Greece is on the verge of economic collapse and yet the country's left wants to jettison austerity measures. Would this leave any alternative other than exiting the euro? SPIEGEL ONLINE invited the leader of Greece's pro-business Drasi party and an ...

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"boilingspot" - 5 new articles

  1. 'If We Leave the Euro, Everything Will Be Worse'
  2. Looks Matter More Than Reputation When It Comes to Trusting People With Our Money
  3. This Is Your Brain On Sugar: Study in Rats Shows High-Fructose Diet Sabotages Learning, Memory
  4. The Health of Nations: Towards a New Political Economy
  5. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa
  6. More Recent Articles

'If We Leave the Euro, Everything Will Be Worse'

Greece is on the verge of economic collapse and yet the country's left wants to jettison austerity measures. Would this leave any alternative other than exiting the euro? SPIEGEL ONLINE invited the leader of Greece's pro-business Drasi party and an anti-austerity Syriza parliamentarian to debate the issues

Spiegel Online International | 05/16/2012
A Greek euro coin. Are the country's days as a member of the euro zone numbered?A Greek euro coin. Are the country's days as a member of the euro zone numbered? (dapd)

Just imagine: A country finds itself mired in an existential crisis and diametrically opposed political parties are tasked with putting together a government.

This is exactly the challenge Greece currently faces. The conservative Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy) and the socialist PASOK parties have tried in vain to convince the radical left-wing Syriza to join in forming a viable government. Every attempt at negotiation with the country's second-strongest party has failed, and Greece now faces a new election in June.

The biggest issue in the vote will be the question of whether the people of Greece want their country to continue implementing the strict austerity measures they agreed to in exchange for European Union and International Monetary Fund bailout money, or if they want to simply leave the euro zone.

SPIEGEL ONLINE invited representatives from two political camps in Greece that are the polar opposite of each other to debate the issue. Stefanos Manos, who leads the pro-business Drasi (Action) party, and Despoina Charalambidou, a member of parliament with the radical left-wing Syriza party, met over Skype to express their views.

Dressed in business attire, Manos logged in from his elegant Athens apartment, while Charalambidou connected from her office in one of Thessolaniki's working-class districts. The politicians argued bitterly, but were surprisingly united on several points.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Charalambidou, Mr. Manos, some 80 percent of Greeks want to keep the euro. At the same time, there is a majority against the EU-imposed austerity measures. Would it be possible for Greece to remain in the euro zone if it reneged on its contracts with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Manos: If tomorrow we were to say, "Hello, we want to take back our agreement," then we'd be out of the euro. We could of course try to change the austerity package and its conditions. But for that we need at least a primary surplus -- that is, a budgetary surplus after interest on loans has been deducted. To achieve this, we must first implement drastic reforms.

Charalambidou: In Syriza we say that the agreements with the so-called troika (of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) must be immediately dissolved. The bailout plan damns the Greek people to poverty, unemployment, and drives them to emigrate. The debts weren't created by simple workers and thus shouldn't be paid by them either. Not a single euro of the aid money will be used for salaries, pensions, the health system or education. The money is being used to stop up debt drains and pay loan sharks. The warning "austerity measures or the drachma" only serves to frighten the Greeks.

Manos: Ms. Charalambidou proves just how far apart wishes and reality are in Greece. The illegal mountain of debt of which Syriza speaks came about almost exclusively because Greeks have lived beyond their means. Only when we admit this can we begin to slowly rebuild our economy. If we denounce our obligations to our European helpers, then we are both deceiving and damaging ourselves. And then we'll be out of the euro and the European Union.

Charalambidou: But why should we always rely on the same creditors? We live in a globalized world and could get loans with better conditions from other partners. What about Russia and China, for example?

Manos: This is yet another case of wishful thinking. You wouldn't get a single ruble or yuan from either country before Greece implements reforms. Furthermore, with European help we're getting money at conditions the market would never grant. If we don't fulfill our austerity obligations, then not even Hugo Chavez will give us money ...

SPIEGEL ONLINE: ... the president of Venezuela. Still, the troika's tough savings strategy doesn't seem to be taking hold. Should it be altered?

