Monday, 27 April 2009

Brothels cut prices to beat the recession

 

  

By Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin

German prostitutes are offering discounts, loyalty cards and 'extras'

 
It has not taken long for the global financial crisis to affect the world's oldest profession in Germany.
In one of the few countries where prostitution is legal, the industry has responded with an economic stimulus package of its own: modern marketing tools, rebates, discounts and gimmicks to boost falling demand.
 
Some brothels have cut prices or added free promotions, while others have introduced all-inclusive flat-rate fees. Free shuttle buses, discounts for seniors and taxi drivers, as well as "day passes" are among marketing strategies designed to keep business going.
 
"Times are tough for us too," said Karin Ahrens, who manages the Yes, Sir brothel in Hanover. Revenue had dropped by 30 per cent at her establishment, she said, while turnover had fallen by as much as 50 per cent at other clubs. "We're definitely feeling the crisis. Clients are being tight with their money. They're afraid. You can't charge for the extras any more and there is pressure to cut prices."
 
Germany has about 400,000 professional prostitutes. In 2002, legislation allowed prostitutes to advertise and enter into formal labour contracts. It opened the way for them to get health insurance, previously refused if they listed their true profession.
Annual revenues are about £12.3bn, according to an estimate by the Verdi services union. Taxes on prostitution are an important source of income for some cities. Prostitution is also legal and regulated in the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Greece, Turkey, in some parts of Australia, and the US state of Nevada.
 
Berlin's Pussy Club has attracted media attention with its headline-grabbing "flat rate" – a €70 admission charge for unlimited food, drink and sex between 10am and 4pm. "You've got to come up with creative solutions these days," said club manager Stefan, who requested his surname not be published. "We're feeling the economic crisis, too, even though business has, fortunately, been more or less OK for us so far." Stefan, who runs other establishments in Heidelberg and Wuppertal besides the Berlin club, said the flat rate had helped to keep the 30 women working in each location fully employed. Other novel ideas include loyalty cards, group sex parties, and rebates for golf players. Hamburg's GeizHaus is especially proud of its discount €38.50 price.
 
Anke Christiansen, manager of the GeizHaus, said the effects of the economic crisis were clear. "The regular customers who used to come by two or three times a week are only coming by once or twice a week now." A client, who gave his name as Pascal, said: "Naturally, we're all feeling the effects of the crisis." He added that he could no longer afford his usual two or three visits a week. Günter Krull, manager of the FKK-Villa in Hanover, agreed: "The girls are complaining, too, because business is bad and I worry that it's all going to get even worse."
 
Ecki Krumeich, the manager of the upmarket Artemis Club in Berlin, said he had resisted pressure to cut prices, although senior citizens and taxi drivers already get a 50 per cent discount on Sundays and Mondays. "Our philosophy is we provide an important service and even in a recession there are some things people won't do without," said Mr Krumeich. "Other downmarket places might cut prices but we decided we won't do that."
 
Stephanie Klee, a prostitute in Berlin and former leader of the German association of sex workers, said that even if some luxury brothels were weathering the storm, many more were struggling. "If the consumer electronics shop comes out with rebates and special promotions, why shouldn't we try the same thing?" she said. While she might have had five or six clients per day a year ago, she added, that had fallen to one or even none.
 
Some suggested that more women were turning to prostitution to make ends meet. "More and more women are moonlighting on the weekends," said Ms Ahrens. "They're not able to get by with their main jobs and are in pretty dire straits."


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Saturday, 25 April 2009

50 office-speak phrases you love to hate


 
 
Management speak - don't you just hate it? Emphatically yes, judging by readers' responses. Here, we list 50 of the best worst examples.
 
1. "When I worked for Verizon, I found the phrase going forward to be more sinister than annoying. When used by my boss - sorry, "team leader" - it was understood to mean that the topic of conversation was at an end and not be discussed again."
Nima Nassefat, Vancouver, Canada

 
2. "My employers (top half of FTSE 100) recently informed staff that we are no longer allowed to use the phrase brain storm because it might have negative connotations associated with fits. We must now take idea showers . I think that says it all really."
Anonymous, England
 
3. At my old company (a US multinational), anyone involved with a particular product was encouraged to be a product evangelist . And software users these days, so we hear, want to be platform atheists so that their computers will run programs from any manufacturer."
Philip Lattimore, Thailand
 
4. " Incentivise is the one that does it for me."
Karl Thomas, Perth, Scotland
 
5. "My favourite which I hear from the managers at the bank I work for is let's touch base about that offline . I think it means have a private chat but I am still not sure."
Gemma, Wolverhampton, England
 
6. "Have you ever heard the term loop back which means go back to an associate and deal with them?"
Scott Reed, Lakeland, Florida, US

 
7-8. "We used to collect the jargon used in a list and award the person with the most at the end of the year. The winner was a client manager with the classic you can't turn a tanker around with a speed boat change . What? Second was we need a holistic, cradle-to-grave approach , whatever that is."
Turner, Manchester

 
9. "Until recently I had to suffer working for a manager who used phrases such as the idiotic I've got you in my radar in her speech, letters and e-mails. Once, when I mentioned problems with the phone system, she screamed 'NO! You don't have problems, you have challenges'. At which point I almost lost the will to live."
Stephen Gradwick, Liverpool
 
10. "You can add challenge to the list. Problems are no longer considered problems, they have morphed into challenges."
Irene MacIntyre, Courtenay, B
 
11. "Business speak even supersedes itself and does so with silliness, the shorthand for quick win is now low hanging fruit ."
Paul, Formby, UK
 
12. "And looking under the bonnet ."
Eve Russell, Edinburgh
 
13-14. "The business-speak that I abhor is pre-prepare and forward planning . Is there any other kind of preparedness or planning?"
Edward Creswick, Exeter
 
15-16. "The one that really gets me is pre-plan - there is no such thing. Either you plan or you don't. The new one which has got my goat is conversate , widely used to describe a conversation. I just wish people could learn to 'think outside the box' although when they put us in cubes what do they expect?"
Malcolm, Houston
 
17. "I work in one of those humble call centres for a bank. Apparently, what we're doing at the moment is sprinkling our magic along the way. It's a call centre, not Hogwarts."
Caroline Garlick, Ayrshire
 
18. "A pet hate is the utterly pointless expression in this space . So instead of the perfectly adequate 'how can I help?' it's 'how can I help in this space?' Or the classic I heard on Friday, 'How can we help our customers in this space going forward?' I think I may have caught this expression at source, as I've yet to hear it said outside my own working environment. So I'm on a personal crusade to stamp it out before it starts infecting other City institutions. Wish me luck in this space."
Colin, London
 
19. "The one phrase that inspires a rage in me is from the get-go ."
Andy, Herts
 
20. "'Going forward' is only half the phrase that gets up my nose - all politicians seem to use the phrase go forward together . 'We must... we shall... let us now... go forward together'. It gives me a terrible mental image of the whole country linking arms and goose-stepping in unison, with the politicians out in front doing a straight-armed salute. Is it just me?"
Frances Smith, Toronto, Canada
 
21. "I am a financial journalist and am on a mission to remove words and phrases such as 360-degree thinking from existence."
Richard, London
 
22. "The latest that's stuck in my head is we are still optimistic things will feed through the sales and delivery pipeline (ie: we actually haven't sold anything to anyone yet but maybe we will one day)."
Alexander, Southampton
 
23. "I worked in PR for many years and often heard the most ludicrous phrases uttered by CEOs and marketing managers. One of the best was, we'd better not let the grass grow too long on this one . To this day it still echoes in my ears and I giggle to myself whenever I think about it. I can't help but think insecure business people use such phrases to cover up their inability for proper articulation."
Leon Reilly, Ealing, London
 
24. "Need to get all my ducks in a row now - before the five-year-olds wake up."
Mark Dixon, Bridgend
 
25. "Australians have started to use auspice as a verb. Instead of saying, 'under the auspices of...', some people now say things like, it was auspiced by... "
Martin Pooley, Marrickville, Australia
 
26. "My favourite: we've got our fingers down the throat of the organisation of that nodule . Translation = Er, no, WE sorted out the problems to cover your backside."
Theo de Bray, Kettering, UK
 
27. "The health service in Wales is filled with managers who use this type of language as a substitute for original thought. At meetings we play health-speak bingo; counting the key words lightens the tedium of meetings - including, most recently, my door is open on this issue . What does that mean?"
Edwin Pottle, Llandudno
 
28-29. "The business phrase I find most irritating is close of play , which is only slightly worse than actioning something."
Ellie, London
 
30. "Here in the US we have the cringe-worthy and also in addition . Then there's the ever-eloquent 'where are we at?' So far, I haven't noticed the UK's at the end of the day prefacing much over here; thank heavens for small mercies."
Eithne B, Chicago, US
 
31. "The expression that drives me nuts is 110% , usually said to express passion/commitment/support by people who are not very good at maths. This has created something of a cliche-inflation, where people are now saying 120%, 200%, or if you are really REALLY committed, 500%. I remember once the then-chancellor Gordon Brown saying he was 101% behind Tony Blair, to which people reacted 'What? Only 101?'"
Ricardo Molina, London, UK
 
