Posts Tagged ‘The Elderly’

More Fearmongering from the Murdoch Press: Times Names British Politicians Appearing on RT as ‘Helpers of Putin’

October 12, 2017

You can really feel the fear coming off the mainstream press in waves now, and with this story Murdoch appears to be the most frightened and desperate. This short clip from RT reports and comments on two pieces in the Times today, which named the British politicians, who had appeared on RT. Most of these were from the Labour party, but there were also a select number of Conservatives. One of the pieces was entitled ‘Helping Putin’, and claimed that the politicos going on the Russian-owned station were guilty of helping the Russian president interfere in British politics. Not only did the Times name the individual politicians, it also gave details of how many times they had appeared on RT, and the amounts they’d been paid. Among those outed are the Shadow Energy Secretary, Barry Gardiner, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, the Welsh MP David Davies, the MP Nigel Evans, and the Shadow Lord Chancellor Richard Burgon.

The RT’s own Polly Boiko remarks that traditionally in Britain, speaking to the media was seen one of our democratic freedoms. She then walks into the studio of RT’s ‘Going Underground’ to talk to the programme’s host, Afshin Rattansi. Rattansi remarks that the story’s ‘pretty shoddy stuff’, and the Times has not come to RT for their comment on this story. He also says that they’ve had not just Labour politicians on the programme, but also Tories as well as those from other parties. They come on the programme as they know they will be listened to. As for ‘helping Putin’, this is an attempt to scare people off the broadcaster by connecting them to Jeremy Corbyn. Boiko asks him if he believes that this will make it difficult for RT to get politicians on to his show. Rattansi states that it was initially difficult, but it has now become much easier as they’ve become established and known for listening to their speakers.

The Russian embassy have also given their response to the accusation, asking if that means that the Russian politicos, who have appeared on the BBC, have been helping the British government.

This looks to me like the Murdoch press doing what it has so often done in the past: kick up a ‘Red Scare’ in order to stop people voting Labour. The Times is copying the attacks on RT America over the other side of the Pond by the Republicans and Corporatist Democrats, who are terrified because increasingly more severely normal Americans are preferring to get their news from alternative media outlets, like RT, rather than believe anything from the biased and compromised mainstream broadcasters. Like Fox News, which is solidly Republican to the core, and whose main host, Bill O’Reilly, and one of its chief executives, Roger Ailes, were both sacked as serial sexual harassers. Obama’s election victory in 2008 was credited to a campaign for him on social media, and it has been social media that’s played a very large part in the massive growth in popularity for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, in opposition to a barrage of lies and smears from the mainstream press and broadcasters.

And Murdoch in particular is threatened by this. Fox News audience is very largely in their late 60s. I think the average age is 68, which means that it is signally failing to attract and influence the younger folks, who are turning instead to Bernie Sanders over in America and Corbyn in Britain. As for the Times, the paper is actually losing money hand over fist, to the point where Private Eye remarked that it would have been closed down long ago if it were not the British ‘paper of record’. Murdoch keeps it propped up so that he has a place at the table influencing our politicians.

Lobster and other commenters have observed that over the past decades, Murdoch has used his power in the British press to make deals with various governments. His papers support them and give them popularity as an a kind of unofficial official press, while in return they give in to Murdoch’s own agenda. This means that they grant him important business concessions, such as purchasing rival satellite and cable networks and generally expanding his squalid little empire. At the same time, they also listen very carefully to his wider political agenda, which has always consisted of smashing workers’ rights, and deregulating and privatising the economy. And that includes the NHS.

Clearly, with this story, Murdoch’s starting to become afraid that time’s running out for this scam. People are turning away from the mainstream media, including and particularly the Murdoch press, which has always had a reputation for sensationalist trash and gross rightwing political bias. And if nobody reads his papers, or watches Sky News, not only is Murdoch’s empire failing in itself, but so is his power to influence British and American politics.

He’s panicking, and it’s clear he’s panicking.

Of course, this isn’t the first time he’s attempted to smear respectable politicos as traitors and agents of Moscow. He’s done that many times before. Way back in the 1990s or early part of this century, the Times under its editor, David Leppard, printed a completely bogus story that Michael Foot, the former Labour leader, had been a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’. This was a highly credible story, as shown by the way Private Eye sent it up on their front page. This showed Foot walking his dog, which was cocking its leg on a tree. The tree, in turn, was attempting to contact Foot in code. Not surprisingly, Foot sued for libel and won.

Then there was the Scum’s attempt to smear various Labour politicians as Commies in the 1987 general election. Among those targeted were Labour politicians, who had spoken to or written for the Marxist press. Shock! Horror! Except that the politicos they tried to smear in this way weren’t actually Communists, nor even necessarily Marxists. They were largely mainstream Labour politicians, who had just written for the Marxist press on a particular issue. They also smeared Red Ken as a Marxist, when those, who knew him, said he wasn’t, though he wasn’t averse to using them and sounding like them on occasion. They also claimed that Peter Tatchell was a member of the Trotskyite entryist group, Militant Tendency, when he was no such thing. As well as making other spurious claims based on his homosexuality.

This is all the kind of stuff the right-wing British press has been doing since the infamous ‘Zinoviev Letter’ of the 1920s. This was an attempt by one of the newspapers to scare people away from voting Labour by publishing a letter from the head of the Comintern, Zionviev, to the Labour party, which purported to show that they were going to collaborate with Russia and turn the country into a Communist dictatorship. Except that the letter was a fake, a forgery, probably cooked up by MI5.

I’ve reposted a number of stories from RT, simply because the broadcaster is doing an excellent job of covering stories that the mainstream British media, including the Beeb, aren’t. This doesn’t mean I support Putin. I don’t. He’s an extremely authoritarian thug, and I don’t doubt that the stories of his own massive corruption are true. But that doesn’t mean that the stories reported by RT are false, or that RT isn’t doing proper journalism when it reveals them. In fact, it seems to me that RT is very much doing this, and it is precisely this that has got Murdoch and the Republicans and Clintonite Democrats in America running scared.

The Russian word for newspaper is ‘Gazeta’. The Russian word for the type of journalism practised by the Murdoch empire is ‘govno’. Which is Russian for ‘Sh*t’.

