Glenfell Tower Inferno – A deliberate act?

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Death toll likely to rise

At this time the final death toll is unknown, but it will surely rise above the current figure of seventeen. The building, reportedly engulfed in flames within minutes, is now a burnt out shell.

Labour MP David Lammy says Grenfell Tower tragedy is “corporate manslaughter”

The UK’s Telegraph reports that this Labour MP has called the fire an “outrage”, labelling it “corporate manslaughter”, and demanding that arrests be made. David Lammy may be right – and already people who might be deemed responsible are ducking and weaving, looking to shift the blame elsewhere.

My desktop dictionary defines “manslaughter” as the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or in circumstances not amounting to murder.” The Farlex Free Legal Dictionary elaborates: “The unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice. The unlawful killing of a human being without any deliberation, which may be involuntary, in the commission of a lawful act without due caution and circumspection.” At the very least, that must fit the bill in this tragic situation.

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Labour MP for Tottenham lost a friend in the inferno

But is it possible that the reality is actually much worse? My desktop dictionary defines “murder” as “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.” Again, Farley is more useful, examining the concept of “malice aforethought”:

“The term malice aforethought did not necessarily mean that the killer planned or premeditated on the killing, or that he or she felt malice toward the victim. Generally, malice aforethought referred to a level of intent or recklessness that separated murder from other killings and warranted stiffer punishment. Express malice exists “when there is manifested a deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature.” Malice may be implied by a judge or jury “when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”

I was curious when I read that Glenfell Towers is located in Kensington, West London. Anyone who has been to the UK capital knows that inner west London is the expensive part of town. Yet TV footage showed residents milling around outside the burning tower block who were conspicuously not Anglo-Saxon (or wealthy Arab).

Chelsea house

A nice place in “The Boltons”

I checked the figures – and sure enough, the Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington, overseen by the Conservative Party, is “the most unaffordable borough in London when it comes to renting”. It has “a higher proportion of high earners (over £60,000 p.a.) than any other local government district in the country”. İt is “one of the few areas in the UK where population has dipped during the last ten years”.

A quick glance at property prices turned up a 7-bedroom house in “The Boltons” listed at £57,500,000; a more modest 5-bedroom end-of-terrace house for £35,000,000 – and a host of others in the £20-30 million range. Clearly I’ll need a second mortgage to get into that market – though I could lower my sights and snap up a studio “apartment” for around £1 million.

So what’s the story with Glenfell Towers, whose residents gave the impression of being unlikely to fit comfortably into that housing demographic? Well, apparently North Kensington is something of an anomaly – a picturesque multi-ethnic enclave at the lower end of the socio-economic scale, with a high rate of unemployment and a high proportion of welfare beneficiaries. Possibly not the kind of neighbours who would be the first choice of your average £50 million house owner, despite the contribution they might make to local “colour”.

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Local residents near Glenfell Tower

Apparently a company called Rydon “completed a refurbishment of the building in the summer of 2016 for KCTMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation) on behalf of the council”. The refurbishment included affixing plastic and foam insulation panels to the exterior of the tower block at a cost of £9 million. According to that report, Cladding is considered a low cost way to modify the exterior of unattractive buildings and was used on Grenfell Tower so that the building would look better when viewed against the backdrop of conservation areas and luxury flats that surround north Kensington”.

The same report goes on to say, “Almost all witnesses said they saw the cladding basically firing up – bits of it were igniting before their very eyes.” Residents described how the foam-filled cladding “went up like matchsticks” as the blaze spread.

floor plan

120 flats – and ONE stairway?

Another report noted: “Renovations of the Grenfell building in North Kensington saw the building not only kitted out in controversial cladding that could have caused the deadly blaze to spread so quickly, but also stripped of two of its fire exits.”

Interesting! Even more interesting will be to follow what happens to the site after the tower block, which seems to be a complete write-off, is demolished. Will the Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington replace it with low-cost housing for the surviving residents of Glenfell Tower? I suspect not. There will be many residents of South Kensington who, while sympathising with the victims of the fire, will be happy enough to see them relocated to a borough more appropriate to their socio-economic status. The value of the cleared land will undoubtedly richly reward developers given the opportunity to construct high-end residences for an influx of more wealthy ratepayers.

Is it possible that the whole business was a deliberate plan to get rid of that eyesore building and its misplaced inhabitants? It wouldn’t surprise me at all. Some might consider that £9 million for flammable cladding to be money well spent.

