Sunday, 26 January 2014

Punishing the whistleblower 1

This is not a typical whistleblower, but a Hungarian researcher on Lectins, who published results on genetically modified potates.  In 1998 Dr Arpad Pusztai criticised the lack of testing procedures prior to introducing GM foods onto the market.  He demonstrated that rats developed immune system defects and damage to stomach lining, stunting growth.  These defects emerged over a longer time period than standard research, thus opening humans to damaging effects because of short term testing.

How was Dr Pusztai rewarded for his warning to prevent damage to human health?

The Rowett Institute suspended Pusztai, circulated misinformation about him and his research in an attempt to discredit him.  The implication that he was a doddery old buffer, who had confused the science and botched his research.

How did Dr Pusztai respond?

He sent the research protocols to 24 independent scientists in various countries.  They refuted the conclusion of the review committee and found his research of good quality with justifiable conclusions.

What happened next?

The Royal Society dismissed the conclusions of the 24 indpendent scientists and backed the review committee's findings that Pusztai was mistaken and had deficient research.

Read the whole story here.

Dr Pusztai and his wife sacrificed their careers to bring important information to world attention.  They continue to spread information, despite constant public humiliation and derogatory remarks about them.  Here's one example, which speaks of Pusztai's 'flawed and inconclusive experiments'.

How much money/support do the Rowett Institute and the Royal Society (and senior people on their boards and review committees) receive from Monsanto and other companies involved in genetically engineered foods?

How many UK research posts and research projects are funded by Monsanto and other companies involved in genetically engineered foods?

I have written before about the way in which charities and consultants are silenced in the UK because so much of their work depends on funding from Big Pharma.

Where are the public disclaimers in the BBC, Lancet and other media/journals, so we can assess the independence of what we are reading and hearing?

Saturday, 25 January 2014

'Posh Tories out of touch with lives of ordinary people'

This is a recent pronouncement by Ed Miliband,  the gift that goes on giving to bloggers.

He resembles an annoying, snotty, loud mouthed schoolboy his teachers would sorely like to clip round the ear.

I wrote recently of meeting Eton-educated Tory MP, Jesse Norman, alone on public transport carrying his own bags.  The only MPs I've seen alone and carrying their own stuff have been public school educated Tories.

I saw Paul Boateng on a train with a bunch of minders, apparently ducking out of London on the day of an embarrassing debate.

I travel regularly to a town in the Midlands.  Some years ago fellow travellers report that Jack Straw, then Labour Home Secretary, took the train with minders.  The station was closed for the day and he was met by a fleet of armoured limousines, so that he could, allegedly, travel to an Asian food factory in a pre-election friendly.  Commuters were inconvenienced and had to make their way to work by whatever means possible, because of alleged security issues for man-of-the-people Mr Straw.

Ed Miliband is trying hard to look like an ordinary bloke, but can't disguise his dislike of what comes with it.

The Shadow government don't seem to live the lives of ordinary people.  I've written before about the silence on the Shadow front bench in relation to the Co-op Bank, which has given financial support to the Labour Party in a number of ways.  Ordinary pensioners, at risk of losing their life savings, had no succour from 'One Nation Labour' and Ed Miliband.

Peter Mandelson, one of the architects of 'New Labour' and sometime kingmaker in the party, is renowned for amassing large sums of money and keeping company with some unsavoury characters.  He is alleged to receive funding from Kazakhstan and is one of a group of politicians who have helped massage the image of a country with a bad human rights record.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair took us to war with a dossier of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that was cobbled together from flimsy material including a phd thesis.  Blair is Peace Envoy to the Middle East, receives round the clock security protection, paid for by the British taxpayer.  Blair's way of expressing thanks is to place his money in a convoluted nest of companies, so that he pays minimal tax.  He also promotes the Cayman Islands as a tax haven.

The Spectator goes further in describing the Shadow front bench as Ed Miliband's Bollinger bolsheviks.  The article reveals the extent of wealth and property amassed by Labour MPs.

Let's return to Eton educated Jesse Norman MP.  Sir Torquil Norman, Jesse's dad, was a fighter pilot and banker.  During a period of unemployment he dreamt up the Big Yellow Teapot and founded the successful Bluebird Toys.  Holidays with wife and five kids were spent in a converted bus, rather than hotel or caravan.  He retired from toys and bought the Roundhouse, to prevent it being destroyed by property developers.  He has raised money and put the venue on a solid footing and it re-opened in 2006.  He also formed the Roundhouse Trust to help disadvantaged youngsters in the area.  By 2008 it had involved over 12000 teenagers in creative arts projects.  He says he was concerned about the disillusionment and lack of future kids in Camden seemed to have and wanted to do something about it.

Torquil Norman has retired several times.  The latest venture is the invention of a flat-pack OX truck to help villages in the developing world gain greater independence.

The son of a prominent Labour star has been sent to prison for assault, and the father lobbies to water down anti-mercenary laws as director of a private military firm.  In contrast, old Etonian Norman father and son both have experience of effective charitable work.