Advertisements

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

The Euthanasia of the Elderly in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

July 18, 2017

A few days ago I put up a post about the nightmare, alternative future described by the British SF novelist Stephen Baxter in his novel, Titan. Baxter’s a writer of hard SF, a subgenre in which the fiction is nevertheless grounded in solid, known science fact, though often with an element of artistic license. Titan was written in 1995, and is partly set in the decaying America of the first decades of the 21st century. A militantly anti-science president, Maclachlan, has been elected with the support of the Ku Klux Klan and Christian fundamentalists. Maclachlan shuts down NASA for good after a shuttle disaster. The launch complexes are closed down. Those that aren’t demolished become simply tourist attractions, as do the agency’s headquarters and mission control. One of these, a museum to the Apollo moon landings, is altered so that it promotes instead the spiritual experiences many of the astronauts did have during their missions. Maclachlan also introduces legislation demanding that only the Aristotelian cosmology of Thomas Aquinas, with its crystal spheres, is taught in schools. What is left of the agency is given over to the USAF under the paranoid and nationalistic General Hartle, who is very much like the rogue American General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick’s classic nuclear black comedy, Doctor Strangelove.

Against this, the agency attempts to launch one last, great space mission, a crewed voyage to Titan, where the Cassini probe has found evidence of active biological chemistry.

I commented in my post on the remarkable similarity between the policies of the fictional Maclachlan and Donald Trump. Maclachlan is fiercely nationalistic, and withdraws American peacekeepers from their stations around the globe, as well as pulling America out of NAFTA and the various other free trade agreements. America also pulls out of the World Bank and the IMF, and the UN is kicked out of New York. Like the real anti-Semites of the America Far Right, Maclachlan believes that the US is under ‘Israeli occupation’. Maclachlan also dismantles the country’s welfare programmes, especially those benefiting Blacks and other minorities, and starts building a wall with Mexico.

He also devises a policy to deal with America’s increasingly aging society: euthanasia chambers for the unwanted or neglected elderly. These are euphemistically called ‘Happy Booths’. There’s a very touching scene in which the last, fictitious surviving Apollo spaceman, Marcus White, is gassed to death in one of these chambers by a couple of nurses, who are every bit as malign as Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. By this time, however, White is so confused with dementia, that he is lost in the delusion that he is back as a middle-aged man at NASA in his prime, suiting up and breathing the pure oxygen in preparation for another flight to the Moon.

This is interesting, as it completely turns on its head one of the truly despicable pieces of propaganda the Republicans were running ten years ago to make sure the American public didn’t get single-payer healthcare. Instead, we had Sarah Palin and the rest of the maniacs screaming that the introduction of single-payer healthcare, where all Americans would have free medical treatment financed by the state, would lead to ‘death panels’. Palin herself made a speech about how she didn’t want her children facing them. The idea was under a socialist system, medical care would be rationed. Those individuals deemed to be a waste of state money and resources, such as the elderly, would thus be humanely killed.

It was a disgusting piece of propaganda, based partly on the murder of the disabled in Nazi Germany. The Nazis were also pro-euthanasia, producing propaganda forms with titles such as I Don’t Want to Be Born. It was also based partly on the vile views of some of the founders of the Fabian Society, particularly H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, who were very much in favour of eugenics and the sterilization of the biologically unfit.

Unfortunately, many Americans were taken in by this bilge. There was a BBC report on the truly horrific state of American healthcare, in which a clinic offering free treatment in California immediately attracted 50,000 + prospective patients. These are the 20 per cent of Americans, who couldn’t afford their private healthcare before the introduction of Obamacare. The Beeb’s reported also attracted the attention of Republican supporters, who’d believed all the rubbish they’d been fed by Palin and her stormtroopers. One of these was an elderly man, who rushed up to the Beeb’s crew and shouted ‘Your healthcare system stinks!’ When they politely asked him how so, he looked confused, and began to mutter about ‘death panels’.

There are no death panels in Britain, or anywhere else with a socialized, or state-funded medical system. As for Germany, state financing of medical treatment for the workers was introduced by Bismarck in the 1870s, nearly fifty years before the Nazis seized power. There is a problem, where dying individuals may be refused treatment of expensive and/or experimental drugs or other procedures on the NHS because the costs far exceed any chance of success. This is very much a controversial issue, as we’ve seen the past week with the parents fighting to send their dying son over to America for treatment. However, there are no death panels.

The ‘Happy Booths’ described in the book are a piece of artistic invention by Baxter. Conventional Christian morality rejects euthanasia for the same reasons it has traditionally ruled out abortion, except in certain very restricted circumstances. This is because both judge that there are certain forms of human beings, such as the unborn and the disabled, who are held not to have the same rights to life. If it is permitted to kill the disabled and the unborn, it is argued, there is a danger that the same attitude will spread to other groups also considered inferior, like the Jews and other ‘untermenschen’ in Nazi Germany. And Baxter is aware of this, as elsewhere in the book he describes how the British relative of one of the astronauts, stricken by CJD or ‘Mad Cow Disease’, is going to a euthanasia clinic even though their parents consider it unchristian.

A president dependent on the support of right-wing Christian fundamentalists would alienate a sizable part of his constituency if he did. What happens instead is that, through its hostility to state medicine and the welfare state, Republican politicians of Maclachlan’s type make it impossible for the poor, severely ill to support themselves. Hence Bernie Sanders’ chilling statistic that 50,000 Americans die each year because they cannot afford private medical treatment.

This is basically the same attitude of Tory party under David Cameron and Theresa May. They have extended the sanctions system and the Work Capability Tests to make it as difficult as possible for the unemployed and the disabled to quality for state support. The result of that has been that researchers at Oxford University found that in 2015 alone, 30,000 people died through the Tories’ austerity policies. And Mike over at Vox Political reported yesterday that, according to the Skwawkbox, there’s a nasty clause in Universal Credit, which means that the claimant has to find a job in two years, or they lose their benefit.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/17/uc-gives-disabled-people-just-two-years-to-find-a-job-or-lose-everything/

This is a right-wing ‘genocide of the disabled’, as Mike, Johnny Void, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and the Angry Yorkshireman have said on their blogs, and Jeffrey, one of the great commenters here, has said on this. But it’s carefully hidden. The victims aren’t actually killed, they’re simply left to die. And the few politicos, who dare to call it what it is, are denied their ability to sit in parliament.

