Monday, July 27, 2015

Bring the walls down

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On the US/Mexican border there were a total of 2,268 Border Patrol agents in 1980; by 2012 the Border Patrol had funding for 21,370 agents, nearly 10 times as many as 20 years earlier. The Border Patrol's annual budget was $263 million in 1990; by 2014 it had jumped thirteen-fold to $3.6 billion.

The US had already built 651 miles of fencing as of February 2012 and the estimated cost of the fence's construction and its maintenance over the next 20 years is $6.5 billion.

The government has been imposing criminal sentences on border crossers since 2005; the program, code-named "Operation Streamline," had processed 208,939 people by the end of 2012. While it's hard to estimate the total bill for Streamline, it could be costing us as much as $300 million a year just through the increase it has created in the federal prison population.

Why do some US politicians constantly call for more border enforcement. One obvious reason is it is quite profitable for powerful business interests. In September 2006, for example, the Boeing corporation won a contract worth an estimated $2.5 billion to set up the "Secure Border Initiative Network" (SBInet), a web of new surveillance technology and sensors with real-time communications systems. After spending $1 billion on this "virtual fence," the government scrapped the project in January 2011, saying it "does not meet current standards for viability and cost effectiveness." A growing number of Border Patrol agents and their increasing militarization translates into a higher demand for more guns and other equipment from the "defense” industries. This is especially important as the US military reduces its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. "So as the wars are winding down, we're trying to find more applications for this technology here in the US," a division manager from the Applied Research Associates firm explained to the Huffington Post in April.

Increased border enforcement also means increased incarceration for immigrants and this means more business for the private “for-profit” prison industry. In the decade leading up to 2013, just three of these companies poured out some $45 million in various lobbying efforts. Recipients of funds from the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country's largest private prison company, include such rabidly anti-immigrant Republicans as Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.

Creating anxiety about immigration has political uses as well. As Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey, observed, "Politicians find the symbolic trope of an 'invasion of illegal aliens' too useful to give up." Xenophobic and irrational fears of invasion, violation and disease from foreign and dark-skinned people have historically provided a good tool for distracting the US population from the real failures of the political and economic system. In August 2014, Georgia Republican Phil Gingrey, then a member of the House of Representatives, suggested that Central American minors might be carrying the Ebola virus. Gingrey, formerly a practicing physician, should have  known that no Ebola cases had ever been reported in Latin America. Donald Trump and right-wing columnist Ann Coulter slanders all immigrants as thieves, rapists and murderers, pandering the same part of the national psyche as white racists' fraudulent rape charges against African Americans, the rationalization for thousands of lynchings in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Forgotten are the At least 5,607 people died while attempting to enter the country between 1994 and 2008, many buried in unmarked mass graves. University of California, San Diego professor Wayne Cornelius has noted that the death toll at the border just in the decade from 1993 to 2003 was more than 10 times as high as the number of people killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall in its 28-year history. The deaths have continued even as the rate of border crossings fell: an average of 360 people died this way each year in 2010 and 2011. This is the real border crisis, and we shouldn't ignore an irrational enforcement policy killing hundreds of innocent human beings each year for the supposed crime of wanting to get a job or to reunite with friends and family.


He who pays the piper calls the tune

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The Socialist Party holds no party line on a number of environmental issues that are dear to many peoples’ hearts. However, we do propose a society which has democratic structures in place so that decisions can be made by the people for the people based upon the fullest untainted information available. Capitalism, on the other hand, is all about vested interests possessing political power and suppressing access to information.

We previously posted a report about one of the many fracking lobbies endeavouring to influence the American presidential election process. We now post a story that members of U.S. Congress who vote against mandatory labeling for genetically modified (GMO) products receive three times as much funding from the food and agriculture lobbies as their colleagues, according to new reporting from Open Secrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics. Coincidence? We think not. Supporters of the anti-labeling bill which passed the House of Representatives last Thursday collectively received $29.9 million from the agribusiness lobby and food and beverage industry during the 2014 election cycle. At 230 Republicans and 45 Democrats, that averages roughly $108,900 per member to support HR 1599—officially titled the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. HR1599 was backed by the food industry, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Monsanto Company, which have poured money into defeating GMO labeling initiatives. HR 1599 passed with 275 to 150 votes.

Co-sponsors of the anti-labeling bill "received six-figure dollar amounts from providers of agricultural services and products...during the 2014 election cycle. That put them high among the top 20 recipients of funds from the industry," Open Secrets reports. Among those lawmakers are Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Mike Conaway (R-Texas), and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), most of whom also sit on the House Agriculture Committee. Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), two original sponsors of the legislation, were the top two current House members receiving the most money from the Grocery Manufacturers Association in 2014. The grocery manufacturers — who have spent $4.1 million lobbying on all issues so far this year, almost as much as they spent in all of 2014 — have lobbied on the bill more than any other organization, mentioning the measure on 14 lobbying reports this year. After the Grocery Manufacturers Association, PepsiCo Inc ($2.5 million in overall lobbying this year) and Monsanto Co ($2.6 million) have mentioned the bill most frequently.

Food and environmental activists called for the Senate to vote down HR 1599 when it reaches the chamber. "Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored," Andrew Kimbrell, executivedirector of Center for Food Safety, said.

We have just the thing to cure you...

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Following on from our previous article on the pharmaceutical business practices we read in thisarticle of further deceit. 

Pharmaceutical corporations have created expensive drugs that treat such rare conditions as being sleepy during the day – that may mean you have narcolepsy says Jazz Pharmaceuticals which its drug Xyrem treats for $35,000 per year.  If you have frequent diarrhea, gas and bloating, it might not be because of your bad diet and eating habits but because you may have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency says AbbVie to sell the drug Creon. Your sore back may not be from your exertions at work but from a disease called ankylosing spondylitis, says AbbVie, a condition that can be treated with its biologic drug Humira for as much as $20,000 a year. (Injectable “biologic” drugs are a new drug industry push because they are so expensive and less susceptible to generic competition than pills.)

Drug companies say they charge those outrageous prices as recouping their research and development costs but admit that their drugs are priced on “value”—what they are “worth” for the patient’s health. Needless to say such valuations come pretty close to the definition of extortion—offers you “can’t refuse.”

Why does the same hepatitis C drug that costs $84,000 a year in the US cost $900 a year in Egypt asked Forbes staff writer Avik Roy. Since most hepatitis C patients in the US are uninsured, underinsured or imprisoned, taxpayers pick up the bill through Medicaid, the VA and prison systems writes Roy.

Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals who made the statin Lipitor the best selling drug in the world before it went off patent are rolling out a cholesterol lowering drug which could be embraced by the millions. The list price of Praluent, an injectable biologic, is over $14,600 a year.  Like Gilead, Sanofi and Regeneron say the price reflects what it is worth in potential benefits to patients and savings to the health care system—e.g. what they can get.

The rise and fall of the Labour Party

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Where did the Labour Party come from – and where is it now headed?

The rise of industrial factory production in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to the displacement of agricultural workers into industrial labour in the enlarging towns. There was already a clearly divided society between the majority of the people – the farm workers, labourers, servants and peripherals (soldiers, minor traders and so on) – and the gentry (the owners of the land, property etc) who were an upper ruling class apart and the owners and instigators of the new industrialisation.

