Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Towards Legalized Corporate Secrecy in the European Union?

How industry, law firms and the European Commission worked together on EU “trade secrets” legislation - a threat to consumers, journalists, whistleblowers, researchers and workers.

This report (pdf version) is based on the analysis of hundreds of documents, obtained through an access to documents request, exchanged between the European Commission's DG Internal Market and the main corporate lobby groups involved in the development of the EU's draft legislation on so-called “trade secrets”.

Industry's main message throughout the process has been that trade secret theft is a major threat to the EU economy that demands a legislative initiative to improve and harmonise rules on the matter. Industry's recommended approach for this was to define trade secrets as a form of intellectual property (IP).
From the very beginning the Commission took a strong interest in the idea and went on to collect the evidence it needed to demonstrate that legal "fragmentation" and trade secret theft would, indeed, be a threat.
But it outsourced the research to law firms that have a structural interest in the development of new legal protection tools for their corporate clients. In the end, industry and the Commission acted together, working hand in hand on the methodology of the very evidence collection for the research, jointly organising a “Commission conference on trade secrets”, even coordinating media outreach on one occasion.

Eventually, the Commission followed industry's demands almost completely, stopping short of creating a new IP category for trade secrets in the EU but granting the associated means of legal redress.
The collaboration between DG Internal Market and the lobby groups seems to have extended to lobbying the other DGs, jointly preparing the submission to the Commission's Impact Assessment Board, and lobbying the two other EU legislators, the Council of Ministers (Member States) and the European Parliament.

When asked, the Commission did not dispute much of the above and failed to see how working for three years on a quasi-daily basis with lobby groups could be a problem. Emails show the opposite is actually true: the Commission, once the decision to initiate new legislation was taken, actually needed industry lobby groups' help. The Commission for example did pro-active outreach to business lobby groups to be sure that as many companies as possible participated in the public consultation. Non-industry groups were completely absent from the Commission's drafting process until the public consultation, and no pro-active outreach to them seems to have been undertaken by the Commission.

 Three other important observations should be made about this correspondence:

- Reference was often made to the upcoming TTIP negotiations to justify the action, as comparable legal action was being drafted in the US, and direct lobbying of TTIP negotiators to get trade secrets protected as IP under TTIP was undertaken.

- Lobbying is made easier by the lack of capacity on the public side of the discussion. Between 2010 and June 2012, only one policy officer and his head of unit were in charge of the technical development of the file, and in June 2012 one other policy officer joined them. Other levels of the administration also intervened but at the management level. On the other side, industry sent in teams of consultants, lawyers and executives, background legal research, field examples, and senior academic contacts –all free of charge for the Commission.

- To the Commission's credit, there are at least two moments in the correspondence where the head of unit objected to industry proposals that went too far from a political independence point of view (a meeting proposal from the fragrance industry to discuss a template draft legislation, and angry remarks about suspicious-looking exchanges between the law firm working for the Commission (Baker & McKenzie) and lobby groups active on the file), but his staff never wrote anything of the sort. On the contrary, there are several instances where they actually facilitated the lobbying work of industry by introducing various lobby groups and the consultants working for the Commission to one another. Who doesn't appreciate competent free help for one's work?

Find the rest of the long report here

Costa Rica's Pesticide Pollution Problem

In Costa Rica, pineapples were grown on 42,000 hectares of land in Costa Rica in 2012 and exports of the fruit brought in 780 million dollars.

The communities of Milano, El Cairo, La Francia and Luisiana are located 100 km northeast of the capital, San José, in an agricultural region where transnational corporations grow pineapples on a large scale. For years the four towns have depended on tanker trucks that bring in clean drinking water because the local tap water has been polluted. They can’t use the water from the aquifer because it was contaminated with the pesticide bromacil, used on pineapple plantations. The first evidence of the pollution was discovered in 2003, when the National University’s Regional Institute for Studies on Toxic Substances found traces of pesticides in the local water supply. Studies carried out in 2007 and subsequent years found that the water was unfit for human consumption.

The evidence points to pineapple plantations near the El Cairo aquifer as responsible for the pollution, especially the La Babilonia plantation owned by the Corporación de Desarrollo Agrícola del Monte SA, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Fresh Del Monte. But it is public institutions that have had to cover the cost of access to clean water by the local communities. The public water and sewage utility, AyA, in nearly eight years, has spent over three million dollars distributing water to the four communities. The state has not managed to obtain compensation from pineapple producers for the environmental damage.

The case has gone beyond the borders, reaching the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). On Mar. 20 Briceño and other representatives of the affected communities, and delegates of the Environmental Law and Natural Resources Centre (CEDARENA), asked the IACHR to intervene. The case has also drawn the attention of other international bodies and organisations, like the Water Integrity Network (WIN), which criticised the state’s failure to protect the rights of local residents and the slow, non-transparent reaction by the authorities to the pollution of the water.

Costa Rica frequently receives plaudits from environmentalists for its renewable energy policies and nature conservation schemes. Less attention is paid to the means of paying for it and the short-cuts taken.

From here 

Should we give up?

‘Let’s be honest. The activities of our economic and social system are killing the planet. Even if we confine ourselves merely to humans, these activities are causing an unprecedented privation, as hundreds of millions of people-and today more than yesterday, with probably more tomorrow-go their entire lives with never enough to eat. Yet curiously, none of this seems to stir us to significant action.’Derek Jensen, The Culture of Make Believe

Every week new scientific reports are published that note how industrial civilization is driving us towards catastrophic climate change. Climate change is already having a massive impact all over the world. California, for instance, is experiencing its worst drought in 1200 years. Corporate politicians all over the world are beholden to their big business paymasters and so keep on glossing over or ignoring the issues. Meanwhile, the corporate media tries to lull the population into a false sense of security with its endless stories full of hope that science and technology will save the day.

Guy McPherson is professor emeritus of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona and a prolific author on environmental concerns. These are extracts from an interview which has a very pessimistic prognosis for us all, that is perhaps offers a little too much doom and gloom for socialists, the eternal optimists.

DM: It is clear that the capitalist class across the globe have neither the intention nor the knowledge of how to stop catastrophic climate change. The pursuit of hydraulic fracking, tar sands, nuclear energy, geo-engineering all reveal how the capitalist system is blind to the pursuit of profit at all costs. We cannot place any faith in corporate politicians of any stripe to help ordinary people cope with the effects of climate change as it gets worse and worse. Who should ordinary people turn to for help in coping with climate change?

GMcP: The corporate governments and the corporate media are not interested in we, the people. They are interested in profits for the corporations. As individuals and as a species, I doubt we have much time left on the planet.

DM: Many people sign petitions, send letters, organise lobbies of politicians and regulators in the hope of stopping the destruction of the environment. Is this type of resistance enough to stop capitalist civilization from destroying the planet?

GMcP: Apparently not. This type of work has been proceeding for decades, and the 150-200 species are still driven to extinction each day.

McPherson’s farewell conclusion in this interview is “I recommend passionately pursuing a life of excellence rooted in love. Identify what you love. Pursue it, with passion. Throw off the shackles of a culture gone seriously awry. Along the way, you’ll be viewed as insane. Most professional psychotherapists, embedded in an omnicidal culture, will provide little help. Find your tribe. Spend time with those you love. Love the ones you’re with.”

