Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Corbyn versus Mann

Colman's Column3

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday August 28 2015.

 

corbyn

I published an article in Ceylon Today recently hung on the peg of Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for the leadership of the UK Labour Party. I specifically dealt with Corbyn’s role in the Islington child abuse scandal of the 1980s and 1990s but my main interest was in the kind of reasoning that goes into political debate.

John Mann’s Case against Corbyn

John Mann MP issued an open letter to Corbyn on July 23 2015, in which he said: “The extent of the abuse was only uncovered through the tenacity and bravery of whistle-blowers, journalists and survivors which led to a number of independent inquiries and the damning Ian White report in 1995”. The gist of John Mann’s argument is that Corbyn is not fit to lead the Labour Party at a time when much attention in Parliament and the media will be generated by the Goddard Inquiry into historic sexual abuse of children. This is not because anyone suspects Corbyn of being an abuser himself but because he was not pro-active in helping the victims or in establishing an investigation and indeed obstructed investigations.

Smearing Mann

Mann’s letter struck a chord with me because I was working on child protection at the Department of Health from 1994 to 1997. I saw files and was privy to discussions about the Islington care homes scandal. I can endorse that the leader of Islington Council, Margaret Hodge, and the local MP, Jeremy Corbyn, were, to put it charitably, less than helpful to the Department’s investigations.

The first comment was that Mann was “not fond of us northerners”. He was born in Pudsey, Yorkshire and educated in Bradford. He represents the constituency of Bassetlaw, which is well north of Watford.

Mann’s opinion of Corbyn was thought to be undermined by the fact that he was supporting Yvette Cooper for leader. He makes no secret of this and surely he can support whoever he likes. But wait- someone else accuses Mann of the crime of “trying to influence the election”. Is that not allowed in a democracy?

Kevin Higgins

Because I agreed with Mann, that meant that I was fair game for smearing too. Kevin Higgins is an Irish poet who I had admired and whom I had thought of as a good (virtual) friend. Although he is an Irish citizen living in Galway, Higgins is strongly campaigning for Corbyn. He thought it was OK to call me a liar who was not to be believed on any topic. He said that I was suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. He called Mann “deranged”. He provided a link beside this assertion, which I thought would provide evidence of Mann’s insanity. The link led me to a very silly poem by Higgins in which he fantasises about Mann while sitting on the lavatory. Who is the mad one here?

Monster Mann

Generally, Corbyn’s supporters content themselves with attacking Mann rather than rebutting his arguments. One called him “Tory Labour lite”. Most think he is not a proper socialist. Some called him a “Blairite”. What is the cause of such hatred?

As I read about him in parliamentary sketches it strikes me that he is one of the awkward squad. I have had a good look at Mann’s voting record in the Commons. The big black marks are that he voted in favour of the invasion of Iraq and against an inquiry into it. On domestic issues, he is very much on the side of the angels, voting against benefit cuts and austerity measures in general. Mann was also vocal in criticising other MPs over the expenses scandal. He was responsible for lodging the complaint that resulted in an inquiry into Tory minister Maria Miller’s expenses claims.

He has organised numerous positive campaigns in his constituency, examples of which include campaigning to save Bassetlaw Hospital Accident and Emergency Department and helping former coal miners to get their compensation. Following reforms recommended by an inquiry he instigated, the number of heroin addicts in treatment in Bassetlaw rose from 2 to 400, and acquisitive crime fell by 75%.

In 2014 Mann was responsible for compiling a dossier of historic allegations of child abuse, detailing allegations about 12 former ministers that may have been involved. He said he believes some of them were “definitely child abusers”.

Agenda

I once worked with someone who was campaigning against female circumcision and her constant battle cry was that FGM should be “pushed up the management agenda”. Agenda is a vogue word and has become something sinister. However much I might protest that I am just an elderly  gentleman scholar living up a mountain in Sri Lanka, I am often accused of having an ‘agenda’. I have been accused of being sent to Sri Lanka by MI5 to undermine the Rajapaksa government. Others accused me of being on Gota’s payroll. I have been portrayed as a Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinist and a propagandist for the Tamil Tigers. Now I am apparently a dyed-in-the wool Daily Mail Tory out to destroy the Left in Britain.

Someone noted that my article was published in Ceylon Today and provided a link to an article about Sri Lanka being a haven for paedophiles. I think this was intended to smear me as a paedophile.

Evasion

The distinguished UK writer and TV dramatist Janey Preger wrote that my previous  article was a : “great piece… well-written and well-said”. She tried to share it with former Guardian journalist W Stephen Gilbert. Apparently, he disliked my article so much that he refused to read. How did he know that he disliked it so much if he had not read it?

Timing – Post propter hoc

A pseudonymous commenter (LightShedder) on my blog, after calling me vicious, asserted that Corbyn is on record as having called for an investigation at the time of the allegations. I know that his spokesman said this recently but I can find no record of Corbyn making such a demand in the I980s or 1990s. If anyone can provide me with a link to a contemporaneous call for an investigation, I will humbly eat my toupee. I asked LightShedder to help me with this, saying that I would publicly apologise if evidence is forthcoming. At the time of writing this I have received no response.

Someone referred me to a news item in the Belfast Telegraph about Corbyn calling for a standing commission on child abuse. Another bureaucratic entity might be just what is needed, but I doubt that it would help. The main problem is that Corbyn called for this on August 5 2015 – what did he call for in the 1990s?

One commenter seemed to be saying that because I said that I believed Mann’s allegations after seeing documentary evidence, the fact that I could not now produce this evidence   placed me in the same league as the totalitarian governments of the Soviet Union, China, Iran and the Tudors. This is insanely disproportionate.  My “evidence” is not necessary to the case presented about Corbyn’s lack of action. The issue has been in the public domain for a long time. This is not just conspiracy theorists. Social worker Liz Davies’s testimony is credible.

Dr Davies has been telling the Islington story for 30 years. That does not stop some Corbyn supporters saying “why did no-one mention this before? You are only bringing it up to smear Corbyn”. Because she is quoted in the Daily Mail, someone says it “can’t be true because it’s in the Mail.

Conclusion

Responses to my article brought a rich harvest of flawed thinking. I read those comments with a copy of philosopher Nigel Warburton’s Thinking from A to Z close at hand. Warburton covers the following tricks of bad argument: false dichotomy, ad hominem, referential ambiguity, disanalogy, assumption, bad company fallacy, enthymeme, lexical ambiguity, companions in guilt move. I recommend having the book to hand when reading about Sri Lankan politics too.

 

My Secret Corbyn Court.

I have been contributing a weekly column to the Sri Lankan English-language daily newspaper Ceylon Today since January 1 2014. Their circulation is small and they only pay me Rupees 3,000 per article (about GBP 14). This is a hobby rather than a career or source of wealth and influence.

 

My most recent article was prompted by the abysmal level of debate during the still on-going parliamentary election campaign in Sri Lanka. I was particularly exercised by the abusive response given to my friend  Professor Rajiva Wijesinha for his thoughtful contributions to discussion of good governance. I did not have much interest in Jeremy Corbyn, but I thought some discussion by me of his supporters’ reaction to John Mann MP would be of interest to a Sri Lankan readership.

 

There was only one comment on the print edition of the article. That was from Rajiva himself who commended my efforts.

 

I then posted the article on my blog. There was only one comment on that.

 

I shared the blog version on my Facebook Timeline. There was no comment at all on that.

 

Other people shared my FB post on FB. I think Janey Preger was the first. She thought the article was ‘excellent’ but not all of her friends agreed.

 

A significant volume of comments only ensued when Raymond Gorman shared it. Most reactions were personally hostile to me. One called me ‘a feckin eejit’. Another posted a link to an article about foreign paedophiles in Sri Lanka which seemed to be intended as a slur on my character. Raymond, decent man that he is, removed it. The general drift of comment seemed based on the assumption that I was a Daily Mail-reading Tory. I have never voted Tory in my life. The last time I voted was to contribute to the Labour landslide of 1997. I have not lived in the UK since 1998. I have no intention of returning but if I do, I have little doubt that I will be voting Labour.

