Sunday, 31 January 2010

Inequality in a meritocracy


 
By Christopher Caldwell
Published: January 29 2010 20:35 | Last updated: January 29 2010 20:35
 
This week, Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour party and the minister for women and equality, released a report called "An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK". The product of more than a year's work by 10 university social scientists, it is a strange document. In an effort to combat what the authors call "widespread public ignorance of the scale of inequality", the government has sponsored a study whose main result is likely to be to turn voters against the government. The report compares those at the top of the economic ladder with those at the bottom. To cite one alarming finding, the richest tenth have accumulated more than 100 times as much wealth as the poorest.
 
What is unclear is why the government should be alarmed about this now. It is a tautology to say that the very rich are richer than the very poor. Britain is relatively unequal for an advanced country, but it is by no means the most unequal. Italy, Poland, Portugal and the US all have larger gaps between rich and poor, and New Zealand and Ireland have comparable ones. The report asserts (and several graphs make plain) that British society grew rapidly and significantly less equal in the 1980s, and that little has changed since then. The social ground rules have been stable for at least a quarter-century.
 
One must read between the lines to discover the source of Ms Harman's alarm. The six "strands" of inequality that the National Equality Panel studied – gender, age, ethnicity, religion, disability and sexuality – have all been covered by civil rights legislation since Tony Blair and Labour came to power in 1997. Equality is important, Ms Harman writes in her foreword, because "the economy that will succeed in the future is one that draws on the talents of all, not one which is blinkered by prejudice and marred by discrimination". It is oppression that Ms Harman's academics are looking for.
 
The problem is that the report's conclusions are implicit in its definitions, which are false ones. It takes "inequality" as a synonym for "prejudice and discrimination", which it very often is not. If there is one theme that the study's authors stress with consistency, it is that inequality within groups in the UK is just as severe, or nearly as severe, as inequality between groups. The case that rising inequality is driven by sexism or racism (or some other prejudice) is weak, although the authors are indefatigable in trying to insinuate it. "Compared to a White British Christian man with the same qualifications, age and occupation," they write, "Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim men and Black African Christian men have pay 13-21 per cent lower." (The idiom of the report frequently resembles the dockside pidgin spoken in the novels of Joseph Conrad.) But not all of their evidence goes in this direction: on average, Hindu and Sikh (but not Muslim) Indians, Caribbean blacks and Chinese men have higher hourly wages than the ethnic-religious majority, and the earnings of Jewish men are about 25 per cent higher. The British-descended majority, if they really meant to exploit or exclude, would probably not relegate themselves to such a low position on the economic ladder.
 
Nor is the gap between men's earnings and women's an open-and-shut case of prejudice. The authors note that, while women aged under 44 have, on average, more education than their male contemporaries, they earn 21 per cent less. The problem, they opine, is the treatment of part-time work, which many women resort to when they start families. "Low pay for part-time work is a key factor in gender inequality," they write. "It reflects the low value accorded to it and failure to create opportunities for training and promotion." But the low value attached to part-time work is a function of economic common sense, not contempt. If work is part-time, then either the demand for it is less pressing or the supply of it is less reliable. A milkman who delivers milk a few days a week on a flexible schedule is less valuable per delivery than one who delivers it regularly.
 
Unable to show racism or sexism, the study retreats to the concept of class, noting that "economic advantage and disadvantage reinforce themselves across the life cycle, and often on to the next generation", and calling for government intervention to counteract it. But the inequalities that exist are obviously not the programme of a self-conscious class. Consider the openness of Britain's educational system. According to the report, at practically every level of scoring on the General Certificate of Secondary Education, all ethnic minority groups attend university at higher rates than white Britons. Now, ethnic prejudice is not the only form of disadvantage, but its absence – and even a powerful impulse to affirmative action – is a sign that there is no systematic attempt to seize institutions for the benefit of an in-group, as in a real class system. It is not advantage but prosperity that is self-reinforcing. The class problems that progressive governments make it their business to manage have mostly been solved.
 
The problems that remain are problems of meritocracy, of which inequality is a natural result. As long as economies are growing, people are content to see others get a bit more relative income. When economies stagnate, there is more political agitation for redistributing the goods that remain, and society grows less meritocratic. Ms Harman makes an unconvincing argument for more equal distribution of income and wealth among citizens. In the present climate, however, the public is unlikely to require any convincing at all.
 
The writer is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard



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Saturday, 30 January 2010

Capitalism - A Love Story, a forthcoming film


 

'Capitalism is evil … you have to eliminate it'

After guns and the Iraq war, Michael Moore is now taking on an entire political and economic system in his latest documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. So what message does the man who once planned to become a priest have?

 

Michael Moore says of Capitalism: A Love Story, 'I want audiences to get off the bench and become active.' Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/AP/PA Photos

 

Michael Moore has been accused of many things. Mendacity. Manipulation. Rampant egotism. Bullying a frail old man with Alzheimer's. And that is by people who generally agree with his views. His latest film Capitalism: A Love Story is already out in the US when we meet. He comes storming down the hotel corridor, predictably unkempt in ragged jeans that have the unusual quality of appearing both too large and too small at the same time.

