Monday, October 23, 2017

Capitalism's critics are the capitalists

New Zealand's new prime minister,  Jacinda Ardern, called the market a "blatant failure", before citing levels of homelessness and low wages as evidence that "the market has failed" her country's poor. "If you have hundreds of thousands of children living in homes without enough to survive, that's a blatant failure," she said. "What else could you describe it as?" She said "When you have a market economy, it all comes down to whether or not you acknowledge where the market has failed and where intervention is required. Has it failed our people in recent times? Yes. How can you claim you've been successful when you have growth roughly three per cent, but you've got the worst homelessness in the developed world?"
Nor has she been alone in voicing criticism of capitalism.
Speaking on a panel for the Financial Times, former minister Baroness Shriti Vadera, who is now chairwoman of Santander UK, said that “the underlying promise of western capitalist economies — that a rising tide lifts all boats — has been broken”. She said that a “better model” is needed.
Robert Swannell, the former chairman of retailer Marks and Spencer, said that capitalism had “lost its way” and that companies and their investors had become much too focused on short-termism.
And Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said that capitalism had taken a number of “wrong turnings”. “The financial crash, a fixation on shareholder value at the expense of purpose, and the toxic issues of  payment of tax and executive pay stand in the way of redemption,” she said. 
The chairmen of Barclays and Lloyds and the former chairman of HSBC also levelled criticism at the emergence of short-termism. Anne Richards, chief executive of asset management company M&G, said: “In the current era, best described as ‘the age of anxiety’, we will see capitalism rejected unless it finds a way of fundamentally addressing this anxiety.”
The former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, claimed capitalism is coming to an end because it is making itself obsolete. Speaking to an audience at University College London, he said that artificial intelligence would spell the end of capitalism in its current form. “Capitalism is going to undermine capitalism, because they are producing all these technologies that will make corporations and the private means of production obsolete,” he said

Making foreigners pay

Migrants and visitors to the UK not eligible for free healthcare will from now on be charged upfront for the cost of their treatment. All organisations receiving NHS funding must now charge ineligible patients before they are treated. The charging regime will also be extended to services such as health visiting, school nursing, community midwifery, community mental health services, termination of pregnancy services, district nursing, support groups, advocacy services, and specialist services for homeless people and asylum seekers, according to Doctors of the World.

The system requires medical staff to establish whether patients are eligible for state-funded healthcare before providing treatment. If they are not, patients must pay an upfront charge that is currently set at 150% of the cost to providers.

 A survey of NHS professionals showing that eight in 10 were unable to make the crucial distinction between the eligibility of refugees, asylum seekers and those whose application for asylum had been rejected. A survey of NHS staff by Medact found almost two-thirds (62%) of respondents thought failed asylum seekers were ineligible for free primary care, with another third (30%) believing failed asylum seekers were not entitled to free emergency NHS care.

“It is clear that NHS staff do not have the training and support they need to correctly identify who is and isn’t entitled to healthcare,” Dr Ruth Wiggans, co-chair of Medact, said. “What we’ll see as a result is people who should be receiving NHS care being wrongly turned away or simply being too worried to seek help themselves.”

There are fears that an identification-checking scheme currently under pilot at 20 NHS trusts will be extended across the country, raising the prospect of a future where patients must attend hospital with their passports and driving licences to guarantee receiving treatment they are entitled to.

A former chief executive of the NHS, a range of civil society groups and hundreds of doctors who recently signed a letter to the health secretary – say the new rules, in force from Monday, will deter ill people from seeking life-saving treatment, and patients with infectious diseases could pass undetected.

The flaws of the new poor laws

The universal credit system is pushing poor tenants deeper into rent arrears and sending food bank referrals soaring. Southwark and Croydon councils in south London warned that without rapid changes the new system could have a devastating effect across the country as it is rolled out over the next few months, warning that arrears could reach “many hundreds of millions of pounds” and that tenants could face severe hardship. One food bank reported an increase in referrals of 97%.

“Participants in this research almost universally have experienced financial hardship as a result of transitioning onto universal credit, notably as a result of the significant delays to payment,” the study says.

The study found that long delays for universal credit payments was a key cause of stress, anxiety and depression for claimants. 

Fiona Colley, Southwark’s cabinet member for finance, modernisation and performance, said: “Universal credit, in its current form, has the potential to be catastrophic, not just for residents at an individual level, but for councils’ budgets for housing. The arbitrary delay in receipt of money – particularly for those already in difficult situations such as temporary accommodation, could mean a spiral of debt, poverty and people not being able to afford to eat. I cannot think of a more compelling reason to push for change on this.”

Alison Butler, Croydon council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for homes, regeneration and planning, said“This report underlines the major flaws in universal credit, which is placing more and more Croydon and Southwark families in rent arrears and at risk of losing their home. The government needs to fix this policy now or risk devastating thousands more people not only in Croydon but nationwide.”

Live long and prosper?

Hull may be Britain's current capital of culture but you are not likely to have a long life by living there, according to new research. swapping Kingston-upon-Hull for Kingston-upon-Thames could give you a hugely improved chance of living longer.

