Friday, July 29, 2011

The causes of the famine in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia – and why donating aid to Africa does save lives

People in the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia, are starving in their millions due to a famine and the failure of developed country governments and people to donate enough money for food aid to feed them (1) – (2). The famine has five main causes – the worst drought in 60 years (possibly worsened worsened by climate change), civil war (lengthened by US and Ethiopian involvement), wealthy Africans and foreign investors buying up land and water for commercial farming, overpopulation; and some factions in the anti-American side in the civil war – Al Shabab –who target aid workers or refuse to let them in. Overpopulation is far from the only cause and would require increased aid (with very different conditions on it) to reverse it, not the end of aid which many are wrongly advocating.

Those who claim ‘foreign aid hasn’t worked’ as an excuse for not donating this time are confusing long-term  development aid with emergency humanitarian aid for famine victims, which definitely saves lives. Those who blame Somalians might as well be saying cancer victims must have done something wrong to deserve it (especially to starving children).

 Foreign aid has failed to produce enough development from the 1980s on because donor governments, the IMF and the World Bank have only given it on conditions that prevent development. It’s been based on a myth that developed countries became developed through total free trade, which has been used to make aid conditional on complete free trade policies by developing countries. In fact development economist Ha Joon Chang in his book ‘Bad Samaritans’ has shown that all developed countries developed their industries through government intervention, subsidies and protection – and that’s the only way developing countries can develop (3).

The idea that humanitarian aid organisations like the UN’s World Food Programme have failed, or that aid and development charities like Oxfam have failed, is simply false though. Their emergency aid has saved lives and so has their development aid, but the latter is not on a large enough scale to produce major economic development in the absence of similar government aid and fair trade.

If you want to just donate rather than read the rest you can donate in the UK to the Disasters Emergency Committee on this link or from anywhere in the world to the UN World Food Programme on this link or to the International Red Cross on this link.)

Otherwise read on for more details on the causes of the famine and solutions – the donation links and others are repeated at the end.


Even camels are dying in this drought

The most immediate cause is the worst drought in 60 years in the Horn of Africa (4) While there have been droughts in the Horn of Africa for centuries, their frequency has increased from a 10 year cycle to a 5 year one and then recently to one every 2 to 3 years (5).

Climate change caused by developed world CO2 emissions can’t be ruled out as one of the causes. The US Geological Survey predicted in January that droughts in East Africa would be more likely due to rising global temperatures, while climate scientists are coming to a concensus that extreme weather events have become so extreme and common that the link with climate change must be investigated (6) – (7).

Somalia's Civil War – and US government involvement in continuing it

Equally important as an immediate cause is the decades long civil war (kept going by the US government’s backing for warlords they say are fighting against others they allege are allied to Al Qa’ida, under both Bush and Obama ; and by a US backed Ethiopian invasion from 2007 to 2009, which re-started  the civil war after it had briefly ended in late 2006 ) . This is less straightforward than it sounds as  some of the warlords previously identified as the worst in by the US in the past are now being supported by it. Ethiopian soldiers who have been at war with Somalia many times due to a dispute over who owns the Ogaden region , slit Somalian villagers’ throats “like goats”, stabbed out teenagers’ eyes with bayonets and committed many rapes. The Ethiopian invasion (now ended) and US air and drone strikes targeting Al Shabab and Al Qa’ida leaders across the country, along with CIA detention and torture centers in Mogadishu, have increased support for the Al Shabab rebels (8) – (20).  

The war is definitely a primary cause of the famine - the worst famines in the region in the past came during the heaviest fighting in civil and international wars (21).

Al Shabab – why they aren’t all preventing all aid getting through – and they’re not getting UN aid money

Third is Al Shabab – the allegedly Al Qa’ida supporting side which the US opposes in the civil war, some of whom have said they’ve lifted their previous ban on western aid agencies operating in their territory (and killings of aid workers), while others say it will continue and deny there’s a famine. This seems to be bec Al Shabab is more a loose alliance of groups than a single organisation (22) – (24).

This does not mean it will be impossible to get aid through. Some Shabab factions are letting aid in (25). The Al Shabab ban only applied to four foreign aid agencies – Care, the UN Development Programme, the UN’s World Food Programme and the International Medical Corps (26). Some villages and areas supposedly under Al Shabab control are letting aid agencies in. Some towns and villages in areas where Al Shabab factions have refused to let foreign aid in are also changing sides in order to get aid for their people (27) – (28). Many aid organisations, like the World Food Programme, were already delivering aid through local Somalian charities (29).

The factions among Al Shabab refusing to allow aid in are not an unprecedented problem. There have been problems of looting by criminal gunmen and pirates for decades (30).

In the last few years US funding for humanitarian aid in Somalia fell massively due to US government restrictions on funding for aid in Somalia, designed to prevent any money getting into Al Shabab’s hands , which have only recently been loosened (and not enough according to some aid workers) (31)

There have been many false claims made by extreme right bloggers like Pamela Geller (of the US Tea Party Republican faction) that UN aid money has gone to Al Shabab. In fact UN food and medical aid has been given to Al Shabab drought committees to distribute in some areas where it’s the only way to get aid to the people (32) – (33).