 
I wasn't sure what to expect. Arrogance, perhaps. Cynicism. But he begins to schmooze while he's still some distance away, shouting he feels he knows me. A few months ago one of Moore's producers interviewed me for the film. I was cut from the finished version but Moore says he watched my every word.

 

Settled on a couch I ask why he hasn't managed to persuade the downtrodden, uninsured, exploited masses to revolt. "My films don't have instant impact because they're dense with ideas that people have not thought about," he says. "It takes a while for the American public to wrap its head around some of the things I'm saying. Twenty years ago I told them that General Motors was going to collapse and take a lot of towns down with them. I was ridiculed, and GM sent around this packet of information about me, my past writings – pinko! With Bowling for Columbine, I told people that these shootings are going to continue, we've got too many guns, too easy access to the guns. [In Fahrenheit 9/11] I'm telling people that we're not going to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we've been lied to."

 
Capitalism: A Love Story seems the natural culmination of all his others, an overarching look at the insidious control of Wall Street and corporate interests over politics and lives. Its timing is exquisite, coming in the wake of the biggest financial collapse in living memory. And once again Moore is bracing himself: as the film drew to a close at its premiere in Los Angeles, he posted a message on Twitter: "The packed house gets up to grab their torches and pitchforks …"
 
The film is certainly shocking. Early on, Moore sets out the meaning of "Dead Peasants" insurance. It turns out that Wal-Mart, a company with a revenue larger than any other in the world, bets on its workers dying, taking out life insurance policies on its 350,000 shop-floor workers without their knowledge or approval. When one of them dies, Wal-Mart claims on the policy. Not a cent of the payout, which sometimes runs to a $1m (£620,000) or more, goes to the family of the dead worker, often struggling with expensive funeral bills. Wal-Mart keeps the lot. If a worker dies, the company profits.
 
Wal-Mart is not alone. Moore talks to a woman whose husband died of brain cancer in 2008. He worked at a bank until it fired him because he was sick. But the bank retained a life insurance policy on the unfortunate man and cashed it in for $4.7m (£2.9m) when he died. There were gasps from the audience in a Washington cinema at that.
 
They came again as Moore focused on the eviction of the foreclosed. The Hacker family of Peoria filmed themselves being chucked out of their home because of skyrocketing mortgage payments. Randy Hacker, gun owner, observes that he can understand why someone might want to shoot up a bank. In a final twist, the eviction squad offers the Hackers cash to clear out their yard.

The Hackers are Republicans. So was the widow of the bank worker. It is the gap, between the ordinary American – Democrat or Republican, middle-class or dirt-poor – and predatory banks and mammoth corporations that Moore has made his target ever since Roger and Me, his first film, set out to expose the damage wreaked by General Motors on his hometown of Flint, Michigan.

 
"One movie maybe can't make a difference," Moore says. "I'll say, what's the point of this? What do I want [my audiences] to do? Obviously I want them to be engaged in their democracy. I want them to get off the bench and become active."

 

Last summer something happened that renewed Moore's conviction that his film-making was politically worthwhile. "I'm in the edit room and there's Bill Moyers on the TV interviewing the vice-president of Sigma health insurance. Massive, billion-dollar company. He's sitting there, telling the country that he's quit his job and he wants to come clean. That he and the other health insurance companies got together and pooled their resources to smear me and the film Sicko to try and stop people from going to see it because, as he said, everything Michael Moore said in Sicko was true, and we were afraid this film would be a tipping point.

"I came away from that, with 'Wow, they're afraid of this movie, they believe it can actually create a revolution.' The idea that cinema can be dangerous is a great idea."
 
Moore's critics would argue this is his ego speaking. The idea that his film about the failings of the US healthcare system was on the brink of prompting a revolution of any kind looks all the more far-fetched given how the political fight over the issue has panned out. But if Moore's primary intention is to send up a warning flare, to alert Americans to what is going on in their country but not usually reported, he's been pretty successful.
 
At the end of Capitalism: A Love Story, Moore makes a pronouncement: "Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil. You have to eliminate it and replace it with something that is good for all people and that something is democracy." Michael Moore once planned to be a priest. In his youth he was drawn to the Berrigan brothers, a pair of radical priests who pulled anti-Vietnam war stunts such as pouring blood on military service records. In an instructive moment for Moore, the brothers made clear they weren't just protesting against the war, but against religious organisations that kept silent about it.
 
These days he disagrees with Catholic orthodoxy exactly where you would expect him to – he supports abortion rights and gay marriage – but he credits his Catholic upbringing with instilling in him a sense of social justice, and an activism tinged with theatre that lives on his films.
 
But what does it mean, to replace capitalism with democracy? He sighs and tries to explain. In the old Soviet bloc, he says, communism was the political system and socialism the economic. But with capitalism, he complains, you get political and economic rolled in to one. Big business buys votes in Congress. Lobbyists write laws. The result is that the US political system is awash in capitalist money that has stripped the system of much of its democratic accountability.
 