Birth Rate Falling in Turkey

I recall a few years back Turkey’s Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan getting a lot of stick in certain circles for exhorting families to have three children. At the time, I felt the criticism was a little unfair. Families in poorer regions of the country have traditionally had numerous offspring – and three would be a very moderate number for some. A student once told me she was the seventh child in her family. Her name was “Yeter” – Turkish for “That’s enough”.

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And they’re easier to get rid of when you’re tired of them

On the other hand, more affluent couples, especially in larger cities in the west of the country, are emulating their peers in “civilised” post-modern societies and choosing to limit themselves to one child, or maybe to have none at all.

Fair enough, of course. Far be it from me to interfere with a woman’s right to choose. Nevertheless, it’s common knowledge that that those wealthy post-modern societies in the West have difficult times ahead. Their age/sex pyramids are becoming top-heavy as the baby-boomer demographic moves into the high-maintenance social welfare bracket, collecting old age pensions and demanding more of health services. Younger generations are faced with the prospect of heavier taxation at the same time as burgeoning property prices make it increasingly difficult to put a secure roof over their own heads.

These headlines appeared recently in UK news media:

How Europe is slowly dying despite an increasing world population (Telegraph)

Europe needs many more babies to avert a population disaster (Guardian)

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Looking a few years ahead . . .

The Telegraph reported that “Italy is dying and newborns are not replacing those who die, according to the country’s health minister”; and other European countries face a similar situation. Germany’s population is expected to plunge from 81 million to 67 million by 2060, and an increasing proportion of those will be “grey” voters, turning the country into a “gerontocratic” society – one governed by the old.

The Guardian warned “Europe desperately needs more young people to run its health services, populate its rural areas and look after its elderly because, increasingly, its societies are no longer self-sustaining.”

In 1970, Italy’s predominantly Catholic population was joyously reproducing at a rate of 2.37 babies per woman, comfortably above the number required to maintain a steady population. In 2013 the rate had fallen to 1.39, approaching the figure demographers refer to as “lowest-low fertility”.

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Many a true word spoken in jest

Average fertility rate over the entire European Union is 1.58. Ironically, even this low figure is largely attributable to the tendency of poorer migrants to have larger families. Europe’s determination to shut its doors to migrants and refugees may prove to be costly or even fatal in the long-term.

Well, Turkey is not yet in quite such dire straits, but an article in our English language daily the other day reported:

Turkey’s fertility rate falls to critical level of 2.1 for first time since WWI.

2.1 is generally accepted as the minimum number of live births per woman necessary to maintain a stable population. The figure has been declining steadily in recent years. In 1998 it was 2.8. In fact, forecasts for 2016 had suggested the rate would drop to 1.85 – but apparently the influx of refugees from war-torn Syria, currently producing 70,000 new babies each year, is boosting the national average.

Well, every cloud has a silver lining.

Who is that economist working for?

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If you believe that . . .

Economics has been called the dismal science. Well, “dismal” it may be, certainly in the way it is used to justify the gross inequalities in the distribution of our planet’s wealth – but “science”? Possibly a “human” science, ranking with other notoriously imprecise fields of human knowledge such as psychology and sociology.

I have noted previously that Alfred Nobel did not include economics in his list of prizes. Not only did he think it unfit to sit alongside the true sciences (physics, chemistry, physiology, medicine), he didn’t even consider it as objectively assessable as Literature and Peace!

Bearing that in mind, then, it seems to me that I have as much right as anyone to have my ideas on the subject taken seriously. It could even be argued that the views of a high profile rugby player in New Zealand have greater validity than those of a former Governor of my country’s Reserve Bank.

We are all aware that high-level sport these days is mostly about money, and economics has inserted its dismal finger so that honesty, fair play, clean living and sportsmanship now rank well down the list of priorities. The home ground of Istanbul’s Beşiktaş football club, formerly commemorating the republic’s second president and close friend of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, has recently been rebuilt and reopened as the Vodafone Arena, commemorating . . . the power of money.

banksters-300x199It’s a brave sportsman or woman these days who can cite moral principles to his or her paymasters as Sonny Bill Williams has done in New Zealand. Williams has the advantage of being an extremely valuable property, moving seamlessly between two rugby “codes” (league and union) in a way that would once have been frowned upon. So, when he announced that he would not wear a team strip emblazoned with the logo of the Bank of NZ, he opened a can of worms. Williams is, apparently, a Muslim, and follows that religion’s injunction against usury – the lending of money at interest.

