Friday, October 28, 2016

Poor Finns

Poverty is relative. We are often lectured on the wealth of the Scandinavians but it must be viewed in context.

440,000 Finns, equivalent to 8 per cent of the population, do not earn enough to maintain a reasonable level of consumption, according to the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

The housing expenses of home owners living alone are estimated at 156 euros a month, while those of tenants living alone are estimated at 388–540 euros a month, depending on their place of residence. Couples, meanwhile, need 1,126 euros a month to cover their reasonable living expenses and an additional 550–730 euros to cover their monthly rental costs, the report indicates.

A household is deemed to be at risk of poverty if its disposable income per consumption unit is below 60 per cent of the national median income.

Roughly 12.5 per cent of households, equivalent to 674,000 people, are currently at risk of poverty in Finland, according to the definition.

“The difference is attributable primarily to the fact that the minimum budget-based poverty threshold takes into account the lower housing expenses of home owners,” explains THL. “The minimum budget-based poverty threshold is 1,077–1,234 euros a month for tenants living alone, depending on their place of residence, and 837 euros a month for home owners living alone.”

Nearly one-fifth, or 19 per cent, of single parents did not earn enough to maintain a reasonable level of consumption.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A USA Living Wage


According to new research from People’s Action Institute, which calculates the national living wage at $17.28. A living wage is the pay a person needs to cover basic needs like food, housing, utilities and clothing, along with some savings to handle emergencies.

In some states, the living wage is much higher. New Jersey, Maryland, and New York have a living wage greater than $20 per hour for a single adult. In Hawaii and Washington, D.C., that figure hits almost $22 per hour. No state has a living wage for a single adult lower than $14.50 an hour.

The grim milestone for the Mediterranean graveyard

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported that 2016 is the deadliest year ever for migrants trying to reach Europe. The agency said Wednesday that at least 3,800 migrants—many of them fleeing war in their home countries—have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea this year, despite a significant drop in attempted crossings compared to 2015.

From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiraled to one in 88," says UNHCR spokesman, William Spindler. Since the European Union-Turkey deal in March to close down pathways to Greece, the Libya to Italy route across the central Mediterranean has become the main route. One per every 47 migrants or refugees attempting the voyage between Libya and Italy are dying.

The rise in deaths are due to factors including bad weather, "a more perilous route," the use of "lower-quality vessels," and smugglers' changing tactics. Smuggling has become a big business and it's being done almost on an industrial scale. So now they send several boats at the same time and that puts rescue services in difficulty because they need to rescue several thousand people on several hundred boats. When you have so many people at sea on boats that are barely seaworthy, then the dangers obviously increase.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said Wednesday that 25 migrant men and women had been found dead at the bottom of a rubber boat in the Mediterranean. It rescued 107 people from the same vessel and saved an additional 139 people aboard a nearby rubber raft.

"This is a tragedy, but we can't say that today is an exceptional day at sea," said Stefano Argenziano, MSF manager of migration operations. "The past weeks have been horrific, with our rescue teams and other boats involved in almost continuous rescues and far too many men, women, and children dying." He explained, "Sea rescue operations are becoming a race through a maritime graveyard and our rescue teams are overwhelmed by a policy-made crisis where we feel powerless to stop the loss of life."

Germany - the war machine

Germany's arms exports have increased - including to Saudi Arabia. The oil-rich kingdom is waging war in Yemen. For the past year and a half the richest country in the Arab world has been bombing the poorest country. By supplying it with weapons Germany, too, is a warring party.

Saudi Arabia is now the third-largest buyer of German weapons. And more than 90 percent of the consignments consisted of equipment for the air force: fighter jet parts, helicopters, planes, equipment for aerial refueling.

Germany may be a minor player in the world of arm sales yet its exports to Saudi Arabia in the first six months alone amounted to more than four billion euros. 

Workers of the World Unite

The claims that immigrants take jobs became harder to sustain as the level of the overseas migrant population reached record highs in Britain at the same time as a record high level of employment overall and a record high for employment of UK-born workers. Even so, the most recent Tory party conference tried to revive the racist claims, with lists of foreign workers, removing overseas doctors from the NHS and prioritising immigration controls over economic prosperity. Some of these have already fallen apart while they would all be deeply damaging to the UK economy, as well as fanning the flames of racism.

The false claim that immigration drives down wages has long been exposed as relying on the 'lump of labour fallacy' . The long history of capitalism, in general, is that more and more workers across the globe are brought into production. That is still happening to this day. At the same time, for the overwhelming majority of those workers, their material conditions have risen enormously over the same period. The growth of the workforce has been matched by the growth in the work available. This is because of the growth of the productive capacity of the global economy, in which workers fight for a share. 

Instead, the attack has switched to the alleged impact of immigration on wages. As the discussion of this issue is so loaded with emotion and confusion in a country like Britain, it is important to set out some clear points of reference.

Objectively, there is no difference between a worker who travels ten miles, hundreds of miles or thousands of miles for work. There is, of course, no difference in terms of their skin colour, religion, gender, sexuality or nationality. Wages in any city or town are not more or less affected by the immigration of a worker from the next county than from a different continent.

Yet the idea that wages are driven down by immigration, that the price of labour (wages) is determined by the increased supply of labour from migration is closely related to the lump of labour fallacy. They both depend on the notion there is a fixed amount of work or fixed amount of wages, and that in both cases these are adversely affected by increasing the supply of labour through immigration. For the lump of labour, now read the 'pool of wages'. These are false notions.

It is in the interests of capitalists to foster the idea that someone else is to blame. This partly accounts for the tenacity of these false ideas. It also explains why far right and fascist groupings are tolerated or even promoted by big business, sometimes even funded by them. If the labour movement pays the slightest lip service to these lies it does itself a great injury. It disarms itself in the class struggle by agreeing that it is foreign workers, not rapacious bosses who have driven down wages, increased rents and increased prices.  

