Saturday, September 20, 2014

Fatal Journeys - Legal, Illegal - We Are All People

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News of up to 500 seaborne migrants being tossed to their doom near Malta — deliberately, according to eyewitness accounts — is merely the latest chapter in a horrible story unfolding on Europe’s doorstep.
Criminality, on top of desperation, has been this summer’s recipe for death — even murder, according to eyewitness accounts.
This also is a tale of impunity. As lawlessness spreads across lands already beset by civil war, disease and economic hardship, criminal organizations rush in to fill an authority vacuum left by weak governments. Libya may be the most prominent example of what happens next: criminals ply a vicious trade to prey upon vulnerable migrants.

Consider the grisly details emerging from Italy, Greece and Malta. Survivors interviewed this week by investigators of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) describe smugglers charging up to $4000 apiece to board an overcrowded, creaky boat leaving Egypt, and then forcing them to switch boats in mid-sea numerous times.

According to the survivors, up to 300 migrants — perhaps as many as 100 of them children under age 10 — were stuffed into one of these crafts’ lower decks, while 200 more crowded a top deck exposed to a brutal summer sun.
On the fifth day of the journey witnesses say smugglers shadowed their vessel from what has been described as a tugboat. They came alongside the migrants’ craft and demanded they switch yet again to a smaller, less sea-worthy vessel. After the skipper of the migrants’ craft, an Egyptian, balked he was threatened that his family would be killed unless he complied. Chaos soon ensued.
Migrants began jumping to the smugglers’ boat only to be forced into the water, witnesses told IOM’s investigators. Survivors say that was when the smugglers’ boat rammed their vessel.
“After they hit our boat they waited to be sure that it had sunk completely before leaving. They were laughing,” one survivor told IOM. A week later, only 11 survivors have been found.

The rest join a growing list. IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, an effort to count everyone killed annually during “irregular” journeys, calculates that already in 2014 over 2,200 migrants have died attempting to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. That’s three times 2013’s total.
In the coming weeks IOM now expects the death toll to pass 3,000 — with a quarter of the year remaining.

In international rhetoric, politicians typically show little sympathy for smuggled migrants — who they see as economic opportunists, even willing participants in their own fate. Of course by definition, migrant smuggling involves one person helping another to travel without authorization in return for payment.
Moreover, all countries have a right to control their borders. But the fact that someone has sought to evade migration controls shouldn’t put them outside the protection of law — especially if they’re being subjected to criminal coercion.

Today the overlap between smuggling and trafficking can’t be ignored. While we don't yet know exactly what happened to those migrants found dead off Italy and Malta, evidence indicates that their deaths involved deception, extortion and extreme violence.
For too long, the world has lived with the belief that smuggled migrants are a world apart — not entitled to sympathy, respect, or even the benefit of the laws. This must change.

Ambassador William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration.

full article here

Socialism: no nations, no borders, no visas, common ownership and free access.


Our "Green Manifesto"

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Many environmental activists claim to advocate a society based on cooperation and production for use, a sustainable society where production is in harmony with the environment and affairs are run in a decentralised and democratic manner. They argue that only in such a system can ecological problems such as pollution and global warming be solved. The ultimate aim is a participatory economy, based on smaller-scale enterprise, with a greatly-reduced dependence on the world market. What is being proposed is the abolition both of the world market, with the competition for resources and sales it engenders, and of existing centralised states, and their replacement by a worldwide network of smaller human communities providing for their own needs. This will involve a steady-state economy based on maximum conservation of materials and energy.

The Socialist Party place ourselves unambiguously in the camp of those who argue that capitalism and a sustainable relationship with the rest of nature are not compatible and unless those in the green movement embraces socialism, their vision is unachievable. Because people believe there is no alternative to capitalism, it keeps on existing. The environmentalist’s dream of a sustainable ‘zero growth’ within capitalism will always remain just that, a dream. If human society is to be able to organize its production in an ecologically acceptable way, then it must abolish the capitalist economic mechanism of capital accumulation and gear production instead to the direct satisfaction of needs.

Urgent Case For Revolution

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NOAA August 2014
NOAA
The previous all-time-hottest record for oceans was set in June of this year; now, just two months later, we have already busted that by a slight but definitive 0.05 degrees F. We know that the oceans have been quietly absorbing our extra heat and carbon emissions forever, but now we’re finally starting to feel it. And with the oceans heating up at unprecedented rates, we can expect everything else to get a whole lot hotter, too.
When we talk about global warming, we have a tendency to leave out a large part of the globe — specifically, the three-quarters of it that are covered with water. This makes sense — humans don’t live there, and we are very good at ignoring things that aren’t a part of our own experience — but it makes less sense when you consider the numbers: More that 90 percent of the earth’s total warming to date has been absorbed by the oceans.
global_warming_components
skepticalscience
We’re already feeling the effects of that 2.3 percent of warming in our atmosphere — now picture what’s happening to the ocean ecosystems we depend on. Then then there are the three billion of us who rely on the ocean as a primary source of protein.

taken from here

With no apology below is a paragraph from a very recent SOYMB post which captures the essence of why the world needs a socialist revolution without delay:

 When socialists protest, we also propose. Climate change changes everything: everything about how we organize society, how we conduct politics, and what we think of progress. Socialists know very well what we’re fighting for. We can collectively alter our way of life. We can replace the present capitalist system with a cooperative one. Our revolution can set everybody free.  We possess all the knowledge required to make all this possible. If we do not succeed, there may not be any future generations to follow. We are at a turning point and require to bring some urgency to the necessary creation of a new economy.


 




Friday, September 19, 2014

Against The Marketisation Of The University

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The crisis in higher education is the result of a privatized culture of management. This is a plea for turning universities back over to the sciences.

Over the last 1.5 years, the VU University Amsterdam has been embroiled in a battle against the severe budgetary cuts pursued by the university board. The university board — consisting of three members, one of whom is the former CEO of a port company and another the former CEO of a bank — has launched a reorganization program that includes budget cuts of €33 million. This reorganization will result in 500-600 lay-offs and the elimination of many small educational programs and courses — and it is already underway.
The opinion piece that follows was written by university employees and published by the Dutch daily, NRC Handelsblad, on April 8, 2013. Although the article draws on the situation at the VU Amsterdam, it takes a broader perspective that implicates higher education as a whole. The rising competition between academics and departments, the commercialization of education programs, and the cuts to public funding are recognizable across universities. A broader crisis in higher education is playing out at the VU, and our organized response to it can serve as a model for resistance.
The article was translated to English by Donya Alinejad and Dimitris Pavlopoulos.

The VU University Amsterdam is facing a crisis of governance. This crisis was covered in NRC Handelsblad when the newspaper published articles covering the 9-month-long conflict between the university board, the Works Council, the unions, the deans’ council and the employee platform, ‘Concerned for the VU’. Since then, Lex Bouter, the VU’s Rector Magnificus resigned from his post. As members of ‘Concerned for the VU,’ we would like to take this opportunity to publicly elucidate own position on the matter.
The problems that we have raised during this period are not specific to the VU. Nor are they simply the result of failed management or shoddy policy. Rather, this crisis exposes much broader, structural problems in higher education. Namely, academic research and education have been overrun by a comprehensive commercialization process, which is accompanied by a shift towards the model of a Manager’s University. As we wage our opposition to this development at the VU, we are aware of the presence of the same problems at universities across the Netherlands and Europe more generally.

The university’s commercialization process rests on three pillars. The first is the introduction of a new management model that was made official in 1998 with the Modernization of University Governance law. With this legislation, the independence of departments, faculty members and students was seriously undermined. Universities came under the control of a new generation of managers trained on the principles of New Public Management. The core philosophy was that running a university is essentially the same as running a commercial company. The consequence was that students are treated as clients, degrees as products, while researchers and lecturers are the personnel of the production line.

The second pillar is the creation of a ‘market’ for higher education, especially through a funding model that rewards universities according to the number of degrees that they grant. Universities are incentivized to attract as many students as possible and encourage them to graduate as quickly as possible. The role of public relations and marketing workers has become increasingly important as universities are stimulated to follow their ‘competitors’ while carefully sustaining their university’s positive image on the market. Our colleagues in other universities are suddenly seen as competitors.

The third and final pillar is both the least visible and the most reprehensible: the ‘financialization’ of universities and the adoption of the practices of financial markets. In a nutshell, this strategy means that universities must borrow increasing amounts, for instance, in order to finance the construction of new buildings. This has made banks increasingly important behind-the-scenes players in the task of upholding universities. Proponents of this approach expected the advantage of increased efficiency.