 

I have never bought the Daily Mail in my life and have only read it online. The only time I bought the Telegraph was when I was stuck in Ashton-under-Lyne during the Thorpe trial and no Guardian was available despite the proximity of Manchester. The Torygraph was particularly strong on salacious court cases. I have rarely read the Times in my entire life and since Murdoch took it over, it has seemed worse that the Sun.  I started reading the Guardian when I was 12. I have never bought the Spectator. I started reading the New Statesman when I was 15. During the 70s and 80s I was an avid reader of Socialist Worker and Searchlight and went on Anti-Nazi League marches and attended Rock Against Racism festivals.

 

Some FB friends with connections to British journalism suggested that my article should gain a wider audience and I should pitch it to the Times or the Telegraph. I demurred on the grounds that my article said nothing original. An article in the Daily Mail, which I had not read when I wrote my article, covers the same ground as me, and more. Living, as I do, up a mountain in the poorest province in Sri Lanka, I do not have the resources to function as an investigative journalist. I am an elderly gent who enjoys writing and, in his anecdotage, likes to share his experiences and thoughts with a defenceless readership.

 

The only value I could add to the Corbyn story was that from 1994 to 1997 I worked on child protection for the Department of Health. During that time, the Islington care homes scandal was a hot topic and DoH officials at many levels of seniority were very frustrated at the lack of co-operation from officials at the London Borough of Islington. The council leader was Margaret Hodge. I never met her but I knew her husband Henry Hodge. I thought he was a lovely man and was very fond of him. I did not meet Jeremy Corbyn at any time but I did deal with correspondence from him at various government departments. I read the voluminous files on the Islington scandal and my recollection leads me to support what John Mann MP says about Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to react pro-actively to the allegations of horrendous child abuse.

 

When I said to Michael Paine: “I know what I know. You vote for whoever you think best”. He seemed to think that I was morally reprehensible. He threw Thomas More at me- the fictional Robert Bolt saint and man of principle rather than the  real -life bigoted psychopath who enjoyed watching heretics sizzle and pop. Paine placed this in context by saying he was not in favour of secret courts. Neither am I. Apparently, because I said that I believed Mann’s allegations because I had seen documentary evidence( that I could not now produce)  placed me in the same league as the totalitarian governments of the Soviet Union, China, Iran and the Tudors. This is insanely disproportionate. I can only repeat that my “evidence” is not necessary to the case presented about Corbyn’s lack of action. The issue has been in the public domain for a long time. This is not just conspiracy theorists. Social worker Liz Davies’s testimony is believable even though it has recently been reported in the Daily Mail.

 

Back to the Sri Lankan election: President Sirisena has said, People should use their intelligence, knowledge of what happened in the past when casting their vote”. If Jeremy Corbyn has what it takes to be prime minister of the UK, my humble article should not be a bother to him.  Former Sri Lanka president Mahinda Rajapaksa hopes to become prime minister after this general election. He said about complaints of heckling and hooting at meetings that democratic politics is not for the faint-hearted: “It is part of the package and one should be able to withstand such pressure and such eventualities in politics. I have been booed and even stoned at political rallies in the past but I braved those incidents. If one was scared of facing such situations, one should leave politics”.

Ad Hominem, Mr Corbyn

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday August 4 2015.

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I had vowed that I would take a break from writing Colman’s Column until the Sri Lankan parliamentary election was over. However, I have been drawn into discussions about another election, the election of a new leader of the UK Labour Party. The discussions brought out a few issues about the nature of political debate and critical thinking in general, which also have relevance to the Sri Lankan polity. It reminds me of the depressing nature of the responses to Rajiva Wijesinha’s contributions to the Sri Lankan debate; hardly anyone provides a cogent argument against Professor Wijesinha’s points, preferring instead personal insults that would seem immature in a kindergarten.

Jeremy-Corbyn_3365555b

Surprisingly, the leading contender for the Labour Party leadership as I write is Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing MP for Islington in north London. Although an MP since 1983, Corbyn has previously shown no discernable interest in power or leadership, preferring to espouse human rights causes. He has been a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, Amnesty International, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Stop the War Coalition. He has been writing a weekly column for the Communist Morning Star since 1983.

I have been a life-long Labour Party supporter. I have never voted Conservative and can envisage no circumstances (a huge bribe or severe torture might be inducements) in which I would ever do so. My sympathies lie with the left of the Labour Party and I would  be a natural Corbyn supporter. I sympathised with the views expressed by novelist Will Self in a recent TV interview when he said many young people were attracted to Jeremy Corbyn because he offered real socialist alternatives to the tired old middle of the road tactics.

Nevertheless, I have a big problem with Corbyn. It is the history of Islington Council and child abuse. John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, wrote an open letter to Corbyn about this and said that Corbyn’s behaviour in relation to the Islington care homes scandal made him unfit to be leader of the Labour Party.

From 1994 to 1997, I was a ministerial advisor on child protection for the Department of Health. I have seen the files. I know what was going on. There were serious and credible allegations that some care homes for children in Islington operated as brothels, with small children hired out for sexual abuse.   Islington Council doggedly tried to obstruct the investigation. The main culprit was Margaret Hodge (former minister for children – the irony!) who now chairs the Parliamentary Accounts Committee but was then leader of Islington Council. She was strongly supported in her obstructionism by Jeremy Corbyn.

The reaction from Corbyn’s supporters to Mann’s charges was disappointing and depressing. Someone whose intelligence, knowledge and compassion I deeply respect asked if “the author” had written a similar open letter to Harriet Harmon and Patricia Hewitt. Both were former leaders of the National Council for Civil Liberties who both became Labour ministers. The NCCL earned criticism during the Islington scandal for seeming to be sympathetic to the Paedophile Information Exchange, an organisation campaigning on behalf of child molesters.  This is what rhetoricians call the tu quoque move; in Northern Ireland they call it “what-aboutery”. The technique involves avoiding dealing with a specific charge by shifting attention to another alleged crime.

Others sought to smear John Mann by saying he was smearing Corbyn. They accused Mann of digging up ancient history to undermine Corbyn’s campaign. One cried in horror that Mann was trying to influence the vote – surely trying to influence the vote is legitimate in a democracy?

As recently as November 2014, Corbyn in effect lied to the House of Commons. He implied that, although there had been instances of sexual abuse of children in Islington, the council had investigated and done their best to put things right. In fact, he knows fine well that Islington Council fought tooth and nail to avoid an investigation. When a report was prepared, they blocked its publication for 20 years. Does the Labour Party want a leader that lies to the House of Commons? What is worse is the foolishness of trying to cover this up. It has been all over the internet for many years.

A Channel 4 report claimed that senior Labour politicians knew what was going on in Islington as early as 1988. Liz Davies, a social worker, became alarmed at the number of children coming to her with stories of abuse. Every morning there was queue of children outside her office. They told of sinister adults preying on children who were lured into private houses or abused in care homes. Davies’s colleague, David Cofie, reported his concerns direct to Hodge. Davies asked for more resources to tackle the problem, but Hodge turned the request down. Davies and Cofie continued their investigations and wrote 15 separate reports. Their warnings still went unheeded, even as they uncovered appallingly serious allegations.

It was Hodge’s successor as council leader, Derek Sawyer, who commissioned the White Report. Ian White was Director of Social Services for Oxfordshire. His report was a damning one and blamed the failures of Islington social services on extreme left wing culture fostered by Hodge and Corbyn. More than 30 care workers were involved in abuse. All but one went on to work with children elsewhere.

The White Report  was completed in 1995 and received a good deal of attention in the media at the time. However, the text was not published until 2014, in heavily redacted form.  Islington Council has been covering up for over 20 years. They shredded every incriminating file, sacked whistleblowers, slandered victims. One of the victims, Demetrious Panton, was sexually  abused from 1978 and his allegations were ignored for ten years. Margaret Hodge said he was mentally ill. He is now 46, a PhD in philosophy and a successful lawyer and, ironically, an advisor to the Labour Party. Hodge eventually apologised for what she had said.

Despite what he told the House in November 2014, Corbyn was deeply complicit in the cover-up. The heroes were the investigative journalists of the London Evening Standard who provided much solid evidence to the Department of Health, which enabled us to force Islington to take action.

