The Markets of Islam.

March 12, 2014

Source:  Wikimedia Commons. Author: Adam Jones, Ph.D.  [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Adam Jones, Ph.D. [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

It would be fair to say that Islam benefits from incorporating earlier traditions and concepts from the cultures that surrounded the early Muslim community, at its conception. Indeed, the Qur’an includes several stories borrowed from earlier gnostic Christian texts, whilst certain practices and rituals borrowed from the Pagan culture from which Islam sprang. The general explanation is that the Muhammad of Islamic tradition was influenced by a mix of cultures and sects during his years as a trader. Islam most certainly benefited from incorporating surrounding traditions into its framework.

So with that being said, one must also ask, if Islam benefited from trade links with different cultures during its early years, what ideological benefits did those cultures obtain from Islam? I would argue that the development of capitalism owes much to Arab culture at the dawn of Islam.

According to Islamic tradition, from his early 20s to his death, Muhammad was a man of commerce and trade. This wasn’t unique to Muhammad. Mecca under the Quraysh thrived on markets – the spice trade of the 6th century helped hugely, as did the accumulation of interest later outlawed by Islam – mainly unregulated and often chaotic due to lack of strong political or judicial protections. Nonetheless, the location of Mecca and the importance of the Ka’bah for pilgrims, rendered it a great environment for trade. Especially true, because inter-tribal fighting was prohibited in this commercial centre, making it a safe place to do business, whilst worshipping. Mecca’s mix of both faith with the Ka’bah, and commerce with the market, is a mixture that Islam would appropriate and make its own.

Indeed, Islamic tradition holds that Muhammad himself married Khadija; an incredibly successful merchant famed for investing in trade delegations, including one in which Muhammad brought back twice the return she had expected on her investment. Muhammad understood how to make money, how to get along in business, and he understood investment opportunities when he saw them. By the time of his death, he was incredibly wealthy.

His business character aside, Muhammad’s economic pronouncements during his time in Medina provided a framework conducive for business and incentivising further trade in the region, whilst Europe languished in a hopeless feudal dark age. Hadith supposedly collected by Abu Dawud in book 013, Hadith Number 3067, gives us an example of early property rights:

“Narated By Sa’id ibn Zayd : The Prophet (pbuh) said: If anyone brings barren land into cultivation, it belongs to him, and the unjust vein has no right.”

– The trustworthiness of this hadith attributed to Muhammad is irrelevant. What is relevant, is that this Hadith was collected in the 9th century, and so it is clear that the concept of property rights over laboured land existed at that period of time in the Middle East. Property rights would be a concept progressed beautifully by the Leveller movement during the English civil war centuries later. It would also become a concept that Locke elaborated upon, and would later define the nature of capitalism and its criticisms.

As well as property rights, one particular Hadith also collected by Abu Dawud gives us a taste of Adam Smith’s later ‘invisible hand’ metaphor:

“one person came to the Prophet and requested him to fix prices in the market but he refused. Another man came and made the same request; the Prophet said it is Allah who pushes prices up or down, I do not want to face Him with a burden of injustice”

– Here, it is quite obvious that debate around interfering with market forces was being had, in the 9th century. For 9th Century Muslim Arabs, price rises and falls were a natural process, and that human interference was a ‘burden of injustice’. It isn’t a relatively new discussion. Later, in the 13th Century, the Hanbali scholar and author, Imam Shamsuddeen Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi wrote:

“Two facts can be derived from the hadith. First, the Prophet did not control prices despite people’s pressure on him which should suggest that it is disallowed. If it were lawful the Prophet would have yielded to their demand. The second point is that the Prophet equated price control with injustice (zulm) and injustice is forbidden. The goods whose price was sought to be controlled were property of a man (trader). And that man cannot be prevented from selling his goods at an agreed upon price by the two parties, i.e. the buyer and the seller”

“In a way the control of price may give rise to price rise. The traders from outside will not bring their goods in a place where they would be forced to sell them at a price against their wish. The local traders would hide the goods instead of selling. People would get less than their need, so they would offer a higher price to obtain the goods.
Both parties (sellers and buyers) would lose; the sellers because they were prevented from selling their goods, and the buyers because they were prevented from fulfilling their needs. So this act will be termed as forbidden”

– By the 13th century, Islamic scholars were debating the economic problems associated with price fixing, rather than just in relation to faith and Godly demands. For this, they were relying on hadith as their base. Again, whether Muhammad actually said what is claimed in hadith is irrelevant. What is relevant is that economic theory was being debated – in relation to faith, and justice – by at least the 13th century, with its origin in at least 9th century Arabia.

Relating to market pricing, and also in the 13th century, the Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah wrote:

“If desire for goods increases while its availability decreases, its price rises. On the other hand, if availability of the good increases and the desire for it decreases, the price comes down.”

– We begin to see that concepts inherent to capitalism were being debated and practiced centuries prior to early capitalist structures on the Mediterranean coast in Europe.

Alongside the concept of property rights, and the nature of prices, we are also presented with the rules Muhammad supposedly laid down for the creation of the market in Medina. Al-Samhùdfs ‘History of Medina’, gives us a glimpse of that market:

‘Umar b. Shabba transmitted on the authority of ‘Atâ’ b. Yasár: When the Messenger of God wanted to establish for Medina a market, he came to the market of the Qaynuqa’, then he went to the market of Medina, stamped on it with his foot and declared: “This is your market, let its space not be diminished and let no tax be taken in it.”

– Long before the advent of Capitalism in Europe, the middle east – whether from Muhammad’s mouth or not – had a concept of individual property rights, free market prices, and incentives for business growth with the story of the tax-less market in Medinah. These were all concepts being discussed and tested in early Islamic Arabia. It is no surprise that Europe’s early capitalist centres – Venice especially – had strong trade links with the middle east, and were thus exposed to the Protestant work ethic and growing sense of individual freedom largely based in northern Protestant Europe, but also the frameworks developed for trade in Islamic societies centuries earlier.

Further, Abd al-Malik’s reign as Caliph – an indescribably important Caliph, responsible for much of what we know of Islam today, I wrote on here – saw the establishment of the dinar in previously independent currency areas, and thus began an era of monetary policy. Later came deficit financing, and early forms of savings and checking accounts. Modern principles of market economies, were developed within the markets of Islam.

This naturally leads to the question; how is it that the Middle East is now struggling economically, if the religion that it is based on seems just as suited, if not more so to capitalism than its Christian counterpart? Economic historian Angus Maddison points out that in 1000AD the Middle East’s global share of GDP was 10% to Europe’s 9%. But by 1800AD the Middle East’s share of GDP fell to 2%, with Europe’s rising to 22%. Life expectancy in the middle east is 8.5 years shorter than Europe, North America and East Asia. Indeed, in the 19th century global trade increased 64 fold, compared to the Ottomans, for whom it increased just 10 to 16 fold. What happened?

It is true that western economic development relied heavily on slavery at its foundation. But, so did the Ottoman Empire, and most Arab societies. At Istanbul in the early 1600s, one fifth of the population were slaves. According to Robert Davis, professor of history at Ohio State University, around 1.25 million Europeans were captured and enslaved as a result of the Barbary raids by largely Arab and Berber peoples. According to Britannica.com:

“Slaves were owned in all Islamic societies, both sedentary and nomadic, ranging from Arabia in the centre to North Africa in the west and to what is now Pakistan and Indonesia in the east. Some Islamic states, such as the Ottoman Empire, the Crimean Khanate, and the Sokoto caliphate, must be termed slave societies because slaves there were very important numerically as well as a focus of the polities’ energies.”

“Approximately 18 million Africans were delivered into the Islamic trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trades between 650 and 1905.”