32. "My least favourite business-speak term is not enough bandwidth . When an employee used this term to refuse an additional assignment, I realised I was completely 'out of the loop'."
April, Berkeley, US

 
33. "I once had a boss who said, ' You can't have your cake and eat it, so you have to step up to the plate and face the music .' It was in that moment I knew I had to resign before somebody got badly hurt by a pencil."
Tim, Durban
 
34. " Capture your colleagues - make sure everyone attends that risk management workshop (compulsory common sense training for idiots)."
Anglowelsh, UK
 
35-37. "We too used to have daily paradigm shifts , now we have stakeholders who must come to the party or be left out, or whatever."
Barry Hicks, Cape Town, RSA
 
38. "I have taken to playing buzzword bingo when in meetings. It certainly makes it more entertaining when I am feeding it back (or should that be cascading ) at work."
Ian Everett, Bolton
 
39. "In my work environment it's all cascading at the moment. What they really mean is to communicate or disseminate information, usually downwards. What they don't seem to appreciate is that it sounds like we're being wee'd on. Which we usually are."
LMD, London
 
40. "At a large media company where I once worked, the head of human resources - itself a weaselly neologism for personnel - told us that she would be cascading down new information to staff. What she meant was she was going to send them a memo. It was one of the reasons I resigned - that, and the fact that the chief exec persisted on referring to the company as a really cool train set ."
Andrew, London
 
41. "Working for an American corporation, this year's favourite word seems to be granularity , meaning detail. As in 'down to that level of granularity'."
Chris Daniel, Anaco, Venezuela

 
42. "On the wall of our office we have a large signed certificate, signed by all the senior management team, in which they solemnly promise to leverage their talents, display and inspire 'unyielding integrity', and lots of other pretentious buzz-phrases like that. Clueless, the lot of them."
Chris K, Cheltenham UK
 
43. "After a reduction in workforce , my university department sent this notice out to confused campus customers: 'Thank you for your note. We are assessing and mitigating immediate impacts, and developing a high-level overview to help frame the conversation with our customers and key stakeholders. We intend to start that process within the week. In the meantime, please continue to raise specific concerns or questions about projects with my office via the Transition Support Center..."
Charles R, Seattle, Washington, US
 
44. "I was told I'd be living the values from now on by my employers at a conference the other week. Here's some modern language for them - meh. A shame as I strongly believe in much of what my employers aim to do. I refuse to adopt the voluntary sectors' client title of 'service user'. How is someone who won't so much as open the door to me using my service? Another case of using four syllables where one would do."
Upscaled Blue-Sky thinker, Cardiff
 
45. "Business talk 2.0 is maddening, meaningless, patronising and I despise it."
Doug, London
 
46. "Lately I've come across the strategic staircase . What on earth is this? I'll tell you; it's office speak for a bit of a plan for the future. It's not moving on but moving up. How strategic can a staircase really be? A lot I suppose, if you want to get to the top without climbing over all your colleagues."
Peter Walters, Cheadle Hulme, UK
 
47. "When a stock market is down why must we be told it is in negative territory ?"
Phil Linehan, Mexico City, Mexico
 
48. "The particular phrase I love to hate is drill down , which handily can be used either as an adverb/verb combo or as a compound noun, ie: 'the next level drill-down', sometimes even in the same sentence - a nice bit of multi-tasking."
B, London
 
49. "Thanks for the impactful article; I especially appreciated the level of granularity. A high altitude view often misses the siloed thinking typical of most businesses. Absent any scheme for incentivitising clear speech, however, I'm afraid we're stuck with biz-speak."
Timothy Denton, New York
 
50. "It wouldn't do the pinstripers any harm to crack a smile and say what they really felt once in a while instead of trotting out such clinical platitudes. Of course a group of them may need to workshop it first: Wouldn't want to wrongside the demographic ."
Trick Cyclist, Tripoli, Libya



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Friday, 24 April 2009

The Financial Experts: Malgudi On The Mississippi


 

The Financial Experts: Malgudi On The Mississippi

By Niranjan Ramakrishnan

23 April, 2009
Countercurrents.org

I was gratified the other day to discover a good collection of R. K. Narayan's novels at our local library. Among them was The Financial Expert, a story I had been meaning to re-read for some time. This novel's hero, Margayya, is often acclaimed by critics as Narayan's most memorable character, Margayya. Now the novel itself may also prove to be his most prescient -- the way it captures today's economic meltdown in the microcosm of its tragi-comic hero's rise and fall, it might have hit the shelves this month to win plaudits for its timeliness. Actually, it was published in 1952.

The book's title is in keeping with Narayan's other works - The Bachelor of Arts, The Vendor of Sweets, The Guide, The English Teacher, The Painter of Signs -- Narayan's lulling patina through which we are shown the narrow highs and lows of petty bourgeois existence in Malgudi, Narayan's imaginary South Indian small town. Save for a few passing references, Narayan stayed mostly away from the peasantry in his writings. He gave the proletariat a complete miss, as he did caste. Still, he managed to capture something essential about the Indian lower middle class. In the words of VS Naipaul, Narayan's novels comprise "small men, small schemes, big talk, limited means". Anyone familiar with India and with Narayan's works would find in that observation an adequate measure of truth.

The one character that breaks out of this mold is Margayya, "The Financial Expert". Unlike Narayan's other protagonists, all drawn from the milieu of a benign South Indian fatalism, Margayya's is the soul of the stereotypical American go-getter, bursting with energy and ambition, driven to make things happen for himself. An Indian George Jefferson in mentality, one might say, only sans race (or in Margayya's case, caste).

The novel is not a mystery and I shall be giving nothing away by sharing its storyline. It begins with Margayya as a small-time 'lobbyist' in a small town, except that he works on behalf of poor and illiterate peasants seeking loans from the Cooperative Bank, filling out their application forms, advising them on which rules to invoke to garner the largest loan. One day the bank officials throw him out of the bank compound on pain of arrest, and he finds himself out of a job. Down to his last few rupees, a chance encounter with a frustrated author leaves him with a manuscript of a book on sex education. Margayya parleys this into his first million (before discreetly divesting himself of further interest in the book so as not to be tainted by its topic -- he has bigger plans for himself). He has now morphed into a financier, offering returns on investment several times the rates provided by the local bank. Though Narayan does not term it so, any American would see his operation as a Ponzi scheme (On second thoughts, post-Madoff, perhaps not!).

Even as Margayya's stock rises in the world, with all those who insulted him in the past now standing in line to be in his good books, deterioration has set in elsewhere. His son Balu is becoming a wastrel and a vagabond, sustained in the world wholly by his father's wealth and position. Margayya knows that if the boy ever has to pass a school exam, it is essential that he (Margayya) become chairman of the school board (Narayan writes nothing of the World Bank and the IMF), a position he obtains by suitable donations. Margayya dreams that his wealth would provide Balu the opportunities he himself was denied -- a decent opportunity to study engineering and make a good life. However, with his complete preoccupation with making money, he has little time for his son. He bribes the right people, engages the schoolmaster as the boy's tutor, all to insure that the boy passes his grades. It all comes to nought, for the boy is eventually unable to get through the board exam despite several attempts. Partly out of proclivity and partly out of Margayya's pampering (he rents the boy a home in a posh neighborhood, pays for all his expenses and provides him a handsome living allowance to boot), Balu develops into and remains a full-time party animal, even after marriage and the birth of a child.

Although Margayya's rise to financial eminence is sure and swift, the reader is throughout left with a tantalizing dread that there is something unsustainable about the entire edifice -- the only question is how it all will unravel. Narayan is no Freudian in other departments, but for the constant presence of the death wish in many of his heroes. Here it finds its expression in Margayya, at the height of his powers, doing something patently suicidal. The pyramid scheme could not have continued forever in any case, but Margayya hastens its end: provoked by his son's insult, he thrashes Balu's cavorting buddy for having led his boy astray. In retaliation, that man (incidentally the author who gave him the sex therapy manuscript originally) spreads the rumor that Margayya is out of money. Fear catches, and depositors start lining up, at first in small numbers and sheepishly, to request their funds back. An instinctive psychologist, Margayya responds by tossing their money back at them, with interest and with a stiff upper lip. But when the demand for return of money gradually builds up to a crescendo there is a run on the bank, as it were, and soon Margayya is well and truly insolvent.

The beauty of Margayya's character is the utter devotion to moneymaking and its attendant mystique. But a Margayya could thrive only when others were actually producing things, using his services as an enabler from time to time. America's 2008 meltdown arose because everyone wanted to be a Margayya. If Margayya had actually been like George Jefferson and gone in to drycleaning, we (and he) would have been all right. Instead our existence became dominated by too many financial experts, as we made lots of money and quit making very much else. Like Margayya, we turned a blind eye to our own people, to their education, health or other well-being, encouraging them to leave us in peace by providing them cheap funds to... entertain themselves, shall we say. And they, like Balu, got used to living outside their means. All in all an edifice readymade to teeter. And we, in Margayya fashion, indulged our own death wish by responding to an insult by starting a foreign war or two (to his credit, at least Margayya assaulted the right guy).