The working conditions in the factories, mines, mills and the like were dire, long and harsh, often dangerous. The vote was limited to the gentry and the monarchy (Magna Carta).  Protests by the workers at the harshness – a form of industrial slavery – were repressed by ‘law and order’ armed forces.

The accumulation of money, not just the ownership, soon became a dominant feature of the upper ruling class – the acquisition of capital was a spur to production with the growing science and technology creating more productive labour workers.

One machine could do 700 hours of manual labour – and so the divide between labour and capital ownership become more evident and eventually led to the development of trade unionism, aspiring for unity and fairness, and for social reform.

By the late nineteenth and early twentieth century this was spreading across the industrialised countries of Europe and the concept of a different society evolved – one of more equality and common ownership of the means of production.  Several elements came together and the term ‘Socialism’ was born.  A loose socialist federation of workers, trade unionists and progressive intellectuals  with the same socialist aspiration.

The Labour Party was born from the trade unions with the support of intellectual activists such as the Fabian Society, democrats and others to win the united support of the workers with ‘practical’ reforms as an inevitable steam-roller progress to a better world.  Similar political movements also arose such as the Communists.

One party however, was formed in 1904 which stood clearly and solely for the democratic understanding and support of the majority of the people for the fundamental change from class ownership to the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution – anything less would be a diversion leading to the continuation of capitalism. That party was the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Over the twentieth century the Labour Party and other reformists thrived, with much popular support for reforms culminating, perhaps, in the apogee of the sweeping election victory of 1945 and the rise of the Communists in Russia. It was a poisoned chalice. Besotted with their triumph, they were consumed with the power of running a capitalist state. Their last vestiges of socialist aspiration had died.

We still have capitalism with all its fearful flaws and inequalities, and socialist society is still seen as a fanciful irrelevancy.

Now the Labour Party is entirely consumed and thinks of nothing but the best way to get elected to run capitalism, just as do the Conservatives, Liberals, UKIP and all the rest. They are essentially indistinguishable and sterile, looking for leaders to hopefully sort out our lives for us. They shake their heads at socialism as unpractical utopianism while they recruit and train ‘heroes’ to kill other ‘heroes’ in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan to acquire ‘their’ oil etc. They end up with billionaires and food banks.  The halcyon days of trade unionism, the ’left’ wing, the formation of the capitalist NHS with the disillusionment of the early ‘socialists’ such as Aneurin Bevan are now effete.  Reduced to the discussion of capitalist power through the pathetic smog of Cameron v.  Miliband (or whoever takes over from him - can you tell the difference?)

No wonder people want to escape to triviality - Downton, Emmerdale, etc. But think about it. Take your life from their hands to the better world of true civilisation of humanity – before it’s too late!
LES COURTNEY

Unemployment isn't an illness

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The British Medical Journal has published a study that impacts upon our understanding of the State’s role in medicalising unemployment. It is well worth quoting extracts from it

Eligibility for social security benefits in many advanced economies is dependent on unemployed and underemployed people carrying out an expanding range of job search, training and work preparation activities, as well as mandatory unpaid labour (workfare). Increasingly, these activities include interventions intended to modify attitudes, beliefs and personality. We now have a situation being implemented where there is the use of psychology in the delivery of workfare functions to erase the experience and effects of social and economic inequalities, to construct a psychological ideal that links unemployment to psychological deficit, and so to authorise the extension of state—and state-contracted—surveillance to psychological characteristics.

Welfare reforms have led to increased emphasis on the conditionality of social security payments and the ‘activation’ of their recipients, avowedly to avert or correct ethical and psychological ‘dependency’ and other forms of debility, depression and etiolated work ethic, which are widely thought to be both symptom and cause of unemployment. Failure to meet conditions placed on eligibility for benefits is punished directly by benefit sanctions (the part or total cessation of social security payments for a given period of time), as well as indirectly by compulsory ‘support’ in the form of workfare, ‘skills training’, psychological referral or psychometric testing. The conditions are diverse in kind as well as wide-ranging: from age and residence criteria, or restrictions on numbers of (paid) hours worked per week, to possession of certain levels of qualifications and the capacity to demonstrate positive opinions on employment. The expansion of conditionality in this way is linked to the continually increasing rate at which Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) and Employment and Support Allowance claimants are sanctioned (the three months to September 2013 saw JSA claimants sanctioned at a rate of 6% of claimants per month, the highest since the introduction of JSA in 1996). Failure to participate in a training or employment scheme is the most frequently occurring ‘failure’ that results in a sanction. These mandatory interventions designed to ‘shift attitudes and beliefs’ have become an important element of ‘activating’ the unemployed, and are the focus of this paper. Although payments by the state to people without jobs have been tied to desirable patterns of behaviour since their first institution, the unemployment policies of reformed welfare states now aim at more complete and intimate behaviour change through coercive mechanisms of greater scope
Workfare means the ‘work-for-your-benefits’ schemes in which unemployed people are forced to work for a charity, business, social enterprise, public service or government agency in order to continue to be eligible for benefits. We also include the range of skills-building and motivational workshops that are presented alongside such schemes—as part of a range of activities that unemployed people are obliged to undertake—and schemes that are composed of training courses in tandem with unpaid work (Skills Conditionality is an example of the former; Traineeships and Sector-Based Work Academies of the latter). The participation of unemployed people in schemes with training elements is secured by the same means as work placement schemes: through the threat—tacit or explicit, indirect or direct—of sanctions. Workfare is central to normalisation of the idea that harsh sanctions should be used to underwrite certain obligations of citizenship, and to singling out as the paramount obligation the enforcement of work, with no regard to the specific character of that work or to a person's other responsibilities. Workfare furthers the separation of work and livelihood and normalises the idea that certain groups of people are not entitled to payment for their labour and that lengthy periods of unpaid labour (eg, internships or ‘volunteering’) are a precondition for employment. In this way, it undermines the security, pay and conditions of all workers and non-workers. Moreover, it demands that people assent to the idea that paid work as it is currently organised is the only route to both personal fulfilment and public value and obscures the economic reality of a dual labour market that produces and relies upon the stratification of work and the escalating inequalities in income and quality of working life.

Psycho-compulsion, defined as the imposition of psychological explanations for unemployment, together with mandatory activities intended to modify beliefs, attitude, disposition or personality, has become a more and more central feature of activating the unemployed and hence of people’s experience of unemployment. There has been little debate about the recruitment of psychology—and, by implication, psychologists—into monitoring, modifying and punishing people who claim social security benefits or research into the impact of mandatory positive affect on an expanding range of ‘unproductive’ or failing citizens: those who are out of work, not working enough, not earning enough and/or failing to seek work with sufficient application. A number of reports produced for the Cabinet Office under both the previous Labour government and the current Coalition have drawn centrally upon psychology and behavioural economics for the legitimation and direction of behaviour change policy or ‘instrumental behaviourism’. Psychology allied to behavioural economics allows the sector to consolidate its self-conception as an industry in its own right that sets its own standards and regulates itself. In this setting, psychology (and ‘therapy discourse’ more generally) coproduces and validates the core mythologies of neoliberalism, while simultaneously undermining and eroding alternative discourses—of solidarity, collectivity and interdependence. It functions not only to reinforce the view that achieving the status of (paid) working citizen is ‘the pinnacle of human experience’ but also to construct a very specific definition of the attitudes, beliefs and attributes that constitute ‘employability’: the ‘right kind of subject’; the ‘right kind of affect’. The roll-call of valued characteristics familiar from positive psychology, the wellbeing industry and public health—‘confidence, optimism, self-efficacy, aspiration’—are imposed in and through programmes of mandatory training and job preparation. They also feature centrally in the way in which people receiving benefits frame their own experiences. The duties of citizenship are expanded to include enforced rational self-governance so that liberal subjects’ capabilities, inclinations and desires are in accord with values and expectations that are identified as already given by a civil society centred on the labour market. These kinds of policies, seeking to model in unemployed people the imperatives of the market, are carried out by means of the market, through those who are paid to ‘activate’ claimants and those who benefit from their unpaid labour.