On Friday Mike commented on a piece in the Disability News Service about Mr. Jared O’Mara, a disabled Lib Dem MP, who has called the Tories’ policies towards the disabled ‘eugenics’, and stated that they want disabled people to ‘suffer and die’. Mr. O’Mara is to be commended for the way he tried to tackle Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the DWP and therefore the government’s chief minister responsible for implementing this policy. However, Mr. O’Mara finds it impossible to find anywhere in the House of Commons to sit during debates. There is insufficient seating for all 650 MPs, and there is no form available for disabled MPs to fill in stating that they have particular seating needs. As Mike says, this is all very suspicious.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/07/07/disabled-mp-accuses-tories-of-eugenics-is-that-why-they-wont-let-him-take-a-seat/

As a religious person, I can’t say I’m happy about the anti-religious stance of Titan. I went to a Christian college for my undergraduate degree, and some of the students were Creationists. I am not saying that their literalist reading of the creation story in Genesis is correct, but I have to say that they were, by and large, decent people. Those I met weren’t racists or political extremists, and I know that one or two were actually left-wing. I also can’t say that they were anti-science, outside of the very specific field of evolution. Moreover, since the election of Donald Trump there has been the emergence of a religious Left in America, something which couldn’t have been predicted when Baxter wrote the book back in the 1990s. One of the authors of the collection of articles attacking the Neo-Cons, Confronting the New Conservatism, pointed out that the Neo-Cons were not necessarily going to be politically dominant for ever. Kansas, and many of the other mid-western Republican states, had in the 1920s been centres of the Social Gospel movement, which combined Christianity and Socialism. It’s possible that as more Americans recognize how truly disgusting Trump and his party are, Christians over the other side of the Pond may return to it.

However, Trump and his administration are anti-science. The Republican party is strongly opposed to climate change, and so there has been a concerted attack on environmentalism since Trump took office. Legislation protecting America’s glorious natural heritage has been repealed, and federal scientists responsible for monitoring the environment have been effectively gagged. They may not publish any scientific papers supporting climate change, and the federal agency itself has been effectively gutted.

Titan also portrays a future suffering from global warming and catastrophic climate change, as do very many of the SF novels written during the same decade, such as Bruce Sterling’s Heavy Weather. So far Trump hasn’t wound up NASA, though I don’t doubt that the agency is still under considerable pressure to keep expenses under control. But the real harm is being done by Trump’s deliberate rejection of climate change to appease powerful donors from industry, particularly the Kochs in big oil. This denial of climate change, and that of the other world leaders, will lead to the deaths of millions worldwide. If it hasn’t already.

Cartoon of IDS as Serial Killer from a Joke by Bill Hicks

June 23, 2017

This is another of my cartoons of the Tory party and their lackeys in the media. This time it’s of Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the Tory party before David Cameron, and head of the DWP in Cameron’s government. I’ve drawn him as a serial killer, lying dead in his bath, surrounded by the skins and corpses of his victims.

It’s based on a joke the American comedian, Bill Hicks, made about Jesse Helms, a member of Reagan’s administration way back in the 1980s. Hicks said that when you had somebody as right-wing as Helms, they had to be hiding a very dark secret. In Meese’s case, it was that he was probably a serial killer. One day they’d find him dead in his bath, after having cut his wrists. On the wall they’d find the words ‘Ah bin a bad boy’ written in his blood.

Then they’d find the skins of all the children he’d murdered up in his attic, with flies going in and out. His mother would at last remark that she’d wondered what the pile of children’s shoes were doing there.

It’s strong stuff, but it is appropriate to apply it to Iain Duncan Smith. He has never killed anyone personally, no matter how toxic his personality is. But under him, the Department of Work and Pensions has been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.

I’ve blogged before about the struggle Mike and other disability bloggers and organisations, including the Independent newspaper, had getting the figures for the number of people, who had died after they were thrown off benefits by the DWP. Often this was done for the most trivial of reasons. Seriously ill people, who should never have been called to a fitness to work test in the first place, were told they were ‘fit for work’. They included terminal cancer patients. The numbskulls at Atos also asked amputees when they expected their severed limbs to grow back.

The DWP stalled and prevaricated, doing everything it could not to reveal these figures. They turned down the requests as vexatious, and when this was overturned by the Information Commissioner, they waited until the very last moment before they had to release the information, and then appealed. When they were ordered to release it again, they deliberately misinterpreted the request to give a set of figures slightly different to those requested by Mike. Even so, the figures showed that in the period in question, 13,000-14,000 people had died after having their benefits removed.

Mike and his commenters, like Jeffrey Davies, have called this a genocide of the disabled.

Johnny Void, DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts, Stilloaks and others have compiled lists of some of the victims, putting names to faces and with brief biographies explaining who they were and why they died. Many died of starvation, while others took their lives in utter despair, wondering how they could ever cope. Their deaths formed the basis for a piece by a socially engaged and enraged artist, and a memorial video I’ve also posed on this blog.

The victims of this callous policy have included an elderly couple, who ended it all with hardly anything to eat in their house; a diabetic soldier; and a young woman in her twenties who leapt to her death with her baby.

And a few days ago Mike posted up news of another victim: Jodie Whiting, a middle-aged mother of nine.

The number of such individual cases recorded by Stilloaks and DPAC has reached somewhere around 500-600 plus.

And the total figures are much, much higher. Oxford University reported that in 2015, austerity killed 30,000 people in this country.

This is 30,000 people, who died in despair and poverty, in one year, in the sixth richest nation on Earth. In a country that has decided it is rich enough to give tax cuts to billionaires.

IDS left office a few years ago, whining about how he was getting the blame for the sanctions system, while it was Tony Blair and New Labour who had invented. Well, they did. But IDS and the Tories didn’t have to retain and expand it.

And IDS and his crew cannot claim ignorance of the immense harm their policies are causing. Oh, they do, of course, but then, Tories are inveterate liars. And the fact that they did not want to release the mortality figures shows exactly that they knew it was killing tens of thousands of people. They just didn’t want the British public to know.

And so its quite appropriate to show IDS as a psychopathic serial killer.

And because they were the architects of austerity, I’ve drawn the flies with David Cameron’s and George Osborne’s faces.

Unfortunately, the carnage hasn’t stopped. Theresa May’s carried on with it, with Damian Green the new head of the DWP.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to stop it, however. So we must have fresh elections, and get him into No. 10. Before the Tories kill again.

End Workfare Now! Part 1

June 20, 2017

This is the text of another pamphlet I wrote a year or so ago against the highly exploitative workfare industry. As the pamphlet explains, workfare, or ‘welfare to work’, is the system that provides industry with cheap, unemployed temporary labour under the guise of getting the jobless back into work by giving them work experience. If the unemployed person refuses, he or she is thrown off benefit.