"What I'm asking for is a new economic order," he says. "I don't know how to construct that. I'm not an economist. All I ask is that
it have two organising principles. Number one, that the economy is run democratically. In other words, the people have a say in how its run, not just the 1%. And number two, that it has an ethical and moral core to it. That nothing is done without considering the ethical nature, no business decision is made without first asking the question, is this for the common good?"

 
These days Moore, the son of a Flint car worker, lives in the smalltown surrounds of Traverse City with his wife Kathleen Glynn and stepdaughter Natalie, a four-hour drive and a world away from where he came from. But Traverse City, which is on Lake Michigan, has endured its own decline. Walking along the restored foreshore, a sign says that the city was once a major lumber exporter. Now it is known as the "Cherry Capital" of America.
 
"When I first got here the theatre was boarded up," says Moore. "It was a mess. I said, look, let me reopen this theatre, I'll create a non-profit. It has brought, like, half a million people downtown in the first two years. If they're downtown they go out to dinner, they go to the bookstore. It livens everything up. Stores open. Now there's no plywood on any windows." This, says Moore, has made him something of a local hero even in a town that votes Republican.
 
"The county voted for McCain and for Bush twice. But not a day goes by when a Republican here doesn't stop me on the street and shake my hand and thank me. Me, the pariah!"
 
There are conservatives who get Moore's message, particularly families such as the Hackers who have been betrayed by the system they thought was working for them. But identifying their suffering, and even the cause of their problems, is very different from persuading them that capitalism is evil, although they might just buy in to what Moore says is the core message of his latest film – "that Wall Street and the banks are truly the enemy, and we need to tie that beast down and quick".
His enemies in the rightwing media will be doing everything they can to ensure this doesn't happen, portraying him as a propagandist. And even some of his supporters say he is too willing to leave out inconvenient facts. But there's no denying some very powerful truths in Capitalism, one of which is that it didn't need to be this way in America.
 
Moore has dug out of a South Carolina archive a piece of film buried away 66 years ago because it threatened to rock the foundations of the capitalist system as Americans now know it.
 
President Franklin D Roosevelt was ailing. Too ill to make his 1944 state of the nation address to Congress, he instead broadcast it by radio. But at one point he called in the cameras, and set out his vision of a new America he knew he would not live to see.
Roosevelt proposed a second bill of rights to guarantee every American a job with a living wage, a decent home, medical care, protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness and unemployment, and, perhaps most dangerously for big business, freedom from unfair monopolies. He said that "true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence".
The film was quickly locked away.
 
"The next week on the newsreels – and we've gone back and researched this – they didn't run that," said Moore. "They talked about other parts of his speech, the war. Nothing about this. The footage became lost. When we called the Roosevelt presidential library and asked them about it they said it wasn't filmed. His own family told us it wasn't filmed." Moore's team scoured the country without luck until they were given a tip about a collector connected to the university of South Carolina.
 
The university didn't have anything archived under FDR's speeches that fitted, but there were a couple of boxes from that week in 1944.
 
"We pop it in. It was all there. We had tears in our eyes watching it. For 65 years not a single American saw that speech, not one. I decided right then that we're going to fulfil Roosevelt's wishes that the American people see him saying this. Of all the things in the film, probably I feel most privileged that I get to share this. I get to give him his stage." It's a powerful moment not only because it offers an alternative view of American values rarely spoken of today – almost all of which would be condemned as rampant socialism – but also an interesting reference point with which to compare the more restrained ambitions of the Obama administration.
 
It is hard to imagine any circumstances in which Obama could put forward such an agenda, I suggest. Moore disagrees.
"He could make that speech."
And survive politically?
 
"He has told people he's going to operate these four years not with an eye on getting re-elected but on getting things done. I have been very happy for the last year. We came out of eight dark years and his election was – what's the word? – the relief I felt that night, I've been filled with hope since then. Now my patience is running a bit thin. He hasn't taken the reins and said: I'm in charge here, this is what we're doing. Do it. I can understand he's afraid but he's gotta do it."

 

Dude, where's my country? Michael Moore's America

"A thief-in-chief … a drunk, a possible felon, an unconvicted deserter and a crybaby"
On George Bush, 2001

"I say stupid white men are always the problem. That's never going to change"
After 9/11, in response to his publisher's pleas that he go easy on Bush

"It was pretty much like any other morning in America. The farmer did his chores. The milkman made his deliveries. The president bombed another country whose name we couldn't pronounce"
In Bowling for Columbine, 2002

"Back home we call it fuck-you money, OK? What that means is, the distributor of the film can't ever say to me, 'Don't you dare say this in the interview' or 'You better change that in the movie because if you don't, you're not going to get another movie deal.' Because I already have my home and my family taken care of, and enough money from this film and book to make the next film, I'm able to say, 'Fuck you.' No one in authority can hold money over me to get me to conform." 2002

"There is a country I would like to tell you about. It is a country like no other on the planet. Many of you, I am certain, would love to live there. It is a very, very liberal, liberated, and free-thinking country. Its people hate the thought of going to war. The vast majority of its men have never served in any kind of military and they aren't rushing to sign up now … The majority of its residents strongly believe in equal rights for women and oppose any attempt by the government or religious groups who would seek to control their reproductive organs ..." 2003