In the end, all that is left is the old ancestral home, and a few pots and pans. Shortly Balu returns, kicked out of his posh house, accompanied by wife and toddling son. Margayya was paying his rent too, after all. The Financial Expert ends with the touching scene of Margayya, who had spent his life contemplating the wonders of compound interest, turning to his grandson as he finally realizes where his true wealth lay.

It is this wisdom that appears to have eluded us, even after all that has happened. From all appearances, we still remain stuck in the money-making mindset instead of realizing the meaning of real riches. We are living parodies and literal embodiments of what Naipaul wrote of Malgudi -- small men, big talk, small schemes (large scams, though).

And limited means, more limited by the day.



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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Similarities in American and Iranian justice

 

Roxana Saberi And Vikram Buddhi – Compel A Comparison

By Dr. Buddhi Kotasubbarao

21 April, 2009
Countercurrents.org

 

Among the ways to measure the greatness of a country, the administration of justice ranks the highest and the military might the least.

 

A comparison of the case of 31 year old Iranian-American journalist Ms. Roxana Saberi sentenced by Iranian Court and the case of 37 year old Indian Graduate Student of Purdue University Mr. Vikram Buddhi awaiting sentencing after a helpless jury found him guilty in US District Court, has much to show the entrenched preferences of the United States of America.

 

With all the proclaimed adherence to the rule of law, the administration of justice in the United States fails as badly as in any other country of the world and sometimes even more badly. Neither the powerful and pervasive American media nor the recent popularity of President Barack Obama can hide this fact. Of course, like in any other country, there are people in the United States who are justice minded and rational but their role to set right the things is limited.

 

Saberi is charged in April 2009 of spying for the United States, convicted and sentenced to eight years imprisonment. Buddhi was charged in April 2006 of threatening to kill President Bush and others. The jury, which was deliberately kept ignorant of the law governing the case, found Buddhi guilty in June 2007 and his sentencing is yet to take place. But he has been kept in prison in Chicago, consequent to the jury verdict, awaiting sentence.

 

According to the media reports, Saberi was at first taken in custody in January 2009 for allegedly buying a bottle of wine, and subjecting her to other charges afterwards. Vikram Buddhi was at first interrogated in January 2006 by US Secret Service for allegedly posting messages on Internet Yahoo space which had called upon the people of Iraq to retaliate the perceived unjust Iraq war and to kill President G W Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others. After thorough interrogation, the US Secret Service set Buddhi completely free in mid-January 2006 and in February 2006 the Secret Service even made a formal report that Buddhi is not a threat to US President or any other person. But for some mysterious reason, the US Secret Service arrested Vikram Buddhi on April 14, 2006 and launched federal prosecution charging that he threatened to kill US President and others.

 

Saberi's charge of spying for the United States is criticized because the evidence is not disclosed and the trial is held in secret. Buddhi's charge of threatening to kill President Bush and others has no evidence at all. If the Internet Messages on Yahoo space were to be treated as the basis for the charge against Buddhi then it is necessary to mention in the charge, the essential fact of Internet Messages and the call given to the people of Iraq through those Messages. But in none of the eleven counts of charge there is even a whisper about the Internet Messages on Yahoo space and the call given to the people of Iraq. Thus the entire charge against Vikram Buddhi is fundamentally flawed. It is not in conformity with the revered Constitution of the United States and the Statutory Law of the United States and the Rules made there under. Moreover, during the jury trial, the Prosecution failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt that those Internet Messages were really posted from Buddhi's computer.

 

Saberi's trial details are still to be known. Whereas Buddhi's jury trial Transcripts clearly show that the US District Judge James T. Moody discriminated against Buddhi. To assess whether there is 'true threat' it was necessary to instruct the jury on the commands of the First Amendment to US Constitution which affords protection when speech is made criminal. By established law Internet Messages are treated as speech. But Judge Moody openly declared his firm resolve to banish First Amendment from the case. Judge Moody boldly threatened the Defense Attorney John E Martin that the Defense Attorney would be embarrassed if he tried to explain to the jury linking the First Amendment and the evidence on record. While struggling to understand the case, the jury noticed a contradiction in a crucial Judge's Instruction to the jury and sent a written note to the Judge, seeking clarification. Judge Moody sent a prompt written reply to the jury asserting that there is no contradiction in any of his instructions to the jury and therefore the members of the jury should continue their deliberations. In twenty minutes thereafter, the helpless jury delivered guilty verdict.

Saberi's father was not allowed to witness his daughter's trial. However, there is no discrimination against Saberi's father as no public was allowed to witness the trial. Whereas in Vikram Buddhi's case, the father, Kotasubbarao Buddhi, was deliberately denied opportunity to witness his son's trial. Fraud was committed on the Court to keep Buddhi's father away from the trial. The prosecutor Philip C. Benson named Buddhi's father as a Government witness. There was no summons to give evidence as Government witness. Judge James T. Moody refused to hear the objection of Buddhi's father who was waiting for one year in the United States to witness his son's trial. The fraud got confirmed when Buddhi's father was not called to the Court as a Government witness. Naming him as a Government witness was only a ploy to keep the father away from the Court during the jury trial. Prosecutor Benson knew that Buddhi's father is an attorney of Supreme Court of India and also a knowledgeable person in computer networks with his Ph.D in technology from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, India. US Prosecutor Benson fraudulently planned and succeeded in denying Vikram Buddhi the benefit of his father's experience and expertise. There is no known such unfair practice and professional misconduct of Prosecutors in Saberi's case in Iran.

 

Saberi's father and mother arrived in Iran to help in their daughter's case. There is no attempt from Iranian Government to remove Saberi's father or mother from Iran. Whereas in Buddhi's case, after the jury's guilty verdict on June 28, 2007, the Government of the United States has embarked on a meditated plan to remove Vikram Buddhi's father from the United States, though the father entered the United States on June 7, 2006 with an Emergency Visa issued by the American Consulate, Mumbai, to help in his son's federal prosecution in the United States.

 

On July 30, 2007, the US Authorities declined to extend the stay of Buddhi's father in the United States. On August 21, 2007, the US Authorities forcibly stopped Buddhi's father on a public road while he was on his way to file timely petition before appropriate forum for review of the decision declining extension of stay. Thus Buddhi's father, Kotasubbarao Buddhi, was denied his legal right to seek review from appropriate forum. There is no such arbitrary treatment from Iranian Government to Saberi's father.

 

After accosting Buddhi's father on a public road in West Lafayette of Indiana State, the US Authorities illegally took away from him his Indian Passport on August 21, 2007, handcuffed him, chained him and arrested him without a warrant. Thereafter US Authorities granted $1500 bond. But when a friend of Buddhi's father came forward to pay the bond amount and requested the release of Buddhi's father, the US Authorities refused to accept the payment. Only after subjecting Buddhi's father to inhuman treatment and humiliation for a week in three different jails at long distances apart- Mariano County jail (Indianapolis), Grayson County Detention Center (Kentucky) and McHenry County jail (Chicago), Buddhi's father was released on bond. But his Indian passport has not been returned to him so far. There is no such known arbitrary and inhuman treatment meted out by the Iranian Government to Saberi's father.

 

Buddhi's father being unable to have a just and fair decision from the Departments of US Government allowing a reasonable opportunity to help in his son's federal prosecution had to approach US Appeals Court, Seventh Circuit, Chicago. Buddhi's mother is in India alone remaining in anxiety over her son getting justice in US Courts. Iranian Government has not mounted any such ordeal on Saberi's father or mother. Instead, the Iranian President Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has urged the Iranian judiciary to allow American-journalist Roxana Saberi a full and fair defense during the appeal process.

 

Buddhi's father sent a detailed letter dated October 21, 2008 to the then US Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey explaining the false and frivolous charge against Vikram Buddhi and the unfair trial and the discrimination. There was no response from Mukasey.

After President Barack Obama assumed office, Buddhi's father sent a concise letter dated February 9, 2009 to President Obama explaining the miscarriage of justice in Vikram Buddhi's case. The letter also explained that the case of Vikram Buddhi is not an isolated case and there is monumental failure of justice in the United States because of which the population-wise percentage of people in the US jails is the highest compared to any other country in the world. There is no response so far from President Obama.

Similar communications have been sent to US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and he has not responded so far.

 

On March 27, 2009 Vikram Buddhi's father sent letters to US Attorney General Eric H. Holder and to Inspector General, Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Complaints Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice, explaining the prosecutorial misconduct in Vikram Buddhi's case. But there is no response so far from either of them.

 

However, surprisingly, about a week after posting the letters dated March 27, 2009 pointing out the professional misconduct of Philip C. Benson, US Assistant Attorney in Vikram Buddhi's case, reports appeared informing that US Department of Justice took action to vacate the conviction of former Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, on the basis of "prosecutorial misconduct." and in the "interest of justice.". But so far no action is taken by US Department of justice on prosecutorial misconduct in Vikram Buddhi's case.

Never the less, notwithstanding US Government's complete silence over Vikram Buddhi's case, President Barack Obama promptly said he is "deeply disturbed and his thoughts and prayers are with the family" of Roxana Saberi. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has promptly expressed her "deep disappointment" over Roxana Saberi's case. "We will continue to vigorously raise our concerns to the Iranian government," Mrs. Clinton said in a statement released on Saturday April 17, 2009. According to National Public Radio of the United States, on Monday April 20, 2009, Mrs. Clinton in a stepped up call sought immediate release of Roxana Saberi, saying the charges against Saberi are baseless. There is no hesitation to find fault with Iranian Court verdict. What about the false and baseless charges against Vikram Buddhi in US District Court?

