Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Greg Philo: Privatize the National Debt

Britain is the sixth richest nation in the world. Total personal wealth in the UK is £9 trillion, and the richest 10% of the British people—about a million wealthy families—own £4 trillion of it, with an average per rich family of £4 million. The bottom 50% of the British people own just 9% of the wealth, the least wealthy being the bottom 10% of households who are in debt—they owe more money than they own.

Yet we are in such a crisis, having emptied the treasury to prop up the banks, and to pay the £ million bonuses the parasitic banking community take whether we like it or not, that we are all to suffer the worst cuts in public services ever! The media sing in chorus “we are all in it together”, but does it seriously sound as though we are, with such a vast inequality of wealth distribution?

The economy has already recovered sufficiently for the banks to have started making obscene profits again, and to have already returned to giving themselves financial commendations in the shape of fatter bonuses than ever, and the country is already richer than it was before the financial crisis, despite the media bleating. Maybe it is because the economy meant is that very wealth I made account of in the paragraph above. With stock markets rising, banks making profits, cash bonuses and champagne eqally profusely flowing, the sector of the economy that covers the rich are indeed looking up, and the reason is that the rest of us are having to count the cost!

There is no popular mandate for Con-Dem policies that will radically reduce growth, put up unemployment and affect the bottom 6 million people hardest—those who have no wealth at all. The Con-Dems are doing this though their popularity is already steeply in decline, and Labour has already gone ahead of the other parties according to a recent poll. The consequence of what they are doing is likely to be serious social unrest. The British people are not passive and it is a myth that they will accept policies that they see as profoundly unfair. The consequences of unfair policies is revolution—as a minimum, mass demonstrations, strikes, popular unrest and perhaps rioting.

Professor Greg Philo of the Glasgow University Media Group says the answer is plain, and he has checked it out via public opinion surveys and interviews with wealthy people. He proposes a one-off tax of just 20% on the wealthy decile. This tax of 20% on the very richest people in Britain would raise £800 billion—a fifth of the total £4 trillion they own. That is enough pay off the national debt and dramatically reduce the deficit, since interest payments on the national debt are a large part of government spending.

Nor would this rich segment of society actually have to produce the money immediately, if at all! Voodoo economics? Not at all. If the richest 10% assume liability for the £ billion national debt, it would be cleared from the governments accounts, reducing the deficit instantly to a manageable size. That would instantly relieve the pressure on markets which would soar, and the stock and bond owners, including the banks would immediately be presented with remarkable gains which would go a long way to returning to them the money they have agreed to pay out. Indeed, they can pay their 20% tax in installments out of the earnings they would be making, and even if that were not sufficient to pay off all of their 20%, they could simply agree to pay it along with their death duty.

Philo's group commissioned a YouGov poll of over 2,000 people to test attitudes to the tax and found it was an extremely popular proposal. 74% of the population approved (44% strongly), and agreement was spread right through social groups. Only 10% did not approve. Those in the higher income brackets were more supportive than the less well paid of the wealthy class. They were the ones who realized the measure would turn out to be beneficial for them as well as the country, not merely in the immediate returns they would get, but also in their desire to keep society on an even keel. They knew that unrest, strikes and riots would reduce confidence and profits, and that the poor are the ultimate consumers, and stripping them of the little they have will just depress markets. Even if they were unable to recover all of the 20%, they knew they were wealthy enough not to actually miss the loss.

A problem for the British and US economies is that much of the nations' resources have been directed into inflated property values, which is where many of the bonuses ended up. Extra houses is buried money. It is not liquid and is inaccessible. The tax would re-circulating some of it once the government had no need to cut services, as public spending, stimulating growth. Unemployment resulting from the proposed cuts would be avoided, extra benefits would then also be avoided, and tax revenue would not fall.

At present, we have a lot of billionaires resident in the UK who pay no tax at all. There is quite a separate call for them to pay their just taxes. If people have substantial assets, want to live here and to be British, then they will have to pay their bit. The public will have little time for non-doms, exiles or what will be seen as unacceptable attempts at avoidance. This proposal is similar, but is a mere one off necessity. The Revenue offices know who have the wealth and collecting it ought not to be a problem. The main problem indeed is likely to be the extent of privatization of revenue collection. That, most sensible Britain’s will think, should not be in private hands. Already it has led to absurd mistakes and injustices, so it should be returned fully to the civil service.