Rich Britons are eight times more likely than poor people to live to the ripe old age of 100, actuarial experts say. UK average life expectancy is now 81, but there are huge disparities with the wealthiest households expected to live 20 years longer than those in the most deprived areas.

Some of India's rich

 Forbes' India Rich, the annual list of India's wealthiest, predicts the net worth of India's 100 richest at $479 billion, a rise of 26 percent from $374 billion last year. 

Mukesh Ambani
The chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani tops the list with a net worth of $38 billion.
  Azim Premji  the chairman of Bangalore-based Wipro, one among the country's largest software and IT services company. His net worth, as per Forbes is valued at  $19 billion
Next billionaire in the tech domain is the founder of HCL Technologies' Shiv Nadar. He ranks at No. 7 in the general list possessing a net worth of $13.6 billion. He currently ranks at 18th position among the richest people in the global  tech industry.
Next on the list is the chairman of Bharti Airtel Sunil Mittal standing at No. 14 . His net worth as per forbes comes at  $8.3 billion. Airtel currently is the biggest telecom service provider in India.
Chairman of Reliance Communications' Anil Ambani. As per  Forbes, the net worth of Mukesh Ambani's younger  brothers is $3.15 billion. Anil Ambani's business set up also has interests in financial services, infrastructure and media. 

"Centenary of the Russian Revolution" - A new SPGB Book

A book to mark the centenary of the Bolshevik coup will shortly be available from Head Office. 

 230 pages and 42 articles - reprints from the Socialist Standard over the past 100 years.  

Cover price - £5.00  Postage & packing - £3.00

Gentrification in Lisbon

Carla da Cunha has a tight budget.  She and her two children rely on a monthly government subsidy of 485 euros ($575) to top up her earnings selling handicrafts. She has been unable to renew the lease on her 20-square-metre flat in the sought-after Alfama neighbourhood after it was bought by a company offering short-term rentals to tourists.

"I was born in Lisbon and raised in Lisbon, and now there's just no place for me in Lisbon," said da Cunha, "Poor people like us are now seen as vermin, vermin that have to be eliminated and pushed out of town."

Lisbon has transformed from a sleepy backwater to one of Europe's hottest tourist destinations, critics say locals are being squeezed out of their own city by an international elite. Pop singer Madonna and film stars Monica Belluci and Michael Fassbender are among a growing number of foreigners said to have bought property in Lisbon in the past year. Rents have risen briskly as demand rises and landlords shift to lucrative short-term rental services like Airbnb. Locals earning Portugal's monthly minimum wage of 557 euros say they are being priced out of neighbourhoods that they have lived in for decades.  Portugal was named last month as Europe's best destination for expatriates to live in 2017 and the world's best for quality of life, in a survey published by social network InterNations. Lisbon old-timers say the property boom, fuelled by tax breaks for foreign investors, has displaced tens or hundreds of thousands of people in western Europe's poorest country.

71-year-old António Melo, the choice to fight to stay in the Alfama apartment that he has rented for a decade was easy. He cannot find a place near his doctor and other services in the historic district, with its narrow cobbled streets and pastel buildings, for anything close to the 277 euros a month he currently pays. He is defying the eviction notices that started arriving after his building was bought by a tourist rental company. 

"If things continue like this, pretty soon you won't have a single Portuguese person living here," he said, adding that souvenir shops hawking porcelain sardines and cork handbags have replaced local pharmacies, bakeries and grocery stores.

House prices in Lisbon have risen by about 25 percent since 2011, according to Confidencial Imobiliário, a company that tracks real estate data.

Patrícia Barão, who heads JLL real estate firm's residential team in Lisbon, said the wave of foreign buyers is like nothing she has ever seen. "Last year was our best year ever, and this year is on track to be even better," she said, adding that six out of 10 of her clients were foreign, with Brazilians, French, Turks and Chinese topping the list of buyers from 43 nations. Portugal's real estate boom and tourists flocking to its sandy beaches and historical castles have helped drive recovery after an economic and debt crisis that started in 2010.

"It's nothing short of a miracle," said Hugo Ferreira, executive director of the Portuguese Association of Real Estate Developers and Investors. "The stars aligned, and today Portugal is one of the most fashionable places on the planet." 

In an open letter to the government, the campaign group Morar em Lisboa or 'Living in Lisbon' said local communities that give colour and life to the city are on the verge of collapse and called for rent controls to be introduced. It said speculation has been driven by a golden visa programme, which gives Portuguese residency to foreign buyers who spend at least 500,000 euros on real estate, allowing them to travel freely within Europe's 26-country Schengen zone. More than 4,400 foreigners, overwhelmingly Chinese investors, have acquired golden visas since in 2012, government data shows.

"By pushing locals out, they're killing the goose that lays the golden eggs," said Luís Mendes, a geographer with the University of Lisbon, who supports Morar em Lisboa. "Who's going to want to come to a city that's been completely stripped of the very character that drew the tourists and investors in the first place?"

The Rohingya Return?

