Thursday, May 24, 2018

Philanthrocapitalism’ - corporate hypocrisy?

More and more wealthy CEOs are pledging to give away parts of their fortunes – often to help fix problems their companies caused.

It is easy to think of Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg as some kind of hero – a once regular kid whose genius made him one of the richest men in the world, and who decided to use that wealth for the benefit of others by setting up a charity foundation. The image he projects is of altruism untainted by self-interest. A quick scratch of the surface reveals that the structure of Zuckerberg’s charity enterprise is informed by much more than good-hearted altruism. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, though, is not a not-for-profit charitable foundation, but a limited liability company. This legal status has significant practical implications, especially when it comes to tax. As a company, the Initiative can do much more than charitable activity: its legal status gives it rights to invest in other companies, and to make political donations. Effectively the company does not restrict Zuckerberg’s decision-making as to what he wants to do with his money; he is very much the boss. Zuckerberg can control the company’s investments as he sees fit, while accruing significant commercial, tax and political benefits.  Journalist  Jesse Eisinger explained Zuckerberg simply “moved money from one pocket to the other” while being “likely never to pay any taxes on it”.

What was known as The Giving Pledge, is a philanthropy campaign initiated by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in 2010. The campaign targets billionaires around the world, encouraging them to give away the majority of their wealth. There is nothing in the pledge that specifies what exactly the donations will be used for, or even whether they are to be made now or willed after death; it is just a general commitment to using private wealth for ostensibly public good. It is not legally binding either, but a moral commitment. There is a long list of people and families who have made the pledge. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are there, and so are some 174 others, including household names such as Richard and Joan Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Barron Hilton and David Rockefeller. It would seem that many of the world’s richest people simply want to give their money away to good causes. 

 Human geographers Iain Hay and Samantha Muller wrote in a 2014 paper, suggest that this “golden age of philanthropy” has been “diverting attention and resources away from the failings of contemporary manifestations of capitalism”, and may also be serving as a substitute for public spending withdrawn by the state.  They say what we are witnessing is the transfer of responsibility for public goods and services from democratic institutions to the wealthy, to be administered by an executive class. In the CEO society, the exercise of social responsibilities is no longer debated in terms of whether corporations should or shouldn’t be responsible for more than their own business interests. Instead, it is about how philanthropy can be used to reinforce a politico-economic system that enables such a small number of people to accumulate obscene amounts of wealth.  The reliance on billionaire businesspeople’s charity to support public projects is a part of what has been called “philanthrocapitalism”.  This resolves the apparent antinomy between charity (traditionally focused on giving) and capitalism (based on the pursuit of economic self-interest). As historian Mikkel Thorup explains, philanthrocapitalism rests on the claim that “capitalist mechanisms are superior to all others (especially the state) when it comes to not only creating economic but also human progress, and that the market and market actors are or should be made the prime creators of the good society”. Philanthropy serves to legitimise capitalism, as well as to extend it further and further into all domains of social, cultural and political activity.  It involves the inculcation of neo-liberal values personified by the billionaire CEOs. Philanthropy is recast in the same terms in which a CEO would consider a business venture. Charitable giving is translated into a business model that employs market-based solutions characterised by efficiency and quantified costs and benefits. Philanthrocapitalism takes the application of management discourses and practices from business corporations and adapts them to charitable work. The focus is on entrepreneurship, market-based approaches and performance metrics. The process is funded by super-rich businesspeople and managed by those experienced in business. The result, at a practical level, is that philanthropy is undertaken by CEOs in a manner similar to how they would run businesses.

 Garry Jenkins, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota, escribes how charity foundations now involves becoming “increasingly directive, controlling, metric-focused and business-oriented with respect to their interactions with grantee public charities, in an attempt to demonstrate that the work of the foundation is ‘strategic’ and ‘accountable’” - a CEO style to “save the world through business thinking and market methods”, as Jenkins puts it.