At the time I am writing  this article, Corbyn has not responded personally to Mann’s specific charges. An anonymous spokesman issued an official statement: “This is a new low in the leadership election. Jeremy Corbyn has a long record of standing up for his constituents.” It is noteworthy that the statement makes absolutely no attempt to address Mann’s very specific points.

Corbyn promised social workers that he would pass their concerns on to the Secretary of State for Health. There is no indication that he did so. Rather than supporting fellow MP Geoffrey Dickens in his campaign to have the scandal investigated, Corbyn complained to the Speaker about Dickens visiting Islington. On February 17 1986, Corbyn called Dickens “irresponsible” in the House and asked him to unreservedly withdraw his allegations about child brothels in Islington and to make a public apology.

Home Secretary Theresa May has been trying to establish a wide-ranging inquiry into historic child sexual abuse. Two chairpersons have been forced to resign, one because her brother was  a former  minister implicated in cover-ups, another because she was a friend of Leon Brittan, one of the senior politicians under suspicion. The Statutory Inquiry opened on 9 July 2015, chaired by Dame Lowell Goddard QC, a New Zealand High Court judge who had no ties to the UK bodies and persons likely to be investigated.

Mann concludes his open letter to Corbyn: “Your carefully worded excusing of Islington Council in the House of Commons equally demonstrates why it is inappropriate for you to attempt to lead the Labour Party at the critical time of the Goddard Enquiry, as child abuse is the issue that will haunt this Parliament.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chuckle Muscles Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on July 22 2015

Colman's Column3It’s being so cheerful as keeps me going – Mona Lott, a character on the 1940s radio show ITMA (It’s that Man Again).

Legal scholar and behavioral economist Cass Sunstein wrote in the New York Review of Books that in 2010, when he was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration, he asked a colleague how things were going. The reply was: “My moment-by-moment happiness is pretty low, but my life satisfaction is great.” The colleague was an expert on  research into happiness, and he was referring to two different measures of “happiness”.

Can’t Buy Happiness?

In the US and in many other industrialized countries, happiness often means money. Economists have assumed that they can measure progress and public welfare by looking at consumer confidence. The Beatles sang that money could not buy you love. Can it buy you happiness?

In 1974, economist Richard Easterlin published a paper, “Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot?” Above a low level of income, Easterlin found no correlation between happiness and GNP per head. In 1972, two economists, William Nordhaus and James Tobin, introduced a measure that they called “Net Economic Welfare,” which showed that a society with more leisure could have as much welfare as one with more work.

Lord Layard of Laughs

Kenneth Clark was an art historian who won international fame with a BBC TV series called Civilisation. Such was his subsequent fame and prestige that he won a peerage. Although he took the title Baron Clark of Saltwood, the satirical magazine Private Eye facetiously dubbed him Lord Clark of Civilisation. Richard Layard should be Lord Layard of Laughs.

Some people make a living studying happiness. I wonder if they are happy in their work.  It is of some significance that Richard Layard’s early work was on unemployment and inequality. In the early 1970s, Layard became interested in Easterlin’s work and, in 2005, he published the book Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, in which he emphasised the importance of non-income variables. In 2012, he co-edited, with Jeffrey Sachs and John Helliwell, the World Happiness Report for the UN. Layard cites three factors that economists often fail to take into consideration:

  • Happiness depends on relative as well as absolute income. Constant compulsory competition makes work and life unpleasant.
  • People will invest more time at work than is good for them if they do not accept that their idea of what is a sufficient income will change.
  • The relative values of one’s accumulated possessions depreciate and consequently the store of happiness depreciates.

It’s All Relative

At a conference on happiness in Nova Scotia, Siddiqur Osmani, a professor of applied economics from the University of Ulster in Ireland, said, “Even in a very miserable condition you can be very happy if you are grateful for small mercies. If someone is starving and hungry and given two scraps of food a day, he can be very happy.” That reminded me of the closing scene of the film of Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of  Ivan Denisovich. Tom Courtenay looks back on a wretched day in the gulag on the icy tundra and remarks: “Well, it wasn’t so bad. I managed to get two bowls of porridge”.

Taxing for Happiness

Layard argues that government can, through tax policy, help citizens preserve a healthy work-life balance. One purpose of taxation is to counteract the cognitive bias that causes people to work more than is good for their happiness. What we see in the USA and the UK is that taxation is bad, inequality acceptable and redistribution through taxation anathema.

A common measure of happiness is to ask people to say how satisfied they are with their lives, on a scale of 0 to 10. One concern has always been that people’s responses to happiness surveys are unreliable. Through these self-evaluations, social scientists are not measuring people’s actual feelings as they experience their lives.

Purpose

Paul Dolan’s contribution to the debate is a book called Happiness by Design.  Dolan is an economist who is now a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics. He has worked with UK public officials on their efforts to measure happiness. To Dolan, the purpose of our activities affects how we perceive the quality of our experiences. The idea of attention is crucial. This reminds me of something WH Auden wrote: “To pray is to pay attention to something or someone other than oneself. Whenever a man so concentrates his attention — on a landscape, a poem, a geometrical problem, an idol, or the True God — that he completely forgets his own ego and desires, he is praying.” Whether we have a sense of pleasure or purpose depends on where we are focusing our attention. To be truly happy, Dolan concludes, we need to experience both pleasure and purpose, and when the balance is wrong, or when people focus on one at the expense of the other, their lives will be impaired.

Dolan’s Idea of Happiness

Like mygoodself Dolan was brought up in a working class Irish household on council estates and was the first of his family to go to university. However, we have very different ideas of how to achieve happiness.  In a Guardian article, Dolan wrote: “I have never read a novel in my life. There are only so many hours in the day and I have decided to fill them with activities other than reading made-up stories.” Fair enough. He goes to the gym four times a week and enjoys partying and holidays (without the kids) in Ibiza. He loves his wife and children but scoffs at the delusion that they are an unalloyed joy. Having got the science out of the way, he concludes: “the most important and yet most underappreciated ingredient to being happy – luck. I am a very lucky man: not because I have a great job and family and all that stuff but because I have a sunny disposition.” Someone commented: “Hey look it’s a bloke who likes doing some stuff but doesn’t like doing other stuff, yeah? Mind-blowing.”

Dolan

Gross National Happiness

As long ago as 1972, Bhutan’s King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to make his nation’s priority GNH, or gross national happiness. His aim was to share prosperity across society and balance it with preserving cultural traditions, protecting the environment and maintaining a responsive government. While household incomes in Bhutan remain among the world’s lowest, life expectancy increased by 19 years from 1984 to 1998, jumping to 66 years.

Happiness Equation

Many happiness economists believe they have solved the problem of culture difference comparison by using cross-sections of large data samples across nations and time to demonstrate consistent patterns in the determinants of happiness. Objective measures such as lifespan, income, and education are often used as well as or instead of subjectively reported happiness.

A research team, led by Dr Rob Rutledge, at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, backed up by the Max Planck Society, combined their analysis  of subjective surveys with brain scans to correlate happiness-resulting decisions with brain activity. They found significant activity in the ventral striatum and the insular cortex.

The team came up with an equation:

Happiness = baseline average mood + what you can settle for (CR) + what you’ll get on average if you gamble (EV) + the difference between that and what you actually get (RPE). The recurring ∑-function weights each factor in turn by its recent history

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Happiness in Europe

 

The New Economics Foundation (NeF), using over 40,000 interviews from the 2006/07 European Social Survey, found that Denmark topped the league for  overall well-being, with the UK ranked 13th out of 22 countries . The Nef study placed Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Austria and Sweden after Denmark with the highest levels of overall well-being

 

The study found the UK was among the bottom four of the 22 nations when it came to feelings of trust and belonging. While the over-75s scored highly on trust, for the 16-24 age group, the UK reported the lowest levels anywhere in Europe. The Nef researchers said the UK’s poor performance on this “key element of social well-being” was indicative of a “highly individualistic culture”. Britons also recorded the second lowest energy levels in Europe and were fourth highest when it came to feeling bored. This does not augur well for Britain’s future.  Nef said the results show UK government policies have focused too much on economic growth at the expense of overall well-being.