Nearly 600,000 Rohingya have crossed the border since Aug. 25, when coordinated Rohingya insurgent attacks on security posts sparked a ferocious counteroffensive by the Myanmar army. The United Nations says killings, arson and rape carried out by troops and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist mobs since late August amount to a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. Satellite imagery shows 288 villages, mostly Rohingya settlements, have been fully or partially razed by fires since Aug. 25 Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has no control over the military, has pledged that anyone sheltering in Bangladesh who can prove they were Myanmar residents can return. Reuters interviewedMyanmar officials involved with repatriation and resettlement plans. While the plans are not yet finalised, their comments reflect the government's thinking on how Suu Kyi's repatriation pledge will be implemented.

Rohingya Muslims who return to Myanmar after fleeing to Bangladesh are unlikely to be able to reclaim their land, and may find their crops have been harvested and sold by the government, according to officials and plans seen by Reuters. Officials have made plans to harvest, and possibly sell, thousands of acres of crops left behind by the fleeing Rohingya, according to state government documents. The exodus of the Rohingya has left some 71,500 acres of planted rice paddy abandoned and in need of harvesting by January.  Documents, reviewed by Reuters, divide the land into paddy sown by "national races" - meaning Myanmar citizens - or "Bengalis," a term widely used in Myanmar to refer to the Rohingya.  Two dozen combine harvesters operated by officials from the agriculture ministry will begin cutting stalks this month in areas under military control. The machines will be able to harvest about 14,400 acres according to official calculations contained in the plans. It is unclear what will become of the remaining crop, but officials told Reuters they would try to harvest all the paddy, recruiting additional labour to harvest manually if necessary. The harvested rice will be transported to government stores, where it would either be donated to those displaced by the conflict or sold, Rakhine state secretary Tin Maung Swe told Reuters 

 "There is no land ownership for those who don't have citizenship," said Kyaw Lwin, agriculture minister in Rakhine state, when asked in an interview whether refugees who returned to Myanmar could reclaim land and crops. Nearly all the one million Rohingya who lived in Myanmar before the recent exodus are stateless, despite many tracing their families in the country for generations. Kyaw Lwin, the state minister, confirmed the plans, and said there was a total of 45,000 acres of "ownerless Bengali land".

An acre of paddy in Myanmar typically makes more than $300 at market, meaning the state will gain millions of dollars worth of rice. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) deputy Asia director Phil Robertson, said the government should at least guarantee that the rice would be used for humanitarian support and not for profit. "You can't call a rice crop 'ownerless' just because you used violence and arson to drive the owners out of the country," he said.

Myanmar also intends to settle most refugees who return to Rakhine state in new "model villages", rather than on the land they previously occupied, an approach criticised in the past by the United Nations as effectively creating permanent camps. The government has not asked for help from any international agencies, who are calling for any repatriation to be voluntary and to the refugees' place of origin. Many refugees are fearful to return and are sceptical of Myanmar's guarantees. Those who do decide to cross back into Myanmar will first be received at one of two centres, according to government plans reviewed by Reuters, before mostly being relocated to model villages. International donors, who have fed and cared for more than 120,000 mostly Rohingya "internally displaced persons" (IDPs) in supposedly temporary camps in Rakhine since violence in 2012, have told Myanmar that they will not support more camps, according to aid workers and diplomats. 

"The establishment of new temporary camps or camp-like settlements carries many risks, including that the returnees and IDPs could end up being confined to these camps for a long time," said U.N. spokesman Stanislav Saling.
 The hamlets where Rohingya farmers lived were "not systematic", and so should be rebuilt in smaller settlements of 1,000 households set out in straight rows to enable development, said Soe Aung, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement. "In some villages there are three houses here, four houses over there. For example, there's no road for fire engines when fire burns the villages," Soe Aung said.

Those who decide to cross back into Myanmar will first be received at one of two centres, according to government plans. At the centres, officials said, the returnees will fill out a 16-point form that will be cross-checked with local authorities' records. Immigration officials have for years visited Rohingya households at least annually for checks, photographing family members. For refugees who lost all their documents, the government would compare their photos to those that immigration authorities have on file, said Myint Kyaing, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population. Officials will accept as evidence "national verification" cards handed out in an ongoing government effort to register Rohingya that falls short of offering them citizenship. The card has been widely rejected by Rohingya community leaders, who say they treat life-long residents like new immigrants.

"We are not going to go back like this," said Mushtaq Ahmed, 57, a farmer from Myin Hlut village now living in the Tenkhali refugee camp in Bangladesh, where Jamil Ahmed is also staying. "If I can go back to my house, and get my land back, only then I will go. We invested all our money into those paddy fields. They are killing so many of us with swords and bullets, and killing the rest of us like this."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

What's in a name?

Emma Szewczak-Harris, received a letter from Cambridge University Hospitals foundation trust after attending an appointment at Addenbrooke's Hospital an ordered to prove she is from the UK in order to receive free NHS treatment for her pregnancy.

 Ms Szewczak-Harris, who was born and raised in the UK, uses her Polish husband's surname alongside her maiden name, explained "It seems like someone saw my name and it was flagged up."

