Monday, 30 January 2012

Sometimes...

Sometimes I get tired of campaigning.  If I'm not defending freedom of speech on the internet, reading about massacres in Syria, or retweeting information about reforms of the NHS or of the benefits system, I'm leading a campaign for my trade union about day service cuts in Norfolk.  Add to this an ever present group of friends with varying degrees of personal problems, a girlfriend with the patience of a saint and dare I add, a full-time job to boot, it's no wonder that I rarely get a chance to stop and catch my breath.

It's hard sometimes to really judge what impact campaigning has on the world at large. All the blogs in the world won't stop innocents being shot down by military forces, or stop governments from denying medical care to civilians in need. All you can do is raise your voice, time and time again, tell people what is going on and hope that the collective rumpus applies enough pressure to make decision makers think again.


On the international side of things, the looming showdown between the US and Iran over the future of the latter country's nuclear program is a chilling one indeed, and one only has to read about the promises coming from the Republican side of the US presidential candidacy process to reflect that we should be glad that economically, things are improving in America, which should make things a little easier for Barack Obama this autumn.

The Eurozone splutters on, like a balloon sagging as the monetary crisis slowly squeezes the remaining air out of it. TV news stories about the Euro look increasingly like sketches of the Three Stooges, with Nicolas Sarzoky ducking and shrugging as David Cameron pokes Andrea Merkel in the eye. The only successful business left in the Eurozone these days seems to involve hosting summits. It's no real wonder that Scotland want independence from the UK. Alex Salmond might get a seat of his own at these events then.

In these increasingly uncertain times, it's good to be able to campaign on local issues as you're much more likely to be able to generate positive outcomes for all parties.

The grant that Norfolk receives from central government has meant that the cuts we have already seen at the County Council will continue into another year. The County Council is hoping to save an amount in excess of £3m this year in day services for the elderly and physically disabled, and with the increasing reliance upon personal budgets to fund care packages, there is a real danger that our day centres, valuable community resources, could be forced to close. Our campaign is encouraging Councillors and local MPs to oppose the cuts, and advising those service users who may be affected to consider using their personal budgets to contribute towards shared day services - which would be a positive outcome, given that such centres are already up and running!


I'll be chairing a closed media event between politicians, community representatives and members of the media at the Forum next Friday lunchtime and I'm really looking forward to hearing what opposition politicians will have to say to service users who could see the services they rely on for care and socialisation forced to close. We will also be holding a lobby of Norfolk County Council's cabinet outside County Hall on Monday 13th February from 8:30am, and we would like as many people as possible to be there, so please come along!

We have already had initial successes with our campaign, and we need your help to keep day centres open and available to all.

We are encouraging as many people as possible to write letters to their councillors and MPs. The text below is a suggested wording that you can use.

Norfolk County Council has over 20 Day Centres across the County.  These provide a vital service to people with learning difficulties and the elderly as well as giving a much needed break for those who care for them in their homes.  On 13 February the Council will set its budget, which proposes to cut over £3.5m from Day Centres.  I strongly fear these proposed cuts will lead to closures of the Centres.  Please do all you can to stop this from happening.

Day Centres are a valuable asset because:

* They provide a social community for people who could otherwise feel isolated in their own homes;

* They ensure care professionals have regular contact with service users, acting as a valuable care prevention measure;

* Many service users live with carers, lots of whom are elderly.  Attending a day centre gives carers much needed respite.

Closing or cutting back on Day Centre provision risks:

* Vulnerable people being isolated in their own homes;

* Preventative care not being undertaken. This could lead to later medical analysis which is worse for the patient and more costly as it could lead to an increase in hospital admissions;

* Some carers feeling they can no longer cope with caring for the person. This then leads to the service user ending up in more costly residential care and thus losing the regular contact with people who love them.

I understand the County Council have no detailed strategy on how they will save £3.5million.  This leads to the reasonable conclusion that such significant savings can only be made by closures.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Internet Blackout


For all those who aren't aware, key sites on the internet including the English language version of Wikipedia have been taken down today in opposition to the American political bills SOPA and PIPA.

These bills, set up with the initial intention of protecting copyright in the entertainment industry, will not stop piracy but could seriously curtail free speech and change the way we use the internet forever.