"There's a gullible side to the American people. Religion is the best device used to mislead them … and we have disastrous media." 2003

"I would like to apologise for referring to George W Bush as a 'deserter'. What I meant to say is that George W Bush is a deserter, an election thief, a drunk-driver, a WMD liar and a functional illiterate. And he poops his pants." 2004

"Halliburton is not a 'company' doing business in Iraq. It is a war profiteer, bilking millions from the pockets of average Americans. In past wars they would have been arrested – or worse." 2004

Research by Isabelle Chevallot
Capitalism: A Love Story is released on 26 February


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Saturday, 23 January 2010

My third-class life


 

I admit it: I was a poor student. In teachers, however, it's core talents, not degrees, that matter 

It was recently reported in this paper that I was proud to have received a third-class degree. Not really. But at 66 it is true to say I am no longer as ashamed of it as I was. Admitting failure is quite cleansing, but never ­pleasurable. But since I have now ­admitted this, I should also like my failed 11-plus and my rather disappointing results at O- and A-level to be taken into consideration.

 
I have a list of excuses, or reasons, as long as my arm. There certainly were teachers who frightened me or bored me, and from home maybe rather too much heavy pressure to succeed. But I have to take most of the blame myself. I was rather a poor student, too easily distracted – did a lot of gazing out of windows, fine for training to be a writer, but not a great way to achieve in the classroom. The truth is that I was happy to bumble along and do enough to avoid detention, but not much more.

 

Later on in my writing life I have been shortlisted frequently and often failed to win book prizes. War Horse was one of these failures. That particular failure did bring its own special reward, though, the most encouraging comment I ever had. It came from a neighbour of mine in Devon, Ted Hughes, over a comforting cup of tea. He said: "Doesn't matter a fig about the prize, Michael. You've written a fine book, and you'll write a finer one, too."

 
These were the words not just of a great poet, but of a great teacher, an inspiration to so many aspiring writers. He was above all an enthusiast. He was stimulating, exuberant, fascinating, and he loved his subject – whether speaking of the river, of poetry, of stories.
 
Both political parties talk a lot of sense, as well as nonsense, on ­education. The Labour party has tried valiantly to raise the lamentably low standard of education in this country. It recognised that far too many children were leaving school illiterate and innumerate. It sought to tighten up the whole system, introduce regular testing right through a child's life at school, bring in league tables: ideas with the best of intentions, no doubt.
 
But they have been proved deeply flawed, because the priority in schools in recent years has been the passing of exams, not the education of children. ­Everything else has had to take a back seat – music, drama, sport – to make room for the holy grail of examination success. The teachers taught with that in mind – why would they not? The ­children learned with that in mind. ­Everyone was judged on that basis.
 
The Tories in their turn have also come up with some good ideas. They have decided that the early years in education are key. Get this wrong and you spend the rest of a child's time at school repairing the damage. Quite right. Needed saying, needs doing. Now it has become part of Conservative policy to ensure that teachers will be allowed into the profession only if they have good degrees, if they have passed that test well. It is quite true that in countries with highly successful school systems such as Finland teachers do have to be much better qualified than they are here, and that they have higher status, more respect. But this is also because children have a higher status there, more respect. It is also quite true that the class of a degree may be a useful means as part of the selection process, but only as part of the process.
 
It is aptitude, the ability to enthuse, to communicate, to motivate, that is far more important than whether a ­candidate has a first- or third-class degree. And with this ability must come a love of the subject he or she is teaching. It's the one thing that reaches children, touches their hearts, awakens their intellect, when they see that a teacher really means it.
 
It was in fact through teaching that I learned this. I would read to my year-six children only those stories I loved myself – and when I ran out of those I told my own. I told my story with total commitment, lived every word, and so they believed every word. I did not ask questions about it afterwards. I did not test them. I simply let them lose ­themselves in the story, in the music of the words.
 
Let me tell you a story. I like to tell stories. My wife, Clare, was being ­interviewed for her teacher ­training some 35 years ago now. She was ­mightily pleased to hear that they were accepting her, but their parting advice to her as she left the room was: "We look forward to having you here. But there is one thing: as a teacher, you will have to curb your enthusiasm and exuberance." She didn't learn that. Neither did I. She went on to get a second-class degree. I'm not bitter.


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Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Consider the risks before you send your cash to Haiti

 Mark Steel
 
All of us must wonder if we'll ever get our 50 quid back
 
Satan's terms and conditions must have got worse in recent times. America's most prominent TV evangelist, Pat Robertson, announced that the Haiti earthquake was a result of a "pact with the Devil", made when they overthrew slavery 200 years ago. But in the old days a pact with the Devil brought you a life of fame and riches and earthly pleasures. Now you get a few years of life in the world's poorest country and then buried under a pile of rubble.
 