These temporary jobs go nowhere, and it’s been proven that the unemployed are actually far better off looking for jobs on their own than using workfare. And it’s very similar to other systems of supposed voluntary work and forced labour, such as the labour colonies set up in Britain in 1905, the Reichsarbeitsdienst in Nazi Germany, and the use of forced labour against the ‘arbeitscheu’ – the ‘workshy’, as well as the compulsory manual labour required of all citizens in Mao’s china during the Cultural Revolution, and the Gulags in Stalin’s Russia.

Mike over at Vox Political has blogged against it, so has Johnny Void and the Angry Yorkshireman of Another Angry Voice, and many other left-wing bloggers. It’s another squalid policy which New Labour and the Tories took over from Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to get rid of the work capability tests. I hope also that under him, the Labour party will also get rid of this vile policy, so that big corporations like Poundland and supermarkets like Tesco’s will have to take on workers and pay them a decent wage, rather than exploiting desperate and jobless workers supplied by the Thatcherite corporate state.

End Workfare Now!

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. In 1979 the Tory party ranted about the need to ‘restore the will to work’. Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that ‘The Government and the vast majority of the British people want hard work and initiative to be properly rewarded and are vexed by disincentives to work’. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Vox Political, Johnny Void, Another Angry Voice, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

Those forced into workfare are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections.’ Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed. In June that year David Cameron also declared that there was a need to end ‘the nonsense of paying people more to stay at home than to get a job – and finally making sure that work really pays. Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Forced Labour for the Unemployed in History

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state
support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Weimar Germany in the 1920s and ’30s also developed a system of voluntary work to deal with the problems of mass unemployment. This was taken over by the Nazis and became compulsory for all Germans from 19-25 as the Reicharbeitsdienst, or Imperial Labour Service It was mainly used to supply labour for German agriculature. Because of its universal nature, the Reicharbeitsdienst had no stigma attached to it, and indeed was seen as part of the new, classless Germany that was being created by Hitler. In a speech to the Service’s workers, Hitler declared that there would be no leader, who had not worked his way up through their ranks. Much harsher was the Nazi’s treatment of the serially unemployed. They were declared arbeitscheu – the German word, which forms the basis of the English ‘workshy’. These individuals were sent to the concentration camps, where they were identified with a special badge on their pyjamas, just like those marking out Jews, gay men, Socialists and trade unionists, and so on.

Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The Workfare Scheme

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick. Mental health professionals – psychiatrists and psychologists, have also released reports attacking the detrimental effect the stress of these tests are having on the mentally ill. So far they have estimated that upwards of a quarter of a million people with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety have had their condition made worse – sometimes very much worse – through the stress of taking these tests.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

Don’t Let Theresa May Privatise the NHS

June 8, 2017

This is the text of one of the self-published, table-top produced pamphlets I created a few years ago, and which are advertised on one of the other pages of this blog.

As you can see, it was written a year or so ago when David Cameron was in power. Nevertheless, it is still as valid now as it was then. Theresa May has not changed the Tory policy of privatising the NHS one whit.

So, please, read this article, and then vote for Jeremy Corbyn to preserve this most precious of British institutions.

Don’t Let Cameron Privatise the NHS
David Sivier

Visiting our local health centre the other day, my parents, along with the other local people enrolled there, were handed a letter, explaining that due to funding cuts the health centre was having to cut back on services. It also advised its patients that if they wanted to raise their concerns about the restriction in their service they could contact:-

1. NHS England at FAO Linda Prosser, Director of Assurance and Delivery, NHS England South West (BNSSG), 4th floor Plaza, Marlborough Street, Bristol BS1 3NX
2. your local MP at the House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1A 0AA

Unfortunately, this is happening to the NHS and GPs’ services all over the country. It is no accident, and it is certainly not the fault of the many dedicated doctors, nurses and other health professionals working in the NHS.
It is the result of over 30 years of privatisation begun with Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher and her former Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, denied that they wanted to privatise the NHS. They merely stated that they wanted to include more private provision in the NHS. This is a lie. Released cabinet minutes showed that Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe wanted to privatise the NHS along with abolishing the rest of the welfare state. They were only prevented from doing so because the rest of the cabinet realised that this would be the death knell for the Tory party. And a fact-finding mission to the US to see how their private healthcare system worked by Patrick Jenkin showed that it was massively inefficient.

Nevertheless, the amount of private healthcare in the NHS was expanded, and state provision duly cut by successive governments. It was Maggie’s government in 1989 that ended the state support for care for the elderly in nursing homes. As a result, the families of those, who need this kind of care, are forced to fund it themselves, often through selling or remortgaging their homes because of the immense expense. It was also Maggie’s government that ended free eye tests, and picked a feud with the doctors that saw the majority of them leave the NHS.

This privatisation has continued under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt. Blair and Brown were deeply impressed with American private healthcare firms such as Kaiser Permanente, and wished to reform the NHS on their model. The ultimate intention was to replace the publicly owned and operated NHS with private healthcare funded by the state, but administered by private health insurance companies. As a result, NHS work has been given to private hospitals and clinics, and private healthcare companies have been given NHS hospitals to manage. Alan Milburn, Blair’s health secretary, wanted the NHS to become merely a kitemark – an advertising logo – on a system of private healthcare companies funded by the government.

This has been carried on the current Conservative government. And they have used the same tactics Margaret Thatcher did to force private healthcare on this nation. The dispute with the doctors over contracts a few years ago was part of this. It has left the majority of NHS GPs wishing to leave. Yet elements within the Conservative networks responsible for foisting these demands have seen this as an opportunity for forcing through further privatisation. Penny Dash, of the National Leadership Network, and one of those responsible for the NHS privatisation, has looked forward to the remaining GPs forming private healthcare companies. Furthermore, an report on the Care Commissioning Groups now in charge of arranging healthcare in the NHS by one of the private healthcare companies also suggested that they could form private healthcare companies, and float shares on the stockmarket.

Further privatisation has come with Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care bill of 2012. This exempts the state and the Secretary of State for Health from their statutory duty, as the ultimate leaders of the NHS, to provide state health care. It is carefully worded to disguise its true meaning, but that is what has been intended by the bill. Dr David Owen, one of the founders of the SDP, now part of the Lib Dems, has tabled amendments trying to reverse this despicable bill. He and many others have also written books on the privatisation of the NHS. One of the best of these is NHS SOS, by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis, published by Oneworld.
This process cannot be allowed to continue, and I strongly urge everyone to resist the creeping privatisation of the NHS, Britain’s greatest public institution.