 

President Obama who studied and taught law is surely aware that the loss from erosion of justice cannot be compensated from the sway of eloquence and charm. It is unfortunate President Obama has no hesitation to disagree with a Court verdict in Iran and to express concern for Roxana Saberi, while remaining silent on the grave miscarriage of justice mounted on Vikram Buddhi in US District Court.

 

Who is there in the United States Government to express any concern over the blatant miscarriage of justice in the United States in Vikram Buddhi's case?

 

Justice is universal, not Iranian or American.

 

The above views are only for comparison of justice administration and not for extrapolation to draw inferences in any other sphere.

 

Dr. Buddhi Kotasubbarao is a former Indian Navy Captain with Ph.D from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay in nuclear technology. After 24 years of active naval service, took voluntary retirement in the rank of confirmed Captain and thereafter became an advocate of Bombay High Court and Supreme Court of India. In a number of Public Interest Petitions represented the social organisation 'Citizens For A Just Society' founded by Dr.Usha Mehta, noted Gandhian, freedom fighter and Padma Vibhushan.
E-mail address bksubbarao@gmail.com




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Sunday, 19 April 2009

From Corporate Strategy to Global Justice

 

By Jessica Ludescher

19 April,2009
Harvard International Review

 

It has become fashionable to laud corporate social responsibility as a win-win practice for business and society. Yet CSR is a misleading and distracting doctrine that blinds us to the political realities of corporate economic globalization, writes Jessica Ludescher.

 

Recent years have seen an increase in both the demand for and the practice of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), in which corporations take on ethical obligations to stakeholders, society, and the environment and do so in excess of the requirements of laws and regulations. It has become trendy to laud CSR as a win-win practice for business and society; yet it is a practice rife with problems.

 

For all the CSR activities in which corporations have engaged, we have seen major lapses in ethical conduct, resulting in a series of bankruptcies, bank failures, government bailouts, a credit crunch, and widespread threats to the global financial system. The economic security of billions of people across the globe has been placed in jeopardy by the supposedly socially responsible conduct of corporations.

 

In the current climate of fear regarding global economic instability, there is bound to be a certain amount of irrational thinking and carelessness in constructing solutions for existing problems. CSR has been a popular solution to ethical problems in business and justice problems in global society, and reliance upon such a careworn solution is likely. Should we count on CSR to solve these problems? Will CSR turn the tides of the current financial crisis?

 

I argue that we should not fall back on CSR to ameliorate present economic difficulties or to create a just global society. Instead we should strengthen government oversight over corporations and assign greater moral responsibility to persons who bear limited liability for corporate behavior.

 

We also need to devise mechanisms for holding individuals legally accountable for the effects of their actions on markets as a whole. Ultimately, governments must rethink the governance structure of corporations to ensure that corporations adhere to principles of justice.

 

As we will see, CSR endangers governments' capacity to fulfill their role as guardians of the public welfare. CSR has evolved into the notion that corporations should act as states that replace nation states in protecting citizens' rights.

 

The plausibility of a corporate state becomes all the more apparent once we realize that corporations are better understood as markets than as privately owned businesses. The logic of this analogy will lead us to abandon the CSR solution and instead forge into the terrain of justice for corporations.

 

Problems with Globalization, Strategic CSR, and the Corporate State

 

Counterintuitively, CSR may be most dangerous when practiced by multi- and transnational corporations operating in the global economic arena. On the one hand, globalization drives the demand for CSR, namely where governments do not protect human rights and the environment because they are weak, corrupt, or undemocratic.

 

On the other hand, CSR enables corporations to usurp the power and autonomy of governments. The socially responsible corporation comes to replace the government as the institution for meting out justice and advancing social welfare.

 

Because wealth maximization is the primary function of corporations, executives are obligated to pursue CSR only when it is strategic for them to do so. In troubled economic times, CSR will not be a reliable form of assistance for developing countries. More problematically, the profit motive of corporations creates an incentive for them to interfere with the activities of any institution that impedes the goal of creating wealth.

 

Indeed, CSR could be adopted as a ploy to shrink the political sphere of society, weaken or control national governments and intergovernmental organizations, and minimize or eliminate laws, regulations, and restrictions. In his 1958 paper "The Dangers of Social Responsibility" Theodore Levitt anticipated this eventuality, arguing that CSR causes a troubling dissolution of the distinction between the private and public sectors and would eventually lead to heightened corporate power, to the detriment of government.

 

Moreover, corporations have few checks against operating as unjust institutions that promote global anarchy or corporate autocracy, violating liberty, and corrupting the market system. Ironically, this possibility is the inverse of the socialist threat that libertarian Milton Friedman attributed to CSR in his 1970 article, "The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits." Friedman was absolutely correct that CSR is a "fundamentally subversive doctrine" that has "been undermining the basis of a free society," but not for the reasons he supposed.

 

Recent developments in the Corporate Citizenship (CC) literature bear out Levitt and Friedman's worries. CC is a relatively new concept and the difference between CSR and CC is ill-defined. In Matten and Crane's 2005 paper, "Corporate Citizenship: Toward an Extended Theoretical Conceptualization" they argue that CC involves corporations acting as surrogate governments for inadequate nation states in that they secure the social, civil, and political rights of citizens.

 

On their view, corporations aren't citizens, but instead promote citizenship rights where governments fail to do so because of voter apathy, insufficient development, or supranational problems (i.e. climate change). They would say that the current financial crisis creates a need for CC since the proper functioning of global financial markets is not a matter that can be solved by any one national government, and "since corporations are the main global organizations active in world financial markets, they might be said to be one of the few actors able to reform them to improve protection of property rights."

 

Although Matten and Crane acknowledge that such an expanded role for corporations is undesirable because it lacks mechanisms of accountability to citizens, they seem to think that CC can be a stopgap for present inadequacies in global governance. However, this stopgap may be dangerous for liberty and democracy over the long run.

 

As Matten and Crane acknowledge, goverments sometimes fail to secure citizens' rights due to corporate lobbying and contributions to political parties. The problem they fail to acknowledge is that, in so doing, corporations create a need for the governance problem they seek to solve. In "The Economic View of Corporate Citizenship" (2008), Ludescher, McWilliams, and Siegel have labeled Matten and Crane's account of CC as advocacy of a "corporate state," and argue that CC be interpreted as a self-legitimating version of a strategically employed CSR.

 

The argument is that economically, an important motivation for corporations to engage in CC is to demonstrate the value of corporations to society, and hence maintain their capacity to generate profits. On this view, CC that legitimates a state-like role for corporations might be profitable, but it remains undemocratic. If CSR or CC were implemented broadly, the corporate state could supplant the democratic nation state.

 

The purpose of corporations is to create wealth. Despite being publicly traded, they are privately owned enterprises under the law. David Ellerman has noted in "Translatio versus Concessio: Retrieving the Debate about Contracts of Alienation with an Application to Today's Employment Contract" that inasmuch as shareholders possess the ultimate right to direct the activities of the firm through their agents, corporations are governed autocratically.

 

For all the talk of shareholder democracy, the important fact remains that shareholders govern workers and other stakeholders through their control over executives. Of course, in practice, it is the executives who have all the control and remunerate themselves handsomely with it. Executives are supposed to serve their principals, the shareholders, which is why Milton Friedman, Elaine Sternberg, and others have argued that non-strategic CSR is a form of theft whereby managers pursue personal moral agendas at the expense of the bottom line.

 

By contrast, governments are meant to promote and defend the social welfare and to secure the public's economic and non-economic needs and rights. In democratic institutions, citizens have the ultimate right to determine public objectives and the means by which their represented officials will serve those objectives.

 

Thus corporations serve the wealth objectives of their owners whereas governments serve the social objectives of their citizens. If corporations are to take over the role of the government, then we must understand the nature of the corporate form of enterprise and decide whether it should be altered to include the better parts of the government function in society. What is a corporation? What should it become?

 

Reconceptualizing the Corporation

 

A brief tour through some theories of the firm will allow us to challenge the notion that firms are private enterprises to be run for shareholder gain. Corporations have not always been valued as the best instruments for wealth creation and their role in society has evolved considerably over time.

 

Adam Smith argued that the joint stock company, a forerunner of today's corporation, was competitively unviable due to the fact that managers do not bear ultimate responsibility for the company's success or failure and may, therefore, be tempted to waste money. His vision of capitalism was built on the assumption that the sorts of firms competing with one another would be enterprises privately owned by entrepreneurs.

 

For some time, corporations could receive a charter from the state only if their business served a public objective that no private entrepreneur could risk or muster the capital to secure. There has been a longstanding debate about whether corporations should serve private or public ends.

 

An important step in the direction of criticizing the private nature of corporations was made in 1932 by Berle and Means in The Modern Corporation and Private Property. Berle and Means observe that the public trading of stock results in a "separation of ownership and control" between those who invest equity and executives who manage the firm.

 

This loss of shareholder control forces the question of whether it would be reasonable to regard shareholders as owners. Classically, ownership involves a bundle of rights that include control over and responsibility for the property held.