Geller asks ‘How much money is left over for food after buying weapons and qurans?’. No money – because it’s food and medical aid, Pamela - and there was no money involved

The reliability of Geller’s claims can be judged by some of her other blog posts in which she for instance implied  that the Norway terrorist shootings committed by Anders Behring Breivik were the result of an Islamist ‘Jihad’ and that all rapes in the past 5 years in Norway had been committed by Muslims (34). 

Land - Grazing land and water supplies bought up by US , European, Chinese and Saudi firms for commercial farming, leaving less for herders

Fourth, a major long term cause is land previously available for nomadic grazing being taken over for commercial farming for profit, much of it bought up by foreign firms and governments (35) – (38). 

A large proportion of the population of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia have survived for centuries (and probably thousands of years) as nomadic pastoralists or herders, with small flocks of goats and cattle (and more recently camels). In the past they survived periodic droughts by constantly moving their herds to where there was water and grazing, often across borders between modern countries (39).

However a wealthy minority of Africans and Big American, European and Chinese hedge funds and firms Saudi sheikhs and companies have been buying up large amounts of land in Africa (including Kenya and Ethiopia) for commercial agriculture for profit, much of it in the river valleys and estuaries the herders moved to during droughts in the past (40).

This is partly because much of the Middle East and the desert states of the US such as California, Texas and Arizona (along with Florida) have depleted their acquifers and are running out of water and having to import more food – and partly because foreign investors see profits to be made from producing food as prices rise due to population growth and land previously used for farming becoming desert or being used for bio-fuels (41) – (46).

Chinese government backed investors have been doing the same as it’s rising population, growing water shortages and building on and polluting of farmland is leaving it requiring more food imports (47) – (49)

Why Trading in Food ‘futures’ should be banned

Many hedge funds, pension funds, banks other investors have begun also trading in food ‘futures’ – bets on the price a commodity will reach by a certain date. This and the lack of any regulation preventing them buying and storing large amounts of food to drive up prices and make them more likely to win their bet and profit from it is also increasing food prices and making it harder for the poorest to afford food. Trading in food futures was illegal until the banks and hedge funds lobbied governments to legalise it – it should be banned again and forever. (50) – (52)

Overpopulation  – is as much caused by poverty as a cause of it, so requires aid to end it, but aid with very different conditions

Overpopulation in sub-Saharan Africa is a serious problem and caused largely by high birth rates, but it’s a problem which can only be solved by development. That development can only be brought about by increasing aid (and changing the conditions on it) to provide education, contraception, development, healthcare and unemployment benefit. That development has to be combined with fairer trade – meaning allowing African countries to protect their industries more than reducing limits on exports to the developed world. This is because high birth rates are as much a symptom of poverty and lack of development as a cause of it.

The poorest countries have a high infant mortality rate ( over 20 times as many children die before reaching their teens in Somalia as in the UK) and low life expectancy (average life expectancy in Somalia is 48 compared to 79 in the UK), both problems caused by food shortages and lack of clean water and healthcare, as well as inequality and poverty.

On top of this in countries with little or no welfare state the only way people in poverty can ensure they’ll be looked after if they become too ill or old to work or to farm their own land or look after their herd is to have enough children to do it. Since many will die as infants or adults, that means having more children.

The United Nations Population Fund has found that the poorest 20% of the population in developing countries has double the birth rate of the wealthiest 20% (53).

Even taking into account high infant mortality rates and low life expectancy population is still rising too fast due to high birth rates though, leading to shortages of clean water, food and jobs (54).

Other contributing causes include traditions of having big families to honour ancestors or for the prestige of the family or clan, low social status of women, lack of education and being unable to get access to contraceptives (55). Urbanisation is reducing birth rates by changing social norms and the status of women and giving women access to contraception and family planning (56) – (57).

Birth rates in Africa have also been falling rapidly due to higher income and education levels in towns and cities, though they seem to have stopped falling in the last few years in Kenya and in Ethiopia (58).

Birth rates only fell in the developed countries after people became wealthier, less dependent on agriculture and less dependent on human labour for it (due to mechanisation), urbanised (as industries other than agriculture developed, providing more employment in cities) and provided government funded education, healthcare and welfare for unemployment ,sickness, disability and pensions. The same has happened in the urban areas in some African countries, in towns and cities which have seen economic growth. The effects have been limited by overall economic decline in African countries from the 1980s on and the lack of government support – and remain higher in rural areas.  

There is a strong negative correlation between literacy rates and birth rates (i.e  the more people in a country can read and write the fewer children they have per adult), suggesting providing funding for education could be effective in reducing over-population.

Some UN experts say population in some parts of Kenya has doubled in the past decade (though herd sizes remain unchanged (59). The fact that herd sizes have not increased makes it unlikely that over-grazing has caused the drought, though human over-population means more people have less to live on.

Those claiming the famine is Somalians and Kenyans’ own fault as they should use contraception and become more educated to reduce birth rates also ignore the fact that condoms cost money, as does education. If they demand Somalis and Kenyans use contraception they need to donate more money to provide for this.