The imposition of psychological explanations for unemployment functions to erase the economic realities of the labour market and authorises the extension of state-sanctioned surveillance to psychological characteristics. Compulsory positive affect and psychological authority are being applied in workfare in order to (1) identify ostensible psychological barriers to gaining employment and to inculcate attributes and attitudes said to increase employability; (2) punish people for non-compliance (through conditionality and benefit sanctions) and (3) legitimise workfare and other coercive labour market measures. The consistent failure of workfare interventions to achieve their stated aim of improving work outcomes—both in the UK and internationally—has resulted in a much greater focus on psychological or ‘soft outcomes’, said to ‘move people closer to work’. ‘Soft outcomes’ disarticulate work and wages by treating a job as something that may be gained by possessing the right attitude to work (an attitude for which one must labour) and work as something to be valued because it evinces and activates the right attitude in the (potential) employee—rather than because it allows one to purchase a living. At the same time, the means by which soft outcomes are regulated (sanctions: for failures in attitude and in compliance with the actions demanded by active labour market measures) link together more closely than ever a person's failure to manifest the right attitude and their inability to afford to purchase a living. Efforts to achieve these ‘soft outcomes’ are evident in the course content of mandatory training programmes run by major workfare contractors like A4e and Ingeus and are increasingly apparent in the personal testimonies of claimants.

In a scheme recently announced, claimants will undergo interviews to assess whether they have a ‘psychological resistance’ to work, along with attitude profiling to judge whether they are ‘bewildered, despondent or determined’.Those deemed ‘less mentally fit’ will be subject to more intensive coaching, while those who are ‘optimistic’—such as graduates or those who have recently been made redundant—can be placed on less rigorous regimes. This classification system will be used to recruit to a new scheme obliging those who are long-term unemployed to spend 35 hours a week at a job centre. Jobcentres and the premises of welfare-to-work contractors are not neutral settings for interventions or decisions about the relative degree of unemployed people's material hardship, ‘willingness to work’, ‘readiness’ for work or ‘resistance’ to work: they are intensely anxiety-inducing and intimidating locations that bear witness to marked imbalances of power.

The participation of psychology and psychologists in the delivery of coercive goals in welfare reform clearly raises ethical questions. here is no evidence that work programme psycho-interventions increase the likelihood of gaining paid work that lasts any length of time. In perpetuating notions of psychological failure, they shift attention away from the social patterning of unemployment and from wider trends: market failure, precarity, the rise of in-work poverty, the cost of living crisis and the scale of income inequalities. They contribute centrally to the reification of paid work and the concomitant devaluing and discounting of all other activities, contributions, values and commitments. Above all, psychology is implicated in what amounts to a ‘substitution of outcomes’, where the modification of psychological attributes stands in for delivering actual improvements in household income or increasing the availability of real paid work.

Psychological fundamentalism—also evident in the burgeoning well-being industry—together with the rise of psychological conditionality, has a very direct impact on the lives of people claiming welfare benefits. This impact has barely been documented and highlights the need for deeper research scrutiny and more pressing questions about relationships between psychology and the medical humanities.


"Your money or your life."

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Americans diagnosed with cancer are at risk of losing their life savings because cancer drug costs are escalating almost as fast as the worst forms of the disease, according to a Mayo Clinic medical journal article decrying these costs signed by scores of nationally known oncologists. Nearly 120 oncologists co-authored the article, including more than 30 past presidents of the American Societies of Clinical Oncology, Hematology and Cancer.

There will be a rising incidence of cancer in the aging population and high cancer drug prices will affect millions of Americans.

“In the United States, the average price of new cancer drugs increased 5- to 10-fold over 15 years, to more than $100,000 per year in 2012,” the article says. “The cost of drugs for each additional year lived (after adjusting for inflation) has increased from $54,000 in 1995 to $207,000 in 2013. This increase is causing harm to patients with cancer and their families.”

Cancer will affect one in three people during their lives. Most health plans require co-pays of 20 to 30 percent of the total drug cost. In 2014, all of the cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—including promising approaches such as molecular-focused therapies—were “priced above $120,000 per year,” Mayo noted. That figure is double the average annual U.S. household income of $52,000. “Patients with cancer then have to make difficult choices between spending their incomes (and liquidating assets) on potentially lifesaving therapies or foregoing treatment to provide for family necessities (food, housing, education),” Mayo said. “This decision is even more critical for senior citizens who are more frequently affected by cancers and have lower incomes and limited assets.” Oral medications were most expensive, but their overall sky-high cost meant that “10 to 20 percent of patients with cancer do not take the perscribed treatment or compromise it.”

“Cancer is very scary,” Dr. Ayalew Tefferi, the lead author, told NPR. “Everybody’s shocked. But they don’t know about the second shock coming, and that is the financial destruction that’s coming with it. That comes in the course of treatment. That comes after the patient dies. All of a sudden, they see that their lifelong savings is being given to drug companies.” Tefferi explained , “It is a crisis, an ongoing crisis, that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. This undermines our Hippocratic Oath, and undermines our responsibilities to our patients.”

Tefferi blames drug company greed, physicians who are too quick to prescribe new drugs without proven efficacy, health insurers willing to go along with upwards of $3,000-a-month co-pays, and a lack of federal government oversight adding checks and balances to a Wild West of drug pricing — especially for the federal health plan for seniors, Medicare, which is barred from negotiating drug prices. “The prices are fixed by the drug companies,” Tefferi said. “There is no regulation… drug companies hold the cards in terms of deciding how much we have to pay for them, or the patients have to pay for them.” Medicare, unlike the Department of Veterans Affairs, has been barred by Congress from negotiating for drug price breaks—one of the pharmaceutical industry’s sordid lobbying achievements.

Countering the pharmaceutical claims that they are not exploitative, Donald W. Light, a fellow at Harvard University’s E.J. Safra Center for Ethics and a professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, and Hagop Kantarjian, professor and chair of the Department of Leukemia at MD Anderson Cancer Center, in the May issue of AARP Bulletin, said, “The argument that drug companies are offering improved drugs for these higher prices is not true,” they continued. “Oncologists find that most new cancer drugs provide few clinical advantages over existing ones. Only one of the 12 new cancer drugs approved in 2012 helps patients survive more than two months longer.” The two researchers also deconstructed the industry’s claim that it spends on average $1.3 billion to create new drugs and get FDA approval. The real figure would be one-tenth of that—closer to $125 million, they said, after deducting taxpayer subsidies, comparisons to other investment opportunities, inflating the cost of basic research and other factors. “In sum, we find no credible evidence that the real research costs to major companies themselves for cancer research are higher than producing other drugs,” their AARP analysis said. “So why are cancer drug prices higher? We think pharmaceutical companies are price-gouging. Even worse, companies raise the prices on some of their older drugs by 20 to 25 percent a year. In the past decade, they have almost doubled their prices for cancer drugs.”

