Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Feed the World - Abolish Capitalism

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The anticipated global population by 2050 is 9 billion and the obvious first question by many people is “How are we going to produce enough food to feed the hungry?”

Try this : 
“Place yourself in the poorest place you can think of. Imagine yourself in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example. Now. You are hungry but are you going to go hungry? Are you going to have a problem finding food?”

The answer, obviously, is “no”. Because you would be in that country with a wallet filled with cash and credit cards. So all you would do is go find a restaurant or food stall and buy yourself something to eat.

The difference between you and the hungry is not food availability or the level of its production; it is money. There are no hungry people with money; for them there is no shortage of food.  For the poor, there is “I-don’t-have-the-land-and-resources-to-produce-my-own-food, nor-can-I-afford-to-buy-food” hunger problem.

Their poverty and the resulting hunger are not matters of bad luck but often as a result of people buying the property of traditional farmers and displacing them (landgrab), appropriating their water, energy and mineral resources, and even producing cash crops for export while reducing the people growing the food to menial and hungry labourers on their own land.

There is also the virtually unregulated food system that is geared towards making money rather than feeding people. (Look no further than biofuels, for evidence.) A majority of the world is fed by hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers, some of whom are themselves among the hungry. The rest of the hungry are underpaid or unemployed workers. But boosting yields does nothing for them. Claiming that increasing the yields of farmers would feed the poor is like saying that producing more cars would guarantee that everyone would get one.

Poverty creates hunger yet it also teams up with the food system to create another form of malnourishment: Obesity (and what is called “hidden hunger”, the lack of micronutrients). If you define “hunger” as malnutrition and accept that overweight and obesity are forms of malnutrition as well, then almost half the world is malnourished.

Is there hunger and malnutrition in the United States? Yes, quite a bit. It has the highest percentage of hungry people of any developed nation, a rate close to that of Indonesia.  Is there a lack of food? Not at all. The supermarker shelves are over-flowing with food but it is only available for those who can pay its price at the check-out.

The solution is to end poverty. To eliminate poverty we must eliminate capitalism. And how do we help those who have malnutrition? We can help them — and help preserve the Earth’s health — if we recognise that the industrial model of food production for profit is neither inevitable nor desirable. There is plenty of food. Too much of it is going to feed animals, too much is being converted to fuel and too much of it is being wasted. We do not have to increase yield to address any of those issues. We simply require the appropriate economic system to make it possible.

Our slogan should not be “Let’s feed the world”, but “Let us end capitalism”


The Myth of Thanksgiving

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Dunbar-Ortiz is author or editor of seven books, including the recently-released An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Shejust wrote the piece “The Myth of Thanksgiving,” which states: “Thanksgiving is the favorite holiday of many U.S. Americans; unlike the rather boring or divisive holidays that honor Columbus, Presidents, Martin Luther King, Jr., Independence, veterans and war, the birth of a religion, and a new year, Thanksgiving is centered on sharing food with family and friends. Individuals and families travel long distances at great expense to be with one another. It might be surprising to learn that the cherished tradition of Thanksgiving is, in fact, the most nationalist of all holidays because it narrates the national origin myth. The traditional meal, as we know, consists of the foods cultivated by Indigenous farmers — corn, squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and turkey.

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The Banksters shift their business

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The U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Senator Carl Levin, released a 396-page report that details how Wall Street’s too-big-to-fail through shell companies, gained ownership of a stunning amount of the nation’s critical industrial commodities like oil, aluminum, copper, natural gas, and even uranium.

Federal law has encouraged the separation of banking and commerce. The role of banks has been seen as providing prudent corporate lending to facilitate the growth of commerce, not to compete with it through unfair advantage by having access to cheap capital from the Federal Reserve’s lending programs. According to the Levin Subcommittee report, “the Federal Reserve directly facilitated the expansion of financial holding companies into new physical commodity activities.”

Morgan Stanley hold “operating leases on over 100 oil storage tank field[s] with 58 million barrels of storage capacity globally and 18 natural gas storage facilities in US and Europe.” Morgan Stanley also had “over 100 ships under time charters or voyages for movement of oil product, and was ranked 9th globally in shipping oil distillates in 2009.” The company also owned 6 domestic and international power plants.
JPMorgan had a “significant global oil storage portfolio (25 million barrel capacity) … along with 19 Natural Gas storage facilities on lease.” It also reported that JPMorgan had acquired “Henry Bath metals warehouse (LME certified base metals warehousing/storage worldwide),” and that JPMorgan’s “total base metal inventory was as high as $8 billion” during the first quarter of 2012.

Bank of America had “23 oil storage facilities and 54 natural gas facilities…leased for storage.”

Goldman Sachs had four tolling agreements and a wholly-owned subsidiary, Cogentrix, with ownership interests in over 30 power plants; owned “Metro Warehouse which controls 84 metal warehouse/storage facilities globally” and qualified as a London Metals Exchange storage provider; had acquired a Colombian coal mine valued at $204 million, which had also included associated rail transportation for the coal. The report also found that Goldman Sachs had conducted “a uranium trading business that engages in the trading of the underlying commodity.”


Why are African-Americans angry?

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88% of African-Americans in a 2013 Pew poll said that there was “a lot” (46%) or “some” (42%) discrimination against them.  Only 57% of whites agreed, and only 16% of whites said there is “a lot” of discrimination against African-Americans:

Black unemployment 13.4%
White unemployment 6.7%
College-educated African-Americans are also twice as likely to be unemployed as whites with the same level of education.

A quarter of Americans living in poverty Whites make up about 41% of the poor.  But f the distribution were proportional, whites would by 70-some percentage of the poor and African-Americans would be 13%.  African-Americans are disproportionately likely to be poor.

Average household net worth of whites: $110,000.
Average household net worth of African-Americans:  $5000
The wealth gap between white and African-American families tripled between 1980 and 2009, according to the Century Foundation

 Most death sentences (77%) are handed out for killing white people, even though African-Americans make up 50% of murder victims.
In case of conviction for murder, African-Americans are 38% more likely to be handed the death penalty than members of other racial groupings.
1 in every 15 African American men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men

Equality before the law is what the Constitution promises. But that same Constitution enshrines individualism and competition and therefore guarantees economic inequality.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/race_inequality_between_us_whites_african-americans_by_numbers_20141126


Charity cases

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These are the top salaries at the Save the Children fund.

CEO Justin Forsyth £139,950
COO Anabel Hoult £139,950
COO / CFO & Strategic Initiatives Rachel Parr £131,970
Global Programmes Director Fergus Drake £113,300
Fundraising Director Tanya Steele £112,200
Marketing & Comms Director Sue Allchurch £111,920
Policy & Advocacy Director Brendan Cox £106,029
CFO Peter Banks £102,000
HR Director Paul Cutler £100,980

The UK average salary is £26,500.

Save the Children Fund gets £176 million – over half its income - in grants from various governments, including over £80 million from the British government. That compares to £106 million in donations from the public. In 2012 over £70 million was spent by Save the Children UK on its own staff costs. This was reduced on paper to £44 million in 2014 by the expedient of transferring some Headquarters staff from Save the Children UK to Save the Children International.