 What we do know about global warming suggests that because global warming is a process that “feeds on itself,” unless its causes are removed long before a “tipping point” is reached, “runaway” may begin at some point, and it will be impossible to halt the process. The reason it’s essential to remove the causes far in advance of the arrival of the “tipping point,” is that the greenhouse gases that are directly responsible for global warming will remain in the atmosphere for centuries, perhaps much longer; and although their degree of presence in the atmosphere will diminish over time, while they are still present, they will contribute to continued heating. It’s conceivable that certain geo-engineering measures could be developed, however, it’s improbable that these will occur—and that if such measures are developed, they will be implemented, and in time.

The World Socialist Movement suggests another approach to McPherson’s fatalism and resignation which may be appropriate to those who advocate solutions based on the ‘greening’ of the economy through capitalism, which simply maintains an illusion that is fostered and funded by political elites and financial institutions.
An ecological socialist revolution consists of a complete change in the social organisation of production, reproduction and consciousness, that will revolutionise the way human societies produce and distribute wealth in order to create “non-alienated work” (i.e. work that is not dependent on the whims of an exploitative capitalist class, and where the fruits of labour belong to the workers rather than the ‘owners’). With greater social justice, and respect for life, there would be less need and desire to exploit the Earth irresponsibly.


Five giant banks engaged in the biggest price-fixing conspiracy in modern history. Their self-described “cartel” used an exclusive electronic chat room and coded language to manipulate the $5.3 trillion-a-day currency exchange market. But there will be no trial, no executive will go to jail, the banks can continue to gamble in the same currency markets, and the fines – although large – are a fraction of the banks’ potential gains and will be treated by the banks as costs of doing business.

Wall Street’s five largest banks now account for 44 percent of America’s banking assets – up from about 25 percent before the crash of 2008 and 10 percent in 1990.

Americans spend far more on medications per person than do citizens in any other developed country, even though the typical American takes fewer prescription drugs. A big reason is the power of pharmaceutical companies to keep their patents going way beyond the twenty years they’re supposed to run. Drug companies pay the makers of generic drugs to delay cheaper versions. Such “pay-for-delay” agreements are illegal in other advanced economies, but antitrust enforcement hasn’t laid a finger on them in America. They cost an estimated $3.5 billion a year.

Or consider health insurance. Decades ago health insurers wangled from Congress an exemption to the antitrust laws that allowed them to fix prices, allocate markets, and collude over the terms of coverage, on the assumption they’d be regulated by state insurance commissioners. But America’s giant insurers outgrew state regulation. Consolidating into a few large national firms and operating across many different states, they’ve gained considerable economic and political power. 

The United States have the highest broadband prices among advanced nations and the slowest speeds? Because more than 80 percent of Americans have no choice but to rely on their local cable company for high capacity wired data connections to the Internet – usually Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, or Time-Warner. And these corporations are among the most politically potent in America.

Airline ticket prices have remained so high even though the cost of jet fuel has plummeted 40 percent? Because U.S. airlines have consolidated into a handful of giant carriers that divide up routes and collude on fares. In 2005 the U.S. had nine major airlines. Now we have just four. And all are politically well-connected.

Why does food cost so much? Because the four largest food companies control 82 percent of beef packing, 85 percent of soybean processing, 63 percent of pork packing, and 53 percent of chicken processing.  Monsanto alone owns the key genetic traits to more than 90 percent of the soybeans planted by farmers in the United States, and 80 percent of the corn. Big Agribusiness wants to keep it this way.

Google’s search engine is so dominant “google” has become a verb. Three years ago the staff of the Federal Trade Commission recommended suing Google for “conduct that has resulted – and will result – in real harm to consumers and to innovation.” The commissioners decided against the lawsuit, perhaps because Google is also the biggest lobbyist in Washington.

The list goes on, industry after industry, across the economy. Capitalists rhapsodize about the “free market”. Yet the market is rigged. The robber barons have taken over.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Myanmar and their Rohingya

Described by its promoters as a healthcare bill aimed at improving maternal health and child welfare, Myanmar’s new population control law “ targets one religion, one population, in one area," according to Khin Lay of the Yangon-based Triangle Women Support Group. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the new law clearly targets the Rohingya who live in western Rakhine state, where they are not recognised as citizens and instead referred to as “Bengalis” or illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
 "Activists with a racist, anti-Muslim agenda pressed for this population law, so there is every reason to expect it to be implemented in a discriminatory way," said Brad Adams, head of Human Rights Watch's Asia office. "The population bill as well as the other 'race and religion' bills under consideration are likely to escalate repression and sectarian violence," he added. 

Three similar bills relating to monogamy, religious conversion and interfaith marriage are currently being debated by parliament.

The Rohingya are considered by the United Nations to be one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar in recent years, to escape sectarian violence as well as suffocating restrictions preventing them from travelling and working. In Thailand and Malaysia, authorities are discovering mass graves of migrants. 

The legislation came under pressure from the Buddhist ultra-nationalist group the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, known as Ma Ba Tha. The group has stoked anti-Muslim sentiment by saying Muslim communities have high birth rates and will eventually overrun the predominately Buddhist country even though they currently represent less than 10 percent of the population.

The new Myanmar legislation would allow regional governments to introduce family planning regulations to lower birth rates in their states. Under the legislation, local authorities can survey their regions to determine if “resources are unbalanced because of a high number of migrants in the area, a high population growth rate and a high birth rate”. They can then ask the central government to impose laws making it compulsory for women to wait “at least 36 months” after giving birth before having another child.

Noble Peace Prize-winner, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is yet to comment on the current migrant crisis, a silence observers attribute to fears over alienating voters in the Buddhist-majority nation ahead of elections slated for November.

Poverty UK-Style

Oxfam UK has estimated that: “36% of the UK population are just one heating bill or broken washing machine away from hardship”. The government has an obligation to ensure that the right for all human beings to be free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, as specified in a UN covenant to which the UK is a signatory, is upheld. The UK is also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which specifies a duty to provide “material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition.”

In the United Kingdom there are nearly 5 million people today living as food insecure. Wendy Wills, an expert in food and public health, defines this as those who are unable to acquire or consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food made available in socially acceptable ways, or who have the (regular) uncertainty that they will be able to do so. In 2014, more than 20 million meals were provided to people unable to provide for themselves.

Credit Suisse put the UK fifth in a ranking of nations by wealth, behind the US, Japan, China, and France. Based on 2010 UK Census figures, per capita wealth in the UK is about US$182,825, but this wealth is not distributed evenly across the population. While the wealthiest fifth of the population controls nearly 41% of the income, the poorest fifth have just 8%.

For those living in poverty in the UK today the amount of disposable income for the poorest fifth of households is about £156 per week. This is income after taxes and transfer payments and includes spending on clothing, getting to work, childcare, keeping warm, washing, communicating with others, paying for housing, celebrating birthdays, holidays, paying for school trips, uniforms and supplies, socialising and cooking (including not just the food but also the fuel to run the cooker, microwave, and refrigerator).

For many households (not just the poorest), the most flexible item in their budget is food expenditure. Families in this position are not concerned with the environmental or social implications associated with the food that they buy, but instead concentrate on “getting fed”. Because it is now less expensive to feed ones family on processed food (with higher salt, sugar, and fat content) than fresh food and as the cost of food is predicted to continue to rise, we can expect to see not just increases in the numbers of people going hungry and relying on emergency food aid, but also increases in the rates of dietary-related illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and malnutrition. These health implications will, in turn, continue to place greater pressure on an already-struggling NHS.

The Office for Budget Responsibility indicates that by 2020 there will be a further loss of a million government jobs (compared to the loss of 400,000 government jobs over the course of the last parliament). One can only conclude that income inequality will widen, a state that already has one of the highest divisions between wealthy and poor in Europe (only lower than Turkey and Portugal in 2010).