In the last government, there were 92 Conservative and Lib Dem ministers, who advocated the privatisation of the Health Service, and who stood personally to gain from it. They included Iain Duncan Smith, the minister for culling the poor, the sick and the old. Andrew Lansley, the health minister, openly stated he is in favour of privatising it. So has Nigel Farage, and the Unterkippergruppenfuhrer, Paul Nuttall.

Farage in particular follows the Tory policy going all the way back to Thatcher of promising to defend it while secretly plotting how to sell it off. Thatcher ‘s review into the NHS and its funding in the 1980s. so alarmed Labour’s Robin Cook, that he wrote a Fabian pamphlet, Life Begins at 40: In Defence of the NHS, attacking possible proposals to privatise the Health Service.

Previous reviews had given the NHS a clean bill of health. The extremely high quality of the NHS and its doctors was recognised by the heads of American healthcare firms: Dr Marvin Goldberg, chief executive of the AMI health group, told a parliamentary select committee that the Health Service Provides ‘outstanding health care and British NHS hospitals are at least as good as those in America while British doctors are better.’

The then Conservative MP for Newbury, Michael McNair-Wilson, also testified to the effectiveness of the NHS. He had suffered kidney failure. He had private health insurance, but it did not cover operations such as the one he needed because of the expense. He said ‘I have cost the NHS tens of thousands of pounds – much more than I could have afforded privately … Had my treatment depended on my ability to pay, I would not be alive today.’

Pre-NHS Britain: Some Areas Completely Without Hospitals

Cook’s pamphlet also graphically described the patchwork state of healthcare in Britain before the NHS. In London, where there were plenty of paying customers, there could be hospitals in neighbouring streets. Out in the poorer British provinces, there were hardly any, and many operations were carried out not by surgeons but by GPs. He cites Julian Tudor Hart’s book, A New Kind of Doctor, to show how bad this could be. Hart described how he joined one of those practices in Kettering. One patient was left under anaesthetic as the London specialist operating on him was called away to continue a stomach operation on a London patient, which the operating GP had been unable to complete.
Cook was deeply concerned that the Tories’ review would not be at all interested in improving quality, only in opening up the NHS to the market and privatisation.

Cook on Private Health Insurance

One of the issues he tackled in the pamphlet was the possibility of the introduction of private health insurance. This covers two pages and a column and a bit in the original pamphlet. This is what he wrote, though emphases and paragraph titles are mine.

The mechanism proposed to square the incompatibility of health care with the market is insurance. All market approaches to the NHS submitted to the Review stress the case for much wider private insurance and almost as frequently propose subsidies to boost it.

Insurance-Based Systems Encourage Expensive Treatment

The first thing to be said is that private insurance does not offer
to health care the alleged benefits of the discipline of the market place. At the point when the individual requires treatment he or she has already paid the premiums and has no incentive not to consume as expensive a treatment as can be reconciled with the policy. The position of the doctor is even more prejudiced in that he or she has every incentive to obtain as much as possible from the insurance company by recommending the most expensive treatment. Both patient and the doctor are in a conspiracy to make the consultation as costly as possible, which is a perverse outcome for a proposal frequently floated by those who claim to be concerned about cost control.

Insurance-Based Systems Encourage Unnecessary Surgery

The compulsion in an insurance-based system to maximise the rate of return is the simple explanation why intervention surgery is so much more often recommended in the United States. For example, the incidence of hysterectomy there is four times the British rate. This is unlikely to reflect higher morbidity rates but much more likely to reflect the greater willingness of doctors on a piece-work basis to recommend it, despite the operative risks and in the case of this particular operation the documented psychological trauma. I can guarantee that an expansion of private insurance will certainly meet the objective on increasing expenditure on health care, but it is not equally clear that the money will be spent effectively.

Insurance-Based Systems Require Expensive bureaucracy to Check Costs

One direct diversion of resources imposed by any insurance-based scheme is the necessity for accountants and clerks and lawyers to assess costs and process claims. The NHS is routinely accused of excessive bureaucracy, frequently I regret to say by the very people who work within it and are in a position to know it is not true. Expenditure in the NHS is lower as a proportion of budget than the health system of any other nation, lower as a proportion of turnover
than the private health sector within Britain, and come to that, lower than the management costs of just about any other major enterprise inside or outside the public sector. I am not myself sure that this is a feature of which we should be proud. ON the contrary it is evidence of a persistent undermanaging of the NHS, which is largely responsible for its failure to exploit new developments in communication, cost control and personnel relations. Nevertheless, there is no more pointless expansion of administrative costs than the dead-weight of those required to police and process and insurance-based system. These costs would be considerable.

Forty per cent of personal bankruptcies in the US are attributable to debts for medical care

Part of this additional cost burden is incurred in the task of hunting down bad debts, which does not contribute in any way to the provision of health care. Forty per cent of personal bankruptcies in the US are attributable to debts for medical care, a salutary reminder of the limitations set to insurance cover. These limitations have three dimensions.

Insurance Cover Excludes Chronic and Long-Term Sick, and the Elderly

First, insurance cover generally excludes those conditions which are chronic and therefore expensive or complicated and therefore expensive. Standard exclusions in British insurance policies are arthritis, renal dialysis, multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy. Most people do not require substantial medical care until after retirement. Most insurance cover excludes the very conditions for which they are then most likely to require treatment. Short of retirement, the most expensive health care required by the majority of the population is maternity care, which is also excluded by the majority of insurance policies.

Private Healthcare Limits Amount of Care due to Cost, not Need

Secondly, insurance cover is generally restricted by upper limits which are arbitrary in every sense other than financial. I recently met a psychiatric consultant to a private clinic, who was prepared to discuss candidly the ethical dilemmas of treating patients whose financial cover is fixed at five weeks of residential care, but whose response to treatment may indicate that a longer period of hospitalisation is desirable.

Private Health Care Geared to Selling to Healthy not Sick

Thirdly, insurance cover is further limited by exclusion of those most likely to claim on it. I am often struck at the sheer healthiness of the patients who illustrate the promotional literature of BUPA and PPP who appear in such pink of good cheer and fitness that it is difficult to figure out why they are in a hospital bed. These models are though in a sense most suitable for the purpose as the objective of insurance companies is to attract the healthy. They therefore claim the right to screen for the unhealthy and reject them from cover. This discriminatory approach was defended earlier this month by the managing director of WPA, Britain’s third biggest health insurer, on the principled grounds that it meant ‘essentially healthy people are not penalised by unhealthy people.’ This statement has the advantage of originality in that it perceives healthy people as the vulnerable group and proposes a market remedy that protects them from the inconvenient costs of the unhealthy.
Given this limited character of health insurance in Britain, the private sector is patently not in a position to substitute for the NHS and to be fair most directors of BUPA or PPP would be horrified at the notion of accepting the comprehensive, open-ended liabilities of the NHS. It is therefore perplexing that so much effort in and around the Review appears to be addressed to the issue of how the private sector may be expanded rather than how the public sector may be improved. Two major devices are being canvassed to boost private cover-tax relief on private cover or opt-out from public cover, or for all I know both of them together. Both would be a major mistake.