American viewers should contact their local congressperson, and all others should do what they can to raise awareness of the issue and oppose the change.

http://www.openrightsgroup.org/blog/2011/why-were-joining-the-black-out-protest

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Switching Decks

I was playing some cards and reading some online articles last night in the handy window between Match of the Day and bed, and one of those articles was about the government drive to modernise. It got me thinking: if the deck of cards had been designed in the modern day, how would it be different?

Of course, the numbers 2 through 10 would likely remain as they are, but I think the suits and special cards would be due for a review, especially given that most monarchies are constitutional these days. I am also keen to retain the original notion of each suit representing a pillar of society. I therefore suggest the following changes:

Clubs are the weapons in the deck, and a modern card deck would surely represent how warfare has moved on. War these days tends to be more tactically-based and politically-sensitive than it was in the days when large numbers of kilted men in chainmail would line up and hack at each other with claymores. A modern claymore is a type of anti-personnel mine activated by motion-sensors, but a card of war, while remaining no less visceral, would still need to remain somehow personal. The advent of Soviet-era small arms fire means that even the poorest revolutionaries have access to AK-47s, while modern armies are equipped with M-16s and similar. I would suggest that clubs would therefore become rifles in the modern deck.

If you believe Sting, the spades represent the swords of the soldiers, but I believe that there is an alternative, more subtle meaning.  The old notion of breaking up swords at the end of war and melting them down to make plowshares, which are useful in peacetime, suggests that this suit is both an instrument of war and peace, or can be viewed as a resource (in the case of the old deck, the right to command labour) that you are fighting to attain.  Depending on your viewpoint, spades would become column inches in the news media, or oil if you prefer the resource meaning.

Diamonds remain diamonds; thousands of conflict diamonds - those mined from areas where there is forced labour, civil war and great suffering - still make their way onto markets every year.  Nonetheless, in the global climate that now exists, in our modern deck we might prefer a move to another more commonly-considered resource, the place that global financiers go to hide - gold.  Failing that, the world's largest currency still remains a staple worldwide, so the dollar would be an appropriate alternative - but if you were remaking the deck a hundred years from now, the likely replacement would be the Chinese currency, the yuan.

Finally, modern politicians still think of the run-up to the ballot box as a battle to win hearts and minds - but while previously, people could get swept away with the urge to fight for their country or in democracies, could get away with voting for the candidate they chose with their gut, in the Information Age, it is becoming increasingly necessary to make clear, rational decisions on an informed basis, and now minds are arguably more important than hearts.  Goodness knows how they would represent these on the cards...perhaps a tiny picture of a brain, maybe?

In the modern world, you will hardly ever hear mention of a Jack or a knave, so a suitable alternative might be the Mogul, or baron, the influential individual at the top of his commercial profession with the links to lobby governments and more money than God.

The Queen represents an interesting challenge, as a modern deck would surely not be gender-specific.  Nonetheless, the alternative would need to be strong enough to topple said moguls and change their minds through the application of irresistible public pressure, while still not being of government origin themselves.  Time Magazine gave us the perfect suggestion - the Protestor - but for our purposes, I believe we can extend the definition to include any dissenter, campaigner or high-profile humanitarian.

The King has long since become a figurehead in a constitutional monarchy, and his place at the head of the table taken by the head minister of a democratically-elected government.  The very top of the tree is therefore reserved for the prime or first Minister of state - though American decks would be likely to feature a President.  And why not?

Finally, and most appropriately for a card which undercuts the poorest and trumps the richest, the Ace would be replaced by the Crisis.  Financial, nuclear or any other - these are the moments in life that make heroes or villains of us all.  The crisis would represent those things that are beyond anyone's control - and indeed, in some parts of the world, there are those that would doubtless argue that the Ace should represent a deity, as the only one with the power to topple Kings.  The modern age however, cries out for a secular card.

What of individuals?  It has been theorised that the picture cards in the deck represent genuine figures from history, so how about Rupert Murdoch as the Mogul of News Media?  Aung San Suu Kyi as the Protestor of Minds?  Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao as the Minister of Gold?  No doubt you will have ideas of your own...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Greek Parents Forced to Abandon Children due to Financial Crisis

You work hard. You sweat, you toil, you put in long hours. You tell yourself that it's worth the sacrifice because then you can provide what's best for your family.

Then, there comes a financial crisis, the like of which the world has never seen. It is a crisis that topples dictators and opens the eyes of millions around the world to the ways in which they are being exploited.