The absurdity of privatizing many of our public services is itself a symptom of the desperate need for reliable sinks for the surplus capital swilling around the world. It should be used to put people into work, not to squeeze even more unneeded capital out of them.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The increasing commercialisation of science

The British Medical Journal reports that increasing commercialization of science is restricting access to vital scientific knowledge and delaying the progress of science. The scientific community is reacting to the increasing commercialization of science. Varuni de Silva and Raveen Hanwella, from the University of Colombo in Sri Lanka, argue that copyrighting or patenting medical scales, tests, techniques and genetic material, limits the level of public benefit from scientific discovery.

For example:

  • Many commonly used rating scales are under copyright and researchers have to pay for their use.
  • Extreme commercialization of science can also lead to patents on medical procedures and techniques. However, the American Medical Association recently concluded that it is unethical for physicians to seek, secure or enforce patents on medical procedures.
  • Some genetic tests also carry patents, which prevent other laboratories from doing the test for a lesser cost. Earlier this year, a New York court ruled that patents held by Myriad Genetics for the diagnosis of mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes—linked to breast and ovarian cancer—were unconstitutional and invalid.

The fundamental philosophy of Western science is sharing knowledge, which is why all genome sequences generated by the human genome project have been deposited into a public database freely accessible by anyone, while organizations such as the National Institute of Health and Wellcome Trust insist on open access to publication resulting from research funded by them.

While patenting is a useful tool for protecting investments in industry, the authors write:

We need to rethink its role in science. Although those who consider science as a commodity are willing to invest in research and development, much medical research is still carried out by non profit organizations using public money. It is only right that such knowledge is freely shared. This is possible because academic scientists still consider the prestige of discovery more important than monetary reward.

Terrorism academics tell us what we already ought to know

Physorg reports that experts on terrorism are writing theses and mathematical tracts to tell us what we already know. Philip Vos Fellman, a Lecturer at Suffolk University, Boston, uses network analysis, agent based simulation, and dynamic NK Boolean fitness landscapes, whatever they are, to try and understand the complexities of terrorist networks. He wants to know how “long term operational and strategic planning might be undertaken so that tactics which appear to offer immediate impact are avoided if they cause little long term damage to the terrorist network”. It means he hopes to avoid a load of wasted effort!

His computer simulations of terrorist networks suggest that it is not worth the effort to target small cells within a large network. Effort should be on the hubs of the networks. From all this mathematics and computer wizardry, Vos Fellman discovers:

If you are not focused on the top problems, then considerations of opportunity cost suggest that it may be better to do nothing rather than to waste valuable resources on exercises which are doomed to fail.

Taking out the hub, like the ancients trying to take out the king or the general in battle, induces the collapse of the network around it, leaving the individual cells or soldiers isolated!

It seems that terrorist networks are “typical of the structures encountered in the study of conflict, in that they possess multiple, irreducible levels of complexity and ambiguity”. Moreover they are covert!

Key elements may remain hidden for extended periods of time, and the network itself is dynamic… A dynamic network contrasts starkly with the structure of the armed forces or homeland security systems, which tend to be centralized and hierarchical.

So all that computing and mathematical modeling tells us what ancient generals took for granted, that conflicts are rarely simple, that terrorists operate in secret, and you kill the commander to win the battle. Amazing!

Elsewhere, a Dr Gill of University College Dublin, Ireland, completed his doctorate showing that suicide bombings have become the ultimate smart bomb in the militant groups repertoire! Most suicide bombers today are male Muslims under 35. They typically cause more human and structural damage than conventional bombings, and a successful suicide bombing may also increase the membership of a militant organization or increase wider constituent support for the organizations campaign, dontcha know! He reckons that the IRA would have been using suicide bombers had it not first decided to settle for electoralism, when they realized that suicide bombing might not have been popular among Catholics as well as Protestants. The same happened with Hamas and Hezbollah. As they became involved in elections, they decreased their number of violent attacks. For his profound efforts, Dr Gill is now at the International Center for the Study of Terrorism (ICST) at Pennsylvania State University.

