Truck Stop: Random Rants.

Two days in Advent. 20-21 December 2002.

Whilst this is probably more of a peice of prose than an actual rant it still deserves a place here.

20th December:

Nestle, the Swiss food giant is defending its Six Million Dollar claim against the country, Ethiopia.

Nestle was owed money by Ethiopia because of a livestock firm owned by Germany's Schweisfurth Group, a Nestle subsidiary, before being nationalised by the former communist regime in 1975.

Nestle has been offered $1.5m by Ethiopia which by current Ethiopian/Dollar exchange rates is the sum of money owed, however, Nestle is insisting on the money being paid at the exchange rate of 1975.

In this case, even the World Bank is against Nestle. "This $1m in our opinion is justifiable. But this is not the point of view of Nestle. They are trying to get as much as they can," said a World Bank spokesman.

Ethiopia, with average gross domestic product per person of just $100 a year, faces the prospect of its most serious famine since 1984 after drought caused widespread crop failures earlier this year. Nestle made profits of about $3.9bn (2.4bn) in the first six months of this year.

20th December:

An enquiry has found that two American pilots accused in a fatal "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan took amphetamines before it occurred,

The amphetamines (speed) known as go-pills are illegal in the US but are given to combat pilots who are involved in long eight or nine-hour sorties in small controlled doses, say the military.

This is nothing new. Soldiers during Vietnam were issued dexadrine or ephedrine or another type of amphetamine. The Air Force stopped prescribing the 'Go' pills, as they are known by the pilots, in 1993 after reports that crews using them during the Gulf War became addicted but the drug has been quietly reintroduced in recent years.

The pilots, US Air Force majors Harry Schmidt and William Umbach face up to 64 years in prison following the incident over Kandahar. They allegedley thought they were being fired at and dropped a laser-guided missile on their presumed attackers. It was only when they had killed four people and injured eight that they were told the group were Canadian soldiers taking part in a night live-fire exercise and that they had informed the US military.

21st December:

Negotiators at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have failed to meet a deadline to reach a deal on making sure poorer countries have access to cheap drugs.

Developing countries continually complain that they cannot afford expensive drugs developed by western companies to treat diseases such as HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

In 1994, an agreement was signed and adopted by 144 countries called "The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of International Property Rights" (or TRIPS) whereby all countries, whether rich or poor have to grant 20 years' patent protection in all fields of technology, including new medicines.

This delays the production of cheaper generic medicines which are needed by the developing countries because they cannot afford the branded versions which can cost three times more and because of TRIPS, cheaper drugs are being delayed by up to 10 years more than before.

In view of this, a deal was propsed whereby poor countries would not be subject to the same patent protection that makes brand-name drugs so expensive in the West but the latest efforts to resolve the issue broke down in Geneva on 21 December.

One-hundred and forty-three countries (of 144) reached detailed agreement but the United States refused to sign up. The US claim the deal would allow too much scope for patent rules to be avoided on a wide range of illnesses, however aid agencies such as Oxfam accuse the US of holding up a deal and of trying to protect the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.

21st December:

The United States has vetoed a United Nations resolution condemning Israel for the deaths of three UN staff in Gaza and the West Bank.

Only one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States has the right to veto and the four remaining members all voted in favour.

British aid worker Iain Hook, 54, worked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and was shot dead in the Jenin refugee camp in late November when Israeli soldiers supposedly mistook Hook's cellphone for a weapon, after gunmen entered a UN compound. The UN says that Israeli soldiers in the area were under no threat at the time, and that the army delayed an ambulance, leaving Hook to bleed to death. Two Palestinians working for UNRWA were shot dead in Gaza a week later.

21st December:

Europe has today agreed a deal limiting North Sea fishing vessels to 15 days per month at sea and cuts cod catches by 45% next year.

This will almost certainly see the death of the Fishing Industry in the North East of England and Scotland along with the death of the communities supported by this.

With the travel to the fishing ground included, 15 days allows about 7 days actual fishing and when the insurance, running and docking costs of the fishing fleets is taken into account this will make fishing financially unviable.

British Fisherman will be the worst hit by far and they claim: "The one thing you can be sure of is boats will go to sea and catch fish rather than go bankrupt."

Norway and Iceland are not members of the EU and are not covered by this ban, British Fish and Chip Shops will end up increasing prices and selling Norweigan cod.

This EU ban is interesting in that it has caused economic ruin to one of the largest European Country's fishing industry whilst at the same time massively boosting a non-members industry by removing any European Competition in the North Sea.

21st December:

The US has announced that it is sending another 50,000 troops into the Iraq region and has today started military exercises in Kuwait near to the Iraq border.

Although the US has denied readiness for war, soldiers have slogans such as "All the way to Baghdad" painted on the barrels of their guns.

On Friday the 20th, British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the British armed forces that they, too, must be ready for a possible confrontation with Iraq. Tanks are currently being prepared for action in a desert environment.

If the US and UK were to go to war against Iraq, timing is important and the timescales of Resolution 1441 may prove inconvenient. The Iraqi desert will begin to heat up by March and troops will have to be dressed in heavy and hot chemical and biological suits the whole time. In April, Iraq's windy season starts which will impair any air operations. There will be no cooling in the desert until about October.

21st December:

The US has today agreed to release their intelligence with the weapons inspectors to help them find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Previously the US would not release the information they had because they did not trust the weapons inspection teams not to leak the information to the Iraqis.

George Bush has said that he wants the inspectors to have a real opportunity to catch the Iraqis out and has decided that they are "willing to take a chance that revealed intelligence might be leaked".

On the 27th of January 2003, Hans Blix, head of the UN Weapons Inspection Team will make his report to the UN Security Council since Resolution 1441 says this report should be delivered within 60 days of the start. It is unclear why the US should hold back their intelligence until this time if this would have substantially helped the inspectors.

And Finally...

Sir Jimmy Young made his last broadcast on BBC Radio 2 yesterday after his show was axed by the BBC in an attempt to make Radio 2 appeal to more trendy listeners.

It does, however, appear that nobody except the BBC, including Sir Jimmy himself wants this show cancelled to the extent that a Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey launched a House of Commons campaign in 2001 to keep Sir Jimmy in his lunchtime slot. Sir Jimmy is over 80 years old but his Who's Who entry simply lists his birth date as 21 September and omits the year.

Sir Jimmy decided from the outset to make it clear he had no desire to end his 30 years of prime-time broadcasting, telling his listeners: "I didn't want to leave you at all."

The programme, which has been running since 1973, has become a favourite with politicians and his 1st guest of the final show, Tory MP Anne Widdecombe avoided getting straight into polical debate and instead said: "I can't bear the thought that this is the last programme," Sir Jimmy replied: "Well I can hardly bear it either."

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