How much more in touch with ordinary people do you want Eton educated Tories to be, Ed?

NatWest Bank

When I first started in business, I spoke to managers of each of the clearing banks before deciding where to open an account for my business.

One guy looked like a spotty 15 year old.  When I asked about impact of the imminent EU englargement, he said:  "There's not much call for that sort of thing around here."

The second manager arrived late for our meeting, smelling as if he'd imbibed a rather large liquid lunch.  His response to my business plan was impassive.

The third man was a bit more business savvy, as his dad ran a fruit and veg market stall.

None of them appeared to have the skills to read a business plan or cashflow forecast with insight.

The National Westminster Bank was running a tv ad campaign at the time which claimed:  'We have a dedicated small business adviser in every branch.'  When I asked for an appointment at the local branch, the teller called across to her colleague:  "Charmaine, who's doin' small business advice this week?  Is it Mr Johnson?"  I made my excuses and left, concluding that the gulf between the promise and reality was too great.

Decades later I lived round the corner from an excellent new fish shop.  The display was good, the variety of fish was enormous and the proprietor was ready with tales of his own way of cooking different fish.  It was a family run business.  Staff were hardworking, cheerful and helpful.  They supplied local restaurants until an economic downturn reduced this side of the business and forced them to give up a second shop.  On Saturdays there were always long queues out into the street.

One Christmas they had bumper sales and customers were happy.  A few days into January, the shop suddenly closed and was replaced by an estate agent.  This small high street has declined and become less vibrant as a result.

I bumped into the owner some years later.  After expressing sadness at the loss of such a great local resource, I asked him how it had happened.  The business had a good turnover and he was determined to pay down his loans as fast as possible.  The bank called him in for an appointment and suggested they renegotiate the loan for a longer term.  He declined and explained that he could easily sustain the high level of repayments he was making.  The manager told him:  "You don't understand, we are going to renegotiate your loan."  This was clearly so that the bank could treat the fish shop as a cash cow and make as much money as possible.  He refused.  They froze his account, did not respond to his calls and forced him out of business.  He is now an employee and given up any idea of self employment.  Once again we've lost a capable entrepreneur.

Which financial institution did this?  NatWest bank.

I hadn't heard much of NatWest since the financial crisis and hadn't realised that they'd been absorbed by RBS, the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of the banks bailed out by the taxpayer.

Then I heard a FileOn4 programme 'Default by Design' about viable small businesses being driven to the wall and asset stripped.  RBS/NatWest seems to be the common thread in this story.  Instead of restructuring the loan, the latest tactic seems to be to push business owners to take out risky financial instruments (with exorbitant admin fees) to secure their loans.

The accusation is that the bank engineers a default against a loan, artificially distressing the business and forcing them into administration to profit the bank.  GRG, the fastest growing division of the bank, the Global Restructuring Group, is alleged to actively damage the value of business in order to profit from the assets.  Read an interesting history of this group here.

Lawrence Tomlinson, a business adviser for the government, has investigated the issue and written a report criticising banking practice.  RBS deny the allegations.  A law firm has been appointed to probe the bank's actions, despite conflict of interest allegations against them.

No doubt lobbying will prevent anything happening to halt this abuse and major damage to the vibrancy of our economy and entrepreneurship.

My advice to anyone planning to start their own business:  

Take care to find a really good accountant and a reliable bank.  If you make a mistake, you could lose everything.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

800,000 dead and the media don't give a damn

This is the story of guidelines for the use of beta-blockers during heart surgery.  The guidelines turn out to be a con perpetrated by a man who used bogus figures in his research paper and has been 'sponsored' by Big Pharma for some time.

Where are the press, tv and investigative journalists?

Here's Dr Malcolm Kendrick's summary:

Don Polderman’s also had financial conflicts of interest with Merck, Pfizer, Novartis and Medtronic. To name but four. (One conflict of interest statement can been seen here).
Anyway, here is a summary of what has happened:
      • Don Poldermans had financial conflicts of interest with several pharmaceutical companies
      • Con Poldermans carried out corrupt research, supporting the use of pharmaceutical products
      • Don Poldermans was the chairman of an ESC committee that recommended widespread use of drugs to protect the heart during surgery
      • Widespread use of drugs to protect the heart during surgery has killed 800,000 people over 5 years in Europe (alone)
      • The paper outlining the scale of deaths has been pulled by the ESC

Monday, 20 January 2014

How to annoy David Cameron

I bumped into Jesse Norman the other day.

Yes he is another so-called 'posh boy' Tory MP who went to Eton.  When I talked to him, he was using public transport.

I thanked him for his excellent work on the Treasury Select Committee doggedly interviewing people about the Co-operative Bank and disastrous slide into massive debts.  Norman helped the campaign to rescue the savings of elderly bond and preference shareholders who had dealt with the Co-op all their lives.  I'd watched some of the hearings online.

