Country Reflex - A Poem for America

Monday, 21 November 2011

Smoking, the NHS, Private Finance and St Paul's.

As I think about this post I've spent a minute making the obligatory hand rolled, chemical/additive free cigarette otherwise known as 'American Spirit'.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not being self righteous about my so-called brand loyalty or anything like that. But there's not many companies, especially cigarette companies that can be even remotely considered 'ethical'. And indeed, its a bit like Ben and Jerry's takeover by Unilever - my favourite blend of baccy is a wholly owned subsidiary of R J Reynolds and therefore British American Tobacco. In other words, the nice people who produce and manufacture my tasty tobacco are owned by bastards. And I'm a hypocrite. I don't really mind too much about this as a confirmed smoker I a) need to make a choice b) I have to buy something and c) I don't wish to quit). I also still eat Ben and Jerry's ice cream. That's not really the point, at least for this posting. But it's fairly obvious that 'consumer freedom' is a myth.

In my ideal world I'd like to grow my own tobacco and make my own ice-cream, it's just not a practical possibility at this moment in time.

Regardless, I buy American Spirit tobacco because it is a genuinely natural product, without all the gunk, pesticides, herbicides and all the other 'added' guff that goes into most tobacco products . . . the fact the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company are owned by a big nasty multinational is merely a function of a globalised, hegemony of interests exploiting resources and labour in search of ever more profit while diversifying their respective 'offers', finding new markets, so and so forth. That combined with the fact that very few company's own almost all the others.

Ah, yes - the point of this particular rant. The cost of my tobacco habit is relatively small, both to myself (at least at the time of writing) and society, with a much higher ratio of 'my tax' in return (and not just through purchases of tobacco, but add through PAYE, NI, VAT etc etc) for what care I may one day need as a direct result of smoking, as opposed to say urban air pollution or a road traffic accident or indeed by becoming a fat, junk food munching cunt, or indeed by living so long I need 24 hour care and a mini crane to lift my sorry ass out of bed.

The NHS costs around £105 billion a year to run, a bargain when you think about it.
Smoking costs the NHS around £5 billion a year or 5.25% of the total.
HM Treasury tax receipts from smoking equal £11 billion a year or 11.55% of the total.

Besides the obvious problems of differentiating between people who die or get sick because they smoke, breath others smoke or just breath shit air next to a busy road or any combination of those, add in a few genetic, inherited health problems and huge fat reserves and the fact that various interest groups provide various statistics (the smoking cost-to-society figures are, for example, provided by the British Heart Foundation research group at Oxford) and have an interest, to some degree, in said statistics . . . but we can assume that those numbers above are well researched and more or less correct.

As a brief continuation to the previous post, the annual cost of Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contracts to the NHS, which for those of you unfamiliar with this particular form of voodoo economics (invented not by Gordon Brown, as the Tory's would have you believe, but by none other than a fascist Italian bloke called Mussolini) is where private investors (preferably your pals) put up the cash needed to build a hospital and charge a fortune in interest payments over a 50 year period, while squeezing every ounce of profit out through various tied-in contracts for 'services provided' to the Trust in question, such as catering, security and cleaning- and breath, ah. . . . delicious. The sweet smell of profit.

Anyway, the annual cost of these PFI contracts (in interest payments, etc) is around £2.5 billion so we can say, with some degree of objective analysis, that PFI is arguably worse for the NHS than people smoking, which is certainly the case if you consider the tax revenues that smokers contribute to the Treasury. Smoking is not going to bankrupt any NHS Trusts, that's for sure.

All PFI contributes is a ridiculous mechanism that allows our beadcounters to ignore the debt and pretend to the public and markets that the debt doesn't exist - even though we all know it does.

And while practice has shown the reality of PFI to be very different, no one is coming up with a solution. We've got a brass neck slagging off the Greeks and Italians for being feckless.

Andrew Lansley, the twat currently in charge of the botch operation being inflicted on the NHS, has suggested the taxpayer should effectively bail out the NHS trusts being shafted by unaffordable PFI contracts while whinging that it's all Gordon Brown's fault, Europe's fault - but not his.

However, the Conservative Party were (and remain) enthusiastic cheerleaders for Gordy's Italian fascist idea - Public Private Partnerships, and PFI in all its forms. The difficulty now, more than ever is that the systemic failings of capitalism that resulted in the current crisis have hiked interest rates on PFI deals to levels of borrowing almost double what they were when the contracts were signed.

So, time for the evil state apparatus, funded by the ungrateful taxpaying masses to ride in to the rescue to ensure the greedy bastards get their money, again at our expense. This is why private money should not be used to supply public goods at a profit.

Anyone for a bit of Northern Rock? Ah, Beardy already bought it at a more subsidised rate than 20 Virgin West Coast main lines! Tax avoiding twat.

When are these fuckheads in government going to start understanding that an ideological and dogmatic belief in 'free market' capitalism is not the 'way forward' or that 95% shouldn't be working to ensure a comfortable existence for 5% of the population?

Perhaps if more than 30% of us ever turned out to vote, or perhaps if there was someone or something worth voting for things would be different, but I doubt it.

The whole system is bankrupt, the political element no longer has legitimacy. I don't believe there is a democratic mandate for our so-called leaders to be making any of the kinds of decisions that continue to be made in propping up what is clearly broken beyond any kind of meaningful repair - and that started with the global bailout of our banks and lenders.

We should have nationalised the lot in return for preventing the total collapse that would almost certainly have happened without all our cash and sacrifice of living standards.

I think this is what the people sat outside St Paul's are getting at - they have a very, very good point. The only problem is that there is no genuine public debate on what could possibly be an alternative, and just at a time when a lack of alternatives to propping up this bullshit is the new Thatcheresque vogue. Why? Because some fucking bond traders say so? Because Standard and Poors will give your country a rating downgrade?

Our current modus operandi is so fucked we should be seriously examining the near incomprehensible changes required. It requires an entirely new way of looking at more or less everything, nothing short of a paradigm shift in thinking.

It could be a beautiful thing but that will depend entirely on which direction we choose, how we get there and of course our reasons for bothering at all.

It has to be fearless.

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