Posts Tagged ‘Open University’

No, Tweezer! It’s Not Labour that’s Attacking Investment, but Tory Privatisation

January 20, 2018

More lies from Theresa May, the lying head of a mendacious, corrupt, odious party. Mike put up another piece earlier this week commenting on a foam-flecked rant by Tweezer against the Labour party. She began this tirade by claiming that Labour had turned its back on investment. This was presumably out of fear of Labour’s very popular policies about renationalising the Health Service, the electricity industry and the railways.

But Labour hasn’t turned its back on investment. Far from it. Labour has proposed an investment bank for Britain – something that is recognised by many economists as being badly needed. It was one of Neil Kinnock’s policies in 1987, before he lost the election and decided that becoming ‘Tory lite’ was the winning electoral strategy.

The Korean economist, Ha-Joon Chang, who teaches at Cambridge, has pointed out that privatisation doesn’t work. Most of the British privatised industries were snapped up by foreign companies. And these companies, as he points out, aren’t interested in investing. We are there competitors. They are interested in acquiring our industries purely to make a profit for their countries, not ours. Mike pointed this out in his blog piece on the matter, stating that 10 of the 25 railway companies were owned by foreign interests, many of them nationalised. So nationalised industry is all right, according to Tweezer, so long as we don’t have it.

The same point is made by Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack in their book, Breadline Britain: the Rise of Mass Poverty (Oneworld 2015). They write

The privatisation, from the 1980s, of the former publicly owned utilities is another example of the extractive process at work, and one that hs brought a huge bonanza for corporate and financial executives at the expense of staff, taxpayers and consumers. Seventy-two state-own enterprises we4re sold between 1983 and 1991 alone, with the political promise that the public-to-private transfer would raise efficiency, productivity and investment in the to the benefit of all. Yet such gains have proved elusive. With most of those who landed shares on privatisation selling up swiftly, the promised shareholding democracy failed to materialise. In the most comprehensive study of the British privatisation process, the Italian academic Massimo Florio, in his book The Great Divistiture, has concluded that privatisation failed to boost efficiency and has led to a ‘substantial regressive effect on the distribution of incomes and wealth in the United Kingdom’. Despite delivering little in the way of unproved performance, privatisation has brought great hikes in managerial pay, profits and shareholder returns paid for by staff lay-offs, the erosion of pay and security, taxpayer losses and higher prices.
(P. 195).

They then go on to discuss how privatisation has led to rising prices, especially in the electricity and water industries.

In most instances, privatisation has led to steady rises in bills, such as for energy and water. Electricity prices are estimated to be between ten and twenty per cent higher than they would have been without privatisation, contributing to the rise in fuel poverty of several years. Between 2002 and 2011, energy and water bills rose forty-five and twenty-one percent respectively in real terms, while median incomes stagnated and those of the poorest tenth fell by eleven percent. The winners have been largely a mix of executives and wealth investors, whole most of the costs – in job security, pay among the least well-skilled, and rising utility bills – have been borne by the poorest half of the population. ‘In this sense, privatisation was an integral part of a series of policies that created a social rift unequalled anywhere else in Europe’, Florio concluded.
(pp. 156-7)

They then go on to discuss the particular instance of the water industry.

Ten of the twenty-three privatised local and region water companies are now foreign owned with a further eight bought by private equity groups. In 2007 Thames Water was taken over by a private consortium of investors, mostly from overseas. Since then, as revealed in a study by John Allen and Michael Pryke at the Open University, the consortium has engineered the company’s finances to ensure that dividends to investors have exceeded net profits paid for by borrowing, a practice now common across the industry. By offsetting interest charges on the loan, the company will pay no corporation tax for the next five to six years. As the academics concluded: ‘A mound of leveraged debt has been used to benefit investors at the expense of households and their rising water bills.’
(P. 157).

They also point out that Britain’s pro-privatisation policy is in market contrast to that of other nations in the EU and America.

It is a similar story across other privatised sectors from the railways to care homes. The fixation with private ownership tis also now increasingly out of step with other countries, which have been unwinding their own privatisation programmes in response to the way the utilities have been exploited for private gain. Eighty-six cities – throughout the US and across Europe – have taken water back into a form of public ownership.
(Pp. 157-8)

Even in America, where foreign investors are not allowed to take over utility companies, privatisation has not brought greater investment into these companies, and particularly the electricity industry, as the American author of Zombie Economics points out.

Lansley and Mack then go on to discuss the noxious case of the Private Equity Firms, which bought up care homes as a nice little investment. Their debt manipulation shenanigans caused many of these to collapse.

So when Tweezer went off on her rant against Labour the other day, this is what she was really defending: the exploitation of British consumers and taxpayers by foreign investors; management and shareholders boosting their pay and dividends by raising prices, and squeezing their workers as much as possible, while dodging tax.

Privatisation isn’t working. Let’s go back to Atlee and nationalise the utilities. And kick out Theresa, the Tories and their lies.


Open University Course Book on Climate Change

July 23, 2017

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday, I found a copy of a course book for the Open University’s series on climate change. I didn’t buy it, because I’ve got enough books I’m reading already. And I’m afraid I can’t remember who wrote it, except that the first name of one of the authors was ‘Kiki’.

