Monday, October 31, 2011

Fear At The Top?

The global economy is on the verge of a new and deeper jobs recession that may ignite social unrest, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned. It will take at least five years for employment in advanced economies to return to pre-crisis levels, it said. The ILO also noted that in 45 of the 118 countries it examined, the risk of social unrest was rising.

Separately, the OECD research body said G20 leaders meeting in Cannes this week need to take "bold decisions". The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said the rescue plan announced by EU leaders on 26 October had been an important first step, but the measures must be implemented "promptly and forcefully". The OECD's message to world leaders came as it predicted a sharp slowdown in growth in the eurozone and warned that some countries in the 17-nation bloc were likely to face negative growth.

In its World of Work Report 2011, the ILO said a stalled global economic recovery had begun to "dramatically affect" labour markets. It said approximately 80 million net new jobs would be needed over the next two years to get back to pre-crisis employment levels. But it said the recent slowdown in growth suggested that only half the jobs needed would be created.

"We have reached the moment of truth. We have a brief window of opportunity to avoid a major double-dip in employment," said Raymond Torres from the ILO.

The group also measured levels of discontent over the lack of jobs and anger over perceptions that the burden of the crisis was not being fairly shared. It said scores of countries faced the possibility of social unrest, particularly those in the EU and the Arab region. Meanwhile, in its latest projections for G20 economies, the OECD forecast growth in the eurozone of 1.6% this year, slowing to 0.3% next year. In May, it had forecast growth of 2% per year in both 2011 and 2012.

It also cut its growth forecasts for the US to 1.7% in 2011 and 1.8% in 2012. It had previously expected growth of 2.6% and 3.1% respectively. The organisation called for G20 leaders, who meet on Thursday and Friday, to act quickly.

"Much of the current weakness is due to a generalised loss of confidence in the ability of policymakers to put in place appropriate responses," the OECD said.

"It is therefore imperative to act decisively to restore confidence and to implement appropriate policies to restore longer-term fiscal sustainability." It also called for the eurozone to cut interest rates.

Adapted from BBC article here and italicised for emphasis by SOYMB.


Not surprising in its general content but a note of concern regarding the possible reaction - it seems that the ruling classes maybe preparing for increased social unrest and planning more than just the usual responses, perhaps echoing and exceeding the heavy handed tactics currently being deployed against the Occupy Wall Street protesters.


The cant of that patriotic capitalist class

The effective tax rate paid by Britain’s biggest companies has dropped by almost a third over the last two years.

In 2009, FTSE 100 companies on average paid tax equivalent to 35.8 per cent of their annual profits but research by UHY Hacker Young, a national group of accounting firms, shows that figure has fallen to just 26 per cent in 2011, even though profits are higher.

The drop since 2009 is partly a result of a fall in the headline corporate tax rate from 28 per cent to 26 per cent over the last two years. Some top companies also carried forward losses made during the recession to gain tax relief in later years. More than a third of FTSE 100 companies paid no corporation tax at all last year. FTSE 100 companies are also generating a higher percentage of their revenues overseas than was previously the case. This means they are able to take advantage of lower tax rates in those overseas jurisdictions. Aileen Scott, tax partner at Campbell Dallas, said the steep decrease was also related to some British companies moving their headquarters overseas.

Scott said the firms were not doing anything wrong.“Companies have a duty to their shareholders to keep the tax they pay under control,” she said. “With more of their operations now based overseas it is only sensible for them to ensure that their business is structured properly so that they are paying tax at the best rate.That doesn’t mean they are doing anything that is illegal or pushing the boundaries of acceptable tax planning. They may simply be reducing their activities in high tax overseas jurisdictions..."

A number of British companies have moved to countries with lower tax rates in order to reduce their tax burden in recent years. Research carried out this summer for HM Revenue & Customs showed 26 per cent of large companies are considering relocating part or all of their business abroad.

October 31 - world population - 7 billion

The United Nations will to-day declare that the world population has reached seven billion. One of the 382,000 babies born Monday will have that honour.

Some say the occasion is to be celebrated as a success of the human species. Population grows when births exceed deaths. The 7-billion mark was reached because people are living longer and the number of infant deaths has dropped, because of a larger food supply and because of advances in sanitation and medicine. Others voice a foreboding for the future, questioning the growth's sustainability upon the natural resources of the world. As many debate the earth’s population reaching seven billion on October 31, some countries in Europe, East Asia and the US are facing declining birth rates.

For a population to stay at a steady state, the fertility rate needs to be about 2.1 children per woman. More than 30 countries have what is considered a very low fertility of less than 1.3 births per woman. Japan’s rate, one of the lowest in the world, is 1.21, according to the CIA, far below basic replacement levels. The UK is at 1.91, Belgium’s is 1.65, Canada is at 1.58, South Korea has a rate of 1.23 and Italy has a rate of 1.39. Turkey, Algeria, Tunisia, and Lebanon are also now sub-replacement countries.

“With a lower fertility rate, the ageing of the population is inevitable” said Roderic Beaujot, a demographer at the University of Western Ontario in Canada.

In the UK, for example, the number of people over 70 will increase by more than 50 per cent - from 6.2 million today to 9.6 million in 2030. With senior citizens making up a larger proportion of the population, countries are worried that there will be too many retirees receiving healthcare and social security payments and too few workers to support them. There are two main solutions: increasing fertility rates or encouraging immigration. Russia initiated a policy known as “mother capital” where women are paid about $10,000 to have more than one child. While in proportion to its population, Canada naturalises the most people in the world by far. By 2031, one in three workers in Canada is projected to be foreign-born.

“Countries that do not wish to open their doors to immigration will be forced to rely more on other policies to shoulder the burden of population ageing” Sumption, from the Migration Policy Institute, said - Raising the retirement age and cutting back on welfare benefits

"The world's population growth reached its peak at 1.9 per cent in the 1960s and has dropped to about 1.2 per cent," said Richard Bilsborrow, faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Centre. "The fall is really extraordinary."

The Economist reported in January 2011 that "The richest one per cent of adults control 43 per cent of the world's assets; the wealthiest ten per cent have 83 per cent. The bottom 50 per cent have only two per cent."

If the gap between the haves, have-nots and have-yachts is reduced drastically, critics say, the world has enough wealth and natural resources to provide a decent standard of living to a large population. A rise in living standards, access to family planning and more rights for women have all played a role in slowing the rise, analysts said.

There is, however, one significant exception - sub-Saharan Africa. Its population is expected to at least double in less than 40 years with the average woman in Ethiopia and Mozambique giving birth to five children. In Somalia, which has one of the highest birth rates in the world, only 1 percent of married women have access to modern contraception.

"The most productive aid we in the West can give is education,"
John Weeks, director of the International Population Centre at San Diego State University said. "But selling weapons is what the rich countries do most easily."

In all likelihood the 7 billionth child will join the ranks of the already hungry, or those perpetually wondering where their next meal will come from. Around 3 billion people are currently estimated to be living on $2 a day and almost 1 billion are hungry. The 7 billioner will probably struggle to get an education or a permanent job, and their illiteracy and work-insecurity will make getting out of poverty that much more difficult.

He/she may struggle to get potable water: water usage in the developing world is due to rise by 50% by 2025. Of the 2.5% of the world’s fresh water, two-thirds is frozen. Irrigation is used on around a quarter of the world’s croplands and underpins more than one third of agricultural production. If there were no irrigation then global cereal production would drop by 20%.

More than likely will live in a city for urbanisation – or rather the flight from rural areas – is not only going to use all manner of resources, it’s going to mean fewer farmers willing to stick to their fields. By 2050 around 6.3 billion of the world’s 9 billion people by that time will live in cities.

Hopefully the 7 billionth person will be a socialist and understand the solutions. The present food crisis -- in which nearly a billion people are going hungry -- is used as proof of the food scarcity plaguing the planet. There is scarcity -- but not of food.