The chart shows, the output per worker in these advanced economies rose more than three times as fast as the rise in real wages, which were close to stagnation.

 The workers in the advanced industrialised countries were not being undercut by workers in the 'Third World'. They were being robbed even more by their employers in the advanced countries.

Another extinction is coming

The world faces the first mass extinction of animal life since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago, according to the most comprehensive survey of wildlife ever carried out. By 2020, the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and other vertebrate species are on course to have fallen by more than two-thirds over a period of just 50 years, the Living Planet report found. The current rate of extinction is about 100 times faster than is considered normal – greater than during some of the previous five mass extinctions in the Earth’s history.

The Living Planet report, produced by conservation charity WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), analysed data for 3,706 species in what was described as the most comprehensive study of the state of wildlife globally. They found that between 1970 and 2012, the average decline in population was 58 per cent. And at the current rate this figure will hit 67 per cent by 2020, the year by which the world has pledged to halt the loss of wildlife.

Dr Mike Barrett, director of science and policy at WWF-UK, said: “For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife. We ignore the decline of other species at our peril – for they are the barometer that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us. Humanity’s misuse of natural resources is threatening habitats, pushing irreplaceable species to the brink and threatening the stability of our climate.” Dr Barrett stressed the situation was far from hopeless. “We know how to stop this. It requires governments, businesses and citizens to rethink how we produce, consume, measure success and value the natural environment.”

Wages down


Experts warn inflation caused by Brexit will keep real wages low. Wages for average UK workers are less than they were 12 years ago, even after taking inflation into account, official figures revealed. The gender pay gap also remains stubbornly high.

The median full-time worker is now paid £539 per week (£28,028 a year), less than the £555 per week they earned in 2004. Despite a 1.9 per cent salary increase this year, annual average earnigs are still around £1,600 less than their 2009 peak.

Irish police to strike

The Irish gardaí will strike for the first time in their history when they take industrial action in pursuit of faster restoration of pay cuts suffered during the financial crisis. It has already embarked on a campaign of industrial action after lodging a claim for a 16.5pc pay rise. 

A union representing airport police in Dublin, Cork and Shannon said they will resist any attempt to get them to carry out Garda duties when gardaí fail to report for duty for four days next month. A second union representing hundreds of Garda civilian staff said it has also instructed them not to provide cover. Justice Minister had made it clear there were no plans for the Army to be involved. 

Aid is business

The International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, suggested that aid spending should not “exclude the whole areas of trade and trade opportunities”. Her suggestion that we should use money allocated to fighting global poverty and inequality to secure trade deal is wrong – particularly when these deals chiefly benefit big business. Aid is being used to heavily promote the interests of multinational companies in Africa, rather than fighting poverty and inequality

When Patel took charge of the Department for International Development (DFID), she said DFID should be axed to form a new Department for International Trade and Development. That never happened but there is effectively an informal merger with the new Department for International Trade as they plan “joint missions” overseas to look for “economic opportunities” for British businesses. The wheels of new corporate-led trade UK deals will be greased with money from the aid budget. The rich see “aid” only in terms of how it can create economic opportunities, serve the “national interest”, and benefit them. These trade deals benefit multinational corporations and investors by stripping a country and its people of the power to protect its own industries and services.

Free trade agreements are bad for most people in the poorer countries. They harm producers by driving down prices of goods and removing protective tariffs. Regulations on environment, health and safety are often weakened or cut, meaning a race to the bottom for all. Moreover, privatisation is often at the core of these deals, meaning big businesses move in to run schools, water or health services at a profit. And the deals are rarely actually “free”. Rich countries inevitably maintain protection of their own exports, while the competitors in poor countries are forced to agree to open their markets. The drive to produce at the lowest cost is paramount for those pushing these trade deals and is pushed at the expense of workers, land and water resources. Thus free trade agreements pull poor countries deeper into poverty. Aid budgets should only be used for genuine poverty reduction initiatives, such as support for small-scale farming, improving education or healthcare rather than boosting the profits of big business.

Due to a global network of tax havens, tax evasion, corruption and money laundering an estimated $3 trillion of revenue is lost every year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Malcolm X Speaks

“It isn’t a president who can help or hurt; it is the system. And this system is not only ruling us in America, it is ruling the world. Nowadays, when a man is running for president of the United States, he is not running for president of the United States alone; he has to be acceptable to other areas of the world where American influence rules.

If Johnson had been running all by himself, he would not have been acceptable to anyone. The only thing that made him acceptable to the world was that the shrewd capitalists, the shrewd imperialists, knew that the only way people would run toward the fox would be if you showed them a wolf. So they created a ghastly alternative. And it had the whole world — including people who call themselves Marxists — hoping that Johnson would beat Goldwater.

I have to say this: Those who claim to be enemies of the system were on their hands and knees waiting for Johnson to get elected — because he is supposed to be a man of peace. And at that moment he had troops invading the Congo and South Vietnam!”

Malcolm described how potent a weapon the ballot could be, if it was exercised with care:
“A ballot is like a bullet. You don't throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket”

“It's time now for you and me to become more politically mature and realize what the ballot is for; what we're supposed to get when we cast a ballot; and that if we don't cast a ballot, it's going to end up in a situation where we're going to have to cast a bullet. It's either a ballot or a bullet.”

A Coalition against coal

Around the world, more than 2,400 coal power plants are now under construction or being planned, experts say. Two-thirds of those are in China and India - both countries already struggling with growing deaths from air pollution. Building even a third of those plants would push the world past the international goal agreed in Paris last December to hold world temperature increase to "well under" 2 degrees Celsius.