But while the turmoil brings awakening and freedom for many, there are casualties in every crisis, and you are among the hardest hit. Your entire country is bankrupt. How does a country go bankrupt? What does it mean for people? What does it mean for you? Will everybody starve? This is a prosperous, sun-soaked corner of one the richest continents in the world, not a third-world dictatorship. How has this been allowed to happen? Was no-one paying attention?

Your government changes from one democratically elected to one imposed upon you to enforce a neoliberal agenda. You campaign and demonstrate but you are no longer master of your own destiny. Prices skyrocket. Self-interest proliferates. Everyone looks to one another for a solution.


Finally, you lose your job. Alone, a single parent in a suburb of Athens, how are you supposed to support your family? Maybe if you lived somewhere wealthier, you could tighten your belt and get through it. Perhaps you'd give up your car, or your satellite television. Here, in modern day Greece, you might have absolutely no other option than to give up your children.

How heartbreaking must it be to love your children so much that you feel that they would be better off without you? In a country where the welfare state has been devastated, most people in financial need are forced to turn to charities for assistance. However, charity donations have naturally plummetted as a result of the crisis. The sudden increase in need is shocking a country where family ties are strong, and failure to look after children is socially unacceptable.

International charity SOS Children has received 800 requests in Greece alone in the last calendar year for assistance with supporting children, and many of these cases are requests from parents to have the children taken into care. This number is an explosion from previous years and is almost 100% attributable to the financial crisis.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Boobs, and the Health Privatisation That Causes Them

News has been spreading in recent weeks about potential health problems suffered by women who have received Poly Implant Proth├Ęse (PIP) breast implants for health or augmentation purposes. The now defunct-French company is estimated to have produced two million implants over a twenty year period, with the company and its founder, Jean-Claude Mas, now at the heart of a worldwide public-health care scandal.


Governments have been quick to play down a link between leaking implants and cancer, but those with the implants have gone on record about hair loss, nausea and other symptoms. As well as risks associated with rupture and the necessary surgeries, it has emerged that the implants themselves may have been created using impure, industrial grade silicon rather than the higher grade required for medical use.

Plastic surgeon Kevin Hancock, of the Liverpool Women's Hospital, says there were concerns in the profession over a high rupture rate. "We are worried about the rupture risk because it is the rupture that brings the contents into direct contact with the body's tissues."

In the UK, we have seen a suggestion from some quarters that the risk of rupture of PIP implants is as high as 8% when compared to 1% for other implants. The French government has since taken the step of advising women with PIP implants to have them removed, despite the increased risks of further surgery. The British government has yet to take this stance, but the NHS has committed itself to covering the cost of similar operations for British women, even though 95% of patients who received the implants did so through private clinics.

Significantly, the company who supplied these products never sought to get the quality approved by independent health experts, meaning that no-one is too sure whether the products are toxic or not. Women worldwide now face an anxious wait to see if and how their health will be affected.


A statement published by the Department of Health said that it expected private firms to match the NHS offer on removal and replacement of the implants among those women with concerns. "We expect the private sector to do the same for their patients. We believe that private providers have a duty to take steps to provide appropriate after-care to patients they have treated."

Notice that the department's statement does not suggest whether this duty is a legal one (it is) or a moral one (it damn well should be). In this instance, we have seen the private sector making a fast buck at the taxpayer's expense (not to mention potentially endangering patient lives) while the public sector will once again be left to pick up the pieces.

Meanwhile, if anyone is ever looking for an example of where the use of private firms to deliver healthcare has resulted in boobs, they now have a ready made example.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Diane Abbott, Be Ashamed

I must admit that I'd been awaiting the outcome of the Stephen Lawrence murder trial with a degree of trepidation. The notion that that Gary Dobson and David Norris might somehow evade justice appalled me, but in equal measure I did not want to see them convicted solely to avoid further accusations of institutional racism in the criminal justice system. It was something of a relief to see the conviction announced with a minimum of fanfare, and it was humbling to see Doreen and Neville Lawrence, Stephen's parents, who have remained dignified through what must have been eighteen torturous years.


The backdrop of Britain's most high-profile racist crime is a unfortunate one against which to judge Shadow Health Minister Diane Abbott's tweet in which she announced that 'white people love to divide and rule.' To give the comment its proper context, Abbott was responding to criticism of black community leaders following the conviction of Dobson and Norris.

I recently read a newspaper article on the subject of memories of racism. The writers had shared many horrendous stories, most of which were fortunately now many years old. All of the contributors were black.

