Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lest We Forget - Rana Plaza

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To-day we remember Rana Plaza, Dhaka, Bangladesh when the eight-story building which housed factories supplying garments to major brands in the US and Europe collapsed. On the morning of the disaster, the workers said, managers ordered workers to enter the Rana Plaza building, even though it had been closed the day before for safety reasons after large cracks appeared in the walls. In some instances it is said that the managers threatened workers who hesitated to comply. None of the five factories operating in Rana Plaza had trade unions, which could have stood up to factory managers and prevented the workers from being compelled to go back into the dangerous building.

1,130 died, twice that number were injured and at least 800 children were orphaned. More than a hundred bodies had still to be identified as of April 9, almost one year after the tragedy.

“We did not want to work but the general manager came and threatened us, and said that if we did not work we would not get paid next month’s salary. He slapped one of my friends, and dragged me out of where I was hiding under the staircase, and took me to work.” – Reshma, 21, Ethertex Ltd.

“We knew there was some problem with the building. When I went inside with my sister, I realized the problem was serious. Some of us wanted to leave but the production manager would not allow us. He threatened to tell our fathers. Two minutes later the power went out and the building collapsed. My sister's body was never found.” – Rozina Begum, 24, New Wave Bottom.

The target for the disaster fund, which is chaired by the International Labour Organization (ILO), is US$40 million, but only $15 million has been raised so far. Primark, has donated $8 million, according to the fund’s website. Some companies that were not doing business with Rana Plaza have also contributed to the fund. By contrast, 15 brands whose clothing and brand labels were found in the rubble of the factory by journalists and labor activists have not paid into the fund. The fund will establish a systematic and transparent claims process so that all victims, their families, and dependents will receive the long-term support they need.

The 29 brands that sourced from factories in Rana Plaza boast combined profits of more than $22 billion a year, and are being asked to contribute less than 0.2 percent of that amount to compensate those whose labors generate the profits, says Ineke Zeldenrust of Clean Clothes Campaign. h

On April 22, 2014, the government announced that victims would receive their first payments of $645 each from the fund. Survivors and relatives say they continue to suffer from life-changing injuries, psychological trauma, and a loss of income. Some said they were struggling to feed their families and send their children to school.

“One year after Rana Plaza collapsed, far too many victims and their families are at serious risk of destitution,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “International garment brands should be helping the injured and the dependents of dead workers who manufactured their clothes.”

Those survivors who lost limbs received saving certificates from the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s Office, guaranteeing a monthly income of $130-$190. But doctors amputated both of Rabeya Begum’s legs in December, months after the saving certificates were distributed by the government. So instead of receiving a guaranteed monthly income, Rabeya, said she had about $4,500 from various donors; money, she says, that has already almost run out. “I have four children and my husband can no longer work because he needs to look after me,” Rabeya told Human Rights Watch. “We are now only living off the money I received when I was in hospital. This is about to be finished and I don’t know what we will do once we spend this money.”
Workers also described working conditions in the factories prior to the collapse. They alleged that children worked in four of the five factories: New Wave Bottom, New Wave Style, Ethertex, and Phantom Apparel. They said that factory managers forced children to work long hours and sought to conceal them from external monitors. In these same four factories, it has been alleged that managers used physical and verbal abuse to pressure workers who failed to meet production targets or made errors, survivors said. Factories also denied workers toilet breaks or prayer breaks, refused to give sick leave, and required them to work overtime, which was sometimes not compensated.

“Terrible, verbal abuse was common. We were not allowed to use the bathroom or offer prayers. Often they forced us to do some extra work without pay. Three months ago I was told to work until 11 p.m., and when I refused the general manager hit me with a stick.” – Reshma, age unknown, Ethertex Ltd.

The condition was bad. Just seven days before the collapse, the production manager took me into his office. He slapped me in the face and used abusive words. Someone had supplied the wrong cloth for a pocket I was sewing. It was not my fault. I felt shocked, I could not understand what I had done wrong.” – Sabina Begum, 25, New Wave Style.

“Fifteen days before the collapse I was suffering from fever. I had asked for leave, but it was not approved. So, I had to work despite being sick. Naturally, I could not meet the target. So the line chief insulted me for this.”– Aliron Begum, 40, New Wave Bottom.

“My duty was sew loops into trouser pants. Every day I had to sew 1,200 of them. It was a big target, so I avoided drinking water so I did not have to go to the toilet.” – Shilpi Begum, 22, New Wave Bottom.