Save the Children’s HQ staff work in a plush office for which they pay a staggering £6.5 million pounds a year lease. Do they really need their HQ in ultra-expensive Central London?

How much all of this is known to the 13,000 good-hearted volunteers who work many hours for nothing to support these people. It’s not just Save the Children, of course. Many of the corporate charities are just as bad. There are more than 195,289 registered charities in the UK that raise and spend close to £80 billion a year. Together, they employ more than a million staff – more than our car, aerospace and chemical sectors .

 In England and Wales there are 1,939 active charities focused on children; 581 charities trying to find a cure for cancer; 354 charities for birds; 255 charities for animals, 81 charities for people with alcohol problems and 69 charities fighting leukaemia. All have their own executives, administrators, fundraisers, communications experts and offices, but few will admit they are doing exactly the same thing as other charities. In Ethiopia, for example, two decades ago there were 70 international charities operating there, today the figure is close to 5,000.

And while registered charities claim that almost 90p in every pound donated is spent on ‘charitable activities’, many spend at least half their income on management, strategy development, campaigning and fundraising – not what most of us would consider ‘good causes’. A 2013 parliamentary inquiry into the charity sector found there were so many charities that the Charity Commission for England and Wales was struggling to ensure that most registered charities were genuine, rather than tax avoidance schemes or political campaigning groups. The inquiry said the Commission, which receives more than 900 calls, letters and emails every day, didn’t have the staff to check whether our donations were actually going to real charitable purposes at all.

From here 




Uber's Billionaire

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This past June Forbes declared Travis Kalanick, the 38-year-old CEO of the Uber “ride sharing” service, a billionaire several times over. Ruthlessness apparently pays. Kalanick had spent the previous four years bulldozing over local public officials, complaining customers, competitors, and his own underpaid drivers.

Proclaimed Kalanick last year: “We don’t have to beg for forgiveness because we are legal.

 That “win-at-all-costs” attitude has infused Kalanick’s $18.2-billion Uber. Last week, the news surfaced that one of Uber’s senior execs had outlined for a group of New York influentials a plan for digging up dirt in the private lives of journalists who’ve written critically about Uber’s tactics. Kalanick spent last week apologizing — but, tellingly, didn’t fire the errant exec.

links here

Workers Of The World - 17

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The Two Tiers of Workers at Taylor Farms

Taylor Farms, the world’s largest supplier of cut vegetables and salad, packages produce which ends up at Safeway, Walmart and Costco, as well as McDonald’s, Chipotle, Subway and Starbucks.
Taylor Farms has become a billion-dollar success story by selling organic kale, lettuce, tomatoes and other “healthy, wholesome” choices.
Some workers, however, say that those inside the processing plants face only noxious choices: exploitation, unemployment, deportation.

“If you complain they threaten to call ‘la migra’,” said Rosie Guadaloupe, a former supervisor, using a Latino term for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a Department of Homeland Security agency also known as Ice. “If you don’t have papers, that scares you.”

A half-dozen current and former workers interviewed by the Guardian alleged the company took advantage of undocumented migrants from Mexico and central America to keep workers on “temporary” status year after year, leaving them vulnerable to low pay, dangerous conditions, intimidation and summary firings. The plants, which employ 900 workers, have become a battleground for two powerful forces, with repercussions beyond Tracy.

On one side, Taylor Farms, which earned $1.8bn in revenue in 2012. Its chief executive, Bruce Taylor, is also chairman of Western Growers, a trade association, and scion of an agribusiness dynasty which in previous decades clashed with Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers union.
On the other, the Teamsters, a heavyweight labour union, and its political allies. The Teamsters wants to unionise the plants, to set an example for other agricultural sectors. Earlier this year its general president, Jim Hoffa, led a rally in Tracy with chants of “Si se puede” (yes we can) and “Teamster power”.
Each side accuses the other of bullying and lying.


Allegations of company abuse, Taylor told the Guardian, were an attempt to smear the company and railroad workers into joining the union against their will.Kim Keller, a Teamster organiser, accused Taylor Farms of hiring thuggish union-busters.
Compared to the dramatic marches, boycotts and hunger strikes of the 1960s and 1970s, when Taylor’s father and grandfather battled lettuce and grape pickers, this contest is less visible. The work takes place not in fields but in nondescript processing plants. And there is a shared reluctance to highlight the presence of undocumented workers. If Ice were to raid the facilities, both sides would lose.

Taylor Farms has two categories of worker in California. A plant at its headquarters in Salinas, which was home to The Grapes of Wrath author John Steinbeck, employs 2,500 Teamster members. They earn above minimum wage and have health insurance, paid holidays and other benefits.
In Tracy, a two-hour drive north, 600 of the 900 workers are “temporary”. They earn at least 50 cents less per hour than Salinas colleagues and have fewer benefits. Some have worked full-time for more than a decade but are still classified as temporary.

One way managers keep restive employees in line, according to current and former workers, is by threatening to introduce E-Verify. E-Verify is a hiring database designed to check whether job applicants are legally eligible to work in the US. In most states, including California, it is voluntary for employers.
To workers in Tracy who lack documents to work legally, it strikes dread. “If you make waves they say they’ll call Ice or that you’ll get e-verified, which means you lose your job,” said one worker.

Keller, the Teamster organiser, said managers’ threats to summon Ice or impose E-Verify were bluffs because the business model hinges on cheap, malleable workers.

Technically, the 600 temporary workers are hired not by Taylor Farms but by two employment agencies, SlingShot and Abel Mendoza. Neither responded to interview requests.
The Teamsters accused Taylor Farms of using the agencies as a fig leaf to exploit vulnerable workers.
Taylor acknowledged differences between his plant in Salinas, which uses E-Verify, and those in Tracy, saying Taylor Farms inherited different hiring arrangements when it bought the Tracy plants in 2005.
Asked about SlingShot and Abel Mendoza’s alleged hiring of undocumented workers, he said: “It’s up to them how they do [their] employment practices.”
However, the CEO rejected claims of inequality, saying the Tracy workers were part of the corporate family.
A big reason for that, said Teamster activists, was fear of E-Verify. They argue the company can and should improve conditions, and permit unionisation, without imposing a screening system which is controversial and not mandated by law.

taken from here




Huge Rewards For Corporate Political Spenders

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On average, 144 sitting members of Congress received money from the Fixed Fortune 200 each cycle. Graphic credit: The Sunlight Foundation

Between 2007 and 2012, 200 of America’s most politically active corporations spent a combined $5.8 billion on federal lobbying and campaign contributions. A year-long analysis by the Sunlight Foundation suggests, however, that what they gave pales compared to what those same corporations got: $4.4 trillion in federal business and support.

That figure, more than the $4.3 trillion the federal government paid the nation’s 50 million Social Security recipients over the same period, is the result of an unprecedented effort to quantify the less-examined side of the campaign finance equation: Do political donors get something in return for what they give?
Four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court suggested the answer to that question was no. Corporate spending to influence federal elections would not “give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” the majority wrote in the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.