– Muslims were imperialist too. Arab towns and ports involved in the slave trade included Zabīd in Yemen, Muscat in Oman, and Aden in Yemen. Indeed, as late as 1963 the population of Saudi Arabia included around 300,000 slaves. Slavery also helped to build the power of the Chinese economy. Korea enslaved people. Slaves existed in India. And so, we must look to other sources for information why the Arab world started to decline economically.

Several theories persist – western imperialism being the most often suggested – though I am inclined to accept Timur Kuran’s argument in his wonderful book: “The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East“. In it, Kuran argues that whilst this early form of Islamic proto-capitalism benefited early Muslims immensely for centuries following Muhammad’s death – the system was far more advanced than at the same point in time in Europe – it later became anchored to very dogmatic faith-based restrictions from Islamic jurisprudence of the middle ages that simply went unchallenged. And so as gradual liberation and evolution of market forces from state power in Europe – ironically, utilising methods cultivated by Arabs – gave the west a steady advantage, Islamic societies in the middle east – despite having clear advantages through past innovations – began to stagnate and fall behind due to a failure to modernise and utilise productive resources.

Kuran points to Islamic law governing business partnerships and inheritance for two examples of the more dogmatic ideological approach Islamic societies enforced through institutions. Kuran does not suggest that Islam itself is incompatible with modern liberal economies, simply that institutions developed – some much later – that severely restricted growth, and that those structures remained unchallenged. Whilst those laws and institutions had their benefits originally – they were particularly egalitarian whilst at the same time promoting innovative commerce and sophisticated partnerships for the time – they later began to hold back innovation with their failure to modernise, whilst Europe was experimenting with far more complex business frameworks.

Kuran notes that during the middle ages, Islamic jurisprudence decreed that business partnerships automatically disbanded the moment a partner died, regardless of how well that venture was doing. Kuran says:

“Active partners carried full liability. Also, an Islamic partnership lacked entity shielding: any partner could force its dissolution unilaterally, and its assets were exposed to demands from third parties. The death of a partner terminated the partnership automatically, giving heirs an immediate claim on a share of the assets; all surviving members incurred costs in the process of settlements. Moreover, the number of heirs could be large, because Islam’s inheritance law assigns mandatory shares to designated relatives of the decedent.”

– This meant that partnerships lasted very little time, were painfully insufficient and institutionally restricted from long term growth. There was just no framework for the development of modern, long lasting businesses and corporations that emerged in the west. This structure in the Middle East remained largely untouched right up until the 19th Century.

It must be said that this is a very quick summary of Kuran’s book. He elaborates and articulates the point far better than I ever could. I would strongly recommend getting a copy for a deeper explanation of the connection between Islamic jurisprudence in the middle ages, and the economic structures built around it.

The west’s enlightenment era philosophers on both social and economic theory – like Locke and Smith – seemingly took ideas already long in circulation – like property rights – developed them further, and structured a wonderful concept of individual civil and economic rights from that base. It took two revolutions in France and the US to begin that huge social and economic transformation. This was the key to the explosion of economic growth in Europe and the west. The separation of church and state, liberation of market forces, secular democratic protections, gender, race, and sexuality equality, and the limited power of the state over the rights and freedoms of the individual combined to give western economies far more room to innovate and grow. Secular democratic institutions have the remarkable quality of constantly reviewing social issues and updating accordingly; a quality lacking when a state and economy are under the control of one prevailing ideology.

As some largely Islamic countries now begin to embrace those modern concepts, invest in infrastructure, and liberalise socially and economically – Tunisia is a good example – I have no doubt that it will unleash innovation and creativity on a grand scale again, benefiting the entire planet.

It is easy in the west for us to overlook the contribution of Arab Muslim theorists throughout the ages on the development of structures we now take for granted. Many Arab economic theorists were centuries ahead of their European counterparts. Equally, it seems just as easy for Arab Muslims – particularly Islamists – to dismiss the developments – both socially and economically – since the days of the Caliphates, as a product of the big evil imperial west existing only to conquer ‘Muslim lands’. I would argue that there needs to be a systematic change to the prevailing narrative in so much as it currently seems to place notions of equal rights, secularism, and market liberalisation as ‘western values’ rather than universal. This naturally then leads to both Muslims and non-Muslims extolling the equally as misguided presumption that Islam itself is incapable of modernising and liberalising. It is a defensive reaction from both sides. This needs to be addressed, because it seems to me that equal protections and individual liberties manifested as free expression, the right to worship according to one’s own personal conscience, to associate, to trade, to love, and to pursue happiness regardless of gender, race, belief, or sexuality without oppression from any exclusive ideological principles, are universal principles that benefit all.


Capitalism and Language

August 7, 2013

It is impossible to go a day or two without being presented with language that means very little, whilst appearing to mean a lot. It gives the appearance of some sort of professionalism, but that is all it is; appearance. It exists in its own World, somewhat divorced from reality. It perhaps mimics notions of professional dress codes; professional hair cuts; making sure tattoos aren’t on display; all the signs of modern day lifeless ‘professionalism’. It is all appearance, with very little meaning behind it. It is a religion unto itself. Allow me to give you some examples I once noted down having seen on a company mission statement:

“Our team works to prioritise mission-critical web-readiness, leveraging cross-platform web services.”

– I have studied this wording for quite some time, and I’m still unable to tell you what it means. I think it means; “We update our website a lot.

Orwell once took this beautiful line from Ecclesiastes:

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

– And transformed it into modern, business-English:

“Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”

If we take a look at language we’re so used to hearing from the business community, from politicians, and from those who are speaking from a position of considerable privilege, we can easily note that the rhetoric tends to reflect the prevailing social and economic centres of power, used – among other things – to water down injustices within that particular system. Words and phrases are used to subtly promote the prevailing structure. The Liberal Democrats have taken to using the word “fair” to describe policies that do not fix inherent problems (like housing shortages) but do such untold damage to those who at the bottom, that repeating the word “fair” over and over seems like nothing more than an insecure exercise in trying to convince themselves of what they’re saying.

Conservatives are wonderful at claiming to be a Party willing to take “tough decisions“. As if that’s an inherently good thing. As if “tough” translates to “right“. It ignores ideology, if you claim the decisions were tough. You might envisage the millionaire Chancellor weeping as he signs off on cuts to disability funds for the most vulnerable, as if his anti-social security ideology isn’t a factor. It’s no different to Republicans in the US claiming it a tough decision to strip women of reproductive rights. Or slave owners in the Antebellum South claiming it’s a tough decision to whip their slaves. Those with the privilege do not get to claim a decision that perpetuates that pivilege, whilst oppressing those already oppressed, is “tough“.

In the business world, “End of play” suggests a sort of child-like fun that you must be having. ‘Flexible accumulation‘ used to suggest an inherent and unavoidable part of the system that means of production, of distribution, and so labourforce (people) are in fact all unimportant in themselves – secondary – to the most important aspect of life; the accumulation of capital (which, oddly, is deemed a natural ‘good’). And so as language analysts suggest; if workers are convinced of their own nature as ‘flexible’ they are more likely to accept that their jobs are part of that ‘flexible‘ cycle, willing to work longer hours for less. If you tell a worker he or she is ‘expendable‘ or ‘worthy, until the boss deems otherwise‘, you’re unlikely to inspire much loyalty (a loyalty, the boss isn’t obliged to reciprocate). ‘Flexible accumulation’ is a very subtle threat, hidden behind more creative language. Just today, we read that the Institute of Directors has responded angrily to suggestions that zero-hour contracts be banned, insisting that it risks the UKs ‘flexible’ labour market. Another way to describe a ‘flexible‘ labour market, is job insecurity. According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine; anxiety, depression, and poor health increase dramatically in those people who consider their job to be insecure. This, to the Institute of Directors, is an unimportant consequence of a “flexible labour market“.