However, realistic evaluation reveals that these policies have had disastrous consequences. For the managers who see the university simply as another commercial entity it is not the quality of education that is of primary concern, but revenue and competitiveness. The result is the intensification of education in the pursuit of economies of scale (larger class sizes, fewer contact hours and the emergence of wide curricula with catchy names and little substance), but also lowered labor costs (hiring of young, less-experienced lecturers on temporary contracts). Moreover, universities have taken on the status of debtors, and must therefore ensure that their credit is good. Yet, as we have come to see, this is partly subject to the evaluation of their management. As a result, several small and specialized educational programs come to be evaluated as ‘loss-making’.

Moreover, a system of allocating funding according to student success rates produces distorted incentives as it creates a systematic pressure for all involved to give students a passing grade. In some cases, the no-cure-no-pay principle is being applied even to thesis supervision. If a student fails to submit the dissertation on time, the supervision hours are not remunerated. Fortunately, the large majority of academics have developed a professional ethic that leads them to continue ensuring the quality of student output. However, these systematic flaws are at odds with that ethnical drive.

In the workplace, managers and faculty have become increasingly alienated from one another. The most highly specialized group of employees in the country is treated as a dispensable labour force and faces more and more standardization, penalization and sometimes even straightforward surveillance. Coffee-breaks are reserved for the fittingly cynical condemnation of managers and their ludicrous newspeak, their clumsy involvement in the university’s core tasks of education and research and their superficial advertizing campaigns. Unfortunately, however, the resources, time and energy to do remedy this situation are often lacking.

The VU governance crisis – which we owe in part to our own passivity – can be seen as a potential source of positive publicity for the university. This crisis is a sign that employees here are rejecting a stance of cynical resignation and demanding the university be given back to faculty, the administrative personnel and the students. The market principles that were introduced 20 years ago within the semi-public sector have clearly failed to improve higher education. While the managers that have benefited most from this development seem to be in a deep state of denial, the university employees at the VU are no longer buying into their narrative. Our hope is that this crisis will not end with the empty ‘sacrifice’ of the Rector, but will instead become the beginning of a radical change in the way higher education is organized at the university.

What we need is a realistic alternative. This alternative will not come from the national government. Therefore, we call on all university employees across the country and the continent to think and act with us.

Jan Abbink, Donya Alinejad, Ellen Bal, Femke Brandt, Lenie Brouwer, Elise Dijkstra, Bertie Kaal, Elly Pauelsen, Dimitris Pavlopoulos, Mark Peters, Marina de Regt, Jeroen Rodenberg, Arjan de Rooy, Matthias van Rossum, Ida Sabelis, Josephien Sierag, Boris Slijper, Bert van der Spek, Houkje Vlietstra, Hans de Waardt, Pieter Wagenaar

The authors of this article are lecturers, researchers and administrative employees of the VU Amsterdam. They are all active in the platform ‘Concerned for the VU’.

from here

And here is a related post from November 2013 


How Self-Interest and Cooperation Fit Together - Human Nature

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“Make sure you play fairly,” often say parents to their kids. In fact, children do not need encouragement to be fair, it is a unique feature of human social life, which emerges in childhood. When given the opportunity to share sweets equally, young children tend to behave selfishly but, by about eight years of age, most prefer to distribute resources to avoid inequalities, at least among members of their own social group.
Biologists are surprised by this tendency to behave fairly. The theory of evolution by natural selection predicts that individuals should behave in ways to maximise their inclusive fitness. So behaviours are only selected, and hence evolve, if they ensure the survival and reproduction of the actor or kin whom contain copies of the actor’s genes. However, the behaviour displayed by children seems to be at a detriment to themselves, especially when those who benefit from their selfless behaviour are not the children’s kin.
A child’s sense of fairness, egalitarianism, or aversion to inequality can actually be hampered by instruction to “be fair” and rewarding of this behaviour. That is because what is the child’s intrinsic motivation, becomes a need to follow externally imposed rules. And, as we all know, following rules we believe in is far easier than following rules that are imposed upon us, despite attendant punishments for not doing so.

Humans are pro-actively prosocial. We are often motivated to help others without those others signalling their need, such as begging, or displaying signs of need, such as crying.
As cultural practices are not responsible for children developing their initial pro-social tendencies, it is thought that a sense of fairness must have been under strong positive selection during human evolution.

In a new review published in the journal Science, Sarah Brosnan of Georgia State University and Frans de Waal of Emory University explore this topic by trying to explain how our response to fairness, and unfairness, evolved. Their review is based on a large number of studies with non-human animals regarding their responses to receiving more or less (inequity), rather than the same (equity), reward as others for undertaking the same task.
Species of primates, dogs, birds and fish have been studied. The overall results indicate that responses to disadvantageous inequity, say, protesting when another receives more banana pieces than you for pulling the same rope, are strongest in species that co-operate with others outside of mating and kinship bonds. This includes capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees and the ancestors of dogs. In other words, animals, including humans, that cooperate with non-kin have evolved sensitivity to detrimental unfairness so that they can avoid being taken advantage of.

However, what is less common in the animal kingdom, is sensitivity to advantageous inequity, or protest when you receive more reward than another for the same task. Such inequity aversion, at a cost to oneself, has only been recorded in humans and chimpanzees.
Brosnan and de Waal propose that the motivation to seek equal rewards, despite disadvantaging oneself, is to prevent dissatisfaction of the co-operative partner and avoid any negative outcomes that may follow. The main negative outcomes are the likelihood of conflict and loss of future advantageous co-operation with the partner.
Also, one’s reputation is tainted, reducing the chances of forming future beneficial partnerships. When we humans “play fair” we are doing so, according to Brosnan and de Waal, not due to a motivation for “equality for its own sake but for the sake of continued cooperation”.
Humans have enlarged brains, which enhance our ability to understand the benefits of self-control in dividing resources. We also have language, which allows for enhanced reputation building. Because responsiveness to advantageous inequity is only seen in humans and chimpanzees, Brosnan and de Waal hypothesise that its evolution, since the split from other primates, was the starting point for the eventual development of the advanced sense of fairness displayed by humans.

The many heroic and selfless actions of individual humans, for example rescuing strangers in mortal danger and money or blood donation, are inspiring and admirable. Yet, however distasteful to contemplate, it is likely that these individuals gain in terms of their reputation and future cooperation from others, known as indirect reciprocity. If extreme prosociality is a “costly signal” indicating ones worth to future mates, it makes sense that highly visible individuals, such as celebrities, may feel the most pressure to act charitably.

from here

Change Everything - Time for Fresh Greens

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“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” Martin Luther King

Humans live in the realm of nature, they are constantly surrounded by it and interact with it. Man is constantly aware of the influence of nature in the form of the air breathed, the water drank, and  the food eaten. Human history offers any number of examples of how environmental conditions and the relief of our planet have promoted or retarded human development. Environmental calamities and catastrophes are now facts of life. Doom and gloom hangs over any speculation about the future of the world today like a prophetic apocalypse. All this conjures up a sense of deep pessimism and despair in many who see no alternative to the present system. We all confront the threat of environmental disaster on a scale we can scarcely imagine. Most people recognise the seriousness. Most too recognise the culpability of the big corporations and governments in creating the problems and failing effectively to tackle them. Most accept that we are heading towards a capitalist hell.

 In September, world leaders are coming to New York City for a UN summit on the climate crisis and on the 21st possibly the largest climate march in history may draw over a hundred thousand people. More than 1,000 organizations have pledged support including the World Wildlife Fund. No longer just an environmental issue, the demonstration has drawn support from labor unions such as the SEIU and CWA, schools and colleges, NGOs, social justice groups and public health bodies. The march is described as "an invitation to change everything." Yet those who are also sponsoring the march happen to be  BP, China Mobile, Dow Chemical Co., Duke Energy, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, fossil fuel corporations and their financiers! Global subsidies for renewable energy are around $88 billion, while they were $523 billion for fossil fuels. Real solutions require reality which unfortunately is lacking in the environmentalists understanding of how the world works. Corporations rule our world with an unyielding iron fist. Play by the corporation rules and we lose.

The root of the problem is an economic system that exploits people and the planet for profit. It is a system that requires constant growth and accumulation, exploitation and oppression, militarism, racism and nationalism, plus poverty and environmental degradation to function. Many environmentalists sadly suffer from the delusions that politicians can make reforms for the benefit of humanity and that capitalists have the capability to exert control over their system. The mistake of the environmental activists is the assumption that the problem is merely one of how world capitalism is managed, or rather mismanaged. Reformers hold a belief that there is a rational side to the capitalist system that can be influenced by reasoned arguments and won over but which leads to a fatal trust in the power of government and the corporations to act in the interests of the planet. Some campaigners expect that the ruling class to realise they are the billionaires on the Titanic and use their enormous wealth and power to change course. It is an illusion is to assume that corporations and rich countries will change their behaviour but the ruling class would sooner destroy life on Earth than surrender their position, power and privilege. People and the planet will continue to be treated by them as commodities. Capitalism can’t stop itself, it needs to be ended.

