and widespread corruption. "People haven't stopped buying and their income and savings have reduced," Goncharov said.

According to last year's survey by recruitment website SuperJob, 43 percent of Russians do not have any savings.

"People are not setting money aside and are not planning the future of the family," Goncharov added.

Russia loses a million people in historic population fall (

Tuppence Coloured (Short Story,1959)

 A Short Story from the January 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard

“ I dunno,” said Mr. Smith, “ every tea time we get bloody rock and roll.”

“ You was young once, dad,” said his sixteen-year-old son, Bill, putting on another record.
“ I was never that young,” snapped Mr. Smith, “ and there’s Mary gawping out of the window as usual. If she spent as much time on her homework as she does that, she might have a chance in the scholarship.”

“Oh, alright, dad,” began Mary; then she broke off, "My! there’s Maggie coming up the steps with one of those dark blokes. Gosh! he looks a real smasher.” “ What, another one! ” said Bill with a grin. "Maggie certainly likes her men colourful.

“Shut up,” said his father. “Listen, Daisy”; he addressed his wife almost accusingly, “This has got to stop. It was only last year, she wasn’t seventeen then, and she got in with that darkie who she used to bring to the door. Then there was that Jamaican she met at the firm’s dance, to say nothing about that West Indian she brought home one Saturday night. It’s a bit thick, you know, and it’s about time we put our foot down.” 

“Well, I don’t suppose she’s going to ask this one up,” said Mrs. Smith mildly.

“ She’d better not,” said Mr. Smith, darkly. “ I’ve nothing against coloured people, but black and white don’t mix, it’s not natural. Besides, if they must leave their own country they can at least keep themselves to themselves when they’re in someone else’s country. The way some of ’em make up to our girls makes me sick.” 

“ Worse than the Yanks, dad? ” asked Bill.

“ Besides,”’ said Mr. Smith ignoring the remark, “ I don’t want all the neighbours gossiping. What with Fred Price living in the same house and working at my place, it will be all over the firm. I bet Mrs. Price is looking out of the window.”

At that moment there was two sharp knocks on the street door.

“ Bell’s out of order again.” said Bill, “ I bet Maggie’s worn her finger down, pressing it. Shall I go and open the door? ”

“ No, I’ll answer it,” said Mr Smith.

“ Don’t make a scene, dad,” said Mrs. Smith, but Mr. Smith was already out of the room.

Mr. Smith opened the door, and in the porch with Maggie stood a coloured young man about 25 years of age, dressed in a suit that might have cost anything from £50, upwards.

Then, as Mr. Smith looked, into his line of vision, just beyond his 1938 Austin seven, stood a big 1958 Jaguar.

Mr. Smith felt a little warm and embarrassed.

The young man spoke in a well modulated voice. “I have come back with your daughter, perhaps I ought to explain.” he hesitated for a moment.

Mr. Smith rushed in. “ Don’t explain on the doorstep, come in, we’ve just made a cup of tea.

“ Very well,” said the young man. still a little hesitant. “ I will just lock my car.”

“ What! Got rid of him already.” said his son, as Mr. Smith bounded into the room. “That was quick work.”

“ Get a cup and saucer from the best set.” said Mr. Smith to his wife. “Christ, look at this place, always looks like a pigsty.”

“ But I thought ’’—began the astonished Mrs. Smith.

“ This bloke’s different.” interrupted Mr. Smith, “ you wait till you see him. Actually he’s not really dark, but sort of, off white, like a lot of high class Indians are.”

At that moment there came a tap on the door. Mr. Smith ushered the dark young man in. The family stared. Nobody noticed Maggie as she came slowly into the room and sat down.

Mrs. Smith handed the young man a cup of lea. Mr. Smith offered him a slice of his wife’s home-made cake, which he graciously declined.

“ Mr. Ram Singh,” said Maggie a little awkwardly.

“ Not the racehorse owner’s son? ” said Mr. Smith in somewhat awed tones.

“ I am afraid so,” smiled the dark young man.

“One of his horses is running in the big race tomorrow.” said Mr. Smith, rather proud of his racing lore.

“ Yes,” said the young man. “ and if I may offer a tip off the record, my father thinks it will win."

