Vulture funds bill blocked by Christopher Chope, MP

OK this is old news – from March, but I’ve been meaning to write on this for ages… only just got round to it!

This item shows you the following

  • For A2 Global Development – this demonstrates the role of the Capitalist class in keeping developing countries poor – this is due to to the inability of the government to regulate a few unscrupulous hedge fund managers.
  • For A2 Crime and Deviance – The power of the elite minority to prevent just laws that the majority believe in coming into force

I first came across Vulture Funds thanks to this article – which is quoted at some length below…

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-we-must-stop-the-vulture-funds-that-feed-on-the-worlds-poor-1789257.html

39779“Would you ever march up to a destitute African who is shivering with Aids and demand he “pay back” tens of thousands of pounds he didn’t borrow – with interest? I only ask because this is in effect happening, here, in British and American courts, time after time. Some of the richest people in the world are making profit margins of 500 per cent by shaking money out of the poorest people in the world – for debt they did not incur.

Here’s how it works. In the mid-1990s, a Republican businessman called Paul Singer invented a new type of hedge fund, quickly dubbed a “vulture fund.” They buy debts racked up years ago by the poorest countries on earth, almost always when they were run by kleptocratic dictators, before most of the current population was born. They buy it for small sums – as little as 10 per cent of its paper value – from the original holder and then take the poor country to court in Britain or the US to demand 100 per cent of the debt is repaid immediately, plus interest built up over years, and court costs.

Let’s look at two examples in two of the countries most aggressively targeted by the vulture funds – Peru, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I spent a week in a gargantuan rubbish dump in Peru 35 miles north of Lima. It is home to more than 5,000 children. Among them I found Adelina, a little eight-year old smudge, living there in a nest she had built from trash. She spends all day searching for something – anything – she can sell. The vulture funds managed to get $58m out of Peru, on a debt they paid $11m for.

Action Aid launched a campaign to prevent vulture funds from suing indepbted developing countries for their money in British Courts – part of whch involved raising public awareness as most people simply don’t know about them! – see here for more details –http://www.actionaidusa.org/what/intl_policy/vulture_funds/

In March 2010, Labour MP Sally Keeble actually tabled a private members bill to prevent vulture funds from operating in Britain. Having just reviewed some old WDM and Action Aid magazines from that month, they had news reports that assumed these vulture funds would be bloked.

25799_jpgHowever, because this bill was brought before the commons just before the general election, if one member objected, it would not get passed – This member was a Torie MP Christopher Chope – It is rare that you find a living example of scum – but here is one – Christopher Chope MP – Doing the dirty work of hedge fund managers in the house of commons while the poorest people suffer.  

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tory-mp-blocks-bill-targeting-vulture-funds-1920708.html

What is really aweful about this affair is that at the time of the vote on the bill, three MPs actually covered their mouths when the question ‘are there any objections’ to this bill was raised, so other people in the house could not be sure who actually objected, it was only afterwards that Chope came out as being scum.

Chope’s contact details, should you wish to send him a message…

http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/christopher-chope/25799

Westminster

House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 020 7219 5808
Fax: 020 7219 6938
chopec@parliament.uk

Constituency

18a Bargates, Christchurch, BH23 1QL
Tel: 01202 474949
Fax: 01202 475548
office@christchurchconservatives.com
www.christchurchconservatives.com

Had this bill gone through it would have been a good example of the state regulating the finance sector – but once again here it fails to do so – and this example shows you the appalling lack of morality amongst some conservative MPs.

A quick round up of good sociology blogs

At the moment there seems to be very little out there from the United Kingdom – most blogs seem to be American, so I have kept this to a manageable list  – I will add more sites as I deem appropriate!

http://tutor2u.net/blog/index.php/sociology/ – A good, UK focussed blog on sociology issues – covers some of the same ground I intend to.

http://www.polity.co.uk/giddens6/default.asp – The blog accompanying Anthony Gidden’s undergraduate text book.

http://averypublicsociologist.blogspot.com/ – I think this bloke might work in a university – very activist focussed and recommended! – This guy appears to be an info Junkie!

http://globalsociology.com/ – a good US blog full of book reviews.

http://thesociallens.wordpress.com/ – a US blog updated by two people – lots of topical issues all be it with a US focus.  