A coalition of development experts which includes the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and Oxfam International, have published a new paper disputing the claims that cheap, dirty coal is somehow a solution to extreme global poverty. The paper, Beyond Coal: scaling up clean energy to fight global poverty (pdf), makes the case that in developing nations, coal has been given "too much credit for the reduction of extreme poverty." In fact, they argue coal is one of the major forces driving climate change, which they say is "the greatest long-term threat to eradicating poverty." They say the widespread use of coal has had a detrimental impact on poor populations while at the same time contributing the most carbon emissions of any fuel source, hastening dangerous climate change.

"The immediate human health impacts of coal in the developing world are staggering, particularly for poor people who are the least equipped to deal with the  economic burdens of illness, a premature death in the  household, or degraded water and land resources," the paper notes. Further, climate change threatens "to undermine the productivity of both marine and terrestrial food production systems, the main source of income for roughly 2.7 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and China."

The paper continues, "burning coal is also a major driver of the greatest long-term threat to eradicating  poverty: climate change." The report cites a 2015 study by ODI which found that by 2050, climate change impacts could draw an estimated 720 million people into extreme poverty. "This is about the same number lifted out of extreme poverty in the last two decades and would thus cancel out much of the progress made in poverty eradication to date."

In contrast, safe, renewable energy sources are "abundant, increasingly reliable, and now cost-competitive with coal," the report states. Further, "It can also be more flexibly deployed and offers greater employment potential. It improves energy security and [...] can deliver energy services to the poorest."

"There are myths that we're trying to pull up the ladder and deny developing countries the chance to develop the way we did," Sarah Wykes, report co-author and the lead analyst on climate change and energy issues for Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD), explained. "But you don't need these kinds of dirty fuels anymore for economic development. There are much better clean alternatives." 

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has warned if Asia goes ahead its planned coal plants, "I think we are finished. ... That would spell disaster for our planet." The coal industry is a powerful and established lobbying group, she said.

The coal industry has fought back against criticism, arguing that coal is the cheapest and most reliable way to bring power to millions without it, claiming "clean coal" technology offers emissions 25 to 40 percent lower than traditional coal plants.

The Right-Wing Mobilises

The far-right People's Party - Our Slovakia (LSNS) said it would continue to patrol trains, adding that it is looking at expanding its operations in others parts of the country. They target the Roma community, Europe's poorest and largest minority. Slovakia has a population of 5.4 million, with Roma accounting for some 300,000 of that figure.

"People in eastern Slovakia are being terrorized by asocial parasites," said lawmaker Milan Mazurek, who is in charge of the patrols. LSNS entered parliament for the first time this year, riding on a wave of anti-migration sentiment in the Eastern European nation.

Religious Delusions

Religious people are more likely to have a poorer understanding of the world and are more likely to believe objects like rocks and paper have human qualities, scientists say. Religious beliefs were linked with a weaker ability to understand physical and biological phenomenon such as volcanoes, flowers, rocks and wind without giving them human qualities.  Believers were more likely to think that inanimate objects such as metal, oil, clothes and paper can think and feel, and agree with statements such as "Stones sense the cold".        

Researchers at the University of Helsinki compared believers in God or the paranormal to people with autism after finding they tend to struggle to understand the realities of the world around us. Marjaana Lindeman and Annika Svedholm-Häkkinen, who completed the study, said:
“The more the participants believed in religious or other paranormal phenomena, the lower their intuitive physics skills, mechanical and mental rotation abilities, school grades in mathematics and physics, and knowledge about physical and biological phenomena were… and the more they regarded inanimate targets as mental phenomena”. Researchers said their findings suggest people’s lack of understanding about the physical world means they apply their own, human characteristics to the whole universe, “resulting in belief in demons, gods, and other supernatural phenomena”. 

This confusion between mental and physical qualities “has also been recognised mainly among ancient people and small children”, they added. The scientists compared religious believers to people with autism, saying both struggle to distinguish between the mental and the physical, although autistic people are at the opposite end of the spectrum because they often see the world as entirely physical and struggle to understand the mental state of others.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016



The Fancy Bears Hack Team have shown that many top sports people
have been diagnosed with asthma - conveniently allowing them to take
performance-enhancing drugs under the ‘Therapeutic Use Exemptions’.

For athletes at the top today,
It helps if one takes drugs,
Although the dangers are well-known,
And most would say they’re mugs;
But craving fame, the risks are met,
With unresponsive shrugs.

Of course the beastly Russians are,
Quite active in this sphere,
By concentrating on the ‘Reds’,
We hope this public smear;
Will kid folk that we’re straight and that,
It never happens here!

All our sports folk are squeaky clean,
And free from ‘drug disease’,
It’s mere coincidence they’ve got,
An apt, ‘asthmatic wheeze’;
Cured only by ‘Performance Drugs’--
A wheeze inclined to please!

Exemptions to take all such drugs,
Are given by the score,
And Britain’s up there with the rest, (1)
In signing more and more;
As these exceptions are allowed,
By ‘anti-doping law’!

Today in money-grubbing sport,
The dollar is the king,
And sports associations love,
The glamour and the bling;
And drug hypocrisy all helps,
To make their cash tills ring.

(1) Fancy Bears are believed to have ‘Therapeutic Use Exemptions’
(TUEs) data on forty-four British athletes and sports people.

© Richard Layton  

Rohingya Resistance

The situation for the Rohingya in Burma is becoming more serious by the day. Some Rohingya have foolishly (or, perhaps, been incited to) taken to armed struggle with the expected results from a far superior military and with tragic consequences for those uninvolved and unprepared. 