Manos: Apart from interest payments, we must manage to bring in more than we spend. Then we can cut taxes, revoke agreements -- and do everything that Syriza head Alexis Tsipras and Ms. Charalambidou dream of. And how can we do this? By cutting back on everything that we don't need and doesn't do anything for us.

Charalambidou: I agree with you that we must first achieve order. But that doesn't change the fact that right now Greece has more than 1 million unemployed. I am one of them. In the last year I lost my job in the clothing industry. For one year I received unemployment benefits of €460 ($586) per month. Recently that was slashed to €360. I have desperately searched for work -- and there simply isn't any. My son moved to Germany after two years of looking for work without success. My daughter works part time -- 12 hours a week -- despite having a higher education and foreign language competency. You, Mr. Manos, along with the other backers of the austerity measures, are supporting the destruction of the lives of workers and pensioners, along with Greeks leaving the country and firms and shipping companies paying far too little in taxes.

Manos: I am aware that these are issues, but I also believe that I can better represent the interests of workers than Syriza leader Tsipras. Many of these problems have come about because the socialists didn't want to make cuts in the public sector. And Mr. Tsipras beats the same drum. The public sector is a monster that is devouring tax money. Meanwhile, small firms are being forced to shut down because they are paying too many taxes.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Many people are now saying it makes no difference if Greece has the euro or the drachma if they are still poor and unemployed either way. They are citing economists who say Greece could improve its exports and get on its feet more quickly with the weaker drachma. What is your opinion?

Manos: If we leave the euro, everything will get worse. Greece would hardly be able to get more credit. Everything would get more expensive with the devaluation of the drachma. Think about it: Almost everything we consume is imported. And what do we have to export? We have always been weak in exports. We have lost our competitiveness, and that is the bitter truth. It is not enough -- as the troika urges -- for us to cut wages. Why are the Germans and Swiss doing so well? Because they produce desirable products. We have no top products. We need a change of culture, and these changes are the good things about the austerity policies.

Charalambidou: This is not about the euro for us. We are interested in making a dignified life possible for the people. We don't want Greece to revert back to the way it was in the 1960s, when people emigrated to Germany for a chance at a better future.

Manos: I agree with you 100 percent on this point. How do you plan to achieve this?

Charalambidou: We need tax equity -- especially when it comes to the taxing of shipping companies and rich businesspeople.

Manos: With Syriza, you have a realistic chance of getting into government. You should adjust your wishful thinking to reality.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Would you bet that Greece will still be in the euro zone a year from now?

Manos: If Greece's people continue further down this path of denying reality, ruled by wishful thinking, then we'll be out of the euro within a year.

Charalambidou: I don't dare make a prediction here. We want a different Europe in which the people play the main role -- not the political and economic elites.

Discussion moderated by Georgios Christidis

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2012 All Rights Reserved
    

Looks Matter More Than Reputation When It Comes to Trusting People With Our Money

Our decisions to trust people with our money are based more on how they look then how they behave, according to new research from the University of Warwick

ScienceDaily May 15, 2012
Face identities of the same computer character varied on the trustworthiness scale. For each character, we selected the faces found at 3 and +3 SD on the trustworthiness scale (indicated here with arrows). In Study 3, we altered some of the selected faces to ensure direct gaze for all stimuli. (Credit: Rezlescu et al; doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0034293.g002)

In a paper recently published in thePLoS One journal, researchers from Warwick Business School, the University College London and Dartmouth College, USA, carried out a series of experiments to see if people made decisions to trust others based on their faces.

They found people are more likely to invest money in someone whose face is generally perceived as trustworthy, even when they are given negative information about this person's reputation.

The team used a computer algorithm to create a set of 20 pairs of faces at opposing ends of the trustworthiness scale. This computer software modifies the apparent trustworthiness of faces by altering their features. The researchers were able to experimentally manipulate the unfakeable features (those related to shape of the face) that make a face look trustworthy or untrustworthy. These 40 faces were then used in a series of trust games with human participants.

Each volunteer was given a sum of money and told they could invest any part of the amount in a trustee whose face appeared on the screen. Any amount they invested would be tripled and volunteers were told it was then up to the trustee to decide how much to send back to them. Thus participants had an incentive to invest only in trustees who could be expected to return more than the invested amount.