 

The Almost Nearly Perfect People

The Scandinavian countries (and Ireland) usually come out well in surveys of happiness. British journalist, Michael Booth, is somewhat skeptical. Booth is married to a Dane and has lived in Copenhagen for ten years. Booth says Danes “tend to approach the subject of their much-vaunted happiness like the victims of a practical joke waiting to discover who the perpetrator is.” In The Almost Nearly Perfect People, he explores the rest of Scandinavia.

Thin Line between Relaxed and Smug

 

Newspaper editor Anne Knudsen cast a cynical gaze on those happiness surveys: “In Denmark it is shameful to be unhappy. If you ask me how I am and I start telling you how bad I feel, then it might force you to do something about it. It might put a burden on you to help me.” Kaare Christensen, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Southern Denmark, suggested that the Danes might have been drunk when responding to happiness questionnaires. A similar comment was made about the Irish. “If expectations are unrealistically high they could also be the basis of disappointment and low life satisfaction. Year after year they are pleasantly surprised to find that not everything is getting more rotten in the state of Denmark.”

 

Happichondria –Are We Having Fun Yet?

John Updike wrote: “America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy”. JD Salinger confessed: “I’m a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people are plotting to make one happy.”Americans are destroying the planet because of their “inalienable right” to seek happiness through rampant consumerism. The Danish corrective – satisfaction with the achievement of low expectations is more attractive than boundless ambitious craving.

 

Inequality and Unhappiness

The Nordic Noir crime novels of Jo Nesbo, Stig Larson and Arnaldur Indriasson show that the Scandinavian countries fall far short of paradise. Sjowall and Wahloo were finding something rotten in the state of Sweden back in the 60s in their Martin Beck series.

 

Inequality has risen in Sweden in the past decade and a half, at a rate four times as high as in the US. In Finland, too, the Gini coefficient has climbed four points since the late nineteen-eighties. Something is going wrong.

Inequality makes us crave for goods by constantly reminding us that we have less than the next person. Health professionals report epidemics of ‘hurry sickness’, ‘toxic success syndrome’, the ‘frantic family’, the ‘over-commercialized child’ and ‘pleonexia’. John Stuart Mill wrote in the 19th Century: “The best state for human nature is that in which, while no one is poor, no one desires to be richer, nor has any reason to fear being thrust back, by the efforts of others to push themselves forward.”

The Cult of Happiness

In his recently published book, The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business sold us Well-Being, William Davies writes about governmental and corporate entities working hard to convert the concept of happiness into a “measurable, visible, improvable entity.” He says that the notion of “happiness” has moved from being an add-on, to being a measurement useful in the business of making money. Being depressed will no longer be socially acceptable. The state or big business will deal with that. Governments and business are ready to exploit the “science of happiness” to manage the dislocations of contemporary capitalism. Marcuse wrote about “repressive tolerance” – keeping the masses comfortable enough materially to stop them rebelling. Huxley published Brave New World in 1932, recognizing even then that it was inimical to individual freedom when governments became interested in promoting happiness as a means of social control. Further back than that in 1920 Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian fantasy We depicted the horror of a society where happiness was compulsory.

We still have not learnt.

Chuckle Muscles Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Monday July 6 2015.

 

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More than his Share?

Dodd1

Journalist Stephen Smith called Ken Dodd “the Chuck Berry of comedy, a cussed and self-made pioneer.” Smith interviewed both entertainers and lived to tell the tale.  Ken Dodd had a hit record singing: “The greatest gift that I possess/Is more than my share of happiness”. One cannot help but wonder if Dodd really had his share of happiness. He has never married (being unmarried does not, of course, preclude happiness).

According to proverbial wisdom: “Money cannot buy happiness”. In 1989, Dodd was charged with tax evasion. He was acquitted, but a strange picture of his miserly life emerged. He had never paid the children who featured as Diddymen in his act. He had very little money in his bank account but there was £336,000 in cash stashed in suitcases in his attic. When asked by the judge, “What does a hundred thousand pounds in a suitcase feel like?” Dodd replied, “The notes are very light, M’Lord.”

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Joy through Work?

Even at the age of 87, Dodd still follows a punishing work schedule. During the 1960s he earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s longest ever joke-telling session: 1,500 jokes in three and a half hours (7.14 jokes per minute), undertaken at a Liverpool theatre, where audiences were observed to enter the show in shifts. He continues to tour and, despite his age, his shows still frequently do not finish until after midnight.

Another Liverpudlian, John Lennon, sang that happiness was a warm gun but Mark Chapman shot him dead.

Happiness Measures

What is happiness and how can we measure it? Many league tables attempt to compare the performance of different nations. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) defines GDP (gross domestic product)  as “an aggregate measure of production equal to the sum of the gross values added of all resident, institutional units engaged in production”.

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices used to rank countries into four tiers of human development. Sri Lanka moved up six places on the CPI (Transparency International annual  global Corruption Perception Index) to 85th out of 175 with a score of 38 points (compared to 37 the previous year).

Happy Planet

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) concocted the Happy Planet Index in July 2006. The HPI is an index of human well-being and environmental impact. It is not a measure of which are the happiest countries in the world. The index is designed to challenge well-established indices of countries’ development, such as the GDP and the HDI. The GDP is seen as  deficient because the ultimate aim of most people is not to be rich, but to be happy and healthy. The HPI sets out to be a measure of the ecological efficiency of supporting well-being.  Whatever the caveats, the results are still surprising. The 2012 ranking compared 151 countries and the best scoring country for the second time in a row was Costa Rica, followed by Vietnam, Colombia, Belize and El Salvador. Costa Rica is often thought of as a good place to be but El Salvador seems like hell on earth. Sri Lanka comes in at 35, between Switzerland and Iraq.

What Use Is the HPI?

Critics point out that the HPI completely ignores issues such as political freedom, human rights and labour rights. The subjective measures of well-being are suspect. The ecological footprint is a controversial and much criticized concept. The index has been criticised for weighting the carbon footprint too heavily, to the point that US Americans would have had to be universally happy and would have had to have a life expectancy of 439 years to equal Vanuatu’s score in the 2006 index. The highest-ranking OECD country is Israel in 15th place, and the top Western European nation is Norway in 29th place, just behind New Zealand in 28th.

This seems to be a useless kind of index. However, the British Conservative Party cited HPI as a possible substitute for GDP in 2007. The European Parliament lists the following advantages to using the HPI as a measure of national progress:

  • Combines well being and environmental aspects
  • Simple and easily understandable scheme for calculating the index
  • Comparability of results (‘EF’ and ‘life expectancy’ can be applied to different countries)
  • Data online available, although some data gaps remain
  • Mixture of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ criteria; takes into account people’s well-being and resource use of countries

Sri Lanka Unhappier than Sudan?

The UN released the first World Happiness Report on April 1, 2012. It outlined the state of world happiness, causes of happiness and misery, and policy implications. The report presented case studies including one on Bhutan, the first and so far only country to have officially adopted gross national happiness instead of the gross domestic product as the main development indicator.

Denmark comes in at a lowly 111 in the HPI, compared to Haiti’s 79. Nevertheless, Denmark is the happiest country in the world, according to the World Happiness Report 2013, the most recent United Nations happiness study available. Sri Lanka came in at 137, below Mali, Uganda, the Palestinian Territories, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Haiti. Since 1973, the Danes have also topped the European Commission’s Eurobarometer scale, which measures the ‘well-being’ and ‘happiness’ of EU citizens. Its capital city Copenhagen was also named the “world’s most livable city” again earlier this year by the international affairs magazine Monocle for its quality of life.

I have travelled to many places, including Denmark,  and have lived in Sri Lanka for twelve years. I have never been to Sudan (although I did visit their London embassy on business and did not meet any happy people) but I do not think I would be as happy there as I am in Sri Lanka, for all Sri Lanka’s failings. I have never been to El Salvador but I have written about it and researched it. I have traveled around Denmark. I know where I would rather be, whatever about ecological footprints. I lived in Ireland and I lived in the UK. Ireland came tenth in the UN survey. In answers to the simple question: “are you happy? Ireland came in at number one and number two when it comes to having a laugh.