The pharmaceutical industry is presently lobbying Congress to pass a bill that would slow the distribution of generic drugs—adding billions to annual taxpayer costs for Medicare and Medicaid, progressive economists say—by exempting drug makers from a new patent review board that was intended to keep companies from making bogus claims about their patents. In other words, while some of the nation's leading cancer doctors are trying to draw attention to an unnecessary medical crisis causing financial ruin for many American households, the pharmaceutical industry is pressuring Congress to give it greater profit-making abilities.

Capitalism once more proves how sick a society it is when it endeavours to make profits off sick people. It preys on the weak the vulnerable and the elderly. Of course, the blame doesn't belong to just the pharmaceutical companies and the US Government, but the American people as well. It is the majority of American people who think the capitalist system is perfectly fine. It is the majority of American people who voted in Congressmen and Congresswomen who continue to vote in the interests of massive companies at the expense of the same people who voted them in. (Just where do the “pro-lifers” actually stand?) The drug companies and the government may be the ones working the levers of our national demise, but it is the American people cheering them on. We cannot change the system by using the system itself. The so-called safety-net doesn't exist in any shape, manner or form. Business exists to make a profit. If it's activities end up benefiting people, that's an unintended consequence, a mere "bonus". But the first interest of any business is to make a profit. Everything else is secondary to that. 

Big Pharma is murdering us for their profits but they kill us off slowly to ensure a healthy return before our demise.


Buying the Politicians

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Brothers Grimm, Farris and Dan Wilks, billionaires who have enriched themselves from fracking in West Texas, made a “record-setting” $15 million contribution to the pro-Ted Cruz Super PAC Keep The Promise. This is the largest-known donation by any individuals in the 2016 race so far.

It should be no surprise that in 2014, Cruz introduced the so-called American Energy Renaissance Act, which among other things curtailed the federal government's power to regulate fracking altogether while opening up more land and offshore territory to dirty energy exploration. He called the fracking boom a “providential blessing.” Cruz also praised Pennsylvania for its embrace of fracking in the Marcellus shale, and condemned New York for its cautiousness on the process.

The root of all this, the fracking, the politics, the manipulation, the power, it all stems from our system of market/monetary economics. You need to look past all of this. The effects of money are very real. War, poverty, politics, crime, abhorrent behavior, mental and physical illness and the waste of a planetary resources. Ted Cruz wouldn't exist in a world without money. Nor Bernie Sanders.

A real economy would be concerned with the well-being of all the world’s people. With the well-being of the planet we live on. The only one we live on. We need to eliminate the market/monetary system. Or our children, and if they are lucky, their children will see a repeat of the same old story, time and again. Just as we have all seen all our lives. One against the other. Self interest, differential advantage, social stratification, and scarcity does not generate a healthy society as the collapse of all such societies through out recorded history shows.


The monetary/market/scarcity/slavery paradigm is not the only socioeconomic system we can operate under. We do have the technology to change the world. We can create access abundance in accordance with natural laws that is sustainable and provides a high standard of living for all people.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Eat Local or Global?

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Many environmentalists embrace the idea of locavore, that is, food produced on small farms close to where it is consumed—or "local food" for short. Although it accounts for only about 2% of all the food produced in the United States today,  the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sales of food going directly from farmers' fields to consumer's kitchens have more than tripled in the past twenty years. Despite the endorsement of celebrity chefs and many community organisations Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu in their 2012 book ‘The Locavore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet’ take the contrary view to its supposed ecological benefits and argue that it actually conflicts with the goal of feeding more people better food in an ecologically sustainable way.

The advocates of local food includes in  its economic benefits what economists call the "multiplier effect": A dollar spent on local food results in a local farmer spending part of that dollar on other goods and services in the local economy, creating a virtuous circle of wealth and jobs. Critics counter that through specialization and trade food can be grown with fewer resources and with the fewest costs than the higher-priced local produce. In effect, goes the argument, we are all poorer by paying the premium prices of local food, since those higher prices eat into our ability to buy other goods and services. Also because there is a correlation between income, on one hand, and the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other, the higher prices of local food would make consumers poorer and more reliant on unhealthy food.

Further, the claims that the environment benefits is challenged. Locavores have argued that transporting food long distances is bad environmental behavior and that reducing "food miles" is an important reason for buying local food. Critics point out that since food transport accounts for less than 5% of the carbon emissions embodied in food in the United States, it is better to exploit comparative advantage in growing conditions—reducing the use of land, water, chemicals, and energy—and engage in long-distance trade. For example, growing tomatoes in the UK reportedly produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions associated with importing them from Spain, since the extra energy and fertilizer required for greenhouse-grown tomatoes overwhelms the emissions savings from reduced transport. Further, individual car trips to farmers' markets may cause more pollution than shipping large quantities of food via trucks or ships, which take advantage of economies of scale in transport.

 Economist Edward Glaeser, in a critique of the trend toward urban farming, estimates that urban population densities would need to be cut in half if just 7% of existing agricultural land were relocated to metro areas. Since lower population densities would lead to longer commutes, he argues that urban farming will increase rather than cut carbon emissions.

James E. McWilliams argues that local food systems in water-scarce cities like Las Vegas and Santa Fe could only be created "through costly and environmentally damaging irrigation projects." The failed Saudi wheat growing experiment in the 1980s wasted hundreds of billions of cubic meters of water. The international price of wheat at the time was $120 per ton while Saudi wheat, reflecting these high resource requirements, cost $500 per ton to produce. In sum, food grown in accordance with the principles of comparative advantage and economies of scale should save resources and reduce carbon emissions.

Surely, fresh, local food tastes better? But what about the folk in the northern regions of the world, local farms will not deliver fresh fruits and vegetables in the middle of winter and lead to a less diverse and nutritious diet for part of the year.

Economists suggest that exploiting a region's comparative advantage in food production through specialization, and taking advantage of economies of scale, is the only way to efficiently feed the nine to ten billion people we can expect to inhabit the planet by 2050. In addition, specialization and trade is billed as a way to reduce geographic-specific risks, in the face of environmental and political change. Localised crop failure because of weather events or blighted by disease or pests could mean food shortages that today is compensated by relief efforts able to deliver the products of large-scale monocultures grown in distant lands.

Does those criticisms mean socialism will not encourage more food being growing for local consumption and still remain tied to the global food chain?. The answer is that it will only be with a socialist system that many of the faults of the locavore model can be overcome, when profits and the monetarisation of food is no longer a factor. Our ecosystem limits cannot be ignored and are not simply costs that can be traded off against commercial benefits. There exists many external costs such as the  production practices that routinely poison farmworkers, deplete soil nutrients, destroy rural communities, breed herbicide-resistant weeds, impoverish farmers, and contaminate waterways destroying marine life and biodiversity. The capitalist market is simply the means that coordinates production and distribution decisions through its near-magical capacity to gather information about consumers' preferences and producers' costs. Yet, looking at actual relationships between agribusiness and contract farmers, farm owners and farmworkers, food corporations and low-income consumers, the government and immigrant workers—gives us a clearer and better picture of who determines what costs and benefits are created in the food system and how these costs and benefits are distributed. Falling food prices attributed to comparative advantage and economies of scale may be related, instead, to the ability of the powerful to offload social and environmental costs onto the relatively powerless.