The researchers found that 13 out of 15 participants invested more, on average, in the trustworthy identities. In a second experiment, the researchers gave the volunteers information about whether the trustees had good or bad histories. Even with this inside information, the average amount invested in those who looked 'trustworthy' was 6% higher.

Dr Chris Olivola from the University of Warwick's Warwick Business School said: "Trustees with good and bad histories benefitted equally from trustworthy-looking facial features. The temptation to judge strangers by their faces is hard to resist. Trustworthiness is one of the most important traits for social and economic interactions and our study examines whether people take potentially costly actions in line with their face-based trustworthiness judgments.

"It seems we are still willing to go with our own instincts about whether we think someone looks like we can trust them."

Copyright © 1995-2011 ScienceDaily LLC  —  All rights reserved
    

This Is Your Brain On Sugar: Study in Rats Shows High-Fructose Diet Sabotages Learning, Memory

Attention, college students cramming between midterms and finals: Binging on soda and sweets for as little as six weeks may make you stupid

ScienceDaily | May 15, 2012
New research suggests that binging on soda and sweets for as little as six weeks may make you stupid. (Credit: © RTimages / Fotolia)

A new UCLA rat study is the first to show how a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain, hampering memory and learning -- and how omega-3 fatty acids can counteract the disruption. The peer-reviewedJournal of Physiology publishes the findings in its May 15 edition.

"Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a professor of integrative biology and physiology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science. "Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage."

While earlier research has revealed how fructose harms the body through its role in diabetes, obesity and fatty liver, this study is the first to uncover how the sweetener influences the brain.

The UCLA team zeroed in on high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid six times sweeter than cane sugar, that is commonly added to processed foods, including soft drinks, condiments, applesauce and baby food. The average American consumes more than 40 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "We're not talking about naturally occurring fructose in fruits, which also contain important antioxidants," explained Gomez-Pinilla, who is also a member of UCLA's Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center. "We're concerned about high-fructose corn syrup that is added to manufactured food products as a sweetener and preservative."

Gomez-Pinilla and study co-author Rahul Agrawal, a UCLA visiting postdoctoral fellow from India, studied two groups of rats that each consumed a fructose solution as drinking water for six weeks. The second group also received omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which protects against damage to the synapses -- the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning.

"DHA is essential for synaptic function -- brain cells' ability to transmit signals to one another," Gomez-Pinilla said. "This is the mechanism that makes learning and memory possible. Our bodies can't produce enough DHA, so it must be supplemented through our diet."

The animals were fed standard rat chow and trained on a maze twice daily for five days before starting the experimental diet. The UCLA team tested how well the rats were able to navigate the maze, which contained numerous holes but only one exit. The scientists placed visual landmarks in the maze to help the rats learn and remember the way.

Six weeks later, the researchers tested the rats' ability to recall the route and escape the maze. What they saw surprised them.

"The second group of rats navigated the maze much faster than the rats that did not receive omega-3 fatty acids," Gomez-Pinilla said. "The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity. Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats' ability to think clearly and recall the route they'd learned six weeks earlier."

The DHA-deprived rats also developed signs of resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates synaptic function in the brain. A closer look at the rats' brain tissue suggested that insulin had lost much of its power to influence the brain cells.

"Because insulin can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss," Gomez-Pinilla said.

He suspects that fructose is the culprit behind the DHA-deficient rats' brain dysfunction. Eating too much fructose could block insulin's ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar for the energy required for processing thoughts and emotions.

"Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain, where insulin appears to disturb memory and learning," he said. "Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new."

Gomez-Pinilla, a native of Chile and an exercise enthusiast who practices what he preaches, advises people to keep fructose intake to a minimum and swap sugary desserts for fresh berries and Greek yogurt, which he keeps within arm's reach in a small refrigerator in his office. An occasional bar of dark chocolate that hasn't been processed with a lot of extra sweetener is fine too, he said.

Still planning to throw caution to the wind and indulge in a hot-fudge sundae? Then also eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds, or take a daily DHA capsule. Gomez-Pinilla recommends one gram of DHA per day.