 Accepting fair trade policies and closing sweatshops may be good for the world, but is potentially disastrous for a firm’s immediate financial success.  Exploitative labour practices or corporate malpractice are swept under the carpet as companies publicise tax-efficient contributions to good causes. Such contributions may be a relatively small price to pay compared with changing fundamental operational practices. Likewise, giving to charity is a prime opportunity for CEOs to be seen to be doing good without having to sacrifice their commitment to making profit at any social cost. Charitable activity permits CEOs to be philanthropic rather than economically progressive or politically democratic. At the personal level, CEOs can take advantage of promoting their individual charity to distract from other, less savoury activities; as an executive, they can cash in on the capital gains that can be made from introducing high-profile charity strategies. The image of the powerful autocrat is, to this effect, transformed into a potentially positive figure, a forward-thinking political leader who can guide their country on the correct market path in the face of “irrational” opposition. Charity becomes a conduit for CEOs to fund these “good” authoritarians.

In 2000 the Institute for Policy Studies in the US reported, after comparing corporate revenues with gross domestic product (GDP), that 51 of the largest economies in the world were corporations, and 49 were national economies. The world’s 10 biggest corporations having revenues that exceed the total combined revenues of the 180 least wealthy nations.  The biggest corporations were General Motors, Walmart and Ford, each of which was larger economically than Poland, Norway and South Africa. As the heads of these corporations, CEOs are now quasi-politicians. One only has to think of the increasing power of the World Economic Forum, whose annual meeting in Davos in Switzerland sees corporate CEOs and senior politicians getting together with the ostensible goal of “improving the world”, a now time-honoured ritual that symbolises the global power and agency of CEOs.

A 2017 report by Oxfam states: “When corporations increasingly work for the rich, the benefits of economic growth are denied to those who need them most. In pursuit of delivering high returns to those at the top, corporations are driven to squeeze their workers and producers ever harder – and to avoid paying taxes which would benefit everyone, and the poorest people in particular.”

Wealth redistribution is placed in the hands of the wealthy, and social responsibility in the hands of those who have exploited society for personal gain.

Full article here

Modern Slavery

Human trafficking for labour exploitation is on the rise, according to the latest report by the Council of Europe.
The victims are often undocumented immigrants, and all vulnerable groups living in precarious economic conditions are at risk.
What seems a job opportunity can turn into a living hell: the victims often depend on their traffickers for work and housing.
They work in a wide range of services, like food production, the restaurant industry, personal care, and construction sites.
They are often forced to work under threat but rarely denounce their conditions for fear of deportation or retaliation.
The association as-Surya in Belgium helps victims of human trafficking by offering shelter.
“Because of this amplification of illegal immigration there are more and more different people of foreign origin exploited here. And then the economic crisis increased the need to have workers available to work for practically nothing," said Christian Meulders.
Frederic Kurz, a prosecutor in Liege, explains how hard it is to get successful prosecutions and convictions for traffickers .
"Their first words will rarely explain all that they have lived because they have post traumatic stress. The difficulty is that the lawyers of the traffickers in court will tell us: you see the victim is not credible, She or he made a statement and then changed stories," explained Kurz.
Who can fix the problem - politicians. Who controls the politicians directly or indirectly - the capitalists. Who is benefitting from slavery - the capitalists.

'The Media and Capitalism' (Public Meeting London 26/5)

'The Media and Capitalism' 

Saturday, 26 May  
2:00pm - 4:00pm
Venue: Quaker Meeting House, 
20 Nigel Playfair Avenue, 
London W6 9JY
Speaker: Stephen Harper

Abusing Kids

Fleeing violence and poverty in Central America, tens of thousands of children come to the United States each year and are detained by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

The report (pdf) from the ACLU and University of Chicago Law School says detained children have faced "physical and psychological abuse, unsanitary and inhumane living conditions, isolation from family members, extended periods of detention, and denial of access to legal and medical services."