On Memorial Day

And from the ranks of both armies -
the same voice, the same refrain:
'He who is not with us is against us.
You must take sides. Justice is ours.'

And I stand alone in the midst of them,
amidst the roar of fire and smoke,
and pray with all my strength for those
who fight on this side, and on that side.

from 'Civil War' by Maximilian Voloshin (1919)
translated by Robert Chandler

Some Thoughts On Democracy and Socialism

Snippets from William Blum here

Consider the darlings du jour of the American Left, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. They very seldom speak out critically about US foreign policy or even the military budget. The anti-war/anti-imperialist segment of the American left need to put proper pressure on the two senators.

Mr. Sanders should also be asked why he routinely refers to himself as a “democratic socialist”. Why not just “socialist”? It’s likely a legacy of the Cold War. I think that he and other political figures who use the term are, consciously or unconsciously, trying to disassociate themselves from communism, the Soviet Union, Marxism, etc., all those things that are not good for you. (The word “socialist” once connoted furtive men with European accents, sinister facial hair, and bombs.)

It would be delightful to hear Sanders openly declare that he is simply a “socialist”. Socialism can be democratic; indeed, a lot more so than capitalism, particularly concerning the distribution of wealth and all the ramifications of that.

Presented here are some relevant thoughts on these issues, from myself and others:

It’s only the socialists who maintain as a bedrock principle: People before Profit, which can serve as a very concise definition of socialism, an ideology anathema to the Right and libertarians, who fervently believe, against all evidence, in the rationality of a free market. I personally favor the idea of a centralized, planned economy. (Oh my God, a damn Commie!) Modern society is much too complex and technical to leave its operation in the hands of libertarians, communitarians, or anarchists seeking to return to a “community” or “village” level.

“Washington has always regarded democratic socialism as a greater challenge than totalitarian Communism, which was easy to vilify and made for a handy enemy. In the 1960s and ’70s, the favored tactic for dealing with the inconvenient popularity of economic nationalism and democratic socialism was to try to equate them with Stalinism, deliberately blurring the clear differences between the world views.” – Naomi Klein

Without a proclaimed socialist vision, radical change becomes too many different things for too many different individuals and groups.

“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.” – Martin Luther King

The United States is so fearful of the word “socialism” that it changed the “social sciences” to the “behavioral sciences”.

If for no other reason than to save the environment, the world needs to abandon the capitalist system. Every day, in every spot on earth, in a multitude of ways, corporations are faced with a choice: to optimize profits or to do what’s best for the planet.

The great majority of people in any society work for a salary. They don’t need to be motivated by the profit motive. It’s not in anyone’s genes. Virtually everybody, if given the choice, would prefer to work at jobs where the main motivations are to help others, improve the quality of life of society, and provide themselves with meaningful and satisfying work. It’s not natural to be primarily motivated by trying to win or steal “customers” from other people, no holds barred, survival of the fittest or the least honest.

And what about this thing called “democracy”, or “majority rule”? Many millions marched against the invasion of Iraq before it began. I don’t know of a single soul who marched in favor of it, although I’m sure there must have been someone somewhere. That lucky soul was the one they listened to.

Workers Of The World 33 - Unions and Collective Bargaining

I joined the march and rally of hundreds of workers at Bath Iron Works (BIW) today here in Maine during their half-hour lunch break.  Even though their union contract is good for another year the company (General Dynamics) boss Fred Harris is sabotaging the collective bargaining agreement and trying to force concessions that fall outside of the union contract.  Things like outsourcing of jobs to non-union workers are among the several items in contention.

Even though I often join a peace vigil at BIW calling for the conversion of the shipyard I still support the workers right to have a union.  I was trained as an organizer by the United Farm Workers Union so my heart has always been with the people who do the hard work that produce the enormous profits for the mega-corporations.

The Navy has determined that its shipbuilding budget is “unsustainable.” It can’t afford to cover the mounting costs of new aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and the expensive Zumwalt destroyers being built at BIW. The latter cost more than double what the previous Aegis destroyer cost – price per ship has risen to more than $4 billion. The Navy’s solution to its budget crisis?  Cut jobs, outsource to non-union workers, and, over time, likely move to get rid of the unions at shipyards like BIW.

What is the Plan B for Bath? Who ever thought the nearby Navy base in Brunswick would close and that thousands of jobs would be lost? How can our nation afford the expensive high-tech weapons systems that are costing the taxpayers an arm and a leg? How can we effectively deal with the coming ravages of climate change unless we immediately begin a transformation of our industrial policy from endless war to building rail systems, wind turbines, a solar society, and tidal power – all of which would help us in some degree deal with climate change?

Where is our congressional delegation when we need it to advocate for a new sustainable technology direction? Sen. Collins, Sen. King, Rep. Pingree and Rep. Poliquin remain on bended knees begging for more Pentagon funding because military production is the only real federal jobs program left.  They might talk a good game about environmental sustainability, but what are they doing to lead our state and the nation toward the kind of conversion that will be necessary if our children and grandchildren are to have any chance of decent lives?  The Native Americans said that all decisions must be made based on how they impact the next seven generations. Sadly, our elected officials are thinking only about their next election!

Studies have long revealed that our tax dollars create fewer jobs in military spending than in other fields. Building commuter rail systems at BIW would, in fact, nearly double the jobs. In addition, rail would get us out of our polluting cars and offer future generations a chance of survival.

I will keep vigiling for conversion of BIW (and more jobs) but will also support the good men and women who find themselves stuck in the middle of the US’s industrial policy which is essentially endless war making. 

One of the union leaders during the rally at BIW today quoted abolitionist Frederick Douglass who said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and never will.”  He asked the assembled workers, “What is our demand?”  I agree with that sentiment…….

from here

Whilst in support of all workers worldwide in their push for better pay and conditions as a part of their struggle against capitalist employers SOYMB sees these actions as somewhat like a hamster on a wheel. Workers are on a treadmill forever repeating the same old demands to try and stay ahead, often unsucessfully, of the game. Our demand goes further and we urge workers worldwide to join us in that demand to demonstrate that together we are the powerful- Abolition of Capitalism and Wage Slavery.

The problem with a bumper harvest

 Capitalism is full of contradictions. Consider the current situation in poverty-ridden Bangladesh. With a population of more than 155 million in a low-lying, riverine area the size of the American state of Iowa, Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated and climate change-vulnerable countries in the world. Bangladesh has achieved self-sufficiency in rice production. Despite these advancements, more than 45 million people continue to live in poverty, Bangladesh still has an overall food deficit, and thousands of preventable deaths of mothers and young children occur each year. Due to climate change and rapid urbanization, Bangladesh is losing up to 1 percent of its arable land every year. Bangladesh remains food deficient with diets lacking in diversity, resulting in 41 percent of children being stunted. USAID has helped more than three million small-scale farmers increase the efficiency of their rice production by introducing a new fertilizer technology and higher yielding seeds.

The production of rice has surpassed all past records. But it has in a way brought miseries to millions of farmers and others involved in its processing and marketing. The prices of paddy have come down to such a low level that farmers are reluctant to dispose of their stock. The current price level of paddy, on an average, is equivalent to 60 to 70 per cent of the cost of production of the same at the growers' level. So, the farmers find no incentive to bring their produce to the major rural procurement centres. Thus, the reduced supply of paddy has resulted in the slowdown in activities in the procurement centres and rice milling facilities. Apparently, they have decided to wait for some more time with the hope of a turnaround in the price situation. But the hope of better price could prove to be elusive.