 According to Al Jazeera, hundreds of Rohingya families are facing a second night hiding in rice fields without shelter, after the army on Sunday forcibly removed them from a village in a crackdown following attacks on border security forces. Border guards went to Kyee Kan Pyin village on Sunday and ordered about 2,000 villagers to abandon it, giving them just enough time to collect basic household items. Residents have accused security forces of killing non-combatants and burning homes. The area around Maungdaw Township, near the border with Bangladesh, is under military lockdown and journalists and aid workers have not been allowed to go inside.

It can be said from a study of history that any non-violent movement that takes on a well-entrenched dictatorship must be prepared for a long struggle, with setbacks and numerous casualties. After all, only one side is committed to non-violence. Nor is there any guarantee of success, even in the long run. However, the other option entails even larger casualties and has even poorer prospects of success. Violence is not all that effective in a revolution. People have long thought that power grows out of the barrel of a gun and it's taken a number of historical events to prove that is not true. When non-violence fails, the method is condemned. But when violence fails, strategy or tactics are blamed—not violence as a method. And partial success is seen as total failure. Non-violent means will increase our chances of the military refusing to obey orders. But if you go over to violence, the soldiers will not mutiny. They will be loyal to their officers.  

Some people say we can't expect the revolution to adhere to its original principles after the indiscriminate violence and the spilled blood. Not only should we expect it, we should demand it. An armed response from the revolutionaries will not succeed, as the regime is invariably stronger on the military front. As soon as you choose to fight with violence you're choosing to fight against opponents in possession of the best weapons. The state's police and army are better trained in using those weapons. And they control the infrastructure that allows them to deploy them. To fight dictators with violence is to cede to them the choice of battleground and tactics. Using violence against experts in it is the quickest way to have a movement crushed. That is why governments frequently infiltrate opposition groups with agents provocateurs—to sidetrack the movement into violent acts so that the police and  security agencies can deal with. 

Non-violence is an aspect of resistance that the normal forces of coercion are ill-prepared for. When the ruling class chooses to use their superior force against non-violent activists, they sometimes find that it does not bring about the desired results. First, all sanctions must be carried out by the ruler's agents (police or military personnel) who may or may not obey or may reluctantly make a show of obeying to commit brutal acts against people who are clearly presenting no physical threat. It could have the effect of winning over their hearts and minds. Even if a non-violent campaign is unable to change our adversary's way of thinking, it can still wield power and influence the course of events who may decide it is too costly to continue the fight or forced to make concessions because its power-base has been dissolved.

The worse the regime represses people and suppresses protests, the more steadfast ought the opposition be in its commitment to non-violence and the more the people resists, the more we will realize our own power and discover the means of re-shaping our destiny. Socialists are not pacifists on principle but purely as a practical tactic. Non-violence, like any other goal, must be nurtured by a hope in a better tomorrow. We must move forward and never let our hope for peace and justice die.

Robots R' Us

More than 850,000 public sector jobs could be lost by 2030 through automation, according to a study that comes as a further blow after hundreds of thousands of jobs disappeared following the government’s austerity cuts.

Research conducted by Oxford University and Deloitte, the business advisory firm, found that the 1.3m administrative jobs across the public sector had the highest chance of being automated. But even teachers, police officers and social workers could be replaced, at least in part, allowing the government to either free up more staff for frontline work or reduce the number of workers on the payroll.

Interactive roles, which require “a high degree of personal interaction, including jobs such as teachers, social workers and police officers”, face a 23% chance of automation. The report said many roles would be relatively protected, especially in education, the NHS and care industries, along with jobs that require interaction with the public. But automation will be an attractive option for cost-conscious public sector management after the report found it could shave £17bn off the public sector wage bill by 2030. There is a 77% probability of 1.3m “repetitive and predictable” administrative and operative roles being automated. In local government this would mean the number of admin roles – which have fallen from 99,000 in 2001 to 87,000 in 2015 – tumbling to 4,000 by 2030.

Mike Turley, global head of public sector at Deloitte, said: “We are already seeing examples of technology playing a role in the public sector. Robotic processes are supporting local government in their data entry, driverless trains are becoming more widespread and sensor technology is being used in hospitals and care homes to monitors patients and give nurses and carers more time for quality patient interaction. Automation will not displace employees overnight. Its impact is gradual and manageable and there could well be social or political resistance to the full deployment of technology in place of people,” Turley said.

Deloitte’s previous work has shown that all sectors will be affected by automation in the next two decades, with 74% of jobs in transportation and storage, 59% in wholesale and retail trades and 56% in manufacturing having a high chance of being automated.

Refugees - no terrorist threat

Several European countries have tightened border controls over the past year in response to security concerns related to the refugee crisis. A United Nations investigator has warned that moves to crackdown on migration may worsen the risk of more attacks in Europe while breaching refugees’ fundamental rights. Ben Emmerson, the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, found “little evidence” that Isis and other terror groups use refugee flows or that asylum seekers are prone to radicalisation. The finding was echoed in Europol’s 2016 European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, which acknowledging a small number of known cases.

Delivering a report to the UN General Assembly in New York, he said: “While there is no evidence that migration leads to increased terrorist activity, migration policies that are restrictive or that violate human rights may, in fact, create conditions conducive to terrorism. Overly-restrictive migration policies introduced because of terrorism concerns are not justified and may, in fact, be damaging to state security.” Policies to “criminalise irregular migration”, that build fences and carry out push-back operations are driving covert movements and people smuggling that “may ultimately assist terrorists and lead to increased terrorist activity”.

Analysts have previously warned that moves to turn away or detain refugees from Syria and other countries feeds into extremist propaganda that seeks to portray the West as a violent and oppressive enemy of Muslims.