Maybe the Devil will issue a statement soon, that "due to difficulties arising from the current economic climate, I have found it necessary to temporarily restrict certain privileges to my valuable customers. But you can be certain I will endeavour to maintain my usual high standard of evil, and look forward to satisfying more gluttony than ever once it is financially responsible to do so."
At least Robertson claims a spiritual logic for his sociopathic judgement. Whereas TV presenter Rush Limbaugh complained about the aid effort, saying, "We've already donated to Haiti. It's called income tax." That's the trouble. It's just take take take with some people isn't it?
 
Or there's the Heritage Foundation, an influential group among American politicians, which declared that "the earthquake offers an opportunity to re-shape Haiti's long-dysfunctional government and economy."
 
That's the aid they need, a hand-up not a hand-out. Because it takes a functional economist to see a disaster zone and think, "That's handy." If only the Heritage Foundation could get people out there to rummage through the wreckage searching for survivors, so they could call into an air pocket, "I could rescue you, but that would only make you dependent. So come up with a business plan, young fellow, and in years to come you'll thank me for this. Ta-ra."
 
To start with you'd think if the Haiti government had their wits about them they'd realise there are a lot of reporters out there with very few provisions, so a couple of branches of Costa Coffee would make a healthy return. But no, they're too dysfunctional to organise it.
 
The most worrying part of this craziness is it isn't far off the official US strategy. The International Monetary Fund has extended $100m in loans to Haiti for the disaster, and according to The Nation magazine, "These loans came with conditions, including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage, and keeping inflation low." I suppose the idea is not to make things even worse. Give them more than the minimum wage and then you'd have binge-drinking to worry about as well.
 
This deal was probably arranged by the bank ringing Haiti's government and saying "Hello is that the Prime Minister? It's Miriam here from the IMF. I'd like a few moments to talk to you about your account, only I notice from our records that you've had a tectonic catastrophe so you'll need to revise your payments."
 
Several aid organisations have complained about the role the American government is playing. For example, a spokesman from the World Food Programme said: "They organise 200 flights a day, but most are for the US military. Their priority is to secure the country." This may be why Bill Clinton was able to tell business leaders that this is an ideal time to invest in the country, because, "the political risk in Haiti is lower than it has ever been in my lifetime." Who can honestly say they don't consider the political risk before handing out money to a disaster zone? All of us wonder, as we make our donation, whether we'll get our 50 quid back, with a bit of profit for our trouble, otherwise we're being fools to ourselves.
 
But Clinton had a point. Because at one point Haiti was ruled by President Aristide, who refused to implement all the IMF's demands for privatisation and keeping wages to a minimum. So the US government backed a coup that overthrew him, exiled him and banned his political party, making the place much less risky for business.
 
This might explain why the American forces are being treated with suspicion, as their priority may not be to provide aid, but to "secure the country." This could also explain the statement by Robert Gates, US defence secretary, who said he couldn't use transport planes to drop supplies in Port-au-Prince as "air drops will simply lead to riots."
 
Maybe someone should consult an expert on theology, but I'd say there's a chance that if the Devil's still doing pacts, there'll be something way off the Richter scale soon passing right under Wall Street.


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Monday, 18 January 2010

Pills get smart


 