In the meanwhile, the small and marginal farmers who cannot afford to hold on to their stocks have already become victims of the falling prices of paddy. They have disposed of a large part of their small stocks to meet other necessities and repay the money they had borrowed to finance the cost of production of rice.

The import of a substantial volume of rice by the private sector traders at cheap prices from neighbouring India is largely blamed for the slump in paddy prices. The government food silos in India are usually required to sell off old food stocks after every three years. The silos dispose of mainly the poor quality stocks at cheaper rates. The inflow of a large quantity of rice procured at cheaper prices in recent months has left an impact on the overall rice price situation.

 The government has now imposed a 10% import tax on rice. M Asaduzzaman of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said “It is too late. The damage has already been done.”

Studies done by Unnayan Onneshan and other institutions indicate that the growing numbers of people living below the poverty line and a lack of income growth in the lowest 20 percent of the population have given rise to widespread hunger, destitution, and deterioration in the quality of life in rural areas. Furthermore, inflation, particularly food inflation is known to be associated with increase in income inequality. In the last decade, inflation in Bangladesh has been 6-8 percent with a stagnant nominal wage in the urban informal and rural markets.

Capitalism cannot even cope with abundance.

Banks Extorting The Poorest

Kansas Republicans have put forward a new policy initiative that's almost shocking in its clear intent to harm the interests of poor people. The provision, which takes effect July 1, will ban welfare recipients from taking out more than $25 in benefits a day from an ATM.

...As the Washington Post's Max Ehrenfreund explains, this places a massive burden on recipient families. For one thing, it's a de facto benefit cut. As of last July, a single parent family of three in Kansas with no other earnings received $429 a month from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Most ATMs don't stock $5 bills, so the Kansas rule effectively limits withdrawals to $20.

Taking out that money isn't free. Many banks charge substantial fees for withdrawals from Electronic Benefit Transfer accounts to which TANF money is distributed. I called Intrust Bank in Wichita, which says it charges $2 per EBT transaction. Emprise Bank says it charges $1.50. In addition to that, Kansas itself charges $1 per ATM withdrawal. So taking the cheaper option, withdrawing $420 from Emprise under the new rules would mean $52.50 in fees. Effectively you'd be limited to taking out $380 a month if you didn't want to go over your monthly allowance, fees inclusive.

read the details here

Quote of the Day - Wealth


Warren Buffett is the third richest man in the world worth $71.3billion (£46billion) and he wants you to stop blaming people like him because you’re so poor. He says ‘the poor are most definitely not poor because the rich are rich’, adding, ‘Nor are the rich undeserving.’

Fact of the Day - Poverty

“Almost a third (33%) of the UK population - 19.3 million people - fell below the official poverty line at some point between 2010 and 2013, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics,” the Press Association reported. ONS records someone as being in poverty if they live in a household with disposable income below 60% of the national average, before housing costs. Persistent poverty is defined as being in poverty in the current year and at least two of the three preceding years.

“Pensioners were most likely to fall below the poverty line, with almost 40% of those aged 65 and over in the UK doing so at least once between 2010 and 2013, compared with around 30% of those under 65. Some 60% of those living in single parent households in the UK and almost half (46%) of those in single adult households experienced poverty at least once in the four years between 2010 and 2013, compared with less than
a third of those living in households with two or more adults.”

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Paradigm Shift To Eliminate The Pesticide Companies?

Humanity is facing a problem. Our immediate environment is riddled with pesticides. They are making us unhealthy faster than we can study the effects. In addition, these pesticides play large roles in the massive bee deaths and decline of soil health. The companies that profit from making these pesticides have made it clear they won’t stop. Our petitions to the EPA and FDA are mostly ignored due to revolving door leadership between pesticide makers and government regulators. Is there an answer? Yes there is!

SMART Pesticides

Paul Stamets, the world’s leading mycologist, filed a patent in 2001 that was purposely given little attention. In the words of pesticide industry executives, this patent represents “The most disruptive technology that we have ever witnessed.” The biopesticides described in the patent reveals a near permanent, safe solution for over 200,000 species of insects and it all comes from a mushroom. After what is called ‘sporulation’ of a select entomopathogenic fungi (fungi that kill insects) the area becomes no longer suitable for any insect(s) the fungi are coded for. In addition, extracts of the entomopathogenic fungi can also steer insects in different directions.

This literally is a paradigm shift away from the entire idea of pesticides. Instead of having an aim to kill all problematic insect, a farmer could simply disperse a solution of pre-sporulation fungi amongst the crops. The insects would then simply live their lives around the crops paying no attention to them. This simple idea flies in the face of the current, poorly thought-out, practice of spraying ever increasing amounts of pesticides on resistant bugs. Going further, this biopesticide would also eliminate the need for round-up ready GMO seeds and BT seeds that grow the pesticides in the crop needlessly endangering us, the consumer. Perhaps the most enticing element of this biopesticide fungi is that it’s essentially free. According to the patent, it can be “cultivated on agricultural waste.” We are looking at a 100% safe, natural technology that literally can end all GMO and pesticide manufacturers overnight with a new class of SMART Pesticides.
The matrix of pre-sporulating fungi can optionally be dried, freeze-dried, cooled and/or pelletized and packaged and reactivated for use as an effective insect attractant and/or biopesticide.” –Paul Stamets Patent for Mycoattractants and mycopesticides

Optimism Empowers

Even if we stop pesticide spraying now, scores of new research is confirming that our environment, food, soil, and bodies already carry traces of the chemicals. If the chemicals are so bad for us, there would be signs by now right? These are two common rebuttals from pesticide companies and individuals that don’t care to do their research. It’s okay, there just happens to be a patent to help with those issues as well. The US patent filed in 2003, once again from Paul Stamets, describes the utilization of a fungal delivery system for the purpose of
“ecological rehabilitation and restoration, preservation and improvement of habitats, bioremediation of toxic wastes and polluted sites, filtration of agricultural, mine and urban runoff, improvement of agricultural yields and control of biological organisms.”
In addition, there are many out there currently providing solutions to remove/detox any potential pesticide chemicals from the human body. Strategies like community gardens, urban forests, and the resurgence of permaculture are springing up rapidly to pave the way towards a steadily growing number of pesticide free dinner tables and families.

Time to Make History

On a bigger scale, GMO food and pesticides are merely symptoms of an opposite consciousness that is rapidly changing. Put another way, these symptoms are the unwanted gifts from out of control corporations that, by definition, have no empathy towards the needs, health, or life of The People. As Neil Young mentioned in his Starbucks Boycott, pesticide companies like Monsanto are, for the most part, not public-facing companies. As we are witnessing now with GMO brands, a boycott can severely damage their bottom line (lifeblood) but will not eliminate their business model. Due to the fact that they spend untold millions lobbying (purchasing) our politicians and regularly operate revolving doors between public and private positions means that only a paradigm shift will eliminate the entire industry. At that moment, which is approaching, pesticide manufacturers can decide if they would like to cease being the problem and assist in the solution.

The good news is that whatever decision they choose won’t matter. A shift in consciousness around pesticide and GMO use eliminates their influence and knocks them off their fictitious monetary pedestals they believe to be sitting on.

from here

Via Campesina Meets Expo Milano To Defend Peoples' Rights

The international peasant’s movement La Via Campesina will take part in People’s Expo in Milan, at the Fabbrica del Vapore, from the 3rd to the 5th of June 2015. The People’s Expo is the international forum of the civil society and farmers’ movements organised to defend the principles of Food Sovereignty and Environmental Justice, to fight against the commodification of the right to food promoted by Expo 2015 and to state aloud, once again, that it is the peasant agriculture that feeds the world, not the multinationals or the agribusiness.
La Via Campesina denounces the Milan Expo as a great "world showcase" that deliberately chose to hide one of the largest ongoing world conflict:  hunger, land and energy grabbing at a global level.