The world produces 1-½ times enough food to feed every man, woman and child currently living. Studies show that sustainable agricultural practices can produce enough food to feed 10 billion people. The University of Michigan have constructed two models, a "conservative case" and a "realistic case." The "conservative case" applied the yield ratios of organic production to conventional production from the developed countries to worldwide agricultural production (production in both the developed and developing countries). As the yield ratios in the ten food categories were generally lower in the developed countries, applying them worldwide means that slightly fewer calories would be produced under a fully organic global system: 2,641 kcal/person/day instead of 2,786 kcal. However, this number is still above the suggested intake for healthy adults of 2200 to 2500 kcal/person/day, so even under this conservative estimate there would be sufficient food production for the current population. However, under more realistic assumptions—that a switch to organic agriculture would mean the relatively lower developed world yield ratios would apply to production in the developed world and the relatively higher developing world yield ratios would apply to production in the developing world—the result was an astounding 4,381 kcal/person/day, a caloric availability more than sufficient for today's population. Indeed, it would be more than enough to support an estimated population peak of around 10-11 billion people by the year 2100. The study isn't a precise prediction for any specific crop or region, but rather an indicator of potential performance of organic relative to conventional and the current low-intensity agriculture practiced in much of the developing world.

People are going hungry not because there is not enough food, but because they are poor and can't afford food

Austerity? Cut-backs?

• The US is planning to spend $700bn on nuclear weapons over the next decade. A further $92bn will be spent on new nuclear warheads and the US also plans to build 12 nuclear ballistic missile submarines, air-launched nuclear cruise missiles and bombs.

• Russia plans to spend $70bn on improving its strategic nuclear triad (land, sea and air delivery systems) by 2020. It is introducing mobile ICBMs with multiple warheads, and a new generation of nuclear weapons submarines to carry cruise as well as ballistic missiles. There are reports that Russia is also planning a nuclear-capable short-range missile for 10 army brigades over the next decade.

• China is rapidly building up its medium and long-range "road mobile" missile arsenal equipped with multiple warheads. Up to five submarines are under construction capable of launching 36-60 sea-launched ballistic missiles, which could provide a continuous at-sea capability.

• France has just completed deployment of four new submarines equipped with longer-range missiles with a "more robust warhead". It is also modernising its nuclear bomber fleet.

• Pakistan is extending the range of its Shaheen II missiles, developing nuclear cruise missiles, improving its nuclear weapons design as well as smaller, lighter, warheads. It is also building new plutonium production reactors.

• India is developing new versions of its Agni land-based missiles sufficient to target the whole of Pakistan and large parts of China, including Beijing. It has developed a nuclear ship-launched cruise missile and plans to build five submarines carrying ballistic nuclear missiles.

• Israel is extending its Jericho III missile's range, and is developing an ICBM capability, expanding its nuclear-tipped cruise missile enabled submarine fleet.

UK - A Trident replacement of four new nuclear missiles submarines are alone estimated to cost £25bn at the latest official estimate.

For several countries, including Russia, Pakistan, Israel and France, nuclear weapons are being assigned roles that go well beyond deterrence, says the report. In Russia and Pakistan, it warns, nuclear weapons are assigned "war-fighting roles in military planning".

Royal Power

Following on from an earlier blog SOYMB discovers more royal power

Since 2005, ministers from six departments have sought the Prince of Wales' consent to draft bills on everything from road safety to gambling and the London Olympics. The prince's power applies when a new bill might affect his own interests, in particular the Duchy of Cornwall, a private property empire that last year provided him with an income. It is headed by the prince with a £200,000-a-year chief executive, Bertie Ross, who oversees the equivalent of 91 full-time staff. While investors everywhere have been buffeted by financial turmoil in recent years, the value of the Duchy portfolio has risen from £618m in 2006-7, to £712m in 2010-11. The prince's annual income from the duchy has risen over the same period from £15.2m to £17.8m. it owns substantial residential and commercial properties such as Poundbury, a mock-Georgian new town in Dorset and the Franklin Wilkins building leased to Kings College London, more than 2,000 hectares of woodland, holiday cottages in Cornwall, and the Oval cricket ground also in London. Duchy tenants in the village of Newton St Loe, outside Bath, this year complained to the prince that they had been "fobbed off", "patronised", "misled" and "dealt with in an overly aggressive manner" by duchy representatives who handled their complaints about its plans to build 2,000 homes on neighbouring farmland. Some were afraid to speak their minds for fear of finding the terms of their tenancies changed.

Neither the government nor Clarence House will reveal what, if any, alterations to legislation Charles has requested, or exactly why he was asked to grant consent to such a wide range of laws.

The title and property of the Duchy of Cornwall were created in 1337 by Edward III, and were given by royal charter to his son, the Prince of Wales. Under the charter, the duchy always belongs to the sovereign's eldest son who is the heir apparent. If the heir apparent dies without leaving children, the property of the duchy reverts to the crown. So although the duchy belongs to the Prince of Wales, who is also the Duke of Cornwall, there is a theoretical possibility that it could revert to the sovereign, who therefore has a contingent personal interest in matters that affect the property of the duchy. Bills in parliament that would affect the sovereign's private interests (or the royal prerogative) require the Queen's consent; by extension, therefore, bills that would affect the duchy also require consent, and since the Prince of Wales administers the duchy he also performs the function of considering and granting relevant requests for consent. The consents are required as a matter of parliamentary procedure, as a method of protecting crown prerogative and private interests. The sovereign and the Prince of Wales are the only members of the royal family whose consent is required for bills that affect their private interests. Where a bill affects the "hereditary revenues, personal property or other interests" of the Duchy of Cornwall, then "the consent of … the Prince of Wales must be signified in both houses [of parliament] before the bill is passed," Cabinet Office guidance states.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Anti- Social Housing?

Future of Social Housing?
A report from Inside Housing Magazine that has reached SOYMB highlight the madness of housing policy under capitalism......

Edited from original articles from Inside Housing, Friday 28th October 2011:

Councils will demolish thousands of homes to slash the amount of debt they take on under the imminent reform of the housing subsidy system. Some authorities have drawn up plans in a matter of months this year to knock down hundreds of homes for financial gain. Other councils have fast-tracked proposals, an Inside Housing investigation has found.
They have acted because of an in-built ‘demolition deadline’ in plans to scrap the housing revenue account. Under the system the majority of town halls in England will take on a share of the existing £21 billion national housing debt based on the number of properties they own. But stock set to be demolished before 2017 will not be included in the calculations - providing a sizeable financial incentive to demolish. It is understood the number of homes councils told the Communities and Local Government department they will demolish exceeded its expectations.
Nottingham and Birmingham councils have drawn up some of the most eye-catching plans - proposing to flatten more than 2,000 homes between them. All councils argue the homes picked would be costly to maintain and would not have a long-term future anyway.
Michael Gelling, chair of the Tenants’ and Residents’ Organisations of England, said: ‘You have all this pressure [waiting lists] on the social housing sector and this will make it worse.’
In a paper seen by Nottingham Council’s executive board last month, the council, which currently has 13,000 people on its waiting list, said its arm’s-length management organisation had assessed all 29,000 of its homes as a result of the HRA reforms. Demolishing 973 homes would reduce its HRA debt by £10.2 million. But the plans could prove controversial in some areas - 50 per cent of residents responded to consultation on one 209-home estate, with 51 per cent of those saying they favoured demolition.
Birmingham plans to flatten up to 1,279 homes. It failed to respond to Inside Housing’s inquiries but reportedly had more than 17,000 people on its waiting list earlier this year. Council reports said the homes would be ‘costly to maintain’ and that the job to identify homes ‘is now underway as it will save a lot of money in debt repayment costs if tower blocks are identified for demolition by September’.
A paper presented to Eastbourne Council, which is demolishing a number of retirement blocks, added, ‘further demolitions and disposals of retirement courts will be necessary to allow the council to develop a viable HRA business plan’.
Ian Fitzpatrick, senior head of community at Eastbourne Council, said: ‘This process is all about good asset management over the long term.’
In a separate article from the same edition it was also noted that:
Factsheets have popped through their letterboxes telling them their homes will cost too much to maintain, are in unpopular areas or, perhaps, that the design of their estates of high-rises mean they are crime magnets. The message is clear. As one leaflet prepared for residents in Birmingham puts it: ‘We have identified that one or more of these factors affect your tower block and the best option would appear to be demolition.’
It is not a coincidence that so many of these letters have been arriving within weeks of each other in various towns and cities. The plans for demolitions - more than 2,000 are anticipated in Birmingham and Nottingham alone - are, of course, based on detailed surveys on the viability of stock over the next 30 years. There has, however, been a strong financial imperative for councils to carry out the work. As we reveal on page 1, if councils have firm plans in place for demolition before 2017, the doomed homes will be excluded from housing revenue account calculations. Put simply, fewer homes means less debt for many authorities.
The big question is would these homes have been demolished by 2017 anyway? In some cases certainly. In others it is less clear. David Hall, director of consultancy Sector, who has worked with some authorities on their plans sums up the thought process. He says a number of councils have gone for demolitions ‘where it has been at the back of their mind to do something at some stage and they are bringing it forward to improve the position of their settlement’.
Because the process has been completed so quickly it is hard to tell how controversial the plans will prove in the long term. Heritage group SAVE said it thought the plans ‘seemed crazy’ because of the length of many council housing waiting lists. So there could be national opposition on top of local fights where residents who voted against proposals find their homes are for the chop.
Councils will argue more favourable HRA settlements will enable them to build better homes for the future. But there is no getting away from the strange fact that a reform designed to free councils to build more homes is going to start with a wrecking ball.
Last year Liverpool’s leader claimed that renovating a house in the Welsh Streets district of the city would cost £150,000. When pressed the council admitted the figure ‘was not based on an actual fully costed specification of any one individual property’. In other words, ‘we made it up’. In 2005 a house in the area was refurbished on Trevor McDonald’s Tonight programme for just £32,000.
Similarly, in a furious response to a call from the housing minister to consider refurbishment of the same neighbourhood, Liverpool housing chief Elaine Stuart claimed that demolition had overwhelming support (Inside Housing, 7 January). The planning file tells a different story - the responses in the consultation report show 170 in favour of demolition and 435 against.
Ms Stuart also attacked ‘London-based lobby groups’, such as SAVE, for interfering - choosing to ignore the fact that SAVE was approached for help by local groups, which were sick of being ignored. The Welsh Streets Home Group has seven years of minutes from residents meetings, together with surveys, petitions, buyers registers, and hundreds of letters from local people. Their views have been consistently disregarded.
The question now is whether Liverpool Council will have the courage to abandon demolition and begin a controlled release of condemned properties to those people queuing up to take them on. The financial incentives are there - apart from a potential £20 million from sales (in Welsh Streets alone), the new homes bonus can now be claimed on reinhabited properties, and the Homes and Communitites Agency has a £100 million renovation fund. Pathfinder is dead; it’s time to bury the wrecking ball too.
So for short-term financial gain and possible long term profits from external developers and their agents it seem that those allegedly elected to act in the public interest are neglecting people's immediate housing needs. The fact that thousands are homeless and more are inadequately housed is not an issue while there is money to be saved or made. This muddled thinking is typical of a system based on money and profit and only serves to underline the need to get rid of it and replace it with one based on satisfying basic human needs such as housing.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mind in a cul-de-sac: Laing

If one considers the family in its genealogical image as a tree, today lumberjacks are out. The tree, by various allegations, is blighted and corrupt, the leaves malnourished while society still praises its luxuriance. In the nineteen-fifties Dr. Kinsey showed statistically that monogamy was a stale pretence; in the 'seventies Women's Liberation proclaims it to be a cage. The most trenchant attacks on the family, however, have come from the psychiatrist Dr. Ronald Laing. In a series of writings on the condition of schizophrenia, Laing has shown family groups as circles bent on mental violence, selecting this and that member as victims for destruc­tion. Only the mad are sane, says Laing.

A psychiatric theory may not, in itself, be thought to matter much outside the world of attempted therapy where - as with more palpable physical disorders ­the patients are patched to be sent back to the en­vironment where their troubles grew. But Laing's has been popularised as material for social and political dissenters. Contributing to the New Left Review, Peace News and New Society automatically connected him with the cultural Left; in 1967 he was one of the speakers in the "Dialectics of Liberation" seminar at the Round House, London, with Marcuse, Stokely Car­michael and others. The film Family Life is a repre­sentation of his view of everyday relationships: an onslaught against the stupidity, unfairness and general motivation of the conventional and a vindication of the young dubbed insane, with the implication that the latter had better run from the former as fast as they can.

It is also a representation of the nature of Laing's popularity. The appearance of cheap editions of his books coincided with the emergence of the "under­ground", the movement for dropping-out and psyche­delia. The first Penguin by Laing, The Poliiics of Ex­perience, came out within weeks of the first issue of International Times. In a recent symposium, Laing and Anti-Psychiatry, Jan B. Gordon says: ". . . Laing's popularity among political activists, particularly those of New Left persuasion, is more easily understandable. He wages an incessant argument against history and sees any suggestion of scientific objectivity as an ex­cuse for psychological colonialism ... altering the maps unfairly." The writer is probably identifying "New Left persuasion" with the large anarcho-hippy fringe of those years, possessed by the idea that an aggregate of drop-outs was itself an "alternative society". The intellectual demigod of an earlier generation, Freud, held that the anarchist rebel was simply someone who rejected his father. Laing has gone further and supplied the rebel with a whole case-history against his father.

The Politics of Experience is an argument on the nature of personal experience, and the effects of rela­tionships on it. For Laing, we are what we experience. Each individual's experience is unique:

"I cannot experience your experience. You cannot exper­ience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience is man's invisibility to man. Experience used to be called The Soul. Experience as invisibility of man to man is at the same time more evident than anything. Only experience is evident. Experience is the only evidence."

Though there are references in the same book to struc­tures of experience being shared, and to the attempted communication of experience, what Laing reiterates many times is its personal nature. He says: "Our be­haviour is a function of our experience. We act accord­ing to the way we see things . . . If our experience is destroyed, we have lost our own selves."

The sentence between the two in that quotation is a key one in Laing's thesis. Put in italics by him to em­phasise its importance, it is: "If our experience is destroyed, our behaviour will be destructive." This is the springboard of Laing's other social-psychological works, Self and Others and Sanity, Madness and the Family. Man's failing is the mental violence he persists in doing to others. Its nature is attack upon and in­tended invalidation of others' experience, the effect to cause them to "lose their ownselves". Nowhere in society is this more precisely practised than by the members of families, one upon another:

". . . the frightened, cowed, abject creature that we are admonished to be, if we are to be normal - offering each other mutual protection from our own violence. The family as a 'protection racket'. Behind this language lurks the terror that is behind all this mutual back-scratching, this esteem-, status-, support-, protection-, security-giving and getting. Through its bland urbanity the cracks still show."

We are, says Laing, "effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love". In this light, the form of insanity called schizophrenia is examined intensively in the books. For Laing, nor­mality is hardly desirable. "Normal" men are alienated, sleep-walking, have killed one another by the million in wars, do frightful violence mentally in their family circles. The Politics of Experience quote descriptions of a teacher-and-pupils session to show the extension of coerced adaptation into school. Is madness a fact, or is it a labeI devised by the normal, who are insane any­way, for those who won't join their game? Laing be­lieves it is:

"In over 100 cases where we have studied the actual circumstances round the social event when one person comes to be regarded as schizophrenic, it seems to us that without exception the experience and behaviour that gets labelled schizophrenic is a special strategy that a person invents in order to live in an unlivable situation."

Thus, Sanity, Madness and the Family is a collection of case-histories including recordings of the patients' discussions with their families. The Family Life film is a dramatized view of the same terrain - dunder­head factory-foreman father, thin-lipped always-right mother, reactionary doctors, and nice young people with a hip flavour who could have made things all right for the girl if she'd been left alone. The point recurs: the sane are hopeless and destructive, the alleged insane are simply running blind to escape their intentions.

Where does all this take us? Has Laing a clue to remedying the disorders of our society? Obviously much in his writings appeals to anyone dissatisfied with the conventions and the spurious wisdom of the social order. The thought that the world is mad has occurred to most of us at some time, and cultural schools like Surrealism and Dada have been formed to make ap­propriate gestures in kind. It is easy to relish, too, the description of the pressures brought to bear in the family for social conformity: the induced anxiety and emotional blackmail - "My concern, my concern for your concern, your concern, and your concern for my concern, etc." Likewise the comments on the established functions of psychiatry: "But social adaptation to a dysfunctional society may be very dangerous. The per­fectly adjusted bomber pilot may be a greater threat to species survival than the hospitalised schizophrenic de­luded that the Bomb is inside him."