 

But even if shareholders gained greater control over corporations, they would still not be owners in the classical sense on account of the institution of limited liability. Unlike the classical entrepreneur, shareholders do not bear full responsibility for success or failure of the enterprise; they are only liable to the extent of their investment.

 

Especially without full responsibility for the business operations, shareholders should not be regarded as the private owners of corporations. Berle and Means ultimately argue that the public nature of corporations implies that they should be run for the sake of the public welfare, rather than for private gain.

 

Ronald Coase, on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum, also regarded corporations as problematic institutions in his important 1937 paper, "The Nature of the Firm." In a corporation, workers have to cede control to managers who then override the price mechanism and plan economic activity, which seems like the antithesis of a free market.

 

Coase explained the cession of economic liberty in shareholder owned corporations by positing the existence of costs to using the price mechanism, called transaction costs. Such costs include the cost of acquiring relevant information and the costs associated with negotiating and enforcing contracts. So, workers give up freedom in corporations because it is generally more efficient to produce under the direction of authority in hierarchical arrangements.

 

The problem with corporations that Coase exposes is that workers and suppliers of other forms of capital contract with the firm in such a way that the management directs the flow of resources and determines the prices of the goods to be sold. Workers do not act as private contractors who agree to deliver the products of their labor to capital owners; rather, they agree to be managed by agents of capital suppliers who then make decisions about how labor should be allocated across the entire organization, namely by directing workers on how to perform their tasks and moving them from one task or department to another.

 

The authority of the executives ultimately determines the allocation of resources. Resource allocation occurs under the direction of control, where workers abnegate some freedom with respect to the nature of the labor and the price of the products ultimately produced because of it.

 

Agency theory and transaction cost economics now model the corporation as a "nexus of contracts" between constituencies, such as investors, employees, suppliers, and customers. Ownership is not central to this theory of the firm as corporations are defined by their contracts, which structure ownership in varying ways.

 

In "Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs, and Ownership Structure," Jensen and Meckling have argued that corporations be compared to markets rather than the classical entrepreneur owned enterprises of Adam Smith's world. On their view, corporations are markets that are privately owned by shareholders. When we combine the insights of Coase and Jensen and Meckling, we can see that if corporations are like markets, they are certainly not free markets. Rather, they are privately owned planned economies, or command markets.

 

However, it is not obvious from this point alone that there is any problem with corporations. Corporations compete with one another in the larger economy, which is by and large free (there is no global government regulating transactions between them). Labor markets, markets for managerial labor, capital markets and so on act as important checks on the power of any one corporation.

If workers do not like the way they are managed in firms, they can seek employment in a different corporation. If executives are not satisfied with their compensation, they can go elsewhere. If capital suppliers are not satisfied with their returns on investment, they can invest elsewhere. Hostile takeovers also serve as an important check on managerial abuses; corporate raiders can offer shareholders a better deal and try to manage firms more profitably after they purchase them.

 

Competition between corporations also ensures that the most efficient form of enterprise becomes dominant in the market overall. Economists explain the prevalence of shareholder "owned" corporations by observing that competition between these more standard firms and firms with different ownership structures such as worker-, supplier-, or consumer-owned cooperatives leads to a preference for the most efficient ownership structure. Shareholder owned firms emerge as the strongest.

 

Nevertheless, the fact remains that today's global free market is dominated by competition between various command markets. Given this modern conceptualization of the corporation, is CSR a good idea?

 

From CSR and CC to Justice

 

Once we regard corporations as markets, we realize that we must alter our expectations of corporate responsibility. Jensen and Meckling contend that CSR is a nonsensical concept because markets are not the sorts of entities to which the term responsibility can meaningfully be applied. In a sense, this point is an updated version of Friedman's claim that "only people can have responsibilities," "but 'business' as a whole cannot be said to have responsibilities."

 

If a firm is akin to a market, then, like business generally, it is not responsible for anything. With Friedman, Jensen and Meckling emphasize the responsibility of persons within a firm. For example, agents, the executives, bear contractual obligations to shareholders and other constituencies to maximize firm value.

 

But these rejections of corporate responsibility beg the moral question of justness. If corporations are privately owned, planned economies, then the relevance of CSR recedes--but only because, comparatively, issues of justice become prominent. The reason is that markets as opposed to businesses are essentially public institutions and as such are matters of social and political concern.

 

Put another way, markets are socially shared institutions, the nature of whose structure is determined through political processes. Questions therefore arise about whether those political processes and the decision outcomes for the economic structure are just. Businesses, while also critical for social life in the sense that they affect others who contract or do business with the firm, are privately owned and are not fundamentally shared social institutions.

 

The difference between businesses and corporations with respect to the appropriateness of justice derives from the difference in ownership between the two, primarily with respect to the responsibility dimensions of ownership.

 

Businesses are essentially the enterprises of individuals who own the capital used for the production of private gain or profit, where the owners both control and assume responsibility for the use made of that capital on others. Corporations, on the other hand, are essentially markets that acquire capital via contract and sometimes assign control over the use of that capital to the suppliers of equity who forgo a contractual entitlement to a fixed income in exchange for control and a right to residual revenue.

 

In corporations, nobody, not even the nominal owners who control the use of capital, bears full responsibility for the effects of contractual commitments on the profitability of the corporation as a whole, to say nothing of the effects of contractual commitments on all other (contracting and non-contracting) parties. It is this difference in responsibility that marks the chief dissimilarity between businesses and corporations, and ultimately makes the individuals in the latter subject to the responsibility to create justice and not merely the responsibility to behave ethically.

 

The transition from CSR to questions of justice is inescapable if the corporation is a market. We might hold all market participants ethically responsible for how they deal with one another, but we would not hold any one participant fully responsible for the effect of their contracts on the system as a whole. When a market crashes, we do not blame a single individual – though the recent financial meltdown has revealed a tendency to blame certain stakeholders, corporations, industries, governments, and even cultures.

 

It might be more reasonable to hold them all responsible to some degree: in a sense, all market participants bear limited liability for the flourishing or failures of markets. It is the institution of limited liability that makes corporations functionally equivalent to markets and dissimilar to business enterprises.

 

Questions of justice apply to corporations and other market institutions whether or not they are structured in such a way that nominally gives ownership to a select set of individuals who participate in the institution. The assignment of private property rights to shareholders in a corporation is not the basis of the corporation, but a product of individual decision making that occurs against the backdrop of a larger system whose operating rules are rightfully subject to questions of justice.

 

The fact that corporations are often privately owned does not mean that they are not public institutions to which justice considerations apply. Rather, corporations, which come into existence and take form through contractual relationships in a free market, are publicly created entities.

 

If firms are markets, and we analyze political economy in terms of the concept of justice, then the relevant moral question about corporations is not whether they should be socially responsible, but whether these new sorts of market institutions are just, and if not, what would be required to make them just.

 

In other words, we would not ask if the wheat or stock market is behaving responsibly, to use Jensen and Meckling's examples, but we would ask if the wheat or stock market is structured justly, that is, whether the structure of the system adheres to appropriate principles of justice. We might also ask whether the individual participants who bear limited liability for those markets are behaving responsibly.

 

In other words, we might hold all market players, which in corporations are their stakeholders, responsible for the roles they play in enhancing or diminishing the justice of the market or corporation. This responsibility to uphold justice would be in addition to the ethical responsibility to abide by contractual obligations and respect the dignity of other constituencies.

 

Of course, the theory of justice to which one is committed will affect the assessment of the justice of markets. A libertarian would be likely to say that a deregulated, liberalized, non-publicly owned market is just because such a market protects liberty rights. A social democrat would be likely to say that a regulated, protectionist, (at least partially) publicly owned market is just, because such a market protects an expanded set of rights and promotes other values in addition to liberty.

 

In posing the question of justice with respect to corporations, the point is not to impose a specific or partisan conception of justice on corporations, but to note that the appropriate structure of its economic arrangements should be subject to political evaluation.

The turn to justice in corporations should not be interpreted as a recommendation for widespread nationalization of companies because such an extensive state role might itself be unjust. We should not forget that governments suffer from justice problems as well, not least because their civil servants are beholden to corporate and other special interests as a result of lobbying.

 

Nevertheless, it is clear that governments, insofar as they are democratic, have a strong role to play in securing corporate justice. To say that a corporation is a public institution is not to say that it should be owned by the citizens of a given nation, but to say that its purposes and structure can and should be shaped by government.

 

CSR is a misleading and distracting doctrine that blinds us to the real political issues confronting us in an era of corporate economic globalization. We need to examine the principles of justice we think should be operative in markets generally and ask whether those same principles ought also be applied to corporations seen as a subset of the broader market.

 

So long as corporations are formed through state charters, it is the government's responsibility to ensure that corporations are just institutions. Governments need to decide what sorts of ownership schemes, governance structures, and income distributions are just. Given that shareholders do not bear full responsibility, it is not obvious that they should bear the right to control the corporation and govern the other constituencies.

 

Worker or consumer cooperatives may be more just, and if so, then we need to explore the means by which government can make those forms of enterprise more viable economically. If shareholder owned corporations are deemed more just, then serious public discussion needs to be devoted to the problem of fostering greater responsibility.