Socialism’s end goal is providing enough food for all while staying within ecological limits. It's possible to acknowledge the benefits of the existing industrialised food system without excluding an emphasis on local food. While knowing the farmers that grow your food may be worthwhile, but it's not enough. Only by having a clear view can we make informed, collective decisions that do not alienate or ignore important segments of the community. With socialism decisions to improve our food system will not come about through the market but by moving beyond the notion of shopping our way to a better world, either at the farmers market or the supermarket.


As if we didn't know

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The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found less able, richer children were 35% more likely to become high earners than brighter, poorer peers. 

Wealthier families helped their children accumulate skills valued by the labour market and they also used social networks to secure internships and employment. That meant poorer, but more able children were often blocked from the finite number of top jobs. The report also highlighted a "private school wage premium", where recruitment to high-earning occupations is biased towards those educated in private schools.


The research suggests there is a clear correlation between the social background of a child's grandfather and eventual labour market success.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mexico's poverty increases.

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The poverty rate in Mexico increased, from 45.5 percent in 2012 to 46.2 percent in 2014, representing 55.3 million people.

The study shows that 46.3 percent of women and 46 percent of men live in poverty. Among the indigenous population, traditionally the most disadvantaged segment of Mexican society, the proportion of poor people climbed to 73.2 percent in 2014. Quarterly real household income decreased 3.5 percent between 2012 and 2014.


Last year the minimum wage in Mexico was $146.15 a month, one of the lowest in the Americas, according to a report from the U.N Development Program. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean pointed to Mexico as the only country in the region where someone working full-time at the minimum wage would have an income below the poverty line.

Secrets down on the farm

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Farmers will be able to use blacklisted pesticides linked to serious harm in bees after the UK government temporarily lifted an EU ban. Two neonicotinoid pesticides can now be used for 120 days on about 5% of England’s oil seed rape crop. Products from chemical giants Bayer and Syngenta will be deployed to ward off the cabbage stem flea beetle. Bees and other pollinators are essential for many crops but are in decline due to pesticides, loss of habitat and disease. The EU neonicotinoid ban began in December 2013, after the European Food Safety Authority judged them to pose an unacceptable - and in some cases acute - risk to bees. Scientific research has linked the pesticides to huge losses in the number of queen bees produced and big rises in “disappeared” bees – those that fail to return from feeding trips.

Ministers have not made public the information provided by the NFU, citing commercial confidentiality.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) also told its expert committee on pesticides (ECP) to halt its normal practice of publishing the minutes of meetings at which the neonicotinoid applications were discussed, in order to avoid “provoking representations from different interest groups”.


Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow Defra minister, said: “I have written to environment secretary Liz Truss challenging her to release whatever scientific evidence she considers could possibly justify this decision. Public confidence cannot be maintained if she refuses.” The decision was made public after parliament ended for the summer, making scrutiny by MPs impossible, he said. Gardiner said the Europe-wide ban on neonicotinoids was an essential element of the protection of pollinating insects. “By lifting the ban government is giving in to short term commercial pressures at the expense of the future of British of farming.”

Friday, July 24, 2015

Some more statistics to ponder

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A new study reveals that the United States is less economically mobile than was previously estimated. More and more Americans than ever are convinced that the national ethos—“Work hard and get rich”—is a myth, and they are right. The relationship between class and family background is even stronger than was previously suspected. 

The report, Economic Mobility in the United States, written by Grusky and his Stanford colleague Pablo Mitnik, calculates that approximately half of all parental income advantages in the United States are passed on to children. That means most Americans are likely to remain in the same social class they were born into, be it rich, poor, or middle income.

Grusky and Mitnik use a measure called intergenerational income elasticity, or IGE, to determine the extent to which economic advantage is passed from parents to their children. IGE ranges between 0 and 1. In a society with an IGE of zero, opportunity is equally distributed—rich and poor children have the same expected income as adults. But, when IGE reaches 1, inequality is perfectly reproduced, and children inherit all the advantages and disadvantages of their parents. Prior studies have measured IGE in the U.S. at as low as 0.34, but Grusky and Mitnik’s findings indicate that the country is more immobile than we thought.

The persistence of economic advantage increases as you move higher along the income scale. Between the 50th and 90th percentiles, parents pass on roughly two-thirds of their advantage to their kids. Opportunity is distributed unequally, and children born on the opposite edges of society can expect different futures: A child raised by rich parents can expect a salary 200 percent larger than that of a child raised by low-income parents. “Children who are born into the bottom of the parental income distribution are not getting full access to opportunities,” Grusky says. “That means we’re wasting their talents. That means that our economy is not exploiting all that it should exploit in terms of the potential human capital that’s available to it.”

Last April the Republican-led House voted to eliminate the tax on property transferred from the deceased to their heirs. The tax only applies to estates worth $5.4 million or more, and if eliminated, it would add $270 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years, leaving fewer funds to invest in education and health care, which would enhance economic mobility.

The study reveals how out of reach the American dream has become. While labor has become more efficient and profitable, workers aren’t sharing in the wealth. In the three decades after World War II, for example, worker productivity and hourly wages rose in tandem. But from 1973 to 2013, worker pay rose just 9 percent, even though productivity increased by about 74 percent. “The suppression of wages is the most salient variable limiting or even reversing economic mobility,” says Michael J. Thompson, a political scientist at William Paterson University and author of The Politics of Inequality. The decline of unions is partly responsible for this shift. “When people can no longer bargain for their wages and their work conditions, they will be at the mercy of owners,” Thompson says.

The Commerce Department estimates that American companies earned the most in 85 years, while employees took home the lowest wages since 1948. While employee compensation dropped to its lowest level in 65 years in 2013, corporate profits reached an 85-year high The Commerce Department reported last week that corporations earned $2.1 trillion in 2013, pocketing (after taxes) 10 percent of the country’s GDP. Before 2010, the highest level of after-tax profits was 9.1 percent in 1929, the year the government started keeping records (and the year the Great Depression began). 

 U.S. corporations doing business overseas earned $2.1 trillion in foreign profits, almost doubling their earnings in a five-year span.Overseas earnings are effectively untaxed, which has prompted corporations to come up with more and more creative ways of making money earned at home look like money earned internationally.  General Electric collected the biggest overseas profits: $110 billion. The conglomerate told Reuters, “GE operates in more than 170 countries, and most of these overseas earnings have been reinvested in active business operations like manufacturing facilities and loans to non-U.S. customers.”

Employees, meanwhile, took home the lowest-ever recorded wages and salaries at $7.1 trillion, or 43.5 percent of the economy. They also received fewer benefits: Health insurance, pensions, and other non-cash payments in 2013 were at their lowest since 1948, when the employer-financed system of health insurance was just getting under way. Why are workers receiving a dwindling portion of the nation’s income? Some chalk it up to unions’ declining negotiating power and to globalization, which has turned over some jobs to cheaper workers abroad. Technology also plays a role, as does government policy.

Meanwhile, corporations have been aggressively lobbying to lower the 35 percent top corporate tax rate. Apparently it puts them at a disadvantage in the competitive global market. 

16.1 million kids—22 percent of American children—were living in poverty in 2013, the report found. That’s 3 million more impoverished kids than in 2008, when the nation was reeling from the subprime mortgage crisis. Children of color were worst off, with 39 percent of African American, 37 percent of Native American, and 33 percent of Hispanic kids living in poverty.