Development – in terms of economy, education and public services and welfare – is strongly correlated with falling birth rates, just as lower birth rates make development easier and higher ones make it harder. As UNFPA say though, lower birth rates do not guarantee development. This requires ending harmful absolute free trade conditions on aid, such as demands for privatisation of state industries and public services, welfare cuts and abolition of tariffs and other protections.

Even if all restrictions on trade between Africa and the developed world were abolished tomorrow African traders, farmers and businesses could not compete with companies and industries built up over centuries by protection and subsidy till they were world leaders. It would also be a levelling down process to African standards of living for the majority rather than a levelling up of African standards of living. That’s why allowing Africa to protect its farmers and industries and set up free trade areas only with countries at a similar level of development is better than total free trade.

Why there’s no excuse for not donating

Despite all this, both governments and people in developed countries are failing to donate enough money for emergency food aid and many people are even calling for the starving to be left to starve as part of their ideological crusade against all foreign aid or a mistaken belief that they are being conned as they’ve given to famine relief for Somalia in the past and are being asked to again now (see e.g comments on this Independent newspaper article).

This has to change and change now. Whatever your views on development aid this is emergency aid which has to be delivered now to keep millions alive long enough for longer term solutions to be put in place.

There is a lot wrong with many governments’ and IMF and World Bank aid programmes and they need reformed, but pretending that Africans would be better off if we provided them with no foreign aid at all is the real con trick. Some people are conning themselves into believing what they want to believe, so they don’t have to feel any guilt for letting millions of adults and children starve, rather than contribute a small fraction of their own income and taxes to saving their lives.

The causes of the drought and civil war need to be addressed, but we can’t leave millions of people to die while we address them. They need emergency humanitarian food and water aid now – we know from past crises this will save lives.

What you can do

If you’re in the UK you can donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee (an umbrella group of all the major aid agencies and charities) donate in the UK to the Disasters Emergency Committee on this link .

You can donate from anywhere in the world to the UN World Food Programme on this link or to the International Red Cross on this link

You can also contact your MP or members of congress and the ministry that deals with foreign aid in your country (e.g US Aid in the US or the Department for International Development in the UK) to ask them to donate more to the UN’s East Africa famine appeal and/or to ask them to increase foreign aid to the poorest countries ;  and ensure any contracts funded with foreign aid go to companies based in the recipient country rather than the donor country wherever possible – and to recommend they read Ha Joon Chang’s book ‘Bad Samaritans’ and adopt aid policies that permit poorer countries to protect and subsidise their economy and public services from foreign competition so they can develop.


(1) = Oxfam 21 Jun 2011 ‘Famine in Somalia: Causes and solutions’,

(2) = Independent 21 Jul 2011 ‘Millions could die of hunger as drought grips Horn of Africa’,

(3) = Ha Joon Chang (2007) ‘Bad Samaritans’, Random House, London, 2008

Sources on Drought and possible link with climate change

(4) = See (2) above

(5) = The Economist 24 Sep 2009 ‘East Africa's drought - A catastrophe is looming’, ; ‘The drought cycle in east Africa has been contracting sharply. Rains used to fail every nine or ten years. Then the cycle seemed to go down to five years. Now, it seems, the region faces drought every two or three years. The time for recovery—for rebuilding stocks of food and cattle—is ever shorter. And if the rains fail before the end of this year, an unimaginably dreadful catastrophe could ensue.’

(6) = US Geological Survey 28 Jan 2011 ‘More Frequent Drought Likely in Eastern Africa’,

(7) = Independent 01 Jul 2011 ‘Extreme weather link 'can no longer be ignored'’,

Sources on US involvement in keeping the civil war going

(8) = Independent 09 Feb 2008 ‘Somalia: The World's forgotten catastrophe’,

(9) = Wikipedia entry for ‘Somali civil war’,

(10) = New York Times 06 Jun 2006 ‘Somali Islamists Declare Victory; Warlords on Run’, (says Bush administration funded Somalian secular warlords with around $100,000 to $150,000 a month)

(11) = USA Today 08 Jan 2007 ‘U.S. support key to Ethiopia's invasion’,

(12) = Guardian 13 Jan 2007 ‘How US forged an alliance with Ethiopia over invasion’,

(13) = Amnesty International UK 06 Jan 2008 ‘Somalia: Troops killing people 'like goats' by slitting throats-new Amnesty report’,

(14) = Independent 22 Nov 2007 ‘Somalia war-refugee crisis surpasses Darfur in its horror’,

(15) = Washington Post 25 Jun 2009 ‘U.S. Sends Weapons to Help Somali Government Repel Rebels Tied to Al-Qaeda’,

(16) = AP 25 Jun 2009 ‘U.S. to give Somali government guns, training’,

(17) = CBC radio 20 jul 2011 ‘Somalia: Jeremy Scahill’, (covers US support for warlords who they previously said were the worst and their main targets)

(18) = The Nation 12 Jul 2011 ‘The CIA’s secret sites in Somalia’ ,

(19) = Time 18 Sep 2009 ‘After a U.S. Air Strike, Somali Peacekeepers Pay’,,8599,1924902,00.html

(20) = Guardian 30 Jun 2011 ‘US extends drone strikes to Somalia’,

(21) = BBC News 14 Jul 2011 ‘Horn of Africa drought: Why is Somalia worst affected?’,