Sunlight decided to test that premise by examining influence and its potential results on federal decision makers over six years, three before the 2010 Citizens United decision and three after.
We focused on the records of 200 for-profit corporations, all of which had active political action committees and lobbyists in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 election cycles — and were among the top donors to campaign committees registered with the Federal Election Commission. Their investment in politics was enormous. There were 20,500 paying lobbying clients over the six years we examined; the 200 companies we tracked accounted for a whopping 26 percent of the total spent. On average, their PACs, employees and their family members made campaign contributions to 144 sitting members of Congress each cycle.

After examining 14 million records, including data on campaign contributions, lobbying expenditures, federal budget allocations and spending, we found that, on average, for every dollar spent on influencing politics, the nation’s most politically active corporations received $760 from the government. The $4.4 trillion total represents two-thirds of the $6.5 trillion that individual taxpayers paid into the federal treasury.

Welcome to the world of “Fixed Fortunes,” a seemingly closed universe where the most persistent and savvy political players not so mysteriously have the ability to attract federal dollars regardless of who is running Washington.

This is only the beginning of a longer article here enhanced with graphics.




"Victims Of Americanism"

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Malcolm X:
"No, I'm not an American. I'm one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So, I'm not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver-no, not I. I'm speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don't see any American dream; I see an American nightmare."

Victims of this American system? Who can blame the many blacks who feel like this about the country they were born in? But let's also recognise the larger perspective, the millions of undocumented 'illegal' immigrants trying to hang on to a job to provide for their families, the millions of all colours who have to rely on food stamps because of awful pay, the millions of children living in poverty, the millions of unemployed workers, the other millions of under-employed or under-paid workers, the millions who've lost their homes because they can't make the payments, - the question becomes just how many people are left living in any real comfort and security in this land of the free?

Minority groups are picked out and demonised all around the world. It's an old ploy to keep the workers divided and focussed on the wrong issues, to prevent them coming together and get serious about implementing a solution to their problems. Whilst many would agree that 'America' is the epitome of what a country organised for capital accumulation at whatever cost to people and planet - and those costs are clear for all to see - 'America' and the 'American system' are not the focus for socialists. America is a prime example of what the global capitalist system is and how it works brilliantly well for a small minority and how it repeatedly fails the vast majority. This is the lesson to be learned and understood.

Our common problem is the global system of capitalism. This is our focus. We are all citizens of the world and together we can achieve the goal of a world which celebrates diversity - our world, a world in common.


Shitty water

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The state of water and sanitation is a global health crisis. 

Some 10 million children have died since 2000 of diarrhoeal illnesses, directly linked to growing up without clean water, basic toilets and hygiene.

1.8 billion people drink water contaminated with fecal matter.

It’s fair to assume that this is linked to the 2.5 billion people still without a basic toilet. Too much money is being invested in finding or making clean water, and not enough ending the waste that contaminates it.


Indian Lives Matter

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Colin Todhunter’s insightful writings have frequently been cited by the SOYMB blog. Albeit we may not agree with every detail of his analysis but on many issues we share similar viewpoints. The following areextracts from an article he wrote on India where lived and worked and where there exists a companion party, the World Socialist Party (India) 

India was the richest country in the world and had controlled a third of global wealth until the 17th century. Political unity and military security helped evolve a uniform economic system, increased trade and enhanced agriculture productivity. India was an exporter of spices, food grains, handicrafts, handloom products, wootz steel, musk, camphor, sandalwood and ivory items, among other things. The village was the centre of a rural economy that was an economic powerhouse. the economic fabric of the village was once enshrined in a performing eco-system and a healthy social life based on fellow feelings and mutual co-operation. However, the British Raj almost dismantled this system by introducing mono crop activities and mill made products, and post independent India failed to repair the economic fabric.

Eradicating poverty in that country requires every person having access to safe drinking water, sanitation, housing, nutrition, health and education. Out of its 1.2 billion-plus population, India is home to over 340 million destitute people and is the second poorest country in South Asia after war-torn Afghanistan. Some  640 million poor people live in India (40% of the world's poor).

20 years ago,  India had the second-best social indicators among the six South Asian countries ( India,  Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka , Nepal and Bhutan ). Now it has the second worst position, ahead only of Pakistan. Bangladesh has less than half of India's per-capita GDP but has infant and child mortality rates lower than that of India. In Bangladesh, 82% of children are fully immunised, 88% get vitamin A supplements and 89% are breastfed within an hour of birth. The corresponding figures for Indian children are below 50% in all case and as low as 25% for vitamin A supplementation. Moreover, over half of the population in India practices open defecation, a major health hazard, compared with less than 10% in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has overtaken India in terms of a wide range of basic social indicators, including life expectancy, child survival, enhanced immunisation rates, reduced fertility rates and particular schooling indicators.

“We build cyber cities and techno parks and IITs at the cost of the welfare of the downtrodden and the environment. We don't think how our farmers on whose toil we feed manage to sustain themselves; we fail to see how the millions of the poor survive. We look at the state-of-the-art airports, IITs, highways and bridges, the inevitable necessities for the corporate world to spread its tentacles everywhere and thrive, depriving the ordinary people of even the basic necessities of life and believe it is development.” – Sukumaran CV

The poverty alleviation rate in India remain around the same as it was back in 1991 or even in pre-independence India (0.8 percent), while the ratio between the top and bottom ten percent of the population has doubled during this period. Amartya Sen and the World Bank's chief economist Kaushik Basu have argued that the bulk of  India 's aggregate growth is occurring through a disproportionate rise in the incomes at the upper end of the income ladder . To use Arundhati Roy's term, the poor in India are the ‘ghosts of capitalism': the ‘invisible' and shoved-aside victims of a now rampant neoliberalism. India's social development has been sacrificed on the altar of greed and corruption for bulging Swiss accounts, and it has been stolen and put in the pockets of the country's ruling class ‘wealth creators' and the multinational vultures who long ago stopped circling and are now swooping.

According to the Organisation for Co-operation and Economic Development, this doubling of income inequality has made India  one of the worst performers in the category of emerging economies. It is being driven through by what Vandana Shiva says is the biggest forced removal of people from their lands in history and involves one of the biggest illegal land grabs since Columbus, according to a 2009 report commissioned by the rural development ministry. Almost 300,000 farmers have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to (GM) cash crops and economic liberalisation.  And yet the corporate-controlled type of agriculture being imposed and/or envisaged only leads to bad food, bad soil, poor quality or no water, bad health, poor or falling yields and an impending agrarian crisis. In addition to displacing people to facilitate the needs of resource extraction industries, unconstitutional land grabs for Special Economic Zones, nuclear plants and other projects have additionally forced many others from the land. In ‘The Greater Common Good', Arundhati Roy writes about the thousands of tribal people displaced by the Narmada Sarovar Dam. Moreover, it has been a case of massive tax breaks for industry and corporations and underinvestment in rural infrastructure and farming. It's not difficult to see where policy makers' priorities lie.