Some of the memories discussed in the article are truly disgusting and it will likely be difficult for white British people to comprehend how damaging the experiences might be. Nonetheless, it may have been interesting for comparison purposes to ask people of other racial groups what their experiences of racism in Britain have been.

I mention this because I lived in Birmingham some years ago, and it was the first time that I had experienced such a varied, dense mix of cultures. I also remember that while I was there, I was on the receiving end of a racial insult for the first time ever. It is one of the few times in my life that I remember being genuinely speechless, because it was so unexpected. It causes a complex mix of emotions purely because you know that you have been the victim of what is regarded as a criminal offence in law, but it is hard to feel truly upset about it when you are culturally secure as part of a sizable racial majority.

The truth is, I don't feel impugned by the implication that by virtue of my race I am somehow an expert at dividing and ruling others. Nonetheless, regardless of any suggestion that it was a reference to a long-gone colonial past, Abbott's statement remains offensive and reeks of ignorance. I am also annoyed by those who have jumped to Abbott's defense saying that they aren't upset because 'they knew what she was trying to say.' What could that possibly be? As I discussed in the previous paragraph, it may be easier to ignore racial insults when you are in a majority, but that doesn't make such insults forgivable.


I have no reason to believe that Abbott is a racist in the sense that she hates white people. However, I do believe that her actions are foolish and they suggest that she is incapable of leading in emotionally-charged situations. I believe that Ed Miliband has done the right thing by admonishing her. He would be entirely justified in asking her to reflect on how her actions have been damaging for the party and have distracted attention from the issues that Labour should be gainfully campaigning on.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Trade Unions Lead Petrol Protests in Nigeria

It was announced today that the two largest trade unions in Nigeria are set to call indefinite nationwide strikes in response to a government decision to remove a fuel subsidy that has effectively doubled the price of petrol at the pump. The move seems set to increase conflict and violence in the already unstable Niger Delta region and has already claimed its first victim following the death of student Muyideen Mustafa at the hands of police at a protest in the town of Ilorin on Tuesday.

British readers are likely to recall the fuel disputes in Britain early in the '00s that saw blockaded motorways, protests and empty pumps. While there is a world of difference between the respective situations in the UK and Nigeria, there are still parallels that can be drawn with regard to the value that each nation places on the car and the desirability of cheap fuel.


The marvellously-named Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, has told the nation via his Facebook page that the current subsidy, worth a reported £1.5bn annually, was no longer sustainable. Instead, he claims that the money saved will be spent on infrastructure projects.

Nigeria is one of an increasing number of African countries who are set to exploit their natural oil reserves in the coming years. Those reserves are estimated by the IMF to be worth in excess of $20bn, a valuation that should be enough of an incentive for government to improve the country's farcical refinement facilities. As it currently stands, Nigeria is in the ridiculous position of being forced to import petrol and other refined fuels despite being Africa's largest producer of crude oil.

Such is the level of poverty in the oil-rich nation that some young Nigerians try to make a living by stealing oil from standpipes via a process known as 'Bunkering', and then refining the stolen product into diesel for use or resale. The Nigerian military is occupied with breaking up illegal refineries, which can be as simple as small pairs of water-filled cooling drums linked by pipes just a few yards long. Should the oil thieves escape military attention, the process itself is highly dangerous, with barrels of semi-refined fuel close to the open flames that heat the crude oil at the start of the process.


Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) spokesman Chris Uyot told the BBC, "We have the total backing of all Nigerian workers on this strike and mass protest." The expectation by the NLC and the Nigerian Trade Union Congress is that the country will be brought to a standstill unless the government reinstates the subsidy by the beginning of next week. If the strike does begin as planned, there are likely to be many others worldwide who will feel solidarity with the striking drivers of Nigeria.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

All the Iowa Caucuses

Mark Mardell wrote a wonderful article on the BBC last week in which he posed (and answered, with an admirable degree of restraint) the question of whether the prospective US Presidential Republican candidates are all crazy. The sheer fact that this is a genuine question posed by a respectable blogger on the UK's premier news site probably goes some way towards explaining the British perception of the American presidential race.

Even the names of some of the candidates - Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, to name but two of the colourful characters participating in the first stinging round of the US electoral process - cause a degree of consternation for UK commentators.