Beyond these attractions on the surface, bowever, Laing is offering nothing but a great deal of confusing of issues. What needs considering at once is the basic idea of experience from which his theory is developed: "All men are invisible to one another." Despite the qualifying and extending remarks which are at times contradictory tangles, the central point on which Laing insists is a Berkeleyan belief that experience, and there­fore reality, are subjective. Indeed, the contradictions are inevitable. If it were true that "the experience of the other is not evident to me, as it is not and never can be an experience of mine" - if, in fact, all men were invisible to one another - communication would be impossible. Society depends on the certainty of common experience.

To say that only personal experience is evidence is as meaningless in social practicality as was Berkeley's theory of matter when the stone fell into the pond. True, Laing says he rejects the categories "subjective and objective", "inner and outer", "process and praxis", and many more, but the rejection wiII not do. In each case, he is really seeking to reject one of a pair of opposites by naming both of them. In the description of experience, it is objectiveness that is disclaimed and subjectivity left by every inference. (If any doubt re­mains, the penultimate chapter of The Politics of Ex­perience, titled "Transcendental Experience", asserts not only the subjectivity of experience but the desir­ability of its being so.)

The meaninglessness is demonstrated when one looks at examples of what Laing calls mental violence, the denial of another person's subjective experience. What is being denied usually is physical or social fact: the violence consists not in the denial but in the blocking of avenues to verification. In the Orwellian example where the inquisitor demoralises his victim by insisting that two and two make five, and in Laing's examples where Jack tells Jill her perception is wrong, the attack is simply on social axioms. There are, of course, realms where values and preferences rather than facts are attacked: a person's liking for this or that music and art, his relationships and aspirations, may bring hos­tility and denigration from those round him. Again, however, there is nothing subjective about the exper­iences involved - the person's misfortune is to have displayed them in the wrong social milieu. But in any case it is absurd to cIaim all criticism or dispute to be mental violence. There is bullying and pressure to con­form, and much of it takes place in families; but re­buttal and challenge are essential to personal as well as social development.

The studies of family groups show a person's exper­ience - i.e. the core of his or her individuality - under attack from other members of the family, and the label "schizophrenic" affixed. What is pointed out, implicitly or explicitly, is that it is not he or she but they who are insane. It has already been remarked that this is gratifying to people at odds with, disapproved or con­demned, by their parents; but where does it lead? One is bound to ask who, in turn, made the parents mad. Laing has recognised the question by saying (in a 1967 article) that the web may stretch back three gener­ations, but that does not answer it. As a reductio ad absurdum there could be postulated an insane God as the first cause, the spider who created the web. Nor is it suggested what happens to the children of the schizo­phrenic-sane. Do they grow up free from the pressure of mental violence; or does the schizophrenic exper­ience make new norms and new demands that others should conform to them?

In the 1965 preface to an earlier work, The Divided Self, Laing speaks of his theories as condemning not only family relationships but the social order at large, because it "represses not only 'the instincts', not only sexuality, but any form of transcendence". The preface was withdrawn from the 1970 edition, and he is now reported to have retreated into mysticism. The dilemma of Laing is that a subjective view of human existence is a blindfold to consideration of the social order. The results, inevitably, are negative: Jan B. Gordon sees Laing as having accomplished "the construction of a system which makes nihilism functional". In his diagnosis of schizophrenia the idea of a cure cannot have a place; the schizophrenic embarks on a journey closely resembling a drug-taker's "trip", but we are not told about the return.

The general effect of work like this is to obscure the answers to social problems of relationships. On one hand, Laing is saying to many young people that there is no answer: hide, drop out, escape the lethal in­sanity of the world. On the other, the nature of what is going on in society is made to appear a complex of attitudes and behavioural algebra. At no point does Laing - or any of the commentatars in the Anti-Psy­chiatry book - distinguish between the family as a human grouping and the family under capitalism. Yet the distinction contains the explanation of the mental violence and the pressures which provide so much material for psychologists and liberationists together.

For capitalism, the family is vital because in it we work the social roles required of us economically. Stability and organisation are provided; experience is communicated to make social life continuous and co­herent. What Laing sees as the facade of family life was real enough in the past because acceptance of the roles was not questioned (insofar as they conflicted with instinct, half-recognised arrangements were made). However, as capitalism has extended and intensified the division of labour, the experience of one generation has ceased to mean much to another. Hence the roles themselves become doubtful: why should women wait on men, sons defer to fathers, children strive for re­spectability which means a damned-awful life? At this point violence is immanent. Laing observes rightly enough that it disguises itself as love and concern, but has no word as to why the situation is there in the first place. It is the channel for the compulsions of capitalism, through which hopes of good relationships are continually destroyed.

The answer is therefore not at all obscure. Laing's ultimate cry is wholly negative: "If I could turn you on, if I could drive you out of your wretched mind, if I could tell you I would let you know." Tell you what, except introspection and despair? At both the personal and the social leveis, relief from futility can be achieved by positive engagement: specifically, in creating a society where experience has meaning, and human per­sonality is able to live.

Socialist Standard, August 1972

(This article was previously unavailable online. Many issues of the Socialist Standard dating as far back as 1904 have been added recently to the archive section of our new, improved website).

India Racing To Widen The Wealth Gap

Saleem - Evicted Farm Worker
Adapted from original BBC article here.

Lady Gaga probably will not have to worry about getting stuck in traffic before her performance to mark India's first-ever Formula 1 Grand Prix. But it may take more time for fans to travel the 30km (18 miles) from Delhi to the circuit than for the drivers to cover the 300km (186 miles) of the race itself. The high-octane, high-spending Formula 1 glamour machine is coming to a country of extremes, with both some of the richest and poorest people on earth - and some of its most traffic-clogged roads. Some fear it will only make those extremes worse.

"India is fevering for this event", enthused one fan as he watched F1 cars roar past on Delhi's famous Rajpath - transformed into a race track for a day to promote the sport. Several thousand mainly young and clearly wealthier-than-average people turned out for the show - some even claiming F1 could challenge the popularity of cricket. Few believe that, specially as even the cheapest seats - at 2,500 rupees ($51; £32) - are way beyond the pockets of most Indians but organisers say they have been selling well. Proof, says Vijay Mallya, the billionaire co-owner of India's F1 team, of the growing disposable income of India's "aspirational middle class".

The private Indian company, Jaypee International, has been trumpeting its success in getting the new Buddh International Circuit, as it is known, outside Delhi, ready on time. When the BBC visited recently, the paint work looked a little rushed and hundreds of people were still hard at work on the grandstands and grounds, fixing seats and laying turf, watched over by baton-wielding security staff. It has reportedly cost some $400m (£248m), and some doubt it will ever recoup its investment.

But with this season's Formula 1 championship already decided, the race matters more to India as a chance to show it can compete in the economic and sporting big league. Jaypee chairman Jaiprakash Gaur predicts the Grand Prix will banish "the shameful memories" of the chaos and corruption that marred last year's Commonwealth Games in Delhi. "The world's perception of India is going to change after the Grand Prix," he promises.

Critics fear it is just another sign of India's wealthy elite getting ever further ahead of the rest. "This is polo for the new generation," says Ashis Nandy, an academic and social commentator, describing the millions being spent on the Grand Prix race as an "utter waste" and "totally insensitive" - with the majority of Indians living on less than a dollar a day. Just outside the circuit, with its computer-designed track, water buffalo pull rickety wooden carts along another kind of track - which has never seen any tarmac. But Formula 1 has had something of a lottery effect here as farmers and landowners whose plots were needed for the circuit received big sums in compensation - some as much as $1m (£621,000).

In the nearby villages, you see the result - shiny new SUVs (sports cars) and large new houses going up, with barefoot boys playing in nearby streets next to open sewers. Most people here got nothing, so this shower of sudden wealth is causing plenty of resentment. Saleem, a landless labourer, says: "I wish Formula 1 had never come here." Now all the local farmers have sold their land, he says, there is no work for him and he can not afford to send his children to school. With the Formula 1 promotional machine now in top gear, such concerns are being drowned out - with the Indian media counting down excitedly to the race. "Why does the international media keep focusing on the poor part of India," complains Formula 1 team owner Vijay Mallya.