From the 1st of May to the 31st of October 31 2015, Milan is hosting the Universal Exposition with the theme ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. Expo 2015 has been described by the organizers as ‘the biggest event ever organized on Food and Nutrition [with intent to] give a concrete answer to a vital need: being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone, while respecting the Planet and its equilibrium’.

However, Expo 2015 is sponsored and financed by some of the most important multinationals of food and agriculture, such as McDonald’s and Coca Cola. According to Andrea Ferrantes of La Via Campesina Europe: ‘Expo 2015 is hiding behind a  green-washed façade that doesn’t show us the violent face of the corporate interests which are controlling the whole food chain,  grabbing the land , controlling seeds and patenting life. The narrative of Expo 2015 does not speak of the stories of farmers and peasants starving because they being expulsed from their land, of the indigenous people expulsed from their territories, of the fishermen and fisherwomen who are being denied access to the seas in which they have always fished, of the nomadic pastoralists forced to live a sedentary life or of the consumers forced to eat junk food’.

Expo Milano 2015 is not a neutral event, as some would have liked us to believe. On the contrary, it is an event promoting the industrialisation of agriculture and the financialisation of agricultural markets. Agribusiness concentrates food production and distribution in the hands of the few big companies, regardless of the producers and consumers’ needs.

Expo 2015 goes in the opposite direction from the path on which food producers and citizens march together, claiming their right to food sovereignty through agroecological models of production and consumption.

To propose real alternatives to the agro-industrial model supported by Expo 2015 and to give voice to those who cannot tell their own story in its “showcase”, a delegation of Via Campesina farmers from around the world will be present at the People’s Expo in Milan, along with other international networks and many non-profit Italian associations that defend peoples’ rights.

from here

Memorial Day Is A Hoax


Memorial Day (US, this year May 25th) commemorates soldiers killed in war. We are told that the war dead died for us and our freedom. US Marine General Smedley Butler challenged this view. He said that our soldiers died for the profits of the bankers, Wall Street, Standard Oil, and the United Fruit Company. Here is an excerpt from a speech that he gave in 1933:

War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.
I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.
I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.
There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its “finger men” to point out enemies, its “muscle men” to destroy enemies, its “brain men” to plan war preparations, and a “Big Boss” Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism.
It may seem odd for me, a military man to adopt such a comparison. Truthfulness compels me to. I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.
I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

Most American soldiers died fighting foes who posed no threat to the United States. Our soldiers died for secret agendas of which they knew nothing. Capitalists hid their self-interests behind the flag, and our boys died for the One Percent’s bottom line.
Jade Helm, an exercise that pits the US military against the US public, is scheduled to run July 15 through September 15. What is the secret agenda behind Jade Helm?
The Soviet Union was a partial check on capitalist looting in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. However, with the Soviet collapse capitalist looting intensified during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama regimes.
Neoliberal Globalization is now looting its own constituent parts and the planet itself. Americans, Greeks, Irish, British, Italians, Ukrainians, Iraqis, Libyans, Argentinians, the Spanish and Portuguese are being looted of their savings, pensions, social services, and job opportunities, and the planet is being turned into a wasteland by capitalists sucking the last penny out of the environment. 

We need a memorial day to commemorate the victims of neoliberal globalization. All of us are its victims, and in the end the capitalists also.

 By Paul Craig Roberts from here

Is GMO the world's salvation?

The World Socialist Movement sits on the fence when it comes to the claims and counter-claims about the safety and benefits of GMO foods. Like other controversial technology such as nuclear energy or fracking, we believe that it has to be an informed choice of people in a socialist society whether these developments are deemed useful or not. We do however think that current debates on those topics can be unduly influenced by vested business interests.

 You've probably heard some form of the following statement several times before: "It will be awfully difficult, if not impossible, to feed the world's growing population without genetically modified crops." It’s the line of biotech seed manufacturers such as Monsanto and philanthropists such as Bill Gates. It appears to have its roots in a report issued by the United Nations, which estimated that food production will need to nearly double from 2008 levels by the year 2050 to accommodate at least a couple billion more humans, and singled out genetic modification as one important tool to improve agricultural yields in the coming decades.

In 2014 nearly 94% of corn and 93% of soybean grown in the United States were cultivated from genetically modified varieties. But this is a pretty empty statistic, because it assumes that the only use for corn and soybean harvests is human food. That simply isn't the case. 44% of last year's corn harvest went to animal feed, another 44% became ethanol fuel, and the remaining 12% went to "other" uses that included food and sweeteners. In 1980, well before the ethanol boom of the mid-2000s and commercialization of biotech crops in 1996, the percentage of the nation's annual corn crop that went to "other" uses, such as human foods and sweeteners, was 12% -- exactly the same proportion as in 2014. However, the amount of corn grown overall swelled 142% in the same time period. Since the majority of America's combined corn and soybean harvests don't go to food, we can justifiably assume GMO foods aren't helping to more adequately feed the world.

New Zealand and Child Povery

 In New Zealand there are somewhere from 60,000 to 100,000 children living in "severe deprivation", and in all 240,000 to 260,000 children are living in relative poverty. Every day in New Zealand there are children who go to school hungry. Some reports estimate up to 40,000 children arrive at school without being fed breakfast.

Jonathan Boston from Victoria University, and Simon Chapple from Otago University, have calculated that for families need $100 to $200 a week rather than $25 worth of benefit to raise them above the 60 per cent of median income relative poverty line. "Numerous myths abound," they say. "Some of these have been repeated so often that they are lodged deep in the public consciousness." So entrenched are they that Boston has come to believe that only an event as terrible as  war, or a great depression could get enough of the population to see children in poor families as "our" children, rather than "their" children, and commit to lifting them out of the poverty into which they had the bad fortune to be born.

Claim One: There is little or no real child poverty in New Zealand

Child poverty here is "relative", and while not as debilitating as severe or debilitating malnutrition, it is real, measurable and often leaves "significant and long-lasting scars". "This includes poor educational attainment, higher unemployment, poor health and higher incidence of involvement in crime. For such reasons it matters," Boston and Chapple say. There are generally two ways poverty is measured: income poverty (living in households where the income is 60 per cent or less than the median household income), and material hardship (where children lack things like two pairs of sturdy shoes, or a winter coat, or live in draughty, damp houses). The Ministry of Social Development takes this seriously and tracks child poverty. Depending on the precise measure of income poverty adopted, between 120,000 and 260,000 children are living in this relative poverty.

Claim two: It's the fault of lazy or irresponsible parents.

Undoubtedly, say Chapple and Boston, some parents do make bad choices, and there's growing evidence that being in poverty actually reduces reasoning capacity. But: "It seems unlikely that poverty is primarily due to people's poor choices." Why, they ask are overall poverty rates three times higher in the US than in Scandinavia? Are Americans lazier and stupider? And why are there so few people over age 65 in New Zealand in poverty? Do they stop making bad choices on turning 65, or is it that society chooses to provide them with NZ Super? And was there a sudden outbreak of bad choices in New Zealand in the 1990s after benefits levels were slashed and unemployment rose?