Then, after the names, come the policies. Rick Santorum wants to annul every gay marriage that has already taken place in the country. Herman Cain suggested that he wouldn't attack Iran because it has mountains. Rick Perry forgot which government departments he was committed to closing in the middle of a key speech. Michele Bachmann said that even if she became president, she would follow the command from the Bible to be submissive to her husband.

Mardell made the concession of admitting that when the question was raised about the relative sanity of the candidates, it had usually been asked of him by left-wingers, and he was quick to point out that even mainstream American politics exists several notches to the right of the relatively liberal UK.

Tonight, Republicans will gather at more than 1,700 precinct locations in Iowa. Each caucus, or electoral meeting, starts with the election of a caucus chairman and caucus secretary. The caucus leadership conducts a presidential preference vote, usually a via a secret ballot. It is worth noting that the caucus ballots are simply straw polls, with candidates subsequently picked at county and district conventions later in the year. Nevertheless, despite their nonbinding nature, the caucuses receive huge media attention and give prospective candidates the chance to display their electoral credentials.

Of course, both major American political parties hold caucuses. However, with Presidential incumbent and Democrat representative Barack Obama likely to stand unopposed, the focus of the world's attention will be on the far-right representatives of the Republican party. These are America's uber-Conservatives, wealthy plutocrats and billionaire businessmen. The world in which they live is a million miles from that inhabited by most of us, but now as the voting starts in Iowa, they will be the absolute centre of attention.


Within a few short hours, the candidates will know whether they are likely to get an opportunity to rattle sabres and draw first blood in the lengthy campaign that each of them hopes will end in glory in Washington in November 2012.

However, before they can get there, there are the little matters of a sceptical electorate, worldwide and domestic economic crises in dire need of resolution, not to mention having to compete against one of the slickest campaigning machines that has ever graced a political stage. In the presidential election, the chosen Republican candidate will have to move away from party in-fighting over issues like gay rights, abortion and immigration and focus on jobs and the American economy if they are to have any hope of defeating Obama in the Autumn.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Nationalisation May Be Cheaper Than It Seems

Sometimes, when you live in a western country with a privatise-at-all-costs philosophy, it's easy to forget that things used to be very different. Utility companies and transport facilities, such as airports and railways, were owned by the state, rather than by unfeeling multinational conglomerates who see it as their capitalist duty to rob you blind while still offering a lousy service (the jury is out on whether nationalised services were any better, but at least back then there was a person on the other end of a telephone complaints line who had no choice but to listen to you moan.)

Modern political thinking suggests that private hands are the most efficient way to run services, when my own experience of private firms running local government services is that they are no more efficient and are often more costly and more prone to failure.


So should nationalisation of assets become part of the national debate once again? Goodness, even to use the n-word is to hark back to the 1970s and the times when it seemed the sun never shined (though of course, black and white TV is at least partly to blame for that perception.)

Seriously though. Should it? Only if the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) have anything to say about it, it could be cheaper than it seems to do so.

In Venezuela, the ruling party has instigated a sweeping pattern of political reforms and nationalised massive swathes of the country's vast oil industry. Of course, such nationalisations do not come without a price, but the compensation awarded to international oil firm Exxon is a mere $908 million - to give that figure a context, it is less than 10% of the figure that Exxon asked for, and less than 0.1% of the amount that the British government paid to bail out banks four years ago. So in light of this ICC decision, what is to stop us from looking at our own infrastructure and nationalising some of it on the cheap?

Now, before I am viciously assaulted by swathes of Tory trolls for daring to question their ideology, I am aware that such moves in Britain would not be as clear cut as this example. I am also aware that not every dispute would necessarily be due for referral to the ICC. But where there is a will, there is a way. If you play the stock markets wisely, you buy when assets are cheap and sell when the price goes up. Why not nationalise when the effective value of the compensation you would have to pay is low, and then sell again when it is high? Or have I just out-capitalised the capitalists?

Would such nationalisations reduce the amount of private investment in Britain at the time that I have been calling for it most? Well, theoretically that could be a possible outcome. But there is plenty of observational evidence suggesting that modern companies are greedy, dumb, and will descend on any untapped market as soon as an opportunity presents itself. We can therefore reasonably assume that as soon as the economy starts to pick up (which according to George Osborne could now be as late as 2016/17) someone will be there, ready to pay good money for access to British markets.