The amount of children who have come forward about various forms of abuse suggests that such treatment by U.S. officials is commonplace. The report notes that:
  • 1. a quarter of kids reported physical abuse, including sexual assault and beatings by CBP agents;
  • 2. more than half reported verbal abuse such death threats, and denial of necessary medical care, including cases that led to children requiring hospitalization; and
  • 3. 80 percent reported inadequate food and water.
"Beyond the misconduct detailed," the report points out that these "documents are shocking for the independent reason that they do not contain any evidence of disciplinary action or other meaningful accountability for abusive CBP officials," in spite of the fact that DHS has multiple internal oversight agencies.

"The misconduct demonstrated in these records is breathtaking, as is the government's complete failure to hold officials who abuse their power accountable," said ACLU Border Litigation Project staff attorney Mitra Ebadolahi. "These documents provide a glimpse into a federal immigration enforcement system marked by brutality and lawlessness."

This was during the Obama administration, not Trump's.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Suffering and not benefiting

The stock market has been on a boom in recent years and many corporations are reporting strong profits.
Four in 10 Americans are unable to cover an unexpected expense of $400 or more without resorting to borrowing money or selling some of their possessions, a Federal Reserve annual economic survey has found.
At the same time, in 2017 one in five Americans knew someone who was addicted to opioids or painkillers.
“Even with the improvement in financial outlook, however, 40% of Americans still say they cannot cover a $400 emergency expense, or would do so by borrowing or selling something,” said Federal Reserve Board governor Lael Brainard in a statement.

Supping with the devil

America's largest corporations continue their unprecedented stock buyback spree in the wake of President Donald Trump's $1.5 trillion tax cut, and new government data published on Tuesday showed that U.S. banks are also smashing records thanks to the GOP tax law, raking in $56 billion in net profits during the first quarter of 2018—an all-time high.

America's most profitable corporations are posting obscene profits and using that cash to reward wealthy shareholders through stock buybacks while investing little to nothing in workers, despite their lofty promises.

According to a CNN analysis published on Sunday, "S&P 500 companies showered Wall Street with at least $178 billion of stock buybacks during the first three months of 2018." As Common Dreams reportedearlier this month, major corporations are on track to send $1 trillion to rich investors through buybacks and dividend increases by the end of the year.

Most Americans, meanwhile, have said they are seeing very few noticeable benefits from the massive tax cuts and—according to a new study by United Way—nearly half of the U.S. population is still struggling to afford basic necessities like food, housing, and healthcare.

The pending retiree crisis

In America, 56% of all low-income households face the risk of being unable to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living once they stop working. For middle-income households, the figure is 54%, but for high-income households, it's only 41%. In other words, fewer than half of all middle- and low-income households will be able to maintain their lifestyles in retirement, but nearly two-thirds of high-income households will.

Lower-income workers find it harder to work later in life, possibly because their options tend more toward physical work rather than desk jobs. That problem is compounded by an increase in Social Security's normal retirement age to 67 (for those born in 1962 or later) from 65 (for those born in 1939 or earlier). The change means that workers taking retirement at age 65 will either have to wait before receiving their full Social Security benefits, or accept a lower monthly benefit at 65. The change places an added burden on lower-income people because their life expectancy is shorter on average than wealthier retirees. 

"Just as the wealth and income gap between the well-to-do and working people is growing," the Boston College's authoritative Center for Retirement Research blog  observes, "so too is retirement inequality."

Defined contribution retirement plans such as 401(k) plans, have supplanted traditional defined benefit pensions for millions of workers, especially in the private sector. Because defined contribution plans require workers to set aside part of their income for the future, it's a bigger burden on low- and moderate-income families, which have less disposable income than their affluent colleagues. They're also more likely to see their household finances upended by divorce, layoffs and unexpected medical bills.

More than two-thirds of households in the top 20% of earners had a 401(k) plan, but only 4% of the bottom fifth on the income ladder did. "The bottom 60% of working-age families receive 17% of total income, but hold 7% of retirement account balances," she observed. "Meanwhile, the top 20% receive 63% of income and hold 74% of retirement account balances."