A word on information overload – don’t get freaked out by the sheer amount of information in these blogs – You can get the impression from some of them that these people know everything, when quite often they are just firing off quick links to other peoples sites. No one is superhuman (with the possible exception of Noam Chomsky) when it comes to digesting information – just process what you can!

Also, remember that quite often it can be better to learn a less knowledge in depth rather than spreading yourself too thin –specialise in one small area and let everything else flow from there…

Glamour Models, Mum and Me

I just finished watching this – BB3 – Glamour Models, Mum and Me – interesting thread of discussion below

http://lightupvirginmary.blogspot.com/2010/08/bbc3-glamour-models-mum-and-me.html

206_glamourIt basically follows a few months or so of the lives of some Kiss- and tell glamour model, who makes her cash by hanging out with celebs and taking her top off, and her daughter – who is extremely level headed and wants to study her GCSEs and eventually become a ‘serious actress’ – the mother has other plans and is encouraging her to get a boob job, get into topless modelling and become famous.

One thing that stuck in my mind is that the GM mum, who is addicted to plastic surgery and seams to have  a mental age younger than her daughter, thinks that ‘the body is power’ and it is a way for women to get what they want in life. Given that this is her analysis of glamour modelling, one can forgive her for only trying to pass this on to her daughter.

However, the problem is that her analysis of the ‘body as power’ is incredibly shallow – and it is only by good fortune, and maybe the influence of the privte boarding schoo the daughter attends, that she has grown up being able to see through her mother’s lack of insight.

alicia_douvall_516x37_1239aWhat I mean by shallow is that this is clearly an example of a selfish woman – her idea of a vocation, glamour modelling, has no real useful social function – other than to prey on the weaknesses of men in order to sell products, sometimes the product being the image of the topless women herself. Devoid of any real usefulenss, what are the likely consequences of pursuing a vocation such as this? – We end up with the Beauty Myth perpetuted, young boys growing up thinking that it is acceptable to view women as sex objects, and, for the models themselves who have bought into this nonsense, an identity crisis once their looks start fading by their 30s.

So as well as illustrating the bizarre diversity of modern family life, Alicia Douval (or wahtever her name is) is a solid example of someone with the kind of post-feminist perspective on life that contemporary feminism hopes to rescue young women from. Although the daughter already seams well guarded against her mothers shallowness,  I still think she might enjoy reading some good Feminist literature, so if any of you bump into her – she boards in Kent and lives in London, so you never know – recommend her a copy of The Equality Illussion by Kat Banyard.

Lot number 879

I bought a cup of coffee from the Urban Kitchen earlier today – it had a code – lot 879 -attached to it – so I was able to look up details of where the coffee came from online.

http://www.coffeereal.co.uk/kenya-gethumbwini-estate-aa-lot-no879-p-260.html

How often can you say that about a product! This seams to me as one of the best types of fair trade out there – full information about where the product came from – and no attempt to brand it and associate it with a certain lifestyle – you go into a shop – get a menu which roughly outlines the flavour of the coffee – providing you with the option of looking into the productive processes under which the coffe was produced – and you drink it! No lies, no excess – just fair and simple.

Obviously where the product is fair trade – it is in the interests of the companies invovled to publicise details of the productive process – this is quite the opposite with many TNCs – who spend billions of dollars each year promoting their corporate brands but try to hide from view details of the lives of workers who produce the things that you and I (probably you more than I!) consume in our ignorance.

Perhaps apple should attach details to every ipod or pad outlining the conditions under which their ipods were produced – maybe including the name of one of the ten workers who have committed suicide after working in the aweful conditions in the Chinese factories where they are produced – maybe including the option to contribute to the family of the deceased?

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/tenth-worker-at-ipad-factory-commits-suicide-1982897.html

Perhaps Coke should put photos of the farmers who no longer have access to water because their local Coke bottling plant drained all the water to make that aweful beverage? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyFsodVUd-o&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRFyfTnxj80&feature=related

Surely consumers need access to such information in order to make informed choices about the products they buy! And I’m sure there’s some economic theory out there somewhere that market actors require effective access to information in order for the system to work more efectively??

Anyway, the message is – research before you buy – and then buy ethically – and if you can’t give up unethical products completely at least buy less of them or contact the companies and ask them to start treating their workers and neighbours with some respect – you would demand the same of others I am sure!