“There were three other girls of my age. The usual working hours were 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The environment was not nice. If I could not complete my work, the line chief would hurl abuse at me.” – Yaa Noor Akhter, 14, Ethertex Ltd.

There were some child workers. Whenever a buyer would come they would be asked not to come to work for the day or were told to hide in the toilet. – Abdur Rouf, 35, Phantom Apparels.

“There were a few child workers. When a buyer would visit the factory they were kept hidden in the toilet. I knew one girl, she was not yet 15.” – Ajiron Begum, 40, New Wave Bottom.

The garment and textile industry, worth more than $3tn per year and producing around 80bn new garments a year – whether we need them or not – is booming – and fast fashion is booming the most. Despite the environmental footprint (from cotton production to dyeing and spinning and finishing a single garment) and the human capital, clothes are made and sold as perishable goods. It's not surprising top retailers advise their design teams that mid-priced clothing only has a lifespan of five weeks in the average wardrobe. That makes £4 T-shirts and £10 jeans disposable. Fast fashion is the merchandising phenomenon that has built up steam over the past 15 years and now dominates our wardrobes and high streets. It ripped up the traditional fashion calendar (the period from conceptualising a piece to delivery into store) and pulverised lead times. Famously it was Inditex-owned Zara that really broke the mould, bringing in a super-responsive timetable in the form of some 12,000 new styles each year.

According to a Guardian report elements of the industry are already referring to the "Bangladesh blip", are nw eyeing new places to produce, including Burma. But unless the business model, predicated on a form of slavery, is forced to change, there will be another Rana Plaza in the future.
However, investment in Bangladesh does not seem to have been affected by the global attention after Rana Plaza, and the Tazreen fire which preceded it. Export earnings increased 12.88% year-on-year to $22bn in the first nine months of the fiscal year, on the back of the continued high demand for the country's clothing from Europe and the US. Garment exports between July and March rising 15.15% year-on-year to $18.05bn, according to the Export Promotion Bureau. Bangladesh is now the world's second-largest clothing producer after China. Stores including Walmart, Tesco and Carrefour, as well as the US military, source large amounts of their clothes from Bangladesh, home to around 4,500 garment factories and employing some 4 million workers.

Meantime, the Western consumers rather than seek a solution in a Socialist Revolution can join instead Fashion Revolution Day which as their mission statement explains seeks to value people, the environment, creativity, and [of course, not forgetting], the profits in equal measure, where according to its website "fashion lovers, fashionistas and fashion students will unite in saying enough is enough, lets do things differently from now on.” ....but not too differently, though, that will effect the industry’s profits !! After all we are told “it is simplistic to look for the protagonists to blame this human tragedy on: Cartoon parodies of an evil factory owner whipping his staff like a pantomime villain, or greedy corporate executive – the 1% – looking no further than his stock options....” Nope, capitalists  are not to blame according to Mark Lissaman of the menswear brand Arthur & Henry, because “... there is good and bad in all of us...”

 In a way he is right for we are all culpable if we make no condemnation of the very system that encourages cost-cutting to the production of clothes just as much as it does the cloth-cutting and if we do not try to change such an exploitative world but instead think a few pence, a few cents,  more paid for clothes will suffice.

Quote of the Day

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"The history of mankind shows that from the beginning of the world, the rich of all countries have been in a permanent state of conspiracy to keep down the poor of all countries, and for this plain reason — because the poverty of the poor man is essential to the riches of the rich man. … The rich have never cared one straw for justice or humanity since the beginning of the world. We defy any historian to point out a single instance of the rich of any age or country having ever renounced their power from love or justice, or from mere appeals to their hearts and consciences. There is no such instances. Force, and force alone, has ever conquered them into humanity." -  Bronterre O'Brien, Chartist, 1838.

The £ cost of war

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Britain's military operations since the end of the cold war have cost £34.7bn and a further £30bn may have to be spent on long-term veteran care, according to an authoritative study by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). If the material cost of British deaths and injuries in subsequent compensation payments is included, the cost to Britain of military conflicts since 1990 could total as much as £42bn – excluding the cost of caring for veterans.