Burst bubble” denotes something out of anyone’s control, and so those who were at the very centre of the financial crash are exonerated by a linguistic con-trick. Those who suffered the most from the impact of the “burst bubble” tend to be those with very little political or economic power, and so it is easy to transfer the blame from those at the centre of the bubble, to those who were reliant on the bubble. The rule of divide and conquer. Ensure those on incredibly low wages, with a falling standard of living, and insecure jobs (flexible workforce) believe it is the fault of those who are poorer than they, rather than those with the power and the wealth. The poor must be ‘scroungers’ or they are ‘leechers’ or they are ‘Welfare dependent’ or ‘lazy’ or ‘immigrants taking our jobs’.

We are bombarded with how ‘the markets‘ will react, to any social or economic change. ‘The markets‘ are treated as a mysterious, God-like entity that must be obeyed. A new Theology. Milton Friedman appears like a Prophet promising “freedom” but delivering destitution. The ‘Market‘ God is treated as if infallible. As if perfect rather than what they actually are; indifferent, amoral. For example, if I were to drive my car a mile away to the shop, I must buy a car, I must buy insurance, I must pay my road tax, I must buy petrol, I might choose to buy a new CD for the car, or an air freshener. Doubtlessly, driving a mile down the road to the shop contributes to the growth of ‘the markets’. Or, I could choose to walk the mile to the shop. I am benefitting the environment this way, it is far more healthy for me to do this, and yet, I contribute nothing to the growth of ‘the markets’ this way. In this example, my health and the health of the environment are less important, than pollution and laziness. The Institute of Directors, who care little for the health of humanity, would be thoroughly unimpressed if I were to walk to work. But for the thriving of Capitalism, especially after such a risky crises, the language used to portray ‘the markets’ must be positive and lofty at all times, whilst those that fall victim to the insidious side of market forces, portrayed as weak, lazy, and a burden. By dehumanising the most vulnerable, people are able to turn their heads when harsh economic violence is conducted against them.

We are told that policy must be directed to benefit those we now consider “job creators“. They are our saviours. We are indebited to those people. As if their money is how wealth is created. As if they don’t just ride the tide of demand. We have called it supply-side, we have called it trickle-down, now the rhetoric has moved on to labeling anyone with money as a ‘job creator’. We are told that if we do not cut taxes for the richest, whilst slashing social programmes that those taxes fund, the ‘job creators‘ will all leave. And so, they must be given the biggest Welfare payment of all; a massive tax cut. This is the real something-for-nothing society, because the obligation for someone who has used a well funded public system and social security safety net and framework in order to gain great wealth, to pay back into that system in order for the next generation to be afforded the same opportunities, is cut the moment a government give into the threat of leaving if taxed. The poorest do not have that option.

Interestingly, through all the media hype and demands of “catching” Welfare cheats, alongside exaggerated shock stories of parents claiming millions in Welfare, for their 40 children, in their 140 bedroom house, and their Spanish beach home, all paid for by your hard work!!!!!…. only £1.2bn was lost to Welfare fraud in 2010/11, which is 0.8% of the total benefit expenditure. If the total benefit expenditure was a £1 coin, less than 1p would be lost to fraud. By contrast Vodafone (that’s one company, not an entire Nation) was allowed to write off its tax bill of £6bn. That’s six times more than that lost to Welfare fraud across the whole country. Rather coincidentally, the head of tax policy at Vodafone is a man named John Connors. Connors used to work at HMRC and enjoys a close relationship with current head of HMRC, David Hartnett. They go for cosy lunches together, and then they casually wipe £6bn from the Nation’s second largest company on the Stock market’s tax bill. Unsurprisingly, Hartnett is the most wined and dined civil servant in the country, by corporations. I’m sure it’s just because he’s such a nice guy. Yes. That must be it.

The Conservative Party does not like talking about individual cases of those suffering intensely due to Tory budget cuts. Iain Duncan Smith, when presented with families struggling to live, started his answer with “this is typical of the BBC“.
In March 2012, according to figures by the Department for Communities and Local Government, local authorities registered 48,510 households as homeless, representing a 14% leap. The largest in nine years. A report from the same department also showed the number of people sleeping rough had jumped by a fifth, in a year.
Leslie Morphy the Chief Exec. of Crises said:

“Our worst fears are coming to pass. We face a perfect storm of economic downturn, rising joblessness and soaring demand for limited affordable housing combined with government policy to cut housing benefit plus local cuts to homelessness services.”

Similarly, the Chief Exec. of Shelter, Campbell Rob said:

“These figures are a shocking reminder of the divide between the housing haves and have nots in this country,”

Similarly, Matt Harrison, interim chief executive of Homeless Link said:

“This comes at a time when reduced funding has already hit services and further cuts are expected this year. Our research indicates that there are now fewer projects, fewer beds and more of our members are turning people away because they are full.”

– With overwhelming evidence, and statements from those whose lives are dedicated to helping the most vulnerable, wishing to highlight the situation, you’d think the government might firstly accept their is a problem given that the 7th largest economy in the World has a rising homeless population, and secondly, set out just what the government intends to do about this horrendous situation. Instead, Grant Shapps said:

“the debt-laden economy we inherited is leaving a legacy of hard-up households across the country”.

During the Mick Philpott murder case, George Osborne echoed the sentiments of the right winged Tabloid press, when he hinted that the murder of children, could in any way be linked to the concept of Welfare. Social security under attack politically, needed a rhetorical bedfellow, and it was handed it with the Philpott case. Tory Councillor John Bell, ran with this:
Untitled-6
– The manipulative nature of the rhetoric is evident when we note how the Daily Mail dealt with the case, in its story:

“Michael Philpott is a perfect parable for our age: His story shows the pervasiveness of evil born of welfare dependency. The trial spoke volumes about the sheer nastiness of the individuals involved. But it also lifted the lid on the bleak and often grotesque world of the welfare benefit scroungers — of whom there are not dozens, not hundreds, but tens of thousands in our country.“

– The suggestion being that there are two groups of people in the UK; those not on any form of Welfare, and those on Welfare who are also potential child killers. The Daily Mail headline that day, above a picture of Mick Philpott was simple:

“Vile Product of Welfare UK.

– Yet, when Stephen Seddon murdered his parents for his £230,000 inheritance, the Mail did not suggest this was the ‘vile product‘ of the concept of inheritance. When the Mail editors got hold of the Philpott story, their main objective was to further the demonisation of Welfare. Nothing more. Any tenuous link was going to be drawn. Capitalism, that inevitably leads to the necessity of social security is not to blame, for the Daily Mail. That social security itself, is to blame.

When the Shropshire millionaire Hugh McFall murdered his wife and daughter, the Mail said:

“Detectives believe the mild-mannered family man snapped as he struggled to cope with spiralling debts…..Last night his sister Claire Rheade said: ‘It’s unbelievable – he doted on his family, he would never harm them. ‘He was a gentle man who wouldn’t hurt a fly.’ ”

– Note the rhetorical differences.
The Philpott case: “evil“, “sheer nastiness“, “grotesque“, “scroungers“, “bleak”.
The McFall case: “mild-mannered“, “family man“, “doted on his family“, “never harm them“, “gentle man“, “wouldn’t hurt a fly“. They mention his “personal spiralling debts” as a catalyst. Here, they limit responsibility to he alone. They could call the McFall murders a “vile product of Capitalism“. They don’t.

To water down injustices within the system, whilst promoting the prevailing order, it is necessary to inflict linguistic damage upon those considered ‘outside’ of the system. Those who lose out. Those on the receiving end of the injustices, because to face up to the injustices puts those who gain the most, in a threatened situation. Marx was convinced that the injustices would eventually manifest in the collective consciousness of the oppressed, which in turn, would lead to revolution. Marx faltered in his underestimating oppressive discourse and how it becomes so ingrained into the social fabric (especially if it is repeated over generations) so as to threaten opposition by stigmatising it as much as possible. It represents a narrowing of both social, and political discourse. You can usually tell just who benefits the most from the prevailing rhetoric of the day, because they’re the ones with the power.