Claim three: The real problem is that poor people have too many children

Some believe strongly that the poor can't afford the luxury of children, and simply shouldn't have them, or at least not so many of them. It is unreasonable for society to pay to raise them. The authors say the concensus has been for societies to share the costs of raising children, and that by investing in those children, society receives a return in the future. The authors say there are major ethical problems associated with the view that the poor should not have children, or that a third, or a fourth child should somehow be abandoned by the state and attract no further support.

Claim four: Assisting poor families will simply encourage them to have more children.

Some believe that having babies is a business, with increased benefits being the reward. But the best international evidence suggests that financial incentives do not have a big effect on fertility levels, the academics say. And, "Current policy settings in New Zealand favour families with only one or two children. Partly as a result, poverty rates are higher amongst families with more than two children."

Claim five: The real problem is poor parenting

There is no need to choose between poor parenting and poverty as being the real problem, the authors say. "Both are real and disturbing." And both poor parenting and poverty cause harm to children, who are powerless against either force. In fact, Boston and Chapple say: "There is good evidence that the stress and anxiety caused by poverty are factors that contribute to poor parenting and harmful outcomes for children."

Claim six: We can't do anything about child poverty

Some believe the "perversity" thesis, that anything you try to do will only make things worse. Some believe the "jeopardy" thesis that spending on alleviating child poverty will put other policy objectives like economic growth at risk. Then there are those who buy into the "futility" myth that nothing can be done. This last often argue that as poverty in New Zealand is relative, it can never be reduced, but Boston and Chapple say that stance is often the result of mixing up median income and average income. Relative poverty can be alleviated even if the median income does not move. And, they say, the evidence is clear that "Child poverty rates are responsive to government policies."

Claim seven: We can't afford to reduce child poverty

This is really a question of whether spending money on child poverty is "worth it", the academics say. The authors say we can't afford not to. "Child poverty imposes significant costs both on the children affected and on wider society. Investing well in children produces positive economic and social returns, and is also likely to save on future fiscal costs." Indeed: "The international and domestic evidence suggest that the scale and severity of child poverty are at least partly matters of societal choice." And, they say: "Since the early 1990s we have chose to tolerate child poverty of significant levels and duration; reducing child poverty has not been a high priority."

Claim eight: Reducing or even eliminating child poverty is relatively easy.

While Government policies have a direct impact on child poverty levels, things like cutting spending in other areas to find the money to pay for it, or lifting taxes are not easy. And, child poverty is not solely about a lack of financial resources. Child poverty continues to exist in countries with comprehensive and relatively generous welfare states, the authors say.

Claim nine: Increasing incomes for the poor won't solve child poverty

"There is no evidence that the majority of poor families are grossly incompetent or wasteful", the academics say. But it is true that providing money alone won't always be the most cost-effective way of achieving outcomes like getting adults into work. "The most recent international evidence suggests that increasing the income level of poor families can certainly generate better outcomes for their children. This is particularly the case if the income boost occurs when the children are young." And, they say: "The claim that "throwing more money at the problem doesn't help" is unfounded."

 Sadly, socialists are skeptical of any lasting long-term success being achieved by capitalist reforms. Under the budget, the government has vowed to boost welfare by NZ$790 million (US$578 million) over the next four years. Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP), which says the government's plan to increase welfare to families with children at the expense of requiring new parents to return to work earlier is “meaningless.” “The promise of (NZ)$25 (US$18) a week extra for beneficiaries with children sounds good, but is too little, too late,” AAAP's Sue Bradford stated.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Middle East Nuclear War Threat

A United Nations conference aimed at stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons has ended without agreement after proposals were blocked to make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. The plan for a nuclear-free Middle East was blocked by USA, the UK and Canada. The proposed Middle East conference would have required Israel to reveal its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Expecting a country to admit possessing nuclear weapons were “unrealistic and unworkable conditions," according to America’s representative Rose Gottemoeller. The Obama administration was reiterating a longstanding secret understanding on Israel's nuclear arsenal, dating back to 1969. That year during a meeting between President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Golda Meir, Israel committed to not testing a nuclear weapon and the United States committed to protect Israel from efforts to force it to sign the nonproliferation treaty or give up nuclear weapons.

 Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for blocking an Egyptian-led drive on a possible Middle East nuclear arms ban at a United Nations conference, an Israeli official said on Saturday. "The United States kept its commitment to Israel by preventing a Middle East resolution that would single out Israel and ignore its security interests and the threats posed to it by an increasingly turbulent Middle East," the official added.

How can Israel avoid being singled out since it is the one and only Middle Eastern nation to have nuclear weapons even if Israel does allege Iran's non-existent nuclear weapons programme is the real regional threat and which it is in the midst of negotiations to ensure it does not develop one. Iran has been forced by stringent economic sanctions to agree to far-reaching restrictions on its nuclear program, including unprecedented international supervision and monitoring of its nuclear facilities. Apparently, in the eyes of the British, Canadian and American diplomatic corps, what is good for the gander is not good enough for the goose. If Israel has been singled out, it has been for exemption from obligations.

 Mordechai Vanunu is still prevented from leaving his country and subjected to extraordinary restrictions for blowing the whistle on Israel’s nuclear weapons in 1986. Vanunu was jailed for 18 years, including 11 years in solitary confinement, for revealing the secrets of Dimona’s nuclear plant. His movements are monitored. He is permitted only chance conversations with foreigners, as long as it is a one-time conversation, which takes place face to face and is not planned in advance, is held in a public place open to the general public, and takes place for a period no longer than 30 minutes.

The US knew about Israel’s secret nuclear programme in 1960, twenty six years before Vanunu’s disclosures. In 1959, there was a secret deal between Israel and Norway providing for the sale of Norwegian heavy water to Israel, through Britain. During the 1973 War Golda Meir overruled Moshe Dayan when he urged dropping a nuclear bomb in the desert as a warning to the Arab enemy states.

A total of 162 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) participant states were in attendance but it takes only the objection of one nation to scupper the policy of agreement by consensus.

The failure of this conference means the next one can only be held in 2020. That has disappointed countries without nuclear weapons, who are increasingly frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of nuclear-armed countries to disarm. Despite lofty high-sounding rhetoric, all the nuclear armed states are pursuing billions of dollars’ worth of nuclear arsenal modernisation.

South American Sweat Shops

The children – aged seven and ten – were unable to escape the basement where they were sleeping when the fire began. Two adults, thought to be the parents of at least one of the children, were treated in hospital for smoke inhalation and burns. All four came from Bolivia. The house was among several illegal workshops producing clothing in the vicinity. In Buenos Aires city there are an estimated 25,000 illegal immigrants.

Too often sweatshops are associated with Asia but Argentine possesses what they call talleres clandestinos or clandestine workshops. Gustavo Vera, a Buenos Aires city deputy, said: “We're talking about 68 percent of the Argentine clothing industry being conducted in sweatshops," he said. "Informal work, forced labour, people who work more than 12 hours a day without any rights and even slave labour with workers living and working in the same place without being able to leave."

Olga, from Sucre in south Bolivia, recalls the conditions in the clandestine workshops. “We lived and worked in the factory and were only allowed to leave occasionally as the factory owner didn’t want us to be seen too much around the neighbourhood.” These micro-sweatshops are conspicuously set up in houses and flats. They are small, overcrowded and as concealed as possible from the public eye. “All the workers and their families slept and ate together amongst the machines,” says Olga. The worker has no contract and no standard employment practices are adhered to. Sometimes workers receive pay, sometimes not. The only contract they may be forced to sign states that they will stick around for a minimum time, usually three years, and will not talk to the police. The workers are isolated and victimised and have little option of escaping. Their documents are often taken away from them when they arrive; they are illegal immigrants with limited rights in Argentina. “We just kept silent about the workshop, as we knew we didn’t have any documents and we didn’t know where to go for help.” Workshop owners bribe policemen to keep quiet. Olga describes how bribes were carried out in front of her and fellow workers. Seeing that the police were also against them made them realise the hopelessness of their situation.