When socialists protest, we also propose. Climate change changes everything: everything about how we organize society, how we conduct politics, and what we think of progress. Socialists know very well what we’re fighting for. We can collectively alter our way of life. We can replace the present capitalist system with a cooperative one. Our revolution can set everybody free.  We possess all the knowledge required to make all this possible. If we do not succeed, there may not be any future generations to follow. We are at a turning point and require to bring some urgency to the necessary creation of a new economy.

In a re-assessment of the predictions of the 1970 Club of Rome report on the limits of growth  researchers Graham Turner and Cathy Alexander in regards to resource use, population growth, industrial output and other factors of the world’s economy and ecosystems found it to be basically accurate despite various errors. If the predictions are correct, what happens next? Turner and Alexander quote from the original report:
“ To feed the continued growth in industrial output there must be ever-increasing use of resources. But resources become more expensive to obtain as they are used up. As more and more capital goes towards resource extraction, industrial output per capita starts to fall – in the book, from about 2015. As pollution mounts and industrial input into agriculture falls, food production per capita falls. Health and education services are cut back, and that combines to bring about a rise in the death rate from about 2020. Global population begins to fall from about 2030, by about half a billion people per decade. Living conditions fall to levels similar to the early 1900s...If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.”
The researchers point to the world financial collapse of 2007-08 and the subsequent economic trouble as suggestions that the first stages of decline may have already begun. Turner and Alexander do not say worldwide economic, environmental and population collapse is a certainty. Nor do they claim the future will unfold exactly as the “Limits to Growth” predicted. A growing number of reputable and qualified writers are documenting the very outcomes predicted by the Club of Rome.

We know what we needed to do to avert collapse, but we don't do it. We know what we need to do to set things right, but we aren't doing it. The reason is because capitalists are in the saddle, and are riding mankind. Chris Hedges, the  political commentator, writes:
 “Capitalism, as Karl Marx pointed out, is not merely a system of economic exploitation. It justifies itself by hijacking the ruling political and economic ideologies—ideologies that buttress capitalism’s ceaseless expansion and commodification of the natural world and human beings. “The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships,” Marx wrote, “the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.” And this makes our struggle a battle for ideas as well as a battle for power...resistance will be effective only when we refuse to do what we are told, when we turn from a liberal agenda of reform to embrace a radical agenda of revolt.”

The Climate March commences at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 21, at Columbus Circle on the south end of Central Park, ending at 34th Street, 38th Street and 11th Avenue, near the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center via 59th Street, 6th Avenue, 42nd Street and 11th Avenue. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Referendum - Neither Yes nor No

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Our case against Scottish separatism is not an argument in favour of the other nationalism, British unionism. Workers should not have any illusions in a capitalist state of whatever nationality, and instead to fight for their own class interests. Scotland leaving the UK is not going to seriously dent the power of the UK. Workers in an independent Scotland will still get fucked over by their bosses and a Scottish state, in the same way workers are in the rest of the UK. It will be business as usual. The Yes vision of a sovereign Scotland is one that it is not independent and most definitely not socialist. We will still be living under the rules of capitalism so not much will change for the working class. The same old shit. Both Yes and No camps ultimately represent class interests other than our own, no matter how much left nationalists might argue otherwise. Socialists should not feel compelled to take a side just because its a issue many of the Scottish working class feel strongly about. It would just be doing it for the sake of it and would go against an important principle of internationalism, which we have for a reason.

If rule from Holyrood is better for workers in Scotland than rule from Westminister, why is that? If having the seat of political power within the same 'nation'/geographic proximity meant the government was 'more representative', then presumably we'd have seen riots in Penzance, Dover and Carlisle rather than a stone's throw from Westminister in Tottenham, Hackney or Deptford...The obvious answer to that is that states don't represent 'the nation' but the ruling class, and 'nations' don't exploit one another, classes do. Scottish workers do not require national independence but they do urgently need an independent working class movement to counteract the poison of nationalism.

What we want to do is use class unity as a powerful weapon for victory. Today, we got division among workers, instead of solidarity. Instead of workers everywhere uniting more closely in the fight against capitalism, workers have been weakened.

The only legitimate socialist position to the referendum is that of indifference. It disnae matter and we dinnae care because it winnae make a damn little bit difference to our lives. But, nevertheless, take this opportunity to say so by spoiling the referendum voting paper by writing ‘World Socialism’ across it.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Real Democracy

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Few people know what the word “democracy” means. If asked, they tend to say things like “being able to express your opinions”, “doing what you like”, etc.. Very few people are aware that the literal meaning of the word is ’rule by the people’. If people are asked whether they think that parliamentary democracy actually brings about rule by the people then most are sceptical. They have a healthy contempt for politicians because it is known through long experience that the measures they enact are not usually in the interests of the people. What is very clear is that whoever forms the government they serve the interests of the capitalist ruling class. It is the owners of the means of production who exercise real power. They have power to make the decisions that have a major impact on the lives of the rest of us. Yet most go on voting because they have a vague feeling that the civil liberties we do enjoy are somehow dependent on people voting in elections. Although most of us have serious doubts that it gives us any real power over our lives we go through with the ritual. Somehow it is easier to go along with the crowd than to stand out by abstaining or as we advise, spoiling the voting paper.

“Working Men of all Countries, Unite!” because it is the struggle of workers against the bosses which will propel mankind forward to the socialist society and which will liberate all peoples  from the reign of classes forever. This struggle of the working class takes place on a global scale to defeat the capitalists on a world-wide scale.  This principle simply means the solidarity of one worker with another, irrespective of nationality and support for the struggles of workers in other countries.

The Socialist Party wishes to make it clear that we consider the referendum not from the point of view of nationalism, but from the point of view of socialism and from the desire to find the best method of struggle for socialism.  We do not assert that the struggle for independence is more important than the struggle for socialism. A century or more of experience of reformist, national liberation  governments has amply demonstrated that this neither gives the  people power nor poses any threat to the rule of the capitalist class. On the contrary, the nationalism of  governments has helped perpetuate the rule of capital by taking off some of its sharpest edges and by holding out the false hope of bringing about more fundamental changes within the present capitalist system. Resistance to oppression and exploitation is a constant factor in every country who have acquired their independence. There are many left nationalists in Scotland , people who wish to see Scotland become a “socialist” country. But there is more to the achievement of socialism than that.

 Socialism is the answer to Scotland’s problems and that only through socialism will exploitation and  alienation be done away with. To say this may only be to state a truism, a truism that is equally valid in England, and in every country in the world.

Wage Theft - Employers Guilty

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Employers’ theft from Worker Wages 3 times more than all other Theft in US

As the economy slowly recovers, it’s become increasingly clear that it’s not just unemployed Americans who need help from the government. It’s those that are employed as well. That’s the main finding of a new report from the Economic Policy Institute on wage theft.

What is wage theft? It’s when employers refuse to pay their workers their rightful wages and benefits, such as refusing to pay overtime. It’s a major problem across the United States.

One study, which EPI cites, examined three cities (New York, Chicago and Los Angeles) and found that two-thirds of workers in low-wage industries had experienced a pay-related offense in any given week in 2008. Those violations cost workers more than $2,600 a year on average—nearly 15 percent of their total earnings.
 If wage theft is as prevalent in the rest of the United States as it is in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, then it costs workers more than $50 billion a year.”

from here



Socially Responsible Investments - Capitalism With A Conscience

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Capitalism with a conscience? That's the idea behind so-called "socially responsible" investments - buying stocks in companies that are screened for criteria like good labor practices, sustainability and whether or not the company is involved in arms manufacturing. The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, an industry association, claimed in its latest report from 2012 that at least $3.74 trillion in the United States is invested with environmental and social impacts in mind.
Some socially responsible investments (SRI) weed out cigarette companies like Philip Morris; others shun companies with poor environmental records, like BP. But whichever investments you choose, there's a good chance you'll be profiting off companies with bad human rights records because the backbone of many SRI funds are consumer technology stocks - companies like Apple and Samsung, which have histories replete with labor and privacy abuses.


China Labor Watch (CLW) is one of the groups that investigates ongoing labor problems; Kevin Slaten is its US-based program coordinator. He spoke to Truthout about the reports his organization has conducted on Apple, which started to be heavily scrutinized around 2010 when activists brought attention to child labor in some of the factories used by the computer giant. Some of these same factories were the subjects of protests over a number of Chinese labor law violations and mass worker suicides.
According to Slaten, "We constantly find these symptoms, but the disease underlying these symptoms has not been properly taken care of for years. The disease is these companies want the most amount of products in the shortest amount of time."

