Feb 272013

Time to be totally honest about this.  I’m officially diagnosed – have been for most of my life – both epileptic and paranoid schizophrenic.  I’m not quite sure about the second diagnosis – my doctor refuses politely to revisit it any more.  But I have been – and still am – dependent on expensive medication in order that I might function.

Without it, I would at the very least be having multiple fits every day of my life.

This, therefore, has profoundly shocked me – not only shocked me but revolted and disgusted me:

[In Greece, hundreds] of drugs are in short supply and the situation is getting worse, according to the Greek drug regulator. The government has drawn up a list of more than 50 pharmaceutical companies it accuses of halting or planning to halt supplies because of low prices in the country.

More than 200 medicinal products are affected, including treatments for arthritis, hepatitis C and hypertension, cholesterol-lowering agents, antipsychotics, antibiotics, anaesthetics and immunomodulators used to treat bowel disease.

The Guardian goes on to report that:

Chemists in Athens describe chaotic scenes with desperate customers going from pharmacy to pharmacy to look for prescription drugs that hospitals could no longer dispense.

The government list includes some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca. Pfizer, Roche and Sanofi all said a few products had been withheld. GSK and AstraZeneca denied the claims.

So why are the drugs being withheld?  It would appear that traders as well as wider corporate greed are both, once more, at the heart of our problems:

“Companies are ceasing these supplies because Greece is not profitable for them and they are worried that their products will be exported by traders to other richer countries through parallel trade as Greece has the lowest medicine prices in Europe,” said Professor Yannis Tountas, the president of the Greek drug regulator, the National Organisation for Medicines.

I’m truly sorry for the language I’m about to use here but I see no other way of expressing my rage.

On second thoughts, nothing in the English language fully expresses the way I feel right now.


Of course, you’ll be thinking, and I bet you are, Greece is one of those reasonably faraway countries we like to nastily describe as PIGS.  Which, in truth, says far more about ourselves than any unfortunate object of our prejudices.

Only, quite interestingly, this acronym has been expanded on two occasions – and can occasionally be now seen even as PIIGGS.  Yes.  Great Britain is joining the band of merry men and women whose sociopolitical and economic environments do unpleasant things to their peoples in the name of financial probity.  Looking for examples?  Try this one, again from the Guardian tonight:

The acrimonious debate over soaring energy bills and mounting fuel poverty reignited when British Gas – the biggest energy supplier in the UK – unveiled an 11% increase in profits and its parent group, Centrica, promised a £1.3bn handout to its shareholders just months after pushing through an increase in household bills.

Campaign groups warned that 160,000 children had been dragged into fuel poverty by the actions of the big six energy suppliers since 2010, while trade union bosses accused energy chiefs of “creaming off” profits. Dividends of more than £3.5bn have now been paid out by Centrica over the last five years. Anger was exacerbated by confirmation that Phil Bentley, British Gas’s managing director, will stand down with a combined pay and pension package worth more than £10m.

Curious, isn’t it?  After the credit-crunch years, and as all those little shareholders of people’s-capitalism fame found their investments slipping like sand through their once expectant and optimistic fingers, so the big corporate blue chip companies – riding out the storm – have begun to handsomely reward not only their managerialist executives but also their cleverly deep-pocketed gargantuan corporate investors.

As people’s capitalism went into reverse gear, so the corporates learnt to bide their time.

As people’s capitalism lost the support of the people, so the brutal corporations remembered how to keep their resources ever closer to their (war) chests.

And all of the above on the backs of 160,000 children.

All of the above on the backs of the most poverty-stricken.

Brute corporate force, exerted brutally – is this really what we deserve?

Transnational pharmaceutical companies which hold cancer patients, schizophrenics, heart-condition sufferers and people with depression to the kind of ransoms only bastard kings would ever consider.

Energy conglomerates which pile the pain on every winter as they force the poor and elderly to choose between food and fuel.

Where the HELL is your HUMANITY, for Christ’s sake?  Where the HELL is your SHAME?  Where the HELL did you leave your CHARITY?

