Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Yet another example

A Telling Silence

Why we need land value taxation.

You can learn as much about a country from its silences as you can from its obsessions. 

The issues politicians do not discuss are as telling and decisive as those they do.

While the government’s cuts beggar the vulnerable and gut public services, it’s time to talk about the turns not taken, the opportunities foregone: the taxes which could have spared us every turn of the screw

The extent of the forgetting is extraordinary. 

Take, for example, capital gains tax. 

Before the election, the Liberal Democrats promised to raise it from 18% to “the same rates as income” (in other words a top rate of 50%), to ensure that private equity bosses were no longer paying lower rates of tax than their office cleaners

It made sense, as it would have removed the bosses’ incentive to collect their earnings as capital. 

Despite a powerful economic case, the government refused to raise the top rate above 28%. 

The Lib Dems protested for a day or two, and have remained silent ever since. 

In the parliamentary debate about cuts to social security, this missed opportunity wasn’t mentioned once

But at least that tax has risen. 

In just two and half years, the government has cut corporation tax three times. 

It will fall from 28% in 2010 to 21% in 2014. 

George Osborne, the chancellor, boasted that this “is the lowest rate of any major western economy”: 

He is consciously setting up a destructive competition with other nations.

Creating new excuses further to reduce the UK rate.

Labour’s near-silence on this issue is easily explained. 

Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who were often as keen as the Conservatives to appease corporate power, the rate was reduced from 33% to 28%. 

Prefiguring Osborne’s boast, in 1999 Brown bragged that the rate he had set was “the lowest rate of any major industrialised country anywhere, including Japan and the United States. 

What a legacy for a Labour government.

As for a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions.

After an initial flutter of interest you are now more likely to hear the call of the jubjub bird in the House of Commons. 

According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, a tax rate of just 0.01% would raise £25bn a year.

Rendering many of the chamber’s earnest debates about the devastating cuts void. 

Silence also surrounds the notion of a windfall tax on extreme wealth. 

And to say that Professor Greg Philo’s arresting idea of transferring the national debt to those who possess assets worth £1m or more has failed to ignite the flame of passion in parliament would not overstate the case.

But the loudest silence surrounds the issue of property taxes. 

The most expensive flat in that favourite haunt of the international super-rich, One Hyde Park, cost £135m. 

The owner pays £1,369 in council tax, or 0.001% of its value. 

Last year the Independent revealed that the Sultan of Brunei pays only £32 a month more for his pleasure dome in Kensington Palace Gardens than some of the poorest people in the same borough. 

A mansion tax – slapped down by David Cameron in October – is only the beginning of what the owners of such places should pay. 

For the simplest, fairest and least avoidable levy is one which the major parties simply will not contemplate. 

It’s called land value tax.

The term is a misnomer. 

It’s not really a tax. 

It’s a return to the public of the benefits we have donated to the landlords. 

When land rises in value, the government and the people deliver a great unearned gift to those who happen to own it.

In 1909 a dangerous subversive explained the issue thus. 

Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains – and all the while the landlord sits still. 

Every one of those improvements is effected by the labor and cost of other people and the taxpayers. 

To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. 

He renders no service to the community.

He contributes nothing to the general welfare.

He contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived.

The unearned increment on the land is reaped by the land monopolist in exact proportion, not to the service, but to the disservice done.

Who was this firebrand? 

Winston Churchill. 

As Churchill, Adam Smith and many others have pointed out, those who own the land skim wealth from everyone else.

Without exertion or enterprise. 

They levy a toll upon all other forms of wealth and every form of industry. 

Land value tax recoups this toll.

It has a number of other benefits. 

It stops the speculative land hoarding that prevents homes from being built. 

It ensures that the most valuable real estate – in city centres – is developed first.

Discouraging urban sprawl. 

It prevents speculative property bubbles, of the kind that have recently trashed the economies of Ireland, Spain and other nations and which make rents and first homes so hard to afford. 

Because it does not affect the supply of land (they stopped making it some time ago), it cannot cause the rents that people must pay to the landlords to be raised. 

It is easy to calculate and hard to avoid.

You can’t hide your land in London in a secret account in the Cayman Islands. 

And it could probably discharge the entire deficit.

It is altogether remarkable, in these straitened and inequitable times, that land value tax is not at the heart of the current political debate. 

Perhaps it is a sign of how powerful the rent-seeking class in Britain has become. 

While the silence surrounding this obvious solution exposes Labour’s limitations.

It also exposes the contradiction at heart of the Conservative Party. 

The Conservatives claim, in David Cameron’s words, to be “the party of enterprise”. 

But those who benefit most from its policies are those who are rich already. 

It is, in reality, the party of rent.

This is where the debate about workers and shirkers, strivers and skivers should have led. 

