Patrick Ward

The new face of methanol

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Tony Blair was guest speaker for Azerbaijan methanol producer Azmeco last month.

Azmeco reportedly coughed up £100,000 for the visit, to add to the estimated £14 million Blair has amassed since abandoning office. His speech gushed over methanol production's environmental benefits. But David Santillo, of Exeter University's Greenpeace Research Laboratories, was less enthusiastic. "This is a fossil fuel based development," he said. "If [Blair] is looking for a clear environmental benefits message in the lead-up to Copenhagen, this is certainly not one that we would support."

Who are the wealth creators?

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Advertisers and bankers are of less value to society than hospital cleaners and child minders, according to a report published last month.

It might already seem like common sense that those working in advertising contribute significantly less to society's wellbeing than those employed on minimum wage to clean hospitals. But the report, by the New Economics Foundation, argues that the economic benefits brought about by some of the poorest workers far exceed those earning bucketloads.

The report argues that high pay often goes to people who have a detrimental impact on the economy and don't return the costs of their activities.

Joe Sacco: A long drawn out conflict

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Joe Sacco talks to Tim Sanders and Patrick Ward about how he got into comic journalism and the power of cartoons

Why did you decide to make your new book, Footnotes in Gaza?

I went to the Gaza Strip with Chris Hedges, an American journalist for Harper's magazine. He was writing and I was illustrating. This was at the beginning of the second Intifada. We decided that we would focus on one town in Gaza, Khan Yunis.

Assault on our screens

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Fresh from the controversy over splashing out £47 million on bonuses for high-end civil servants, the ministry of defence (MoD) is now under fire for giving the equivalent of 141 days' labour to Jeremy Clarkson for free.

The MoD offered the help in planning Top Gear stunts - alongside loaning the BBC show equipment worth billions of pounds, including an Apache helicopter gunship and a Challenger tank.

The stunts included a "beach assault" on Clarkson, driving a Ford Fiesta, in November 2008. This used 63 days' work from the Royal Marines, several Lynx helicopters and an amphibious landing craft.

Festive debt

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If you are still at a loss as to what to buy friends and family for Christmas, and you have more money than sense, help is at hand courtesy of the Good Gifts catalogue.

One "wonderful present for children and grandchildren" won't just make the family happy - the festive cheer will be felt as far away as Her Majesty's Treasury. Yes, now you too can own your own slice of our national debt.

"Why lumber your descendants with a staggering debt burden?" asks the blurb, "Now is the time to start reducing the national debt in their names (and their interest)."

It's a bargain at just £20 per gift. Just think, Britain could be debt-free by New Year - if they sell 50 billion, that is.

Oil and Obama: Same old drill

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"I don't take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists, and I won't let them block change anymore," said Barack Obama in a campaign ad last year.

Despite this, he did manage to accept $31,200 from donors registered as Shell Oil employees during his successful run for the presidency. His campaign was also endorsed by Broderick Johnson, president of Bryan Cave Strategies - a lobbying firm representing Shell Oil.

The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

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Stieg Larsson, MacLehose Press; £18.99

I raced through The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. Every journey on the bus or tube was an opportunity to steam my way through this monster of a book. But at page 550 I slammed on the brakes. I had the sudden realisation that I was within 50 pages of reading the complete literary works of Swedish author Stieg Larsson.

Larsson died in 2004, soon after delivering the manuscripts for his Millennium trilogy. This book is the grand finale, following The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl who Played with Fire.

Halliburton's rules of war

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Jamie Leigh Jones, a Halliburton/KBR worker, alleges that she was drugged and then raped by seven male contractors in Iraq in 2005 and then locked in a shipping container under armed guard. Meanwhile, vital evidence of the attack went "missing".

One alleged rapist subsequently confessed. But Halliburton/KBR blocked her from going to court because a clause in her contract demanded that she forgo it. This practice has led to accusations that rape is acceptable in such circumstances as there are no consequences. Jones's was one of many similar accusations.

The US Senate has now ruled that contractor firms must guarantee their workers' right to go to court. But 30 Republicans, including John McCain, voted against. They claimed that government had no right to interfere in private employer-employee relations.

The Tory Tax Payers' Alliance

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The Tax Payers' Alliance (TPA) describes itself as "Britain's independent grassroots campaign for lower taxes...The TPA is committed to forcing politicians to listen to ordinary taxpayers."

Averaging 13 media appearances daily, the TPA's proposals for a public sector pay freeze were recently adopted by David Cameron.

"We believe in low taxes, public sector reform and personal freedom," said TPA founder Matthew Elliott. "But the idea that that puts us in cahoots with the Tories is laughable."

Elliott was previously an assistant to a Tory MEP, and co-founder Andrew Allum was a Tory councillor. TPA director Alexander Heath lives in France and doesn't pay British tax.

Transition

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Iain Banks, Little, Brown; £12.99

I've always enjoyed the science fiction novels of Iain M Banks, but I've found that some of his more recent "mainstream" novels (published under the name Iain Banks, without the M) don't always have quite the same pull over me.

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