“ My! ” said Mary, from the window, quite unabashed. “ Never knew Maggie had such posh friends.”

“ I haven’t,” said Maggie. “ I have never spoken to Mr. Singh in my life before today, although he has a suite of offices in our block of offices. You see, I was crossing the road and I slipped and gave my ankle a bit of twist. Good luck, Mr. Singh swerved or I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. I was going to tell dad downstairs, but he rushed off before I had a chance. So,” concluded Mary, “Mr. Singh kindly brought me home.”

“ Oh.” said Mr. Smith.

Mr. Singh handed round some Turkish cigarettes and after a few general remarks he finished his cup of tea and courteously made his departure.

“Who’d have thought of having the son of Jam Ram Singh up for a cup of tea," said Mr. Smith to the office staff, next morning. “ You could have knocked me down with a feather, and don’t forget to back his old man’s horse. You know, I believe he’d taken a bit of fancy to Maggie. Must say, he had no side, quite the gentleman, treated us like equals.”

Ted Wilmott

Friday, January 28, 2022

A Word from the Wise


As NATO and Russia face one another over a possible Ukrainian war, both sides are currently engaged in using their respective media to sway public opinion, the SOYMB blog has been reminded of what a great author once wrote:

“There has never been a just war, never an honorable one--on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful--as usual--will shout for the war. The pulpit will--warily and cautiously--object--at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, 'It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.' Then the handful will shout louder. 

A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers--as earlier--but do not dare say so. And now the whole nation--pulpit and all--will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open.

 Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”

― Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories

China's Declining Fertility

 One of China's most populous provinces saying its birth rate has plunged to a more than four-decade low, policy advisers are warning against the potential pitfalls of not doing enough to encourage couples to have a first child.

Henan province, the country's third-most-populous administrative region, with 99.36 million people, has reported that its number of newborns fell to 920,000 last year - a 23.3 per cent decline from 2019 - as the birth rate dropped to 9.24 births per 1,000 people. The birth rate and total births were at their lowest points on record.

 The official regional readings offer fresh insight into the dwindling population growth and increasingly ageing society where births fell by 18 per cent in 2020 to just 12 million, marking a near six-decade low.

Experts have warned that a demographic turning point may be just around the corner in the world's most populous nation, and some say it threatens to erode the foundation of China's booming economic growth over the past 40 years while heaping pressure on Beijing's inward-facing consumption strategy, known as dual circulation.

China has already taken steps to curb the trend, such as by allowing couples to have a third child and by trying to reduce abortions for "non-medical" purposes. Dozens of provincial and municipal authorities have also introduced their own initiatives to raise fertility. These include giving parents more days off work, or even financial support, for having a second or third child. But such moves have been met with scepticism.

China currently has about 40 million children under three years old - a sharp decline from the official figure of more than 47 million that was released in late 2020.

China population: forget two or three kids, getting couples to have the first one is most pressing problem, advisers say (

The Afghan Tragedy

 Baroness Valerie Amos, a former UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told Sky News: "The world food programme estimates if we don't urgently get money into the country and help people that there will be three million children under five who will face acute malnutrition by March.

"Of those, a million children will die."

Sir Mark Lowcock, a former UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told Sky News: "The vast majority of the population are starving and that is the reason people resort to these extreme measures. It's not at all appropriate to enforce a sort of collective punishment on the total population of the country because you don't like the regime that those people haven't chosen." Sir Mark added: "It's not just a question of morality and humanity - that it's not acceptable to impose a collective punishment on 40 million people for things they didn't do - it's also going to be counterproductive because it will antagonise people further, it will create grievances."

Ben Slater, a former British soldier who led an escape effort from Afghanistan after he was stranded in Kabul, said the selling of children has been happening since the fall of Kabul.

"The selling of young girls, for around $200-$300 (£149-240), started immediately, weeks after the takeover," he told Sky News. "Most families live day by day, hand to mouth. That has been going on for months. The selling of organs is horrific and they are fetching about $3,000 (£2,240) on the black market at the moment."