In the West, the route to capitalism or urbanisation was not ‘natural' and involved the unforeseen outcomes of conflicts and struggles between serfs, lords, peasants, landowners, the emerging bourgousie and class of industrialists and the state. The outcomes of these struggles resulted in different routes to modernity (communism, fascism, capitalism) and levels of urbanisation. Unsurprisingly, struggles (both violent and non-violent) are now taking place in  India . The naxalites and Maoists are referred to by the dominant class as left wing extremists who are exploiting the situation of the poor. But how easy it is to ignore the true nature of the poor's exploitation. How easy it is to lump all protesters together and create an ‘enemy within'. How easy it is to ignore the state-corporate extremism across the world that results in the central state abdicating its responsibilities by submitting to the tenets of the Wall Street-backed ‘structural adjustment' pro-privatisation policies, free capital flows and unaccountable cartels. That's the real nature of extremism. It is the type of extremism that is regarded as anything but by the mainstream media.

With GDP growth slowing and automation replacing human labour the world over in order to decrease labour costs and boost profit, where are the jobs going to come from to cater for hundreds of millions of former agricultural workers or those whose livelihoods will be destroyed as corporations move in and seek to capitalise and mechanise industries (eg wheat processing) that currently employ tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions)? It is clear that farmers (and others) represent a ‘problem': a problem while on the land and a problem to be somehow dealt with once displaced. But food producers, the genuine wealth producers of a nation, only became a problem when Western agribusiness was given the green light to take power away from farmers and uproot traditional agriculture in  India  and recast it in its own corporate-controlled image. This is who is really setting the ‘development' agenda.

India  is acquiescing to foreign corporations. Take a look at the free trade agreement being hammered out behind closed doors between the EU and India. It all adds up to powerful trans-national corporations trying to by-pass legislation that was implemented to safeguard the public's rights. We could see the Indian government being sued by multinational companies for billions of dollars in private arbitration panels outside of Indian courts if national laws, policies, court decisions or other actions are perceived to interfere with their investments. This is already a reality in many parts of the world whereby legislation is shelved due to even the threat of legal action by corporations. Such free trade agreements cement the corporate ability to raid taxpayers' coffers even further via unaccountable legal tribunals, or to wholly dictate national policies and legislation. This agreement could see rural Indian society being restructured and devastated in favour of Western corporate interests and adversely impacting hundreds of millions and their livelihoods and traditional ways of living. The bedrock of any society is its agriculture. Without food there can be no life. Without food security, there can be no genuine independence. Nowhere is this the case than in  India  where 64% of the population derives its sustenance from the agricultural sector. To control Indian agriculture is to exert control over the country. One needs to control only seeds, agro-chemicals and resultant debt and infrastructure loans. The World Bank, the IMF and the US State Department are well aware of this fact. US foreign policy is about power and control: the power to control food, states and entire populations.

In an attempt to control agriculture and despite evidence that suggests otherwise, agritech corporations promote the notion that they have the answers to feeding the world. People are generally hungry not because of insufficient agricultural production but because they do not have money to buy food, access to land to grow food or because of complex problems like food spoilage, poor food distribution systems and a lack of reliable water and infrastructure for irrigation, storage, transport and financing. If these deeper problems are not addressed and as long as food is not reaching those who are hungry and poor, increased agricultural production will not help reduce food insecurity. We already produce enough food to feed the world's population and did so even at the peak of the world food crisis in 2008. Moreover, India can already feed itself and arguably  doesn't need modern technology of poisonous pesticides, destructive fertilizers and patented GE seeds that can't match 1890 or even 1760 AD yields in India. By shifting towards a commercialised system that would also give the poor cash to buy food in the market place, rather than the almost half a million ‘ration shops' that currently exist, the result will be what the WTO/ World Bank/IMF have been telling India to for a long time: to displace the farming population so that agribusiness can find a stronghold in India (aided by the free trade agreement, which could see land in the hand of foreign entities who prioritise cash crops for export).


Life Matters

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"Even very ambitious mitigation" can't change the fact that the world has already "locked in" mid-century warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial times, the World Bank warns. It "confirms what scientists have been saying—past emissions have set an unavoidable course to warming over the next two decades, which will affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most," stated Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank. Rachel Kyte, World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, explained, is that the greenhouse gas emissions already released into the atmosphere mean that "for next twenty years, the die has been cast."

This warming brings increased threats to food and water security and jeopardizes poverty-reduction efforts. Their report looked at how the regions of Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa will be impacted by more frequent weather extremes including heatwaves and drought. These extremes will be the "new climate normal."

With a 2°C rise—which the planet is on track to hit by mid-century—Brazil's soybean yield could decrease up to 70 percent, while melting glaciers will threaten cities in the region. Melting glaciers threaten Central Asia with torrential flooding as well. Thawing of permafrost in northern Russia threatens to unleash stored methane, contributing to a climate feedback loop. In the Middle East and North Africa, increased overall temperatures and more frequent heat-waves threaten already scarce water resources, a fact that could contribute to further conflict. Now that we all agree that climate change is happening, it has become an emergency after at least two decades of denial and procrastination, and requires urgent action. Of course the World Bank offer little in solutions except as recommended by Kim: "World leaders and policy makers should embrace affordable solutions like carbon pricing and policy choices that shift investment to clean public transport, cleaner energy and more energy efficient factories, buildings and appliances." Like all reformers Kim reckons we can easily solve climate change with a little economic tweaking, a carbon tax or support for renewables.

The Socialist Party is not reticent in offering critiques of others proposed path - System change, what system change? Action on climate - what type of action now? It helps clarify our situation and activists should find strength in useful criticism of particular advocated paths, maybe even a wakeup call that individual participants hadn't fully understood before, then have a much better idea of how to proceed. Paths that are outside of this box don't get anywhere near the adequate attention or debate they deserve. Current policy proposals excludes meaningful debate on real paths to climate solution because all policy formation is dominated by fossil fuel controlled bodies, by 'dominant advocacy coalitions' in governments and organizations themselves mostly completely captured by fossil fuel and other related business interests.


Russell Brand writes in his book “There is another way. There is the way. To live in accordance with truth, to accept we are on a planet that has resources and people on it. We have to respect the planet so we can use the resources to nourish the people. Somehow this simple equation has been allowed to become extremely confusing.” What is being demanded is not whimsical, he adds later, but “pragmatism, systems that function.” Yet none of this happens, and “can't because they [i.e. rich elites, big corporations and those who serve them in governments] have prioritised a bizarre, selfish and destructive idea over common sense.” Russel Brand asks plaintively:Why does the old maxim ‘From each according to his means, to each according to his needs' still linger in our conscience, even after all the “capitalist lies and communist [sic] misadventure” of the past century?

Black Lives Matter

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SOYMB blog gathers together various commentaries about the Ferguson police-murder and the decision not to prosecute.

It takes a brave person to call a Jew racist if she or he still hold a certain amount of antipathy towards Germans. Black folks’ negative experiences with police have extended well beyond the time frame of Hitler’s twelve year Reich, and even as those experiences did not stop seventy years ago, or even seventy days ago, or seventy minutes. Whether we call it a war on drugs, or “Operation Ghetto Storm” as the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement dubs it, what we are dealing with is nothing less than permanent war waged by the state and its allies on a mostly poor and marginalized Black and Brown working-class. Five centuries in the making, it stretches from slavery and imperialism to massive systematic criminalization. We see the effects on our children, in the laws that make it easier to prosecute juveniles as adults; in the deluge of zero tolerance policies (again a by-product of the war on drugs); in the startling fact that expulsions and suspensions have risen exponentially despite a significant decline in violent crime. Crisis, moral panics, neoliberal policies, racism fuel an expansive system of human management based on incarceration, surveillance, containment, pacification, lethal occupation, and gross misrepresentation.