Where the HELL do you THINK this will LEAD you in the end?

Or IS this HELL we already inhabit?

Feb 092013

The Observer reports tonight on a story which will no doubt run and run (in an equine sense if no other):

Sources close to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency said it appeared that the contamination of beefurgers, lasagne and other products [with horsemeat] was the result of fraud that had an “international dimension”.

Substitute some of the actors with our friends in the financial services community – even the Financial Services Authority shares the same TLA with the Food Standards Agency – and you’ll see why I’m beginning to get the feeling that horsemeat DNA on a criminal scale bears an uncanny resemblance to Libor fixing on a criminal scale.  In both cases, it would seem that insiders have been stuffing outsiders – and the outsiders have been suffering the consequences, generally unknowingly.  A mafia is a mafia, however genteel or besuited it may show itself to be.  We are, it would appear, in the grip of such mafias.

In fact, to state – as the Observer does in its headline – that the “Horsemeat scandal [is] blamed on international fraud by mafia gangs” is just a tad disingenuous: it may be true, of course, but a) it doesn’t half let the government and the regulatory authorities off the hook of ultimate responsibility and b) it doesn’t half beg the question why whoever’s doing the blaming didn’t realise this any earlier.

The process and sequence of events is exactly the same as that which assailed us during the 2008 credit crunch.  All of it essentially down to light-touch regulatory mindsets which believe stupidly in the magical powers of utterly unleashed corporate environments: environments which start out – in our hopeful and ever-optimistic politico-economic models – as virtuous circles of efficient business, only to end up being populated with dysfunctionally greedy individuals, systemic failures no one could have predicted or even – as in this case – Eastern European mafias.

The all-too-predictable result of a hands-off and responsibility-abdicating approach to the business of government and governance.

By trusting the market to run itself, by not inspecting the opportunities for greed and irresponsible behaviours, by believing that organised crime won’t care to get involved in the daily operation of customer choice, these latterday governments of ours are destroying the very integrity of our economic checks and balances.

And that their mentality should argue that customers vote freely with their purchases every day of the blessed week is appalling in the extreme: whilst we cannot take our own personal DNA testers to every prepared meal, and prick them and poke them before every purchase, we are at the mercy of those processes we should surely have every right to trust.

The Independent concludes in the following way its report on the obfuscation currently at play:

‘Bute’ aside, the unlabelled horse may indeed be safe to eat. But that’s not to say that people wanted to eat it, nor, more importantly, that anyone in the food supply system was aware of the existence of what seems to have been a massive undetected fraud.

It was just the presence of an unknown substance –  prions that caused BSE (and the ensuing complacency and cover-up) – that led to a collapse in confidence in British farming.

Judging by the events and attitudes of the last few weeks, the lessons have not been learnt.

Not learnt indeed.  That is all too clear.

But what’s even more clear to me tonight is that business today, whether white collar or abattoir, needs a massive kick up the backside from about as fearsome and heavy-touch legislative and inspection regimes as we can possibly manage to invent and devise.

If for no other reason than to guarantee the safety of hapless human beings in a complex and interdependent century – human beings who still don’t come complete or supplied with their own portable laboratories.

A market for cheap and easy-to-use DNA testers then?

Perhaps the need is wider than that.  Maybe the market that’s really waiting to be exploited is for an algorithmic comparer of prices and products, which automatically suggests the potential presence of fraudulent behaviours in any supply chain.

For until we as consumers get far more access to information about what goes on behind the scenes in such B2B transactions, there is little we can do but to resign ourselves to further and ever-increasing fraud in banking, technology and food products various.

Mar 162012

Yesterday, I described – from my own point of view as a language trainer – how Ofsted’s recent claim that what was wrong with the English education system was the “levels” of literacy didn’t tell quite the whole story.  This morning I read, over at the always excellent Though Cowards Flinch, that not only did the claims not tell the whole story, they actually appear to have told a few porkies.  Paul summarises the results of his investigations thus:

We have a Chief Inspector –  head of a supposedly independent organisation – operating in apparent collusion with a government department to give a deliberately false and negative impression of literacy standards and English teaching in England.  Why else would he discard the information provided in his own report, which he’s been asked onto radio to talk about, in favour of other, more negative figures apparently dredged from a dodgy press release?