Professor John F Helliwell, of the University of British Columbia edited the UN report, together with. Lord Layard, Director of the Well-Being Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance; and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

The View from the US

A few American commentators do not buy this Scandinavian Utopia thing. Nathan Heller in the New Yorker wrote that  Sweden might mean: “Freedom to follow your talents. Community and coalition-building all around. American life promises liberty, cultural power, and creative opportunity, but by many measures it’s the Swedes who turned this smorgasbord of concepts into a sustaining meal.”However, Heller looks behind the façade and what he discovers makes the HPI look not so silly. Prune out wealth as a factor, and countries like Colombia come out better than in the HPI. Look at  good health, and Denmark falls farther. In the past decade, the proportion of people who live below its poverty line has nearly doubled, to almost eight per cent. Finland may have fine schools, but it is one of the least diverse places on the planet.

Kyle Smith in the New York Post put it more crudely: “So how happy can these drunk, depressed, lazy, tumor-ridden, pig-bonking bureaucrats really be?”

Happy Development

The UN said: “We offer the 2013 World Happiness Report in support of these efforts to bring the study of happiness into public awareness and public policy. This report offers rich evidence that the systematic measurement and analysis of happiness can teach us much about ways to improve the world’s wellbeing and sustainable development.”

More next week on the economic benefits of chuckles.

 

 

 

Elders Part Two

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday July 2 2015 under the title ‘Betrayal of the Elderly.

Colman's Column3

 

Professor Indralal De Silva, Senior Professor of Demography, University of Colombo, estimates that 25 percent of the population of Sri Lanka will be over 60 years of age by 2040. He argued that unless our development process is improved and sustained we would have a lower level of income to support this aging population.

Last week, I wrote that the “problem” of increasing numbers of elderly people in the world was seen as an “opportunity” for some entrepreneurs. The danger is that businesses providing care for profit might put profit before care and that abuse might take place undetected.

Abuse in Sri Lanka

I was prompted to look into this subject following a recent trip to Colombo to rescue my wife’s aunt. She had been in a so-called “care” home for three years. It seems that anyone can set up an Elders Care Home without any experience, training, qualifications or aptitude for caring for elderly people. People who seem to detest  senior citizens see that as no bar to “caring” for them. I very much doubt if the home I saw had ever been inspected.

To protect the guilty I will not mention names. The home in which my wife’s aunt was languishing was run by a person I will call “The Matron”. She had no training or expertise in the care of old people. She was a retired teacher who spent a great deal of time in a wheel chair because of arthritis in her knees. She had only one assistant who told us she was not paid a salary- what little money she had was often “borrowed” by the Matron.

We kept in regular telephone contact with the Aunt and visit whenever we can. Recent calls caused concern. Aunt said she wanted her nails cut. When we asked Matron to arrange this, she said she had given Aunt some scissors and she could cut her own nails. At one point Matron said that 80% of what Aunt said was lies and she did not like my wife’s tone.

This seemed an unusual approach to customer service, a strange way to address someone who is providing your only income. The Matron became reluctant to communicate and the Aunt kept repeating in a robotic fashion, as if brainwashed, that she was very happy and that Matron and Assistant were very good to her. We heard from another source that Aunt was crying and saying Assistant was pushing her and digging her nails into her arm.

Hell Hole

We searched around for a better home (we had not chosen Matron’s place ourselves but were paying for it on behalf of, and with contributions from, family members). We found something that seemed suitable but were finding it difficult to get to Colombo to inspect it. Before we could get there, Matron said she was no longer able to care for Aunt and asked us to remove her. Fearing that further abuse might occur in these changed circumstances, we made it to Colombo and collected the Aunt while Matron was out at a temple releasing caged sparrows for merit. Assistant was somewhat discombobulated, but we told her she had no choice but to release Aunt.

For the first time I had the chance to inspect the premises. Aunt was sitting in darkness, enduring the intense heat without a fan. Our driver asked to use the toilet and came back looking as though he was about to vomit. I went to have a look. As someone from a working class British background, I am familiar with the concept of the “outside toilet”. Working class toilets were outside in the sense that they were in the yard, but they did have a roof and a door. This one was completely exposed to the elements. There was no roof or door and dirty old saris formed the walls. There was no lid on the cistern. The whole thing was filthy. Close to the toilet was a gas hob with a shelf of dirty spice jars. It seems that this spot near the open latrine was where meals were prepared.

latrine2

latrine1

 

hob

Mission Accomplished

We placed Aunt in an establishment which provided 24-hour nursing care with a nursing station by her door. She has her own bathroom. She can have a TV in her room but she chose to have a radio. There is a menu which changes every day and which offers different options. Matron had provided only a plain bun for breakfast and bought most meals in from outside. She would not provide milk and sugar with tea. She would not allow her to bathe or use a fan.

royal

We will visit Aunt  as often as we can to ensure good conditions are maintained but so far, she is very happy and means it. We can even talk to her on Skype.

Should Sri Lanka Depend on People like the Matron?

If you search the internet, you will find worse cases of abuse than this. We are all going to get old- some of us sooner than others, as a callow internet troll reminded me. Yes, even you bright young things enjoying the full bloom of youth will be like the Aunt one day. Anicca.  Who is going to care for you? Who is going to care for me?

Changing social modalities means that the traditional way of caring for elderly people within the family unit is no longer possible. My English grandmother lived to be 97 and she would not have dreamed of ending her days in an institutional care home. It might have been good for her to be able to spend her final years in her own home but the burden of caring for her blighted the lives of her two youngest daughters who never married.

Caring for the Elderly

Institutional care homes are essential but who should provide them? The state has a responsibility to protect its elder citizens. More homes are needed but they need to be like the one that is now caring for the Aunt not like the one operated by the Matron. I have often pointed out the downside of privatisation particularly in areas like social services. I read with horror that the UK government is planning to privatise child protection services and give the job to a security firm that made a mess of its remit during the Olympics, has killed a few asylum seekers and makes a handsome profit from running prisons.

However, I would accept that private homes such as the one now accommodating the Aunt have a valuable part to play when the state cannot afford to provide such facilities when it cannot get its fiscal house in order or get its spending priorities right . Only today I read the news that Sri Lanka’s trade deficit widened 15.1 percent to US$ 782.9 million in April from US$ 680.2 million a year earlier. I would not have much confidence that the government could develop new capacities for caring for the elderly or mobilising the human resources necessary. Homes like the one I recently visited do have that capacity and they are ploughing back their profits to develop new ventures such as sheltered accommodation and hotel units.

The government does have a role to play in monitoring the care services provided by the private sector. Viewing the Matron’s establishment  made me wonder whether there is anything in Sri Lanka like the UK Care Quality Commission, whatever its faults. If there is such a body, it is ineffective. Monitoring “services” provided by the likes of the Matron will be difficult because such small establishments will sneak under the radar unless whistleblowers notify the authorities of their shortcomings.

 

 

 

 

Elders Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday June 25 2015.

Colman's Column3

Elders Time Bomb

Over thirty years ago, I worked for Sir Arthur Armitage at the Social Security Advisory Committee in New Court, London. One major issue that SSAC was grappling with even then was the problem of an ageing population. Now that I am part of the problem rather than someone looking for a solution, the issue seems more acute to me. I was part of that cohort born after the Second World War known as baby boomers. The post-war surge was then followed by a fall in birth rates, which means there are not enough people of working age to support we oldies in our twilight years.

Population ageing arises from two demographic effects: increasing longevity and declining fertility. In all human history, the world has never seen as aged a population as currently exists today. This is the case for every country in the world except the 18 countries designated as “demographic outliers”.

Who Pays?

Today, for the first time in history, Britain’s over-65s now outnumber people under the age of 16. Many people in the UK labour under the misapprehension that they are paying for their own pensions through income tax and national insurance contributions. The number of contributions I made while working governed the amount of pension I receive. However, the pension I currently receive does not come out of a kind of savings account in my name. People working today pay my pension.  There are currently four people of working age supporting each pensioner in Britain; by 2035, this number is expected to fall to 2.5, and by 2050 to just two. The number of people of working age in relation to retirees is known as the ‘dependency ratio’. Future pensioners might not have anyone to pay them.