A columnist for the NZ Herald, Brian Gould, picked up on Williams’s moral stand, writing an opinion piece entitled “Banking should be under closer Government control”. Supporting the Muslim rugby player’s position, Gould said, Most people believe, and it is a belief assiduously promoted by the banks themselves, that the banks act as intermediaries between those wishing to save and those wishing to borrow, usually on mortgage. . . But this benign view of their operations is inaccurate and misleading. The banks do not lend you on mortgage money deposited with them by someone else. They lend you money that they themselves create out of nothing, through the stroke of a pen or, today, a computer entry.”

The next day, the Herald published a reply from a gentleman by the name of Don Brash insisting that both Williams and Gould were wrong.

“Mr Gould is not alone in peddling this nonsense, but that certainly doesn’t make it correct.

How the Fed works

How the banking system creates MONEY. Money is not wealth, especially if you have to borrow it at commercial interest rates. (Source: Time Magazine)

“The banking system does create money. When Bank A lends money to one of its customers, the customer may use those funds to buy something from somebody who banks with Bank B. Bank B then finds itself with an additional deposit, a part of which it can lend out to its customers (keeping some of the additional deposit as a liquidity reserve). So an initial loan may end up considerably increasing the total lending by the banking system.

“If individual banks really could create money by “the stroke of a pen or a computer entry”, as Mr Gould contends, why do they bother paying interest on deposits, why do they borrow funds from parent banks overseas, why do they borrow funds in the international market, why do they need to hold some funds in government securities as a liquidity reserve, why do some banks occasionally run out of money when customers lose confidence in them?

As well as being a former Governor of the Reserve Bank, I now chair the small New Zealand subsidiary of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the largest bank in the world. It would certainly make life very much easier if we could, “by the stroke of a pen or a computer entry”, simply create the money which we lend out to New Zealand borrowers. Unfortunately, we can’t.” (My highlighting)

Pinocchio

Would I lie to you?

So, according to Brash, Gould and Williams are wrong – but the banking system does create money. Huh? Look at the weasel words in the last sentence. OK, that’s not how they do it exactly, Don. And Bill Clinton did NOT have sex with that woman.

As I hinted above, Don Brash was Governor of New Zealand’s Reserve Bank from 1988 to 2002. He has held academic positions at several universities at home and abroad, sat in big chairs in large offices in several well-known banks, and even been involved in politics at the highest level. Clearly he, and the editor of the NZ Herald, and other naïve souls too for all I know, believe his words carry the power of gospel truth in matters of economics.

Look closer, though, and ask yourself if a guy who works at the upper levels of banking administration can possibly express publicly an unbiased view of the workings of the banking system.

Check the guy’s record, and you’ll see that he is a loser from way back. His first foray into politics was in 1980 as National Party candidate for the “safe” National seat of East Coast Bays. He lost, not to the main opposition Labour Party, but to an opponent representing Social Credit, a party whose main platform was exactly the view of banks expressed by Messrs Williams and Gould. That was a by-election. He failed to win the seat back in the General Election of 1981 and was dumped.

es514f00bfSomehow he managed to get himself elected as leader of the parliamentary National Party, despite his inability to actually win an electoral seat – holding the position from 2003 to 2006, then resigning from Parliament in 2007 to take up another academic post as economics guru.

He returned to politics in 2011 as leader of the right wing ACT Party, holding the post for seven months before resigning again after failing to make any impact in that year’s General Election. Clearly the average New Zealand voter is more perceptive than those who appoint general managers in banks or professors of economics at universities.

Brash is a hired lackey of the capitalist establishment, and a loser whenever he has offered his services to the New Zealand public. I’m not going to stoop to discussing his private life. If you’re interested you can get an overview on his Wikipedia page.

How the US Uses War to Protect the Dollar

I’m reblogging this because it’s crucial that we all know how US Money Power is manipulating the entire world:

The Gods of Money William Engdahl (2015) The first video is a 2015 presentation by William Engdahl about his 2010 book The Gods of Money. It focuses on the use of US economic and military warfare to maintain the supremacy of the US dollar as the global reserve currency. As his point of departure, he […]

512-I1WyqFL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In 1971 when Nixon was forced to end the gold standard,* the gold-backed US dollar was replaced by the “petrodollar.” According to Engdahl, it was so named because of a secret agreement the US made with Saudi Arabia – in return for a guarantee that OPEC would only trade oil in US dollars, the US guaranteed the Saudis unlimited military hardware.

In this way, oil importing nations (most of the world) were forced to retain substantial US dollar reserves. This was the only way they could provide their economies with a continuous supply of oil.