(* At this point the article continues with examples and details of various companies and ways in which they are perceived not to be socially responsible.)
And to conclude:
 
SRI companies have some catching up to do. As it stands, "socially responsible" funds are saturated with the shares of tech companies like Hewlett-Packard and Apple that make huge profits off of selling surveillance equipment, and off the backs of low-paid laborers who are worked to death, literally.

To actually be "socially responsible," SRI funds would need to utterly change their methods and goals. "We really do believe in the power that responsible investment has to improve companies," said Bennett Freeman, senior vice president for sustainability research and policy at Calvert, an all-SRI investment company that manages over $13.5 billion in assets for half a million US account holders.

"At the end of the day," said Calvert's Freeman, "we're in the asset management business. We're in the business of making solid returns for our account holders."

Profits trump everything else.

from here

 "We constantly find these symptoms, but the disease underlying these symptoms has not been properly taken care of for years. The disease is these companies want the most amount of products in the shortest amount of time."
SOYMB cannot agree with this statement. We believe the diagnosis to be wrong.
Capitalism and its profit motive would be a more accurate, if brief, diagnosis of the disease.
JS




The Gender Gap - Women Are Workers Too!

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For the second time this year, Senate Republican have blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act from moving forward.
In a procedural vote on Monday, the Act, which would help women achieve protections from gender-based wage discrimination, failed to earn the 60 votes needed.
Joining all the Republicans in issuing a "no" vote was Senator Angus King (I-Maine), who also helped block the measure in April.

Though enough Republicans voted last week to allow the measure to proceed to debate, Steve Benen writes at the MaddowBlog that it was "not because they supported it, but because they were trying to waste time, eating up the clock on the Senate’s limited pre-election schedule. If the GOP had killed the measure quickly, it would have meant moving on to something else Republicans don’t like, so they dragged out the fight on the Paycheck Fairness Act, simply because they could."

"The Senate’s continued failure to give the Paycheck Fairness Act an up or down vote lets down millions of American workers," stated Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU senior legislative counsel and co-chair of the National Paycheck Fairness Act Coalition.
"Pay equity is not a partisan issue, and paying women what they have already rightfully earned is good for them, for the nation’s economy, and for American businesses’ bottom lines," she said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized the outcome as well, saying, "In 2014, more than 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, it is simply unacceptable that American women take home on average 77 cents for every dollar their male colleagues earn for doing the same work. But Republicans do not see this as a problem."
“Not only is the wage gap in our country unfair, but it also hurts our economy. Pay inequality will cost the average working woman $464,320 over her lifetime," Reid stated.

from here

Same the whole world over? - It's the system, of course. Women have been trying and waiting for equal pay for decades and at this rate it could take a hundred years or more. Why wait any longer? Go for the real answer - join with the workers of the world whatever their gender or ethnicity and fight for the abolition of the wages system in favour of a world of common ownership, our ownership.
 JS
 

Independence is the status quo

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Judge by the friends they keep
Are nationalist movements revolutionary in and of themselves? The question we must ask ourselves is, do national movements strengthen or weaken capitalism. Since 1945 the number of nations has soared from about 60 to more than 180. The first wave of new sovereign states came with the decolonisation movement of the 1960s and 1970s; the second in the early 1990s with the break-up of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. If Scotland votes for independence it may spark a third wave.  Dozens of would-be nations are waiting in the wings. There is no “Great British.” What we find are the various English regions, Scots, Irish, Cornish, and Welsh. In Italy, we find the Lombards, Tyroleans, Venetians, Sicilians, or Romans. In Germany we find Bavarians, Saxons, Hessians, Prussians, Rhinelanders, or Brandenburgers. And in France, we find Normans, Catalans, Alsatians, Basques, or Burgundians. Similarly with Spain and many other “nations”.

Marxists must stand firmly for world socialism. The problems of the Scottish workers arise not from being linked to England and Wales, as the nationalists argue, but because of the repeated crises of capitalism which burden workers and their families north and south of the border. The oppression and exploitation of working people is a product of capitalist society and can only be removed by the socialist transformation of society. This requires the unity of all workers, irrespective of nationality, colour or gender.

 The Scottish nationalists may have jettisoned their "Tartan Tory" image but they are by no means a socialist party and the fact that they have certain ‘radical' policies compared to the Labour Party is neither here nor there. The SNP aim is not the overthrow of capitalism, but of working within the confines of capitalism and blame all the workers’ problems upon control from London.

 Capitalism created the world market and to which all national states, no matter how big and powerful, are subordinate. These are the times of multinationals and the global economy. If Scotland does become sovereign it will quickly discover that that sovereignty has been severely restricted by those increasingly dominant global corporations. Nations may be getting smaller, but corporations are getting larger. Of the 100 largest economies in the world, more than half are global corporations. The top 200 corporations' combined sales represent over one quarter of the world’s GDP. The power of corporations is usually sufficient to cow small countries and corporations have bribed or intimidated governments to put into practice rules that severely circumscribe their authority to express the will of their people. Today corporations can buy a PO Box number in the Cayman Islands to avoid tax in Scotland. Trade agreements grant extraordinary rights and privileges to foreign corporations and investors that formally give corporate rights precedence over the right of governments to govern their own affairs. If there is a dispute, foreign corporations can skirt domestic courts and directly challenge any policy or action of a sovereign government in often secret proceedings presided over not by judges, but by arbitrators, often corporate lawyers themselves.  Dozens of corporate challenges are currently winding their way through these “courts”. US tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing Uruguay and Australia over their anti-smoking laws. US company Lone Pine Resources Inc. is demanding $250 million in compensation from Canada because of lost potential profits from Quebec’s moratorium on “fracking”. The Swedish energy giant Vatterfall has sued Germany for its decision to phase out nuclear power, demanding billions in compensation.

Nationalism is a powerful and poisonous force.  Socialists should make no attempt to accommodate any form of nationalism which threatens the unity of the working class.  Nationalism, no matter how it is dressed up up with pseudo-socialist phrases does not represent a way forward for the working people. Class unity should be our starting point in the struggle for socialism. Only by class solidarity, can we hope to combat the poison of nationalism. Workers' unity must be in the fore-front not  an afterthought. It is the task of socialists to sweep away  national boundaries, not erect new ones.

We are endeavouring to show working people the plain facts of the position, regardless of whether these facts are palatable or not. People’s views are, in the main, the product of their particular social environment—they see the world from the point of view of the class into which they are born and with which their interests are bound up. Consequently small local enterprises (aspiring to be another giant conglomerate) struggle to break the bonds that interfere with the expansion of their business. They demand liberty yet the freedom they desire is commercial freedom—to exploit nature and the worker to the fullest extent possible. The mainspring of the nationalist movement is the desire for power and expansion on the part of some Scottish capitalists. We, who are workers, however, should concern ourselves with the bonds that bind us to the cogs of capital—that doom us forever to the toil and sweat of slavery.  The continuance of the private property system is the central idea in the nationalist movement, and so long as private property remains the miseries that necessarily flow therefrom will remain also and continue to afflict the workers under an independent Scotland. So long as private property is the order of the day it matters little to the propertyless Scottish worker who rules Scotland. It works out the same — we, the workers, are always the bottom dogs. Members of the Socialist Party have long since turned a deaf ear to the empty phrases of nationalism and patriotism, and look forward with hope to world socialism. This object, we claim, is far more worthy of the attention and support of Scottish workers than the chimeras of the SNP and their left nationalist allies. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

IRAQ! (part2)- poem

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IRAQ! (Part 2 of 2)

The West’s invasion of Iraq,
In every way gung-ho;
Was both a means of saving face,
And also just another case,
Of braggadocio.

The Sainted Blair and Burning Bush,
Invoked the leave of God;
And both ensured their deity,
(With some help from the laity)
In no way spared the rod.

Saddam their one-time minion,
Had ceased to be of use;
And for his rebuff had to pay,
And so for his removal, they
Both needed no excuse.

The ‘mission was accomplished’ but,
As to what next to do;
The Burning Bush and Sainted Blair,
(Who thought they didn’t have a care)
Both didn’t have a clue.

Iraq fell into anarchy,
The casualties increased;
As almost every day went by
With people being blown sky-high,
Increasing the deceased.

Now Blair and Bush both can’t admit,
The error of their ways;
Both claiming God will judge their acts,    
According to the truth and facts,            
At this world’s ‘End of Days’.

The West’s invasion of Iraq,      
Was thought to be a breeze;
But this was somewhat premature,
As both the treatment and the cure,
Were worse than the disease.

© Richard Layton



BP's All-Round Negligence Includes Treatment Of Retirees

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 BP's code of conduct as it is outlined on the company website states,

 "We say what is true" and "We do what is right."