The bulk of the money has been spent on interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan judged to have been "strategic failures", which accounted for 84% of the total cost of British military interventions since 1990. The RUSI study concludes that "there is no longer any serious disagreement" that Britain's role in the Iraq war served to channel and increase the radicalisation of young Muslims in the UK, "Far from reducing international terrorism … the 2003 invasion [of Iraq] had the effect of promoting it. The rise of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was a reaction to this invasion, and to the consequent marginalisation of Iraq's Sunni population (including de-Ba'athification and army disbandment). Today, AQAP and other radical jihadist groups stretching across the Iraqi-Syrian border, pose new terrorist threats to the UK and its allies that might not have existed, at least in this form, had Saddam remained in power."

The study says that, although Saddam Hussein was one of the most brutal dictators of the late 20th century, responsible for successive atrocities against his own people and wars of aggression against his neighbours, by 2002 "the scale of these misdeeds had been much reduced, not least because of the containment measures put in place after 1991"

In Afghanistan, Taliban foot soldiers confronting British troops in Helmand were primarily recruited locally, "motivated much more by opposition to foreign intervention than by global jihadism". The study notes that opium cultivation is higher today than it was before the British arrived. Britain was assigned special responsibility for countering narcotics in Afghanistan on Blair's initiative in 2001.

The operations in Bosnia and Kosovo during the late 1990s and early 2000s, which cost £1.5bn and £1.1bn respectively. The enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya during the 2011 revolution, cost Britain £238m.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fact of the Day

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Only about 10% of the overall cost of new pharmaceutical drugs was actually accounted for by the lab tests and clinical trials - the so-called research and development end.

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-27130098

Ukraine, another war over energy supplies?

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Underneath most conflicts the West has been involved in over the last quarter of a century, there's oil and gas involved, one way or another. Only that kind of old-fashioned imperialism is a bit of a hard-sell these days, so it all gets disguised as being about noble causes; human rights, freedom  or democracy.

 Chevron has signed a 50-year lease to develop Ukraine's shale gas reserves which may have stoked Russian fears about losing its influence on, and a major gas market in, a former satellite. The International Business Times explained  "Chevron's agreement with Ukraine was supported by the US as part of its national security strategy to help reduce Russia's hold on Europe and Kiev."
It quoted US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt said, "I'm very determined to cooperate with the Ukrainian government in strengthening Ukraine's energy independence."

The truth is that America's long-standing policy is to help people anywhere and everywhere when those people just so happen to be living on or near valuable resources. Unless, of course, it's Bahrain, Nigeria, Kazakhstan or anywhere else repressive and corrupt governments are already dependent upon US corporate interests.

Full article here 

Convicts Against Capitalism

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SOYMB has in the past posted several times on the exploitation of prison labor in the US. We now note that a certain amount of organized resistance to it is arising.

Prisoners in Alabama, organized under the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), have announced their second strike of the year. Prisoners at the St. Clair correctional facility have decided to strike. According to incarcerated activist Melvin Ray , an earlier strike in January drew in 1100 of St. Clair’s 1300 inmates and spread to two other prisons in the state. Prisoners are hoping this strike will be even larger. Also this time around, the Free Alabama Movement has linked with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and its newly created Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. The IWW hopes to coordinate outside support, offer publicity, and generally be a voice for the prisoners on the outside.

The prisoners’ goal is to end prison labor – which, under Alabama law, can be employed by private employers for private profit – and to fundamentally reshape the prison system. In the interim, prisoners have grievances regarding overcrowding, lack of educational and rehabilitational facilities, and the use of solitary confinement. Or, as it’s put more broadly by Ray, “When there is no focus on education or rehab but solely on profit margins, human suffering is inevitable.” the inmates have so far stood united across racial and ethnic lines in what they have emphasized is a “non-violent” action.

Where the FAM strike goes from here is yet to be seen, but one thing is clear: from Georgia to California to Alabama, there is a movement brewing in America’s prisons. Perhaps the FAM, with their explicitly class perspective, can bring that solidarity and anger more fully to the public consciousness.

Melvin Ray has been thrown into solitary confinement with no clothes and no bed in retaliation for struggling for the freedom of the thousands of incarcerated people in Alabama and the 3 million people behind bars in the United States today.

More Information:
http://www.freealabamamovement.com/

FAM/IWW Statement on Alabama Prison Strike:
http://atliww.org/2014/04/21/famiww-statemet-on-alabama-prison-strike/

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/incarceratedworkers

Ignored in India's Election

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There are more than 1,600 registered political parties in India. To register a party with the Election Commission, you need to supply a host of details, including name, address, number of members (at least 100), objectives and structure. Then, once the registration fee of 10,000 rupees (£100) has been paid, you have a party.