The skivers and shirkers sucking the money out of your pockets are not the recipients of social security demonised by the Daily Mail and the Conservative Party.

The overwhelming majority of whom are honest claimants. 

We are being parasitised from above, not below, and the tax system should reflect this.

George Monbiot

Monday, April 29, 2013

Increasing our powers

There is one power that we should seek to cultivate, and that is our spiritual willpower

Every time we give in to a selfish or unworthy impulse we weaken our will and our moral sense and make it a little easier to yield to that impulse again.

While every time we resist a selfish or unworthy impulse we strengthen our will and our moral sense and make the next victory a little easier. 

By developing our will we become able to gradually improve the quality of our thoughts.

And therefore of our desires, feelings, and actions.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that there are no short cuts to self-transformation and spiritual enlightenment. 

Listening to a meditation tape.

Chanting a mantra.

Following a weekend course.

Or reading a book will not automatically lead to the attainment of cosmic consciousness. 

They may help us.

Or they may hinder us.

But lasting progress can never be achieved by external means alone. 

Nor can it be bought. 

Self-realization is the fruit of many lives of self-purification and altruism. 

In the words of H. P. Blavatsky:
The pivotal doctrine of the Esoteric philosophy admits no privileges or special gifts in man, save those won by his own Ego through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations. -- The Secret Doctrine 1:17
In other words, there is no favouritism in nature. 

Or in the circumstances of our birth.

Or in our basic character traits.

And the trials we undergo in the course of our lives are not the result of chance.

Nor are they dictated by the whim of some scheming deity.

They are of our own making.

The product of our own thoughts and deeds in past lives. 

And while we cannot change our past karma.

We can mold our future by how we live now.

David Pratt

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sugar not fat

Sugar, not fat, exposed as deadly villain in obesity epidemic

It's addictive and toxic, like a drug, and we need to wean ourselves off it, says US doctor

Sugar – given to children by adults, lacing our breakfast cereals and a major part of our fizzy drinks.

Is the real villain in the obesity epidemic, and not fat as people used to think.

This according to a leading US doctor who is taking on governments and the food industry.

Dr Robert Lustig, who was this month in London and Oxford for a series of talks about his research, likens sugar to controlled drugs. 

Cocaine and heroin are deadly because they are addictive and toxic – and so is sugar, he says. "We need to wean ourselves off it". 

We need to de-sweeten our lives. 

We need to make sugar a treat, not a diet staple.

The food industry has made it into a diet staple because they know when they do you buy more. 

This is their hook. 

If some unscrupulous cereal manufacturer went out and laced your breakfast cereal with morphine to get you to buy more, what would you think of that? 

They do it with sugar instead.

Lustig's book, Fat Chance: The Bitter Truth About Sugar has made waves in America and has now been published in the UK by 4th Estate. 

As a paediatrician who specialises in treating overweight children in San Francisco, he has spent 16 years studying the effects of sugar on the central nervous system, metabolism and disease. 

His conclusion is that the rivers of Coca-Cola and Pepsi consumed by young people today have as much to do with obesity as the mountains of burgers.

That does not mean burgers are OK. 

"The play I'm making is not sugar per se, the play I'm making is insulin," he says. 

Foodstuffs that raise insulin levels in the body too high are the problem. 

He blames insulin for 75% to 80% of all obesity. 

Insulin is the hormone, he says, which causes energy to be stored in fat cells. 

Sugar energy is the most egregious of those, but there are three other categories: trans fats which are on the way out 

Alcohol which children do not drink 

And dietary amino acids.

These amino acids are found in corn-fed American beef. 

In grass-fed beef, like in Argentina, there are no problems.

And that's why the Argentinians are doing fine. 

The Argentinians have a meat-based diet … I love their meat. 

It is red, it's not marbled, it's a little tougher to cut but it's very tasty. 

And it's grass-fed. 

That's what cows are supposed to eat – grass.

We [in the US] feed them corn and the reason is twofold.

One, we don't have enough land and, two, when you feed them corn they fatten up. 

It usually takes 18 months to get a cow from birth to slaughter.

Today it takes six weeks and you get all that marbling in the meat. 

That's muscle insulin resistance. 

That animal has the same disease we do, it's just that we slaughter them before they get sick.

But his bigger message is that cheap sugar is endangering lives. 

It has been added to your diet, "kids have access" to it, and it is there in all sorts of foods that don't need it, he says. 

When high-fat foods were blamed for making us overweight, manufacturers tumbled over each other to produce low-fat products. 

But to make them palatable, they added sugar, causing much greater problems.

Cutting calories is not the answer because  a calorie is not a calorie.

The effect of a calorie in sugar is different from the effect of a calorie in lean grass-fed beef. 