Fear of further attacks has driven a growing link between anti-terror measures and immigration policy that is “analytically and statistically unfounded, and must change,” Mr Emmerson said. “Even with ongoing attempts to reach resolution in the Syrian conflicts, we are likely to see a continued flow of refugees beyond the current record levels,” he told the UN General Assembly.  “What is clear is that policies that respect human rights, justice, and accountability, and that manifest the values on which democracy is founded, are an essential element of effective counterterrorism policies. The further we move away from this, the more we concede to terrorist groups. We are here today to correct the misperception that international refugee law is an obstacle when it comes to addressing security concerns.” He concluded, “In fact, it is in all of our interests to protect refugees and give them the opportunity to create a better future for themselves and their families. It is also the right thing to do.”

His study recommends that countries should recognise that the vast majority of people fleeing Syria and other affected regions are victims of terrorism, rather than viewing them as potential suspects in the first instance. It also calls on states to respect the fundamental rights of migrants and warns that operations to turn back ships or asylum seekers and detain of migrants likely violate human rights and breach obligations under international refugee law.

Dirty old town

Living in the most polluted parts of a city appears to have a similar effect on your blood pressure as becoming overweight, according to the world’s largest ever study of the effects of fossil fuel emission on human health. Researchers found that those living in the most polluted parts of a city had a higher chance of developing it than people in less polluted urban areas. They said the risk was similar to someone with a normal body mass index becoming officially overweight.

Researchers warned their findings showed that current European Union limits on air pollution were not low enough to adequately protect people. M Those limits are regularly breached in parts of the UK and the Government has been taken to court in order to force it to introduce measures to address the problem.

An estimated 40,000 people a year die prematurely in the UK because of the air they breathe. The World Health Organization has warned air pollution is “wreaking havoc on human health”, while campaigners have described diesel fumes as the “biggest public health catastrophe since the Black Death”.

Professor Barbara Hoffmann, of Heinrich-Heine-University in Düsseldorf, who led the study, said: “As virtually everybody is exposed to air pollution for all of their lives, this leads to a high number of hypertension cases, posing a great burden on the individual and on society. One very important aspect is that these associations can be seen in people living well below current European air pollution standards. This means the current legislation does not protect the European population adequately from adverse effects of air pollution. Given the ubiquitous presence of air pollution and the importance of hypertension as the most important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, these results have important public health consequences and call for more stringent air quality regulations.”

Greenpeace senior campaigner Areeba Hamid said: “The UK is facing a public health emergency due to air pollution, mainly caused by diesel cars. Even though the list of symptoms is worryingly long, the Government’s plan to bring safe air to all Britons is conspicuous by its absence. As we begin the process to exit the EU, any legislation around air quality should take the best of the current EU standards and make them even better.”

You have seen the lies

YOU'VE READ THE LIE that socialism would result in the loss of individual liberty; that all power would be surrendered to the state or the government, and a harsh bureaucracy would regulate our lives and enforce blind obedience.
THE FACT IS that socialism rejects the state! Socialists hold with Karl Marx that "The existence of the state is inseparable from the existence of slavery." How then, in the name of common sense, could socialists wish to glorify the state and surrender to it? On the contrary - where there is socialism, there can be no state, and where there is a state, there can be no socialism.

YOU'VE READ THE LIE that socialism means nationalisation, or government ownership and control of industry.
THE FACT IS that socialism rejects nationalisation or government ownership of industry! Government ownership, government control, are long-standing feature of capitalism - viz., post offices, sanitation, transportation systems, etc. Government ownership is the bureaucratic management of industries that have outgrown management by individual capitalists or combinations of capitalists. For the workers, government ownership is merely a change of masters - it brings no solution to their problems. Socialism is not a mere change of masters. Socialism means complete control of their machines and products by the workers. It guarantees this by placing the factories, the mines, the railroads, the land - all social wealth - under social ownership and control. Not a state, not the capitalists, not a bureaucracy, but the people collectively own, control, and democratically manage the means to produce and distribute all social wealth under socialism.

YOU'VE READ THE LIE that Russia was socialist.
THE FACT IS that socialism has never been established in any country on earth! Russia was not a capitalist nation, but a despotic, brutal one-party state-capitalist country. There is exploitation of the workers under a wage system - ruthless exploitation. There is a privileged ruling class in Russia - a bureaucracy that is domineering and all-powerful.

YOU'VE READ THE LIE that socialism would destroy incentive, enforce an equality of poverty - and that it just won't work.
THE FACT IS that socialism would broaden and stimulate incentive, offer an equality of opportunity with abundance for all, and work with less friction than any social system ever conceived by man. Capitalism offers incentives to capitalists, incentives that is stimulated or discouraged by the chance of making or not making a profit. Socialism would offer incentives to all. Instead of fearing the loss of their jobs as a result of improved methods of production, workers would know that every such improvement would mean more leisure and more of the good things of life. Thus, socialism would give an unprecedented impetus to offer incentives on the part of all the members of a free society. Capitalism keeps the workers on the ragged edge of pauperism, by forcing them to keep their noses to the grindstone in order to eke out a bare existence. Socialism would offer an equality of opportunity under which each worker would become the architect of his own future. Capitalism functions so badly that increased production spells war or depression. When capitalists cannot profitably dispose of the wealth of which they despoil the workers, factories close and unemployment mounts. In order to avoid such depressions at home, capitalists seek foreign markets. The competition for such markets leads inevitably to war. Socialism would function smoothly because socialist production would be carried on for use, and not for sale and private profit. The anarchy of capitalist production would be replaced by socialist cooperation, based on the principle that each worker should receive the equivalent of the full social value of his product.