The phrase that really catches my eye is that “head of a supposedly independent organisation”.  If few organisations in previous regimes were entirely out of the grasping reaches of professional politicos – ask the question “Who policed those who policed?” and the answer will almost certainly engender unhappiness – then this current government appears to have finessed to a fine art the ability and desire its makers and shakers have to totally disregard any nominal attachment to evidence-based politics.  From Legal Aid to the NHS, from welfare reform in general to our blessed political football of an education system, it’s quite clear that what counts these days is a brazen affiliation to money, wealth, power and their charms.

The public no longer expects probity in its politicians – and, as any teacher or trainer or educationalist will point out, or even any professional politico when it suits them, expectations define and create individuals in the image of their wisdom or lack of it.  It’s not even as if politicians are on a hiding to nothing any more.  They can now do what they want because – in a sense – they have broken through a crucial barrier of expectations and obligations: the political barriers which have been broken involve serving Queen, country, fellow citizen and political beliefs before one’s own grimy and sordid pockets of self-enrichment.

This Coalition government of the self-interested is interested in nothing more nor less than a socioeconomic landscape which rewards bad competition and bad capitalism above and beyond any other version of society; especially any other version which any other political ideology might wish to collaboratively sustain.  For these politicians, the only good business organisation is that which aims to become transnational; the only good politician is he or she who is prepared to be paid off by the former; and the only good voters are those who are happy to believe every lie which the aforementioned complex of interests can peddle.

As Paul concludes in his piece:

[…] it’s hard to avoid the sense that Sir Michael Wilshaw is much more than a Gove lapdog, happy to bash teachers and children for narrow political purpose, and to use manifestly incorrect data to do so.

In the current political environment, therefore, he’ll go far.

Too true, my dear Paul.  Far too true for anyone’s good.

Jan 292012

This, from the BBC last November, reminds us how chaos is in the eyes of the beholder:

Eviction notices have been attached to tents at a protest camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral.

The City of London Corporation notice tells Occupy London Stock Exchange (OLSX) activists to clear the “public highway” by 18:00 GMT on Thursday.

The “public highway” being the land occupied by the protest at the time which did not belong to the Cathedral.

Obviously, the kind of chaos this was leading to – on a shared “public highway” – was considered by those who we presume should know more about these things as completely unacceptable in a modern civilisation.  Two reactions then: first, this was chaos; second, we should not tolerate it.

And I can live with that conclusion – even where my instincts are not to approve.

This morning, meanwhile, we have another example of chaos – this time as defined by Iain Duncan Smith:

Iain Duncan Smith has said there would have been “chaos” if ministers had overruled the board of RBS and vetoed a £963,000 share bonus for its boss.

The government has come under pressure to act over Stephen Hester’s bonus as it owns 82% of the bank’s shares.

Cabinet Minister Mr Duncan Smith told the BBC “nobody would be happier” than ministers if Mr Hester declined it.

But it had been up to the RBS board – if they had gone, it would have had a huge impact, he said.

The kind of huge impact – on an 80 percent state shareholding, on tens of thousands of workers and on millions of customers – which no one in our society is willing to do anything about, at least in the sense of proactively preventing its occurrence.

Except, of course, by not only giving entirely in to but also sanctioning fully the rights of those making these implicit threats of executive blackmail.

Again, my reactions are twofold: first, as in the case of St Paul’s, this was chaos; second, we have no alternative but to tolerate it.

Oh, people! 


How do you expect us to believe in a socioeconomic environment which behaves like this? 

I really find no other way of describing this second example than to call it economic blackmail by corporate hooligans of the very lowest order.  And these are the captains of industry whose behaviours we are being asked to support and even emulate?

How very very short the modern representatives of capitalism are happy to sell their baby these days.