Suicide bombers range from 15 to 70 years old, are both well educated and uneducated, male and female, from all socio economic classes, Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim, religious and secular, single and married, white and black. Consequently, counter terrorism should not bother trying to “profile” suicide bombers, and instead move towards a model of the structural and situational processes that facilitate and encourage the recruitment of suicide bombers. Does he actually mean we should try to find out why they are doing it? That really is revolutionary, but his new US employers are hardly likely to like it.

If people feel that there is a viable alternative to protracted violence, they may be more willing to denounce acts of suicide bombing. Opinion polls in Palestine show that when there was a peace plan on the table, support for suicide bombings decreased. The perceived level of threat in the local community then eased. Anti terrorism policies should focus on this, not on “Gung Ho”, “over the top” militarism which have never worked in such wars over many decades—rather showing that these wars are not meant to be won! They are there to be publicized to domestic audiences as a constant threat, to justify military waste that benefits only a narrow but rich caste in US society.

A way of decreasing the threat of suicide bombing is peaceful negotiation with all the insurgent groups. Excluding some causes bitterness, and makes that group more likely to continue the bombing at a level meant to convey a message of their determination.

So, we have discovered that profiling terrorism is a waste of time, we ought to want to know why people are blowing themselves up, and we should try to negotiate with them, presumably, if we are serious about stopping the attacks, by trying to solve the root problem. Amazing!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Church’s Koran Burning will Endanger US Troops

Afghans demonstrate against US Koran burning
Afghans demonstrate against US Koran burning
Reuters, the BBC, Voice of America and thousands of other media sources reveal that the commander of the 150,000 strong US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, says an obscure American church’s plan to burn Korans on September 11 could put the lives of US troops in Afghanistan in danger, and damage the overall war effort in that country. The US embassy in Kabul issued a statement condemning the plans. It said it was deeply concerned about the deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups, and condemned the plan as an “act of disrespect” toward Islam. General Petraeus said in a statement to US media:

It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort. It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world, we are engaged with the Islamic community.
The planned burning of the Moslem holy book could be used to stoke sentiment against the US, not only in Afghanistan, but across the Moslem world. The White House and Nato have also expressed concern over the plan. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said:

Any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.
The Nato chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, attacked the church’s plans, telling reporters that burning Korans violated the Nato alliance’s values. AFP quoted him as saying:

There is a risk that it may also have a negative impact on security for our troops.
Pastor Terry Jones, of the Gainsville, Florida, Dove World Outreach Center, a small evangelical church, plans to put copies of the holy book in a bonfire to mark this week’s anniversary of the 9/11, 2001 attacks. The church has a right to do so under the US constitution’s First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech. Authorities in Gainesville are preparing special security measures to prevent trouble at the event by the church, which has about 30 members and calls itself a “New Testament, Charismatic, Non-Denominational Church”. The city’s mayor and police department repeated appeals to Jones call off the Koran burning. They warned that while his First Amendment constitutional rights guaranteed freedom of speech, assembly and religion, he would violate city ordinances if he went ahead without proper authorization. Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe condemned what he called the church’s “offensive behavior”. Mayor Lowe said on his Facebook site:

The Dove World Outreach Center is a tiny, fringe group and an embarrassment to our community. They are opposed to the true character of Gainesville.
City officials ahave denied his request for a burn permit.

Mr Jones said he takes General Petraeus’ warning seriously. He said the church was praying on the matter but they had “firmly made up our minds”, adding:

How long do we back down?