"Our findings suggest that consuming DHA regularly protects the brain against fructose's harmful effects," said Gomez-Pinilla. "It's like saving money in the bank. You want to build a reserve for your brain to tap when it requires extra fuel to fight off future diseases."

The UCLA study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Gomez-Pinilla's lab will next examine the role of diet in recovery from brain trauma.

Copyright © 1995-2011 ScienceDaily LLC  —  All rights reserved
    

The Health of Nations: Towards a New Political Economy

Why, despite vast resources being expended on health and health care, is there still so much ill health and premature death? Why do massive inequalities in health - both within and between countries - remain? In this devastating critique, internationally renowned health economist Gavin Mooney places the responsibility for these problems firmly at the door of neoliberalism

Zed Books | 25 April 2012

The Health of Nations: Towards a New Political Economy by Gavin Mooney

Paperback
ISBN: 9781780320595
224 pages

'The Health of Nations' analyses how power is exercised both in health-care systems and in society more generally. In doing so, it reveals how too many vested interests hinder efficient and equitable policies to promote healthy populations, while too little is done to address the social determinants of health. Instead, Mooney argues, health services and health policy more generally should be returned to the communities they serve.

Taking in a broad range of international case studies - from the UK to the US, South Africa to Cuba - this provocative book places issues of power and politics in health care systems centre stage, making a compelling case for the need to re-evaluate how we approach health care globally.

Reviews

'Inequality, whether of wealth or power, undermines our best efforts to provide effective support to communities in their quest for better health. Mooney challenges neoliberal assumptions and through elegant case studies demonstrates how we can improve what we do through real community involvement in making decisions about health according to the values that matter.'

Prof. Stephen Leeder, Director, The Menzies Centre for Health Policy, Director, Research Network, Western Sydney LHD, The University of Sydney

'In this most original and highly readable book, Gavin Mooney makes a compelling case that we can do far more to improve people's health in both developed and developing countries. He ably documents current shortcomings, concluding that most of the problems lie in 'neoliberal' policies - that is, those that sacrifice public decision-making to that of the marketplace, which in turn is controlled by corporate interests. Rather than just posing the problem, he comes up with thought-provoking solutions, showing, for example, that local citizenry are fully capable of coming up with sophisticated organizational and distributional policy aimed at improving the health of the community. This book aims high and achieves.' Thomas Rice, Distinguished Professor, UCLA School of Public Health

'This is a biting and insightful book on what is wrong with the political economy of the world today that so much goes wrong with our health systems. Sharply written and informative in the best Zed tradition!' Prof. Gita Sen, Centre for Public Policy, Indian Institute of Management

'This is Mooney at his 'no-holds-barred' best, laying bare the power relationships affecting health. Unless health economists start paying attention to the political economy of health, progress in solving the health challenges facing us will be painfully slow. This book is setting us on that path.' Prof. Di McIntyre, Health Economics Unit, University of Cape Town

Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Why has the economics of health care policy gone wrong?
    3. Why have broader policies affecting health been inadequate ?
    4. The malaise of neoliberalism in health, health care and health economics
    5. Neoliberalism, the global institutions and health
    6. The US: the fear of ‘socialised’ health care
    7. The UK NHS and the market
    8. South Africa, neoliberalism and HIV/AIDS
    9. Australia and victim blaming
    10. A local community versus a corporation
    11. The pharmaceutical industry
    12. Neoliberalism and global warming
    13. The solutions in theory: communitarian claims
    14. The solutions in health care
    15. The solutions on society more generally
    16. Kerala: community participation
    17. Cuba: health care and social determinants of
    18. Venezuela: power to the community
    19. Conclusion

About the Author

Gavin Mooney is based in Perth in Western Australia. He has worked as a health economist for 40 years and held academic positions in Scotland, Scandinavia, South Africa and Australia. In 2009 he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Cape Town as 'one of the founding fathers of health economics'. He has published widely with over 20 books to his name. Gavin has also acted as a consultant to WHO and to the OECD. Equity is a key research focus. In recent years he has become particularly interested in the impact of poverty and inequality on health and in turn of neo liberalism on power structures in society and in healthcare systems. Much of this is reflected in his Challenging Health Economics for OUP in 2009. He is also an advocate for using community values through citizens' juries in health care (see www.gavinmooney.com).