“Young children raised in low-income households may get insufficient food and nutrients, which can negatively impact physical development. When children go to school hungry, they are unable to focus their full attention on learning,” wrote the report’s authors. 


Studying is kind of tough when you’re a kid growing up living in a motel or shelter because there’s no place in the United States a parent earning minimum wage can afford a market-rate two-bedroom apartment. Good luck hitting the books if your stomach is growling, which is what faces 25 percent of children living in major cities who don’t have enough food at home, according to No Kid Hungry. They’re getting their meals from schools because their families don’t have enough money for a trip to the grocery store.

Some statistics on who is poor

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The cheer-leaders of capitalism boast that during the first decade of the 21st century, about 700 million people were lifted out of poverty. That is a 14 percent reduction in poverty. The bad news is that moving into, and staying within, the global ‘middle class’ is a significant challenge. The emergence of a truly global ‘middle class’ is still more promise than reality. Although there was growth in the middle-income population from 2001 to 2011, the rise in prosperity was concentrated in certain regions of the globe, namely China, South America and Eastern Europe. The middle class barely expanded in India and Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central America.
http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/07/08/a-global-middle-class-is-more-promise-than-reality/
A recent data analysis on the Global Middle Class by the Pew Research Center found that 71 percent of the global population is either poor (15 percent) or low income (56 percent). The ‘middle class’ is only 13 percent of the total population. To put some hard numbers on those percentages, with a world population of 7.2 billion humans, about 936 million are ‘middle class’. A little more than a billion (1.08) are impoverished, and more than half the world's population, a giant 4.03 billion people, are low income.

84 percent of the world’s population, including those defined as ‘middle class’, lives on less than $20 a day. Surviving on the maximum in the U.S. or Europe would be difficult for an individual -- about $7,300 a year.

Pew divided the world’s population into five groups: Poor, low income, middle income, upper-middle income, and high income. Less than $2 in daily per capita income is considered poor, based on data showing it takes that much to meet bare minimum human needs. Low income is between $2 and $10, and to be part of the global middle-income group takes $10 to $20 a day. Note that for a family of four in the U.S., the poverty line is about $16.65 a day per capita. Income of $20 to $50 a day puts you in the upper-middle income range. More than $50 a day, or about $73,000 a year for a family of four, and you are in the global high income group.

$10 is the lower threshold for middle-income status, it is about the median daily per capita income of U.S. households living in poverty. Pew reports that “a large share of poor people in the U.S. would also fail to meet the global middle-income standard.”

Consider the 71 percent of the world's population that falls into the poor and low-income categories. This group devotes a very large share of its income to food, medicine, clothing, housing, education and energy.  Think of it another way. More than fourth-fifths of world’s population live on less than $20 a day.


The Real Costs Of College Education

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Inflation is such an insidious standard of living destroyer.  Little by little those dollars in your wallet get worth less and you suddenly find yourself needing to go into large levels of debt to purchase cornerstones of the American Dream.  Going to college has been the dream for many Americans after the G.I. Bill was signed into law in 1944.  Even in the early part of our country, going to college was a privilege largely reserved for the elite and wealthy.  It wasn’t viewed as a public good until World War II.  The heyday of the US middle class was after World War II and slowly this has been chipped away starting in the 1970s.  As of today, going to college is fraught with so many financial landmines.  Working class areas are targeted by predatory for-profit colleges.  Many others go to quality schools but come out with too much debt relative to what they can earn in an environment littered by lower wage jobs.  This is the future of higher education.  But think of this jaw dropping stat: since 1990 tuition has gone up 300 percent.  You can rest assured wages have not kept up.

It is interesting that even in the depths of our Great Recession, the cost of going to college continued to go up.  Housing prices crashed.  The stock market tanked.  Deals were to be had on practically everything (if you had money).  Everything but college costs.
The cost of going to college has gone up non-stop since the 1990s and the amount of debt associated with going to college is now the second largest category of debt carried by Americans (behind mortgage debt).

Take a look at this recent chart:

college tuition

















Even in the face of rising energy costs and the biggest housing bubble in our lifetime, college tuition and fees is in a world all unto itself.



Poverty Affects Intelligence

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Growing up poor has long been linked to lower academic test scores. And there’s now mounting evidence that it’s partly because kids can suffer real physical consequences from low family incomes, including brains that are less equipped to learn. An analysis of hundreds of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans found that children from poor households had smaller amounts of gray matter in areas of the brain responsible for functions needed for learning, according to a study published last week in JAMA Pediatrics. The anatomical difference could explain as much as 20 percent of the gap in test scores between kids growing up in poverty and their more affluent peers, according to the research.

Children in households below the federal poverty level — an annual income of about $24,000 for a family of four — had gray matter volumes 7 percent to 10 percent lower than what would be expected for normal development. About 20 percent of American children lived at this income level in 2013, according to census data. Smaller gaps were evident for households considered “near poor,” making up to 150 percent of the poverty level, currently about $36,000 for a family of four.

“It was really when we started getting down into real poverty, real abject poverty, that we started seeing a difference,” says Seth Pollak, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-author of the study. The differences were evident in kids as young as 4, meaning they occur before kindergarten.

The research may understate the size of the effects.

Pollak suspects that poor children “are getting too little of things we need to develop the brain and too much of things that inhibit brain growth.” They may get less stimulation from parents, or lack things like crayons, children’s books, or games. Crowded environments or unstable homes may disrupt their sleep. Poor neighborhoods may not have grocery stores with fresh food, leading to nutritional deficits.

"It's not enough to bring a child into the world, feed them and make sure they don't get injured," said Dr. Joan Luby, director of the Early Emotional Development Programme at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

"People will often ask me, 'What should teachers be doing?' Or, 'What should schools be doing?" Pollak said. "What this says to me is, what should we be doing about environments?" For example, he said children from poor families may not be prepared when they get to school, because they are hungry or tired. You can imagine, no matter what the teacher does, these little people are not showing up ready to learn," Pollak said.

For example, he said children from poor families may not be prepared when they get to school, because they are hungry or tired.


‘Green Capitalism: The God that Failed’

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The climate crisis is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. In a new book, ‘Green Capitalism: The God that Failed’, Richard Smith argues that "sustainable production is certainly possible but not under capitalism" and even more forcefully, "capitalism and saving the planet are fundamentally and irreconcilably at odds." Economic expansion is unavoidable under capitalism, but destruction of the planet is the inexorable result.

A handful of economists propose sustainable capitalist models, such as degrowth or steady-state versions of capitalism; or "green capitalism," in which technological advances, recycling, and a "dematerialized economy" would somehow permit unending yet sustainable growth. The villains for them are "corporate capitalism," "casino capitalism," etc., rather than capitalism itself.

Smith explains, "why ecologically suicidal growth is built into the nature of any conceivable capitalism.  This means ... that the project of a steady-state capitalism is impossible and a distraction." In particular, "under capitalism, the whole point of using resources efficiently is just to use the saved resources to produce even more commodities, to accelerate the conversion of even more natural resources into products." This cannot be avoided under capitalism without causing economic collapse. "Insatiable consumerism is an everyday requirement of capitalist reproduction ... No overconsumption, no growth, no jobs." Why no jobs? Consider that "more than two-thirds of market sales and therefore most jobs, depend on direct sales to consumers while most of the rest of the economy including the infrastructure and military is dedicated to propping up this consumerist 'American way of life.' "Even ignoring that, how could capitalism ever achieve a steady state? "Are Toyota or General Motors looking to produce the same number of steel cars next year as this year?" Smith asks. He goes on to point out that "Consumerism and overconsumption are not 'disposable' and cannot be exorcised because they are not just 'cultural' or 'habitual.' They are built into capitalism and indispensible for the day-to-day reproduction of corporate producers in a competitive market system in which capitalists, workers, consumers and governments alike are all dependent upon an endless cycle of perpetually increasing consumption to maintain profits, jobs, and tax revenues ..."