Sources on Al Shabab and to what extent it’s preventing aid getting in

(22) = Channel 4 News (UK) 07 Jul 2011 ‘Somali rebels lift ban on food-aid’,

(23) = 22 Jul 2011 ‘Somali rebels deny lifting ban on foreign aid groups’,

(24) = BBC News Africa 24 Jul 2011 ‘Solving Africa’s aid conundrum’, by Andrew Harding,

(25) = See (24) above

(26) = BBC News 22 Jul 2011 ‘Somali Islamists maintain aid ban and deny famine’, ; Agencies banned by al-Shabab – Care, International Medical Corps, UNDevelopment programme (UNDP), UN World Food Programme (WFP)

(27) = See (24) above

(28) = BBC News Africa 24 Jul 2011 ‘Solving Africa’s aid conundrum’, by Andrew Harding, (see  article and first comment by BBC reporter Andrew Harding)

(29) = Reuters 22 Jul 2011 ‘Somali rebels say U.N. food agency still banned’,; ‘"The approach is to test the ground, to probe and see how far we get," WFP spokesman, David Orr, told Reuters…The WFP delivers its food in Somalia through local aid groups and not directly, Orr said.’

(30) = BBC News 22 Jul 2011 ‘Q&A: East Africa hunger crisis’, ; It is very difficult to get aid to Somalia - even before al-Shabab banned aid groups, some food deliveries were looted by gunmen and others were held for ransom by pirates…..Agencies banned by al-Shabab – Care, International Medical Corps, UNDevelopment programme (UNDP), UN World Food Programme (WFP)

(31) = Wall Street Journal 21 Jul 2011 ‘Somalia Famine Threatens to Spread’, ; ‘Aid group Oxfam said $1 billion is needed for famine relief. On Wednesday, the U.S. announced an additional $28 million in emergency funding atop $431 million in assistance already given this year. Most importantly, those new U.S. funds won't be placed under restrictions implemented in 2009 to keep food and money from being stolen by Islamic militants. Aid groups have called for the restrictions to be lifted entirely and said the rules have severely limited their operations. U.S. humanitarian contributions in Somalia fell from $237 million in 2008 to $29 million last year

(32) = Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs blog 17 Jul 2011 ‘Somalia: UN Humanitarian Aid Going to Jihadist Groups’,

(33) = BBC News 17 Jul 2011 ‘Somalia drought: Aid for camps under Islamists’,

(34) = Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs blog 22 Jul 2011 ‘"Long Peaceful Norway" ....... Not’,

Sources on land being bought up for commercial farming as a cause of famine in the Horn of Africa

(35) = 20 Jul 2011 ‘Food aid is needed desperately - but ultimately it is not the answer’,

(36) = 08 Jun 2011 ‘US universities in Africa 'land grab' - Institutions including Harvard and Vanderbilt reportedly use hedge funds to buy land in deals that may force farmers out’,

(37) = Observer 07 Mar 2010 ‘How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab’,

(38) = Observer 07 Mar 2010 ‘Deals can be good news when not made behind closed doors’, 

(39) =  See (35) above

(40) = See (35) – (38) above

(41) = 22 April 2011 ‘This will be the Arab world's next battle’,

(42) = U.S Geological Survey Fact Sheet 103-03, November 2003, ‘Ground-Water Depletion Across the Nation’,

(43) = Reuters 14 Dec 2009 ‘California aquifers seen rapidly losing water’,

(44) = 08 Jun 2011 ‘US universities in Africa 'land grab' - Institutions including Harvard and Vanderbilt reportedly use hedge funds to buy land in deals that may force farmers out’,

(45) = Observer 07 Mar 2010 ‘How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab’,

(46) = Guardian 05 Apr 2008 ‘UN chief calls for review of biofuels policy’,

(47) = 23 Feb 2010 ‘China's soil deterioration may become growing food crisis, adviser claims’ – ‘China faces struggle to feed population as pollution and urbanisation threaten supply, says government expert’,

(48) = 28 Jun 2011 ‘China told to reduce food production or face 'dire' water levels’ – ‘Food must be imported and water use tightly regulated to protect dwindling supply, a leading groundwater expert has warned’,

(49) = Observer 07 Mar 2010 ‘How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab’,

Sources on futures trading in food driving up food prices

(50) = Guardian 19 Jul 2010 ‘Hedge funds accused of gambling with lives of the poorest as food prices soar’,

(51) = Guardian Poverty Matters blog 16 May 2011 ‘Rising food prices: the role of pension funds’,

(52) = Observer 25 Jan 2011 ‘Food speculation: 'People die from hunger while banks make a killing on food'’,

Sources on over-population

(53) = UNFPA 2009 Fact Sheet,

(54) = See (53) above

(55) = Paulina Makinwa-Adebusoye (2001) ‘Socio-cultural factors affecting fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa’ UN, New York, 2001,

(56) = The Economist 27 Apr 2009 ‘Africa's population - The baby bonanza - Is Africa an exception to the rule that countries reap a “demographic dividend” as they grow richer? ‘,

(57) = UNFPA (2007) ‘State of the World Population 2007’, Chapter 5,

(58) = See (56) above

(59) = BBC News 26 Jul 2011 ‘'Top 10 culprits' of Horn of Africa famine’,

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cameron’s ‘public service reforms’ would mean a privatised but publicly subsidised NHS – without any electoral mandate

Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ ‘public service reforms’ would be PFI on steroids – the end of free healthcare paid for by taxes and it’s replacement with private healthcare only for those who can afford it, but subsidised by all tax payers and effectively paid for twice by those who can get it – once in taxes and once in charges.