Karl.

Recommended documentaries – mainly anti-corporate

This is a list of good documentaries – mostly relevant to the module on Global Development and most of them with a broadly anti-capitalist slant. 

Most summaries are taken from the Internet Movie Database

Sweet Crude (2010) Sandi Cioffi – In a small corner of the most populous country in Africa, billions of dollars of crude oil flow under the feet of a desperate people. Immense wealth and abject poverty stand in stark contrast. The environment is decimated. The issues are complex, the answers elusive. The documentary film Sweet Crude tells the story of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. The region is seething and the global stakes are high. http://www.sweetcrudemovie.com/home.php

Capitalism: A Love Story (2010) Michael Moore – examines the impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans http://www.michaelmoore.com/books-films/capitalism-love-story

The Age of Stupid (2009) Fanny Armstrong – A future archivist looks at old footage from the year 2008 to understand why humankind failed to address climate change.  http://www.ageofstupid.net/

The Shock Doctrine (2009) Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom Investigations of “disaster capitalism”, based on Naomi Klein’s proposition that neo-liberal capitalism feeds on natural disasters, war and terror to establish its dominance. It is worth nothing that Klein removed her name from the film, but due to stylistic differences.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/aug/28/naomi-klein-winterbottom-shock-doctrine

Black Gold (2007) Mark and Nick Francis – Explores the global coffee trade and looks at how unfair trade rules laid down by the WTO hurt farmers in Ethiopia while Corporations such as Starbucks make a fortune. http://www.blackgoldmovie.com/

The Trap: Whatever happened to our dreams of Freedom? (2007) Adam CurtisThe Trap is a series of three films by Bafta-winning producer Adam Curtis that explains the origins of our contemporary, narrow idea of freedom. It shows how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today’s idea of freedom. All three films are available at http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-trap/

The War on Democracy (2007) Christopher Martin and John Pilger –  Award winning journalist John Pilger examines the role of Washington in America’s manipulation of Latin American politics during the last 50 years leading up to the struggle by ordinary people to free themselves from poverty and racism. Since the mid 19th Century Latin America has been the ‘backyard’ of the US, a collection of mostly vassal states whose compliant and often brutal regimes have reinforced the ‘invisibility’ of their majority peoples. The film reveals similar CIA policies to be continuing in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. It also looks at the rise of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez despite ongoing Washington backed efforts to unseat him.

Darwin’s Nightmare (2004) Hubert Sauper – A documentary on the effect of fishing the Nile perch in Tanzania’s Lake Victoria. The predatory fish, which has wiped out the native species, is sold in European supermarkets, while starving Tanzanian families have to make do with the leftovers.

 Farenheit 911 (2004) Michael Moore  – Michael Moore’s view on what happened to the United States after September 11; and how the Bush Administration allegedly used the tragic event to push forward its agenda for unjust wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. http://www.fahrenheit911.com/

The Corporation (2004) Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott Documentary that looks at the concept of the corporation throughout recent history up to its present-day dominance. http://www.thecorporation.com/

The New Rulers of the World (2001) John Pilger – Explores globalisation, looking at the role of the World Bank, The World Trade Organisation and Neo-Liberalism.

Education still riddled with class inequalities

A couple of quotes from another excellent article by George Monbiot reminding us of the persistence of class inequality in the education system in Modern Britain –

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/05/24/universal-cure/

‘A new report by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) shows that intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%’

‘People from upper middle class, public school backgrounds dominate every economic sector except those – such as sport and hard science – in which only raw ability counts. Through networking, confidence, unpaid internships, most importantly through our attendance at the top universities, we run the media, politics, the civil service, the arts, the City, law, medicine, big business, the armed forces, even, in many cases, the protest movements challenging these powers. The Milburn report, published last year, shows that 45% of top civil servants, 53% of top journalists, 32% of MPs, 70% of finance directors and 75% of judges come from the 7% of the population who went to private schools(6). Even the beneficiaries should be able to see that this system is grotesque, invidious and socially destructive.’

KT’s comment –

One of the most important lessons a Sociology student can learn about Modern Britain is that the wealthier someone’s parents are, the more opportunity they have to get a decent education and succeed in life.