Communism and Homosexuality

July 19, 2013

The gay marriage bill passed the House of Lords successfully this week, effectively legalising marriage for same-sex couples in the UK. For most of us, this is a wonderful step forward for human progress and equality. For a select melodramatic few, the World is about to end. One of the many charges against those who support same-sex marriage, is…. well… I’ll allow these people to gleefully inform you:

commie
gay
Untitled-2
Article here.

So, I thought I’d write on the subject of Communism, and homosexuality, in order to dispel this – easy to dispel – right winged myth, that same sex marriage, can in any way, be linked to Communism. As it turns out, a lot has been written on the Soviet Union and homosexuality, and rather in depth the subject is too. So I will briefly summarise the research here.

We must of course cast ourselves back to the very foundation of the concept of Communism, and its founders, to base our understanding of Communism and Homosexuality. The 19th century that Karl Marx inhabited was a very homophobic century, and this homophobia didn’t escape Communists of the time. Actually, much of the complaints of modern day homophobes on the Right – conspiracy against the State – can be found in the writings of early Communist. Engels himself linked homosexuality, with paedophilia – a tactic used by both Stalin in the 1930s, and today on the right wing – as a reason to discriminate heavily against the gay community. On June 22, 1869, Engels wrote to Marx:

“That is really a very odd ‘Urning’ you just sent me. Those are just unveilings being extremely against nature. The pederasts begin counting themselves and find that they are forming a power within the state. Only an organisation was missing, but according to this it seems to be already existing in the secret. And as they are counting so important men within all the old parties and even in the new ones, from Rösing to Schweitzer, their victory is inevitable. ‘Guerre aux cons, paix aux trous de cul’ it will go now. It is only a luck that we personally are too old to have to fear, this party gaining victory, to have to pay bodily tribute to the victors. But the young generation! By the way, only possible in Germany that a guy like that appears, translates the dirt into a theory and invites: introite, and so on. ”

– Here, Engels is talking about Karl Ulrichs, the early gay rights pioneer. Ulrichs sent a letter to Marx asking for support from the Communists. Marx asked Engels for his opinion. Engels writes back rather unequivocally. The word ‘urning’ in the opening sentence, is a word meaning the body of a man with the mind and lusts of a woman; a man attracted to other men. ‘Against nature’, ‘forming a power within the state’, ‘existing in secret’, ‘translates dirt into a theory’. The homophobic diatribe by Engels is reminiscent of 21st Century conservatives like the blogger above who is convinced same-sex unions are a coup by a well organised group to destroy the state as we know it.

Whilst homosexuality was technically legalised in the early Soviet Union (not purposely, but as a result of the overturning of all Tsarist laws), it only applied to Russia itself. The nations surrounding Russia, within the Soviet Union had extremely strict anti-homosexuality laws. There was no big Communist push to liberalise sexuality. There was no suggestion that homosexuality could be used to destroy Western civilisation, that it was an intrinsic materialist device to overthrow Capitalist society. In fact, homosexuality was a crime in Azerbaijan, in Turkmenistan, in Uzbekistan. In 1930, only 13 years after the founding of the Soviet Union, a Soviet medical official named Sereisky penned the Soviet’s new stance on homosexuality:

“Soviet legislation does not recognize so-called crimes against morality. Our laws proceed from the principle of protection of society and therefore countenance punishment only in those instances when juveniles and minors are the objects of homosexual interest … while recognizing the incorrectness of homosexual development … our society combines prophylactic and other therapeutic measures with all the necessary conditions for making the conflicts that afflict homosexuals as painless as possible and for resolving their typical estrangement from society within the collective.”

– The passage here officially condemns homosexuality as a crime against morality, that it is a threat to children, and that it is outside the realms of civilised society, whilst stopping short of full criminalisation. As it happens, this demonisation of homosexuality was a precursor for the next phase in Soviet sexual repression.

Three years later, in 1933, Article 121 was added to the Soviet penal code within Stalin’s Soviet Union. The Article stated that:

“sexual relations between men are punishable by prison terms of up to five years.”

– This law lasted another sixty years, with ten people imprisoned in 1992 for homosexual relations. Originally, Stalin introduced Article 121 in order to give credit to the idea that homosexuality, was actually a Fascist plot. Just before his death, Soviet cultural writer Maxim Gorky wrote:

“”In a country in which the proletariat rules courageously and successfully, homosexuality, which depraves the youth, is recognized and punished as the antisocial crime that it is, while in the so-called cultivated countries /…/ it occurs freely and unchecked. Already, a sarcastic proverb has been devised: Eradicate homosexuality and you will eliminate fascism.”

– Of course, Gorky left out the part in which upon coming to power, Hitler rounded up homosexual men and threw them into concentration camps, but it suited his narrative, and Soviet homophobic propaganda, not to mention that. Isn’t it ironic that the same arguments employed by the far right today, were used almost identically by the far left almost a century ago; both are guilty of the social abuse of a minority in order to advance their own ideological agenda.
We also see Gorky using the commonly used tactic; fear for the future of your children. We’ll come back to this a little later.

After Stalin’s death, Kruschev repealed many of the anti-liberalisation laws of the Stalin era, including anti-abortion laws, anti-divorce laws…. but he didn’t repeal the anti-homosexuality laws. Those remained in place. He was afraid that the prisoner-like sexual mentality would infect the rest of the population. Suddenly, in less than a year, the very top of the Communist regime in the Soviet Union went from mistakenly linking homosexuality to paedophilia, to linking homosexuality to forced prison-like sex. The anti-homosexuality rhetoric and action were so repulsive, it is only matched by the repulsive attitudes toward homosexuality coming from the right wing today. For example, the Stalinist (and Engels) line that homosexuality and paedophilia are linked, has been appropriated in recent times, by the US Christian Right. Here, Pat Robertson tells us that gay marriage, will lead to the legalisation of paedophilia:

“How about child molestation and paedophilia? How can we criminalise these things and at the same time have constitutional amendments allowing same sex marriage? You mark my words, this is just the beginning in a long downward slide in relation to all the things that we consider to be abhorrent.”

– Pat Robertson seems to be employing the Stalinist ‘crimes against morality’ logic with linking homosexuality to paedophilia, alongside a staggering slippery slope fallacy. It is exactly the arguments put forth by Communists within the Soviet Union, in the 1930s.

Similarly, Michael Savage, US Radio DJ said:

“You’ve got to explain to the children … why God told people this was wrong. You have to explain this to them in this time of mental rape that’s going on. The children’s minds are being raped by the homosexual mafia, that’s my position. They’re raping our children’s minds.”

– The protection of children, as mentioned above, has been a key rhetorical device used by the homophobic for decades. You must fear for your child’s future if homosexuality is allowed to persist… is the cry of the bigot. Not only did Stalin, Sereisky, and Gorky dubiously tie homosexuality with child molestation, but the right wing now appears to have taken that argument and made it their own. Like the ‘crimes against morality’ line that links both Soviet Communists, and modern day conservatives, the argument that we must fear for our children’s safety, because of homosexuality, is also a direct link between Soviet Communists, and modern day conservatives.

Whilst homosexuality was criminalised in 1933 between two men, it wasn’t criminalised between two women. Instead, gay women were referred to psychiatrists, who in turn, had then committed for three months. During that time, drugs were often tested on young gay women, followed by the forced signing of the mentally ill register, rendering any possibility of a good career, a driving licence, and happy life, almost impossible. This practice ended, as late as 1988, though still proceeded in many provinces.

One only has to look at the repression of homosexuality in Russia today, to understand the development historically of a very homophobic nation.