As we waited for the grand jury’s decision, a twelve-year-old Black boy named Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police in Cleveland because the officer mistook his toy gun for a real one. Tamir was playing outside of Cleveland’s Cudell Recreation Center, one of the few public facilities left that provide safe space for children.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Day Against 'The Most Perverse Face Of Capital and Patriarchy' - November 25th

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 On this International Day of Action Against Violence Towards Women, La Via Campesina is again denouncing the structural violence that women have to confront each day and that has been systematically silenced, made to appear natural, and rendered invisible by patriarchal capitalist society.
 
In 2008, in its Vth Conference, La Via Campesina launched the Global Campaign to End Violence Towards Women, both as an urgent appeal for a social, cultural, and political change in peoples, in communities, and in organisations, and as a challenge to society as a whole to effect a cultural transformation in order to overcome the relations of inequality between men and women.

Violence and oppression against women existed in pre-capitalist societies, but it is since the onset of capitalism that violence in all its forms – political, economic, physical, and  pyschological – has intensified. Today, violence against women is found among all social classes, generations, and sexual orientations, affecting both  urban women and rural women.
For La Via Campesina, the violence experienced nowadays by rural women is directly related to agribusiness and to capitalist production methods, which exploit and dispossess peasant women who have, historically, guaranteed Food Sovereignty for their Peoples, and who are the caretakers of ancestral knowledge -both with respect to food production and to biodiversity conservation.
Agribusiness is the strategy of patriarchal capitalism in the countryside, one which ignores the essential role of women in peasant agriculture.  Neo-liberal structural adjustment policies have exacerbated the conditions of oppression, discrimination, and increasing violence suffered by rural women.

This November 25th, 2014, women across the world are calling for a day of mobilisation and denunciation, challenging ourselves to strengthen our forms of resistance and struggle, in order to make a definitive break with the silence imposed by capitalist patriarchal hypocrisy and to establish new human relations.
Our political project as La Via Campesina is to construct a new vision of society that is based on the principles of respect, equality, justice, solidarity, peace and freedom, and which is linked to the struggles for land, water, seeds, comprehensive land reform, Food Sovereignty with gender justice, and for the dignity of rural peoples.

from here plus links



Profiting From US Military Bases Overseas

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Introduction to an excellent 7,000 word article by David Vine, associate professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C.

“We’re Profiteers”
How Military Contractors Reap Billions from U.S. Military Bases Overseas


 " U.S. bases overseas have become a major mechanism of U.S. global power in the post-Second World War era. Alongside postwar economic and political tools like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the United Nations, the collection of extraterritorial bases—like colonies for the European empires before it—became a major mechanism for “maintaining [U.S.] political and economic hegemony,” advancing corporate economic and political interests, protecting trade routes, and allowing control and influence over territory vastly disproportionate to the land bases actually occupy. Without a collection of colonies, the United States has used its bases, as well as periodic displays of military might, to keep wayward nations within the rules of an economic and political system favorable to itself.

Building and maintaining this global base presence has cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars. While the military once built and maintained its forts, bases, and naval stations, since the U.S. war in Vietnam, private military contractors have increasingly constructed and run this global collection of bases, foreshadowing and helping to fuel broader government privatization efforts. During this unprecedented period, major corporations—U.S. and foreign—have increasingly benefitted from the taxpayer dollars that have gone to base contracting."

find the article here

David Vine goes into meticulously researched details of companies, size of contracts, examples of the revolving door syndrome, huge misappropriations of funds, Pentagon spending, uncompetitive contracts, US worldwide military bases, widespread election donations, lobbying details, tax evasion, shell companies, involved Congress members, waste and inefficiency, etc, etc.

War and the military industrial complex is a highly profitable business of capitalism. Abolishing the latter will see an end to the former.
JS


Mind The Gap - Hunger, Poverty and Gender

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Empowering women and girls is critical to ending hunger, extreme poverty, and malnutrition around the world—including in the United States—according to a new report released Monday by the Bread of the World Institute.

The report by the Institute, a non-partisan, Christian citizens' movement aimed at educating policymakers, opinion leaders, and the public about hunger, shows that discrimination against women is a major cause of persistent hunger and that increasing women’s earning potential by boosting bargaining power, reducing gender inequality in unpaid work, increasing women’s political representation, and eliminating the wage gap between male and female labor could help stem the worldwide epidemic.

"Neither women nor men living in poverty have much economic bargaining power—that is, an ability to negotiate favorable economic outcomes for themselves—especially in developing countries, as the vast majority of people do low-paying, low-productivity work," reads "When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger" (pdf). "Even within the constraints of poverty, however, working conditions for men and women are far from equal: women suffer many more forms of discrimination, which worsen the effects of poverty on their lives. Discrimination that establishes and reinforces women’s lower status in society starts within the family and extends through community customs and national laws."

"Discrimination," the analysis continues, "is why women farmers labor with fewer productive resources than their male counterparts, why women in all sectors of the economy earn less than men, and why girls are pulled out of school to work or to marry."

Yet women are the ones the world relies on to combat hunger and malnutrition. And when they are afforded more agency—when they are given control of their own earnings, allowed to participate in the development of agricultural programs, protected from domestic violence, or permitted to stay in school longer, for example—health outcomes improve.
"Eliminating barriers and empowering women around the world is key to ending hunger in our time," said Asma Lateef, director of Bread for the World Institute. "We must not tolerate discrimination against women and instead, demand a comprehensive approach to women’s empowerment that includes applying a gender lens to all programs and policies."

While the report examines hunger worldwide, it devotes an entire chapter to "The Feminization of Hunger and Poverty in the United States." To reduce hunger and poverty in the U.S.—issues that are compounded by high levels of incarceration, a persistent wage gap, and insufficient childcare benefits—the report declares, "we must identify and adopt policies that help eliminate entrenched and interconnected sexism and racism."

The report includes a joint statement from U.S. Representatives Kay Granger (R-Texas) and Nita Lowey (D-New York), urging policymakers at home and abroad to consider the implications of giving women the tools they need to survive and thrive.
"There is no greater force multiplier than empowered women," they write. "In developed and developing countries alike, from conflict zones to refugee shelters, when we make women’s rights and opportunity top priorities, we stand a much better chance of defeating intolerance, poverty, disease, and even extremism."
 
 
SOYMB would add to this that global capitalism thrives on entrenched patriarchy causing yet another unequal struggle within the system. Socialism, on the other hand, recognises just two classes - capitalists and workers. As with men, the vast majority of the world's females are part of the working class and their real liberation will come from the overthrow of the capitalist system, nothing less.
JS
 
 

Capitalism Screws Us - Screw Capitalism

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Average Americans have a choice at tax time. They can pay their taxes or risk going to jail for tax evasion.
America’s corporate CEOs have a different set of tax-time choices. These CEOs can have the corporations they run pay Uncle Sam or they can have their corporations pay more to their CEOs.