We must send a clear message to the radical element of Islam
Mr Jones’s Florida unknown church is reported to have 50 members. Its incendiary plans haven’t emerged out of nowhere. 53 per cent of Americans view Islam unfavourably, and only 42% favourably. American Moslems say they feel more isolated than at any time since the 2001 attacks. Its website labels Islam “violent and oppressive” and has prompted protests elsewhere. Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets in the capital, Kabul, to protest against the plan, chanting “Death to America” as they rallied outside a mosque, burning an effigy of Pastor Jones. Similar protests were earlier held outside the US embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Claims that US soldiers have desecrated the Koran in both Afghanistan and Iraq have caused bloodshed in the past, and this new controversy comes just when religious fanatics in the US are worked up over a proposal to build an Islamic cultural centre two blocks from Ground Zero, site of the 9/11 attacks, in New York. Lives were lost in Afghan riots in 2005 when Newsweek told that US interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet. The story was false and was retracted, after the damage was done. In 2008, protests in Afghanistan followed a US soldier deployed to Iraq shooting up a copy of the Koran.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Why Do Americans think Obama is a Moslem?

A Pew Research Center poll in August 2010 found that 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Moslem—up from 11 percent in March 2009—even though he’s a practicing Christian, and the poll was conducted before Obama’s recent explanation that the US constitution supports freedom of belief, and that must apply to Moslems who want to rebuild an Islamic center which includes a mosque near New York’s Ground Zero, just as there are Christian churches and Jewish synagogues nearby.

So, what motivates Americans to believe President Obama is a Moslem? Spee Kosloff, a Michigan State University visiting professor of psychology, and colleagues suggests it is not just simple ignorance, it is because other clues remind them Obama is different from them. The obvious one is that he is the first black president and he is educated, but also that his father was a Moslem, and he lived with his anthropologist mother a while in Moslem Indonesia.

Kosloff argues judgments like these do not follow and are stimulated by “irresponsible” media that perpetuate the lies for less than honorable reasons.

Careless or biased media outlets are largely responsible for the propagation of these falsehoods, which catch on like wildfire. And then social differences can motivate acceptance of these lies.

The MU scientists started their study before the 2008 US presidential election, because the candidates were constantly being smeared by their opponents. It’s the first comprehensive experimental study of the psychological factors that motivate Americans to believe lies.

In four separate experiments, three before the election and one after, the researchers looked at both conscious and unconscious acceptance of political smears by mostly white, non-Moslem college students. For the conscious trials the participants were shown a false blog report arguing that Obama is a Moslem, or a socialist, or that John McCain is senile. The unconscious trials involved gauging how rapidly subjects could identify words meant as smears such as "Moslem" or "turban" after Obama’s name was presented subliminally. They found:

  1. Initially, among those who supported McCain, 56% guessed Obama was a Moslem. When they were asked to fill out a demographic card asking for their own race, the percentage jumped to 77%. So, simply thinking about a social category that differentiated participants from Obama was enough to get them to believe the smear.
  2. Participants undecided about the candidates said there was a 43% chance McCain was senile—a number that increased to 73% when asked to list their own age on a card.
  3. Undecided participants said there was a 25 percent chance Obama was a socialist—a number that jumped to 62 percent when they considered race, even though being a socialist has nothing to do with race, the respondents irrationally tied the two together.

The research suggests that the president’s unpopularity fuels American’s readiness to accept untrue rumors. People felt Obama is not on their side, a feeling stimulated by Republican and right wing authoritarian Christian talk show hosts in the media, and so they question his democratic stance and his religion. Kosloff said:

Unfortunately, in America, many people dislike Moslems, so they’ll label Obama as Moslem when they feel different from him.

It is the adult version of “Fatso”, “Frogface” and “Foureyes”—or more pertinently, “Nigger”—calling people names. Sadly, name calling is much more serious among political candidates who do not measure up to the authoritarian values of the Protestant moral majority. The Republicans’ childish but venomous Christian propaganda machine can make it highly uncomfortable for anyone it chooses to denigrate. They prefer their authoritarianism, which is not dissimilar to that of Hitler and the Nazis, to the tolerance the US constitution tried to enshrine. The trouble is that these right wing, so called, Christians know neither anything about Christ’s actual teaching, nor anything much about the formation of the US constitution. So, it does all boil down to ignorance in the end—wilful ignorance in the US!

Like the unwashed masses living twenty to a cellar room in nineteenth century Britain, the ignorant Christian masses of modern America consider themselves to be blessed with God’s imperial majesty—that is that their sorry personal condition is alleviated by the imperial conquests of their superior nation. It is all temporary. Once the Moslems conquered half the known world!