The question presents itself: who invents and circulates these lies? The answer is: the capitalist class, its spokesmen, and representatives. They have a stake, a vested interest, in the capitalist system. They could not, if they would, give a disinterested appraisal of socialism, or tell the truth about it. Are you one of the millions who entertain false and distorted concepts about socialism? If you are, then surely, if only in fairness to yourself, not to mention the momentous issues at stake, you will want to get the facts straight. Socialism is one of the most lied-about and misrepresented words in common usage today. Many believe that it means state-ownership or state bureaucratic control of business. Socialism has never existed, nor does it now exist anywhere in the world. Socialism cannot be handed to you by "leaders." Socialism cannot come a little at a time, or in one small locality at a time by government decree or otherwise. Socialism does not mean a lowering of anyone's standard of living to one common level, as you have been told by countless times. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

There is Power in the Union

"Numbers without union are powerless,

 And union without knowledge is useless."

It is a point of principle for the Socialist Party that the character and function of the political State, in a class-divided society, MUST become an instrument of CLASS RULE and that under capitalism the State must and will be dominated and manipulated by and in the interests of the capitalist class and against the working class. The Socialist Party has kept to the straight and narrow path of No Compromise and has not sacrificed any principle to recruit, to capture votes, for temporary gain and popularity. Whoever wants socialism must first want a class-conscious working class. The Socialist Party unfurls the banner of liberation and demands the unconditional surrender of the capitalist class. Having outlived its social usefulness, capitalism must give way to a new social order. Upon our fellow-workers rests the duty of effecting this revolutionary change in a peaceful manner, using the ballot and all that thereby hangs in order to effect the change. We, therefore, call upon all wage workers to muster under the banner of the Socialist Party. We seek an end to the existing barbarous class conflict by placing the land and all the means of production, transportation and distribution into the hands of the producers as a collective body, and substituting the socialist cooperative commonwealth for the present state of unplanned production, industrial strive and international wars and social disorder - a commonwealth in which every worker shall have the free exercise and full benefit of his or her faculties, multiplied by all the modern factors of modern technology.

The Socialist Party declares that trade union action by workers under capitalism constitute the logical and unavoidable reactions on the part of the workers to the inhuman and unbearable conditions imposed upon them by capitalism which places the workers in the category of commodities, and which accords them as wage slaves a treatment economically not essentially different from that accorded the chattel slave or serf. Driven by deprivation; subdued largely by the thought of the misery inflicted upon their loved ones if they refuse to submit to being exploited, but goaded finally to rebellion by the utter degradation to which they and their families are eventually reduced, it is inevitable that they should strike back at their exploiters, however blindly, and however mistaken they may be in their manner of the retaliation.

The Socialist Party applauds the spirit which prompts our fellow- workers to take action against the inhuman wage slavery under which they suffer, and offers our endorsement of striking workers in any manner consistent with the principles of the Socialist Party. A worker who will not rise against his employer, who will meekly acquiesce, that wage-slave alone is hopeless. But the wage-slave who persists and perseveres, despite failures and poverty, in rebelling, there is always hope. The Socialist Party, however, warns our fellow-workers that strikes and go-slow work-to-rules in and by themselves cannot solve their problems, let alone abolish the cause which creates these problems, namely, the capitalist system. We emphasise that, however, justifiable and understandable is their resort to strikes and related activities, such efforts and attempts at ameliorating their lot must prove futile while the capitalist system of private ownership in the land and the means of production prevails. As Karl Marx, once said:
"... the general tendency of capitalist production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labor more or less to its minimum limit. Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation.... The necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement."

While the workers are wage slaves under capitalism, their condition is bound to grow worse and worse, and, whatever incidental improvement or increases in wages some sections of workers may achieve, they are secured either at the expense of the working class as a whole, or because of a temporary condition which happens to favour such groups of workers economically. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the facts referred to, the workers must resist the encroachments of their capitalist exploiters, and through their day-by-day struggles seek at least to maintain the prevailing working conditions where these cannot be improved. The Socialist Party points to the fact that capitalism is fated to create conditions which render the lot of the workers ever more precarious and insecure. The Socialist Party also points to the fact that attempts at this stage at bettering their lot through legislative enactments can result in nothing but the fastening of the chains of wage slavery upon them ever more firmly and securely, while at the same time such legislative enactments in effect constitute certification of their slavery, and amount, in fact, to a codification of the terms of this slavery, besides accelerating the tendencies, and consolidating the social and economic forces which, barring socialism, must inevitably lead to absolute economic serfdom.

The Socialist Party urges the working class to organize into class industrial unions to the end of doing away with the causes which now reduce them to the status of wage slaves, and which inescapably block their every attempt to throw off the yoke of this degrading and intolerable slavery. The primary cause is capitalism, but among the subsidiary causes that stand out prominently is the craft structure of many of today’s unions.

 Members of the Socialist Party must never fail to explain to the workers the ultimate futility of all attempts made by them to better their conditions under capitalism, and while Socialist Party members must constantly point out to the workers that there is no hope for then except through a speedy overthrow of capitalism and all its works, the Socialist Party does not belittle or underestimate the social significance of strikes and similar manifestations of working class rebellion, for the reasons stated before that a contented or submissive slave cannot be relied upon to seek his or her emancipation. While it is not the function of Socialist Party to encourage workers to strike under the prevailing circumstances, it is their duty to commend and promote the spirit and the sentiment which prompt the workers to strike.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The dope on Afghanistan

Despite billions of dollars having been spent on counter-narcotics measures in the past decade, there have been few visible effects on production or cultivation. Meanwhile, addiction levels among Afghans have risen sharply.

Afghanistan’s opium production has risen by an estimated 43% this year, the UN has said.