 

Either the institution of limited liability needs to be abolished, or other mechanisms need to be instituted that will hold shareholders, executives, and other key players responsible for their actions on the corporate market as a whole.Since we cannot create full liability for markets generally, fostering greater responsibility in corporate markets may be a better way of bolstering responsible action in society at large than merely "solving" the problem by converting corporations into fully private institutions.

 

Given an optimistic view of human nature, we might merely ask all individuals voluntarily to assume moral responsibility for corporations. Alternatively, we might devise better systems for holding individuals legally accountable for the effects of their actions on markets as a whole. Either way, it is up to government to decide the fate of corporations in global society.

 

Jessica Ludescher is an assistant professor of business ethics in the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University, and holds a joint appointment in Management and Philosophy. Her research has focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR), theory of the firm, and globalization.





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£1-a-day diet drug promises weight loss


 

£1-a-day diet drug promises weight loss

But doctors warn that eating healthily and exercising is the only surefire way to stay slim

Swapping an ice cream for an apple would save you 100kcal a day - the same effect as taking Alli, according to Gareth Williams of Bristol University. Photograph: Glow Images/Getty Images/Glowimages

 

 
Over-the-counter diet pills will go on sale in UK chemists for the first time this week amid warnings from experts that the cure for being overweight "will never be found in a wonder drug".
 
GlaxoSmithKline has produced one of two pills to go on sale. It claims that Alli, a half-strength version of the prescription-only Xenical - which has been granted a licence by the European commission - can cause safe weight loss of 3lb a week. The £1-a-day drug promises to cut the weight of men and women by between 5 and 10% in four months. For an 11-stone woman, this would mean shedding more than a stone - or a dress size.
 
Having promised to market the drug responsibly in the UK, Glaxo is emphasising it is intended to be a supplement to a healthy diet and regular exercise. It maintains, however, that taking an Alli tablet with every meal can cause 50% more weight loss than willpower alone.
 
The primary ingredient of Alli is orlistat, which diminishes the body's capacity to process fat by about 25%. Undigested, this fat passes through the body causing what Glaxo describes as "an urgent need to go to the bathroom". The drug can also interfere with the absorption of some vitamins.
 
But in an editorial in the British Medical Journal, Gareth Williams, professor of medicine at Bristol University who carried out a trial of Alli, warned: "Possibly [because of side effects] few users will even finish their first pack of Alli, let alone buy a second, and the drug may cause only a small and transient downward blip in the otherwise inexorable climb in weight.
 
"Selling anti-obesity drugs over the counter will perpetuate the myth that obesity can be fixed simply by popping a pill and could further undermine efforts to promote healthy living, which is the only long-term escape from obesity."
 
Williams warned that weight loss achieved in clinical trials was rarely replicated outside the laboratory.
 
"Dieters in these trials are highly motivated and under medical supervision," he said. "People tempted to try Alli might be advised that taking it without medical supervision may achieve an average daily energy deficit of only 100kcal - equivalent to leaving a few French fries on a plate, eating an apple instead of ice cream, or (depending on enthusiasm and fitness) having 10 to 20 minutes of sex."
 
The second diet pill going on sale this week is Appesat, which claims to achieve weight loss of just under 2lb a week. The seaweed extract, which costs £29.95 for 50 capsules, swells up and tricks the brain into thinking the stomach is full. The pills are broken down by acid in the stomach after a few hours and are flushed out of the body as waste.
 
Because Appesat does not enter the bloodstream, the company claims it should carry no side-effects worse than an "upset tummy".
Appesat has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority, the government body that vets new treatments. But even Appesat's own consultants are cautious about the efficacy of over-the-counter weight-control drugs.
 
Dr Jason Halford is director of the Kissileff Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behaviour at the University of Liverpool, which receives payment from Appesat for his advice. He said: "The cure for obesity and being overweight will never be found in a pill, packet or a wonder drug." Halford, who is also deputy chair of the Association for the Study of Obesity, said: "That can only come from enormous changes to our food and physical environment, which are going to take a long time to achieve.
 
"Drugs don't necessarily deal with reasons why people become obese, which are largely psychological," he said, pointing to Appesat research that found more than a third of those surveyed admitted thoughts of their next meal were the only thing that got them through their day at work. A fifth said they were addicted to overeating, while 44% regularly ate even when they were not hungry.
"Drugs that increase feelings of satiety and control hunger will not help these people," he said.
 
According to Mintel, the market for diet plans and products is slowing. The growth rate of products with reduced fat, calories or sugar slowed dramatically last year. Sales remain in excess of £2bn.
 
According to the Health Survey for England, approximately two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, as are around a third of children.



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Saturday, 18 April 2009

Consumption Dwarfs Population As Main Environmental Threat


 

By Fred Pearce

17 April, 2009
The Guardian

It is hubris to downgrade the culpability of the rich world's environmental footprint because generations of poor people not yet born might one day get to be as rich and destructive as us. Overpopulation is not driving environmental destruction; overconsumption is, argues Fred Pearce.

 

It's the great taboo, I hear many environmentalists say. Population growth is the driving force behind our wrecking of the planet, but we are afraid to discuss it.

 

It sounds like a no-brainer. More people must inevitably be bad for the environment, taking more resources and causing more pollution, driving the planet ever farther beyond its carrying capacity. But hold on. This is a terribly convenient argument — "over-consumers" in rich countries can blame "over-breeders" in distant lands for the state of the planet. But what are the facts?

The world's population quadrupled to six billion people during the 20th century. It is still rising and may reach 9 billion by 2050. Yet for at least the past century, rising per-capita incomes have outstripped the rising head count several times over. And while incomes don't translate precisely into increased resource use and pollution, the correlation is distressingly strong.

Moreover, most of the extra consumption has been in rich countries that have long since given up adding substantial numbers to their population.

 

By almost any measure, a small proportion of the world's people take the majority of the world's resources and produce the majority of its pollution. Take carbon dioxide emissions — a measure of our impact on climate but also a surrogate for fossil fuel consumption. Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculates that the world's richest half-billion people — that's about 7 percent of the global population — are responsible for 50 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 percent are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions.

 

Although overconsumption has a profound effect on greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts of our high standard of living extend beyond turning up the temperature of the planet. For a wider perspective of humanity's effects on the planet's life support systems, the best available measure is the "ecological footprint," which estimates the area of land required to provide each of us with food, clothing, and other resources, as well as to soak up our pollution. This analysis has its methodological problems, but its comparisons between nations are firm enough to be useful.

 

They show that sustaining the lifestyle of the average American takes 9.5 hectares, while Australians and Canadians require 7.8 and 7.1 hectares respectively; Britons, 5.3 hectares; Germans, 4.2; and the Japanese, 4.9. The world average is 2.7 hectares. China is still below that figure at 2.1, while India and most of Africa (where the majority of future world population growth will take place) are at or below 1.0.

 

The United States always gets singled out. But for good reason: It is the world's largest consumer. Americans take the greatest

share of most of the world's major commodities: corn, coffee, copper, lead, zinc, aluminum, rubber, oil seeds, oil, and natural gas. For many others, Americans are the largest per-capita consumers. In "super-size-me" land, Americans gobble up more than 120 kilograms of meat a year per person, compared to just 6 kilos in India, for instance.

 

I do not deny that fast-rising populations can create serious local environmental crises through overgrazing, destructive farming and fishing, and deforestation. My argument here is that viewed at the global scale, it is overconsumption that has been driving humanity's impacts on the planet's vital life-support systems during at least the past century. But what of the future?

 

We cannot be sure how the global economic downturn will play out. But let us assume that Jeffrey Sachs, in his book Common Wealth, is right to predict a 600 percent increase in global economic output by 2050. Most projections put world population then at no more than 40 percent above today's level, so its contribution to future growth in economic activity will be small.

 

Of course, economic activity is not the same as ecological impact. So let's go back to carbon dioxide emissions. Virtually all of the extra 2 billion or so people expected on this planet in the coming 40 years will be in the poor half of the world. They will raise the population of the poor world from approaching 3.5 billion to about 5.5 billion, making them the poor two-thirds.

 

Sounds nasty, but based on Pacala's calculations — and if we assume for the purposes of the argument that per-capita emissions in every country stay roughly the same as today — those extra two billion people would raise the share of emissions contributed by the poor world from 7 percent to 11 percent.

 

Look at it another way. Just five countries are likely to produce most of the world's population growth in the coming decades: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. The carbon emissions of one American today are equivalent to those of around four Chinese, 20 Indians, 30 Pakistanis, 40 Nigerians, or 250 Ethiopians.

 

 

Even if we could today achieve zero population growth, that would barely touch the climate problem — where we need to cut emissions by 50 to 80 percent by mid-century. Given existing income inequalities, it is inescapable that overconsumption by the rich few is the key problem, rather than overpopulation of the poor many.

 

But, you ask, what about future generations? All those big families in Africa begetting yet-bigger families. They may not consume much today, but they soon will.

 

Well, first let's be clear about the scale of the difference involved. A woman in rural Ethiopia can have ten children and her family will still do less damage, and consume fewer resources, than the family of the average soccer mom in Minnesota or Munich. In the unlikely event that her ten children live to adulthood and have ten children of their own, the entire clan of more than a hundred will still be emitting less carbon dioxide than you or I.