As Monbiot reminds us, this is simply the statistical truth and it distresses me when students deny the truth and come back at me with pitiful examples of people who have come from a poor background and succeeded (Alan Sugar is an often cited example) or, worse, just straight forwardly deny that the inequality of opportunity has any kind of bearing on their own lives.

Let me make this very clear – if you are from a poor background you have less chance of getting decent grades, going to university and getting a decent job than someone from a richer background, even if you are as intelligent as that richer child. If you are 16/17 then they have already benefitted from thousands of pounds, maybe tens of thousands of pounds of extra investment because of their wealth.

If you are from a poor background and do manage to get into one of the better universities, you are a statistical anomaly and should be congratulated – but you should still feel aggrieved, even if you do succeed, because you have had an uphill struggle compared to those from wealthier backgrounds who you have been competing against – even once you are in university the wealthy are less likely to need to get a part time job, and more likely to have their parents paying at least part of their fees.

If are one of the poor losers in our education system – remember this – you do not owe the successful anything – their success is at least as much to do with money and luck as it is with their ability. 

Incidentally, now the Tories are in power, and we have a millionaire prime minister, deputy prime-minister and chancellor, this inequality is set to get worse.

Where to go next

  • Please read this! This is an interesting blog post from a Sociology teacher who works in an American community college. This is a review a book about the ‘myth of meritocracy’ followed by som interesting comments on how her students find it difficult to accept the fact that we do not live in a fair society.

http://globalsociology.com/2009/10/28/book-review-the-meritocracy-myth/

 

  • You might also like to read Monbiot’s post on private schools – bear in mind that he himself went to a private boarding school!

http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/01/22/unsentimental-education/

 

  • Also look out for my future blog on the Conservative policy of ‘free schools’

An interesting question for you to think about is this – why is it so hard for us to accept that social class background has a profound impact on life chances?

A multi-layered critique of capitalism

I’ve spent a few years reading around this subject now, and to my mind there are four levels of critique that seam to be levelled at the Capitalist system – advanced by numerous voices with the Anti-Capitalist movement. I name this my ‘multi – layered critique of the Capitalist system’ – Each is progressively deeper and more difficult to understand, especially no.4!

There are different political view points within the movement – anarchists have different logics of critique to Marxists for example, and there are different theories on how important the state is in relation to Capitalism, these four layers of critique do not relate to those, this system of categorisation is just one way of looking at some of the different angles people take on criticising this callous economic system.  

1. The most basic criticism that the anti-Capitalist movement makes of contemporary Capitalism is that the pursuit of profit often leads to social and environmental harm.  Most of these criticisms focus on Transnational Corporations and Individual capitalists themselves. Examples of this would be a Transnational Corporation exploiting cheap labour in the developing world; polluting an area in pursuit of oil and not clearing it up; or a company profiting from war.

2. Deeper criticisms, in my view, are levelled at the institutions that set the ‘rules of trade’ that allow Capitalists the freedom to do harm while pursuing profit. Clearly, there are laws that prevent corporations making a profit out of killing or enslaving people. We could also establish laws of trade and investment that force Capitalists to pay people enough to have a decent standard of living; we could establish laws that force them to bear the full cost of clearing up any pollution they create, and we could enforce laws that force them to invest in socially useful enterprises, but such laws do not exist, and if anything the rules of global trade tend to favour the Capitalist class over people and planet. The ‘rules of trade’ are set and enforced by global institutions such as the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund. Many within the Anti-Capitalist movement are very critical of such institutions.

3. The third layer of critique focuses on the underlying dynamics of the Capitalist system. Two examples of this are Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine – in which she argues that pro-corporate, Neo-Liberal policies are often brought in after a society experiences a ‘shock’ – a natural disaster (the Tsunami) or a war (Iraq), for example – thus neo-liberal forms of capitalism require disasters and misfortune in order to advance. Another well developed, yet less known body of theory is that of Zygmunt Bauman who reminds us that Capitalism is a dynamic system which destabilises local communities – and the central dynamic and central problem of Capitalism is that a globally mobile Capitalist elite destabilises the world in pursuit of profit, and the globally immobile poor are left relatively disempowered with communities that are more unequal, more fragmented and more unstable than before Capitalism arrived. He reminds us, and this is important, that the poor are much less able to escape the problems Capitalism creates than the wealthy. Another example of this type of theory would be Wallerstein’s World Systems theory and one might even argue that Habermas’ theory of the colonisation of the lifeworld fits into this  too.