Who are the World Socialist Party (India) with such a grand sounding name but can hardly fill a meeting-hall? The WSP(I) is part of the even more grandoise titled, the World Socialism Movement, which presently is also more of an aspirational title than a true reflection of its strength and influence. Yet we should not let this lack of numbers prejudice us against the validity of the viewpoints being advocated. After all, for many decades, Marx and Engels could count only a small circle of correspondents for the receptive audience of their ideas.

Nevertheless, words and writings produce nothing and will wither on the vine for want of action. If you do not act, you do nothing. If you do nothing but complain and not proceed to act that is throwing away one's life. If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.  If you don't step forward, you're always in the same place. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want the harvest without the necessary hard labour of ploughing the soil and sowing the seeds. There are no magical, miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the mundane ones: the search for understanding through education along with organisation and action. It requires the commitment that will persist regardless of the  many failures and limited successes we meet but which inspires the hope of a brighter future. Helen Keller said:
 “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” 

 We should always remember that a rebellious worker is wiser than any learned professor who is hired to write apologies for the chains that shackles him.

According to Bakunin there are but three ways for people to escape their wretched lot. The first is via the wine-shop, the second is the path of the temple; but the third is by way of the social revolution. The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. If those in charge of our society, the professional politicians, corporate bosses and media moguls can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. Little has changed over the years since a late nineteenth-century political schemer told a business audience:
"I believe in a division of labor. You send us to Congress; we pass the laws under which you make money and out of your profits you further contribute to our campaigns funds to send us back again to pass more laws to enable you to make more money" 

Except for the rare few, politicians will surrender whatever integrity they possess, claiming to be ‘pragmatic’. But those in the WSP(India) are not politicians, but workers. We have no political office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth.

Engels said:
 “Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for [with body and soul” 

The WSP(India) possesses no charismatic leaders and those impressed by power are rarely critical and seldom of a revolutionary character. Rosa Luxemburg wrote:
"Historically, the errors committed by a truly revolutionary movement are infinitely more fruitful than the infallibility of the cleverest Central Committee."

The WSP (India) does not want you to follow it because if a political party can lead you to the “promised land",  another equally could as easily lead you out again. The role of the WSP(India) is to persuade - better still,  to help people persuade themselves. If workers wants to take part in the self-emancipation of their class, the basic requirement is that they should cease allowing others to teach them and should set about teaching themselves.

 The WSP(India) in its principles promote the desirability, and above all,  the possibility of a fundamentally different form of society in which men and women, freed from the pressures of scarcity and from the insecurity of everyday existence under capitalism, shape their own lives, collectively deciding who, how, when, and what shall be produced. It is only when we have renounced our preoccupation with "I," "me," "mine," that we can truly possess the world in which we live. It is the shift from the “I” method of looking at human affairs to the “we” method of observing and appreciating human relations. The person who retains the old “I” attitude stands in the way of human progress. Provided that we regard nothing as property, not only is everything ours; it is also everybody else's. As The Buddha said:
"Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared

A socialist is just someone who is unable to get over his or her astonishment that most people who have lived and died have spent lives of wretched, fruitless, unremitting self-imposed deprivation. In capitalism legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways and the few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all. The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labour. So long as the demand is not for the ownership and control of our livelihoods we can have neither men's rights nor women's rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that a small elite may live in luxury. The essence of all slavery consists in taking the product of another’s labour by force. It is immaterial whether this force be founded upon ownership of the slave or ownership of the money that he or she must get to live.

Former American President Jimmy Carter explained “Globalization, as defined by rich people like us, is a very nice thing... you are talking about the Internet, you are talking about cell phones, you are talking about computers...”  while the true reality has been explained by the past president of the ABB Industrial Group, Percy Barnevik “I would define globalization as the freedom for my group of companies to invest where it wants when it wants, to produce what it wants, to buy and sell where it wants, and support the fewest restrictions possible coming from labour laws and social conventions." 

 Because the condition of the workers of all countries is the same, because their interests are the same, their enemies the same, they must also fight together, they must oppose the international cartels of the capitalists with a brotherhood of the workers of all lands. Workers have no country to fight for. Our true nationality is mankind. Most workers have never read Marx’s Capital, but they have the marks of capital all over them. You show us a capitalist, and we'll show you a bloodsucking leech. The aim of the world socialist movement is the abolition of social classes- and once achieved, the power of the state, which now serves only to keep the vast majority of producers under the yoke of a small minority of exploiters, will vanish, and the functions of government will  become purely administrative.