Guess which way lots of CEOs are leaning. Better yet, read Fleecing Uncle Sam, the just-released report from the Institute for Policy Studies and Center for Effective Government that tallies up the choices top CEOs are actually making.

This new Fleecing Uncle Sam study looks at the 100 U.S. corporations that last year shelled out the most in CEO pay. Of these 100 companies, 29 paid Uncle Sam less in taxes than they paid their CEO in compensation.
How could that happen? Did these firms simply have bad years in 2013 and end up with not much income to tax? Not exactly. In fact, not at all. These 29 companies last year together grabbed a robust $24 billion in U.S. pre-tax profits.
And the CEOs at these 29 companies — major outfits like Boeing, General Motors, and Verizon — pulled in handsome paychecks for those billions in profits. The CEOs averaged, note Fleecing Uncle Sam co-authors Sarah Anderson and Scott Klinger, an impressive $32 million each.

Top-tier American corporations, in other words, are stiffing Uncle Sam at the same time they’re piling up profits and extravagantly rewarding their top execs.
These corporations have no magical super powers that make taxes disappear. They do have friends in high places — the U.S. Congress, for one.
Over recent decades, as Fleecing Uncle Sam relates, lawmakers have lavished upon Corporate America “lucrative loopholes and tax credits that have taxpayers picking up the normal costs of business that corporations used to pay for themselves,” tens of billions in annual subsidies “for everything from company research and development expenses to normal equipment purchases.”
Average American taxpayers are even picking up the tab for all those tens of millions that corporations lay on their CEOs as compensation. The current federal tax code essentially lets corporations deduct off their taxes whatever windfalls cascade into America’s executive suites.

Average taxpayers are picking up another tab, too: the bill for all the public services — from highways to clean water — that benefit everyone and every institution in our society, corporations included. With corporations shirking their fair share at tax time, the nation’s basic tax burden falls on average Americans.
Just how much tax shirking are corporations doing? The new Fleecing Uncle Sam report offers one suggestive clue. If the seven largest U.S. firms that pay Uncle Sam less than they pay their CEOs had paid taxes last year on their profits at the standard 35 percent U.S. corporate tax rate, the study calculates, these seven companies would have owed $25.9 billion in federal taxes.
In real-life 2013, these seven corporations, taken together as a group, didn’t pay any federal corporate income tax. Instead, notes Fleecing Uncle Sam, the seven gobbled up $1.9 billion in tax refunds. The difference between what they could have paid in taxes and what they claimed in refunds: $27.8 billion.

from here

One more look inside capitalism, how it works and why it works so well for the minority. Our aim is to get the majority to recognise this once and for all - capitalism works very well for the capitalists. With the profit motive as the prime motive it's easy to see that a system built on profit cannot work for us, the majority, who are forced to offer ourselves up as wage slaves for whatever we can get. As a majority we do have the option to work together to end the system which causes us so many problems in favour of socialism - a system of cooperation, inclusion and common ownership for the benefit of all.
JS

 

Our Unequal Globe

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Global Wealth Breakdown





























from here


Facts of the Day

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2,300 Polish doctors have come to work in the UK, but in the last year alone over 500 British GPs took their skills abroad.


Eurosceptics endlessly point to Norway and Switzerland as countries which can make their own rules, free of EU red tape. The reality is that both countries maintain their access to European markets only by accepting all aspects of EU freedom of movement regulations – as well as 95 per cent of other EU regulation.

The Video Game War

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A new analysis of the data available to the public about drone strikes, conducted by the human-rights group Reprieve, indicates that even when operators target specific individuals – the most focused effort of what Barack Obama calls “targeted killing” – they kill vastly more people than their targets, often needing to strike multiple times. Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.

Some 24 men specifically targeted in Pakistan resulted in the death of 874 people. All were reported in the press as “killed” on multiple occasions, meaning that numerous strikes were aimed at each of them. The vast majority of those strikes were unsuccessful. An estimated 142 children were killed in the course of pursuing those 24 men, only six of whom died in the course of drone strikes that killed their intended targets.
In Yemen, 17 named men were targeted multiple times. Strikes on them killed 273 people, at least seven of them children. At least four of the targets are still alive.

Like all weapons, drones will inevitably miss their targets given enough chances. But the secrecy surrounding them obscures how often misses occur and the reasons for them. Even for the 33 named targets whom the drones eventually killed – successes, by the logic of the drone strikes – another 947 people died in the process. Someone with the same name as a terror suspect on the Obama administration’s “kill list” was killed on the third attempt by US drones. His brother was captured, interrogated and encouraged to “tell the Americans what they want to hear”: that they had in fact killed the right person.

The data questions the accuracy of US intelligence guiding strikes that US officials describe using words like “clinical” and “precise.” What little US officials say about the strikes typically boils down to assurances that they apply “targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us,” as John Brennan, now the CIA director, said in a 2011 speech. “The only people that we fire a drone at are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level after a great deal of vetting that takes a long period of time. We don’t just fire a drone at somebody and think they’re a terrorist,” the secretary of state, John Kerry, said at a BBC forum in 2013.

“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise’. But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the US goes after,” said Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson. “If even his government doesn’t know who is filling the body bags every time a strike goes wrong, his claims that this is a precise programme look like nonsense, and the risk that it is in fact making us less safe looks all too real,” Gibson said.


The Council on Foreign Relations assesses that 500 drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed 3,674 people.

Quotes of the Day

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“…it reinforced the Westminster-centric mentality: the idea that you get into power, to pull levers to make lives better for people. But I think that experience has shown that they’re rubber levers. People pull them but nothing happens. It makes our politics look even more hollow.” - Nick Forbes, Newcastle’s council Labour Party leader.

Chi Onwurah,  Labour Party MP for Newcastle said she had seen signs of local unrest over issues like bin collection, which has moved to once every fortnight.
“It’s certainly the case there are groups seeking to exploit divisions, that are consequences of these cuts,” she said. “There are groups blaming litter on certain ethnic groups. Of course, that’s going to cause divisions and lay the foundations for unrest. That is a very clear example of where funding cuts have caused increased divisions in communities you would hope to be cohesive.”


The Meddling Monarch (poem)

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THE MEDDLING MONARCH!

20/11/14. Aides to Prince Charles say that
when he becomes King Charles the Third (1)
he plans to make “heartfelt interventions”.

When God anoints Prince Charles as King,
He’ll intervene far more;
Buck House will be a hostel for,
The bedroom-tax hit poor!

Balmoral will be turned into,
A food-bank for the proles;
So they can crawl back half-fed to,
Their council house dark holes.

And Sandringham will then become,
A Rowton House estate; (2)
To save the many down-and-outs,
From a more dreadful fate.

No wonder God selected him,
To be above us all;
A different breed of human male,
So handsome and so tall!

Like all of our superiors,
He’s worth the ballyhoo;
As royalty, undoubtedly,
Are a divine-like few.

So picture Charles in his en-suite,
Our god-king all alone;
His false teeth soaking in the bath,
As he sits on the throne!

(1) King Charles the Second was
known as the ‘Merry Monarch’.