Tax Relief on Private Healthcare

Tax relief is open to the obvious objection that it targets help most on those who need it least – the healthy who are most likely to be accepted for private cover and the wealthy whose higher tax rates make relief most vulnerable. These are curious priorities for additional health expenditure.

Tax Relief Does Not Create Higher Spending on Health Care

Moreover, even in its own terms of stimulating higher spending on health, tax relief is likely to prove an ineffective mechanism. If for example the average premium is £200 pa the cost of tax relief for 6 million insured persons will be £300 million. The numbers under insurance need to increase by a third before the increased spending on premiums matches the cost of the subsidy and provides any net increase in health spending. Up to that point it will always produce a larger rise in health spending to increase the budget of the NHS by a sum equivalent to the cost of tax relief.

It is apparently being mooted that these objections could be circumvented by limiting the tax relief to the elderly. At this point the proposal moves from the perverse to the eccentric. This restriction targets help for private insurance on the very group for whom private cover is most inappropriate as their most likely health needs are the ones most likely to be excluded from cover. Only a moment’s reflection is required on the multiple ways in which we need to expand our health provision for the elderly to expose the hopeless irrelevance of tax relief as the solution for them.

Opt-Out Penalises those who Remain in the System

Opt-out is even more objectionable. The basic problem with opt-out is that it requires the payment towards the NHS of every individual to be expressed in a manner that gives him or her something to opt-out from. The principal attraction to Leon Brittan of his proposal for an NHS insurance contribution appeared to be precisely that it paved the way for opting out (A New Deal for Health Care, Conservative Political Centre,, 1988). Nor is this inconvenience confined to the need for a whole new element in the tax system. If one in ten of the population chose to opt out, it would be remaining nine out of ten who would have to prove they were not opted-out when they went along to seek treatment. With the new contributions comes a requirement to maintain a record of payment of them, and presumably a mechanism for credits to those not in work but who do not wish to be counted has having opted out of the NHS.

Private Healthcare Undermine NHS as Universal System

The more fundamental objection both these proposals is they explicitly threaten the NHS as universal health service catering for everyone. Moreover, they threaten its universality in the worst possible way, by encouraging those with higher incomes and lower health needs to get out, leaving behind the less affluent and the less fit. In this respect such an approach to the NHS would be a piece with the Government’s strategy of erosion towards the rest of the social services-housing, pensions, and now education, where the Government has encouraged those who could afford it to opt-out of public provision, leaving behind the poor who could be expected to put6 up with a poor service.

This is the reality of the private healthcare system which Cameron, Clegg, Farage and the rest of the Right wish to introduce. It is expensive, bureaucratic, does not stimulating further spending, and excludes those with the most acute and expensive medical need, especially the elderly.
And the Tories and their counterparts in UKIP and the Lib Dems know it. Why else would the Tories spend their time trying to deny what they’re doing? Why does Farage appear to be advocating retaining the NHS, while arguing for an insurance based system, like America? It’s because they know that private medicine does not provide the solutions they claim. It is only source of further enrichment to them and their corporate donors.

And since Cook wrote that pamphlet, more than 20 per cent of all Americans can no longer afford their healthcare. It’s why the firms are trying to get their feet under the table over here. Don’t let them. Ed Miliband and now Jeremy Corbyn have promised to reverse the privatisation of the NHS. Please support them.

The NME Interviews Jeremy Corbyn

June 3, 2017

The musical paper, NME, last week put its support firmly behind Jeremy Corbyn. They’ve put on YouTube this interview with the great man by their editor-in-chief, Mike Williams.

Williams states that the other parties are ignoring the needs of young people, with the exception of Corbyn. In the course of the interview, Corbyn talks about how support for Labour is surging because, now that we’re in the election period, the reporting has to be a little fairer, and so people are for the first time hearing what Labour’s policies actually are.

He talks about how children are having their future damaged through growing up in high rent, poorly maintained housing, attending schools that are having their funding cut so they are releasing teachers and teaching assistants.

He talks about how Britain spends less on its welfare support than other nations. This is unacceptable, as we are not a poor nation. He states that he intends to correct this by putting more on corporation tax, but 95 per cent of the people of this country will not be paying anymore.

He also talks about how student debt is also damaging young people’s future. It harms their credit rating and makes it difficult for them to get a mortgage. As you have to be earning over £21,000 before paying it back, it means that many people don’t earn enough, and so, as many people also move abroad, it means that there is a mountain of public debt that’s piling up.

He states that Labour will make tuition free for those beginning uni in 2017/18, but acknowledges that there is a problem with existing students, who have already accumulated a debt. He sketches out various ways Labour may try to reduce it, but acknowledges that at this point he can’t give a definitive answer, because an election has only just been called.

Corbyn and Williams also talk about how the Tories are running down public services, including the welfare state, through massive cuts, in order to give massive tax breaks to big companies, which leave the rest of us worse off.

He rebuts May’s dismissal of Labour’s proposals as ‘utopian’, and makes that dry observation that this the first time he’s heard her use the word. Clearly, he has a low opinion of her intelligence and vocabulary.

As the NME is a music paper, Corbyn also talks about Labour’s proposals to protect and nurture music and young musical talent. About 40 per cent of the music venues in London have closed. Corbyn states that he intends to rectify this by putting more funding into live music venues and music education. There will be an additional £160 million given to schools, which will enable schoolchildren to learn an instrument. He also wishes to give money to councils so they can provide affordable practice spaces to aspiring musicians. In this way, he hopes to encourage the music industry to take up the pool of talent that there will be.

Williams tackles him on the subject of pacifism, and asks him why he has said he will put more money into defence. Corbyn states that he believes in and works for peace, but there is the question of what you would do in a war like the World War II and the need to attack enemies like the Nazis. However, he states he has set up a shadow minister for peace and disarmament, and that if Labour wins he will turn this into a ministerial position.