4. The fourth, and deepest, layer of critique comes from David Harvey, and what he calls the ‘unresolved crisis tendencies of Capitalism’. In other words, the means whereby the Capitalist class seeks to increase its profit and wealth actually undermines their ability to maintain profitability in the long term – thus the ‘internal contradictions of the capitalist system’ means that economic growth will only ever occur for relatively short period, say a decade or two, and then the rate of growth will either decline or stagnate, which is what we call an economic crisis. When this happens, Nation States, or international economic institutions typically step in to solve the ‘economic crisis’ – but, according to Harvey, whatever measures are taken to ensure sustained economic growth are doomed to failure mainly because as the international economy grows it becomes harder and harder to maintain the same level of growth. 

Where to go now – see my blogs on these different types of criticisms of the Capitalist system

How dressing as a giant banana may reduce littering

NB – I’m moving most of the material on here to my new site – ReviseSociology.com – check it out for everything related to AS and A level Sociology

 

http://projects.rsablogs.org.uk/2010/07/importance-dressing-giant-banana/

Lord knows its hard to find interesting articles on Social Policy – but this fits the bill –  part of the article talks about how the London Borough of Southwark (from 2004) adopted the policy of ‘stalking litter’ – hiring people to dress as giant bananas and other ‘commonly found items of litter’ to create scenes around town such as applauding people who put their rubbish in the bin – the theory being that we are more likely to change our actions (in this case stopping littering) if we are subjected to frivolous and unusual stimulae.

You might like to think about how effective this is as a means of reducing minor crimes and how generaliseable it is to more serious crimes.. You might also like to use the freedom of information act to find out how much money they actually spent on their banana actors…. http://www.ico.gov.uk/what_we_cover/freedom_of_information.aspx

The Corporation – A must see documentary for all A2 Sociology students

 

It may be a while since its release in 2004, but this is one of the best educational documentaries ever made. The film has an outstanding web site with a wealth of resources http://www.thecorporation.com/ and is based on the book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan.

One of the main strengths of the film is the interviews with numerous corporate insiders and leading members of the anti-capitalist movement such as Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky

This documentary effectively documents the huge social and environmental harms done by corporations in the pursuit of profit. By extension you could also see the film as a critique of the neo-liberal policies which gave these corporations the freedom to do these harms and of the whole capitalist system which is based around the competitive accumulation of capital.

Social and Environmental harms done by Corporations

These are just some of the harms that Corporations are responsible for with occasional links and examples

1. Exploitation of people in sweat shopsNike in numerous countries http://www.nosweat.org.uk/

2. Doing Environmental harm to keep costs down (externalities) Shell in Nigeria/ BP in the USA/ Union Carbide and Bhopal  – http://www.bhopal.org/

3. Profiting from the poor through the privatization of things such as water – Bechtel in Bolivia http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoID=2015806822

4. Profiting from selling goods that are harmful to people and the environmentMonsanto

5. Profiting from war and fearHalliburton in Iraq/ Coke in Bolivia – see relevant chapter in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, also see http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine

6. Working with oppressive regimes in order to make a profit – Coke and the Nazis, Bechtel in Bolivia

7. Manipulating children to buy products they don’t need – McDonalds and Coke

8. Co modifying everything – Corporations try to own everything – some are patenting genes, and some have tried to ‘own water’ – critics say that there should be some things that are not for sale!  

Excerpt from the web site

To assess the “personality” of the corporate “person,” a checklist is employed, using diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and the standard diagnostic tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. The operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social “personality”:

  • It is self-interested,
  • inherently amoral, callous and deceitful;
  • It breaches social and legal standards to get its way;
  • It does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism.

Concluding this point-by-point analysis, a disturbing diagnosis is delivered: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a “psychopath.”

Interestingly, despite the huge amount of evidence that Corporations can be monstrous, there is recognition that the individuals within the Corporations may be the nicest people you ever meet, and the documentary concludes that what makes Corporations so bad is the competitive economic system in which they have to survive – Corporations, in other words, are seen as products of the Capitalist system.  

The film is very easy to watch over a number of days because of its clear breakdown into a number of distinct chapters.

A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement

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