World socialism is where there is neither rich nor poor, neither master nor servant, neither brainworkers nor handworkers but a society in which all men and women will be living in equality, and will manage their affairs with the full consciousness that an injury to one would mean injury to all. The real harm is done by those millions who merely want to exist; those men and women who just want to be left in peace and don’t want their lives disturbed; those with no causes; those who do not want to make enemies; those for whom freedom, justice and principles are only words in books.

However, increasing numbers of the working  working class today are acquiring revolutionary knowledge and conclusions and they do not need look to the academics and universities for their enlightenment. The truth of their wage-slave existence is in their daily lives, taking part in the activities of the labour movement, is the most stubborn fact in history workers begin to acquire consciousness of their existence. Holding the political theory that the class struggle is the most stubborn fact in history, the World Socialist Party (India) is a party not of reform but of revolution.

World Socialism Party (India)
Email wspindia@hotmail.com
Website http://www.worldsocialistpartyindia.org/

Fast Gains for Fast Food Bosses

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SOYMB has reported the figures previously. The 1 percent account for almost 40 percent of the country’s wealth. The 0.1 percent account for more than 10 percent all by themselves. The combined wealth of the 0.01 percent totals $6 trillion. The pay gap between the top chief executive officers and the average workers at their companies is about 331 to 1.

Now a new statistic has been added. Demos, a public policy organization reports that the pay gap between CEOs of fast-food companies and the average fast-food worker in 2012 was 1,200 to 1. Fast-food CEOs are some of the highest-paid executives in America, with an average compensation of $26.7 million in 2012. Fast-food workers are the lowest-paid. Their average hourly wage is $9.09.

The fast-food industry is growing again, but only the executives are benefiting. The average hourly wage of fast food employees has only increased 0.3% since 2000. When these companies' CEOs say their employees are their most valuable assets, they mean themselves!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A RIGHT PICKLE! (poem)

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A RIGHT PICKLE!

(The communities secretary, Eric Pickles,
(having banned Councillors from voting against
prayers at Council meetings) said, “Don’t impose
your politically incorrect intolerance on others”.)

The breathtaking hypocrisy,
Of Pickles knows no bound;
It nearly but not quite exceeds,
His waist size all around!

“We are a Christian country with,
An old established Church;
And thus we mustn’t leave God’s love,
Completely in the lurch”.

“That’s why we’ve cut the Benefits,
For those upon the Dole;
It’s all part of our Christian love,
And benefits the soul”.

“The rich might not reach Heaven, but
As you see from my girth;
We make up for lost time up there,
Whilst we’re down here on Earth”!

“The Tories Christian policy,
To enter Heaven’s door;
Is undermine the unemployed,
And persecute the poor”.

“The Food Banks in this country now, (1)
Aren’t there to meet a need;
They simply show the Devil’s work,
And socialistic greed”.

“We’ve banned all books for prisoners,
Despite the left’s attempt
To thwart our plans--although of course,
The Bible is exempt”!

“The message atheists is this,
Be happy with your lot;
You’ll pray to Jesus whether you,
Agree to it or not”!

(1) Some Tory ministers have claimed the
rise in Food Banks has arisen from greed—
not their Government’s policies.

© Richard Layton 

The Socialist Ecotopia

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From the Countercurrents website

April 22 is Earth Day, a time that people around the world celebrate the planet we all call home.

"For the first time in human history, food production will be limited on a global scale by the availability of land, water and energy,"  Fred Davies, senior science advisor for the US Agency for International Development's bureau of food security,  said in a statement from Texas A&M University's AgriLife division, where he is a professor of horticultural science. "Food issues could become as politically destabilizing by 2050 as energy issues are today." (1)

 The problems of food safety are well-known. In China the baby formula scandal of 2008 hundreds of infants died or fell seriously ill. There have been several seizures of fake meat by police, the most notorious of which, in September 2013, involved the discovery of more than 20,000 kg of chemically treated pork which had been made to look like beef. Other scares have ranged from so-called 'gutter oil' (recycled waste oil used for cooking) through tainted dumplings to soy sauce made from human hair. In the UK, during the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of cattle had to be slaughtered after it emerged that their brains had been affected by being fed diseased animal parts rather than grass.  In 2011 there was an E-coli outbreak in Germany from contaminated vegetables. This followed hard on the heels of the discovery of high levels of the toxic chemical dioxin in eggs from some German farms. We could go on about the horse-meat sold as beef scandal. But well-meaning individuals will say these faults can all be rectified by improved government inspection.