Potential encapsulated
Jan 14th 2010 | NEW YORK
From The Economist print edition


Medicines that can talk to doctors herald a new direction for drugs firms
Proteus Biomed
Proteus Biomed
Take it or it will call your mother
NOVARTIS, a Swiss pharmaceuticals giant, is involved in two deals at the moment. Its $50 billion takeover of Alcon, an American eye-care firm, unveiled early this month, has been hogging the headlines. But its decision on January 12th to spend $24m to secure exclusive licences and options on drug-delivery technologies developed by Proteus Biomedical, a Californian start-up, may be just as important in the long run. It makes Novartis the biggest pharmaceuticals firm to embrace "smart-pill" technology.
Despite its trifling size, the deal hints at a promising new strategy for a troubled industry. Patents on many lucrative drugs are on the verge of expiry. Most firms have not come up with enough treatments to replace them. In an effort to diversify and stabilise their revenue, some drugmakers are beginning to sell ancillary services tied to their wares. Proteus's technology, which enables pills to relay data about a patient back to doctors after they have been swallowed, is a prime example.
When one of Proteus's pills is taken, stomach fluids activate the edible communications device it contains, which sends wireless signals through the body to another chip worn as a skin patch or embedded just under the skin. That, in turn, can upload data to a smart-phone or send it to a doctor via the internet. Thus it is easy to make sure a patient is taking his pills at the right time, to spot adverse reactions with other drugs and so on.
"This technology has tremendous utility," declares Trevor Mundel of Novartis. Various studies have estimated that a third to half of prescription drugs are not taken as prescribed—or at all. This leads to poor health: one study estimates needless hospitalisations as a result of such failings cost $100 billion a year in America alone.
Though Proteus is in the vanguard, it has rivals. Philips, a big Dutch electronics company, has just set up a commercial group to promote its "intelligent pill", which is able to deliver drugs at precisely the right spot in the digestive tract. MicroCHIPS, an American start-up, is developing smart, implantable microchips which have reservoirs to hold drugs or tiny monitoring devices. John Santini, its boss, says his company is working on drug delivery with a big pharmaceuticals firm, and that his laboratory curiosity will be a commercial reality within three to five years.
Terry Hisey of Deloitte, a consultancy, argues that the coupling of smart pills with wireless networks and mobile phones, allowing the information the pills capture to be beamed to doctors, patients and relatives, turns the technology into "a disruptive innovation about to happen". Vitality, an American firm, has come up with a cap for pill bottles that telephones hapless patients if they fail to take their medicine on time. Vodafone, a mobile-phone operator, has just set up a mobile health unit in Britain. Orange, a French rival, already offers a service that records measurements from implanted heart monitors and transmits them to doctors via the internet. In Mexico, TelCel, the country's biggest mobile operator, plans this month to launch a service that allows customers to determine whether they have flu using their mobile phones. Kalorama, a research group, estimates that sales of such services will leap from perhaps $4.3 billion last year to $9.6 billion by 2012.
There are some potential pitfalls, however. Stephen Oesterle of Medtronic, a devices firm involved in remote patient monitoring, thinks it a bit Orwellian for drugmakers to keep such intimate tabs on their customers. He wonders whether spooked patients might disable all this clever kit. Tim van Biesen of Bain, a consultancy, believes that patients will need some kind of financial incentive to use smart pills.
But Leslie Saxon, chief of cardiology at the University of Southern California, argues the reverse. She believes patients will clamour for more data about their health, much as banks' customers embraced the internet as a means of keeping better track of their accounts. Moreover, many governments that provide medical care for their citizens (including America, if Barack Obama's health proposals become law) are beginning to demand that drugs firms prove the effectiveness of expensive new pills in practice as well as in theory. Peter Lawyer of the Boston Consulting Group reckons such policies could push pharmaceuticals companies to embrace innovations that ensure pills are properly used.
Furthermore, the technology should be lucrative for all concerned. Drugs firms currently lose billions of dollars in sales from patients on long-term prescriptions who do not take their pills. And features that encourage patients to take their medicine and ensure it is working well should make a pill more valuable to insurers and national health systems, and thus justify higher prices.


Copyright © 2010 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.




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Why the US Owes Haiti Billions:


 

 

By Bill Quigley

17 January, 2010
Countercurrents.org

 

Why does the US owe Haiti Billions? Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, stated his foreign policy view as the "Pottery Barn rule." That is - "if you break it, you own it."

 

The US has worked to break Haiti for over 200 years. We owe Haiti. Not charity. We owe Haiti as a matter of justice. Reparations. And not the $100 million promised by President Obama either - that is Powerball money. The US owes Haiti Billions - with a big B.

 

The US has worked for centuries to break Haiti. The US has used Haiti like a plantation. The US helped bleed the country economically since it freed itself, repeatedly invaded the country militarily, supported dictators who abused the people, used the country as a dumping ground for our own economic advantage, ruined their roads and agriculture, and toppled popularly elected officials. The US has even used Haiti like the old plantation owner and slipped over there repeatedly for sexual recreation.

Here is the briefest history of some of the major US efforts to break Haiti.

 

In 1804, when Haiti achieved its freedom from France in the world's first successful slave revolution, the United States refused to recognize the country. The US continued to refuse recognition to Haiti for 60 more years. Why? Because the US continued to enslave millions of its own citizens and feared recognizing Haiti would encourage slave revolution in the US.

 

After the 1804 revolution, Haiti was the subject of a crippling economic embargo by France and the US. US sanctions lasted until 1863. France ultimately used its military power to force Haiti to pay reparations for the slaves who were freed. The reparations were 150 million francs. (France sold the entire Louisiana territory to the US for 80 million francs!)

 

Haiti was forced to borrow money from banks in France and the US to pay reparations to France. A major loan from the US to pay off the French was finally paid off in 1947. The current value of the money Haiti was forced to pay to French and US banks? Over $20 Billion - with a big B.

 

The US occupied and ruled Haiti by force from 1915 to 1934. President Woodrow Wilson sent troops to invade in 1915. Revolts by Haitians were put down by US military - killing over 2000 in one skirmish alone. For the next nineteen years, the US controlled customs in Haiti, collected taxes, and ran many governmental institutions. How many billions were siphoned off by the US during these 19 years?

 

From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was forced to live under US backed dictators "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc" Duvlaier. The US supported these dictators economically and militarily because they did what the US wanted and were politically "anti-communist" - now translatable as against human rights for their people. Duvalier stole millions from Haiti and ran up hundreds of millions in debt that Haiti still owes. Ten thousand Haitians lost their lives. Estimates say that Haiti owes $1.3 billion in external debt and that 40% of that debt was run up by the US-backed Duvaliers.

 

Thirty years ago Haiti imported no rice. Today Haiti imports nearly all its rice. Though Haiti was the sugar growing capital of the Caribbean, it now imports sugar as well. Why? The US and the US dominated world financial institutions - the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - forced Haiti to open its markets to the world. Then the US dumped millions of tons of US subsidized rice and sugar into Haiti - undercutting their farmers and ruining Haitian agriculture. By ruining Haitian agriculture, the US has forced Haiti into becoming the third largest world market for US rice. Good for US farmers, bad for Haiti.