 

And second, it won't happen. Wherever most kids survive to adulthood, women stop having so many. That is the main reason why the number of children born to an average woman around the world has been in decline for half a century now. After peaking at between 5 and 6 per woman, it is now down to 2.6.

 

This is getting close to the "replacement fertility level" which, after allowing for a natural excess of boys born and women who don't reach adulthood, is about 2.3. The UN expects global fertility to fall to 1.85 children per woman by mid-century. While a demographic "bulge" of women of child-bearing age keeps the world's population rising for now, continuing declines in fertility will cause the world's population to stabilize by mid-century and then probably to begin falling.

 

Far from ballooning, each generation will be smaller than the last. So the ecological footprint of future generations could diminish. That means we can have a shot at estimating the long-term impact of children from different countries down the generations.

The best analysis of this phenomenon I have seen is by Paul Murtaugh, a statistician at Oregon State University. He recently calculated the climatic "intergenerational legacy" of today's children. He assumed current per-capita emissions and UN fertility projections. He found that an extra child in the United States today will, down the generations, produce an eventual carbon footprint seven times that of an extra Chinese child, 46 times that of a Pakistan child, 55 times that of an Indian child, and 86 times that of a Nigerian child.

 

Of course those assumptions may not pan out. I have some confidence in the population projections, but per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide will likely rise in poor countries for some time yet, even in optimistic scenarios. But that is an issue of consumption, not population.

 

In any event, it strikes me as the height of hubris to downgrade the culpability of the rich world's environmental footprint because generations of poor people not yet born might one day get to be as rich and destructive as us. Overpopulation is not driving environmental destruction at the global level; overconsumption is. Every time we talk about too many babies in Africa or India, we are denying that simple fact.

 

At root this is an ethical issue. Back in 1974, the famous environmental scientist Garret Hardin proposed something he called "lifeboat ethics". In the modern, resource-constrained world, he said, "each rich nation can be seen as a lifeboat full of comparatively rich people. In the ocean outside each lifeboat swim the poor of the world, who would like to get in." But there were, he said, not enough places to go around. If any were let on board, there would be chaos and all would drown. The people in the lifeboat had a duty to their species to be selfish – to keep the poor out.

 

Hardin's metaphor had a certain ruthless logic. What he omitted to mention was that each of the people in the lifeboat was occupying ten places, whereas the people in the water only wanted one each. I think that changes the argument somewhat.




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Return to the kibbutz

By Michael Hodges

Published: April 17 2009 17:52 | Last updated: April 17 2009 17:52


Hodges in Amiad this year


I grew up in Scarborough, in North Yorkshire, a town caught between wind-blasted moorland and the grey North Sea. When I left school in 1980, aged 16, Scarborough had started its long slide from popular resort to down-at-heel seaside town – a decline exacerbated by cheap holidays to Spain and Thatcherism’s assault on British manufacturing. As I shuffled between the dole in winter and hotel work in summer, my life seemed to have ground to an early halt. Then, in 1982, a friend came up with an out. “Israel,” he pronounced, “the Holy Land”.

Sipping brown ale in a northern pub, the Holy Land seemed an unlikely destination, but others had made the same journey before me. In 1096, William de Percy, the Norman lord of the borough, died in sight of Jerusalem after butchering his way across Palestine in the first crusade. De Percy was one of the most powerful barons in the land; I was a skinhead wine waiter with no money. But as my friend pointed out, if I could get to a kibbutz, I’d be housed, clothed and fed. And there would be girls.

I’d heard of kibbutzim before, but like five-year plans and pig iron quotas, the name evoked socialist pioneering in the 1930s rather than an answer to my immediate economic needs in the 1980s. However, for 20 years, the Israeli collective farms – the first of which was founded as early as 1909 – had been accepting non-Jewish voluntary workers from overseas. In return for our labour, we would be given beds, a small amount of money, and – this seemed the important bit – the opportunity to take part in a permanent party.

When I asked my father for the £100 I needed to get to Israel, I discovered he didn’t share my relative ignorance about the kibbutz movement and its role – staking a physical claim to the land – in the Zionist struggle against the British mandate in Palestine. As a boy in the late 1940s, he had watched Pathé news reports of bitter fighting as Britain attempted to control a country sundered by Jewish and Arab national aspirations. He remembered anti-Jewish rioting across the north of England in response to a terror campaign by the underground groups Irgun Tzvai-Leumi (in its Hebrew acronym, Etzel) and the Stern Gang (Lehi). One incident in particular upset him. On July 12 1947, the Irgun kidnapped two British army sergeants, and 17 days later, following the execution of three Irgunists by the mandate authorities, hanged them. One of the men’s booby-trapped bodies was left in a grove of eucalyptus trees; a British officer attempting to cut it down was wounded when he triggered an explosive device.

“Why,” my father complained four decades later, “should you help the Zionists?”

And yet my mother’s desire to see me avoid a future of serving Blue Nun to hard-up holidaymakers must have overruled those sentiments. She lent me the £100 and, like De Percy but minus the retinue, I headed for the Holy Land.

. . .

A year and a half before those British army sergeants were murdered, just before sunrise on January 17 1946, a convoy of trucks carrying prefabricated huts, wooden fence posts and barbed wire struggled up a winding road leading from the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee to the heights above. Jewish journalists and officials from the Jewish National Fund rode alongside 28 volunteers – young men and women – from the Palmach, the commando arm of the official Jewish militia, Haganah.


Hodges with a young kibbutznik, 1982
The party stopped at the remains of a 15th-century khan – a roadside inn built by the Mameluks, former slave soldiers turned rulers of Egypt and Palestine. It was a well-chosen site: for more than 4,000 years, it had overlooked the Via Maris, the ancient route from Egypt to Damascus. The hills had witnessed the armies of the Pharaohs, Alexander, Rome, the Caliphs, Ottoman emperors and the British. Now, on the eve of the Zionists’ struggle for control of this land, it was a vital link between the main areas of Jewish population in central Palestine and the more exposed settlements in the north-east.

Hasholim, the name the party gave to the outpost, was to become the 25th Jewish settlement in the Upper Galilee. After a founding ceremony beneath the red flag of socialism, the trucks, politicians and press departed, leaving the 28 Palmach members to prepare for what Israelis call the War of Independence and Palestinians the Nakba, or catastrophe, that followed Britain’s ignominious withdrawal in 1948.

When the war ended, nine months after it began, in March 1949, Hasholim had done its job: the road to the north had stayed open. Logically, the settlers would have dismantled their huts and moved on – the mountainside was barren and the little land they had was scattered with boulders. But, inspired by the site and imbued with a sense that they were re-establishing a Jewish presence after a 2,000-year absence, they voted instead to stay and re-establish Hasholim as a kibbutz. They changed its name to Amiad – “my nation for ever”.

I left my own nation in early January 1982 and arrived at Amiad at the end of the month, carrying a haversack stuffed with English cigarettes, socks and Fred Perry T-shirts. The kibbutz was no longer a lonely outpost; the boulders had been cleared and basketball courts, bomb shelters and a swimming pool built. A brutalist 1970s-style assembly hall hosted general meetings, where the community’s members cast their votes on kibbutz business. (For an ordinary motion to pass, a simple majority was required; special cases had to have a two-thirds majority.)

The kibbutzniks lived in single-storey houses – the original huts were now designated for volunteers like me – and we all ate together in a communal dining room. Fifty-year leases granted for free by the Israel Land Authority had helped to make up for the lack of good agricultural land: Amiad now grew bananas 12km away by the shore of the Sea of Galilee, cotton 30km away beneath the Golan Heights and had citrus groves on a third site 14km from the settlement. I was given a position in Amiad’s water filter factory. Instead of opening bottles in England, I was pressing parts for pumps, clunking down the stainless-steel stamps for four-hour shifts and listening to old rock ’n’ roll hits on Israel Army radio with the chain-smoking foreman.

On my second night at Amiad, I had queued in the dining hall behind an old man and was shocked to realise that the tattoo on his arm was a concentration camp number. He wasn’t the only Holocaust survivor living there, but many more of the 200 members had come from England. Devora Beth and her husband left London in 1954, “idealistic and committed to Israel”. Barry Coleman came from a “devoted Zionist” Manchester home. He had belonged to the Zionist movement since he was 13; galvanised by the 1967 Six Day War, he moved to Amiad a year later. Adam Bloom, only a few months older than me, had emigrated from Middlesex with his family in 1977, a year after his bar mitzvah.


The Amiad banana grove
I naturally gravitated towards the younger members like Adam, and they in their turn were drawn to the (largely British) volunteers’ approach to communal living. On Friday nights, we smoked potent Lebanese dope in our huts and drank shabbat wine taken from the dining hall. On the four evenings a week when the kibbutz bar opened its doors, we drank gallons of beer and danced wildly to punk and ska records, a revelation to kibbutzniks brought up on Leonard Cohen.

Often drunk or stoned, we had no sense of danger, yet only a few miles away, in southern Lebanon, was Fatahland, the state-within-a-state run by the Palestine Liberation Organisation. PLO guerilla fighters fired rockets into Galilee; they were landing 20 miles from Amiad. The guerillas were also threatening to edge their way southward, and Syrian Air Force MiGs were only minutes away should Damascus declare war. Yet when we – the young volunteers – were shown the bomb shelters, and when the elders explained to us the drill for an attack, we laughed and went back to the bar.