Income inequality is no myth, and neither is the retirement crisis.

Global Inequality

The first ever World Inequality Report was published recently by the leading economists who created the World Wealth and Income Database.

The report finds that the top 10% of a nation’s earners took home:

37% in Europe;
41% in China;
46% in Russia; 
47% in US-Canada and
55% in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, and India. 
In the Middle East, the world’s most unequal region according to estimates, the top 10% capture 61% of the national income.

 Furthermore, from 1980 to 2016, the richest 1% acquired 27% of the world’s income whilst, by contrast, the bottom 50% accounted for only 12% of the world’s income. The report proves that there has been rising inequality since the 1980s (measured by the top 10% share of income distribution).

The poorest sector of the global population has experienced an increase in prosperity due to high growth in Asia (particularly in China and India). However, despite the increased prosperity, the top 1% richest individuals in the world continued to capture twice as much growth as the bottom 50% of individuals since the 1980s. Income growth for the middle 'class' has been slow which leads the segment being squeezed in the US and Western Europe.

Economic inequality is largely driven by the unequal ownership of capital, which can be either privately or publicly owned. The report shows that since 1980 the world has experienced a transfer from public to private wealth in nearly all countries (i.e. individuals, and not the government, are in control of the nation’s wealth). As a result, the government is limited in its ability to tackle the issue of wealth inequality as the balance between private and public wealth is a crucial determinant of the level of inequality experienced by a nation.

More stick than carrot

Benefit sanctions are largely ineffective and in some cases push people into poverty and crime, a major study has found. The research found little evidence that benefit sanctions enhance people’s motivation to prepare for or enter paid work and, by contrast, routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial and health outcomes. Some people are pushed into destitution, survival crime and ill health as a result of welfare conditionality.

The study reveals that the mandatory training and support is often too generic, of poor quality and largely ineffective in enabling people to enter and sustain paid work.

 Professor Peter Dwyer, from the University of York’s Department of Social Policy and Social Work, said the review revealed that in the majority of cases, welfare conditionality didn’t work as intended. Mr Dwyer accused successive governments of using welfare conditionality and the “carrot and stick” it implies to promote positive behaviour change.

“Our review has shown it is out of kilter, with the idea of sanctioning people to the fore. It is more stick, very little carrot and much of the support is ineffective,” he added.

Typically, if conditions are not met, benefits are docked for four weeks, which can mean a loss of £300 for a claimant over the age of 25 – but a sanction can last for three months, or even a year.