Perhaps they keep focussing on the poor, Mr Mallya, because many find it utterly disgusting that it seems okay to you to spend such obscene amounts of money on racing cars for the elite to enjoy, when children are dying in abject poverty all around you? I mean to step over open sewers and starving locals on the way to see Lady GaGa and Indian's nouveau-rich must prick even the dullest conscience as being, well, a bit wrong surely? This kind of desperation to be part of the 'west' is driving a massive wedge through the developing nations, whereby the gap between the wealthy and the poor is growing at an alarming rate.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Making Connections

Reported on the BBC news sites both via red button teletext and online, were two stories on Friday that interact with each other but not one presenter, commentator or link has made the connection so perhaps SOYMB can oblige.

First up is the news, inevitably, that the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest site is to be challenged through the courts as the local authority pursues and eviction. The BBC online reports:

The corporation's planning and transport committee voted to proceed with court action to remove tents from the public highways by the cathedral. The Occupy London Stock Exchange protesters said the corporation wanted a "long, costly legal battle". Members of the group set up their tents on 15 October and there are now more than 200 erected around the cathedral.

Michael Welbank, who chaired the Corporation planning committee meeting, said: "Protest is an essential right in a democracy but camping on the highway is not and we believe we will have a strong highways case because an encampment on a busy thoroughfare clearly impacts the rights of others."

Earlier Prime Minister David Cameron said: "I don't quite see why the freedom to demonstrate has to include the freedom to pitch a tent almost anywhere you want to in London."

St Paul's Cathedral is also taking legal action to remove those protesters camping on its own private property. A spokesman said legal action had "regrettably become necessary". He said: "The chapter only takes this step with the greatest reluctance and remains committed to a peaceful solution.

"At each step of the legal process the chapter will continue to entreat the protesters to agree to a peaceful solution and, if an injunction is granted, will then be able to discuss with the protesters how to reach this solution."

Stuart Fraser, chairman of policy and resources at the corporation, said: "We have no problem with a peaceable 24-hour protest by people without tents - provided the highway is fully usable - but campsites and important highways don't mix." Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme earlier, Mr Fraser said they were in a "very, very difficult position". He said: "The Church has asked them to go, the archbishop has asked them to go, everybody has asked them to go and they are not going, so I am not sure what more we can do to ask them to move. "This is going to be long and complicated, I fear."

Ronan McNern, from OLSX, said: "We have requested that the Corporation of London and others engage in open dialogue with us and Liberty has offered to facilitate and mediate it.

"But the corporation showed their determination to take us down a long, costly legal battle at a time when public services are being cut."

The spokesman added that the demonstrators were "so glad" that the cathedral had reopened and invited visitors to "pop by our camp".

Conservative MP Mark Field, who represents Cities of London and Westminster, welcomed the corporation's decision, saying: "It's like a third world shanty town outside St Paul's which is a Unesco world heritage site.

Aside from from the yawningly obvious statements from the hand-wringing Church and Tory MPs, it is clear that even now they cannot or will not see the anger and reason for the global Occupy Protests - the abject failure of capitalism to deliver a 'fairer' society to all. Now given it's 2000 year history the church should know a thing or two about failing to deliver a fairer society, but the point evidently seems lost on them...

Meanwhile the second news item which verifies the actions of the OLSX protesters is this, again from the BBC online:

Pay for the directors of the UK's top businesses rose 50% over the past year, a pay research company has said. Incomes Data Services (IDS) said this took the average pay for a director of a FTSE 100 company to just short of £2.7m. The rise, covering salary, benefits and bonuses, was higher than that recorded for the main person running the company, the chief executive. Their pay rose by 43% over the year, according to the study.

Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in Australia, said the report was "concerning" and called for big companies to be more transparent when they decide executive pay.

Base salaries rose by just 3.2%, although that was above the median rise recorded by IDS this week for average pay settlements of 2.6% for private sector workers. Directors' bonus payments, on average, rose by 23% from £737,000 in 2010 to £906,000 this year.

So in short, the idle rich and those in charge of the massive corporations that are robbing us blind, are awarding themselves massive salaries and bonuses whilst those at the bottom are getting P45s or pay-cuts. But the Church and the State and the City of London corporation are scratching their heads about WHY people are camping out at St Paul's to protest - it's not that hard to work out now is it? And the reason why they are not going is because it is clear that the problems that bought them out in the first place are still here. But can people in TV-land and on the interweb see the truth? Can they put these polished and separated media stories together and work it out? Let's hope so and fast for all our sakes.


BBC News - St Pauls
BBC News - Directors Pay

Fuel Poverty or a Bankrupt System?

Almost 3,000 people in England and Wales will die this winter because they cannot afford to heat their homes, a report suggests – more than the number killed in traffic accidents each year.

Commissioned by the government, the Hills Fuel Poverty Review found that if just 10% of UK winter deaths are caused by fuel poverty – a conservative estimate it claims – 2,700 people will perish as a direct result of being fuel poor. The report also found that between 2004 and 2009 the "fuel povertygap" (the extra amount those with badly insulated homes and poor heating systems would need to spend to keep warm) increased by 50% to £1.1bn as a result of rising fuel prices.

By the end of 2011, 4.1 million households in England are expected to be in fuel poverty. Households are considered fuel poor if they need to spend more than 10% of their income on fuel use to heat a home to an adequate standard of warmth, generally defined as 21C in the living room and 18C in other occupied rooms.

In October 2010, the government announced it would commission an independent review of fuel poverty, investigating how to better define and measure it and tackle the underlying problems that lead to it. The interim report from the review, written by John Hills, director of theCentre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, leaves the government in no doubt as to the breadth and depth of the fuel poverty problem engulfing many of the UK's most vulnerable households. The report, which backed the current definition of fuel poverty, found that living in cold homes has a series of effects on illness and mental health, but the most serious is its contribution to Britain's unusually high rates of "excess winter deaths".

In the report, Hills writes: "There are many contributors to this problem, but even if only a 10th of them are due directly to fuel poverty, that means that 2,700 people in England and Wales are dying each year as a result – more than the number killed in traffic accidents."

Hills also found that while it is essential that the energy efficiency of the UK's housing stock is improved, those on low incomes in the worst housing cannot afford to pay for it and "need assistance from elsewhere".
He said: "The evidence shows how serious the problem of fuel poverty is, increasing health risks and hardship for millions of people and hampering urgent action to reduce energy waste and carbon emissions.
"This review confirms that the way in which the problem is currently described in law is correct: people are affected by fuel poverty if they are 'living on a lower income in a home which cannot be kept warm at reasonable cost'."

The Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 stated that fuel poverty should be eradicated "as far as reasonably practicable" by 2016, but while fuel poverty in England fell by four-fifths between 1996 and 2004 (from 5.1 million households to 1.2 million households) it has more than trebled since.

Derek Lickorish, chair of the government's Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, welcomed the report, and said it should "set an alarm bell ringing very loudly for government, Ofgem, suppliers and society as a whole".

"This disgrace is further compounded with the conclusion that households in or near the margins of poverty were faced with additional costs of some £1.1bn at 2009 price levels to keep warm compared to more affluent households. That figure will be even more after the recent round of energy price increases.

"Urgent action must start today to mitigate the impact of high energy bills, including reviewing the way in which costs are recovered through energy bills to decarbonise our energy."

Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action, which stated in September 2011 that there had been a relentless increase in the scale of fuel poverty across the UK, said the report vindicated 30 years of building awareness and tackling the causes and symptoms of fuel poverty. Chief executive Jenny Saunders said: "The report clearly indicates that however we define fuel poverty or formulate remedial policies, the scale of the problem is vast. We now need to rapidly adapt public policy to improve the health, financial security and wellbeing of fuel-poor households in order to do what is necessary to eradicate fuel poverty by the statutory target date of 2016."

Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK, added: "People are cutting back on heating or food to help make ends meet at a time of escalating fuel prices. This increases the risk of many older people becoming seriously ill. We need more immediate clarity and detail on what help will be available through the [government's proposed] Green Deal, particularly for people on low incomes, and a sensible long-term way of reducing energy."

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: "It is horrifying that so many people are dying each year because they can't afford to heat their home. Hills is right to stick by the current definition of fuel poverty because it focuses attention on the right people. Today's report is yet another reminder that fuel costs just have to come down."