Cameron in his recent speech on ‘public service reform’ and ‘The Big Society’, claimed thatSometimes, a charity or social enterprise trying to come into public services will find strong forces trying to keep them out…vested interests, people who want to stick to the status quo…We need a level playing field so that anyone with a good idea can get involved.’ (1)

Here Cameron pretends that the main bidders for health service contracts will be charities or not-for-profit groups. In fact most bidders will be private healthcare firms such as ‘Assura’ a firm he also referred to in his speech as one which could provideNHS walk in clinic’ services, or privatised GP consortia profit sharing with these firms.’

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism found thatAt least half the board members of some GP consortia, the new bodies that will take over commissioning, have links with… Assura Medical, majority controlled by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group… Most were GP members of Assura, meaning their practice had formed a joint company with it…. with profits split 50:50 between Assura Medical and member practices.’ (2)

One of Cameron’s principal advisers on healthcare ‘reform’ is Mark Britnell, who is employed in the Healthcare division of accountancy firm KPMG. He has told private healthcare firms thatGPs will have to aggregate purchasing power and there will be a big opportunity for those companies that can facilitate this process” and that “The NHS will be shown no mercy”. (3) – (4)

Britnell also wrote in the Health Service Journal that the NHS’ ‘funding mechanism is no longer resilient’ and that in future patients will be charged for treatment. (5)

The GP who headed the government’s review of it’s ‘healthcare reform’ policy- Professor Steve Field – has said that introducing internal competition into the NHS would be ‘destroy key services’. He’s also said that allowing private sector patients to be treated in NHS hospitals would open up the NHS to EU competition law, potentially allowing private firms the legal right to be allowed to bid for contracts for all NHS activity. (6) – (7)

Cameron also claimed in the speech that “A study published by the London School of Economics found hospitals in areas with more choice had lower death rates.”

This is true – the study was made by Zack Cooper, an LSE researcher, but it is far from undisputed. Professor Allyson Pollock, an expert on NHS funding, found serious problems with the methodology and the data it used . Pollock concluded that based on Cooper’s studythe only safe conclusion is that if you live near an NHS hospital or have many NHS hospitals in your area, you may get care quicker and be less likely to die from an acute heart attack. This is hardly a ringing endorsement for competition, or the Department of Health policy of centralisation and hospital closures under the expensive private finance initiative.’ (8) – (9)

Pollock, on the proposed healthcare ‘reforms’ in general writes thatThe bill, as designed, will allow commissioners (purchasers of healthcare or insurers) to pick and choose patients and services. It abolishes the duty to secure or provide comprehensive care, and permits GP consortiums to recruit members, and introduce charges and private health insurance, as well as enter into joint ventures with private companies. In a market, insurers and commercial providers must be able to limit their risks by carefully selecting members on the basis of ability to pay and predictable costs.’ (10)

In other words it would mean the end of guaranteed free public healthcare and instead returns to a system where people can only get what healthcare they can pay for. Even worse, the private healthcare firms and privatised or ‘mutualised’ GP consortia would be getting huge taxpayer subsidies without any limit on how much they can charge or any requirement for them to treat people who can’t pay what they demand. (This would repeat the disaster of privatised but publicly subsidised railways).

This would not be greater efficiency or greater choice, but the worst kind of privatisation, including a public subsidy for private firms. It’s not reform, but PFI on steroids.

It will also lead to chaos, with many people lacking vital services in their areas due to the government letting hospitals and schools go under if they fail to compete in internal markets. In fact government ministers have been encouraged by their advisers to allow public sector hospitals to fail in order to hasten “reform” and the entry of the private sector (expect budget cuts to public services like the NHS with claims of lack of the money to fund them, followed by greater levels of public funding appearing for private healthcare firms) (11)

If all this goes ahead we’ll see cases like the one of the American man who had no way to get the healthcare he needed, so in desperation staged a bank robbery of one dollar in order to get sent to jail so he could get treatment (12).

Devolution in Scotland could prevent this happening North of the border, assuming the government don’t try to impose it here by cutting funding or making future funding conditional on such ‘reforms'. That might boost support for independence and Cameron and the Conservatives might want to encourage that to remove a lot of Labour MPs from the British parliament. However while many voters in Scotland would like to avoid involvement in more Iraq and Afghanistan wars by independence, just as many may be nervous of independence after the financial crisis brought down RBS, fearing ending up like Iceland. So with independence no certainty the British government's policies on public services may still affect Scotland's.

Cameron also claimed that New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina provides a model for British public services.