Yemen Continues UNabated

 Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that Saudi Air Defenses intercepted two Houthi ballistic missiles launched from inside Yemeni territory targeting densely populated civilian areas in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. No one was killed, but an earlier attack, on March 26, 2018, killed one Egyptian worker in Riyadh and an April 28 attack killed a Saudi man. Unlike the unnumbered victims of the Saudis’ own ongoing bombardment of Yemen, these two precious, irreplaceable lives are easy to document and count. 
Saudi Arabia informed the UN Security Council and UN
The Saudis asked the UN to implement “all relevant Security Council resolutions in order to prevent the smuggling of additional weapons to the Houthis, and to hold violators of the arms embargo accountable.” The letter accuses Iran of furnishing the Houthi militias with stockpiles of ballistic missiles, UAVs and sea mines. The Saudis’ letter omits mention of massive  weapons exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Security Council resolutions invoked by the Saudis name the Houthis as a warring party in Yemen and call for an embargo, so the Houthis can’t acquire more weapons. But these Resolutions don’t name the Saudis as a warring party in Yemen, even though Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since March 2015, orchestrated Saudi involvement in the war, using billions of dollars of weapons sold to the Saudis and the UAE.  What’s more, the U.S. military, through midair refueling of Saudi and Emirati warplanes, is directly involved in devastating barrages of airstrikes while the UN Security Council essentially pays no heed.
Yemeni civilians’ lives become increasingly desperate, they become increasingly isolated, their suffering made invisible by a near-total lack of Western media interest or attention. No commercial flights are allowed into the Sana’a airport, so media teams and human rights documentarians can’t enter the areas of Yemen most afflicted by airstrikes. The World Food Program (WFP) organizes a weekly flight into Sana’a, but the WFP must vet passengers with the Saudi government. Nevertheless, groups working in Yemen, including Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Save the Children, Oxfam, and various UN agencies do their best to report about consequences of the Saudi-Emirati led coalition’s blockade and airstrikes.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) issued a report about airstrikes against the Saada governoratewhich notes that “in the past three years, the coalition has carried out 16,749 air raids in Yemen, i.e. an average of 15 a day. Almost a third of the raids have hit non-military sites.” MSF responded to a series of Saudi-Emirati coalition led airstrikes on May 7thwhich struck a busy street in the heart of Sana’a, killing six people and injuring at least 72.
“Civilians, including children, were killed and maimed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said João Martins, MSF head of mission in Yemen. “No-one should live in fear of being bombed while going about their daily life; yet again we are seeing civilian victims of airstrikes fighting for their lives in hospitals.”
Lacking access to food, clean water, medicine and fuel, over 400,000 Yemeni children are, according to Save the Children, at imminent risk of starvation. “Most of them will never see a health clinic or receive treatment,” says Kevin Watkins, the organization’s UK Director. “Many of those who survive will be affected by stunting and poor health for the rest of their lives.” Watkins says the Saudi-UAE led coalition is using economic strangulation as a weapon of war, “targeting jobs, infrastructure, food markets and the provision of basic services.”
Amnesty International called for an end to the flow of arms to the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen. “There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” their statement says. “But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms.”
The UN Charter begins with a commitment to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war. The UN Security Council has miserably failed the Yemeni people by allowing the scourge of war to worsen, year by year. By approving biased resolutions that neglect to even name the most well-funded and sophisticated warring parties in Yemen the Security Council promotes the intensification of brutal, apocalyptic war and enables western war profiteers to benefit from billions of dollars in weapon sales. Weapon manufacturers such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing then pressure governments to continue selling weapons to two of their top customers, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Yemeni civilians, especially children, pose no threat whatsoever an have committed no crime but are being punished with death.
From here

Bitter Tea

Women working on tea plantations in northeast India earn a "pitiful" $2 a day and live in "appalling" conditions with almost no toilets, according to a report released on Tuesday by the British charity Traidcraft Exchange. Workers in the tea-growing state of Assam were paid 137 rupees ($2) a day, far below the minimum wage of 250 rupees. More than half are women. Assam is the largest producer of tea in India and its estates supply top brands including Britain's Twinings and Tetley. Assam's tea industry has faced accusations in the past of exploitative work conditions, leading to labour disputes that have forced some plantations to shut. Estate owners often cite the benefits they are legally required to provide, which include housing, toilets, health facilities and subsidised food, to justify low wages. But workers said repeated requests for repairs and better food supplies - often insufficient, stale or contaminated - were largely ignored.
"The women who pick the tea we drink live in appalling conditions and are paid pitifully low wages by tea estates in Assam," said Fiona Gooch, a policy adviser for Traidcraft Exchange. Workers live in decrepit houses with leaky roofs. They have little or no access to sanitation facilities and most have to defecate in the bushes outside, the report said.
Stephen Ekka of PAJHRA, an Assam-based charity fighting for tea workers' rights, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, "In the global supply chain of tea business, the condition of workers is not taken into consideration." 
"We register complaints to the management, they note it down, but that remains in the register, they give no importance," the report quotes an unnamed woman worker as saying. Others complained the lack of medicines and medical staff within plantations forced them to opt for expensive hospitals outside.
Nick Kightley of the British-based Ethical Trading Initiative said authorities must urgently meet the workers' basic needs.
"Without that, workers may be forced into excessive overtime or bonded labour ... This is simply unacceptable," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

'Populism vs the Real Class Struggle' (Manchester, 26/5)

'Populism vs the Real Class Struggle' 

Saturday, 26 May - 2:00pm

Venue: Friends Meeting House, 
6 Mount Street, 
Manchester, M2 5NS

Populism makes a distinction between 'the people' and 'the elite'. This talk will raise the question of how valid this is, by focusing on how these concepts of people and elite are defined by populists. 
Does it correspond to the division in society between the capitalist class and the working class? And do populists propose to put an end to this distinction? Their views will be contrasted with the Socialist Party's goal of a class-free society.