Based on a Guardian article here.
This shameful report highlights the gulf between people's everyday lives and the more pampered existence of our political 'leaders' who certainly won't be cold this winter. And it is interesting to compare this shameful poverty with Ms Ecclestone's fortune as reported yesterday, a lady who can always snuggle up to some £50 notes if it gets too cold. It also highlights, as if it were needed, the callousness of a system that is quite happy in 2011 to let it's elderly die off for want of easily obtainable but expensive heat. Capitalism has no answers for these simple 'problems' other than indifference and ignorance. Socialism would ensure everyone on the planet has access to such fundamental basic human needs.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

More Money Than Sense?

While most of us mere mortals barely know what a £50 note feels like, Tamara Ecclestone lies naked surrounded by oodles of them. The model stripped off to pose for iconic photographer Tyler Shields in a series of snaps that ooze filthy rich. As well as writhing around on a bed laden with £1million, the 27-year-old also alludes to her own wealth by pretending to iron the wad of cash - even though she's probably never ironed in her life.

In another scene at her £50million London mansion, she pretends to fry an egg while a pair of expensive Christian Louboutin heels decorate the kitchen surface. She later steps out on to the streets of London while wearing her designer footwear, sweeping the pavements in the middle of the night while dressed up to the nines.

Sheilds' agent told The Sun: 'Tyler asked if she could get hold of £1million and she said she already had it lying around. So he got her to lie in it naked.'

She hopes her new TV show will show the 'real her', rather than the public's perception of her just being the daughter of Formula One CEO Bernie Ecclestone.

Meanwhile, in an interview this week Tamara detailed her extravagant lifestyle, which involves three weekly hair appointments, a holiday every month and getting her dogs groomed at Harrods Pet Spa. She told Grazia her mother Slavica was horrified by her spending on clothes, shoes and handbags. She said: 'My mum is always having a go at me about my spending - when she sees all the clothes in my dressing room she tells me I have mental problems.

'But I can't pretend this isn't my life. OK, I feel bad about it sometimes, but it doesn't make me a horrible person.

'I'm not going to lie and say I don't love clothes and bags. Actually I do a lot of charity work and give loads of my clothes, shoes and bag away.'

Edited from original article here.


I think this says all you need to know about the corrupting influence of money and the daily lives of the idle rich. And clearly, according to the defenders of the status quo, she has 'worked hard' for her money....


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In Poor Health

Birth centres are closing, patients are being denied pain-relieving drugs and leaflets advising parents how to prevent cot death have been scrapped because of NHS cuts which are increasingly restricting services to patients.

The NHS's £20bn savings drive also means new mothers receive fewer visits from health visitors, support for problem drinkers is being reduced and families are no longer being given an NHS advice book on bringing up their baby.

People with diabetes and leg ulcers are seeing less of the district nurses who help them manage their condition; specialists delivering psychological therapies are under threat and a growing number of hospitals are reducing the number of nurses and midwives to balance their books.

The disclosure that the savings drive is affecting so many different areas of NHS care has prompted claims that pledges by the prime minister and the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, that the frontline would be protected despite the NHS's tightening financial squeeze cannot be trusted. One of David Cameron's election pledges was: "I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS."

Inquiries  into the impact of the quest to deliver £20bn of "efficiency savings" in the NHS in England by 2015 also shows that walk-in centres are closing and anti-obesity programmes are being scaled back and hospitals reducing the number of nurses and midwives they employ, despite rising demand for healthcare and an ongoing baby boom. Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "Andrew Lansley promised the NHS cuts to save the £20bn would be in bureaucracy and waste and would not come at the expense of the frontline. But the evidence we are getting on a daily basis is that the impact is on the patient and frontline services."
"Ministerial promises aren't being kept. We are getting the complete opposite of what we were promised. We were promised no cuts to frontline services and no impact on the patient's journey. Instead we are getting cuts in many, many services and the impact on the patient is huge."

Patients denied painkillers such as co-codamol and tramadol and the sleeping tablet diazepam have contacted the association recently to complain that prescriptions have suddenly been withdrawn.
One of the NHS's 10 regional strategic health authorities has banned primary care trusts (PCTs) in its area from prescribing patients a range of painkillers on cost grounds, Murphy added. Patients on oxygen due to breathing problems have seen visits from district nurses reduced, while other patients have been denied cataract, bariatric or hernia operations, she added.

Children's health experts are dismayed that parents will no longer automatically receive Birth to Five, a longstanding guide to issues such as feeding and immunisation, because the Department of Health has decided to make it an online-only publication as part of a DH purge on health promotion material. Dr David Elliman, a spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "If Birth to Five is no longer to be available to mothers in print, only on the internet, this is bad news. I am particularly concerned that those who profit from it most will be least likely to use it. This is a false economy and is likely to increase inequalities. We would urge DH to think again."

The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths also warned that switching Reduce the Risk – a leaflet that gives parents advice on avoiding cot death – to an online-only format would deprive parents, especially those from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds, of potentially vital guidance, as many are unlikely to download it. Research credits the leaflet with helping to avoid 19,000 cot deaths since it was first published in 1991. Jacque Gerrard, director for England at the Royal College of Midwives, said shutting birth centres such as the Jubilee, in Hull, and Heatherwood, in Ascot, where midwives rather than doctors supervise women's care, would deny mothers-to-be their right to choice of place of birth. At least six more reconfigurations of maternity services, which could result in further closures, are being discussed by the NHS.

Campaigners for sick babies have warned that a reduction in the number of nurses at a third of neonatal units in English hospitals could result in deaths. "The lives of England's sickest babies are at risk by needless cuts to the neonatal nursing workforce," said Andy Cole, the chief executive of the baby charity Bliss.
Bliss used freedom of information laws to investigate staffing levels in neonatal units. Despite the charity identifying a shortfall of 1,150 nurses in those units last year, some 140 posts have been lost since then through redundancies, recruitment freezes and redefining some staff roles. One in five units also said that they intend to reduce their total of neonatal nurses in the next 12 months.

Ipswich hospital confimed that it plans to shed 250 staff as part of a drive to reduce its 3,800-strong full and part-time workforce in order to help it confront "a serious and urgent financial challenge" and make £16m of efficiency savings during this financial year. Those being made redundant by the end of the year include both clinical staff and non-medical support staff. It is shrinking its workforce despite emergency and elective care admissions having risen in the last three years.

The cash squeeze affecting the hospital is so acute that it has no plans to replace a specialist nurse who retired last week who helped about 50 patients suffering from multiple sclerosis manage their conditions. "The MS nurse specialist post is under review. We do however have a serious and urgent financial challenge to face and are going through a period of consultation on a number of posts," said a hospital spokeswoman.
The spokeswoman said the £16m target was the result of NHS organisations in England having to make 4% efficiency savings this year towards the £20bn goal and the service's Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention (QIPP), which also wants healthcare providers to become more efficient in order to free up resources to cope with the demands of an increasingly elderly population.

Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, the union representing 400,000 NHS staff including nurses and paramedics, said the emerging cuts were "a shocking indictment" of the government. The public will not be fooled by David Cameron's hollow words ever again. "Just over a year in office, and the damage to the NHS is clear to see: birth centres closing, patients left in pain, public health programmes dwindling, district nurse visits being cut, health workers losing their jobs. Waiting lists are rising, and the health bill no-one wants will change our health service beyond recognition, throwing the doors open to privatisation on a never before seen scale," she said.

Janet Davies, director of nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, warned that cuts made in the next three years may be more painful for staff and patients than those in this financial year. "While the cuts we are currently seeing are fairly worrying, we have even more concern about the future, because the task to cut costs and make savings will only get harder. Some trusts have managed to make savings this year in a sensible way that hasn't directly affected patient care. But next year the increased pressure, because the NHS has to make three more years of savings for the three years after this, it's harder to identify where innovation and reduction in waste can make savings.

Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, said hospitals and PCTs should not be using the £20bn efficiency drive to cut services to patients. "There is no need for NHS organisations to cut services that their local population requires. The NHS will receive an extra £12.5bn over the next four years and in future we want it to focus more on designing services around patients. "Even with this significant increase in funding, the growing pressures of an ageing population and the rising costs of drugs and other treatments means that the NHS still needs to save up to £20bn by 2015. This is not about cuts – it is about becoming more efficient, so that even more money can be spent on providing high quality care for patients, not less.