What’s actually happened in New Orleans since Katrina is that people have been forced out of much public housing which was never flooded by armed private mercenary companies like Blackwater and the properties sold off to private developers to build luxury flats to rent. This resulted in mass protests against the enforced evictions and homelessness. To stop this and to stop them trying to return to homes many of them had lived in for decades, many have been sent to trailer parks, surrounded by razor wire fences and guards, effectively imprisoned and not allowed to leave (13) – (16).

That is not a good model to follow. It certainly provides profits for some, but as with Cameron’s plans, at the expense of the majority and especially the poorest. The same goes for government plans for ‘mutualised’ and ‘for profit’ ambulance and fire fighting services (17)

Cameron and the Coalition have no electoral mandate whatsoever for their plan for a privatised, publicly subsidised healthcare system. The plan did not appear in his election campaign or his party’s manifesto – in fact he made election pledges to end the endless and disruptive reorganisation of the NHS (18). A YouGov poll in January showed only 34% support the ‘reforms’ and only 5% ‘strongly’, while 37% oppose them (16% strongly opposing them). The other 30% didn’t know (19)

The more people hear of the details of the ‘reforms’ the more people who supported them are becoming "don't knows" and the more ‘don’t knows’ are becoming opposed. A Comres poll in June found 49% of people thought the NHS reforms should be scrapped, with only 19% supporting them and 32% unsure (20). Only 27% of British voters support allowing private companies to provide NHS services (21). If Cameron goes ahead and attempts privatisation he is virtually certain to be a single term Prime Minister – if he even survives that long.

Finally, Cameron repeatedly made bizarre comparisons to buying mundane services or goods from private firms – for instance ‘You wouldn’t pay for a gym membership and then get told you’re only allowed to use the running machine or only allowed to come in on a Tuesday’ and ‘Imagine you’re buying a mobile phone. You go to the shop – only one shop – and there they’re selling one model of phone. You can guarantee the service wouldn’t be what you’d expect, the quality wouldn’t be great.’

He also claimed that ‘choice’ and ‘competition’ in healthcare will ‘get real value for money’

Cameron ignores the incompatibility of motives between maximising profit by treating only those patients who can pay and those illnesses that are profitable to treat (the primary and often sole aim of private firms) and providing good healthcare, education or social care based on providing it to everyone equally according to need.

Heart operations or cancer treatment or fire-fighting or ambulances are not mobile phones or gym memberships, nor are they comparable to them. Mobile phones are incredibly cheap compared to healthcare and no-one selling mobile phones needs to have had many years of training and experience to sell a mobile phone to someone without endangering their health or life by recommending the wrong phone. A gym membership can affect your health over the longer term, but you won’t die if you can’t afford the gym membership you want. You will die if you can’t afford health care and have a serious illness. Choosing whether to use a running machine does not require years of training, education and experience to avoid someone dying. Healthcare does. As a result private health care will always be more expensive than public sector healthcare as private firms have to make a profit. It also follows that the more share of the healthcare provision market is given to private healthcare firms, the more costs will rise, especially as public services will end up short of fully qualified and trained doctors and nurses.

(1) = 10 Downing Street Press Office 11 Jul 2011 ‘Speech on Open Public Services’,

(2) = Bureau of Investigative Journalism 15 Jun 2011 ‘Conflict of interest fears in NHS shakeup plans’ by Emma Slater and Sophie Clayton-Payne ,  ; ‘At least half the board members of some GP consortia, the new bodies that will take over commissioning, have links with a single private healthcare company, an investigation by Bureau of Investigative Journalism, published in the Independent and Pulse Magazine can reveal.

Assura Medical, majority controlled by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, has links with 50 per cent or more of the board members at three of the 52 first-wave GP pathfinders… More than 60% of those with private links were associated with Assura Medical. Most were GP members of Assura, meaning their practice had formed a joint company with it…. with profits split 50:50 between Assura Medical and member practices….At the Sutton Consortium in Surrey, 19 out of 25 board members are linked to Assura Medical. In the South Reading Consortium, three out of five board members are GP members of Assura, and two are employees of an Assura member practice. At the Calleva Consortium in Basingstoke, Hampshire, six out of 11 voting members on the consortium board have links with Assura, as does the non-voting board secretary..’

(3) = Health Service Journal 11 Jan 2009 ‘Mark Britnell quits NHS for private sector’,

(4) = 14 May 2011 ‘David Cameron's adviser says health reform is a chance to make big profits’,

(5) = Health Service Journal 11 May 2011 ‘Mark Britnell: the NHS funding model is no longer 'resilient'’,

(6) = 13 May 2011 ‘Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms are unworkable, says review chief’, ; ‘Prof Steve Field, chairman of the NHS Future Forum – set up last month to undertake the coalition's "listening exercise" – flatly rejects the health secretary's plan to compel hospitals to compete for patients and income, which he says could "destroy key services". The proposal, contained in Andrew Lansley's health and social care bill, has led key medical organisations to warn that it will lead to the breakup of the NHS and betray the service's founding principles.

In an interview with the Guardian, Field says Lansley's plan to make the NHS regulator Monitor's primary duty to enforce competition between healthcare providers should be scrapped. Instead it should be obliged to do the opposite, by promoting co-operation and collaboration and the integration of health services.