(2) Hostels built by the Victorian
philanthropist, Lord Rowton.

© Richard Layton  

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Double(Whopper) Whammy

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Not only do 805 million people go to bed hungry every day, with one-third of global food production (1.3 billion tons each year) being wasted, there is another scenario that reflects the nutrition paradox even more starkly: two billion people are affected by micronutrients deficiencies while 500 million individuals suffer from obesity.

The double burden of malnutrition is a situation where overweight and obesity exist side by side with under-nutrition in the same country”, according to Anna Lartey, FAO’s Nutrition Director. “And we are seeing it in lots of the countries that are developing economically.”

“While under-nutrition still kills almost 1.5 million women and children every year, growing rates of overweight and obesity worldwide are driving rising diseases like cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes”, Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organisation (WHO), explained

Flavio Valente, who represented civil society organisations at the Second International Conference on Nutrition remarked that “the current hegemonic food system and agro-industrial production model are not only unable to respond to the existing malnutrition problems but have contributed to the creation of different forms of malnutrition and the decrease of the diversity and quality of our diets.”

This position was shared by many speakers, who stressed the negative impact that advertising of unhealthy food has, mainly on children. According to a participant from Chile, calling obesity a non-communicable disease is misleading, because it spreads through the media system very effectively. Chile, a country where 60 percent of people suffer from over-nutrition and one obese person dies every hour,  currently risks being brought before the World Trade Organisation by multinational food companies for its commitment to protect public health by regulating the advertising of certain food.


Wot Recovery?

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 “We are concerned that the economic recovery we face will still have so many people living in poverty." - Julia Unwin, Joseph Rowntree Foundation chief executive.

Young adults and people in work are now more likely to be in poverty in Britain following a huge increase in insecure employment such as zero hours contracts, an influential study warns today. The study, conducted on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by the New Policy Institute, found that while employment was close to a historic high, millions of Britons were struggling to cope with a reality of insecure work and incomes which have fallen on average by 9 per cent in the five years to 2013.

The JRF says as many people in working families as in unemployed ones now live in poverty, after a decade of labour market upheaval which means a job is no longer a guarantee of an end to poverty. Half of all people in poverty now live in a family with someone in paid work, with some 40 per cent of adults in employment now also in poverty. Its annual report says the rise of part-time work and low-paid self-employment has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the number of under-25s living below the breadline as they struggle to cope with falling incomes, poor prospects and high costs from housing to food.

A lack of affordable housing also means those living in poverty are now as likely to be in private, usually rented, accommodation – at higher risk of eviction and homelessness – as in local authority or social housing. Some 13 million people in the UK are classified as living in relative poverty – meaning their household income is below 60 per cent of the average. The reliance of many on private rented accommodation with insecure tenancies means that the number of landlord repossessions – 17,000 – is now higher than mortgage repossessions – 15,000.

The prevalence of zero hours contracts – of which there are now some 1.4 million – and part-time work has contributed to a situation where two-thirds of people who moved from unemployment into work in the past year are being paid less than the living wage – the amount needed to cover basic costs of living. Many are also effectively trapped in low-paid work, with only 20 per cent of employees having left that income bracket after a decade in employment. The average self-employed person now earns 13 per cent less than they did five years ago. The report found that without tackling core problems such as low pay and the high price of essentials, in particular housing, poverty would not diminish. The failure of wages to keep pace with costs means the number of working people claiming housing benefit is rising while average hourly pay has fallen in five years from £13.90 to £12.90 for men and from £10.80 to £10.30 for women.

The study also found that claimants of jobseeker’s allowance are now more likely to be punished for not attending the Government’s welfare-to-work programme than to find employment through it.

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “This comprehensive analysis paints a bleak picture. Families have long been told by politicians that work is the answer but are finding that it isn’t. As long as the only work they get is insecure and low paid, they will continue to face hardship and financial misery.”

The nationalist state

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 Arab Muslims and Christians make up 20% of Israel’s population but now a bill that officially defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people has been approved by cabinet but still requires the Knesset’s approval to become a law. The new legislation defined reserved “national rights” for Jews only and not for its minorities, and rights groups condemned it as racist. The bill is intended to become part of Israel’s basic laws, would recognise Israel’s Jewish character, institutionalise Jewish law as an inspiration for legislation and delist Arabic as a second official language.

According to many critics, the new wording would weaken the wording of Israel’s declaration of independence, which states that the new state would “be based on the principles of liberty, justice and freedom expressed by the prophets of Israel [and] affirm complete social and political equality for all its citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender”. The new law would effectively give greater emphasis to Israel’s Jewish character at the expense of its democratic nature. A number of Israeli basic laws use the term “Jewish and democratic”, giving equal weight to both. The new law would enshrine only the Jewish character of the state.

Among those to voice their opposition was the finance minister, Yair Lapid, who said he had spoken to the family of Zidan Saif, a Druze policeman killed in last week’s deadly attack on a Jerusalem synagogue. “What will we tell his family? That he is a second-class citizen in the state of Israel...”

From here 



The Food War

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The accountancy firm Moore Stephens said supermarkets are squeezing producers in order to cut check-out prices and boost profits. This year 146 food producers have entered insolvency, up from 114 last year. Moore Stephens said the rise in food producer insolvencies was in contrast to the 8% fall in company liquidations generally in the 12 months to the end of September.

Tough competition in the supermarket sector has intensified with the rise of discounters such as Lidl and Aldi.

Duncan Swift, a partner at the firm, said: "The supermarkets are going through the bloodiest price war in nearly two decades and are using food producers as the cannon fodder. Supermarkets have engaged in questionable buying practices for years, but it's getting worse and clearly wreaking havoc on the UK food production sector." Despite being squeezed, food producers are reluctant to speak out, Mr Swift said. "The fear of losing business from supermarkets means that food producers rarely - if ever - complain about clear breaches of agreed industry standards. That means there is no check on the highly aggressive buying practices of the supermarkets."

               

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Socialists confront Mr Tony Benn

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From the January 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Tony Benn may be the next Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain. Almost alone among the Labour leaders, sunk in a gloom as they are after their party's defeat last May, he offers a plan for Labour's future, with an optimism that they will one day once again get power over British capitalism.

So we were surprised when he agreed to be interviewed by the Socialist Standard about his policies and attitudes as he expresses them in his recent book Arguments for Socialism. Defenders of capitalism are notoriously difficult to persuade to match their case against ours. The interview (which Tony Benn preferred to call a debate) lasted an hour and our published account of it has needed to be abridged.

In truth, Benn's plan for Labour's revival is little more than a paper thin assumption that, with a few constitutional changes, his party will be able basically to alter its nature. It will, he hopes, be able to throw off its past as a party which has run capitalism firmly in the interests of the capitalist class and begin to run society in the interests of the majority. There is no evidence to support this assumption; indeed after every electoral failure Labour tries to bolster its confidence by telling itself, and us, that it can and will change.

Benn's political ideas are basically that if there are enough small reforms imposed upon capitalism the system will, in a way which has yet to be explained, suddenly stop being capitalism and become socialism. In the case of Benn, even this shaky argument might have been a little stronger if he had been able to give any idea of what socialism is or even to know whether the Labour Party stood for socialism.