In fact, Homosexuality was only removed from the list of Russian mental disorders, in 1999. Homosexuality, in Communist China was not decriminalised until 1997, and considered a mental illness until 2002.
In the USA, the great gay rights activist Harry Hay was thrown out of the Communist Party, because the Communist Party did not allow gay people to be members.
Nepal’s Maoists are still very anti-homosexuality, and repression of Nepals LGBT rights advocates, is widespread.
Dev Gurung, the Maoist Minister of Justice for the Communist Party in Nepal, offered a mirrored image of right winged insistences that Communism and Homosexuality are intrinsically linked, with this little gem of melodrama:

“Under Soviet rule there were no homosexuals in the Soviet Union. Now that they are moving towards capitalism, homosexuals may have arisen there as well. So homosexuality is a product of capitalism. Under socialism this kind of problem doesn’t exist.”

– So you see, the same tired arguments are thrown from the fringes of the right and left, putridly degrading a minority, perpetuating discrimination and hate based on nothing of any substance, to promote an ideological standpoint.

Communists regimes were among the most repressive in history, toward homosexuality.

The repression of homosexuality throughout the Soviet Union, and by Communists in general was widespread throughout its history. Thousands were imprisoned for decades, many more were brutally beaten and murdered simply for being gay. This is what happens when you not only criminalise and work hard to stigmatise a biological trait (be it sexuality, gender, or race) but you base an entire social system upon patriarchy, or Theocracy, or the supremacy of one race above all others. A system of privilege for those who wrongfully think themselves the rightful rulers of civilised society based on no valid reasoning, develops into a system of repression against those who don’t fit its narrow band of what is decent and correct. To defend this system, the same fallacious arguments are thrown around, usually in an attempt to induce fear within a population. Defend homophobic, racist, patriarchy… otherwise God will punish you, and your children will be in danger! They scream ‘agenda!’ at every possible turn; the ‘abolitionist agenda’, the ‘feminist agenda!’, the ‘gay rights agenda!’, as if those are to be viewed negatively, rather than positive strides toward equality and an end to discriminatory, regressive consciousness. They insist the government is under attack, they play on the fears of danger to children. And it is the same today. 21st Century Conservatives; in a show of intense irony, those who claim the mantle of freedom and individual liberty, are the most repressive defenders of systems of privilege in the 21st century.


The Nation is the new God.

October 27, 2011

Throughout my lectures on Nationalism, I am becoming increasingly aware, that if you were to substitute the word “Nationalism” for “Religion”, the context and the surrounding wording, wouldn’t have to be modified, and we’d still end up with a perfectly rational statement.

Like Nationalism, religion relies on the rather solipsistic idea that we as a species are somehow special and important. Nationalism narrows the field down, to those who exist on a specific land mass, sometimes using religion to attempt to strengthen its otherwise weak premise; but religion, whilst casting its net further afield, nevertheless clings to the same arrogant notion that we are indeed special. To illustrate this point, I would ask you to try and locate the August 2010 edition of Scientific America, in which Kate Wong (an evolutionary specialist) shows that around 195,000 years ago, Homosapien became as close to extinction as we’ve ever came. Climate change, she argues, meant that our species had fallen to just 600 breeding couples. Somehow, beyond all comprehension, we survived, and we thrived. Around 50,000 years ago, we left Africa. We ventured into a vast unknown, and we conquered it. We suffered deaths by teeth, deaths by easily curable maladies, we suddenly hit a new phase in human and social evolution, when, on top of the simplistic tools we were devising alongside other species in the homo genus, we began making art, and tools that appear incredibly complex. Humanity, was suddenly starting to show signs of brilliance. But we were still under threat. Climate, Neanderthal, awful disease. They all played their part in bringing us to the edge of destruction many times over. These early humans didn’t care what land mass they were born on, or the colour of skin, or what happened to be your first language. And yet, Christianity seems to suppose that all of that hardship, that hundreds of thousands of years of exploration, disease, creativity and the brink of extinction, was all because the divine wanted to get us to the point where we could be Christians. It seems strikingly awful a presumption, that for 199,000 or so years of our history (it varies, whichever scientist you subscribe to) heaven looked on with indifference, as humanity struggled to survive… by the way, for those 198,000, the most testing in all our history, we managed to get through it without any divinely proscribed ‘objective moral basis’… and only in the last 2000 years, having ignored 198,000 years did it decide to get to know us, by giving a book to a bunch of illiterate warring desert tribesmen, on the same plot of land as huge oil reserves. Did Heaven not think ahead? It seems massively incompetent. The Chinese could read and write at this stage; why not given them the most important book known to man? Silly little myths in an attempt to attract a following.

Nationalism similarly uses easily discredited constructed and largely false myths to attempt to bind people. The rhetoric is very similar to religious rhetoric. It is exclusive, not inclusive. It is divisive, not binding. It can be threatening and forceful when it doesn’t get its own way.

Nationalism requires the individual submit to the will of the Nation. The Nation takes the place of God. The Nation becomes the reason to live. Prior to 1517, Europe cared little for national unity, and more for their submission to the God of Catholicism. Luther changed that, and suddenly people started to question things they’d never questioned before. They had never read a Bible in English. They had never questioned why they had to pay to save their souls from purgatory. From the moment Luther attached those The Ninety-Five Theses to the Church door in Wittenberg, the questioning began; and over the next couple of centuries, religious dogma took a knock that it couldn’t come back from. But people still desired something larger than themselves. This desire started the building of Nations. And the Nation; once drastically unimportant, now became a sort of spiritual haven for people who need to feel like they ‘belong’ to an exclusive club. Suddenly, humanity had a new abstraction that many of its members were willing to die for. The Nation replaced God.

It is both odd and a magnificent appraisal of the brilliance of our species, to me, that humanity desperately needs to look up to something abstract and beyond our realm of understanding, to cope with trying to understand what is essentially a chaotic, uncaring, and amoral universe. We create order, where order cannot be found in reality.

John Armstrong, writing in “Nations before Nationalism” argues that one influence on the emergence of Nations, was the nostalgia for a power beyond the simple State; the religious power of the past. Nations are of course vastly different, to Nations of the past. People try to cling to the idea of a Nation from what they’d consider a Golden age; the defeat of the Armada. The bravery of Boudica. It just so happens that these events took place on the plot of land we were all born on. We had no direct say or participation in them. Boudica certainly wasn’t fighting for England, she was fighting for a tribe. There has never been a time when the Nation wasn’t dynamic and ever changing. And yet Nationalism tries to grip on to a fleeting static moment. Capitalism means that the Nation State will always be at risk. Two competing concepts; Nation States and Capitalism, fighting for the same ground, will always produce division and resentment. Capitalism relies on open markets, on open borders, on little to no regulation. Nation States rely on tightly controlled borders and regulated markets for the sake of the ‘Native’ population. It is a continuous tug of war. The free movement of labour is a disaster for the Nation State.

The open flow of labour is to Nationalism, what the open flow of ideas and free thought is to Religion. Until very recently, free thought was considered heresy.

Religion is used at a very young age to indoctrinate early. The Palestinian Authority in 1994, reissued copies of a textbooks that were just full of anti-Jewish sentiment. A PA TV show for kids, based on Mickey Mouse, called Farfur, teaches kids hate. Kids are taught to pray until there is:

“world leadership under Islamic leadership”

And until that day comes, they must oppose at all times, the:

“oppressive invading Zionist occupation.”

– At my own secular primary school, we were made to say prayer every day and sing hymns. If we refused, we were sent out of the room. We were never taught to question what was being said, and I certainly didn’t hear the name “Darwin” until I was at least 12. Nations, in their quest to fill the void left by a dying God, also indoctrinate kids at a young age; the pledge of allegiance comes to mind. The celebrating of Columbus Day; a day to honour a violent thug who introduced mass genocide to an entire population. A strong educational framework, is vital for the perpetuation of weak National and Religious myths.