The lies to justify a war

The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has claimed that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is carrying out “assassination operations in the heart of Europe.” The claim has bewildered security experts and Iranian exiles, who say they are not aware of any evidence for the allegation.

Asked about Pompeo’s statement, the state department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said: “He has information and access to information that I do not. I am not able to comment on that in particular but I can tell the secretary has assured me that there is a basis for that point in his speech and he stands firmly behind that.”

Iraj Mesdaghi, a Sweden-based Iranian political activist who spent a decade in jail in Iran from 1981 to 1991, questioned Pompeo’s claim.
“It’s unlikely to be true,” said Mesdaghi, a researcher on human rights abuses in Iran who has closely monitored IRGC activities in Europe. “There is no evidence to back the claim that currently they are carrying out such operations in Europe.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army - No Salvation

The Socialist Party is well aware of the fact that brutality leads to more brutality. We wrote in a Socialist Standard article to beware of wolves in sheep's clothing.
 "The Myanmar army, the Tatmadaw, who had never really yielded their power to the civilian government, engaged in the brutal repression of dissent, pushing some Rohingya to call for an armed uprising to stop the oppression. The problem, therefore, became exacerbated by the arrival on the scene of armed groups such as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) – who launched violent attacks against Burma's military. In October 2016, hundreds of fighters attacked border posts which prompted a massive army crackdown, with troops accused of rape and indiscriminate killings. In August 2017 attacks on police posts across the north of the state killed 12 members of the security forces and the fully to be expected backlash was swift. ARSA naturally style themselves as 'freedom fighters' yet some analysts such as the International Crisis Group describe them as jihadists financed, recruited and trained by private individuals in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia who have campaigned to enhance ARSA’s religious legitimacy further by obtaining fatwas from senior clerics in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and elsewhere. The stated aim of ARSA is to secure the rights of the Rohingya as citizens within Burma, however its choice of violent resistance may well have set back that cause. It has fuelled the regime's claims that the Rohingya are not peaceful, and that they are foreign interloper, not truly deserving of national recognition and must be expelled."
Indeed the cautionary warning proved only too appropriate because Amnesty International now reveals that ARSA were complicit in the massacre of a village of Hindus. Amnesty says interviews it conducted with refugees in Bangladesh and in Rakhine state confirmed that mass killings which took place in a cluster of villages in northern Maungdaw Township. Around a hundred Hindu villagers were murdered. The report The report details how Arsa members on 26 August, 2017 attacked the Hindu village of Ah Nauk Kha Maung Seik. Amnesty said the bodies of 45 people from the village were unearthed in four mass graves in late September. The remains of the other victims, as well as 46 from the neighbouring village of Ye Bauk Kyar, have not been found.
"In this brutal and senseless act, members of Arsa captured scores of Hindu women, men and children and terrorised them before slaughtering them outside their own villages." said the report.
One woman from the village described how: "They slaughtered the men. We were told not to look at them … They had knives. They also had some spades and iron rods. … We hid ourselves in the shrubs there and were able to see a little … My uncle, my father, my brother - they were all slaughtered."
These atrocities have provided the Myanmar government with a propaganda victory.
 Amnesty International explains, "It's hard to ignore the sheer brutality of Arsa's actions, which have left an indelible impression on the survivors we've spoken to. Accountability for these atrocities is every bit as crucial as it is for the crimes against humanity carried out by Myanmar's security forces in northern Rakhine State."