Smith outlines ecological constraints necessary for any post capitalist economy and describes ecosocialist alternatives to capitalism. The necessary changes are staggering. The entire economy must contract and be restructured with international cooperation. Capitalism is incapable of finding jobs for workers unemployed by degrowth, even though much expansion is needed in social services like health care, education, environmental remediation, etc.
"Since we live under capitalism, not socialism, no one is promising new jobs to all those coal miners, oil drillers, gas frackers, power plant operators, farmers and fertilizer manufacturers, loggers and builders, autobuilders, truck drivers, airplane builders, airline pilots and crews and the countless other occupations whose jobs would be at risk if fossil fuel use were really seriously curtailed."
Smith recognizes that building a movement requires more than being against ecocidal destruction; it requires a vision for the future. To that end he outlines a number of attractive and attainable features of an ecosocialist society.

Capitalism has had its time.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

71 Today - IMF/WB

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TWINS

  In 1944, in the tourist resort of Bretton Woods, it was confirmed that the twin brothers humanity needed were in gestation.

  One was to be called International Money Fund and the other World Bank.

  Like Romulus and Remus, the twins were nursed by a she-wolf until they took up residence in the city of Washington, cheek by jowl with the White House.

  Ever since, these two have governed the governments of the world. In countries where no one elected them, the twins impose obeisance as if it were destiny: they keep watch, they threaten, they punish, they quiz - have you behaved yourself?
Have you done your homework?

Eduardo Galeano from Children of the Days

Retirement or death can't be too far away.

 

A Great Hoax - Education Could Be Free

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A group of anti-debt camaigners pulled off a creative hoax on Monday by falsely announcing it had won a coveted prize offered by the nation’s student “aid” industry with this innovative proposal: “end student debt for good by making higher education tuition free for all.”

 Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 9.20.12 AM






















Debt Collective, which is a new debtors’ union that formed as an offshoot of Strike Debt, created a fake Twitter handle, blog post, and image announcing the group’s receipt of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators’ Big Idea award.
The announcements were released right in the middle of a New Orleans conference of the NASFAA, which says it represents “20,000 student financial assistance professionals at approximately 3,000 colleges, universities.”
While Debt Collective’s award announcement was fake, their proposal was completely real.

“You may be asking how we can afford to completely fund public education,” said the organization in a blog post. “Our research shows that after stripping off the amount that the government already spends to subsidize higher education—including at predatory for-profit institutions—the total amount of new money necessary would be as little as $15 billion a year. Fifteen billion is a fraction of one percent of yearly government spending; it is merely a rounding error in the federal budget, less than the government currently spends on tax breaks for just 20 corporations.”

Debt Collective’s publicly available proposal, which was not formally submitted to the conference, declares: “Free higher education is possible. In fact, many countries around the world fund public universities, and college was low-cost or free in the United States for much of the 20th century.”

The Big Idea prize is advertised by NASFAA as “a game show-style event where financial aid administrators, researchers and other interested stakeholders will have the chance to present their innovative policy ideas to reform and improve federal student aid programs and policies.” The conference itself is sponsored by numerous big banks and student loan companies.
NASFAA, which claims to advocate for “public policies that increase student access and success,” was not amused by the trick. “NASFAA has not given any awards to the organization Debt Collective, despite its false claims on a phony Twitter account,” NASFAA told Common Dreams over Twitter.

Ann Larson, a New York-based organizer with the Debt Collective, told Common Dreams that the spectacle was aimed at “countering the narrative” of the conference.
“The narrative is that they are coming up with innovative solutions and payment plans, allowing people who couldn’t go to college to afford to do so,” said Larson. “Our message is that there is this huge industry, with thousands at the conference and all talking about supposedly innovative solutions and student debt. But they are ignoring the most simple and affordable option: make college free. The fact that there is an entire industry built around ignoring that solution strikes us as astounding.”

from here

Anything to embarrass the wealth-seekers! SOYMB endorses free access to everything for everybody. Free everything and everything for free.


Transcending The Logic Of Capitalism

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Ecological Crisis and the Tragedy of the Commodity


We live in an era of ecological crisis, which is a direct result of human actions. Natural scientists have been debating whether the current historical epoch should be called the Anthropocene, in order to mark the period in which human activities became the primary driver of global ecological change.[1]
Initially, it was proposed that this new epoch, corresponding with the rise of modern capitalist and industrial development, began in the eighteenth century. The growth imperative of capitalism, as well as other sociocultural changes, is a primary factor generating major environmental problems that culminate in ecological crisis.[2]

It has become increasingly clear that humans face an existential crisis. The environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben explains:
Earth has changed in profound ways, ways that have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived…. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it has—even if we don’t quite know it yet. We imagine we still live back on that old planet, that the disturbances we see around us are the old random and freakish kind. But they’re not. It’s a different place. A different planet…. This is one of those rare moments, the start of a change far larger and more thoroughgoing than anything we can read in the records of man, on a par with the biggest dangers we can read in the records of rock and ice.[3]
Many modern ecological problems are referred to as a tragedy of the commons, a concept developed by Garrett Hardin in the 1960s to describe the overexploitation or despoliation of natural resources.[4] We contend that they are actually associated with the tragedy of the commodity. While an obvious play on Hardin’s concept, this approach offers, we argue, a much more comprehensive and historically appropriate analysis of the drivers of ecological degradation.
The classic illustration of the tragedy of the commons used by Hardin involved the dynamic of herders and their livestock. He claimed that each herder will act primarily in his or her own interest by adding additional livestock to common grazing land when it served to increase individual benefits. Therefore, Hardin argued, each herder would attempt to acquire the benefits offered by the commons, while socializing the costs to all. For example, by adding an extra animal to the pasture the herder reaps all the benefit, but pays only a fraction of the environmental costs, such as depletion of the grazing land. Each actor, motivated by individual maximization of benefits, increasingly introduces grazing animals into a finite system of resources, leading to the tragic destruction of the land. With this Hardin concludes “freedom in commons brings ruin to all.”[5] For Hardin, and many others who have adopted this perspective, expanding private property is offered as a leading policy solution for avoiding ecological tragedies.[6]

The tragedy of the commons theory explains the behaviors of individual actors in given social circumstances. However, it does not address how historical conditions and the socioeconomic system influence individual actors. In other words, the social context is simply taken for granted. The existing social conditions and relations are regarded as ever-present, universal, and permanent. The model neglects to recognize that human interactions and exchanges with ecological systems change through time and are regulated by particular institutional conditions. Once examined from a sociological perspective, the tragedy of the commons theory is simplistic and one-sided in that it attempts to explain human social behavior, or human agency, without a thorough understanding of the historical social organization.[7] This simplification results in a mystification of the modern systems of production and consumption and the historically specific ecosystem effects.