We have Deified our National Flag.
The Prophets of the Deified American National Flag, are Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Washington. They are almost worshiped. Their shortcomings and their obvious hypocrisies are ignored. The imagery of “Washington at Dorchester Heights” by Emanuel Leutze, shows an heroic-like stance of the young Washington, like a new age Saint, to be worshiped by everyone as they pledge allegiance. As a young America grew, in a World where religion was still key to political success, we see a whole host of literature combining religion with the new Republic, as if the new Republic were divinely ordained. The marching song of the Continental army, as it fought the British, happened to be:

Let tyrants shake their iron rods
And slavery clank her falling chains,
We fear them not, we trust in God
New England’s God forever reigns.

– Young Nations, in the 18th Century, needed God. But gradually, the Nation replaced God as the abstraction of choice among men.

To back up the authority for their myths and fairy tales, for their incomplete nonsense, and their, quite simply, invented bullshit, both Nationalism and Religion seem to point to an abstract concept, that is largely, and for the most part un-falsifiable. The problem with anything that is un-falsifiable, is that by definition, it is not testable. So, for something to be unable to be put to the test, and yet still used as a way to ‘bind’ and ‘divide’ humanity, it is dangerous. It deserves no power. A good theory is one that is falsifiable, and still manages to stand up to scrutiny….. like Natural Selection. Saying “there is an invisible monkey sat on my shoulder” is not falsifiable, and so any claims on morality, or to authority, should absolutely be considered ludicrous. Nationalism is similar, in that the concept of that which binds us as a Nation, is built on non-falsifiable abstractions. It is a passion for pedigree that has very little evidence to back it up. No nation is a stock of a single blood line, and it is perhaps more true to say that we are separated far more by economics than we ever are binded by Nationality. I can relate far more to a Pakistani gentleman of lower middle class origin, than I can with a a multi-millionaire member of the Tory cabinet, despite being born in the same Country, or even the same city.

The myths – take the legend of St George and the dragon in England – are quite evidently untrue, but for some reason Nationalists will use the imagery to conjure up passion for the ‘motherland’. Religions do the same. It is pretty obvious to any right thinking person, that given the intense lack of evidence other than a book, Jesus was not born to a virgin, nor did he rise from the dead and walk around for a few days. Sam Harris in ‘The End of Faith’ writes:


We have names for people who have many beliefs for which there is no rational justification. When those beliefs are common, we call them religious; otherwise they are likely to be called “mad”, “psychotic”, or “delusional”.

– I cannot argue with this.

Nationalism and Religion; the EDL and the MAC; the British National Party and Extreme Islam; are all far more similar than they’d like to believe. Both thrive, by presenting anything that doesn’t fit the very narrow spectrum of their exclusive club, as ‘other’ and ‘other’ as ‘bad’. The rhetoric is identical, the targeted victims (be them people with slightly darker skin, or people who wish to marry someone of the same sex) will always be presented as a danger to society, whilst the religious or the Nationalistic will always present themselves as the saviours.

The Nation is the new God.


Thank heavens for the private sector!

September 16, 2011

Now that the awful public sector has rid itself of thousands of jobs, isn’t it great to see such a thriving private sector?

Well. No.

There are now more unemployed women, than in 1988. Overall unemployment is at its highest since 2009 – the middle of a recession. One in five people between 19 and 24 is unemployed. Average wages rose 2.8% since 2010, whilst RPI (inflation) rose 5.2%, which means wages actually fell by 2.4%.

So we were told that the private sector would take up the jobs lost in the public sector. George Osborne, back in November 2010, told the House of Commons in November that jobs created in the Private Sector, would:

Far outweigh

– the loss of jobs in the Public Sector.

Remember those “35 leading businessmen” that the Chancellor quoted, as some sort of economic demi-gods (I have always wondered why businessmen are considered economic experts. They are not economists. They have an agenda). They sent a letter to the Telegraph, in support of Osborne’s claim. They wrote:

“The private sector should be more than capable of generating additional jobs to replace those lost in the public sector.”

Here’s the letter in full. Tories loved to point to it, last year. I’m guessing they will be less forward in pointing to it, this year.

At its most optimistic, we we under the impression that someone who had spent their life in the public sector employed in a job they love, would now get a nice new job working the tills at McDonalds. Even that, failed to materialise. From April to June public sector job losses reached 111,000. The private sector jobs grew by 41,000. The problem is, the Government insisted in March, that only 20,000 (I say only, because it appears I have caught the bug of treating people and their jobs, as mere statistics – Am I becoming Tory? Dear God, I hope not) would lose their jobs. Unemployment rose by 80,000 in June.

Apparently, when you make people unemployed, and you devalue wages, it becomes impossible to kick start the demand needed for the private sector to thrive. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT!

EDF have just announced energy prices are to raise by 15%, despite profits of Euro1.2bn last year. Last month HSBC announced 30,000 jobs would be cut. They must be struggling right? Again….well. No. The first six months of the year saw their profits raise 3% on the previous six months, to $11.5bn. Seriously. We are now only concerned, as a World, with profit. This is emphasised in the fact that the moment HSBC announced it was kicking 30,000 people out of their livelihoods, their shares rose 3.4%. Rich people absolutely love to hear that they can make even more money now that there isn’t the annoying factor of having to pay 30,000 people.

It is clear that demand creates jobs. Not wealthy businessmen. Referring to them as “job creators” is a falsity of epic proportions. When you take money out of peoples pockets with a VAT rise, with the removal of universal services, with housing benefit cuts; you cut demand in the process. Giving the wealthiest few a tax break isn’t going to change that.

When growth is downgraded, almost on a daily basis, they insist it is Labour’s fault, Europe’s fault, the snow’s fault. No, it is the fault of holding dear to the heart a dangerous Freidman-ite economic philosophy. As with HSBC mentioned above; the epitome of the thought process that leads to this kind of system, is that the abstract concept of the “market” is deemed to be improving, regardless of how many jobs are lost. Shares in HSBC increase, as 30,000 jobs are cut. There is a dramatic evil in that process.

Labour MPs and Shadow Ministers on Twitter insist on questioning whether Strike action is necessary. They should be ashamed to refer to themselves as ‘Labour’. A Labour party, who have seemingly made absolutely no impact on the political landscape since 2010, are quietly licking their wounds as a Tory party who have no legitimate mandate to carry out the ideological attacks they are inflicting, get away with it. If we don’t have the support of a half arsed Labour Party unsure of where its allegiances lie, given it’s past thirteen years of total capitulation to the financial sector, nor do we have the support of a weak Lib Dem party who cowardly abstain when they disagree with Tory policy, then Unions are the only other way to go. There is no other option. A very radical government, requires a very radical opposition. Instead, Labour seem to be constantly worried about their ties to the Union movement, rather than pro-actively and jointly making the case against deep and vicious austerity. The Tories have cleverly managed to set the political discourse in favour of a mythical, broken public sector, and away from the real broken sector; the financial sector.

Yesterday we saw that same Financial Sector produce a rogue trader responsible for UBS losing $2bn on unauthorised dodgy dealings. Have they learnt nothing? UBS was also responsible in 2009, for helping wealthy Americans set up offshore accounts to avoid tax. Growth for the sake of the wealthy, is not real growth. The banks have been let off the hook, by having the support of government like ours, who shift the blame from them, to the constantly demonised public sector.

If anything, we are finding out, for the second time in thirty years, that harsh and forced Neoliberalism is a dangerous dogma. Monetary policy does not pull Nations out of sovereign debt crises. It never has.