 

In 2002, the US stopped hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Haiti which were to be used for, among other public projects like education, roads. These are the same roads which relief teams are having so much trouble navigating now!

 

In 2004, the US again destroyed democracy in Haiti when they supported the coup against Haiti's elected President Aristide.

Haiti is even used for sexual recreation just like the old time plantations. Check the news carefully and you will find numerous stories of abuse of minors by missionaries, soldiers and charity workers. Plus there are the frequent sexual vacations taken to Haiti by people from the US and elsewhere. What is owed for that? What value would you put on it if it was your sisters and brothers?

US based corporations have for years been teaming up with Haitian elite to run sweatshops teeming with tens of thousands of Haitians who earn less than $2 a day.

 

The Haitian people have resisted the economic and military power of the US and others ever since their independence. Like all of us, Haitians made their own mistakes as well. But US power has forced Haitians to pay great prices - deaths, debt and abuse.

It is time for the people of the US to join with Haitians and reverse the course of US-Haitian relations.

 

This brief history shows why the US owes Haiti Billions - with a big B. This is not charity. This is justice. This is reparations. The current crisis is an opportunity for people in the US to own up to our country's history of dominating Haiti and to make a truly just response.

 

(For more on the history of exploitation of Haiti by the US see: Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti; Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood; and Randall Robinson, An Unbroken Agony)

 

Bill is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Quigley77@gmail.com

 





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Friday, 8 January 2010

Scotland Yard admits race discrimination in deal to end boycott

  

Metropolitan police deputy commissioner Tim Godwin will take personal responsibility for driving out discrimination. Photograph: Anna Gordon

 
Scotland Yard bosses have admitted discrimination still exists among its officers as part of a deal to end a race row that plagued
 
Britain's biggest force for 16 months, the Guardian has learned.

 

A boycott of the force by the Black Police Association, which began in October 2008, will be ended tomorrow.

 
It follows months of secret talks and as part of the settlement Scotland Yard deputy commissioner Tim Godwin has vowed to "address issues of race and discrimination in the organisation" and in how London is policed, according to a letter seen by the Guardian.
 
Scotland Yard has also privately accepted that discrimination is part of the reason ethnic minority officers are less likely to get promoted and more likely to be disciplined.

 

Last February Sir Paul Stephenson, the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, publicly declared that the force was no longer "institutionally racist".

 
The Metropolitan police section of the BPA began its boycott after a vicious race row at the top of Scotland Yard that rocked the force for months.
 
In September 2008 Tarique Ghaffur, third in charge of the Met and Britain's most senior officer from an ethnic minority, was suspended after calling his boss, Sir Ian Blair, a racist and suing the force for discrimination. He later left the Met.
 
One of Ghaffur's closest advisers, Commander Ali Dizaei, was suspended after misconduct allegations and was later charged with misconduct in public office and intending to pervert the course of justice. He goes on trial next week.
 
The BPA responded by urging ethnic minority Britons not to join the force. Community groups said the boycott was effective and had damaged the Met's efforts to recruit ethnic minority officers.
 
In his letter to the Met BPA, Godwin said: "I am writing to set out how I see the Met BPA working with other … colleagues to address issues of race and discrimination in the organisation and in the delivery of policing services to the people of London.
"In particular I want to ensure that the concerns you have raised about disproportionality in our discipline processes and in the progression of staff through the organisation are effectively addressed."
 
The deputy commissioner's letter continues: "It is accepted that we have more to do if we are to be confident that these processes give everyone the same opportunities and it is important that the Met BPA is fully involved in that work. We do of course want to see the same outcome – the very best quality of policing for all the communities of London."
As part of the deal the Met has set up reviews headed by senior officers into why ethnic minority officers find it harder than white ones to gain promotion and why they are more likely to face disciplinary action.
 
The deputy commissioner will take personal charge of driving out discrimination from the ranks, with senior Met bosses placed in charge of overseeing the work.
 
According to a source with close knowledge of Scotland Yard's thinking: "We wanted to get rid of the sense that we and the BPA were at loggerheads.
 
"They will keep an eye on us – if nothing comes of this, we will end up in an unproductive relationship."
The senior source added the force would not make any high-profile public apology: "There is no intention to stand in front of the television cameras and say 'Woe is us'."
 
The deal was only finalised in the week before Christmas after negotiations beginning last summer.

 

Ever since the 1999 Macpherson inquiry report found the Met institutionally racist after the bungled Stephen Lawrence murder investigation, Scotland Yard has struggled to convince its own ethnic minority officers that it is taking eradicating its own discrimination seriously.





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Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Economic Growth and Well Being


 

Consumerism has, as Huxley feared, changed all of us – we'd rather hop to a brave new world than rein in our spending

 

 

Who said this? "All the evidence shows that beyond the sort of standard of living which Britain has now achieved, extra growth does not automatically translate into human welfare and happiness." Was it a) the boss of Greenpeace, b) the director of the New Economics Foundation, or c) an anarchist planning the next climate camp? None of the above: d) the former head of the Confederation of British Industry, who currently runs the Financial Services Authority. In an interview broadcast last Friday, Lord Turner brought the consumer society's most subversive observation into the mainstream.
 