The two also talk about what will happen to the NHS if Labour don’t get into power. How close is it to collapse? Corbyn states that it is very close to collapse already, and that if this goes on, it will become a health service of last resort to people who cannot afford private healthcare. If that happens, you will have the system where the poor will have to receive care from emergency rooms, a prospect he finds appalling.

Williams asks him what will happen if Labour doesn’t win. Corbyn says in reply that Labour will, but people need to get out and vote.

As for the whole question about young people versus old people, he states that he does not believe politics should be so compartmentalised. He describes a public meeting in which he spoke to a wide cross-section of the community, the young, the old, gay, straight, Black and White. We should be talking, he says, about intergenerational support. The young need the wisdom of the old, and the old need the inspiration of the young.

Williams also asks him the burning question that people have been poring over for the past 20 years: which was better, Blur or Oasis. Corbyn things a bit, and then says Oasis, but then says that what he really should have said, was that he’d refer it to a focus group. But he doesn’t do focus groups.

This is an excellent interview. Corbyn is quiet spoken, in command of the facts and figures, optimistic, but not complacent, and with very clear ideas how to make life better in Britain for everyone, not just the poor. And he has the honesty to admit that Labour doesn’t yet have a fixed policy when it comes to the debts students now have built up. You won’t hear such honest from May. All you can expect from her is lies.

All the Tories will give us, by contrast, is more poverty, more starvation, and all to give more money to the rich.

We can stop them.
For peace, a just Britain, and an end to Tory poverty and misrule, vote Labour on June 8th.

Johnson Clueless about Whereabouts of Missing May

June 1, 2017

Theresa May was missing from the leader debate broadcast on BBC 1 last night. The leaders of all the other parties were there, except for her, and her place was taken by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd.

May’s absence was no surprise to anyone. She’d already said many times before that she wouldn’t be appearing in the debates, and keeps dodging challenges by Corbyn and other party leaders to meet them in open debate.

It’s a tacit admission that rather than being ‘strong and stable’, May is weak and wobbly, who can’t face being challenged on her terrible policies and manifest failures by her political opponents in an arena she can’t control.

When she goes out to meet the public, it’s in very controlled circumstances like the extremely stage-managed PR exercises used by Blair and New Labour to give their administration a popular veneer. The meetings are held on private premises, and are frequently invitation only.

Authentic proles are not invited.

When the proles do get near her, as they did in Bristol, when she emerged from one of these private meetings, they see her off with boos and jeers.

She is manifestly not a ‘woman of the people’. And the media and public are asking questions about her whereabouts.

Boris Johnson was on Breakfast TV a moment ago. The presenters asked him where May was. He huffed and puffed in his usual, blustering manner, but admitted that he didn’t know where she was. He tried to make this sound better by saying something to the effect that wherever, she was, she was doing a good job.

Which sounds to me like another line from one of the great comedians of the 1990s, Harry Enfield.

I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post how Amber Rudd’s speech last night sounded like a Rory Bremner impression of Michael Howard. Rudd, in her concluding speech, stated that a vote for any other party than the Tories would be a vote for Labour. This sounds like a joke Bremner made about the threadbare nature of the Tory arguments when Howard was leader of the party. In one sketch, Bremner appeared as the-then Tory leader, and said into the camera, ‘If you don’t vote Tory, Labour will get in.’ That was his whole argument in the satirical sketch, and pretty much the only arguments the Tories could muster at this time. Just as it appeared to be the core of their argument last night, only with the slight addition of rubbish about the ‘coalition of chaos’, Brexit and how May was ‘strong’.

Johnson’s reply to the question about May’s location sounds like a joke Enfield made on Comic Relief years ago. This was about the answer a Tory politician would give you if you asked him the time. Enfield then adopted the stern, lecturing posture of your typical Tory, and intoned

‘I do not know what the time is, but I can tell you this: whatever time it is, it is a far better we are having now, than was had under the last Labour administration.’

As Johnson showed just now, this is very much the kind of answer the Tories give when they don’t have an answer – they automatically try to shift the blame on the failings of the last Labour government.

As the Tories lose their lead in the polls, they’re floundering about using all their tired clichés to cling to some semblance of the popularity. And just as celebrities as they aged started to look more like their Spitting Image puppets, so the Tories are becoming increasingly indistinguishable from the jokes and caricatures about them.

They have no answers, and offer nothing except more poverty, despair and the victimisation of real working people, the elderly, the sick and disabled.

All for the benefit of the rich upper 25 per cent.

Kick them out.
Vote Labour on June 8th.

Vox Political: Tories Lie about Labour as Set to Lose Overall Majority in Parliament

May 31, 2017

As I’ve mentioned in a post earlier today, the Heil and Torygraph are spreading more lies about Labour. This time they’re claiming that Labour has drawn up ‘secret plans’ to let in millions of unskilled immigrants after Brexit. And the Mail Online has put up another piece, claiming that Labour will impose a ‘garden tax’.

As you would expect, this is all rubbish and fake news from the two newspapers that hate and fear Corbyn the most. It was the Fail and the Torygraph that were pushing the most the smear that Corbyn was a ‘Trotskyite’. As for drumming up fears of a mass influx of foreigners, well, no surprise there either then. Both papers have been ranting about uncontrolled immigration and ‘unassimilable foreigners’ since the 1960s. Several of the hacks, who’ve written for the Mail, such as Simon Heffer, even contributed chapters celebrating the centenary of Enoch Powell.

Although it’s not being put in such crude, racist language, we’re back to the old smear of ‘If you want a n***er for a neighbour, vote Labour’. And many people in modern Britain do live in multiethnic areas, and get on perfectly well with people of different ethnicities and skin colour, thank you very much. And many White older folk appreciate the respect given to the elderly in other cultures, such as amongst Asians.

Of course, the Mail should be very careful when trying to stir up fears of mass immigration. This brings back painful memories of the 1930s, when the newspaper screamed its support of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists with the notorious headline, ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’. It was avowedly pro-Hitler, supported the Nazi regime and published tirades warning the country of the supposed threat from Jewish immigration. That is, from people fleeing unimaginable persecution in Germany and eastern Europe. Just as it now attacks the refugees from the Middle East fleeing the chaos and terror western imperialism has inflicted on their native countries.

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece showing why the Tories have gone back to playing the race card: they’re set to lose their overall majority in parliament by 16 seats. At the moment they’re set to win 310 seats, Labour 257, the SNP 50, Lib Dems 10, the Greens and ‘Northern Irish’ 1 each, and other parties 18.

UKIP are set to get no seats at all. So much for the mighty revolution in British politics which Farage was supposed to have unleashed.