And added sugar is often disguised in food labelling under carbohydrates and myriad different names, from glucose to diastatic malt and dextrose. 

Fructose – contained in many different types of sugar – is the biggest problem, and high-fructose corn syrup, used extensively by food manufacturers in the US, is the main source of it.

Lustig says he has been under attack from the food industry, but claims they have not managed to fault the science. 

The food industry wants to misinterpret because they want to discredit me. 

They want to paint me as this zealot. 

They want to paint me as somebody who doesn't have the science. 

But we do..

Evidence of dietary effects on the body is very hard to collect. 

People habitually lie in food diaries or forget what they ate. 

Randomised controlled trials are impossible because everyone reverts to a more normal eating pattern after a couple of months. 

But his sugar argument is more than hypothesis, he says, citing a recent study in the open journal Plos One, of which he was one of the authors.

It found that in countries where people had greater access to sugar, there were higher levels of diabetes. 

Rates of diabetes went up by about 1.1% for every 150 kcal of sugar available for each person each day.

About the amount in a can of Coke. 

Critics argued sugar availability was not the same as sugar consumed, but Lustig and his colleagues say it is the closest approximation they could get.

That study was aimed at the World Health Organisation although he believes it is a conflicted organisation.

But so is the US government, he says. "Government has tied its wagon to the food industry because, at least in America, 6% of our exports are food. 

That includes the legislative and executive branches. 

So the White House is in bed with the food industry and Congress apologises for the food industry.

Michelle Obama appeared to be onside when she launched her Let's Move initiative in February 2010 with a speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association of America. 

She took it straight to them and said, 

You're the problem. 

You're the solution.

She hasn't said it since. 

Now it's all about exercise.

Far be it from me to bad-mouth somebody who wants to do the right thing. 

But I'm telling you right now she's been muzzled. 

No question of it." 

In his book he tells of a private conversation with the White House chef, who he claims told him the administration agreed with him but did not want a fight with the food industry.

Some areas of the food industry have appeared to be willing to change. 

PepsiCo's chief executive officer, Indra Nooyi, who is from India which has a serious diabetes epidemic, has been trying to steer the company towards healthier products. 

But it has lost money and she is said to be having problems with the board. 

So here's a woman who is trying to do the right thing and can't, he says.

Court action may be the way to go, he says, suggesting challenging the safety of fructose added to food.

And food labelling that fails to tell you what has been added and what has been taken out. 

Fruit juice is not so healthy, he says, because all the fibre that allows the natural sugars to be processed without being stored as fat has been removed. 

Eat the fruit, he says, don't drink the juice. 

Lustig is taking a master's at the University of California Hastings college of law, in order to be a better expert witness and strategist.

It is not a case of eradicating sugar from the diet, just getting it down to levels that are not toxic, he says. 

The American Heart Association in 2009 published a statement, of which Lustig was a co-author, saying Americans consumed 22 teaspoons of it a day. 

That needs to come down to six for women and nine for men.

That's a reduction by two thirds to three quarters. 

Is that zero? 


But that's a big reduction. 

That gets us below our toxic threshold. 

Our livers have a capacity to metabolise some fructose, they just can't metabolise the glut that we've been exposed to by the food industry. 

And so the goal is to get sugar out of foods that don't need it, like salad dressing, like bread, like barbecue sauce. 

There is a simple way to do it. 

Eat real food.

Does he keep off the sweet stuff himself? 

As much as I can. 

I don't go out of my way. 

It finds me but I don't find it. 

Caffeine on the other hand.

Lustig's food advice 


Eat the fruit, don't drink the juice. 

Fruit juice in cartons has had all the fibre squeezed out of it, making its sugars more dangerous.


Beef from grass-fed cattle as in Argentina is fine.

But not from corn-fed cattle as in the US.

Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other sweetened beverages. 

These deliver sugar but with no nutritional added value. 

Water and milk are the best drinks, especially for children.


Watch out for added sugar in foods where you would not expect it.


Just like sugar, it pushes up the body's insulin levels, which tells the liver to store energy in fat cells. 

Alcohol is a recognised cause of fatty liver disease.

Home-baked cookies and cakes. 

If you must eat them, bake them yourself with one third less sugar than the recipe says. 

Lustig says they even taste better that way.

Sarah Boseley

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Sleep issues

A run of poor sleep can have a dramatic effect on the internal workings of the human body, 
say UK researchers.

The activity of hundreds of genes was altered when people's sleep was cut to less than six hours a day for a week.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said the results helped explain how poor sleep damaged health.

Heart disease, diabetes, obesity and poor brain function have all been linked to substandard sleep.

What missing hours in bed actually does to alter health, however, is unknown.

So researchers at the University of Surrey analysed the blood of 26 people after they had had plenty of sleep.

Up to 10 hours each night for a week.