What Population Explosion?

China is planning to abandon all policies restricting the number of children people can have, according to a report. Bloomberg News quoted government sources as saying the new policy would be dubbed “independent fertility”, and that the change could come as soon as this year, or by 2019 at the latest. There was no official confirmation from China’s National Health Commission

The one-child policy was introduced in 1979 before it was relaxed to two children in 2016. Critics claim China’s birth rate was already falling anyway in line with other developing countries, and that all the policy did was encourage alarming rates of female infanticide and other abuses.  In Hong Kong and Taiwan, where the policy was never implemented, fertility rates are among some of the lowest in the world.

China owes much of its recent economic boom to a demographic bonus, with a young population providing cheap labour, but that balance has now shifted. The State Council has said around a quarter of China’s population will be 60 or older by 2030, up from 13.3 per cent in 2010, and an ageing society is putting a burden on pensions and services.   

Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) told The Independent he didn’t think the new policy would have much impact either. “People are not having children in China because they cannot afford them. That’s not going to change whether you have a one-child policy, a two-child policy or a 200-child policy. Where the one-child policy did have an impact was on the rights of individuals who were poor and couldn’t just pay [the fine for having more children],” said Prof Tsang.

Fact of the Day

Air pollution is the fourth biggest threat to public health after cancer, obesity and heart disease.

 Air pollution is making people ill, shortening lives and damaging our environment.

Monday, May 21, 2018



Same old story, same old greed. Directors too busy stuffing their
mouths with gold to show any concern for their workforce or their
pensioners”. Frank Field – Commons Select Committee chairman.

Directors work so very hard,
Much harder than the rest of us;
Our laziness means we are barred
From luxuries that are a 'plus'.
Just twenty-four hours in the day,
How is it they achieve so much?
Who needs a workforce some would say,
When they're a striking pain as such.
Consider when they're not at work,
Just how much real wealth is produced;
And when at work they only shirk,
That's why their pay has been reduced.

So when strikes close a company down,
It makes more profit than before;
As the Directors merely frown,
And then by magic make much more! (1)
Then their remuneration boards,
(With each of them in a key post)
Vote to increase their unearned hoards,
So they can boast they earn the most.
That's how they pay themselves so well,
Who else could con us like they do;
The whole sting has a nasty smell,
But still we look up to “the few”.

Who kid us that we’re just a bind,
And surplus to the bosses needs;
They only pay us to be kind,
It's just for us that their heart bleeds!
So when they give themselves more shares,
And bonuses of extra pay;
It's right that they they are millionaires,
And self-awards are quite okay.
So plebs don't get hung up about,
Such rising inequality;
You've still a fraction more than nowt,
In thanks for your complicity.

(1) During a period where executive pay leapt
by 300%, production increased by a mere 27%.

© Richard Layton

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Hitler is Dead

"We can stop all the conspiracy theories about Hitler," Charlier said. "He did not flee to Argentina in a submarine; he is not in a hidden base in Antarctica or on the dark side of the moon."

A team of French pathologists was recently allowed to inspect a set of teeth kept in Moscow that were recovered in Berlin in early May 1945 — the first time that Russian authorities had allowed anyone to examine the remains in over 70 years. And the researchers' conclusions are unambiguous.

"The teeth are authentic — there is no possible doubt," lead pathologist Philippe Charlier declared. "Our study proves that Hitler died in 1945."

"Hitler's teeth were so bad — and uniquely bad — that his teeth alone made it possible to identify his corpse," the forensic pathologist Mark Benecke wrote in an online article. He adds that tooth decay and gum disease were probably the reasons for the Führer's notoriously bad breath.

The new findings should, (but probably won't,) put an end to crackpot notions that the Nazi leader somehow escaped the destruction of the final days of World War II.

The Soviets knew for sure that Hitler was dead, Stalin ordered the news suppressed so as to sow uncertainty and allow him to spread rumors that the Western Allies had secretly helped Hitler escape.