'One million children will die': UK urged to release unspent Afghanistan aid (

Destitution Predicted


Millions of people face destitution this year as soaring energy and food prices mean that out-of-work benefit payments may no longer be enough to cover basic essentials, experts have warned.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said levels of out-of-work benefits may soon fall below the amount required to avoid destitution, meaning recipients would not have enough money to afford necessities like heating, clothing and adequate nutrition.

The Trussell Trust, a food bank provider, reported increasing demand for its emergency food parcels this winter and warned it was “inevitable” that more people would be left destitute.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank expects millions of people to be unable to afford essentials, and “face impossible choices between heating and eating”. Henry Parkes, senior economist at IPPR, explained, “Come April, millions of low-income households are going to be particularly hard hit by spiralling energy bills, with the poorest families spending more than 10p in every pound on heating their home,” Mr Parkes said. “At the same time, those in receipt of universal credit will see their benefit increase by as little as £2 a week – a fraction of the rising costs they face."

After years of real-terms cuts, jobseeker’s allowance and the basic level of universal credit are now just £74.60 per week for a person aged over 25. When inflation is taken into account, the payment is its lowest level for three decades. Research by the JRF and Heriot-Watt University in 2018 found that a single person living alone needed £70 per week to cover absolute essentials.

With inflation now running at an annual rate of 5.4 per cent and expected to hit as high as 7 per cent this year, the minimum income needed to escape destitution is certain to jump – and increases to benefits are not keeping pace. The JRF said that this point could soon be reached, with energy bills expected to soar by 50 per cent in April before rising again in October.

“If the income level needed to avoid destitution rises above our basic rate of out-of-work benefit for a single adult, we can expect to see a big rise in destitution, which is very worrying,” said Peter Matejic, deputy director of evidence & impact at the JRF.

The UK’s poorest families are expected to see a big hit to their incomes as the value of benefit payments falls this year. This April, social security rates are due to rise by 3.1 per cent, well below the increase in living costs that low-income households face.

“That’s a recipe for disaster for struggling families, said Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group. “In the face of soaring costs, families need help – the priority must be to increase social security by 6 per cent in April.”

The impact of rocketing fuel bills on low-income households would be “scary”, said Garry Lemon, director of policy and research at the Trussell Trust.

“People referred to food banks have often been through a difficult life event like losing a job or family breakdown. But the number one driver is the inadequacy of our benefits system which has seen a decade of cuts, caps and freezes. It is failing to lift people out of destitution.” In October, the government withdrew a £20-per-week uplift to universal credit seen as a lifeline to many families. Food bank managers are seeing the impact of the policy “right now”, said Mr Lemon. “These families are being crushed from different directions. You have the removal of the uplift to universal credit and you have benefits not being uprated as quickly as inflation is rising. The cost of absolute essentials – heating, eating – is rocketing upwards. People caught in the middle of that will suffer the most.”

Benefit payments ‘too low’ to keep people out of destitution as energy bills soar | The Independent

Quote of the Day

  “You have to understand, in the 70s and 80s, somebody worth £10m or £20m was phenomenally rich. Today, it’s a pittance, absolutely nothing.” - Andrew Langton, estate agent

Super-prime mover: Britain’s most successful estate agent | The super-rich | The Guardian

Vaccine Fairness

 Scientists have warned the government that allowing large numbers of people in lower-income countries to go unvaccinated is "reckless" and could lead to new Covid variants.

More than 320 experts have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, calling for urgent action. Some 13 scientists who sit on the UK government's scientific advisory committee, Sage, have also signed it.

They say more than three billion people globally have not had a first dose.

In their letter, the experts argue that the Omicron variant is a stark warning of the dangers posed by global vaccine inequality. Jabs can help keep infections low, giving the virus fewer opportunities to mutate.

They are asking ministers to support moves to waive the intellectual property rights on Covid vaccines so that developing countries can manufacture their own versions.

Former NHS chief executive Lord Crisp was one of the letter's authors and said vaccinating the world was the best way to keep the health service safe.

"The solution is global solidarity - working together and that means partnership," he said. "It means - in the short term - releasing some of these patents in order to deal with this pandemic..."

Covid: Scientists warn over 'reckless' lack of vaccines for poorer countries - BBC News