The annual increase on 2015 levels was due in part to estimated growth of 10% in the area under cultivation, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said, from 183,000 to 201,000 hectares. The UNODC said estimated opium production in 2016 was 4,800 tons, underscoring a “worrying reversal” in efforts to combat problems associated with illegal drugs.

The statistics represent the third-highest level of cultivation in Afghanistan in two decades, following record highs in 2013 and 2014. Eradication efforts in Afghanistan appear to have collapsed, with 355 hectares of poppy elimination carried out this year, a 91% decline on 2015.

Protecting the rich from the deluge

The system for allocating taxpayers’ money to flood defence schemes favours protecting wealthy families and those in the south-east, analysis suggests.

The government has said it applies a strict economic formula to deciding where funding should be spent. But an investigation by the Press Association reveals the methods to determine where funding goes focus on the value of assets protected – which could tilt the system towards richer households and those in parts of the country where house prices are higher.

To secure funding, a flood protection scheme has to demonstrate that it delivers more in benefits than it costs to implement and maintain the defences – by calculating the economic losses avoided through protecting property and infrastructure. To calculate losses from homes, properties are divided into 28 standard categories based on age, size and type, according to the Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management manual, which along with an online handbook advises appraisers on how to assess flood defence schemes. The costs of a given level of flooding for larger properties – for example a detached Victorian house – are considered to be up to several times greater than for smaller homes such as a 1970s semi. People who are in a higher social class, such as upper-middle or middle class, in professional or managerial roles, are considered to have better-quality household items than working-class families, so losses from their properties are greater.

 Treasury guidelines also require appraisers to “cap” or limit the value of the damages expected so they do not exceed the market value of the property – which is likely to be much higher in London and the south-east than other parts of the country. This means the losses from properties in the south-east could be calculated as higher than elsewhere, making a flood defence scheme that protects those homes look more attractive. The flood manual says: “This capping at market values creates regional distribution issues (eg houses within the M25 are significantly more expensive than comparable houses in the north of England) for which there is, at present, no official counter-mechanism.”

Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Guy Shrubsole said: “This is further evidence of how the poorest are hit hardest by floods – something that will only get worse as climate change worsens flooding. All communities at risk of flooding must be adequately defended. As climate change worsens extreme weather, communities have every right to press the government for a fairer approach to protect their families, homes and livelihoods.” 

MP Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, said it seemed the funding formula was not “Whether you are rich or poor, having your home damaged by flooding is devastating – and a postcode lottery to decide who gets protection simply isn’t fair. It’s simply wrong for richer areas to get more protection than poorer ones.”

The Unwanted Children

Child refugees from Calais are being forced to live in a former detention centre because the Home Office refused to enact a resettlement strategy to safely house unaccompanied minors. Despite months of warnings from the French authorities that the Calais camp would close the Home Office elected not to act on a plan designed and agreed by local councils to ensure vulnerable child refugees were adequately housed when they came to Britain. 

A source close to the process said: “Politically, the Home Office did not want this to happen, so it didn’t do anything. Therefore as the camp comes to closure it’s a panic – all the work you should have done over three to six months you do over three to six hours. They cannot place the child in a number of cases because none of the checks have been done.”
Andy Elvin, chief executive of Tact, the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity with more than 500 carers, said: “It’s embarrassing for a developed nation not to have managed this more professionally. We’re not even talking about a massive number of children.”

The failure to prepare adequately means some child refugees have been forced to stay at a “pre-departure” immigration detention unit called Cedars, near Gatwick airport. Cedars was shut by the government in July following criticism over the policy of imprisoning children and family awaiting removal from the country. 

The Refugee Sweat-shops

Only a tiny percentage of the estimated 3 million Syrians who have sought refuge in Turkey have work permits. To survive, they have to work illegally, without any rights, and for low wages. A made-to-measure workforce for the garment industry, and a reminder that one person's plight is often another's opportunity. Finding Syrian refugees and children making branded clothes for the UK market was relatively straightforward.

Some of them were being paid a little over £1 an hour, well below the Turkish minimum wage. The 15-year-old boy told me he wanted to be in school but he couldn't afford not to work. So he was spending more than 12 hours a day ironing clothes that are then shipped to the UK. Efforts are being made to get them into education but it's estimated that as many as 400,000 are working, many of them in the garment industry.

All the clothes brands say they regularly inspect the factories making their clothes to guarantee standards. Some of these audits are unannounced. But the Syrian boys explained how the factories got round this problem. When the auditors arrive, they are hidden out of sight. And when the auditors leave, they go back to work. As simple as that. Other factories may never be visited by auditors because as far as the brands are concerned, they don't make their clothes. They're part of the chain of sub-contractors who make up much of the garment industry in Turkey. They take orders from so-called first-tier factories - official suppliers to the brands - but often without the knowledge of the brands themselves.

Big fashion brands are profiting from refugees and their children. All the brands involved say they are completely opposed to child labour and any exploitation of Syrian refugees. But the BBC Panorama  investigation shows they sometimes don't know how or where their clothes are being made. And until the brands know exactly who is making their clothes, then this type of exploitation is almost certain to continue.

Remembering the Hungarian Uprising

The Hungarian Uprising of 1956 was a revolt against the government of the Hungarian People's Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies that saw Russian tanks smashing down Hungarian workers. The Hungarian uprising began on October 23rd when the Secret Police, the A.V.O., fired on a crowd estimated at 200,000 demonstrating outside the radio station. The next day Russian tanks were called in but were forced to retreat. The government under the newly appointed Prime Minister Imre Nagy, lost control. Workers Councils, loosely linked together, organised the distribution of food supplies and the resistance to the Russians. Despite hunger and poverty there was surprisingly an absence of looting in the city. Shops with broken windows had their goods left intact.