However, I think it’s worth mentioning just to let people know that this literature is out there. Donald Trump and his fellow anti-science fanatics in the White House are trying to suppress all the evidence relating to climate change, and gag and sack the federal scientists researching it. Within months of his election he had inserted clauses in their contracts, which forbid them to publish academic papers supporting climate change. Now, according to one of the left-wing American news sites I follow, he’s decimated the number of employees and researchers within the American civil service dealing with climate change to the point where the federal office is basically empty.

All this is for the benefit of the Republican party’s corporate donors, particularly in big oil, led by the Koch Brothers. The gruesome twosome have tried to suppress investigation and research in climate change and environmental damage by campaigning for the closure of federal and university laboratories. Once these have been closed, the Koch brothers then donate money to the universities to relaunch the labs, but with a different focus which avoids these issues.

The last thing the fossil fuel industries want is Americans getting clean, green, renewable energy, which is why they’re also trying to pass legislation outlawing it and penalizing those Americans who use it. And they really, really don’t want ordinary Americans realizing just how much the planet is being trashed, thanks to industrialists like the Kochs.

Florence on Terraforming Mars Using Existing Microbes

January 2, 2017

One of the pieces I put up yesterday was on a paper by two scientists in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, discussing the possibility of terraforming Mars using genetically engineered microbes. Florence, one of the commenters on this blog, used to be a microbiologist, and was extremely interested in the exploration of Mars and the prospect for finding life there. She commented that there are already anaerobic microbes that can exist in comparable conditions on Earth. She felt that the experiments carried designed to detect life on the Red Planet were very inadequate. She wrote

There appears little need to create GMOs for terraforming. We already have the real deal here on earth. Back 3.6 billion years ago, when first life is thought to have arrived/ developed / etc there wasn’t an oxygen based atmosphere. It was anoxic, and the first organisms (the archeao bacteria) were very sensitive to oxygen, and there are still many that find oxygen toxic. These are still found in many places including the human gut! Some microorganisms developed oxygen tolerance and that allowed them to use new food sources, and they began adding oxygen to the atmosphere. These organisms then used this evolutionary advantage to evolve and diversify. When I studied anaerobic bacteria the main problems were sensitivity to oxygen – very difficult to remove from all materials prepared in the standard lab – and the slow growth rate (making the rapid generation of results for research funding cycles pretty difficult).

Then there are the organisms that can grow in both aerobic and anaerobic environments. These are the ones that would be useful in terraforming if the aim was to develop a breathable atmosphere for humans and other animals. These live on very basic nutrients of sulphur and iron containing minerals, plus water. I think the “red” planet would be a great place to find these organisms, and vee may not even need to send ours over, but to stimulate the environmental conditions that would allow the planet to terraform itself. I recall the so-called search for life on the early Mars probes left me speechless – they were just totally inappropriate. But that’s can other story! Thank you for reminding me of the whole area of microbial life here and across the solar system! Happy New Year, too!

The paper discussing the use of GEMOs to terraform Mars did mention that some existing microorganisms had been considered, such as a variety of cyanobacteria.
Looking through the index of papers published in the Proceedings of the Founding Convention of the Mars Society: August 13-16, 1998, edited by Robert and Linda Zubrin, I did find one paper by James M. Graham and Linda E. Graham on terrestrial microbes on Mars. This was ‘Physiological Ecology of Terrestrial Microbes on a Terraformed Mars’, published in the third volume of papers. Unfortunately, I don’t have that volume, and so I really don’t know anything about the paper or its conclusions, just that it exists.

As for the inadequacy of the instruments aboard the Viking probe to detect life on the Red Planet, Dr. Heather Couper and the late Colin Pillinger also believed that they were too limited to disprove the existence of life in that part of the cosmos. Heather Couper is an astronomer, writer and broadcaster, who’s written a series of books on astronomy. A few years ago I heard her talk about life on Mars at the Cheltenham Festival of Science. Before she began speaking, she asked her audience how many of them believed there was life there. Only a few people put their hands up. She asked the same question again at the end of her talk, after she had explained the problems with Viking’s experiments, and the evidence for life. That time the majority of people put their hands up.

Dr. Colin Pillinger, who was a scientist with the Open University, also made a very strong case for life on Mars, life he hoped to find with the Beagle Probe. One of the ways life could be detected was through its waste gases, like methane. The Beagle Probe carried just such a detector, and Dr. Pillinger said, ‘So if a bacterium farts on Mars, we’ll find it.’ He was another speaker at the Cheltenham Festival of Science, and was well worth hearing. Sadly, the Beagle Probe was a disastrous failure. Rather than soft-landing, it crashed on to the Mars surface, and was destroyed.

Despite this, I still have immense respect for the man. He and his team seemed to be fighting a lone battle to send a British probe to explore the issue, and I am deeply impressed by the way he and his fellow scientists were able to mobilise public support, including celebrities like the artist, Damian Hurst. I got the impression that his team were rushed, and it may well have been this that caused the mission’s failure. But I don’t fault the man for trying, and I think he did a grand job in taking on British officialdom and winning a place for the probe aboard the Ariane craft, when the British authorities didn’t appear to be at all interested, at least, at the beginning.

It’s sad that he failed, but he was genuinely inspirational in pushing for the project. I hope that it will not be too long before someone else sends another, better probe to Mars. And I think we need more scientists, and science educators like him, who can pass on their great enthusiasm for their subject.