He claims that reforming capitalism is "doing something", as opposed to socialists who are "pure" and "impotent". This is a familiar, not to say exhausted, argument - one which continues to exist only because those. like Benn, who put it forward do so by ignoring reality and experience.

The working class have had plenty of time to become familiar with Labour governments and with Labour politicians who - no matter what the effect of their anti-working class policies, no matter how obvious their failures to eliminate capitalism 's problems tirelessly assure us that a vote for Labour is a vote for a better society. This, again, flies in the face of reality.

One final point. Benn, as we have said, is a leading politician But his justifications for capitalism, and his objections to the principles of revolutionary socialism which are uncompromisingly put forward by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, were exactly the same as those we confront all the time, wherever we are and whenever we state the case for the new society of common ownership.

TransCanada's Propaganda Plan - Leaked

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Internal strategy documents prepared by a public relations firm on behalf of Canadian pipeline giant TransCanada reveal details of an enormous and well-organized effort by the oil industry to neutralized the transnational grassroots movement which has grown up around the industry's effort to expand tar sands mining and the building of huge infrastructure projects designed to get "the world's dirtest fuel" to market.

Obtained by Greenpeace and given to The Guardian newspaper, the documents show that TransCanada—which has proposed building a pipeline called Energy East to bring tar sands from Alberta to New Brusnwick through the largest such pipeline ever built—is aligned with other oil and gas companies placing serious resources of time, money, and personnel into countering the growing climate justice movement which has so far successfully delayed building the Keystone XL pipelein and affirmed its commitment to stopping similar projects in the name of fighting global warming and the resulting threat of climate change.

"These tactics are as dirty as the oil the pipeline would transport," said Mark Calzavara of Ontario, Quebec and Nunavut regional organizer with the Council of Canadians, one of the groups named in the corporate documents.
"Filling Energy East would mean the climate pollution equivalent to adding 7 million cars to our roads. It threatens over 1000 waterways along the route with a devastating diluted bitumen spill."

Read the complete strategy document here (pdf).

from here



Anti-Union Employer's Campaign Just Failed

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If you’d like a sense of what a boss’s campaign to try to destroy a union looks like in the 21st century, take a look at a recent NLRB decision against the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

On Friday, November 15, a judge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the UPMC has engaged in a series of discriminatory practices against workers who have been trying to organize a union since 2012.
In the wide-ranging 123-page decision, one can see how a sophisticated anti-union campaign is run. The decision outlines in detail how the multi-billion dollar Pittsburgh hospital chain repeatedly violated the law in order to sow fear of organizing. Employees were surveilled and photographed, interrogated and threatened with discipline and arrest. Four were fired.  The decision also found that UPMC helped create and support a “company union”- an employer-dominated labor organization - in violation of federal law.

With more than 20 hospitals, 400 outpatient sites, more than 62,000 employees, and a health insurance division that had $10 billion in operating revenue in 2013, UPMC is the largest private sector employer in Pennsylvania.

In 2012, the nonclinical support staff at two of UPMC’s hospitals began an organizing campaign through the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which would include approximately 3,500 workers. The employer began violating workers’ rights almost immediately, launching an anti-union campaign that often straddled the line between legal and illegal.

In addition to the captive audience meetings that have become a standard (and legal) anti-union practice - in which the employer explains in no uncertain terms that it is against the employees organizing - UPMC sought to create an environment of fear and intimidation. The hospital chain posted a document on its internal website called “UPMC Cares,” which contained sections such as “Why Unions Aren’t Necessary.”

When the organizing drive began, UPMC placed screensavers on employees’ computers throughout the hospital which scrolled through anti-union messages such as “You can say NO to the SEIU. It’s your right”; as one walked around the hospital, idle computers displayed in all caps, “NO” and “SEIU.”
Though these practices are technically legal, employees cannot miss the overwhelming message that their employer does not agree with their right to unionize. The judge found that while the behavior was legal, it was proof of the employer’s open opposition to the union, which provided context for the other illegal activity that the company engaged in like firings as a result of union activity.

read more here



We need a farmers' revolution

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Family farmers, FAO say, manage 70-80% of the world's farmland and produce 80% of the world's food. But on the ground - whether in Kenya, Brazil, China or Spain - rural people are being marginalised and threatened, displaced, beaten and even killed by a variety of powerful actors who want their land. All over the world, small farmers are being forced off their land to make way for corporate agriculture and it's justified by the need to 'feed the world'. The data show that the concentration of farmland in fewer and fewer hands is directly related to the increasing number of people going hungry every day.

A recent comprehensive survey by GRAIN, examining data from around the world, finds that while small farmers feed the world, they are doing so with just 24% of the world's farmland - or 17% if you leave out China and India. GRAIN's report also shows that this meagre share is shrinking fast. How, then, can FAO claim that family farms occupy 70 to 80% of the world's farmland? In the same report, FAO claims that only 1% of all farms in the world are larger than 50 hectares, and that these few farms control 65% of the world's farmland, a figure much more in line with GRAIN's findings.

What is a 'family farm'? The FAO roughly define them as any farm managed by an individual or a household. Thus, a huge industrial soya bean farm in rural Argentina, whose family owners live in Buenos Aires, is included in FAO's count of 'family farms'. As would be, the sprawling Hacienda Luisita, owned by the powerful Cojuanco family in the Philippines and epicentre of the country's battle for agrarian reform since decades. Looking at ownership to determine what is and is not a family farm masks all the inequities, injustices and struggles that peasants and other small scale food producers across the world are mired in. It allows FAO to paint a rosy picture and conveniently ignore perhaps the most crucial factor affecting the capacity of small farmers to produce food: lack of access to land.

Small food producers' access to land is shrinking due a range of forces. One is that because of population pressure, farms are getting divided up amongst family members. Another is the vertiginous expansion of monoculture plantations. In the last 50 years, a staggering 140 million hectares - the size of almost all the farmland in India - has been taken over by four industrial crops: soya bean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane. And this trend is accelerating. In the next few decades, experts predict that the global area planted to oil palm will double, while the soybean area will grow by a third. These crops don't feed people. They are grown to feed the agro-industrial complex. Other pressures pushing small food producers off their land include the runaway plague of large-scale land grabs by corporate interests. In the last few years alone, according to the World Bank, some 60 million hectares of fertile farmland have been leased, on a long-term basis, to foreign investors and local elites, mostly in the global South. While some of this is for energy production, a big part of it is to produce food commodities for the global market, instead of family farming for local communities’ needs. Much of what the small family farmer produces doesn't enter into trade statistics - but it does reach those who need it most: the rural and urban poor.

Despite having so little land, small producers are feeding the planet, is that small farms are often more productive than large ones. If the yields achieved by Kenya's small farmers were matched by the country's large-scale operations, the country's agricultural output would double. In Central America, the region's food production would triple. If Russia's big farms were as productive as its small ones, output would increase by a factor of six. According to one UN study, active policies supporting small producers and agro-ecological farming methods could double global food production in a decade and enable small farmers to continue to produce and utilise biodiversity, maintain ecosystems and local economies, while multiplying and strengthening meaningful work opportunities and social cohesion in rural areas.