And compared the results with samples after a week of fewer than six hours a night.

More than 700 genes were altered by the shift. 

Each contains the instructions for building a protein.

So those that became more active produced more proteins.

Changing the chemistry of the body.

Start Quote

Meanwhile the natural body clock was disturbed.

Some genes naturally wax and wane in activity through the day.

But this effect was dulled by sleep deprivation.

Prof Colin Smith, from the University of Surrey, told the BBC: "There was quite a dramatic change in activity in many different kinds of genes."

Areas such as the immune system and how the body responds to damage and stress were affected.

Prof Smith added: "Clearly sleep is critical to rebuilding the body and maintaining a functional state.

All kinds of damage appear to occur.

Hinting at what may lead to ill health.

"If we can't actually replenish and replace new cells, then that's going to lead to degenerative diseases."

He said many people may be even more sleep deprived in their daily lives than those in the study.

Suggesting these changes may be common.

Dr Akhilesh Reddy, a specialist in the body clock at the University of Cambridge, said the study was "interesting".

He said the key findings were the effects on inflammation and the immune system as it was possible to see a link between those effects and health problems such as diabetes.

The findings also tie into research attempting to do away with sleep.

Such as by finding a drug that could eliminate the effects of sleep deprivation.

Dr Reddy said: "We don't know what the switch is that causes all these changes, but theoretically if you could switch it on or off, you might be able to get away without sleep.

But my feeling is that sleep is fundamentally important to regenerating all cells.

James Gallagher

Friday, April 26, 2013

The picycle

The Hybrid Bike for the 21st Century Rider

What does a bicycle plus a motorcycle equal? 

PiCycle of course. 

This nifty mode of transport is a hybrid bike that is powered by both human energy and an electric motor. 

Depending on your mood and how much energy you’d like to expend, PiCycles let you decide how you’d like to ride: as a bike, a motorcycle or both. 

But unlike your standard motorcycle, the PiCyle does not emit any tailpipe emissions and uses less than 200 pounds of CO2 - the same amount of energy as a hair dryer. 

Created by PiMobility, the eco-conscious company locally designs and manufactures these sustainable two wheeled wonders with the 21st century rider in mind.

Convenience is a major part of PiCycles, and all the bikes can be charged and plugged into any standard electric outlet. 

To make the deal even sweeter,  each bike is equipped with a charger suitable for smartphones, GPS units, cameras and speakers. 

Besides being a smooth ride, Pi Mobility offers their riders an app that provides an intuitive readout of their speed, charge level and efficiency, as well as alerting them to any necessary bike maintenance. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Looking at Evil

We all know this word

But what do we mean by evil?

Evil is not a big difficult word to understand

It is a simple concept

Evil is..................

Or is it?

We do not use this word very often.

It does not frequently appear in our media.

Why not?

There is certainly enough evil around us!

So let us have a look at evil.

Evil is profound immorality.

In certain religious contexts evil has been described as a supernatural force. 

Definitions of evil vary, as does the analysis of its root motives and causes. 

However elements that are commonly associated with evil involve unbalanced behaviour involving expediencyselfishnessignorance, or neglect.

Views on the nature of evil tend to fall into one of four opposed camps:

Moral absolutism  holds that good and evil are fixed concepts established by a deity or deities, nature, morality, common sense, or some other source.

Amoralism  claims that good and evil are meaningless, that there is no moral ingredient in nature.

Moral relativism holds that standards of good and evil are only products of local culture, custom, or prejudice.

Moral universalism is  the attempt to find a compromise between the absolutist sense of morality, and the relativist view.

Universalism claims that morality is only flexible to a degree, and that what is truly good or evil can be determined by examining what is commonly considered to be evil amongst all humans.

That's fine to put evil in those terms but to make evil clear lets look at an evil human

She or he is consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self-image of perfection.

Deceives others as a consequence of their own self-deception.

Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets, scapegoating others while appearing normal with everyone else ("their insensitivity toward him was selective") 

Commonly hates with the pretense of love, for the purposes of self-deception as much as deception of others.

Abuses political (emotional) power ("the imposition of one's will upon others by overt or covert coercion"). 

Maintains a high level of respectability and lies incessantly in order to do so.

Is consistent in his or her sins. 

Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency (of destructiveness).

Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim.

Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.

Invariably lacks a sense of humour.

Now come to think of it these characteristics apply to a large number of world and business leaders.

Not to make a sweeping generalisation though.

It does seem though that there is a lot of evil about.

Is it not time that we label these people for what they are?

Why do we keep pretending that they are OK?

Have we lost our courage?

Or is the media so controlled and manipulated that all we see and hear is PR spin.

Well actually yes most mainstream media is indeed controlled as to what it says.

And that you could say is evil as well.

Come to think of it there is evil today wherever you look.