The rebels demanded:
(1) The establishment of a democracy of the Western type.
(2) The free formation of parties of all types.
(3) Free elections.
(4) An armistice for the insurgents and complete withdrawal of all Soviet forces.

As well as recognition for the Workers Councils, higher wages, higher pensions, less piecework, higher family allowances, more houses and so on.

This mixed bag of demands could not even have begun to be met by the regime. Nagy, attempted to placate the Nationalist sentiment of the insurrectionists with his counter-proposals:-

(1) An armistice for all who took part in the fighting.
(2) The creation of a new police force based on the Army and workers' and youth groups.
(3) Dissolution of the Secret Police.
(4) The reinstatement of the Kossuth coat-of-arms in place of the Communist insignia.
(5) The restoration of the 15th March as a national holiday. This date is the anniversary of the Kossuth rebellion of 1848, which was put down by the then Russian Czar.

Developments forced Nagy to adopt a different stand, so that on the 30th October, he announced the abolition of the one party system and formed a government, including Agrarians and Social Democrats. Nagy's 'concessions' were too late to satisfy the rebels. With the Government ineffectual, power was moving towards the revolutionary workers' councils. The Communist Party slogans had said that workers were the ruling class, now, through the councils, the workers were putting it into practice.

Condemned as fascist counter-revolutionaries, the uprising was very much a nationalist one but the restoration of the old order was not on their agenda.
 The Smallholders Party leader Bela Kovacs made clear: "No one, I believe, wants to re-establish the world of the aristocrats, the bankers and the capitalists. That world is definitely gone."
 Likewise National Peasants Party leader Ferenc Farkas: "We shall retain the gains and conquests of socialism..." 
Even Catholic Party leader Endre Varga saw no point in trying to turn back the clock - "We demand the maintenance of the social victories which have been realised since 1945..." 
Of the twenty or more new papers that appeared within days of the uprising none were right wing. One that tried to publish found the compositors refusing to touch it.

The first workers' council was at the United Lamp factory in Budapest representing ten thousand workers. Within days workers' councils were being set up across the country. Moves to centralise and strengthen the movement resulted in a Parliament of Workers' Councils for the whole of Budapest, drafting a statement of the duties and rights of the workers' councils with nine points, here in full:

1. The factory belongs to the workers. The latter should pay to the state a levy calculated on the basis of the output and a portion of the profits.
2. The supreme controlling body of the factory is the Workers' Council democratically elected by the workers.
3.  The Workers ' Council elects its own executive committee composed of 3-9 members, which acts as the executive body of the Workers' Council, carrying out the decisions and tasks laid down by it.
4. The director is employed "by the factory. The director and the highest employees axe to be elected 'by the Workers' Council. This election will take place after a public general meeting called "by the executive committee.
5. The director is responsible to the Workers' Council in every matter which concerns the factory.
6. The Workers' Council itself reserves all rights to:
a. approve and ratify all projects concerning the enterprise;
b. decide basic wage levels and the methods by which these are to be assessed;
c. decide on all matters concerning foreign contracts;
d. decide on the conduct of all operations involving credit.
7. In the same way, the Workers' Council resolves any conflicts concerning the hiring and firing of all workers employed in the enterprise.
8. The Workers' Council has the right to examine the balance sheets and to decide on the use to which the profits are to be put.
9. The Workers Council handles all social questions in the enterprise.

It was an attempt to establish workers' control, and, to an extent, workers' self-management, in the work-place. It wasn't concerned with abstractions but with a day-to-day reality and it represented a starting-point for the workers' councils

The Russians launched a counter-attack on November 4th. 150,000 men and thousands of tanks were used. Nagy appealed to the U.N. and took refuge in the Yugoslav embassy. A puppet government under Kadar took over. The military defeat of the Hungarian workers and peasants took just over a week. Resistance continued for many months but the rising had been crushed. As long as the workers’ councils held the legitimacy of worker’s interests, Kadar's government had to defuse their militancy. Attempts to “legalise” and emasculate them were met by strikes, so in November 1957, the Hungarian government simply abolished them.  

The United Nations Committee investigating the uprising was told by a Hungarian professor of philosophy, "It was unique in history that the Hungarian revolution had no leaders. It was not organised; it was not centrally directed. The will for freedom was the moving force in every action." The same point is well made by two fighters: "There was no organisation whatsoever, consequently there was no discipline either, but there was astonishingly good teamwork." "Some people got together, fought, went home, then others came and continued the fight." The workers of Hungary proved once again that freedom comes from below, not from any leadership ('revolutionary' or otherwise). That the Uprising had no leaders was not a sign of weakness but of strength, for while it is possible to execute a few leaders, it is much more difficult to execute a whole people and a people who do not place their faith in a leadership, cannot be subsequently betrayed by them.

Continuing resistance can be gauged from the scale of the repression: the curfew was not lifted until May 1957; summary justice was not brought to an end till November 1957; during 1957 and 1958, executions occurred virtually every day; two years after the revolution, there were some 40,000 political prisoners; in 1959, nine members of the Ujpest Workers' Council were executed. It was not till January 1960 that death sentences were officially ended for 'offences' during the revolution. The last internment camps were closed in June 1960, but several hundred rebels were not released from prison till the late 'sixties and early 'seventies.

When those Russian tanks invaded Hungary to quell a popular rebellion for democratic rights it destroyed any lingering illusions that state-capitalist Russia was anything other than an oppressive occupying power. One political cost was the damage done to the British Communist Party with many of its members resigning, from which it never recovered.

Approximately 200,000 (about 2% of the Hungarian population at the time) fled abroad as refugees. The present prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban should be reminded of this fact when he builds his razor-wire fences and deploys his police and border guards to keep out the current refugees who are fleeing repression.