We shouldn’t have laughed: although I didn’t know it then, Israel was preparing for conflict again. Menachem Begin, the rightwing prime minister, ex-leader of Irgun and once on Britain’s list of most-wanted terrorists, and his minister of defence Ariel Sharon were planning to destroy Fatah.

Occasionally, the signs of war broke through the fug of beer and dope. The PLO rockets continued to come over the border, and Adam and the other 18-year-olds were called up for their compulsory three-year military service. The kibbutzniks supported the Israeli action. Their argument was simple, and one the world would hear again: the rocket attacks had to be stopped.

. . .

In the early hours of June 6 1982, young kibbutzniks knocked on the doors of our huts. Bleary-eyed and still swaying with the effects of drink, we were led to a nearby hill to watch the opening of Operation Peace for Galilee. In the valley below Amiad, an Israeli tank regiment turned on its headlights, gunned its engines and lumbered towards the border. With the invasion forces went barely trained young kibbutz conscripts like Adam, cast into the cauldron of Lebanon.

Meanwhile, I was moved from the filtration factory to the kibbutz paint shop, where I brushed brown and grey camouflage paint on to prefabricated steel-bridge segments that would be used by the Israel Defence Force.

Before the invasion, my father had sent me football reports from British newspapers. Now he sent me clippings about the carnage in Lebanon. The Syrian Air Force had been swept from the skies, the PLO was being chased back to Beirut, and towns and villages were falling after devastating air and artillery attacks. As I read, I became increasingly uneasy about my unwitting collusion in the conflict. To conquer Lebanon from the south, you must cross the rivers that run east to west down the escarpment of Mount Lebanon – crossings made possible by the pontoon bridges I spent my days painting.

Twelve weeks into the war, I left Amiad and worked my way back to Yorkshire.

. . .

A few days after my return, the BBC reported that Christian Lebanese militiamen had been allowed past the Israeli tanks surrounding Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Chatilla, in west Beirut. A slaughter followed; the Palestinian Red Crescent said 2,000 people died, the Israelis 700 to 800.

Watching the reports alongside my solemn father, I became disillusioned with Israel. And in the months and years following, I failed to keep in touch with the friends I had made at Amiad. It was half out of laziness but also partly unease.


Hodges talks with an old friend in the kibbutz nursery
After five years as an unsuccessful musician, I went to college as a mature student, then contrived to be appointed as the astrology columnist on a boy band magazine. Working my way through 1990s magazine publishing, I arrived at a men’s title just in time for the boom years. I had never really recovered from my encounter with the Middle East and now I took up any and every opportunity to return. I reported from occupied Iraq, from Kuwait, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories. I interviewed Israelis in the shadow of suicide bombs, wandered dazed through the devastation of Jenin and watched an ailing Yasser Arafat outside his wrecked Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah.

Although I often passed nearby, I did not go back to Amiad. Still uneasy, perhaps, with the memory of a naive teenager painting pontoon bridges, I resisted the idea of returning, a decision supported by an online news story I read in January 2004. Troops from the Israel Defence Force Chaplaincy Corps had retrieved the decomposing remains of 53 men from a burial site in the Upper Galilee. The dead were Hezbollah guerillas, killed by the Israelis across the nearby Lebanese border. The bodies were bargaining chips, to be exchanged for Israel’s dead and missing in Lebanon. As I scrolled down the page, I came across the name of the site of the digging: Amiad. It had become a grotesque storehouse, a prison camp for the dead.

Then, in August last year, I was sent to report, with an irony I couldn’t resist, on a Lebanese festival celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the peace symbol. The event, windswept and a little downbeat, took place on a beach near Tyre, scene of heavy fighting in 1982 and again during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon. Afterwards, my driver looped up through the hills and suddenly I was looking across the border to the first slopes of the Galilee mountains. Just beyond lay Amiad.

Does this region have a unique hold on the western world’s imagination? The American academic Barbara Tuchman has argued that, because of the Bible’s central position in Britain’s protestant culture, the British will always have “one foot in Palestine”. Driving along the border, I realised I still had one of mine in Amiad.

In 1969, the British travel writer Colin Thubron published an account of his time in Israel. Jerusalem opens with the following line: “Among the oldest visions of man none is more persistent than the hope of returning one day to a half-remembered innocence.” Arriving back in London after that August assignment, I thought more about Thubron’s words and my own half-remembered innocence, and more about returning to Amiad 27 years on.

By December, I’d planned the trip. I’d fly that January.

As a teenager, I had come to Israel on the eve of war. This time, a different war was ending. Transporter trucks laden with tanks were returning from Gaza, just as I had watched them drive into Lebanon three decades before. This fight had been far shorter but equally terrible; Palestinians claim they lost 1,330 lives. Israel disputes that number.


Adam Bloom points to the Israeli military base on the hill above Amiad
Every Israeli I met defended the bombing of Gaza with the same words: “The terrorist attacks must stop.” The people seemed cold and bad-tempered – as if a whole nation had been backed into a corner. And when I had finally made the three-hour journey from Jerusalem to Amiad, even the kibbutzniks seemed unhappy. The place had changed. What had formerly been a rural landscape was practically urban. The thin stretch of tarmac that once ran past the settlement had become four lanes, and a new village had appeared between the crossroads and the kibbutz. A wine shop had opened – though the winery that supplied it had failed – and the volunteers’ huts had been torn down, replaced with new housing for members. From one of these houses emerged a figure I recognised.

The years had marked him with grey but Adam Bloom still looked and sounded like the cocky young Londoner I remembered. As with most Israelis, he had travelled after finishing his military service. He lived in England for eight years (we had even lived near each other in London for some of that time) but an incident there brought him back to Israel – and Amiad. “I was working in a bar near Hendon in the late 1980s and some policeman subjected me to an anti-Semitic tirade. I knew in that moment that there was only one place for a Jew to escape that.”

Adam and I walked out to the khan together. I had once lain on my back among its tumbledown stones and looked up at stars. No longer. Light pollution had done for stargazing. Adam pointed at the new skyline: a cluster of communication aerials adorning the military base that had grown on the hill above Amiad. During the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, Hezbollah had rained rockets on it. More than 30 fell around Amiad, and for all his chippiness, Adam seemed weary, much like his country at large. The peace process had unravelled and with it the fortunes of the left, of which the kibbutz was such an integral part.

In the previous elections, 90 per cent of Amiad members voted for Labour. Now Adam wasn’t sure that support would hold up. “I will not be surprised by a big swing to the right because Likud and Kadima offer a much more militant attitude to Israel’s security. While we are still at war on so many fronts, maybe it is for the better.”

. . .

More had changed at Amiad than political leanings. In 2004, in a poignant echo of the 1948 vote to establish a kibbutz, members voted to effectively disestablish it. Communal living and equality were replaced with private property, wages and dividends from the profits. Adam voted against the changes but “we lost the debate, the younger people were for it and many older people voted ‘yes’ because they wanted their children to stay here.”

Yet the young people are not coming back as soon as had been hoped – the average age there is 57 – and the older members have struggled to adapt. When I met Devorah Beth in the communal hall, she admitted the changes had been unsettling. “It was a shock for the older people. I have always had enough to live a good life. We had what we needed and we knew the kibbutz would care for us. My husband died in March 2004 after a period of illness. I had to pay for a carer and medical charges. If it had been 1994, I would not have had to pay.”

Amiad hasn’t just lost the ability to provide for its members. In 1982, I had argued with young kibbutzniks in the bar – “How can you be socialist and nationalist? Surely socialism must be blind to race?” Their conviction that it was possible to build a state at once Jewish and socialist seemed to have diminished along with the fortunes of the whole kibbutz movement. The red flag no longer flies above Amiad, and the old Zionist-Socialist dream is just that, a dream that is fading amid economic reality and a country leaning so far to the political right that the Labour party managed only fourth place in the general election held after my visit. The first- and second-place parties are deeply distrusting of the peace process; the one that came in third rejects it entirely.


Original 1940s accommodation
“I would be the first to drive to Damascus,” Adam claimed as we said goodbye. “To drink coffee in the souk and buy a nice carpet. Who wouldn’t want peace? We have no territorial ambitions, except for buffer zones to keep the loonies as far away from us as possible.”

Looking out on the highway, I thought back to 1982 – the tanks on the road, the kibbutzniks’ talk of “security” and the rightwing prime minister leading a country to 20 years of occupation in Lebanon in the name of “Peace for Galilee”.

I had one more question for Adam. Where had the Hezbollah fighters’ bodies been buried? He gestured at the army base on the hill above. But the news reports had said the bodies were found on the kibbutz, I protested. “No, on the base,” he replied, a little jaded. “I was going to complain. But I didn’t.”

Amid the thousands of deaths that the hills of Israel, Lebanon and Palestine have witnessed, and the prospect of thousands to come, what did the correct position of 53 corpses matter?

Michael Hodges is the author of ‘AK47: The Story of the People’s Gun’ and is a regular contributor to FT Weekend Magazine