A hundred well known national and international brands, (including the Spanish firm Zara and the sports giants Puma and Adidas) have been named in legal proceedings as alleged sweatshop customers.

The clothing is sold on the pavements around Buenos Aires and at La Salada - a huge site on the outskirts of Buenos Aires that has been described as the biggest counterfeit clothing market in South America. While immigrants work 16 or more hours a day, in cramped and insanitary conditions, for a few cents or nothing at all, the profit margins for the owners are mouth-watering.
Gustavo Vera, a school teacher who runs the activities of the Alameda, a community organization, explains that the government has knowingly tolerated the operation of clandestine workshops for years. “The government is capitalist, classist and bourgeoisie, therefore their interests lie in protecting the big labels who are making huge profit margins by fabricating their clothes in these workshops. Besides, the state wants to keep production of Argentine textiles inside the country, and clamping down on micro-sweatshops in Buenos Aires will undoubtedly mean fabrication moves to cheaper neighbouring countries. There are two myths concerning micro-sweatshops, both supported by the media who also act favourably to large labels which they rely on for advertising. The first is that sweatshop production is associated with fakes, which are unfair competition to the real designers. And the second is that price reflects the fabrication process of clothes. However, in reality it is the big well-known labels that use sweatshops, and the price a consumer pays has no correlation to the wage the worker in a factory receives.”

According to statistics published by the Alameda, if an item of clothing is sold in a shop for $100, the workshop receives $3.12, of which $1.87 goes to the worker, $0.30 is profit for the workshop owner and $0.95 covers the workshop’s costs. $10 cover the shop’s expenses and $22 are lost to tax. The clothes label takes a profit of $64.88.

Bolivia’s consul Jose Alberto González also explains about a new programme, ‘Buenos Aires Produce’, aimed at legitimising the factories. Workshop owners should participate ‘voluntarily’ (if they chose not to participate in the programme their workshop will be closed down) and will be given a year to bring health and safety standards up to scratch and create separate spaces for working and living.
“‘Buenos Aires Produce’, along with other state initiatives to combat the problem, presents the workshop owner as the only baddy. As I understand it, the big labels – who fix the prices taking the greatest slice of the profit for themselves and leaving the workshops, owners and workers, the crumbs – are the real baddies. Of course, the workshop owners treat the workers badly and even subject them to slavery, but that is just one side of the reality. If ‘Buenos Aires Produce’ goes ahead, the factory owners won’t be able to afford to make the necessary changes to their workshops. They will either be closed down or will move out to the province where the law does not apply.”

UK Post-2015: No Capitalist Government Can Be Kind


Why One of the Wealthiest Countries in the World Is Failing to Feed Its People

On May 8 2015 I awoke to discover that not only were we not looking forward to a new coalition government in the UK, but that the overall collapse of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party had given the Conservative government a mandate. At an individual level I'm likely to see some benefits from the strong neo-liberalism that underpins this government's ideology, but I'm concerned about a further deepening of the division between those who have and those who have not.
This will mean the continued exponential growth in the numbers of people requiring emergency food assistance and increased numbers of children and elderly with inadequate food supply. This will also translate into higher rates of obesity, diet-related illness and malnutrition.

The Most Vulnerable
In the United Kingdom there are nearly 5m people today living as food insecure. Wendy Wills, an expert in food and public health, defines this as those who are unable to acquire or consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food made available in socially acceptable ways, or who have the (regular) uncertainty that they will be able to do so.
In 2014, more than 20m meals were provided to people unable to provide for themselves. Since 2010 there has been an exponential growth in the number of households relying on emergency food aid. In 2009-10 nearly 50,000 households received three days of emergency food aid but by 2014-15 the number had increased to more than a million. Oxfam UK has estimated that: "36% of the UK population are just one heating bill or broken washing machine away from hardship".

Poor Distribution
Looking at these figures one might think the UK is not a wealthy nation. But this is not the case. Credit Suisse put the UK fifth in a ranking of nations by wealth, behind the US, Japan, China, and France. Based on 2010 UK Census figures, per capita wealth in the UK is about US$182,825, but this wealth is not distributed evenly across the population. While the wealthiest fifth of the population controls nearly 41% of the income, the poorest fifth have just 8%. And while rates of employment have increased over the last few years, pay growth has not kept up.

The new government has little in its manifesto to indicate relief, instead there are promises to cut public spending by a further £55bn by 2019 (on top of the £35bn cut during the coalition government). We have already seen cuts in work programmes that support those with disabilities in their first week in office. In the firing line are Sure Start programmes and programmes for refugees and migrants while reduced funding for local authorities will mean not only cuts to programmes that support the most vulnerable but also cuts to other services providing things such as road repairs, parks and libraries.

On top of the loss of services and support programmes, cuts also translate into bodies out of employment. So this new round of austerity will reach higher up the ladder for those living in the UK because a large proportion of the costs associated with these services is the wages for those who deliver them. The Office for Budget Responsibility indicates that by 2020 there will be a further loss of a million government jobs (compared to the loss of 400,000 government jobs over the course of the last parliament). One can only conclude that income inequality will widen, a state that already has one of the highest divisions between wealthy and poor in Europe (only lower than Turkey and Portugal in 2010).

Disposable Income
For those living in poverty in the UK today the amount of disposable income for the poorest fifth of households is about £156 per week. This is income after taxes and transfer payments and includes spending on clothing, getting to work, childcare, keeping warm, washing, communicating with others, paying for housing, celebrating birthdays, holidays, paying for school trips, uniforms and supplies, socialising and cooking (including not just the food but also the fuel to run the cooker, microwave, and refrigerator).

For many households (not just the poorest), the most flexible item in their budget is food expenditure. Families in this position are not concerned with the environmental or social implications associated with the food that they buy, but instead concentrate on "getting fed". Because it is now less expensive to feed ones family on processed food (with higher salt, sugar, and fat content) than fresh food and as the cost of food is predicted to continue to rise, we can expect to see not just increases in the numbers of people going hungry and relying on emergency food aid, but also increases in the rates of dietary-related illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and malnutrition. These health implications will, in turn, continue to place greater pressure on an already-struggling NHS.

Obligations Made
The government has an obligation to ensure that the right for all human beings to be free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, as specified in a UN covenant to which the UK is a signatory, is upheld. The UK is also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which specifies a duty to provide "material assistance and support programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition."
At present the rolling back of social services, the decline in real wages, increases in food costs coupled with an emphasis within the Conservative manifesto to develop food production in this country as an export (as opposed to subsidising it in order to feed the nation), suggests that this obligation is not one that is being taken seriously.

If we cannot look to our national government to uphold these rights and obligations, it seems that there is no recourse but to fill the gap from within, something the Conservatives are banking on. In their manifesto, the only mention of food justice is expressed via the following phrase:
We have always believed that churches, faith groups and other voluntary groups play an important and longstanding role in this country's social fabric, running food banks, helping the homeless and tackling debt and addictions, such as alcoholism and gambling. In the short term it is evident that the public will need to rely on each other to support the most vulnerable, which includes the elderly and children.
Food banks and charity are not a long-term solution, nor are they an adequate solution. We know that food banks are an insecure form of support as they rely on gifts which can be withdrawn at any time. Their coverage is spatially uneven as they are more likely to be located in cities leaving the rural poor in a more precarious position. Donated food also tends to be non-perishable food, as opposed to fresh food free of E numbers, fat, salt, and sugar. Food banks also do not address more structural issues that give rise to food insecurity in the first instance. The Trussel Trust, which runs many food banks, does offer some ancillary support but this still focuses on individuals, not on the wider problems.