(7) = 28 Jun 2011 ‘NHS forum GP admits private patient doubts’, ; ‘The government is facing renewed pressure over its health bill after the GP who led its "listening exercise"…Steve Field acknowledged that the government would leave hospitals vulnerable to European Union competition law due to the presence of private patients in NHS hospitals.’

(8) = London School of Economics working health paper No.16  Does Hospital Competition Save Lives? Evidence from the English NHS Patient Choice Reforms’,  by Zack Cooper

(9) = 16 Jun 2011 ‘A return to pre-NHS fear’, by Professor Allyson Pollock,

(10) = See (9) above

(11) = Guardian 11 Jul 2011 ‘Ministers urged to let schools and hospitals fail to hasten reforms’,

(12) = 21 Jun 2011 ‘US man stages $1 bank robbery to get state healthcare’,

(13) = Klein, Naomi (2007), 'The Shock Doctrine' , Penguin , London, 2007, Chapter 20

(14) = Greg Palast 29 Aug 2007 ‘“They wanted them poor niggers out of there.” – New Orleans Two years after’,

(15) = Mail & Guardian (South Africa) 21 Dec 2007, 'Housing protests grip New Orleans',

(16) = Greg Palast 24 Aug 2010 ‘Five Years and Still Drowning - The New Orleans CNN Would Never Show You’,

(17) = 09 Nov 2010 ‘Ambulance drivers and firefighters could break away from national service under new plans’, ; ‘Ambulance drivers, paramedics and firefighters could be given the right to breakaway from the national rescue service to form for-profit groups and run their services themselves, the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said.

The government is to unveil a white paper that will give nearly all public sector workers a right to "mutualise" services, along the lines of a John Lewis model whereby employees own the service they work for, and can profit if it makes money.

Maude said that almost all public services – bar the police and the armed forces – could be mutualised. One ambulance service had already expressed an interest and he would also look at options for the fire service, he said.’

(18) = New Statesman blog 14 Apr 2011 ‘Video: Cameron slams “pointless reorganisation” of the NHS - The Prime Minister – then in opposition – addresses the Royal College of Nursing conference in 2009’,

(19) = YouGov 20 Jan 2011 – Politics – The National Health,

(20) = Comres 13 Jun 2011,

(21) = 21 Jan 2011 ‘Poll reveals widespread suspicion of NHS reforms’,

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Kelvin Mckenzie and the Murdoch press pretending to support ordinary people against the establishment is a joke

Kelvin McKenzie had a very amusing piece on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ website. While I have to admire his chutzpah in putting it to such a hostile audience his claims about Murdoch and his media empire are as much hot air as usual.

He claims

‘In the two decades he[Murdoch] has owned the channel [Sky], not one editor or journalist has suggested that he has interfered or even made suggestions about news coverage.’

Why would he need to when he can pick people like you, whose political views are his own exactly like his own as editors? (i.e spread hatred of immigrants, the unemployed and foreigners, plus talking up whichever of the two main parties he has a deal on further media deregulation and targeting the one he’s not currently made a deal with)

He then launches into an advert for Sky TV.

‘Sky is the giant of television. Sure it has the football but it has so much more. Even a cultural philistine like me finds myself drawn to Sky Arts, National Geographic and the History Channel. All have unexpected gems that you cannot find anywhere else.’

It’s hard to understand why the Guardian is giving Sky free advertising space here.

Kelvin then starts praising Murdoch’s supposed services to reducing unemployment in the UK.

‘Thank God for the Rupert Murdochs of this world. I wish there were hundreds more in our country. Unemployment would be wiped out at a stroke.’

Not sure what his evidence for that is. Murdoch backed Thatcher from the start. In opposition the Conservatives put out an election poster showing a dole queue with the words ‘Britain isn’t working’. At that point unemployment was over 2 million. By three years into Thatcher’s first term in office (helped there by the support of Murdoch and his Sun newspaper) unemployment was over 3 million. That doesn’t seem like a great job if you’re judging by results.

 If everyone was like Murdoch we’d certainly have no tax base at all due to his companies managing to pay almost nothing in tax on their vast profits and would go bankrupt like Greece.

His companies used tax avoidance to pay no net taxes at all in the UK in the 1990s  (no-one found this out till 1999). News Corporation recently paid $77mn in taxes to one Australian regional government after claiming for 7 years that it hadn’t been avoiding taxes.

I’ll grant that Murdoch’s firms do certainly provide employment for some dodgy ‘private investigators’ like Glenn Mulcaire, who has suddenly done a massive u-turn on his belief that no-one has any right to privacy, now that it affects him, asking reporters to respect his family’s privacy

McKenzie has more praise for Rupert

‘Why has Rupert a monopoly? Simple: nobody else had the guts, the nerve or the stunning management skill to take on the establishment.’

Allying himself with the leaders of the two main political parties alternately and getting his papers to tell people to vote for the one he currently has a deal on deregulation of media ownership with is “taking on the establishment”.

David Cameron and his other Bullingdon Club boys aren’t the establishment? Few people have been as close to "the establishment" as Rupert Murdoch and Kelvin McKenzie.

There’s also his media empire’s use of phone hacking and unusually long ranged mikes to target anyone who goes up against them.