In contrast, the tragedy of the commodity approach emphasizes the role of the growth imperative of capitalism and commodification in producing the institutional rules by which nature and, for example, the commons are governed and historically transformed. Ecological systems are never altogether free of social influences. Rather, they are shaped by social conditions including norms, traditions, economic rules, the organization of labor, politico-legal arrangements, etc.[8] The social actions that have emerged with capitalist development are dominated by what Adam Smith called “the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange,” matched with a crude utilitarianism, where individuals follow pure self-interest without social constraint. Unfortunately, these actions are often incorrectly ascribed to innate human behavior.[9] Thus, what might appear to the casual observer to be a system governed by base greed and human instinct is in fact largely directed by the drive for capital accumulation and what Immanuel Wallerstein called the progressive “commodification of everything.”[10]
Among other outcomes, the commodification process results in a social metabolic order—socio-ecological interchanges and interrelationships—that produces unsustainable social and ecological consequences.
In a society organized around the logic of capital, human activities tend to be directed toward the production of commodities. That is, capitalism can be understood in a broad sense as a system of generalized commodity production. The institutional arrangements result in particular social arrangements and generate distinct types of human social action. The commodity serves as a basic unit to understand the larger culture-nature relations and capitalism itself. It is a base element of capitalist market processes.

Nature is an essential source of use value, or the qualitative usefulness of things. For example, Earth’s biogeochemical systems provide the conditions and means that allow for the production of food. Karl Marx emphasized that under capitalist relations, nature was seen as a free gift; it was not considered as part of wealth.[11] He famously explained this in terms of a “general formula for capital”—whereby capital is understood as the “continuous transformation of capital-as-money into capital-as-commodities, followed by a retransformation of capital-as-commodities into capital-as-more-money.”[12] Even though use value expresses the useful properties of an item or service, it is exchange value, or market value, which knows only quantitative increase and drives capitalist economic activity.

Money is put into circulation in order to return money, a quantity for a quantity, “its driving and motivating force is therefore exchange-value.”[13] Thus, capital constantly expands into more capital, motivated by surplus value or profits, the generation of which is “the absolute law of this mode of production.”[14] Under this logic, money dominates the organization of social and natural relationships. Addressing the pervasiveness of this logic, Karl Polanyi explained, “All transactions are turned into money transactions.”[15] The emergence of an all-encompassing, self-regulating, market disembedded human practical activity from its foundation in the broader sociocultural and environmental conditions. Market activity directed by commodity production for the endless accumulation of capital acquired the irresistible impetus of a “process of nature.”[16] Accordingly, the organization of production and consumption activities is fundamentally transformed from the exchange of qualities into the exchange of quantities. Alienation from each other and nature increases, as qualitative relations of production and the universal metabolism of nature are subsumed under the quantitative growth imperative of capital and a culture of quantity.[17] This fundamental tension between the necessity of quantitative expansion to sustain the economic relations and the qualitatively unsustainable ecological consequences marks the defining characteristic of the modern ecological crisis and the tragedy of the commodity.

Capital tends to simplify natural processes and ecosystems, imposing a division of nature to increase economic efficiency. It directs the life cycles of plants and animals to the economic cycle of exchange. Qualitative social relations—such as subsistence use within an ecosystem—are not part of the capitalist accounting system and can suffer various forms of destruction as a result. Use values, as the qualitative means for meeting the needs of life, are limited given biophysical properties. In contrast, there are no limits to quantitative measures of wealth. In other words, growing returns on investment have no end, but real human needs are confined to definite and knowable material limits.

The ceaseless drive for accumulation inherent in capitalist commodity production speeds up the social metabolism. It results in a faster depletion of resources, stemming from increasing demands for materials and throughput, and the generation of ever-more waste. It degrades the conditions that support resilient ecosystems. The capitalist system creates numerous contradictions between nature and commodities; it progressively deepens and creates ecological rifts.[18]

The way forward, toward a more sustainable world, requires radical changes in the social conditions that have historically shaped the productive and consumption system of capitalism. Collective action must take back public commons and put them in control of the people who most closely interact with them and depend on them for community well-being. In order to be successful, these actions must (in effect) de-commodify nature. Commons must be decentralized and democratized, rather than, in the standard neoliberal view, privatized. Farmland and fisheries must be socially organized to advance nourishment and health. Forests must be valued as reserves of biodiversity, clean water, and culture. Economic activities must be embedded within society as a whole and the universal metabolism of the biophysical world, allowing for the continuation of reproductive processes, nutrient cycles, and energy flows that support all life. Human society must transcend the logic of capital, creating a new social metabolic order that increases the quality of life and enhances the potential for ecological flourishing and universal human freedom.

Recently, Pope Francis highlighted what we have been calling the tragedy of the commodity. In his highly publicized Encyclical on the environment, he mentions the “tragic effects of environmental degradation.” He goes on to say: “Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. Moreover, biodiversity is considered at most a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation, with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor.”[xix] He contends that a “cultural revolution” is required to address ecological crisis.

Interestingly, Pope Francis limited his suggested response to a cultural revolution when it is clear throughout the document that he is describing a political-economic problem. We agree that a revolutionary approach is necessary for addressing the ecological crisis. Nothing short will be adequate for challenging the tragedy of the commodity.



Israel's Football Fanaticism

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Football has long been a politicalised sport around the world. Scotland had a long history of bigotry in its football with one of its foremost clubs refusing to sign Catholics until threats of punitive measures from the football authorities but probably more likely from the changing make-up of the teams itself with the arrival of more and more foreign players. The bigotry was cutting your nose off to spite your face and would be a costly tradition to continue if trophy success was to be assured.

 In Israel it is no different. Beitar Jerusalem’s La Familia, the racist anti-Arab, anti-Muslim fan-group at a recent game in Belgium against Charleloi waved flags of the outlawed racist Kach party founded by assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane and threw flares and smoke guns on to the pitch as well as a missile that hit a goalkeeper during their club's Europa League qualifier. The owner of the football club later announced he is selling up and quitting the game in Israel out of “shame” at fans’ aggressive behavior. Beitar Jerusalem was founded in 1936 by members of a Zionist youth movement; it is linked to the right-wing Likud party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and its fans consider Israel's Hapoel clubs, which are historically connected to the Labor Party, to be key rivals. It is the only club to have consistently refused to hire a Palestinian in a country in which Palestinians ranks among its top players, and has maintained this racist stance despite repeatedly being penalised by the Israel Football Association (IFA).

In the past, a section of Beitar fans jeered attempts to commemorate the 1995 assassination of Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians. Chants from La Familia have lines such as "death to the Arabs" and "Muhammad is a homosexual", "Give Toto a banana" (aimed towards Nigerian-born Toto Tamuz.) They have walked out of the stadium in protest at the playing of two Chechen muslims  and they have attacked Arab-Israelis. 


"The more deeply one looks into the reasons and motives for Beitar's racist conduct, the more strongly the impression emerges that the problem stems from the forgiving attitude of the authorities around it - from the Israel Football Association to the league administration, all the way to ministerial level. These bodies, using various and sundry pretexts, lend a hand to the phenomenon and allow it to exist - whether by turning a blind eye to it or giving convoluted and evasive explanations," Haaretz said. "The time has come to stop talking about image, 'education' or 'processes,' and start taking practical steps. Alongside harsh penalties for manifestations of racism, Beitar Jerusalem must be given a limited window of time during which it will be required to sign Arab players - even at the cost of a major confrontation with its fans. Instead of condemnation, the time has come to act," the paper said.