I expressed concern about the behaviour of some of his TSC colleagues, who use sarcasm and bullying to ill effect.  Interviewees freeze and then become defensive, rather than giving helpful information.

Jesse Norman apologised for not replying to my letter to him last year (why should he, I'm not one of his constituents),  and then told me how he learnt to extract maximum information with forensic skill, but without bullying.

His father in law, Lord Bingham, headed the enquiry into the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.  Bingham telephoned and went to see the key people, extracting the majority of the information by being (in my words) a courteous gentleman.  This cost the public purse  zero.  Contrast this with the series of public enquiries, which have cost us millions.

We parted and I didn't have time to tell him I'd written to the main political leaders asking for a change in behaviour of TSC members using Jesse Norman as a role model.

What has this to do with David Cameron?

I knew little about Jesse Norman.  I've discovered that he's one of the few MPs who has had a diverse career before entering politics in later life.  He knows about banking, charities, university lecturing and running arts programmes both here and abroad.  He has strong views on parliamentary democracy based on his academic work in philosophy and admiration for Edmund Burke.

Norman holds firmly to principles in part based on experience of how democracy can falter when it is weakened by undue financial and lobbying interest, as in the USA.  He led a rebellion against aspects of Lords reform, which would have turned the House of Lords into a second elected chamber.  In creative problem solving, we encourage reflection, so that people avoid premature evaluation and disastrous decisions.  Jesse Norman argues that the House of Lords, at its best, fulfills this function.

David Cameron was infuriated and sacked Jesse Norman as an adviser to the policy board.  This was in July 2012 and Norman was appointed to a parliamentary advisory board in April 2013, but sacked again after abstaining on the Syria vote in September.

Why might the letter annoy David Cameron?

I also wrote that, were Jesse Norman to be selected as candidate to replace the newly enobled Lord Bletchingley, I might vote Tory for the first time in my life.  Jesse Norman has been touted as a possible successor to Cameron, so my comment could only have irked the Prime Minister.

Dear Mr Cameron, follow Lyndon B Johnson's sound advice and  keep Jesse Norman inside the tent, so that he doesn't direct his yellow stream at you.

Miliband's concertina

The concertina is a simple free reed musical instrument.  A bellows mechanism and buttons produce single notes, unlike the accordion, which produces chords from each button.

This instrument came to mind last week when hearing Ed Miliband's announcement on banks.  If he's elected, he'll break them up into smaller entities, regulate them more firmly and force them to lend more.

How interesting.

This is the same Miliband, who, along with Ed Balls, was bag carrier to former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.  The two Eds were powerful in that Labour government and it is widely acknowledged that Balls wrote most of Brown's policy.

Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, who famously announced in his Mansion House speech to the City of London that he would support their growth by instituting 'light touch regulation.'  Yes this is the same Gordon Brown who quadrupled the tax code for small businesses and individuals, while large corporations did sweetheart deals with the head of HMRC to pay less and small business people are bullied for every penny.

Gordon Brown also consolidated banking and the development of a massive housing and stock market rise, where people were encouraged to use equity release for personal spending.  Invesment bankers and private investment  funds developed the casino style antics that laid the economy low.

Where's the concertina?

Ed Miliband plays a simple tune.  'One Nation Labour' from a Cabinet that live in an expensive enclave (of politicians) and are part of the wealthy middle class that benefit from the sweep of the lower classes out to the far edges of the capital city.

Now he's pulling out the bellows on his instrument to reverse disastrous policies to which he contributed.  He blames the mess on the Conservative government.

He must hope the public have very short memories.

Ed Miliband's announcement that he'll use state intervention to freeze energy prices has wiped £7billion off the value of energy company shares.  No doubt this latest policy announcement will do something similar for banking shares.

If the economy keeps strengthening, Miliband will do his bit to trash it, so he can blame the government.

Ed Miliband failed to mention a new Bill put through Parliament at the end of last year.  Backbench MPs from all parties worked hard to strengthen regulations in banking and financial services to protect the public and the economy.  Miliband seems to want to take a turn on his squeezebox and reverse this effort.

Eds Miliband and Balls kept very quiet when the Co-operative Bank was in trouble because of some unwise decisions.  Ed Balls attended the opening of the Co-op Group's new headquarters and made a fulsome speech in support of the then chairman, Len Wardle.  One Nation Labour had a low interest loan from the Co-operative Bank.  The Co-operative funded both the Labour and Co-operative Party MPs (the latter is effectively the Labour Party in all but name.)  No wonder Miliband and Balls kept quiet, as they're unlikely to bite the hand that feeds a near insolvent political party.

Mr Miliband please do not preach to us about helping the British people and your great concern for our wellbeing.  No small business receives such preferential loans from the Co-op Bank and pensioners were about to lose their life savings (to fill the financial black hole) had it not been for the intervention of Mark Taber and his campaign.

You didn't answer letters about this problem (I and many others wrote several times) and did not speak about it in Parliament.

 The money is about to dry up.

Ed Miliband, your concertina is out of tune.