Finally Kelvin says

‘Sky is not Fox News and I have my doubts that in leftwing, socialist, clapped-out Britain, the latter would work commercially or audiencewise.’

It wouldn’t work because it’s blatant propaganda and has had shows by people like Glenn Beck claiming Obama is racist against white people; and has edited out the applause from News reports on his speeches.

That’s apart from the fact that the last time the UK had a government that could be described as socialist was the Atlee government in 1945-1950.

I wonder what Kelvin might have said about a left wing or even vaguely liberal person saying Britain is “clapped out”. I’m guessing the phrase “Brit bashing” would be involved.

Why Gaddafi running out of fuel or money or being killed would not guarantee an end to the war in Libya

There have been reports that Gaddafi’s forces may be close to running out of fuel altogether, mostly assuming that this will force his side to surrender. This assumption is based on the North African campaigns in World War Two, in which Rommel was eventually forced to surrender due to lack of fuel for his tanks (1).

However, while that’s possible, there is no guarantee of Gaddafi’s forces surrendering if this happens. They might, but it’s as or more likely that without a negotiated peace they would switch to using guerrilla, insurgent, terrorist or resistance tactics (choose whichever term you prefer), as happened in Iraq after the defeat of it’s military. The fact there are no large numbers of foreign troops occupying Libya (only a few special forces trainers and spotters for airstrikes)  might make this less likely or a smaller insurgency than in Iraq, but it’s still a possibility that has to be taken into account.

Gaddafi’s forces seem to only control one functioning refinery – at Zawiyah – and the oil pipeline to it has been cut by the rebels (2). This should certainly mean that sooner or later his forces will run out of fuel for their tanks, truck mounted Grad rocket launchers, mobile artillery and pick up trucks. How soon (or not soon) is still anyone’s guess, as no-one knows how much oil Gaddafi has stored in reserve in barrels in Tripoli that could be sent to the refinery. (This also raises the question of why NATO hasn’t bombed the refinery and why it tried to persuade the rebels not to cut the pipeline – issues I’ll cover in a separate post).

The claims by Libyan defectors that Gaddafi was running out of fuel and money were made before the 13th of June though (and seem to mostly have been made by one defector – the former head of Libya’s central bank). He claimed that this would happen within days or a couple of weeks (3). So either it’s going to happen very soon, or else these claims are just based on guesses, wishful thinking, or are propaganda designed to encourage any of Gaddafi’s people hearing it to defect.

Fuel prices have certainly gone up massively in the parts of Libya controlled by Gaddafi’s forces (starting even in May), but it’s possible this is partly due to Gaddafi prioritising supplies to his armed forces (4) – (5).

Similarly reports that Gaddafi is running out of money are no guarantee of his regime falling, nor would an airstrike killing him (a strategy which has failed for over 100 days now and has never worked anywhere else). The assumption that Gaddafi running out of money will lead to the surrender of his forces assumes their primary motivation is money. That may well not be the case.

Assuming killing Muammar Gaddafi alone will end the civil war may be an assumption that turns out to be true, but could equally be as false as the assumption in Iraq that all the insurgents were Sunni and Ba’athist ‘dead enders’ who supported Saddam and that they would surrender when he was gone. In fact most of the insurgents weren’t hardline Ba’athists at all and many of them were Shia.

Bombing carried out by the US air force and the British RAF from 1991 to 2002, combined with sanctions, repeatedly failed to either kill Saddam or generate a military coup against him, so hopes of Gaddafi’s own forces, generals or ministers overthrowing him may be wishful thinking too.

US and NATO military planners are generally meant to plan for the “worst case scenario”, but instead most of their plans (and those of the governments giving them orders) are hugely optimistic and ignore the possible pitfalls and false assumptions involved. As a result most of them either fail, or only succeed at great cost in lives.

Saif Al Gaddafi has repeated that his father will accept elections overseen by international observers in return for a ceasefire (6) – (7). He may or may not be telling the truth, but given all the potential ways this war could drag on with heavy civilian casualties without a peace settlement, taking up the offer might be a sensible course for the rebels and NATO.

Even if it doesn’t work they at least get more Libyans and more people and governments around the world on their side by showing they were willing to try for a peaceful solution. Currently their refusal to accept any offer of negotiations that doesn’t include Gaddafi and his sons giving up power entirely before negotiations even begin is making a long civil war more likely. They have plenty of justifiable reasons to be angry at the Gaddafis’ dictatorship and to want rid of them, but the reality is that at least giving negotiations a try would be the best option.

(1) = The Economist 16 Jun 2011 ‘The colonel is running on empty’,

(2) = Channel 4 News 29 Jun 2011 ‘Tripoli Pipeline Attack ‘endgame’ for Gaddafi’,

(3) = Bloomberg Business Week 5 Jul 2011 ‘Qaddafi Running Out of Money, Fuel, Ex-Central Bank Head Says’,

(4) = See (1) above

(5) = 05 May 2011 ‘Libya faces fuel crisis as oil supplies dwindle’,

(6) = Guardian 4 Jul 2011 ‘Gaddafi's son says western powers attacking Libya are 'legitimate targets'’,

(7) = Independent 16 Jun 2011 ‘Gaddafi would agree to supervised election, says son’,