"We are clear that there should be no blanket bans for treatments, that the NHS must be sensitive to individual circumstances and have systems in place for exceptional cases so individuals can get the most appropriate treatment for them."

From a Guardian article here.

Still the debate rages about NHS funding when really it is quite simple: the NHS was a wholesale reform won after WW2 and one that the capitalist class has been trying to claw back ever since. Fearing the consequences of a complete sell-off or wholesale closure, everything is done 'by the back door' so to speak to gradually turn the NHS into a market system whereby everything is bought and sold. And where no profit can be made, services will be cut. Like all reforms, and as great as the NHS is, they will always be under threat from the ruling class which is why they ultimately fail. Better to do away with the system and have genuine patient-first care without financial restrictions for everyone,  for ever....

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chaiqian - the Chinese Clearances

50 million Chinese farmers have lost their homes over the past three decades as part of an urbanization policy that has swelled city dwellers to about 50 percent of the population, from 21 percent in 1982. The land seizures frequently lead to local officials violating farmers’ rights. Land disputes are the leading cause of surging unrest across China, according to an official study published in June. The number of so-called mass incidents - protests, riots, strikes and other disturbances - doubled in five years to almost 500 a day in 2010, according to Sun Liping, a sociology professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.
“Forced evictions are one of the biggest sources of public unrest and public dissatisfaction with the government because they are unstoppable,”
said Phelim Kine, a senior Asia researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch. “We’ve seen an avalanche of forced evictions and illegal demolitions.”

Termed “chaiqian” in Chinese, the demolition and relocation of communities has become increasingly controversial. Cities have been grabbing land to finance operations and pay back or restructure mushrooming debt that reached at least 10.7 trillion yuan ($1.68 trillion) by the end of 2010. Almost a quarter of that is backed by land, according to China’s National Audit Office. City governments rely on land sales for much of their revenue because they have few sources of income such as property taxes. Land sales make up 30 percent of total local government revenue and in some cities account for more than half, according to Wang Tao, a Hong Kong-based economist for UBS AG. They’re increasingly seeking to cash in on real estate prices that have risen 140 percent since 1998 by appropriating land and flipping it to developers for huge profits.
.“The high price of land leads to local governments being predatory,” said Andy Xie, an independent economist based in Shanghai who was formerly Morgan Stanley’s chief Asia economist.

Cities may have to accelerate land sales as they struggle to repay the debt, said Victor Shih, a professor at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who studies China’s local- government finances. There’s also an incentive for officials to keep payments to farmers as low as possible. “Without suppressing land compensation, local governments can’t make the margins to pay back the banks,” Shih said. “In essence, they are the engines of inequality in China. Land development is the redistribution of income from average households to rich households.”

“The local governments earn a lot of money from the price difference between what they compensate farmers and villagers for their land and what they sell to developers,” said Wang Erping, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

“It breaks my heart that they demolished my home,” said Zou “They tore my house down with no regard for where I would live, but they themselves live in high-class homes,” He said of the officials

From here

Monday, October 24, 2011

Rioters: Young & Poor, But Not Gang Members According To The Government

(Reuters) - Those who took part in Britain's worst rioting for decades this summer were young, poor, and had education problems but contrary to claims by politicians, only a minority were gang members, official data released on Monday showed.

The findings reignited political debate over the significance of the riots. Five days of serious disorder in cities across England in August were only dissipated by the deployment of thousands of police officers on the streets.

Prime Minister David Cameron blamed "criminality," saying that street gangs were at the heart of the problem, and rejected accusations that government austerity measures had alienated youths in poorer communities.

But an analysis by the Home Office and Ministry of Justice of those arrested during and after the riots showed gangs had not been a major factor.

Only 13 percent of those arrested nationwide were reported to have been affiliated to a gang, and most police forces outside London registered a figure below 10 percent.

"In terms of the role gangs played in the disorder, most forces perceived that where gang members were involved, they generally did not play a pivotal role," said the Home Office report, although it said there were examples of some orchestrated problems.

The analysis, based on data available up to mid-October, showed there had been more than 5,000 crimes recorded during the five days of rioting, almost 4,000 arrests and nearly 2,000 people had appeared at court.

Most offenders or suspects came from socially deprived backgrounds and had criminal records. Half of those appearing in court were under 20, with a quarter aged 10 to 17.

Just over three-quarters had a previous conviction, and 26 percent had already committed more than 10 offences.

"It is clear that compared to population averages, those brought before the courts were more likely to be in receipt of free school meals or benefits, were more likely to have had special educational needs and be absent from school, and more likely to have some form of criminal history," the Ministry of Justice report said.

The figures showed most of the young people involved lived in one of the 20 most deprived areas of the country and two-thirds were classed as having some form of special educational needs.

Thirty-five percent of adults involved were unemployed compared to an English national average of 12 percent.

"These figures confirm that, in the vast majority of cases, existing criminals were out in force during the disturbances in August," said Criminal Justice Minister Nick Herbert.

"The fact that half of recorded crimes were for offences like stealing and looting shows that most of what we saw was motivated by opportunity and greed."

However Labour MP Diane Abbott whose north London constituency was one of the worst hit, said the reports showed the government was out of touch.

"The fact that David Cameron blames gangs, pure and simple, shows just how little the government really knows about inner city areas," she said. "It is a series of much more complex issues that the government needs to start engaging with."

Meanwhile, a separate report by London's Metropolitan Police concluded that although the scale and speed of the riots was unprecedented, there were not enough officers available on the night the disorder broke out.

It said a review would look at how to increase the number of public order trained officers as well as the cost of deploying water cannons, although it acknowledged they might be of limited use.


So even allowing for the Government's own skewed interests in the subject and ignoring the comments from the 'Justice' Minister (so the idle rich aren't opportunistic and greedy then?), it seems what many initially thought was correct: that the majority of people on the streets during the riots were angry, young and likely unemployed with nothing much to live for. So much for the hysteria whipped up by the rabid press and media and so much for the Government's finger-on-the-pulse comments. Can they become any more detached from reality without the aid of drugs?! The simple truth is that for millions poverty consigns them to a bleak future and no amount of reforms, tinkering, or riots for that matter will change the system that is responsible - only a socialist future can do that.


over-population or over-hype?

A United Nations report predicting a projected population of 15 billion, far higher than previous estimates, by the year 2100 has alarmed some who describe the possible as unsustainable.

Aubrey Manning, emeritus professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh, has long been worried about population growth. “Whatever your cause, it’s a lost cause unless we limit population,” he says. “People don’t like talking about population control, but we have to.” He argues that the number of humans is “out of balance” with the natural world, and that almost every country is over-populated.

Challenging that view is Fred Pearce, author of the book, "Peoplequake", points out that half of the world’s women are now having two or less children. "... if you are under 45, you will almost certainly live to see a world population that is declining – for the first time since the Black Death almost 700 years ago.” Pearce argues that the education of women coupled with rising standards of living and reduced infant mortality is driving down the birth rate, meaning that “peak population” may not be far away. “Women have always wanted freedom, not domestic drudgery and the childbirth treadmill,” he says. “And, now that most of their babies survive to adulthood, they are having it.”

Others agree. Vanessa Baird’s in her recently published "No-Nonsense Guide to World Population" and Matthew Connelly in Fatal Misconception. Danny Dorling argues in his book "Fair Play" the world’s population reaches 9.3 billion peak in 2060, but by 2100 drops to 7.4 billion – and if the pattern holds, will continue to fall. If women who are currently each projected to have 2.5 children just have 2, and those groups projected to have 1.5 children just have one, the drop will be even greater – to 6.2 billion in 2100. In a century there may well be fewer people in the world than there are today.

However, as SOYMB as pointed out previously, scientists tend to extrapolate their conclusions from the present capitalist conditions. Under capitalism it is important to point out that what scarcity there is — whether it be food or water — is artificially brought about. Present and projected increases in the global population only pose a problem under the conditions imposed by capitalist society. We live in a social system predicated on endless expansion and the blind, unplanned drive to accumulate that is the hallmark of capitalist production – the profit motive – which has created the "problem" of over-population. Whatever the population socialist society will of course have to feed these billions, something that the present profit-based system is all too plainly unable to do even with the current population. As argued by Colin Tudge in "So Shall We Reap" it would not be at all difficult to feed even 10 billion, as long as agriculture were organised along sensible. So why does it not happen now? Tudge’s answer is essentially the one that the Socialist Party would give: food is produced for profit, and those who have no or very little money do not constitute a market. He identifies the current capitalist model as monetarised, industrialised, corporatised and globalised. The interests of corporations, treating agriculture as just another industry to be milked for profits, take precedence over those of people. The problem becomes not one of feeding the world's growing population, but of organising production and distribution on a rational basis.