It comes some months after charity Doctors of the World warned vulnerable pregnant women were putting themselves at risk because they were “too frightened” to seek NHS care due to their immigration status. NHS guidelines state that “no woman must ever be denied, or have delayed, maternity services due to charging issues”. But hundreds of asylum seekers, trafficking victims and undocumented migrants are not seeking antenatal care because they are afraid they will be charged thousands of pounds or reported to the Home Office, according to the charity. 

The Department of Health confirmed non-clinical information was shared between health agencies and the Home Office “to trace immigration offenders”. 

Incarcerated slaves

Last week, a Louisiana sheriff gave a press conference railing against a new prisoner release program because it cost him free labor from “some good inmates that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in the cars, to cook in the kitchen.” Two days later, news broke that up to 40 percent of the firefighters battling California’s outbreak of forest fires are prison inmates working for $2 an hour. Practices like these are disturbingly common: Military gear, ground meat, Starbucks holiday products, and McDonald’s uniforms have all been made (or are still made) with low-wage prison labor.

Inmates are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that workers are paid at least the federal minimum wage. That makes it completely legal for states to exploit inmates for free or cheap labor. More than half of the 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons work while incarcerated, and the vast majority only make a few cents per hour.

Most inmates work in their own prison facilities, in jobs such as maintenance or food service. These jobs pay an average of just 86 cents an hour, and are primarily designed to keep the prison running at a low cost. Others may be employed in so-called “correctional industries,” where inmates work for the Department of Corrections to produce goods that are sold to government entities and nonprofit organizations. The highest median wages for these jobs top out at less than $2 an hour, and they’ve dropped over time—an incarcerated worker is paid less today than they were in 2001. In Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, most inmates working in prison facilities aren’t paid at all.

 Targeted mass incarceration policies, racial bias, and other structural disadvantages have led to an overrepresentation of people of color—particularly African Americans—in prisons and jails. As activist and author Shaka Senghor notes in Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary 13th, “The 13thamendment says, ‘no involuntary servitude except for those who have been duly convicted of a crime.’ So once you’ve been convicted of a crime, you are in essence a slave of the state.”

Apprenticeship programs, which provide paid training that combines on-the-job learning with classroom instruction, may be the perfect solution. These programs can equip inmates with a marketable skill, a wage, and a credential that holds value in the labor market and can help them get a job upon release. A recent Center for American Progress report suggests using paid apprenticeships during incarceration to help inmates and their families support themselves after incarceration and reduce recidivism. However, these programs frequently suffer the same pitfall as other prison work programs—they pay breathtakingly low wages. Since 2008, the median starting wage has been 7 cents an hour and the median exit wage 35 cents an hour—hardly enough to put inmates on the road to financial stability.

Unicor, a wholly owned government corporation established by Congress in 1934. Its principal customer is the Department of Defense, from which Unicor derives approximately 53 percent of its sales. Some 21,836 inmates work in Unicor programs. Subsequently, the nation’s prison industry – prison labor programs producing goods or services sold to other government agencies or to the private sector – now employs more people than any Fortune 500 company (besides General Motors), and generates about $2.4 billion in revenue annually.

The Archbishop says...

The six-week waiting time for universal credit must be cut as the idea that people have a nest egg to fall back on is "grotesquely ignorant", the Archbishop of York has said.

Since it began rolling out four years ago, almost a quarter of the 610,000 claimants receiving the benefit have had to wait for a month and a half for the first payment.

He wrote that the current system "seems to assume that everyone has a nest egg that will tide them over as they wait a minimum of 42 days for payouts. That assumption is grotesquely ignorant, because millions of people, especially those in need of support, are already in debt and have nothing to fall back on. " Dr Sentamu added that the UK's poorest were at risk of falling into a downward spiral of debt, with some taking out expensive loans to bridge the 42-day benefit gap, so that the repayment of loans or of interest "becomes the first call on any payment they receive".

Schooled in profits

Wakefield City Academies Trust now stands accused of “asset stripping” after it transferred millions of pounds of the schools’ savings to its own accounts before collapsing.

Hemsworth Arts and Community Academy, a mixed secondary school in Pontefract, had £220,000 of funds, raised by volunteers at Christmas markets and other school events, transferred to the trust’s accounts earlier this year. It also saw a further £216,000, which had been held back for capital investment, moved over. “It’s not the trust’s money. It’s our money,” said a former governor at the school. “It’s money for the people in the area, their children and their grandchildren. It wasn’t for them to take.”

Heath View primary school in Wakefield had £300,000 transferred to the trust in September 2016. Another school, Wakefield City Academy, had more than £800,000 transferred towards the end of 2015. In both cases, the trust told the schools’ governors that the transfer was a loan. 

 “This money was our rainy day money,” said Kevin Swift, chair of the Wakefield City Academy's local governing body. “It wasn’t just left under the mattress. It was money that we had anticipated we would have a very definite need for.”

High Crags Academy primary school in Shipley was instructed by the DfE to join the trust in April 2016 after being put into special measures the previous year. When it joined it had a surplus of £178,000, which was immediately moved to centralised accounts. Eric Fairchild, chair of the school’s local governing body, said that on at least two occasions the governors had asked if its surpluses were being used to shore up the trust’s accounts. They were reassured that their money was ring-fenced and safe. “I believe that it is grossly immoral that our surplus funds are being effectively taken away from the children of our school who, in very many cases, are very deprived,” said Fairchild.