"It was a deceitful charade, a weird attempt to disguise the fact that his body had been found," Rzhevskaya wrote in her memoirs, which appeared in Russian in 1965 but were only published in English this March. "Hitler was no longer an emblem of the war, he became an emblem of the kind of peace that was to follow." The Russians called the disinformation campaign "Operation Myth." When combined with the real fact that prominent Nazis such as Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele had, in fact, fled to South America, Stalin's deception was the genesis of conspiracy theories that Hitler had somehow survived World War II.
"Stalin's strategy, quite evidently, was to associate the west with Nazism by pretending that the

British or Americans must be hiding him," the historian Anthony Beevor wrote in his book Berlin — The Downfall: 1945.

Mental well-being is a political question

 It is inconvenient to hear but psychological distress is political. Studies have shown an association between the implementation of austerity policies and increasing mental health needs. Austerity after the recent recession hit the poorest hardest. Families with the lowest incomes got poorer and deprived areas saw the greatest funding cuts at the level of local government. Resources used to support community living and social support for isolated groups, such as the Sure Start centres for young families, were cut. Benefits reform has led to increased mistrust and shame that has contributed to split and beleaguered communities.  

 Psychological distress (often categorised as “mental disorders” and other terms we, as psychologists, are not always comfortable with) is not distributed equally across society. People lower down the socio-economic ladder suffer more mental distress than those higher up, with the gradient particularly pronounced for women. Inequality is also associated with poorer wellbeing for those at the sharp end. Debt and having a poor-quality job – such as those with zero-hour contracts or where there is little control or reward to be had – are risk factors for experiencing mental illness. 

Multiple studies have shown a link between low socio-economic position and increased rates of depression and anxietyUnemployment is associated with a higher risk of suicide. Similarly, poor quality or overcrowded housing is linked to poorer mental health in adults and is worse for children’s educational and health outcomes. Living in a neighbourhood blighted by violence or with a high crime rate is associated with trauma. Those experiencing oppression through living in communities in which there are high levels of racial inequality and discrimination are more likely to feel distressed.

Take the current housing crisis. Young people are spending more on rent with less hope than ever of meeting society’s expectations of home ownership. People may feel insecure, less in control of their lives or even unsafe in their current accommodation. If someone feeling like this went to their GP or to a mental health service, their response to these life experiences may be interpreted as “symptoms” of a mental health problem. Struggling to sleep and ruminating on thoughts of failure are commonly associated with depression. Antidepressants or CBT to cope with anxiety may or may not be offered and may or may not temporarily help the individual. But it is not going to change their situation or prevent others from ending up in the same place.

 If we don’t examine the wider context of why and how someone develops their distress, the problem can end up being situated inside the person. It is a person’s brain that is the problem and not these wider factors. This individualisation of psychological distress not only puts the onus for recovery squarely on the individual’s shoulders, but it shifts the focus away from the societal, cultural and political factors which contribute to people being in these positions in the first place. Tackling poverty, inequality, poor housing and deprivation is much harder than treating an individual’s depression or designing policies to increase access to mental health services. To do anything differently suddenly makes “mental health” deeply political and that is what many would like to avoid. But to quote the World Health Organisation: “Why treat people only to send them back to the conditions that made them sick in the first place?”

Thinking about mental health as something that starts and stops with the individual is never going to lead to a healthier and more connected society. We need to see the bigger picture, to consider how things like social disadvantage and inequality tug at the very fabric of what makes society functional. 

The government’s recent proposals for child and adolescent mental healthith its narrow focus on the role that schools and colleges can play, the government’s proposal is actually a huge diversion away from the real issues, which we would argue is rising poverty and poor educational policies. And we are not the only ones to think so – last week a joint report from the Education and Health and Social Care Select Committees found that “it lacks any ambition and fails to consider how to prevent child and adolescent mental ill health in the first place”heir report also revealed that the connection between social disadvantage and youth mental health was not part of the brief that the researchers, providing the evidence to underpin the proposals, were given.

From here