Unemployment – Done.
Dismantled NHS – Done.
Bend over to be fucked by the banks – Done.
Stagnating wages – Done.
Provoke riots – Done.
VAT rise – Done.
Pull any support for poorer children (EMA) – Done.
Close as many youth centres as possible – Done.
Close libraries – Done.
Make people work until they’re basically dead, before giving them a pension – Done.
Demonise disabled people – Done.
Rising inflation – Done.
Threaten Unions – Done.
Burden of debt created by wealthy, slammed onto the shoulders of Nation’s 18 year olds – Done.
Tax cuts for the wealthy – Done.
All within 15 months.

It makes Thatcher look like a Socialist in comparison.


Tea Party: Pro-death.

September 14, 2011

The Republican debates have been quite an eye opener. I knew that those who subscribe to the Tea Party way of life, are pretty vicious in the ideological leanings, but I didn’t really know to what extent their bile was able to rise. It turns out, they are an utter disgrace. A cancer on the fabric of society. The worst type of person. The reason I take such a strict approach to the Tea Party, is that they are extremists. My staunch and outspoken Atheism takes the shape of a bullet aimed at the incompatibilities between dogmatic ideology and the humanity as a collective entity looking to survive.

The Tea Party simply represent a vicious dogmatic obsession with their ideology, which happens to be unabridged Capitalism. An ideology that insists massive Corporations are “job creators” (a phrase I hate. Demand creates jobs. Not Corporations). The Tea Party is a representation of everything that is wrong with the right wing.

During a debate, Ron Paul was asked a question about a man who has a good job, but has no medical insurance, and ends up in a coma, what should happen? Predictably, Ron Paul doesn’t particularly answer the question, he just insists the guy SHOULD have medical insurance. I am fully aware that right winged Americans believe healthcare is a luxury rather than what I believe it is; a necessity. But what struck me, to the point of speechlessness, which slowly became a distinct sense of disbelief and disgust, was when the guy asking the questions said “Should we let the man die then?” to which the Tea Party audience, yelled “Yes!!
– This mentality, is extremist. It is taking an ideology to the extreme. Capitalism, like Socialism, when taken to its limits, is extreme ideology; in this case it becomes extreme when it decides who lives and who dies. Ron Paul started his question, by suggesting that any form of tax payer funded healthcare is Socialist, and that’s bad. This is a rather extreme position, because it fails to take into account results. The system is judged on how strictly it adheres to its ideological dogma, rather than the success or failure.

Money, in a Capitalist society is based on nothing. Actually it is based on debt. So its power comes from a collective concept of what it means. Life on the other hand, is not a concept. It transcends ideology. It is far more important than ideology. The ideology requires a constant insistence that what we own, is what makes us who we are.

So, let’s look at the results of two rather polarised healthcare systems. The UK has a Nationalised Health Service. In 2009, the US had a largely Private Health Service, in which your ability to pay (a concept) is far more important than your life itself (reality).
Infant mortality rate (probability of dying between birth and age 1 per 1000 live births)
UK: 5
USA: 7

Under-five mortality rate (probability of dying by age 5 per 1000 live births)
UK: 5
USA 8

Adult mortality rate (probability of dying between 15 and 60 years per 1000
UK: 77
USA: 106

Case detection rate for all forms of tuberculosis (%):
UK: 94
USA: 89

Per capita total expenditure on health at average exchange rate (US$)
UK: 3285
USA: 7410

Life expectancy at birth (years)
UK: 80
USA: 79

General government expenditure on health as a percentage of total government expenditure.
UK: 15.1%
USA: 18.7%

A quick analysis suggests that the UK pays less per capita, our government spends less on our health system than the US, and yet we have “Socialised” healthcare, we’re living longer, and our children are less likely to die at a young age. And yet, all of this is grossly overlooked in favour of ideological dogma regardless of how backward, and ultimately deadly it is.

It isn’t just when compared to the Nationalised health system of the UK. The Nationalised health system of Norway provides equally as disastrous results for Tea Party enthusiasts. When a man is ran down by a car, and the first thought in the collective mind of a Capitalist society is “oh my god!! I hope….he has insurance”, who then walk away when it turns out he doesn’t, one has to ask ourselves how far they are willing to go? Is collective policing wrong? Should we have fire insurance? If our house is burning down, and we’re too poor because our insurance bills include health, road, and police, should we just accept that the fire department shouldn’t be burdened with our current predicament? Should we expect to get arrested for leaving our house if we haven’t paid our road insurance? How is that freedom? That seems to be to be substituting the ‘tyranny’ of Government for the tyranny of big business – a real tyranny because it has unaccountable, unelected powers. A two tier society, in which you’re absolutely second class if you are not propertied, is my idea of hell.

According to a World Health Organisation ranking list of 2000, the US Health System ranks 11. The UK 18th, and the USA…… a pathetic 37th. Even though, the US spends most per capita than any other Nation in that ranking list. Above the US, ranks Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, UAE, Andorra and Malta. The most powerful Nation on Earth, has a worse healthcare record, than Saudi Arabia; a desert. Japan is number one for Life Expectancy and 70% of healthcare costs in Japan are paid by the Government. The cost of an MRI scan in Japan is $US 98. In America, it is $US 1500. There is no excuse for it. A healthcare system based on the ideological position that a doctor should check your insurance before he saves your life, is doomed to fail every time. A system should be judged not on its allocated “ism” but on its success. Private health insurance is not benefiting mankind. It benefits one or two wealthy people, and a host of United Health shareholders, with private health insurance money then ending up in Rick Perry’s campaign pot.

It is interesting to note that the same group of people cheered in delight last week, as it was announced during a debate that candidate Rick Perry has overseen 234 executions in Texas since becoming Governor. It would seem that State sponsored healthcare that ultimately (as shown above) saves lives is Socialist and evil, whilst State sponsored murder is a perfectly acceptable way to spend tax dollars. This includes the execution of Cameron Todd Willigham, a man who was accused of setting fire to his family home, killing his three young children. Before he was executed, a scientist wrote to the parole board to point out the flaws in the original case against Willingham. Perry ignored the concerns, and Willingham was executed in 2004. In 2005, an investigation was set up by a new 9 member Texas Forensic Science Commission. Just before they started their hearings into the case, Perry fired all 9 members. Another nine of the USA’s top fire scientists say the science was faulty in convicting Willingham. It is quite possible that Willigham was innocent. People in that crowd last week, cheered the death of at least one innocent man. Pro-life apparently. What a disgrace to humanity.

If anyone tells you that the US healthcare system is the best in the World; be sure to point out that it isn’t. That it isn’t even in the top ten. Or top twenty. Or top thirty. That it barely reaches the top 40. That your children are more likely to die young in the US, than in the United Arab Emirites or Macau (I’m not even sure where Macau is). But be sure to let them know that if they want to execute someone based on flimsy science, Texas is the place to be!

The great Gore Vidal once said:

Religions are manipulated in order to serve those who govern society and not the other way around.

– This is true of the religion of American Capitalism.

I truly feel for America if a Republican ends up in the White House.


A Neoliberal Attack…

July 13, 2011

Religious people are far more likely to engage in conversation about religion with me, after I mention that I have studied Philosophy and take an interest in Theology. I think they presume I will agree with their thoughts and perhaps provide reasoning to their illogical beliefs. I think they imagine that one can only speak with conviction on matters of religion, if one is religious in an academic sense. The same is true of many walks of life, not least the public sector in England. Because Tory MPs are essentially a part of the public sector, they seem to believe they have the right to talk of all public sector workers, as if they’re the official spokespeople for the public sector.