Parents, teachers and governors say the financial problems at the Wakefield City Academies Trust had been clear for nearly a year before it collapsed. In November 2016 a draft DfE report leaked to the Times Education Supplement stated that the trust was in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management”. The draft raised concerns that the chief executive, Mike Ramsay, had been paid more than £82,000 for 15 weeks’ work, despite the fact that the trust was facing a large budget deficit. The previous month, it had emerged that the trust had paid almost £440,000 to IT and clerking companies owned by Ramsay and his daughter. 

Speaking at a public meeting of parents, teachers and trade unionists in Doncaster last Thursday, National Education Union activist Sally Kincaid said the trust was guilty of “asset stripping” its schools, which had been instructed to only spend money on “essential items”.
“The amount of money that has been taken out of those schools is scandalous,” she said. “The schools are not allowed to spend a penny at the moment, on anything, whether it’s bits of paper or pens. We’ve got GCSE students having to use the back of last year’s kids’ work to do their work on for this year. We are not football teams. We are not part of the transfer market, where we can be transferred from one multi-academy trust to another,” Kincaid said last week. “It’s not good enough.”

The truth about public sector wages

Public sector workers’ pay has dipped below that of their private sector counterparts for the first time since the financial crash of 2008,  the GMB union reveal. Workers in public sector received hourly earnings of 0.6% less than their private counterparts.

The disparity is the result of  seven years of austerity and cuts to public spending. Research suggests that when private sector wages outstrip those in the public sector, hospital fatality rates rise and schools’ GCSE results decline.

 The GMB claimed the Treasury had repeatedly refused to release the information until it officially complained and threatened to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office. The chief secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, refused to release the updated analysis when challenged in parliament.

Rehana Azam, the GMB’s national secretary for public services, said the Treasury estimates “kicked away the last prop” behind the government’s policy of enforcing real-terms public sector pay cuts, and disproved Hammond’s reported claim in a July cabinet meeting that public sector workers are overpaid. Azam said: “It’s no wonder that ministers fought tooth and nail to cover up these damning figures. The Tories can never again claim that public sector workers are ‘overpaid’ when the Treasury’s own assessment proves otherwise.”

The chancellor maintains public sector workers are still better off than their private sector colleagues because they benefit from higher employer pension contributions. But the GMB said its analysis shows that they also pay in significantly more through employee contributions. Three in five public sector workers pay in at least 6% of earnings on average, compared with one in seven private sector workers. 

Azam said: “The average local government worker earns about £20,000 while teaching assistants are paid just £12,000, and all public sector workers have lost thousands due to a planned decade of real-terms pay cuts. It’s shameful that in one of the world’s richest nations some of our public sector heroes are forced to take on debt or use food banks to make ends meet. Enough is enough. In the budget, the chancellor must announce the fully-funded, above-inflation pay rises that public sector workers need and so desperately deserve.”

The Pharmaceutical Profits

A new report, published by campaign groups Global Justice Now and Stop Aids, claims that UK taxpayers and patients worldwide are being denied the medicines they need, despite the public sector playing a pivotal role in the discovery of new medicines. They say that even when the government has part-funded the research and development, there is no guarantee that patients will be able to access the medicines at an affordable price. Treatments for cancer, arthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS) are among drugs that cost the cash-strapped NHS more than £1bn last year – despite public funding playing a substantial role in the medicines’ development.
It says: "In many cases, the UK taxpayer effectively pays twice for medicines: first through investing in R&D, and then by paying high prices for the resulting medicine once ownership has been transferred to a private company." The campaigners say drug companies are generating huge private profits from public funds.
It claims the high prices of new medicines are "unsustainable for an already underfunded NHS".
The drug, palbociclib, use in the treatment of breast cancer was originally developed using work carried out by publicly funded Cancer Research UK scientists in the 1980s, for which they won the 2011 Nobel Prize. In February, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) made a provisional decision not to recommend the drug because the cost was too high in relation to its potential benefits.
A full course of treatment with palbociclib costs £79,650, which campaigners say means the manufacturer is vastly overpricing the drug. They claim it could be made and sold for a profit for £1 per pill, but say in fact it is currently sold for 140 times more.

The report states that a prostate cancer drug called Abiraterone, discovered and developed by the primarily publicly funded Institute of Cancer Research and later bought by a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, now costs the NHS £98 per day per patient – despite a generic alternative being available for less than £4 per day per patient.