Mike’s article also graphically shows why no disabled people should vote for the Tories. The article contains a disturbing video by a disabled woman, Aleesha, of the privations she suffers thanks to the Tory cuts. This lady lives in an unadapted home. She cannot walk, and so must crawl painfully from room to room, even heaving herself up painfully onto the toilet. She states that she has fallen off it several times, and knocked herself out on the bath. She has stopped taking her medicines, or some of them, because she could not afford to pay the prescription charges for the four sets of drugs she needs to take each day. The cuts to her benefit also means that she subsists on milk, and has lost many pounds in weight. This has also exacerbated her eating disorder. She also suffers from incontinence, but again, has no money to pay for the special underwear, and so has suffered from the humiliation of soiling her clothes.

It is disgusting that anyone in Britain in the 21st century should suffer such humiliation and poverty.

And this is being done to give by the Tory party and their paymasters in big business massive tax breaks and a cowed workforce, which is prepared to suffer poverty wages in order to avoid the threat of unemployment. There are 100,000-odd people, who have been saved from starvation only through food banks. There are seven million people living in ‘food insecure’ households. That means that they don’t know where their next meal’s going to come from. It means mothers, who are starving themselves in order to feed their children.

It means 600 disabled people and rising have died in misery and starvation.

By contrast, Labour have promised to repeal the work capability tests, the repeated testing of people with severe illnesses or disabilities, so you won’t have any more amputees asked the moronic question of when they expect their limbs to grow back, and increase carers’ allowance by £30. As well as scrapping the sanctions regime.

As Mike point outs in his article, if you’re disabled or care about disabled people, you’ll love Labour’s manifesto. But if you’re a Tory, you’re going to hate it.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/31/want-to-know-why-the-papers-are-printing-lies-about-labour-policies-heres-the-answer/

Don’t be misled by Tory lies. These reforms have all been costed. And they are not, contra the claims of George Alagaiah and John Pienaar on the Six O’clock News yesterday, going to come from extra taxes on ordinary people.

They’re going to come from the rich.

Which is why the Tories and their lapdogs in the press are going berserk and trying to smear the Labour party with everything they have.

And it’s very clear why the Mail and Telegraph are going to hate it especially. Quite apart from the bitter hatred these papers have for the poor and working people, both are owned by rich tax-dodgers. Viscount Rothermere, who owns the Heil, has non-dom tax status inherited from his father. Despite this, he seems very much domiciled in this country, where he has a stately home. The Torygraph is owned by the weirdo Barclay twins, who have their own private island, Brecqou, in the Channel.

Don’t let these people lie to you.
Don’t let any more people die of starvation, or live in fear of it.
Don’t stand for the poverty and degradation they’re inflicting on the disabled.
And don’t let them keep Britain divided by stirring up hatred against ethnic minorities and immigrants.

Vote Labour June 8th.

Weak and Wobby May Does Massive U-Turn over ‘Dementia Tax’

May 22, 2017

This also shows how much pressure and desperate the Tories are feeling from a resurgent Labour. In her manifesto four days ago, ‘strong and stable’ May said that she intended taking the value of people’s houses into consideration when assessing the amount they would be charged for their social care. This would lead to people having to take out ‘equity release’, in which their houses would be sold and the money used to pay for their care, while allowing them to remain as tenants.

Florence, one of the great commenters to this blog, has pointed out just how nasty this policy is in a comment she posted to an earlier piece I did about it. She wrote

Equity release is not the same as insurance. Using equity release to pay for care is already available and has many times been shown to be the worse possible use of a house for the elderly. They are essentially unpaid mortgages where the interest accrues along with the original debt, so any capital increase in value is eaten up by interest and charges. The resident can be forced out of the house at any time. Instead of banning these deals the May cabal want to force us to use them.

Insurance will only be available to the young and fit or through workplace schemes. No one will insure a retired person.

Not surprisingly, large sections of the population did not welcome having the government force them to sell the homes they saved for throughout their lives. With the result that May has now made a U-Turn so fast, that she’s left skidmarks in the road, if not in her underwear.

It’s a very quick U-Turn indeed, as only this morning various Tory talking heads were appearing on breakfast TV defending it, saying that the Tories were showing resolve in coming to grips with Britain’s aging population. Now she’s telling everyone she’s going to put a cap on the amount they will be expected to pay. Even though her ministers, like Jeremy Hunt, have been saying all week. She’s also gone on the offensive – and to me, she’s always been very offensive – and accused Labour of scaremongering.

But, as various people on social media have noticed, it’s May herself who appears scared. Or ‘frit’, as the former Leaderene used to say in her native Grantham patois.

Mike’s posted up two videos of her speaking, stating that her own fear is evident from her body language and tone of voice.

One person has posted a picture of a backbone, with a note beside it saying ‘Wanted for Theresa May’. Marcus Chown also posted a photograph of a jelly, to show how weak and wobbly May is. Chown’s a scientist and science writer, who’s written for New Scientist, and published a book on the Cosmic Background Radiation, The Afterglow of Creation, far back in the 1990s. But you really don’t need the Hubble Space Telescope or Jodrell Bank to see how desperate May and her fellows now are.

She’s now telling everyone that she’s going to keep her new promise to cap charges for social care. And the Daily Mail, like the Tory lapdog it is, has issued an article hailing her as an ‘honest politician’.

No, no she isn’t. Not remotely.

Among the various promises and pledges she’s broken are her support for ‘Remain’, which has now definitely been ditched in favour of Brexit; her promise to raise National Insurance contributions from the self-employed; she claimed she wanted to put workers in the boardroom – that went very quickly; and her stated resolution not to hold a snap election. Along with a pledge to reduce the sugar content in children’s foods.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/22/dementia-tax-u-turn-theresa-may-is-a-weak-and-wobbly-conservative-in-chaos/

As Mike states in his article, it’s not a complete list.

In fact, May’s party lies frequently and shamelessly. Remember when David Cameron, May’s predecessor, was telling everyone that the Tories would ring-fence NHS spending against cuts? How he, IDS and the rest of the Tory faithful claimed they were trying to protect the NHS for New Labour’s closure of hospitals up and down the country? These policies were ditched almost as soon as Cameron got his foot in No. 10. As was his statement that his would be the ‘greenest’ government of all. That was ditched along with the little windmill outside his house, and replaced with a huge support for fracking and other environmentally destructive policies.

And May’s new pledge about capping the Dementia Tax is, in my opinion, another lie, from a party of liars.