On Question Time last week, John Redwood, Tory MP for Wokingham appeared delighted as he informed the audience that as a public sector worker, he would be working longer and putting more money into his pension pot as a result of his Government’s reforms, and he was proud of it. The reason John Redwood can seem so pleased with himself that he is accepting the changes to his pension and retirement age, is because on top of the £65,000 a year he earns as an MP, he also claimed a hell of a lot of money, that regular public sector workers could only dream of. Yet, Mr Redwood seems to think his claims were perfectly reasonable, as suggested on his own personal blog:

In 2007-8 I claimed a total of £105,917. This made me the 19th cheapest MP, claiming around £40,000 less than the average. One fifth of that claim was the mortgage interest costs, the Council Tax and service charge and maintenance on a bedsit flat in Pimlico. It is entirely used to enable me to work longer days in London when there is important Parliamentary business. During my ownership it has only been slept in by myself. I do not need it for any other purpose. The deposit and repayments of capital are of course paid for out of my taxed income.

– We should be thanking him, for claiming in one year, more than a teacher is likely to earn in five years. We should be happy that tax payers money is going to fund the “maintenance” on his Pimlico flat. We should be grateful that the money spent on his mortgage interest (tax payers money) will go to buying a flat he can then sell when he retires, making a handsome profit, and giving nothing back to the public, whilst his party continue to force harsh austerity. One does wonder what the purpose of his 2004/5 claim of £13,305 for his luxurious house in Berkshire (a £1,000,000 estate which he fully owns), including £168 and £112 for his lawn to be reseeded, and how that is “entirely used to enable me to work longer days in London when there is important Parliamentary business” was needed for, but nevertheless, i’m sure it’s just as noble as the necessity of “maintenance” claims on the MILLIONAIRE’S flat in London. Thank you John “Jesus Christ” Redwood. You are a hero.

A man in the audience pointed out that the Private Sector has forced through harsh pension reforms, and so the Public Sector should do the same and “modernise”. The audience were alive with cheer! But it got me thinking; why is it always the public sector that is made to look as though it is in the wrong, like a Soviet leftover, trailing behind the private sector. People seem happy to accept the notion that if the private sector is screwing people over, then so should the public sector! Why is no one arguing that the private sector should be actively forced to lift itself up to the level of the public sector? As far as I can discern, over the past twenty five years it has been an out of control short-term wealth obsessed private sector that has been so majestically out of control, that when the bubble finally cracked, the public sector had to take the hit.

Let’s look at examples of the private sector providing a “modernising” model that the public sector ought to apparently follow:

Lloyds TSB is currently 43.4% owned by the taxpayer. Yet, its new Chief Executive, Antonio Horta-Osorio received a signing on fee of £4.1mn in shares, £516,000 in money, and an annual salary of £1.6mn with a yearly bonus of £2.5mn.

A wonderful company named Trafigura, in 2010 leased a ship called the Probo Koala to a company called Compagnie Tommy, with the intent to dump toxic waste at a waste disposal sight in Amsterdam. The site raised their prices by 20 times that quoted, because the toxic waste was deemed to be far more dangerous that Compagnie Tommy and Trafigura first suggested. So, a new company set up on the Ivory Coast agreed to take the waste, for a very cheap sum. Trafigura did not investigate just why this new company was offering to take the waste for such a cheap price. After the waste was dumped, ten people died from poisoning, and over 100,000 became ill. Trafigura said they’d tested the waste, and it wasn’t toxic, and that they had no idea why so many people became ill. The Dutch tested the waste and found it contained two tonnes of Hydrogen Sulfide. A killer gas. Trafigura spent three years publicly denying the waste they dumped in a poverty stricken area of Africa, was not enough to kill people. Suddenly, Trafigura offered to pay a massive amount of compensation of Euro152,000,000 to the Ivory Coast (which didn’t go to the victims) with the instruction that on acceptance of the compensation, they couldn’t be prosecuted or causing death in the courts. The reason they did this, is because The Guardian obtained – through Wikileaks – private company emails from Trafigura in which they quite plainly accept, as early as 2006 before they’d even chosen the Ivory Coast to dump the waste, that the waste was indeed dangerous.

According to the Guardian, Diageo PLC, the company that makes Guiness, in 2009 paid as little as 2% tax on its profits, despite racking in £2bn in profits. Diageo pays its Chief Executive £3.6mn salary. To fill this gap, it takes 20,000 ordinary British households per year.

The term “Modernising” has come to mean subtle privatising of key services in recent years. An economic laissez faire that apparently promised to solve all of our problems. The outsourcing of cleaning from NHS to private companies with £94mn worth of contacts, led to such declining standards between ’83-’00, that an extra emergency £31mn was injected into cleaning in the NHS, with the a Patient Environment Action Team (PEAT), set up to visit hospitals to ensure standards were being met; the Private sector had failed. By 2000, only 20% of NHS Trusts had achieved an acceptable level of cleanliness.

The banks aren’t the only sector that have required government bail outs in recent history. In 2002, British Energy (privatised under the Tories) had to approach the government for a £410mn bail out to finance its debts.

News of the World. I believe this doesn’t need elaborating on.

Private sector bonuses and high CEO pay, is more harmful to you and I, than highly paid private sector bosses. When money accumulates in the hands of very few people within the private sector (we spend more in the private sector, than on taxes), the cost gets passed on to us. The Bush tax cuts, along with the deregulation of the financial sector didn’t go toward greater investment, it went to increasing the pay and bonuses of those at the top, and the cost was passed on to us, through the creation of a very easy credit system. We all know how that turned out.

British Airways, under the incompetent management of Willie Walsh faced massive fines (record breaking fine actually) for price fixing, long drawn out industrial disputes with the cabin crew which the media helped by describing the cabin crew as greedy, despite 2000 of their workmates being laid off, the company making huge losses, and Willie Walsh taking in a 6% inflation busting pay rise, taking it to £743,000 and £1.1mn in deferred share bonuses. Enough to keep at least ten people on at BA, who otherwise lost their job. The media will never paint the boss as the greedy incompetent bastard in this kind of dispute. It will always find a child at Heathrow, crying, because the cabin crew strike means he wont see his mummy this Christmas. The media do not tend to side with the unions, they never will, and so neither will the ill-informed public.

Do we need to even mention the banking system? A particularly ironic take on this whole new “private good public bad” era of austerity we are living in.

Thankfully we have the Government’s new corporate team, who will help him “stand up to business”. On the panel, inevitably, is Philip Green, Topshop mogul who owns Taveta Investments, which he put in his wife’s name, who happens to live in Monaco, thus avoiding £285mn in tax. He also paid his family £1.2bn, taken from a loan in the name of his company, thus cutting Corporation tax because the loan’s interest charges were offset against profit. Oh and he also uses sweatshops in Mauritius, whilst claiming his obscene bonuses are justified because he “takes risks”. Another on the panel, is Justin King, Chairman of Sainsbury’s. In his first year, he received free shares worth over £500,000, whilst axing the £120 christmas bonus for his staff. After his staff didn’t receive their christmas bonus, King awarded his wealthy finance director £357,000 worth of shares. King was also offered 1,000,000 free shares, if he met specific targets the year before. He didn’t meet the targets, the company’s profits fell 2.9% and yet he still took home 86% of the promised shares. He will be given the same year on year, on top of his £500,000+ a year salary.

We all know that the private sector has the potential to deliver fantastic opportunities, despite the fact that its raison d’etre is unjustifiable power and wealth in the hands of people who simply injected the first dose of capital required to kick start the specific business, as if that initial injection of capital somehow creates a universal, unbreakable law, like gravity, that requires the majority of the subsequent profit and the decisions required to move the business forward, be placed in the hands of the person who injected that capital. It’s a bit of a flawed and odd concept that people just tend to accept. But, it does create opportunity (though it doesn’t necessarily have to be the only way of creating opportunity). The downside, is unregulated greed. The public sector is a constant target of abuse from the source of that greed, and the politicians that the greed of the private sector can buy. Corportocracy at its finest and most dangerous.

Isn’t it about time a Politician had the balls to stand up and say the Private Sector over the past thirty years has spiraled disastrously out of control, and perhaps needs to be able to pay people a decent living wage, as opposed to bringing the public sector down to the unacceptable level of the private sector?