    

Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa

Chocolate - the very word conjures up a hint of the forbidden and a taste of the decadent. Yet the story behind the chocolate bar is rarely one of luxury...

Zed Books | 25 April 2012

Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa by Orla Ryan
20 January 2011- Paperback - ISBN: 9781848130050 - 192 pages

 

 

 

From the thousands of children who work on plantations to the smallholders who harvest the beans, Chocolate Nations reveals the hard economic realities of our favourite sweet. This vivid and gripping exploration of the reasons behind farmer poverty includes the human stories of the producers and traders at the heart of the West African industry. Orla Ryan shows that only a tiny fraction of the cash we pay for a chocolate bar actually makes it back to the farmers, and sheds light on what Fairtrade really means on the ground.

Provocative and eye-opening, Chocolate Nations exposes the true story of how the treat we love makes it on to our supermarket shelves.

Reviews

'Orla's Chocolate Nations is a captivating read, painting a lively picture of the West African cocoa trade from a variety of perspectives. It casts a critical eye over the role played by governments and multinationals, while also putting fair trade and child slavery campaigns in perspective. It gives us all a good deal more to think about when we eat 'the food of the gods'.' - Daniel Balint Kurti at Global Witness

'I gave up eating chocolate years ago after seeing at first hand the exploitation that surrounds its production in Africa. Since then, endless panaceas and fair trading schemes have failed to improve the lot of the farmers. It was about time a book like this was written.' - Stephen Chan OBE, author of The End of Certainty

'That Mmmmoment when our lips meet the meltilicious chocolate bar we've been waiting for all day ... well, it could be the last bite we take of it that tastes right after reading this exposé of the cocoa industry. 'Fair trade' is a great feelgood advertising line, but it is often a contradiction in terms. Not much profit trickles down from the shelves of our shops to the farmers and child labour (in reality, trafficked or slave labour, Ryan says) of Ghana and Ivory Coast whose poverty is covered up by weasel words from trade associations and financial interests glibly defending exploitation and profiteering.' - Iain Finlayson, Times

'Chocolate Nations is a fascinating account of the stuggles of cocoa producers in West Africa, almost all of them smallholders, and what it takes to turn a crop of cocoa into a warehouse full of Ferrero Rocher.' - Jeremy Harding, The Guardian

'Paints a disturbing and subtle picture of an industry few chocolate consumers think about.' - Sydney Morning Herald

'Arresting and provocative. The author’s interviews with labourers movingly illuminate the struggles that lie behind an icon of western indulgence.' - Financial Times

'Presents the tragic and shocking detail behind the world's favourite confectionery.' - New Agriculturist

'A courageous and thoughtful account of a murky industry.' - Times Literary Supplement

Table of Contents

Prologue

1. Ghana is Cocoa
On the shoulders of peasant farmers - Fight for independence - A lifeline under revolutionary rule - No simple success story

2. Cocoa Wars
A missing man - Miracle state - After Boigny - a crisis of identity - Battle for land - In the graveyard - Land and identity

3. Child Labour
The crusading Senator - Industry cynicism - Defining the problem - In search of riches - School and the farm - Heart of the industry

4. Follow the money
The man who couldn't keep a secret - The new president - An avenging journalist - A reporter in danger - Abduction - Business as usual

5. From bean to bar
Recipe for success - Millers and grinders - Pricing the bar - On the shelf

6. Fairtrade myths and reality
More to this than meets the eye - A global movement - Not the only fair buyer - A competitive marketplace - Airbrushing reality

7. Trading games
Privileged childhood - Fundamental rules - A concentrated market - Power games - Battle for control

8. Building a sustainable future
Cocoa under attack - Chocolate fears - Owning land and sharing cocoa - Need for science - On the ground training - Lure of the city

Epilogue

Notes

Index

About the Author

Orla Ryan works for the Financial Times in London. She lived in Africa for more than four years, first in Uganda, and then in Ghana, where she worked for Reuters.

    

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