The current UK government seems to be protecting pensioners by making severe cuts in other public spending. They have made clear that they believe they need to make significant savings from working-age benefits. Chancellor George Osborne has said he will press ahead with hefty cuts to welfare despite tens of thousands engaging in protest marches against austerity.  Iain Duncan Smith said the Conservative government would go ahead with plans to cut welfare spending by 12 billion pounds, out of an annual budget of 220 billion pounds. Cuts under consideration included banning people aged under 25 from claiming housing benefit and restricting tax credits to a couple’s first two children.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka already has the highest proportion (13%) of old people in South Asia; this is expected to rise to 20% by 2031, 25% by 2041 50% by 2050. At the same time, the proportion of working age people will progressively decrease. Longer life expectancy and improvements in health care means that people are enjoying many more work free years after retirement than used to be the case. The down side of better life expectancy is that there are more very old people who need care because of dementia and general exhaustion of the soft machine that is the human body.

Business Opportunity

In the UK, many saw the ageing population as a business opportunity. That would be fine if a decent professional service were provided at a fair price- there is no ethical dilemma in  entrepreneurs making an honest profit by relieving  the state (or individual families) of the burden of providing care. Unfortunately, it did not always work out that way. Even as long ago as the early 1970s, many dodgy operators caught on to the potential of a captive market. Even today, one finds countless internet sites advising how to set up a business caring for elders. Here is one random example:

http://franchises.homeinstead.com/franchise-opportunity/Pages/Why-Home-Instead-Senior-Care.aspx

Abuse

Traditionally, elders were cared for within the family. This did not protect them from abuse and even today, many today suffer even when living at home at the hands of family members or professional carers. A study conducted by Agewell Foundation​revealed that 25-30% of older Indians are suffering abuse, mistreatment and even torture in old age. The study said only about only five per cent of those mistreated complained to the police or any other authorities.

Figures released to mark World Elder Abuse Day on June 15, show that in Ireland more than 13,000 cases of financial abuse were reported up to the end of 2013. Financial abuse is the second most common form of mistreatment and is most often perpetrated by a family member. The day also brought revelations from Age Concern New Zealand that abuse of old people in that country was an “epidemic”. They get an average of eight calls every working day about alleged elder abuse. Many more cases are reported to health providers, the police, lawyers, community support organisations and other prevention services.

Profit without Care

One  entrepreneur website says: “In-home care and assisted living is essential as we get older. If healthcare is your passion, consider owning your own senior care franchise business.” Too often, the passion was for making money rather than providing care. The UK government allowed care homes to directly receive the pensions of residents from the state.

There has to be a worry that businesses providing care for profit might put profit before care and that abuse might take place undetected. Care homes for adults in England are regulated by the Care Quality Commission, which has a remit to inspect each care home at least once every three years. This has not prevented many instances of abuse being reported in the press.

The charity Action on Elder Abuse (AEA) claims that over 500,000 elderly people in the UK suffer abuse and that women are particularly vulnerable. The five common types of abuse are physical, psychological, financial, sexual abuse and neglect. Often these abuses are also crimes. “it is important to think in advance about ways in which someone can reduce the possibility of abuse, by avoiding isolation or dependency, and by having more than one person keeping an eye on matters. Reliance on others does not mean having to be dependent on others. Thinking about self-protection is more about commonsense than about being distrustful.”

Old Deanery

In April 2014, the BBC Panorama programme secretly filmed a 98-year-old woman, in Oban House care home in Croydon, crying out for help 321 times over a whole hour. She died less than a month later. Two members of staff were convicted of common assault. Secret filming inside the Old Deanery home in Braintree, Essex showed a staff member slapping a partially paralysed woman who suffers from dementia.  A Panorama reporter worked undercover as a care assistant and saw “rough handling” of residents, calls for assistance repeatedly ignored, and elderly people goaded and left to sit or lie in their own mess.  Residents were ignored, call-bells were unplugged and one man in his 80s was repeatedly called a “bitch”. Inspectors gave the home a glowing reference around the same time. CQC CEO Andrea Sutcliffe said the treatment was “unacceptable” – but said inspectors could not be expected know “what goes on behind closed doors”.

The Granary

The Old Deanery home charges £700 a week. The Granary in Somerset charges £800 per week. A judge at Bristol Crown Court barred Daniel Baynes, Tomasz Gidaszewski and Janusz Salnikow, employees at The Granary, for life from working with vulnerable adults. Footage from a camera, secretly placed in her room by her son, showed an 87-year-old woman with dementia being pushed around on a number of occasions while she was subjected to a tirade of verbal abuse. Baynes admitted stealing food and was jailed for four months. Salnikow was  given a suspended jail sentence, while the others were given community orders. AEA had written to the attorney general’s office calling on him to review the sentences handed out to the three men. AEA  argued that what the men did was “appalling” and that the sentence “did not convey the seriousness with which the public view such abuse”, and “will not act as a deterrent”.

I was prompted to look into this subject following a recent trip to Colombo to rescue my wife’s Aunt from abuse. I will look into the issue of abuse of elders in Sri Lanka in next week’s column.

 

An Australian Coup Part 2

Colman's Column3

This article was published in Ceylon Today on June 19 2015.

NAAGough

Rule by  Minority

Sri Lanka’s foreign minister voiced doubts about the value of this country’s long-standing commitment to the Non-Aligned Movement. The US Secretary of State is taking a strong interest in moving Sri Lanka away from China and into the US orbit. Perhaps we should remember what happened to Gough Whitlam, who, despite being democratically elected as prime minister of Australia, was deposed by the representative of the Queen of England with the connivance of the US government. Imagine if the Queen decided to sack David Cameron if he failed to get a bill through the House of Lords and replaced him with the leader of the opposition – whoever that might be.

Before Whitlam, the Australian people had been electing the “right people,” namely the Liberal-National Country Party Coalition headed for many years by Robert Menzies. Menzies was always happy to do the bidding of the US and the UK. He once said, “A sick feeling of repugnance grows in me as I near Australia.”

Three months after Whitlam’s election victory in December 1972, Senator Withers, the leader of the Liberals in the Senate warned: “the Senate may well be called upon to protect the national interest by exercising its undoubted constitutional power”. He said that the election mandate was ‘dishonest”, that Whitlam’s election was a “temporary electoral insanity” and that to claim that the Government was following the will of the people “would be a dangerous precedent for a democratic country”

Kerr’s Cur

After he was ousted, Whitlam made a speech: “Well may we say “God save the Queen”, because nothing will save the Governor-General! The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General’s Official Secretary was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr’s cur. They won’t silence the outskirts of Parliament House, even if the inside has been silenced for a few weeks … Maintain your rage and enthusiasm for the campaign for the election now to be held and until polling day”. However, Fraser easily won the election  and remained prime minister.

Murdoch Misinformation

Whitlam wanted an independent, free and democratic government for the people of Australia  and he was elected on that manifesto. Collusion between vested interests and those who believed they were born to rule destroyed his plan. The Murdoch media ran a virulent anti Whitlam campaign because Whitlam would not do as Murdoch ordered.

murdoch

Former CIA deputy director of intelligence, Ray Cline, denies that there was any “formal” CIA covert action programme against the Whitlam government during Cline’s time in office (Cline left the CIA in 1973). The method as outlined by Cline would be for the CIA to supply damaging information which the Australian security services would leak to the media. A US diplomat stationed in Australia at the time tells how CIA station chief in Australia, John Walker would “blow in the ear” of National Country Party members, and not long afterwards, the Whitlam government would be asked embarrassing questions in Parliament. An ASIO officer said he believed that “some of the documents which helped discredit the Labour Government in the last year in office were forgeries planted by the CIA.” In 1981, a CIA contract employee, Joseph Flynn, claimed that he had been paid to forge some documents relating to the loans affair, and also to bug Whitlam’s hotel room.