In our hearts most of us know it is true, but we live as if it were not. Progress is measured by the speed at which we destroy the conditions that sustain life. Governments are deemed to succeed or fail by how well they make money go round, regardless of whether it serves any useful purpose. They regard it as a sacred duty to encourage the country's most revolting spectacle: the annual feeding frenzy in which shoppers queue all night, then stampede into the shops, elbow, trample and sometimes fight to be the first to carry off some designer junk which will go into landfill before the sales next year. The madder the orgy, the greater the triumph of economic management.
 
As the Guardian revealed today, the British government is now split over product placement in television programmes: if it implements the policy proposed by Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary, plots will revolve around chocolates and cheeseburgers, and advertisements will be impossible to filter, perhaps even to detect. Bradshaw must know that this indoctrination won't make us happier, wiser, greener or leaner; but it will make the television companies £140m a year.

 

Though we know they aren't the same, we can't help conflating growth and wellbeing. Last week, for instance, the Guardian carried the headline "UK standard of living drops below 2005 level". But the story had nothing to do with our standard of living. Instead it reported that per capita gross domestic product is lower than it was in 2005. GDP is a measure of economic activity, not standard of living. But the terms are confused so often that journalists now treat them as synonyms. The low retail sales of previous months were recently described by this paper as "bleak" and "gloomy". High sales are always "good news", low sales are always "bad news", even if the product on offer is farmyard porn. I believe it's time that the Guardian challenged this biased reporting.

 
Those who still wish to conflate welfare and GDP argue that high consumption by the wealthy improves the lot of the world's poor. Perhaps, but it's a very clumsy and inefficient instrument. After some 60 years of this feast, 800 million people remain permanently hungry. Full employment is a less likely prospect than it was before the frenzy began.

 

In a new paper published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Sir Partha Dasgupta makes the point that the problem with gross domestic product is the gross bit. There are no deductions involved: all economic activity is accounted as if it were of positive value. Social harm is added to, not subtracted from, social good. A train crash which generates £1bn worth of track repairs, medical bills and funeral costs is deemed by this measure to be as beneficial as an uninterrupted service which generates £1bn in ticket sales.

 
Most important, no deduction is made to account for the depreciation of natural capital: the overuse or degradation of soil, water, forests, fisheries and the atmosphere. Dasgupta shows that the total wealth of a nation can decline even as its GDP is growing. In Pakistan, for instance, his rough figures suggest that while GDP per capita grew by an average of 2.2% a year between 1970 and 2000, total wealth declined by 1.4%. Amazingly, there are still no official figures that seek to show trends in the actual wealth of nations.

 

You can say all this without fear of punishment or persecution. But in its practical effects, consumerism is a totalitarian system: it permeates every aspect of our lives. Even our dissent from the system is packaged up and sold to us in the form of anti-consumption consumption, like the "I'm not a plastic bag", which was supposed to replace disposable carriers but was mostly used once or twice before it fell out of fashion, or like the lucrative new books on how to live without money.

 

George Orwell and Aldous Huxley proposed different totalitarianisms: one sustained by fear, the other in part by greed. Huxley's nightmare has come closer to realisation. In the nurseries of the Brave New World, "the voices were adapting future demand to future industrial supply. 'I do love flying,' they whispered, 'I do love flying, I do love having new clothes … old clothes are beastly … We always throw away old clothes. Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending'". Underconsumption was considered "positively a crime against society". But there was no need to punish it. At first the authorities machine-gunned the Simple Lifers who tried to opt out, but that didn't work. Instead they used "the slower but infinitely surer methods" of conditioning: immersing people in advertising slogans from childhood. A totalitarianism driven by greed eventually becomes self-enforced.

 
Let me give you an example of how far this self-enforcement has progressed. In a recent comment thread, a poster expressed an idea that I have now heard a few times. "We need to get off this tiny little world and out into the wider universe … if it takes the resources of the planet to get us out there, so be it. However we use them, however we utilise the energy of the sun and the mineral wealth of this world and the others of our planetary system, either we do use them to expand and explore other worlds, and become something greater than a mud-grubbing semi-sentient animal, or we die as a species."

 

This is the consumer society taken to its logical extreme: the Earth itself becomes disposable. This idea appears to be more acceptable in some circles than any restraint on pointless spending. That we might hop, like the aliens in the film Independence Day, from one planet to another, consuming their resources then moving on, is considered by these people a more realistic and desirable prospect than changing the way in which we measure wealth.

 
So how do we break this system? How do we pursue happiness and wellbeing rather than growth? I came back from the Copenhagen climate talks depressed for several reasons, but above all because, listening to the discussions at the citizens' summit, it struck me that we no longer have movements; we have thousands of people each clamouring to have their own visions adopted. We might come together for occasional rallies and marches, but as soon as we start discussing alternatives, solidarity is shattered by possessive individualism. Consumerism has changed all of us. Our challenge is now to fight a system we have internalised.




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