Another drug for arthritis, Infliximab, initially developed by universities in the US and UK with support from charity and industry funding, represented the fourth highest expenditure on a single medicine in the NHS in 2014/15, at £159m, after it was bought by Janssen Biotech. The following year NHS spend on the drug rose to £178m, according to the findings.
Richard Sullivan, professor of cancer and global health at Kings College London, said,  "Many of these drugs are extremely profitable", he said, "but there is absolutely no link between the price set and with the returns on the research - it's a complete myth. When a drug is refused by Nice there's only one reason it's refused - the company has knowingly overpriced the drug."
Professor Sullivan told the BBC that the public sector had contributed anywhere between "30% and up to 90% of the overall research intellectual input" in the development of drugs. "The public sector is essential for developing new medicines for cancer patients," he added. In 2015, the UK government spent £2.3bn on health research and development. The UK Government is the second largest funder country of global health research and development after the US, and the report claims that the high prices charged by pharmaceutical companies are having a significant impact on national health budgets globally.
Campaigners say that research and development should not be linked to sales revenue. Overall, NHS spending on medicines has risen 29 per cent in the past five years and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has struggled to regulate the price of medicines.

Heidi Chow of Global Justice Now, one of the co-authors of the report, accused pharmaceutical companies of “ripping off” the British public, and urged the Government to take action to ensure that UK-funded research benefits public health globally rather than “lining corporate pockets. Big pharmaceutical companies are ripping us off by taking over drugs developed primarily with public money and selling the drugs back to the NHS at extortionate prices. This is nothing short of daylight robbery of British taxpayers by some of the most profitable corporations in the world,” she said.  “Across the world, 10 million people are dying needlessly because they can’t afford vital medicines. The Government must take action to ensure that UK-funded research benefits public health globally rather than lining corporate pockets.”
Tabitha Ha of STOP AIDS, one of the co-authors of the report, said: “At a time when our NHS is already strapped for cash, we must end the scandal of the public effectively paying twice for the same medicine - first to develop it and then again to stock it. It’s not just British patients that are being delayed or denied the medicines they need either. Patients in the world’s poorest countries are being ripped off too, even when generic versions are available at a fraction of the price. 
SOYMB only wishes to point out that under the capitalist system, businesses only exist to make profit and they will endeavour to make as large a return as possible. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

NYC Cabs

The medallion system regulates the yellow taxis serving New York City: since 1937, each vehicle has needed a medallion in order to legally operate. Few taxi drivers own theirs; most lease them, paying around $100 for one 12-hour shift. The limited number of medallions issued by the city made each one highly valuable; individual medallion sale prices went from $50,000 in the late 1970s to over $1m by 2014. For many taxi drivers, owning a medallion meant success. Homes would be purchased. Children would be sent to universities. Then Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps arrived. Ride-hail cars saturated the market, and an exodus of drivers from yellow taxis made medallion values drop precipitously.
Today, there are more than 13,000 yellow medallion taxis in New York, split among about 40,000 drivers – some own their own medallions and cars, but most do not; many drivers work for a fleet, like the characters from Taxi, and pay to rent each car on a daily or weekly basis. The job is not easy: the standard shift is 12 hours, and with the cost of leasing a car and filling the gas tank, a bad day means taking a loss. For every moment spent without a paying passenger, the driver loses money. Occasionally, passengers are abusive or violent; nationwide, taxi drivers are over 20 times more likely to be murdered on the job than anyone else.
Uber officially arrived in New York in 2011; by 2015, Uber cars outnumbered taxis – and took away millions of rides. Taxi drivers, noticing the drop in passengers, began to leave the business behind: many transitioned towards driving for Uber, for other ride-hailing services like Lyft, Juno or Via – or for all of them at once. Now, fleets struggle to find enough drivers, and empty yellow taxis sit dormant in garages throughout the city. Uber are exploiting the drivers,” he said. When a passenger lodged a complaint against him, Uber suspended his account – and Qurashi was unable to defend himself against the passenger’s claims.“I didn’t have power or anything. It was customers’ rights, not workers’ rights.”
Taxi drivers who want to organize can join the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance (NYTWA), an organization that claims 18,000 members and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. But taxi drivers are independent contractors and are not protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The NYTWA can coordinate protests and strikes but has no collective bargaining rights.
“I wish we were more united, and able to fight. There’s no union for us.” 

Robots and Capitalism

An interesting observation on the Commondreams website by Jim Hightower.

"To be clear, it’s not robots that are taking our jobs, but corporate profiteers. They’re creating a robot economy in order to displace you and me with inexpensive machines that don’t demand higher wages or health care, don’t take sick days or vacations, and don’t organize unions, file lawsuits, or vote for pro-worker politicians.

Robots are not our enemy – the corporate bosses, bankers, and BSers who own robots are the ones doing this to us, and now is the time for all of us whom they’re about to discard to rebel against their socially destructive greed."

Tough when you get old

About 15 million people have no pension savings and face a bleak future in retirement. 31% of UK adults have no private pension provision and will have to rely entirely on the state in their retirement. The full state pension is £159.55 per week, but that is only available to individuals who have a complete record of national insurance contributions.

Even among those with a company pension, the survey reveals few people will benefit from a generous “final salary” arrangement, which is based on their income just before retirement. The FCA found that only 16% of working people have a final salary pension, while 41% will have to depend on a “defined contribution” (DC) pension, where the payouts will depend on the vagaries of the stock market. Most people with DC pensions state that they have relatively little in their pension pot. Around two-fifths have less than £5,000 

The God of Profit

Pollution is deadly. So why does the environment continue to be abused and neglected?