CIA Involvement

Whitlam at one point complained openly about the CIA meddling in Australian domestic affairs and tried to close Pine Gap, the CIA’s surveillance centre. When Whitlam was re-elected for a second term, in 1974, the White House sent Marshall Green to Canberra as ambassador. Known as “the coupmaster”, he had played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia – which cost up to a million lives. One of his first speeches in Australia, to the Australian Institute of Directors, was described by an alarmed member of the audience as “an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise against the government”.

marshallgreen

Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, told John Pilger, “This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House … a kind of Chile [coup] was set in motion.”

marchetti

Kerr had longstanding ties to Anglo-American intelligence. He was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, a group exposed in Congress as being founded, funded and generally run by the CIA. The CIA “paid for Kerr’s travel, built his prestige … Kerr continued to go to the CIA for money”.

Pine Gap’s top-secret messages were decoded by a CIA contractor, TRW. One of the decoders was Christopher Boyce, who revealed that the CIA had infiltrated the Australian political and trade union elite and referred to the governor-general of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as “our man Kerr”. In 1977, Boyce was arrested in the US for selling secrets to the Soviet Union. Boyce was disillusioned by the state of America. One day, he discussing the Watergate scandal and the CIA inspired coup in Chile and  said, “You think that’s bad? You should hear what the CIA is doing to the Australians.”

kerr queen

Cline said, “I’m sure we never had a political action programme, although some people around the office were beginning to think we should.” He explains that the US and Australia had a very healthy relationship in the area of intelligence exchange. “But when the Whitlam government came to power, there was a period or turbulence to do with Alice Springs [Pine Gap].” He went on to say, “the whole Whitlam episode was very painful. He had a very hostile attitude.”

Cline outlined a scenario he saw as acceptable CIA behaviour. “You couldn’t possibly throw in a covert action programme to a country like Australia, but the CIA would go so far as to provide information to people who would bring it to the surface in Australia. For example, a Whitlam error “which they were willing to pump into the system so it might be to his damage.” Such actions do not, in Cline’s opinion, amount to a “political operation.”

Security Crisis

On 10 November 1975, Whitlam saw a top-secret telex message sourced to Theodore Shackley, the notorious head of the CIA’s East Asia division, who had helped run the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier. The message said that the prime minister of Australia was a security risk in his own country. The day before, Kerr had visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia’s NSA, where he was briefed on the “security crisis”.

Also, in 1975, Whitlam discovered that Britain’s MI6, “were actually decoding secret messages coming into my foreign affairs office”. One of his ministers, Clyde Cameron, told Pilger: “We knew MI6 was bugging cabinet meetings for the Americans.” In the 1980s, senior CIA officers revealed that the “Whitlam problem” had been discussed “with urgency” by the CIA’s director, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. A deputy director of the CIA said: “Kerr did what he was told to do.”

Sir John Kerr, the man who sacked Whitlam succumbed to alcohol. After a drunken performance at the 1977 Melbourne Cup winner’s presentation, he was forced by public outrage to relinquish an appointment as Australian Ambassador to UNESCO. He lived in England for some years and died on 7 April 1991. Whitlam did become Ambassador to UNESCO. He died last October at the age of 98.

memorial

Malcolm Fraser became involved in international relief and humanitarian aid issues and, domestically, as a forthright liberal voice for human rights. He resigned from the Liberal Party because he found Tony Abbott too right wing. He died in March 2015 at the age of 84.

 

An Australian Coup Part One

Colman's Column3

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Monday June 8 2015.

 

It's Time

Lessons for Sri Lanka?

As Sri Lanka’s foreign minister voices doubts about the value of this country’s long-standing commitment to the  Non-Aligned Movement and the US Secretary  of State takes a strong interest in moving Sri Lanka away from China and into the US orbit we should pay heed to what happened to Gough Whitlam.

poster

Peter Carey

Booker Prize winner Peter Carey has been in the news recently because he was one of the six authors (including Michael Ondaatje)  who protested about PEN International giving an award to Charlie Hebdo magazine. Salman Rushdie was not impressed and wrote an article entitled “Six authors in search of a bit of character”.

Carey has a new novel out called Amnesia. Critics drew parallels with a previous Carey novel (which I have been re-reading) The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith, published in 1994.  Amnesia’s central figure is Felix Moore, who describes himself as “Australia’s last surviving left wing journalist”.

Governor General Sacks Prime Minister

kerrand queen

In 1975, the governor general of Australia,  Sir John Kerr, the unelected representative of Queen Elizabeth II, removed  Labour Party leader Gough Whitlam from the office of prime minister and replaced him with Malcolm Fraser, the leader of the opposition Liberal (conservative) Party. Felix, like many others in real life (among them John Pilger) described this as a coup. Before the coup, there was a concerted campaign of disinformation and manufactured scandals designed to show Whitlam in a bad light. Rupert Murdoch was a major player in this campaign.

In Carey’s 1994 novel Tristan Smith, Efica is Australia and the US is Voorstand. “The alliance between the parliamentary democracies of Voorstand and Efica is built on three areas of joint co-operation—Defence, Navigation, Intelligence—DNI.” The Labor Party is the Blue Party, the conservatives the Red Party. Tristan footnotes his autobiography with explanations of the events leading to Whitlam’s ouster —the concocted scandals, the VIA (Voorstand Intelligence Agency), the DoS (Department of Supply, a version of the Australian spy service ASIO). The two services worked closely at all times, it sometimes being said that the DoS’s loyalty lay with the VIA, not with the elected government of Efica.

John Pilger

John Pilger, veteran Australian investigative journalist and polemicist (I do not know if Carey had Pilger in mind when he created Felix) has written extensively about the CIA’s role in engineering Whitlam’s ejection from office.  The coup against Whitlam is described in full in his book, A Secret Country (Vintage), and in his documentary film, Other People’s Wars, which can be viewed on http://www.johnpilger.com/ Whitlam’s government had provoked the US by withdrawing Australian troops from the Vietnam War. He also opposed nuclear weapons testing, and made a nuisance of himself by querying the purpose of the Pine Gap signals intelligence centre near Alice Springs.

An Independent Australia

change nation

Pilger wrote:  “Australia briefly became an independent state during the Whitlam years, 1972-75.”  Whitlam challenged US values and interests with radical reforms pushed through in less than three years between 1972 and 1975. He also challenged Britain. Whitlam moved Australia towards the Non-Aligned Movement.

Beneficial Reforms

The Whitlam government abolished the death penalty for federal crimes. The government established offices in each state capital. It abolished university fees, and established the Schools Commission to allocate funds to schools. Whitlam founded the Department of Urban Development and, set a goal to leave no urban home without sewers. The Whitlam government gave grants directly to local government units for urban renewal, flood prevention, and the promotion of tourism. Other federal grants financed highways linking the state capitals, and paid for standard-gauge rail lines between the states.”Advance Australia Fair” became the country’s national anthem in place of “God Save the Queen”. The Order of Australia replaced the British honours system in early 1975.

abo

Whitlam campaigned for indigenous rights creating the Aboriginal Land Fund to help indigenous groups buy back privately owned lands, as well as the Aboriginal Loans Commission to help establish indigenous-owned businesses, pay for health and education expenses, and for the purchase of property with a view to home ownership.

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Opposition Blocked Funding.

WhitCrowd

Although Labour had a majority in the House of Representatives, the Liberal-dominated senate refused to release the funding to enact the reforms on which he had been elected. Whitlam asserted the primacy of the House of Representatives and his right to govern so long as he retained a majority there, whereas Fraser claimed that a government denied Supply by the Senate should resign. Whitlam had already won two elections so apart from the Liberals refusing to bring the budget bills to the vote was there should have been no need for an election. Whitlam went to the polls in 1974, only 18 months after winning power in 1972 to resolve the deadlock. He was re-elected. Whitlam had sufficient supply to run the government for another two weeks.

Foreign Loans

The Whitlam government looked for foreign loans from the Middle East, rather than from traditional American and European sources, to finance its development plans. Just as the Sri Lankan government upset the US by turning to China for development assistance, Whitlam put  American noses out of joint by preferring Middle East backing. Whitlam attempted to secure financing before informing the Loan Council (which included state officials hostile to him), and his government empowered Pakistani financier Tirath Khemlani as an intermediary in the hope of securing US$4 billion in loans. While the Loans Affair never resulted in an actual loan, according to author and Whitlam speechwriter Graham Freudenberg.  In the end, no loan was ever obtained, no commissions were paid, but the government was made to look reckless and foolish.