In 1997 the US Treasury and Soros made a a similar attack on economies of Southeast Asia (Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines) that attempted to use currencies other than the dollar as their reserve currencies.

The second clip is a Guns and Butter radio interview with Engdahl. It focuses on a second area the Gods of Money covers, namely the long US battle to abolish their private central bank (aka the Federal Reserve) and end the ability of private banks to create money out of thin air (see How Banks Create Money Out of Thin Air).

via How the US Uses War to Protect the Dollar — The Most Revolutionary Act

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (Part 2)

I’m not a hundred percent sure who said it first – Mark Twain, Benjamin Disraeli or the first Duke of Wellington. Whoever it was, they drew our attention to the sad truth that “facts and figures” can be manipulated, distorted and misinterpreted to prove just about anything.

I want to share three items I came across recently, all circulated by people with Turkish names, but seeking to present Turkey in an unfavourable light. Two of them were posted on the business network LinkedIn, and the other, in our local English language news site, Hürriyet Daily News.

Turkey & ChinaThe first item is a graph purporting to compare the “productivity” of Turkey and China over a 25-year period. The two countries were, allegedly, neck-and-neck in 1990. By 2014, China’s “productivity” had grown exponentially to ten times that of Turkey, which had clearly languished in a state of economic inertia.

Well, several questions arose in my mind as I studied the graph. First, what was the source? No sign of that, and the gentleman who posted it online was unable to provide an answer. Second, given that China’s population is twenty times that of Turkey, is it fair to compare their economies in absolute terms, rather than, say per capita GNP? Moreover, is it likely that their “productivity” was equal in 1990? A more serious question, however, is, what, exactly, does the y axis of this graph measure? 500,000 what? 2,000,000 what? Dollars? Automobiles? Chinese noodles?

bi_graphics_middleeast-3The second item is a graphic listing the fifteen most powerful militaries in the Middle East. Leaving aside the debatable matter of whether Turkey is in the Middle East, at least we know the source of this graphic: globalfirepower.com via Business Insider. The figures are not up-to-date (2014) but leave that aside too. What interested me was that Turkey is said to be Number One on the list despite the following:

  • Saudi Arabia’s military budget is three times that of Turkey – though admittedly the Sauds don’t seem to have got much for their money.
  • Israel has 80-200 nuclear warheads (its neighbours have none) and (which the table doesn’t show) an “Iron Dome” (provided at stupendous expense by the United States government) so that no other country can actually attack them.
  • Iran and Egypt both have more active personnel than Turkey, and Egypt also has more aircraft.
  • Syria has more tanks and Iran has more submarines.

Of course, Turkey’s military capabilities should not be underestimated, as Britain, France and Greece learned to their cost after the First World War. However, the figures suggest they wouldn’t be wise to start throwing their weight around in the region, even if they did have the inclination.

Graph 1Finally, there was a graphic in our local daily showing the world’s “Top 15 Manufacturing Countries”. The writer’s main focus was on “Turkey’s relative performance [which] says a lot about Turkey’s transformation. Turkey entered [the list] in 1990, hung on until 2000, but dropped out afterwards. Today, we are muddling around between number 16 and 17.” (My highlights)

The first thing that struck me is, the global economy is a competitive market, and to be ranked in the top 20 out of 200 is not a bad achievement for a country that was an economic basket-case less than a century ago. Then, once again, the unit of measurement puzzles me. What exactly is “global nominal manufacturing gross value added”?

Moreover, let’s take a look at the other economic powerhouses. The United States has lost its Number One ranking, and anyway I’d be interested to know how much of their manufacturing actually takes place on home turf? Australia, the Netherlands and Argentina, in the Top 15 in 1980, had all “dropped out” by 2013. The United Kingdom, Spain and Canada had fallen from fourth, ninth and tenth, to eleventh, fourteenth and fifteenth respectively. On the other hand, South Korea, Russia and Indonesia, out of the running in 1980, had powered up to fifth, ninth and thirteenth places by 2013.

So what do we understand from this? One thing is certain, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Do these figures take any account of the proportion of a country’s population living in abject poverty, eg China and India? From a purely subjective point-of-view, the situation in Turkey doesn’t look too bad to me. Without getting into detailed comparisons, levels of air pollution are far below those of China. Destruction of the natural environment by rapacious business interests is nowhere near as bad as in Brazil or Indonesia.

In the final analysis, comparisons are odious (not sure who originated that one either) but one other thing is certain, we should treat statistical evidence with caution.