Always the refrain "It's terrible. Something needs to be done!" Ans as another report revels the continuing damage to the world and its people, there is another chorus of indignant "It's terrible. Something needs to be done!"
 If things are so bad, why isn't it being fixed?
The simple answer is that our planet and its peoples are being sacrificed to the God of Profit. In the end, it's very much about money and healthy returns to the corporations even at the cost of our health. The root cause of most environmental problems is this economic system's need to accumulate capital, to always expand to compete with other businesses. We are victims sacrificed at the altar of profits, whether it is for the investors in the fossil fuel industry, the automobile industry, the chemical industry, or the food industry. Politicians and governments around the globe serve the God of Profit. 
It is time you and i began to become heretics and started to rebel against this religion of capitalism and its priests in parliaments.

Quotes of the Day

Simoqi disdained any kind of religious practice now – though he was proud to be a Yazidi. “Religion is politics,” Simoqi said.

“I didn’t go to mosque in Gaza because they use mosques as a way to control people. On Fridays, they talk politics, not religion,” Qaddas said. “They’re using Islam for their own interests. If someone is really Muslim, you serve and help others. You don’t kill lots of other Muslims.”

Al-Kahldy, a Shia Iraqi who’d also fled ISIS, nodded. “People need humanity, not religion.” He explains, “When I came to Germany, I thought Muslims were the best people. This is what our society taught. We’re the chosen people. Everyone else is an infidel,” al-Kahldy said. But the people who had helped him most as a refugee – finding a place to live outside the shelters, learning German, facing his trauma, making friends – were all non-believers. Al-Kahldy became an atheist in Germany. “Look what’s happening to Iraq, Syria and Palestine. Every day we’re waking up and praying, ‘Ya Allah,’ and there’s no answer. Germans aren’t praying, but they have freedom and choice and they’re not Muslims.” 

Hakim Zade lived in Iran for 18 years after fleeing the Taliban. But in 2013, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps visited him one night and asked the former military doctor to go fight in Syria, “I said, ‘I’m a Muslim, but I left Afghanistan because I’m tired of fighting. I don’t want to fight. This is not my war,’” Zade said. Under pressure from Iranian authorities, he returned to Kabul, only to be threatened by the Taliban, so the family left for Europe.

Yara Aldebeyat, a 23-year-old from Hama, Syria, wore a black tank top with matching eyeliner, snacking on chocolate despite the Ramadan fast. “I’m Muslim, but sometimes I wear a cross necklace in the ‘Arab Street,’” she said, referring to a street in Berlin that has become a hub for Arab businesses. “Otherwise Arabs are telling me, ‘Sister, why do you dress like this? Are you fasting or not?’ Some of them are Lebanese, Palestinian, not even refugees, and they think they can tell me what to do.” Syrians have brought their divides over religion with them to Germany, she said. “The liberal, secular people are still fighting the sectarian and religious people. The pressure we feel is not so much between Germans and Syrians as it is between Syrians,” Aldebeyat said.

27-year-old Avin Alyusuf felt more pressure from Germans than back home in Syria’s Qamishli, where she says she hadn’t even thought about whether or why her friends wore hijabs. When she arrived in Germany, a friend who’d arrived six years earlier advised her to take off her hijab. “I felt really uncomfortable wearing it. I was pregnant and we didn’t have papers, and people looked at me like an alien,” said Alyusuf, who is Kurdish and now living in Cologne. “Religion is something private and personal here. No one asks if you’re Christian or Muslim. But if you put on a hijab, it’s like you’re saying, ‘I’m Muslim.’” Alyusuf didn’t have a religious leader that she trusted in Germany, so she turned to the Internet, researching different opinions for a year before she decided to remove her headscarf. “When I took it off, I felt fine, like I could be anyone,” Alyusuf said. 

 29-year-old Syrian archaeologist Jabbar Abdullah felt afraid when a spate of sexual assaults in the city on New Year’s Eve 2015 prompted backlash against migrants. “Sometimes I feel the whole world is against me, even though I know that’s not true. I hear the media and feel the whole world is talking about it, that refugees are harassers and criminals,” Abdullah said.
He rarely goes to mosque in Germany; he didn’t like that someone would always ask his name and whether he was a refugee. “You feel immediately like you’re just a number. Then they try to convert you, to make sure you’re part of their sect or confession or religion,” he said. “You’re a project. You’re not a person.”
“I want to go to mosque like I go to a cafe – like a normal person, anonymous, with no one asking where I’m from or what I am,” Abdullah said. “That’s how I want to talk about Syrians, too: not Syrians as Muslims, Syrians as refugees, but Syrians as Syrians. Syrians as people.”

Aussie Inequality

Australia is among countries with the highest growth in income inequality in the world over the past 30 years, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Vitor Gaspar, the IMF’s director of fiscal affairs, has told an audience at the launch of the IMF’s latest Fiscal Monitor that Australia’s income inequality growth has been similar to the US, South Africa, India, China, Spain and the UK since the 1980s.

IMF staff had used the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s income distribution database, Eurostat, and the World Bank’s Povcalnet data, among other sources, to calculate that income inequality had increased in nearly half of the world’s countries in the past three decades, and Australia had experienced a “large increase” in that time.