The Opposition believed that if Whitlam could not deliver supply, and would not advise new elections, Kerr would have to dismiss him. Supply would run out on 30 November. In October 1975, the Opposition, led by Malcolm Fraser, determined to withhold supply by deferring consideration of appropriation bills.

kerr and fraser

Whitlam and his ministers repeatedly claimed that the Opposition was damaging not only the constitution, but the economy as well. Whitlam told the House of Representatives on 21 October, “Let me place my government’s position clearly on the record. I shall not advise the Governor-General to hold an election for the House of Representatives on behalf of the Senate. I shall tender no advice for an election of either House or both Houses until this constitutional issue is settled. This government, so long as it retains a majority in the House of Representatives, will continue the course endorsed by the Australian people last year.”

After he was ousted Whitlam made a speech: “Well may we say “God save the Queen”, because nothing will save the Governor-General! The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General’s Official Secretary was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr’s cur. They won’t silence the outskirts of Parliament House, even if the inside has been silenced for a few weeks … Maintain your rage and enthusiasm for the campaign for the election now to be held and until polling day”.

rage

At the ensuing election, Fraser’s conservative coalition won a resounding victory. The Australian publican public forgot its temporary aberration of not electing a Liberal government, decided that change was too disturbing  and went back to boozing and sunbathing.

 

 

Getting Death off Our Roads Part 3

Colman's Column3This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday June 5 2015.

busespart3

Economic Cost

According to iRAP (the International Road Assessment Programme) road deaths and injuries,  because of medical bills, care, lost output and vehicle damage, cost 2% of GDP for high-income countries and 5% of GDP for middle- and low-income countries —$1.9 trillion a year globally.

Road accidents are the main cause of death for 15- to 29-year-olds. A dead or maimed 17-year-old costs much more in lost earnings than an 80-year-old. Avi Silverman of the FIA Foundation, (http://www.fiafoundation.org/about-us) says a victim’s family is often plunged into poverty for generations.

From 1977 to 2007, 120,848 accidents were reported in Sri Lanka in which 40,000 people died and 370,000 were injured. More than 75% of road deaths were from the age group 20 to 55 years – family  breadwinners. The estimated cost of road trauma in Sri Lanka was Rs. 10.25 billion, nearly 2% of GNP, as long ago as 2001.

Travel and Terror

Although terrorist bombs are no longer destroying buses, buses themselves are making Sri Lankan roads deadly and terrorising the public. There was an interesting double interview in the Sunday Observer on June 1 2008. SSP Ranjith Gunasekara, police Media Spokesman, and Gemenu Wijeratne, spokesman for private bus owners, were asked a number of questions about the safety of bus passengers during the LTTE bombing campaign. Wijeratne said: “I am happy that the private bus sector is not that much threatened, comparatively. If we consider the past bomb explosions, the majority of the buses were Sri Lanka Transport Board buses and not private buses…On our part we are always highly vigilant and all the time we strongly emphasize the bus owners and conductors should keep their eyes open! And of course they do it with a sense of commitment.”

It is a pity that there is not a similar sense of vigilance and commitment to passenger safety in peacetime. During wartime, it was a common to see buses halted at the roadside while police searched for bombs. One never sees buses stopped for being unroadworthy, belching out black smoke, crossing the white line. One sees many three-wheelers, motor bikes and private vehicles being stopped for no prior cause. Why not buses?

Ireland

Richer countries have cut road deaths more successfully than developing or middle-income countries through higher vehicle standards and infrastructure investment. Governments enforced speeding and drunk-driving laws and hammered home the message about seat belts, helmets and mobile phones.

The Republic of Ireland once had one of the worst accident records in Europe. More than 23,600 people have died on Irish roads since records began in 1959. That is the equivalent of the entire population of the town of Tralee, County Kerry. From 1977 to 2013,   76,586 people received serious, life-changing injuries. Reforms have reduced the number of deaths considerably. In 2012 there were 161 people killed on the Republic’s roads, the lowest on record. The number of people killed on the State’s roads increased for the second year in a row in 2014 a rise of 6 to 196. However, in 1997 there were nearly 500 deaths. In 1978, there were 628.

The Road to Hell

I often say that the road to hell is paved with false analogies. Although the island of Ireland is the same size as Sri Lanka, it is very thinly populated. The Republic of Ireland’s population is 4.58 million, while Sri Lanka’s is 20.48 million. There are low traffic intensities on many Irish roads. Nevertheless, perhaps Sri Lanka could learn something from the Irish experience.

The Irish Government Strategy for Road Safety 1998-2002 says: “Human action is a contributory factor in over 90% of road accidents. The principal emphasis of all road safety strategies must therefore be on improving road user behaviour. This behaviour needs to be informed and trained, and to be modified, so as to improve interaction between road users, to ensure consideration for others and to reduce risk. In this way a culture of road use is created that is both precautionary and pro-active in relation to road safety”.

 

Professor Fred Wegman 

 

Professor Fred Wegman advises the European Commission and many national governments on road safety. In 2002, he wrote a report on the Irish strategy. He said an “important question is whether Irish society is prepared to accept a higher level of enforcement…Are they prepared to change their own behaviour, and are they prepared to accept (far-reaching) government road safety measures? Influential social groups could be invited (and perhaps forced in the position) to show the courage of their convictions: road safety would then simply have to be defined as a top priority. Recent research suggests that the Irish population would support this point of view.”

 

Zero Casualties

 

Sweden’s roads are the world’s safest. Although the number of cars in circulation and the number of miles driven have both doubled since 1970, the number of road deaths has fallen by four-fifths during the same period. In 1997, the Swedish parliament wrote into law a “Vision Zero” plan, promising to eliminate road fatalities and injuries altogether.  Sweden builds roads with safety prioritised over speed or convenience. Low urban speed limits, pedestrian zones and barriers that separate cars from bikes and oncoming traffic have helped. Strict policing has also helped: now less than 0.25% of drivers tested are over the alcohol limit. Road deaths of children younger than  seven have plummeted—in 2012 only one was killed, compared with 58 in 1970.

 

What to do in Sri Lanka?

Perhaps the government should commission the FIA Foundation to undertake a study or invite Professor Wegman to Sri Lanka. Wegman asked if Irish society was prepared to press for a higher level of enforcement. We might ask the same question about Sri Lanka. The government has to show willing and society needs to put pressure on government to take effective action.

 

There will be immediate costs. The current court system is already overloaded and will collapse completely dealing with a more pro-active policy. Should there be separate system outside conventional  courts? How about a digitised fine system linked to payment of utility bills?

 

There are costs in doing nothing. Is this something that the business community should be taking on board? Should business magazines, chambers of commerce, Lions Clubs and Rotary Associations be raising awareness?

Among many helpful suggestions I received:  Allocate a single bus route to a single private company. Scheduled departures and arrivals would reduce races even if more than one company were plying the same route. Provide a daily map online of all accidents. Compile a blacklist of cops on the take and owners doing the bribing. Owners as well as drivers should be punished. Bus owners need to be brought before a public forum by a neutral body to formulate a solution. Organise meetings of concerned citizens with drivers and owners and senior police officers.

Is the Government Doing Something?

TMKB Tennakoon, Secretary to the Ministry of Law and Order recently announced 790 people had been killed on Sri Lankan roads between January and April this year. “The number of accidents reflects badly on the country’s image”.  He said that instructions were being sent out to all OICs to train all police personnel to book traffic offenders.  More ticket books would be printed. For three months, all police would be expected to address the problem. A senior officer said this would place unacceptable burdens on staff deployed for other duties such as crime prevention and investigation. He thought the solution was to train more traffic police.

Someone commented on my previous article that we should bear in mind that transport fares in Sri Lanka are cheap so perhaps things are not so bad. It seems that life is cheap too. Road safety must be a top priority. Whatever about the country’s image, this carnage and waste of human life must stop.Colman's Column3

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