No Single Department Is Responsible
As a country we need a better understanding of the resources available to local authorities who bear the burden of addressing the inequalities associated with food and who must deliver services to the poor.
As citizens we also need to demand that the government meet its UN obligations to ensure the right to food and the rights of the child. This cannot happen within existing government departments as the focus of these rights is not embedded within any one single agency. We have the Food Standards Agency, but its remit doesn't address food access. DEFRA's focus is on food production and agriculture. The Department of Health's focus is on nutrition outcomes rather than the root causes of obesity and the structure of food system in the UK. The Department for Work and Pensions similarly only considers those elements that are employment focused.
We currently have subsidies for winter fuel, transportation, and housing, but there is nothing that ensures food affordability. What is called for is a cross-cutting governmental body, with a minister for food, who ensures that policies enacted through these departments deliver access to sufficient, healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food for all of us, not just the wealthy.
by Megan Blake - taken from here where links can be found

No real surprises here, this is capitalism after all. But word needs to get out more widely to those in reasonable comfort who choose to continue living their lives in ignorance of the facts of how so many of their fellow citizens are living lives of constant struggle. Whichever party or parties end up in government they run it in favour of capitalism with a little bit of their own brand of give-aways to appease certain sections of the population. A nicer kind of capitalism does not exist. We don't want charity. We want a system that works for us all - socialism.

This Is What people Want For The Planet

From the tar sands of Alberta to the Port of Seattle to the communities in the blast zone of oil trains, organizers across North America are calling for a "wave of resistance" this fall to "shut down the economic and political systems threatening our survival."
Under the banner of "Flood the System," the announcement was unveiled Wednesday by Rising Tide North America, part of an international climate justice network. The mass actions, slated for September and November, are timed to lead up to the United Nations COP21 climate negotiations to take place in Paris in November and December.
Organizers say they are targeting the international gathering in order to highlight exactly what is not working. "[T]he UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process has been co-opted by elite interests and... any Paris outcomes will be insufficient to meaningfully address the climate crisis and ensure justice for the majority of the world’s people," declares a press statement.

But the real target goes far beyond any one event or body. "We need to wash away the root causes of climate change—capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and colonialism," reads the group's call-to-action. "These systems enable the domination of people and Earth. They place gains for the elite before the well being of our communities."

 So as people from around the world mobilize and demand meaningful change at the talks in Paris, and highlight grassroots solutions, Flood the System will stage direct actions across North America.

Organizers in the U.S. and Canada are having "initial conversations" with groups in Mexico about the coordinated actions.
If past actions are any indication, Flood the System will make a big splash.
Rising Tide Seattle is one of the organizations behind last week's series of direct actions—by land and sea—to protest Shell Oil's arctic drilling fleet in the Port of Seattle.
Furthermore, many of those organizing Flood the System were involved in last year's more than 400,000-strong People's Climate March in New York City, followed by the "Flood Wall Street" demonstration and sit-in attended by thousands in the financial district of lower Manhattan—the hub of global capitalism.

Organizers say Flood the System looks to other movements for inspiration, especially those "led by low-wage workers, immigrants, and communities responding to police brutality," with many Rising Tide organizers "directly involved in, or allying with, these various struggles."
"There is a sense that there is so much happening right now that is powerful and empowering from the grassroots," said Nurse. "People are expressing anger, taking to the streets, not fearful, and very activated in a way that has caught the imagination of the entire country and many places around the world."
 "From Seattle, to Alberta, to Appalachia, people are organized in opposition to extraction, and taking action to uproot the systems driving the crisis."

from here

Business As Usual Continues To Devastate The Planet

As an investigation into an oil spill along the California coast continued on Thursday, environmentalists described a "nightmare" scenario in the area and new details emerged about the pipeline operator's long history of generating similar disasters.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday over the oil spill near Santa Barbara that may have dumped more than 105,000 gallons of crude along the coast on Tuesday morning.
By Thursday afternoon, wildlife in the area, including pelicans, had been found coated in oil, according to ABC News. One bird was found dead on the beach and five have reportedly been sent to rehabilitation centers.
Clean-up crews shoveled pools of black sludge along the shore and towed booms into the water to fence in the two large patches that had spread across nine miles in the Pacific Ocean.
Exactly how much oil has spilled from the pipeline that burst near Refugio State Beach is still unclear. So is the cause. Darren Palmer, the chairman and CEO of Plains All American, which operates the pipeline, told reporters Wednesday evening that the company had experienced "mechanical issues" before the leak, but did not elaborate.

What is known, however, is that Plains All American has a history of wreaking environmental damage. Not including Tuesday's disaster, the company has been responsible for 175 spill incidents nationwide since 2006, including 11 in California—the most recent one in 2014, when 10,000 gallons of oil spilled in the Atwater Village community in Los Angeles.
The company's Canadian branch, Plains Midstream Canada, has also had a slew of ruptures in Alberta.
"This company's disturbing record highlights oil production's toxic threat to California's coast," said Miyoko Sakashita, the oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement on Thursday. "Every new oil project increases the risk of fouled beaches and oil-soaked sea life."

As the Gaviota Coast Conservancy pointed out on Wednesday, the pipeline was the only one in the county to be operating without local oversight.

And the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center posited other unanswered questions, including "why there was no automatic shut-off on this relatively new pipeline, and why the early response was not more successful in halting the flow of crude oil into the fragile waters of the Santa Barbara Channel."

Many environmental organizations connected the spill to the environmental dangers posed by offshore drilling in the Arctic, which recently got federal approval.
"Oil pipelines and offshore fracking and drilling endanger our fragile marine ecosystems," Sakashita said on Thursday. "If [we've] learned anything over the past 50 years, it's that coastal oil production remains inherently dangerous to wildlife, local communities and health of the planet. To protect our coast, we need to stop offshore drilling and fracking and quickly transition to cleaner energy sources."
Dr. Chad Nelsen, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation, added, "Sadly, once the oil is spilled it is too late. As we are again learning in Santa Barbara, once the disaster has occurred we can only try to minimize the damage.... We need a strong public response to combat special interests who are constantly pressing for more drilling along our precious coastlines."

from here

Marx and the Irish Referendum

The Irish Times has chosen to quote Karl Marx in regards to the same-gender marriage referendum.

Humans are not equal in their endowments or talents. Some are stronger physically or mentally, or more experienced emotionally, than others. What they have in common is their differences and their ability to express them individually. If you treat them the same, you will therefore do them an injustice.
This contradictory aspect of equality led Karl Marx to argue, when criticising the Gotha programme adopted by the German Workers Party in 1875, that the equal rights it proclaimed were in fact constrained by their emergence in a capitalist society.
That equal standard or right “
is in fact an unequal right for unequal labour . . . It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right.”
He went on to say that only in a much more developed phase of communist society would it be possible to cross out this narrow horizon and substitute a principle fully recognising these differentiations: “From each according to his ability to each according to his needs!”
…. If the amendment is passed, we will have moved away from a position in which equal too often meant identical to a more genuinely pluralist one recognising human difference as a foundation stone of political and social equality.