PS – For Part 1 click here

Human Development in Turkey

More sad news for Turkey. The United Nations Development Programme released its latest global report last week, placing Turkey 71st out of 188 countries on its Human Development Index. “71st! How bad is that!” I thought.

But then I looked a little closer. The first thing I noticed was that Turkey had actually moved up one place from the previous year. In fact, from 1990 to 2015, the country’s HDI value had increased by more than 33%.

The UN uses three factors to determine its HDI value: Life expectancy at birth; expected years of schooling and mean (average) years of schooling; and per capita Gross National Product. Over that period since 1990, life expectancy had increased by 11.2 years. Average years of schooling had increased by 3.7 years. Per capita GNP increased by 78.2%.

slaves_of_dubia_coverIt is also important to recognise that, as a country moves higher up the rankings, it becomes increasingly difficult to overtake those ahead on the list. The top five countries are Norway, Australia, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark. The USA ranks 11th, and the United Kingdom, 16th; Japan is in 17th place, and Finland, 23rd. Even if Turkey’s standards improve markedly, how is it possible to overtake countries that have such a head start? Turkey is, however, well placed in the second category of countries, labelled as having “High Human Development”, its HDI index placing it in the upper half of this group.

Then there are other countries ahead of Turkey on the list whose high rankings are open to question. How does Greece, for example, with its economy in tatters, manage to slot in at number 29? Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have healthy rankings of 39 and 42 respectively, yet many of their residents are poorly-paid migrant workers, without the benefits of citizenship and, one assumes, not counted for statistical purposes.

Kazakhstan (57), Cuba (68) and Iran (69) all have higher rankings than Turkey – which makes me wonder how much credence I can give to the UN report.

I suspect that few people will actually read the report’s 288 pages. Most likely, those in countries at the higher end of the list will wallow in unjustified complacency. One point the report writers make is that average figures can hide wide discrepancies in internal standards. This is a concern in developed countries,” they say, “where poverty and exclusion are also a challenge, with over 300 million people – including more than one-third of all children – living in relative poverty.” This is undoubtedly true in New Zealand, despite its HDI ranking of 13.

one+percent_vectorized“Legal and political institutions can be used and abused to perpetuate group divisions,” the report says. It cites the LGBTI demographic as an example – but what about the broader situation in the United States, where Wall Street financiers buy political influence with professional lobbyists, and 45% of eligible voters do not even bother to participate in presidential elections?

“The top 1 percent of the global wealth distribution holds 46 percent of the world’s wealth.” Well, we knew that. So what does that mean in reality? Those Western First World countries may have high per capita GNPs, but clearly the average figure is distorted by a small number of multi-billionaires. Far more than half of their population exists well below that per capita average GNP.

The report goes on to make a number of recommendations which, sad to say, are unlikely to receive much serious consideration in the corridors of global power:

“Measures are needed to strengthen strategies that protect the rights of and promote the opportunities for migrants, to establish a global mechanism to coordinate economic (voluntary) migration and to facilitate guaranteed asylum for forcibly displaced people.” Can you see the Saudi royals or those United Arab emirs taking much interest in rights and opportunities for those indentured labourers from Asia and Africa who do most of the unskilled work? As for rich countries in Europe “facilitating guaranteed asylum for forcibly displaced people” from Syria, for example – Dream on!

“Accountability is central to ensuring that human development reaches everyone, especially in protecting the rights of those excluded. One major instrument for ensuring accountability of social institutions is the right to information.” The people at Wikileaks are doing their best here – but it’s also clear that Western governments have little interest in transparency, and deal harshly with whistleblowers who challenge their right to withhold information.

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Work harder, and you too can have one of these 😉

Sustainable development activities at the national level must be complemented with global actions. Curbing global warming is possible. Continuing advocacy and communication on the need to address climate change and protect the environment are essential.” It may be possible – but to me it seems that the forces of conservative capitalism are working to undo most of the progress that had been made in protecting the fragile ecosystem of Planet Earth.

“Reforms should focus on regulating currency transactions and capital flows and coordinating macroeconomic policies and regulations. One option is a multilateral tax on cross-border transactions; another is the use of capital controls by individual countries. To move towards a fairer global system, the agenda for global institutional reforms should focus on global markets and their regulation, on the governance of multilateral institutions and on the strengthening of global civil society.” Don’t hold your breath waiting for Wall Street and the puppeteers of global finance to “regulate currency transactions and capital flows” and “move towards a fairer global system”.

Once again we see the need to view all published statistics with a healthy measure of scepticism.