The prevailing political agenda is to reduce the size of government but the nationalising of infrastructure assets will clearly do the opposite of this. The wisdom of this move clearly depends on how much you believe in the Tory philosophy that states that private companies will move in to offer jobs and create growth when the public sector is deliberately shrunk - but in this respect, David Cameron has talked himself somewhat into a corner. He needs the British electorate to feel fear or otherwise they will not understand the need for austerity. But until there is enough confidence to overcome that fear, neither businesses or individuals will start spending again.

Addendum: A little background on Hugo Chavez


Left-wing Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is a staunch opponent of capitalism and neoliberalism (which essentially means a relaxed economic state in which financial institutions are self-regulating - and look at how well that's worked recently.) He has been leader of the country since 1999 and has instigated political reforms that mean that in theory, he could remain leader, subject to periodic democratic vote, for the remainder of his life.

Chavez is a controversial figure even by the standards of the socialist haven that contemporary South America has become. He is intensely popular with his own people and admired in parts of the world for consistently opposing US foreign policy, but in March 2011 the international organisation Human Rights Watch criticised his administration, saying that it had 'effectively neutralised the independence of Venezuela's judiciary' and 'systematically undermined freedom of expression and the ability of human rights groups to promote basic rights.'

Chavez endeared himself to English audiences by demanding in 2010 that England hand the Falkland Islands back to Argentina. John Otis in 'The World' also accused Chavez of supporting Muammar Gadaffi and Bashar al-Assad following the Arab Spring - though we should perhaps be careful to temper our criticism of him for supporting these regimes, given our history of selling them weapons.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Dateline Samoa

By far the most entertaining news of the week prior to yesterday's new year celebrations was the little-heralded item that saw Pacific nations Samoa and Tokelau jumping westwards over the international dateline. The change was made in an effort to boost trade links with Australia and New Zealand, and comes 113 years after the decision was made to travel in the opposite direction in order to attract the trade attention of the United States.

The change was heralded by Samoan Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sailele Malielegaoi, who clearly enjoyed the opportunity to promote the tourist industry in his nation when he appeared in front of international news cameras wearing the shirt below.


Now, if this decision was as clean cut as it seems that it might be, it would make perfect sense. However, a minority of Samoans have good reason to be a little upset, because the change meant that earlier this week, Samoans went to bed on 29th December, and woke up on the 31st, having skipped the 30th entirely. What about people frantically preparing parties for new year? You think you have a couple of days to pick up the beer and prepare the food, and then you lose an entire day just like that. The change also meant that people born on 30th December now face a metaphysical quandary. Have they aged at all this year? If you were due to retire, have you now lost your chance? I should imagine that all the people born on 29th February are probably looking at this and thinking, 'Now do you see what a bloody pain in the arse this is?'

Of course, in any island nation where the average daily temperature all year round is a balmy 28 degrees centigrade, we can expect that such issues will not prove troubling for long. In 2009, Samoa made the decision to switch from driving on the right of the road to driving on the left, becoming the first nation in the 21st Century to do so. They also have a pretty fascinating colonial history, which culminated in an eight-year civil war that resulted from German, American and British interests funding and training indigenous troops in the region. The situation came to a head in March 1889, when all three nations sailed large warships into Apia Harbour and full-scale war seemed inevitable. However, at the last possible moment, a giant storm struck the bay area and sank all the ships, returning the country to temporary calm.

There is just one other potential issue with the decision to skip the international dateline - the possibility that it might set a worrisome trend. The decision by Samoa and Tokelau sees the west coast of the US as the final stop on the international dateline. It doesn't take a giant leap of faith to imagine one of the loony Tea Party presidential candidates might choose to take a break from bashing homosexuals and shooting Communists to imply that America's position at the back of the queue is an insult by the world against their nation, and demand that the US also skips a day to go to the front. It would probably suit a few of the emerging economies like Brazil too, though the outcome in Canada and other South American nations is probably a little less clear cut. Still, you can imagine the phone call from President Obama to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela - 'Damn it Hugo, if you won't sell us your oil, we're going to skip Thursday!'


And of course, once nations get a taste for hopping around the dateline, where does it end? David Cameron could skip whole years to bring the next general election forward, then skip back again to continue dismantling the NHS. Vladimir Putin could go back to his entirely fairly contested Duma election in December 2011 and this time, he could arrange to fix a few of the ballot boxes. And most prominently of all, Bashar al-Assad could have delayed his crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners long enough to ensure that Syria had a presence at the Royal Wedding.