In early September US District Judge Carl Barbier found BP guilty of gross negligence, or "more reckless and extreme behavior" for their 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, which was the single largest marine oil spill in US history.
Barbier, who is based in New Orleans, wrote that the oil giant had taken measures to cut costs despite obvious safety risks, and mentioned that some of BP's decisions "evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risks."

BP now faces a penalty of as much as $4,300 for each barrel of oil spilled, exposing the oil company to an additional $18 billion in fines. That is nearly quadruple the maximum civil fine had the finding been simple negligence.
Barbier's decision prompted the UK government to tell US Supreme Court judges that decisions to authorize payments to people who were not injured by the spill raises "grave international comity concerns by undermining confidence in the vigorous and fair resolution of disputes."

Given the number of UK citizens, government employees or otherwise, who have a massive financial stake in BP's financial well-being, the UK government's interest in the outcome of BP's US court case is obvious.
In a court brief dated September 4, the UK government said, "The lower courts' rulings have dramatically expanded" BP's "scope of liability far beyond anything that would seem to be appropriate under our shared common-law traditions or that anyone would reasonably expect."

Yet several long-term senior BP "SOHIO" employees who are incensed at what they believe is BP's attempt to short-change them on their pensions are enraged by the company's willingness to engage the UK government's assistance in avoiding fines in the United States, whilst ignoring the pleas of US-based senior employees for the company to honor their pension plans.
For more than half a year, at least 450 BP America employees have described BP as a company that is reneging on their pension plans by up to 75 percent, lying about it, and actively working against them in order not to pay them retirement benefits that were promised.

Russel Stauffer worked for BP in Houston for 32 years, but left in 2012 in "disgust."
"I quit the company as 'head of finance for the Gulf of Mexico,' I had a sweet job, but I could no longer stand the injustice and lies at work."
Fritz Guenther, a BP employee and United Steelworkers Union member working in Alaska, who has worked for BP for 35 years, said he and his colleagues are "currently fighting to get back the pension plans that BP promised us in writing in 1989."

But now the UK government's decision has him "severely pissed off."
"Where was the UK government in 1989 when BP stole, yes stole, over half of its American workers pensions," Guenther told Truthout. "Yeah, it's all well and good to screw your American workers but when the shoe is on the other foot the UK government feels the need to step in? Hey UK government, where were you when your beloved BP was putting the boots to its American workers?"

Guenther said he and his colleagues are "currently fighting back to get the pension plans that BP promised us in writing in 1989."
Guenther, Stauffer and other previous and current BP employees are frustrated because they all belonged to Standard Oil of Ohio (SOHIO), a company BP bought outright in 1987 and made the cornerstone of its new national operation, BP America. At the time, BP promised these new employees in writing that their pension plan would maintain equal value to the old plan, or would even increase in value.
According to Guenther and several other current and former long-standing BP employees, in 1989 BP converted its US-based workers to a "new and improved" retirement plan.
"But four years ago we realized that over half of our pensions were missing," Guenther said. "When we brought this to BP's attention they quit talking to their own long-term employees."

According to these BP employees to date over 450 BP America US employees have filed "code of conduct and ethics complaints" with the BP Ombudsman Judge Stan Sporkin.
Following a two year investigation, in which, according to the employees, BP repeatedly lied to the judge and even hired two of the ombudsman's investigators to stop the investigation, Sporkin concluded that what BP did to their pensions was, according to Guenther, "wrong on every level and BP 'needs to take bold action' to correct this for some of their longest serving, most loyal employees."

Regarding BP's consistent claims that the company has done everything possible to compensate those impacted by its disaster in the Gulf, coupled with the company enlisting the UK government to come to its aid regarding the recent court ruling against it, Guenther had strong words.
"I am so damn sick and tired of hearing about poor, poor BP everyone is after them," he said. "How about you guys in the media do a report on how BP stole its US workers' pensions and has continued to ignore them?"

Article by Dahr Jamail from here with more information from BP workers, both current and retired.

How easy these mega-corporations find it to set one section of workers against another while they, the company, wiggle and squirm their way around what affects them negatively. And, not surprisingly, one government can turn a blind eye to another's workers' grievances. This is capitalism. Only profits matter. The only way to overcome such inequity is to see the system for what it is from its roots to its branches and be prepared to work together across the world to overturn the system in its entirety.
JS


Millions Subject To Wage Seizure For Consumer Debt

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Back in 2009, Kevin Evans was one of millions of Americans blindsided by the recession. His 25-year career selling office furniture collapsed. He shed the nice home he could no longer afford, but not a $7,000 credit card debt.

After years of spotty employment, Evans, 58, thought he'd finally recovered last year when he found a better-paying, full-time customer service job in Springfield, Mo. But early this year, he opened his paycheck and found a quarter of it missing. His credit card lender, Capital One, had garnished his wages. Twice a month, whether he could afford it or not, 25 percent of his pay — the legal limit — would go to his debt, which had ballooned with interest and fees to over $15,000.

The recession and its aftermath have fueled an explosion of cases like Evans'. Creditors and collectors have pursued struggling cardholders and other debtors in court, securing judgments that allow them to seize a chunk of even meager earnings. The financial blow can be devastating — more than half of U.S. states allow creditors to take a quarter of after-tax wages.

At the request of ProPublica, ADP, the nation's largest payroll services provider, undertook a study of 2013 payroll records for 13 million employees. ADP's report, released today, shows that more than one in 10 employees in the prime working ages of 35 to 44 had their wages garnished in 2013.
Roughly half of these debtors, unsurprisingly, owed child support. But a sizeable number had their earnings docked for consumer debts, such as credit cards, medical bills and student loans.
Extended to the entire population of U.S. employees, ADP's findings indicate that 4 million workers — about 3 percent of all employees — had wages taken for a consumer debt in 2013.

 ADP's study, the first large-scale look at how many employees are having their wages garnished and why, reveals what has been a hidden burden for working-class families. Wage seizures were most common among middle-aged, blue-collar workers and lower-income employees. Nearly 5 percent of those earning between $25,000 and $40,000 per year had a portion of their wages diverted to pay down consumer debts in 2013, ADP found.

 Even if a Debt is Years Old, a Debtor Can Be Hit With a Garnishment
When a creditor or debt collector files a lawsuit and wins a court judgment against a debtor, their power to garnish the debtor's wages or bank account lasts as long as the debt is outstanding — even a decade later. This chart shows the age of the original lawsuit for garnishments filed in Missouri in 2013.


 




more here




UK's Inequality

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To be in the top 1% of earners in Britain today, a couple with no children would need a minimum income of £160,000. A single person can enter the 1% with a little less, while a couple with children would need more. If the national minimum wage had kept pace with FTSE 100 CEO salaries since 1999, it would now be £18.89 per hour instead of £6.50.

Per head, there are more so-called ultra-high net-worth individuals (UHNWI) in London than anywhere else on the planet. These are defined as people with $30m (£21m) or more in assets apart from their main home. The estate agents Frank Knight recently reported that 4,224 “Ultra” families were living in London, with the number expected to reach 5,000 by 2024.

 A study from Princeton University in which MRI scans were taken of several university students’ active brains while they viewed images of different people. Researchers saw that photographs of homeless people and drug addicts failed to stimulate areas of the brain that usually activate whenever people think about other people, or themselves. Instead, the more affluent students reacted to the images as if they “had stumbled on a pile of trash”. Social psychologists from Berkeley and Amsterdam have studied strangers in situations where one told the other of a difficult personal experience, such as a death in the family. The larger the social gap, the less compassion was shown. Such behaviour, and the acceptance of it as normal, becomes much more prevalent in those places where the 1% have taken the most.

The UK coalition government has already reduced the top rate of tax to 45%. Now it plans tougher benefit cuts for the poor. Under current financial plans, it will reward the top 1% even more in future, by cutting income taxes further. The rest of the top 20% can expect slight increases in their net income in the years up to 2016, while everyone else is impoverished. These figures are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s own projections. The tax, benefit and spending changes now underway will hit households with children hardest. These make up a third of households, according to the children’s commissioner for England, but will suffer around two thirds of the cuts. On average, couples with no children will lose 4%, couples with children 9%, and lone parents 14% of their net income. Yet the 1% with children face no net cuts. Their loss of child benefit is more than outweighed by what they gain from tax cuts.

In spring this year, Oxfam revealed that some 85 of the world’s richest people now had as much wealth as the poorest half of all humanity. A few weeks later, Forbes magazine updated that estimate  to just 66 people.

Full article can be read here

Parking For The Privileged

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Developers in Manhattan have just placed ten underground parking spaces at a new condo complex up for sale.

At $1 million each.