People can work together — with each other and with the planet on which we all live — to make that work more pleasant and enjoyable and to produce things. But to achieve that will need a revolution in the way the world is organised.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

200 a day will die because lack of heating

Two hundred elderly, will die in Britain of cold-related diseases every day this winter, according to Age UK.

"The fact that these 'excess' deaths occur in winter makes it clear that they are due directly to cold," the organisation's research manager, Philip Rossall, said. "And the fact that other, colder countries have lower excess winter deaths means that there is no reason that they are not preventable."

There were 26,156 excess winter deaths during 2009-10.

A report by Britain's leading academic expert on poverty and inequality, Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics, found that 2,700 people among the 4.8 million in England and Wales living in fuel poverty (defined as spending more than 10% of income on heat and light) died in the winter of 2008-09 as a direct result – a steady increase for the third year running. From 1997-98, on average 18% of the UK's winter deaths were excess, compared to the 10-12% in typically colder countries such as Finland, Sweden and Norway. The figure for Germany and the Netherlands was 11%.

Age UK makes a distinction between deaths directly due to fuel poverty and what the charity calls "excess winter deaths" – resulting from illnesses caused or exacerbated by cold.

"The way to measure the problem is excess winter deaths," said Rossall. "These are deaths caused by the impact on health of cold. Of course, we see a warning light with a report saying that 2,700 people are dying in fuel poverty. But what we are saying is that this is not the only relevant figure. It doesn't measure the scale of the problem."

The cost of heating an adequately sized house is estimated to be £1,300 a year. So if you are on pension credit of £7,000, you are very fuel-poor indeed.

Most of our elderly people now live in poverty.

Yet the richest 10 per cent now receives 31 per cent of national income and owns almost half of the country's personal assets, while the poorest 10 per cent takes home just 1 per cent of the total income.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What A Waste

Garbage pickers, emaciated dogs and carrion birds alike all hunt for items of value at the Cambalache garbage dump, before they have to give way to the smouldering fire that burns up to 900 tonnes of waste a day in the open air, spreading its smoke over Ciudad Guayana in northeastern Venezuela.

Barely a hundred metres away, toxic red mud, a byproduct of the refining industry which produces hundreds of thousands of tonnes of aluminium a year, is starting to seep into the waters of the mighty Orinoco river, which flows on the north side of Ciudad Guayana.

"I've been doing this for 15 years, and so have members of my family. Someone is always getting sick: we have to breathe the smoke day in, day out from sunup to sunset. Some children in the local area have died. And this work doesn't pay a great deal, just enough to help the family scrape by, but there is no alternative," Jesús González tells IPS as he takes a break from scouring the dump for scrap metal.

Ciudad Guayana was designed 50 years ago with the help of urban planners from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, when it was envisioned as the "Pittsburgh of the Tropics" after the Steel City in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania: that is, as a medium-sized modern urban development and a base for steel industries, related companies and hydroelectricity plants, in an environment rich in timber and precious minerals.

"We mainly collect iron, tin, aluminium, copper and bronze, as well as cardboard. I work with some Warao (indigenous people) and criollos (people of European descent), and we pile up our material in here," said Nelly Guevara, a mother of three, sitting under a worn and flimsy canvas awning in the middle of the dump.

Guevara makes about 2,000 bolivars (460 dollars at the official exchange rate) a month, a little over the national minimum wage, by "arriving sometimes at five in the morning, and staying past seven o'clock at night, in the midst of the smoke, the insecurity, and the animals that pass on infections. Sometimes we are trapped by the rain, and we cannot leave," she said.

Built on the confluence of the Orinoco and Caroní rivers, some 550 km southeast of Caracas, Ciudad Guayana grew out of an older depressed zone, San Félix, to the east, and a middle-class development, Puerto Ordaz, to the west, with shanty towns like Cambalache, home to 8,000 people, springing up on the outskirts.

Among the people of Cambalache are 120 Warao families, an ethnic group originating from the Orinoco river delta, some 100 km to the northeast. Groups of Warao people have intermittently split off from the main population in the delta, and now live as panhandlers in miserable conditions in a number of Venezuelan cities.

Ten Warao children died from gastrointestinal or respiratory diseases in and around Cambalache last year, according to accounts in the local press. Some were buried simply under a tree, without a coffin, because of the extreme poverty of their parents.

The garbage is brought to the dump site, which covers an area of a dozen hectares, mainly in old dumpster trucks, or in one of the city government's few waste compaction vehicles, which tip their loads on to the smoking margins of the dump. Garbage pickers immediately congregate around the newly dumped waste to recover materials that other people will sort and classify.

The remains are left to the turkey vultures, dogs and swarms of flies, until the heat and smoke of the fire approach. When the wind is in the west, the smoke spreads like a toxic cloud over a large part of Ciudad Guayana, a city of 850,000.

Lung specialists from Ciudad Guayana, such as Judith Lezama, are concerned about the rise of illnesses like asthma and pneumonia, while Ligia Andrade, the spokeswoman for a local community council in Cambalache, says "the plague of flies contaminates everything, and children and adults get lung diseases, as well as skin and stomach diseases."

What should be done with this dump, when the state Guayana Corporation, the regional development body, had already declared back in 2001 that its "useful life was exhausted"?

González does not want the garbage dump to be removed to a distant location, because he would lose his source of income. "Perhaps machinery could be used to shift the waste and put out the fires; then we could do a better job, and the city government could pay us to do the work," he suggests. Andrade and local leaders like Wilson Castro of the centre-right Primero Justicia (Justice First) party believe the dump should be closed immediately and replaced with a sanitary landfill site much further west, on the road to Ciudad Bolívar, the capital of Bolívar state.

By law, the city government is responsible for garbage management, but the government of Bolívar state, which has an area of 238,000 square kilometres and jurisdiction over the country's eastern borders with Brazil and Guyana, has decided to speed up the search for alternative solutions.

"Together with the Environment Ministry, we intend to implement a clean-up plan for Cambalache in five months, and create a new landfill in El Pinar," on the westbound highway, Bolívar Governor Francisco Rangel announced.

The plan envisages spending 5.8 million dollars, and Venezuelan deputy Environment Minister Jesús Cegarra said the clean-up of Cambalache to halt soil, water and air pollution, as well as the definitive move to El Pinar, will be completed in five years. Diego Díaz, of the environmental organisation Vitalis, said there is only one sanitary landfill in Venezuela that meets sanitary and environmental regulations, called La Bonanza, which serves Caracas. Other cities deposit their waste in some 400 open-air dumps.

"Only 10 percent of the waste is recycled, and more than 80 percent of the remainder stays exposed in open air dumps in our cities. Venezuela needs another 150 landfill sites to deal with garbage, which in the last decade has come to be regarded as the number one environmental problem," Díaz told stated.

"The world always was and will be a filthy rubbish heap, this I know," says the well-known tango "Cambalache", composed by Enrique Santos Discépolo of Argentina in 1934. He used the word "cambalache" in its Argentine sense, of a vast flea market or bazaar.

But Discépolo's line could have been a premonition describing the sprawling, stinking, smoking and outworn refuse dump in Ciudad Guayana, where people are demanding a "cambalache" - an exchange or swap - for a cleaner, less polluted space.

Adapted from original piece here.

The above article really puts paid to the often trotted out b*llsh*t of the apologists for capital about how, by simply working harder, will see you rise up in social standing. How many times have you heard people say that 'hard work should be rewarded' and that if we had socialism and there would be 'no incentive to work hard' etc? It would be a dream come true to take those that regurgitate such nonsense to see the people above and tell them to their faces. Tell them that capitalism is the best system we can hope for, tell them the system works and that if they work harder still they will rise, just like the entrepreneurs and politicians would have us all believe. The reply would likely be unprintable, but the essence would be that capitalism and its supporters talk rubbish while the world's poor have to live in it.