“Most people around the world live in countries where inequality has increased,” he said.

Real incomes for the top quintile of households grew by more than 40% between 2004 and 2014, while those for the lowest quintile only grew by about 25%.

The Reserve Bank governor, Philip Lowe, when asked about his views on inequality at a charity lunch in Sydney, said it had grown “quite a lot” in the 1980s and 1990s and had risen “a little bit” recently, but it was important to make a distinction between income and wealth inequality. Wealth inequality has become more pronounced particularly in the last five or six years because there’s been big gains in asset prices,” Lowe said. “So the people who own assets, which are usually wealthy people, have seen their wealth go up.” He said income inequality had increased slightly in recent years, but wealth inequality was more pronounced because of rising asset prices."

Friday, October 20, 2017

Nature and Nurture

The question of whether human behavior is driven by innate biological forces or the product of our learning and environment has been a popular discussion at cocktail parties and scientific conferences for many years. To many people, the longevity of this debate suggests that we haven’t actually learned that much. In reality, however, a tremendous number of scientific advances have drastically improved our level of understanding.

Part 1: Nature Versus Nurture
The origins of nature versus nurture debate date back for thousands of years and across many cultures. The Greek philosopher Galen theorized that personality traits were the result of a person’s relative concentrations of four bodily fluids, or humours, namely blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. The actual term nature-nurture comes from Sir Francis Galton's 1874 publication of English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture, in which he argued that intelligence and character traits came from hereditary factors (this was well before the modern science of genetics). His beliefs were in clear opposition to earlier scholars such as philosopher John Locke, who is well known for the theory that children are born a “blank slate” with their traits developing completely from experience and learning.
Fast forwarding to the 20th century, this debate continued in pretty much the same terms. For most of the 1900s, the two dominant schools of thought when it came to human behavior and psychiatric symptoms were behaviorism, which emphasized the importance of learning principles in shaping behavior, and psychoanalysis, which developed from the ideas of Sigmund Freud and focused on the ways that unconscious sexual and aggressive drives were channeled through various defense mechanisms. Despite the fact that these two perspectives were often in fierce opposition to each other, both shared the view that the environment and a person’s unique experiences, i.e. nurture, were the prevailing forces in development. 
Part 2: Nature and Nurture
From about the 1970s to the end of the 20th century, a noticeable shift occurred as direct knowledge of the brain and genetics started to swing the pendulum back to an increased appreciation of nature as a critical influence on a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. The Human Genome Project was launched in 1990 and the entire decade was designated as the “Decade of the Brain.” Neuroscience research exploded and many new psychiatric medications emerged and were used much more commonly than ever before.
Also during this time, the type of research design that had the most direct relevance to nature-nurture questions become popular. This was the twin study, which enabled researchers to calculate directly the degree to which a variable of interest (intelligence, height, anxiety level, etc.) could be attributed to genetic versus environmental factors. In doing this, a repeated finding when it came to behavioral variables was that both genetic and environmental influences were important, often at close to a 50/50 split in terms of magnitude.
These types of studies, combined with others, made it increasingly difficult to argue for the overwhelming supremacy of either nature or nurture as the primary driver of behavioral traits and disorders. Yet while many experts would now have to acknowledge the importance of both nature and nurture, the two worlds were generally treated as being quite independent. For example, terms such as “endogenous depression” were employed to differentiate people who had depressive symptoms from what were presumed to be more autonomously operating biological factors from those whose depression resulted from “psychological” causes, with different treatments being recommended based on that determination. Looking back, what appears now as the fatal flaw in this perspective was the assumption that if something was brain-based or “biological” then it, therefore, implied a kind of automatic wiring of the brain that was generally driven by genes and beyond the reach of environmental factors.
Part 3: Nature Is Nurture (and vice versa)
Today, most scientists who carefully examine the ever-expanding research base have come to appreciate that the nature and nurture domains are hopelessly interwoven with one another. Genes have an influence on the environments we experience. At the same time, a person’s environment and experience can directly change the level at which certain genes are expressed (a rapidly evolving area of research called epigenetics), which in turn alters both the physical structure and activity of the brain.
Given this modern understanding, the question of nature versus nurture ceases even to make sense in many ways. As an example, consider the developmental pathway a 10-year-old boy might have taken to eventually presenting to a mental health professional for high levels of aggressive behavior. He may have inherited a genetically-based temperamental predisposition to being aggressive. As a young child, that tendency to become irritable and angry would then often evoke more negative responses in other people such as parents, who may themselves struggle with controlling their own anger. These interactions begin to snowball, affecting his schoolwork and friendships and, through epigenetic mechanisms, all of these experiences cause this child’s brain to grow differently.   
 Yet there is also a hopeful message in this example, as an appreciation of these complicated interacting genetic and environmental factors give us many places in this cycle to intervene to stop this progression and even change the direction of the momentum. Now, we understand that not only are medications biological treatments but also things like psychotherapyparenting guidance, mindfulness practices, exercise, and good eating habits.
When the families of children ask whether or not their child’s struggles are behavioral or psychological, the best answer these days is “yes.”
For further reading