The spaces may well sell out. Just this past May, another Manhattan developer listed 25 parking spaces for sale at $500,000. The 25 spots all quickly found buyers. That didn’t surprise the developer. The adjacent apartments, the developer explained to the New York Times, were selling for $47 million.

“Another $500,000 for the luxury of not walking a block or two and having your own spot,” the developer observed, “I guess it becomes a rounding error.

Wealth concentration so extreme that some people of 'privilege' are spending over four times more for a parking space than most Americans spend on a home.

taken from here


Is this land our land?

3 comments
“Your land, eh?”, asks the miner.
“Yes”, replies the laird, “and my grouse and my deer.”
“And who did you get this land from?”
“Well, I inherited it from my father.”
“And who did he get it from?” the miner insists.
“He inherited it from his father, of course. And he from his father. The land has been in my family for over 400 years,” the laird proudly declared .
“OK, so how did your family come to own this land 400 years ago?” the miner asks.
“Well....actually.... they fought for it!”
“Fine,” replies the miner. “Take your jacket off and I’ll fight you now for it.

Scotland 19,068,631 acres - 100%
Urban 585,627 acres - 3%
Rural 18,483,004 acres - 97%

Of the rural land, 2, 275,768 acres are in the ownership of public bodies
and 16,207,236 are in the ownership of private bodies.
Of this privately-owned rural land:
One quarter is owned by 66 landowners in estates of 30,700 acres and larger
One third is owned by 120 landowners in estates of 21,000 acres and larger
One half is owned by 343 landowners in estates of 7,500 acres and larger
Two thirds is owned by 1252 landowners in estates of 1 ,200 acres and larger

Two thirds of Scotland is owned by one four thousandth (0.025%) of the people!

Top 20 aristocratic landowners in Scotland 1995
Owner Acres
Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry 261600
Capt AAC Farquharson of Invercauld 120500
Earl of Seafield 101000
Duke of Westminster 95100
Crown Estate Commissioners 94015
Countess of Sutherland 83239
Viscount Cowdray 76600
Sir Donald Cameron of Locheil 76000
Duke of Roxburghe 65600
Baroness Willoughby de Eresby 63200
Duke of Argyll 60800
John A Mackenzie of Gairloch 56900
Earl of Cawdor 56800
The Queen 55270
Marquess of Bute 53990
Sir Ivar Colquhoun of Luss 50000
Lord Burton 48000
Earl of Dalhousie 47200
Lady Anne Bentinck 45000
Earl of Stair 43674
Total 1,554,488

8.01% of Scotland - owned by the top 20 aristocratic estates
Total Acreage above 5000 acres owned by aristocracy 2,554,399. As a % of Scotland's total land mass, 13.16%

Monday, September 15, 2014

Deciding a nation

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 Bangladesh announced that it will send back 2,415 Muslim Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. A similar attempt in 2011 failed. The Rohingyas have long faced persecution and discrimination, including being stateless in the eyes of Burmese law. Myanmar's government claims that historically they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and labels them 'Bengalis', vehemently denying the existence of any people called 'Rohingya'. Myanmar Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs U Thant Kyaw explained in a statement that Myanmar was prepared to receive the 2,415 Burmese citizens after the joint committee was formed, but asserted: "We have never had ethnic nationals called 'Rohingya', according to official list of indigenous ethnic groups of Myanmar as well as our historical records."  The 800,000-strong population of Muslims in western Myanmar now faces increasing efforts to eradicate the very word they use to identify themselves as a group. Under pressure from Myanmar’s nominally-civilian government, the international community sometimes appears complicit in the airbrushing of “Rohingya” from official discourse yet a 1799 study lists an identity called “Rooinga” in what is now Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh greeted the announcement with mixed emotions. Life as a refugee in Bangladesh is difficult; but the humanitarian situation in Rakhine State, which Rohingyas call home, has worsened in recent months as some aid agencies have withdrawn following attacks on facilities in March over perceived pro-Rohingya bias. Aid workers fled Rakhine State after being targeted by Buddhist mobs who threw rocks at homes and offices in Sittwe (Rakhine's capital.) For years, Rohingyas have had their rights - from movement to reproduction to citizenship - restricted by what a human rights organization called deliberate state-designed "policies of persecution." An international observer report called the census process in Rohingya areas “a complete failure”, explaining that Rohingyas “very much wanted to participate in the census but were prevented from doing so by the census field staff and the Department of Population officials.” Anyone who asked to be recorded as “Rohingya” went uncounted.

Mohammad Islam, a Rohingya refugee who lives at the Noyapara Rohingya Camp in Cox's Bazar, told IRIN:
"Our biggest concern is if we will be safe back in Burma? We don't have any rights in Burma. We don't have any dignity as human beings there. We are not entitled to our identity. Our properties and religious institutions are damaged. How we can be assured that we would be safe out there?"

 Mohammad Zubair,  another Rohingya refugee at Noyapara Camp, explained:
"Now under these circumstances, if we go back, who will ensure that we will be safe there?

Aid Is Not The Solution

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In 1970, the world’s rich countries agreed to give 0.7% of their gross national income as official international development aid, annually.
Since that time, billions have certainly been given each year, but rarely have the rich nations actually met their promised target.
For example, the US is often the largest donor in dollar terms, but ranks amongst the lowest in terms of meeting the stated 0.7% target.


Net ODA in dollars and percent of GNI







































  Furthermore, aid has often come with a price of its own for the developing nations. Common criticisms, for many years, of foreign aid, have included the following:
  • Aid is often wasted on conditions that the recipient must use overpriced goods and services from donor countries
  • Most aid does not actually go to the poorest who would need it the most
  • Aid amounts are dwarfed by rich country protectionism that denies market access for poor country products while rich nations use aid as a lever to open poor country markets to their products
  • Large projects or massive grand strategies often fail to help the vulnerable; money can often be embezzled away.

from here

Aid is commonly claimed to be helping poorer countries in different ways to 'develop' whilst generally helping to line pockets of companies, contractors and pay aid workers from donating countries. Much of the aid finds its way back to the host countries. If aid is honestly intended to assist these countries then a socialist system would be the far better way to proceed, putting resources and production directly into the hands of the people, that is common ownership and democratic control in the interest of the whole community.
JS

 


What Training?

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The Welsh government claims to be "delivering one of the most successful apprenticeship programmes in Europe" yet budget cuts to the apprenticeship programme coincide with a national media campaign by the Welsh government promoting apprenticeships.

The National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW) which represents more than 100 firms and outlets providing work-based learning in Wales said almost 9,000 fewer work schemes will be available for young people by next April.  The ministers cut the budget by £7m and now the organisation said it fears "even worse news is on the way" after being told ministers are planning a further £20m cut in apprenticeship programmes in March.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-29199724

Profit In 'The War Against ISIS'

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Obama pledged that the war against ISIS won’t be fought with U.S. ground troops. He didn’t say anything about contractors, who see this as “the next big meal ticket.” 
 
America’s rapidly-expanding war against ISIS won’t involve large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground, President Obama is promising. And it’s clear that airstrikes alone won’t beat back the extremist group. Which means that if the President wants to have any hope of meeting his far-reaching goal of destroying ISIS, he’s going to have to rely on private military contractors.
At least, that’s what the contractors are hoping.

At the height of the Iraq war, these firms hired hundreds of thousands of people: guns-for-hire, IT geeks, logistics specialists, interrogators, and short order cooks to ladle out the slop at the military cafeteria. Over time, some of those contractors became the symbol for everything that was wrong with the Iraq war: hugely expensive, ineffective, and indifferent to Iraqi life. Contractors were at the middle of the war’s biggest scandals, from Abu Ghraib to Nissour Square. And it was the abductions and murder of Blackwater contractors that sparked one of Iraq's biggest battles.

None of the five current and former contractors who spoke with The Daily Beast expected a replay of last decade’s Iraq war. But they all said a major opportunity was coming—both for them, and for Obama, who could use the private armies as a way to conceal just how many people will be fighting in this new conflict.
“Iraq this time around is not going to be as big as it was before,” said Roger Carstens, a former special operations officer who has served as a contracted military adviser in Somalia and Afghanistan. “That said, this new war will present an opportunity for the companies that have a resident train and advising capability to contribute to this new effort.”

President Obama has asked Congress to authorize $500 million to train a new Syrian opposition out of Saudi Arabia. That money would be part of a $5 billion fund Obama requested this spring from Congress to help train and equip U.S. allies to fight terrorists.

In 2008 there were 242,558 contractors working in the countries for U.S. Central Command, the area that includes Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen, three countries where the United States has helped train local forces and conducted air strikes, according to the Pentagon’s official estimate.
That was during the height of the last round of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By this July, that number had shrunk to 66,123, according to the Pentagon’s latest estimate of military contractors working in the countries covered by Central Command, with only 14,634 contractors operating outside of Afghanistan.
But that’s only a fraction of America’s privatized security apparatus operating overseas. The State Department also offers billions of dollars to conduct security for diplomats and other officials.  In 2011, the State Department awarded Triple Canopy a four year deal worth up to $1.5 billion to provide security for the airport in Baghdad, U.S. diplomats and other Americans in the country. A State Department audit of the contract (PDF) found that at a minimum the State Department overpaid for those services by millions.


One reason why the new war on ISIS won’t be like the old one against al Qaeda is because for now Obama has promised not to send ground forces to Iraq or Syria. The presence of U.S. forces overseas presents a number of opportunities for military contractors in providing everything from the dining facilities to the logistical transport for U.S. soldiers at war.


Iraq recently promised immunity for U.S. troops—and it’s likely Baghdad will do the same for contractors too. After all, Iraq’s government has also formally requested U.S. assistance in fighting ISIS and that help was clearly going to include military contractors.
They are looking for the next big meal ticket and this could be it,” said Sean McFate, a former military contractor for Dyncorp. “The things they will provide are logistical support, training or retraining security forces.”
McFate said contractors gave Obama the opportunity to accomplish tasks normally associated with the U.S. military without sending boots on the ground. He said the training missions in particular “would look like Iraqi military boots on the ground and not the U.S. military.” But he said, “It’s a political disguise. This is an industry that is a proxy, it is creating the environment of security and protection without too many U.S. soldiers on the ground.”

full article here 

 

The Socialist Standard and Red Clyde

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The First World War saw Clydeside gain its Red reputation, and the Socialist Standard at the time supported them but cautioned that their militant actions were not sufficent. It should be noted that "patriotic" printers refused to re-produce a Socialist Standard article about Lloyd George and the Clyde.

The Socialist Standard challenged the engineer union workers' faith in their leaders writing it was those:
"... trusted and prominent men, both parliamentarians and trade union officials, [who] were associated with every piece of legislation that fettered the workers more... too slowly, the workers are finding out their true friends and true principles, their cunning enemies and their delusive ways...Instead of abandoning the political machine to ambitious wiseacres and unscrupulous plotters, and letting them, in the secrecy of Cabinet conclaves, everlastingly scheme to set the social changes on you, see to it that those who are now proven the enemies of your class are no longer sent to represent you. Fill their places with class-conscious men of your own ranks, controlled and guaranteed by the political organisation of your own class." The biggest danger that confronted them, in the opinion of the Socialist Standard, – the biggest mistake they could make – "...is to place power in the hands of “leaders” under any pretext whatever. It is at once putting those “leaders” in a position to bargain with the master class for the purpose of selling out the workers. It allows the master class to retain control of the political machinery which is the essential instrument for governing Society. All the other blunders and mistakes the workers may make will be as dust in the balance compared with this one, and not until they realise this fact will they be on the road to socialism."

At first, outbreaks of industrial unrest were only spasmodic they were easily over-ridden by the ruling class. The Clyde trouble of Christmas 1915 is perhaps the best specimen of these sectional and local revolts. The principle of the men was strong, but they were driven down by lies, hunger, victimisation, deportation of their leaders, and, what is more important still, because the strike was local. The Socialist Standard advised the strikers to escalate and spread the strikes:
 "It is the mass of engineers only, and not a locality of engineers, who can successfully fight. Ten thousand engineers on strike in a town may gain something in a month for that town's men—or they may not; fifty thousand spread over one industrial area may force amendments to an objectionable Bill from a reluctant Cabinet, while one hundred and fifty thousand men who leave their engines, with all their force concentrated on one particular principle, striking at a vitally important time, stand a good chance of getting what they ask for."

Conscription by the military authorities, usually referred to under the misleading but catchy title of the “Man Power Bill.” One reason why the ASE. officials were not so ready to follow their old methods of persuading their members to accept the changes without trouble or friction is the growth of the “Shop Stewards Movement" up and down the country. This movement has helped to undermine the influence of the “official” cliques in the trade unions, as shown by the numerous “unauthorised” strikes, and with the loss of this influence over the rank and file the officials realised that their chance of bargaining for jobs with the master class would be gone.

An anti-war movement was spreading and strikes were not only in progress, but many more were threatened.

Resolutions in the following terms:
“That the British Government should enter into immediate negotiations with the other belligerent Powers for an armistice on all fronts, with a view to a general peace on the basis of self-determination of all nations and no annexations and no indemnities. Should such action demonstrate that German Imperialism was the only obstacle to peace they would co-operate in the prosecution of the war until the objects mentioned in the first part of the resolution were achieved. Failing this they would continue their opposition to the man-power proposals” had been passed in various meetings. The Socialist Standard was critical of the wording. "Does their claim for “self-determination” apply to Ireland, India and Egypt? If so, do they really imagine the British capitalist Government will agree to such application? Certainly they must be simple if they believe a threat to strike would bring such a result."

A resolution moved at Glasgow struck a firmer note in the following terms:
“That having heard the case of the Government, as stated by Sir Auckland Geddes, this meeting pledges itself to oppose to the very uttermost the Government in its call for more men. We insist and pledge ourselves to take action to enforce the declaration of an immediate armistice on all fronts; and that the expressed opinion of the workers of Glasgow is that from now on, and so far as this business is concerned our attitude all the time and every time is to do nothing in support of carrying on the war, but to bring the war to a conclusion.”

The Socialist Standard concludes:
"Read our Declaration of Principles; earnestly consider them; join with us and help to establish them. Then will slave and master be abolished, and a real peace come, to all"

That same message applies today for Scottish workers. With the independence referendum nothing changes. Only socialism will offer workers and the world real hope. The unity of labour is the hope of the world.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reduced Social Security For Over 65s Defaulting On Student Loans

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The Education Department is demanding so much money from seniors with defaulted student loans that it’s forcing tens of thousands of them into poverty, according to a government audit.

At least 22,000 Americans aged 65 and older had a part of their Social Security benefits garnered last year to the point that their monthly benefits were below federal poverty thresholds, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Education Department-initiated collections on defaulted federal student loans left at least another 83,000 Americans aged 64 and younger with poverty-level Social Security payments, GAO data show. Federal auditors cautioned that the number of Americans forced to accept poverty-level benefits because of past defaults on federal student loans are surely higher.

More than half, or 54 percent, of federal student loans held by borrowers at least 75 years old are in default, according to the federal watchdog. About 27 percent of loans held by borrowers aged 65 to 74 are in default. Among borrowers aged 50 to 64, 19 percent of their loans are in default.

taken from here

What Happened To The American Dream?

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A strong middle class has been at the core of what has been promoted as the American Dream.  How would America look like if the middle class simply vanished?  We may not need to wait too long at the current rate since we are quickly siphoning people off the middle class and throwing them into lower income brackets.  The vast majority of Americans do not buy into the propaganda promoted on the tightly controlled media outlets.  In fact, the latest Congressional job approval numbers are at a record low of 10 percent according to Gallup.  To put this low figure in perspective 16 percent of Americans approved of how BP handled the catastrophic Gulf oil spill at the peak of the blowout.  This low Congressional approval is all coming during a supposed economic recovery where 46,000,000 Americans receive a monthly charge to their debit card for food assistance.  Even government figures show the big job growth sectors of the next decade to be in low paying fields.  What would America look like without a middle class?



The recession has hit all groups hard but the deepest impact has been on young Americans.  Take a look at wages for young high school graduates:


young wage high school earners
Source:  Economic Policy Institute















The path is rather clear.  High school only graduates since the 1970s have seen their wages go steadily down.  Since the bulk of the workforce comes from this sector, it makes total sense that the average per capita income would be $25,000:

average-income-americans


















This seems rather stunning that in the most prosperous nation in the world wages are actually going down or sideways for most Americans.  So many young Americans have caught onto the trend.  A high school diploma isn’t enough to be competitive.  Many decided to take on massive debt and go to college - - (more statistics at link)

from here, with more

 For those fighting the class war there are only two classes - the working class and the capitalists. Your income may be anywhere on the pay scale but if you are obliged to work for a living then you are part of the working class of the world.
'Middle class' in this study means middle income or above, a fairly comfortable, secure standard of living, which is becoming ever rarer.


The Endies Trend

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The "Endies" – Employed but with No Disposable Income or Savings.

"Endies" are struggling to make ends meet and few are managing to save. London has now about a million such workers.

A report from the Centre for London, “Hollow Promise: How London is Failing its Modest Earners and What Can Be Done About it”, notes:
 "While 'endies' don't complain, they are increasingly disenchanted with the political system. Unless London does better by them, the city's politics could easily turn sour...They feel they are overlooked and betrayed. There is an underbelly of quiet resentment building up."

In the capital because rents are around 50% higher than in the rest of the UK. For households with incomes between £20,800 and £28,500 a year, rental costs have risen 4% in real terms over the last decade. Rent now accounts for about 41% of their incomes. "Endies" who do not own a home have almost no chance of buying one. "There are now only three boroughs – Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking and Dagenham – where home ownership is potentially affordable for two people earning that borough's median wage," the report says.

Between 2008 and 2014 trips using pay-as-you-go Oyster cards rose in price by 61% for bus journeys and 47% for the underground. A zone four resident on an annual salary of £22,000 spends the first 55 minutes of their working day just paying for their commute to and from work.

Between 2001 and 2011, the average London fuel bill rose by more than 50% above inflation.

Nursery care for a child under the age of two is 25% more expensive in London than elsewhere in Britain. A London couple with one child need a second earner with wages of at least £17,000 to make full-time childcare cost-neutral.

Charles Leadbeater, the report's author, said few "endies" could leave the capital. "The vicious combination of very flexible and competitive labour markets and a very distorted housing market means they're not just under pressure but trapped....Zone 1 inside the Circle Line will become like Dubai. It will be inhabited only by cosmopolitan people who come to London to spend money."

from here

Whose Land?

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Scotland as a whole has one of the most concentrated patterns of land ownership in Western Europe. Some 50 percent of the country’s land area is controlled by just 600 (or even 343, depending on source) owners. In the Highlands, this pattern of ownership is even more extreme with some 85 privately owned estates accounting for about a third of the total land area. This results in various barriers and obstacles being placed in the way of development. Examples of these include difficulties in obtaining land for housing, industrial use, community facilities and recreational access to river, woodland, moor and hill. Only when land is commonly owned by the people who inhabit and work it, as opposed to private ownership, leasing or renting, can a community master its own destiny.

Under the clan system of land tenure, the land within the area occupied by a clan, belonged to the clan as a whole collectively, romantically described by some such as John McLean as "celtic communism". The clan chief had no exclusive rights in the clan lands. He was given nominal control of the land for administration purposes, on behalf of the clan. The clan chief’s position was not hereditary but by the consent of the clan, and there was nothing to stop the clan from replacing their chief at any time, if necessary. The clan system was  a communal social system albeit organised on military lines. The old social order in the Highlands disintegrated and the clan chieftains were encouraged to assume control of the clan lands as private landowners. Then they proceeded to oppress their own clansmen. The real philosophy behind these events was the unrestricted accumulation of wealth in the hands of the privileged few, by exploiting the land as well as any other basic resource available. These changes in Highland society introduced a new class division of privileged and servile. Gone forever was the sense of kinship and loyalty to a patriarchal leader. But an emotional attachment to territory – an attachment stemming ultimately back to the clan land of the ancient kin-based society of the Highlands – continues to be prevalent among crofters.

The social ownership sector can trace its history back to the first organised efforts of crofters and land re-settlement schemes just over a 150 years ago. Only with the creation a people’s organisation representing the aspirations of community organisations across the country can there be the necessary counter-power to that of the existing landed establishment and which can challenge the dominant position in Scottish society of the Scottish Landowners Federation, that has for almost 90 years exercised power on behalf of the landed elite and other powerful rural interests.

The ILP Poodle

The Independent Labour Party in 1922 returned several MPs, among them James Maxton, David Kirkwood, John Wheatley and John McGovern, who had provided Clydeside with the nick-name “Red Clydeside”. They were sent to Westminster in a wave of left-wing enthusiasm. Some had been imprisoned either, like Maxton, for sedition (interfering with army recruitment in wartime) or for involvement what became known as “The Battle of George’s Square”. They had taken part in some of the most bitter class struggles experienced by Britain in the early20th century and they had garnered a credible working class following.

However, they were dominated by ideas of the reform of capitalism rather than by the determination to destroy capitalism. We need not accept Engels overly enthusiastic optimism of the founding of the ILP that it was “the very party which the old members of the International desired to see formed” (Workmans Times, 25 March 1893)

The I.L.P. may have used the language of radicals but instead of calling workers to revolutionary indignation, it frequently appealed to the good sense and kindness of the ruling class. Lacking as it did any real position of principle, the ILP could accommodate practically any demand. Socialism was, of course, variously interpreted, but to most it meant state control and planning in varying proportions with import and export boards, investment committees, public corporations and the rest. The I.L.P. M.P.s. rarely missed an opportunity to try and “reason” with the capitalists, showing them the “folly” of their ways. Maxton and McGovern and their friends were wasting their time. The ruling class understood the position better than they did. It should not be the work of the socialist to warn the capitalists about the inadvisability of their actions but to prepare the workers.

David Kirkwood, explained:
“We were going to do big things. The people believed that. We believed that. At our onslaught, the grinding poverty which existed in the midst of plenty was to be wiped out. We were going to scare away the grim spectre of unemployment ... Alas, that we were able to do so little!”

Unlike the Clydeside Reds of the ILP, whose ghosts still haunt the Scottish Left-wing, the Socialist Party are not reformers but revolutionaries. We do not propose to change forms. We care little for forms. We want a fundamental change of society. The Post Office is the “public" property of the people (at least for the moment), and yet the workers in that industry are mere wage slaves. In itself, the question of ownership affects only external forms. The socialist fights for the abolition of the system of wage slavery under which the proletariat is working. We are not duped by those who demand nationalisation. We seek the emancipation of the working class and the abolition of all exploitation.

The overthrow of capitalism, that is our DEMAND. Reforms are non-demands and are legion in their number and variety. A political party with a list of “immediate demands” blurs its goal and it is goals that determine methods. The presence of these palliatives invites compromise and concession, collaboration and corruption. It is for our trade unions to improved conditions and seek amelioration but the political party should strive not for temporary respite but permanent solutions. While many one-issue reform organisations and philanthropic charity organisations possess within their programmes the highest humanitarian hopes socialism alone supplies the basis for any permanent improvement in the condition of humanity. Socialism is not the establishment of environmental regulation, not the abolition of sweat-shop labour, nor the enforcement minimum wage laws. None of these, nor all of them together, is socialism. They might all be done by the government tomorrow, and still we would not have socialism. They are merely reforms of the present system.

The one demand of the Socialist Party is socialism. While not opposing any reforms or improvements which may be secured under capitalism, the Socialist Party steadfastly sets itself against taking time away from its main battle, for revolution, in order to carry on the struggle for reform. It refuses to be maneuvered into abandoning its main demand with campaigns for palliatives.

No matter how you clip and trim a poodle it always stays a poodle and regardless of how much you re-shape and re-fashion capitalism, it remains capitalism.

James Maxton - Wasted Years 

James Maxton appeared to be Keir Hardie's natural successor. Maxton is remembered as one of the leading figures of the Red Clydeside era. Religion in Glasgow at this time was all-pervasive. Maxton, a supporter of Celtic was seen by many as pro-Catholic and he did indeed seek and receive the endorsement of the Catholic Church in Bridgeton, but, in return for their political sponsorship Maxton acquiesced to Catholic dogma on subjects such as birth control and denominational schools. Maxton could not be seen in favour of ILP moves to abolish religious instruction for a more secular educational system and he often acted counter to ILP policy on those issues. In regard to birth control he advocated "the intelligent control of the appetites and desires." Maxton opposed the ILP policy to remove the Ministry of Health's ban on giving advice on birth control at maternity clinics. Losing the Catholic vote was too big a risk for a principled socialist stand on family life!

 Maxton's whole political life was devoted to the Independent Labour Party. Maxton was chairman of the ILP from 1926 to 1931, and from 1934 to 1939. He was generally seen as the symbol of the ILP after its break from Labour in 1932. At the 1926 annual conference a series of policy documents were adopted under the title "Socialism in our Time" The "Living Wage Plan" called for a minimum wage for every citizen to be a priority. This was to be combined with expanded social services and a national system of family allowances to be paid for by heavier taxation on high incomes, much the same as the reforms demanded to-day by the Commonweal organisation. There is little that is revolutionary about these demands.  If the ILP was to win over the the workers to socialism, who was to win over the ILP membership and its leaders to socialism as a first step? Despite the ILP publishing works by Marx and Engels, and while Maxton could declare his support for their conception of socialism, their own publications and election programmes were full of proposals for reforming capitalism. ILP members had been recruited, not on the demand for socialism, but attracted by its reforms. The ILP consistently misled the workers with its description of nationalisation as socialism.

When Maxton first won the seat in 1929 he got over 21,000 votes yet when the ILP put up a candidate there at the 1955 election his vote was 2619 and he lost his deposit. The ILP has vanished and Maxton has become almost forgotten. Having devoted all his political life in the service of the ILP James Maxton's efforts achieved nothing for socialism.