Probably a more serious issue than short-term scares is the question of the long-term health effects of eating industrially-produced food over a lifetime. The US obesity epidemic largely caused by over-consumption of unsaturated fats, sugar, fructose syrup and salt, which occur in excessive quantities in American food. According to the American Heart Association, 178.6 million people in the US were overweight or obese in 2013, largely due to bad diet. Rare before the 1940s, Type 2 diabetes has become increasingly common.

The cause is the profit-driven market economic system rather than some imagined moral shortcoming in character. Food is terribly addictive. Our brains are hardwired for sugar, fat and salt which is supported by carefully crafted advertising specifically aimed at them. Human beings, no matter how rich or poor, always need a reason to buy something and food marketers have tapped into this, tweaking and tailoring the message slightly for each consumer. People have, however, begun to recognise the hidden costs of factory food production; more antibiotic-resistant disease, low-nutrient food, pesticide-poisoned rivers and lakes, wasteful irrigation methods and destruction of soil fertility. Our current food system is unsustainable.

Current projections forecast that about half of Earth's plants and animals will go extinct over the next century because of human activities, mostly due to our agricultural methods. "Until the next asteroid slams into Earth, the future of all known life hinges on people, more than on any other force," said Gretchen Daily, a Professor in Environmental Science at Stanford. "The extinction under way threatens to weaken and even destroy key parts of Earth's life-support systems, upon which economic prosperity and all other aspects of human well-being depend." (2)

It is time to challenge the prevailing doom and gloom apocalyptic world view. A hopeful future is possible. We have all the tools and the knowledge we need to turn things around starting right now. Industrialised farming and high-tech applications, such GMO products, dominate our current food system, and for sure, they may still continue to exist but other models of farming are available.

Of course, many genuine environmentalists will argue that a world of abundance is not possible to sustain. That we are over-populated, that we consume too much, that technology cannot produce what we require but will be actually counter-productive by contributing to the pollution and depletion of natural resources. All sincerely held opinions but all come from a view embedded in seeing the world through capitalist eyes and not of a socialist vision of a completely different type of economics. Most scientists are politically myoptic and blinkered about socialism. They may well recognise that a socialist world is not the same as the present capitalist system but decline to put the revolutionary transformation of the profit system on the agenda. The scientific community insist that they should work within todays parameters of capitalism, and persuade the business leaders and their political retainers to implement far-reaching reforms which will impact upon profit margins.  The scientists are setting out to impose on capitalism something that is incompatible with its nature. Such a strategy is exactly the route towards catastrophe!

The Post Scarcity Socialist Solution

Socialists are seeking to establish a “steady-state economy” or “zero-growth” society, a situation where human needs are in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. The modern world is a society of scarcity, but with a difference. Today’s shortages are unnecessary; today’s scarcity is artificial. More than that: scarcity achieved at the expense of strenuous effort, ingenious organisation and the most sophisticated planning. The world is haunted by a spectre – the spectre of abundance.

Socialism means plenty for all and does not preach a gospel of want and scarcity, but of abundance. If the assumption of abundance is not regarded as far-fetched (which, we say it is not) then there is a better method of ensuring individual consumer choice than with money or labour time vouchers, both unnecessary complications that leaves the exchange economy intact. The more viable option is free access, “from each according to ability to each according to need”. Continuing artifical rationing and restricting access and offering privileged groups extra remuneration as in "to each according to work" is repeating the mantra of the capitalist work ethic. Why project into socialism capitalism which relies on monetary accounting, whereas socialism relies on calculation in kind? This is one reason why socialism holds a decisive productive advantage over capitalism because of the elimination for the need to tie up vast quantities of resources and labour implicated in a system of monetary/pricing accounting. In socialism calculations will be done directly in physical quantities of real things, in use-values, without any general unit of calculation. Needs will be communicated to productive units as requests for specific useful things, while productive units will communicate their requirements to their suppliers as requests for other useful things

Conventional economics declare that the true state of the world is scarcity - limited supply - versus- boundless demand, denying the potential for a state of abundance can exist. Let us define scarcity and abundance. Our wants are essentially “infinite” and the resources to meet them "limited" is the usual claim. According to this argument, scarcity is an unavoidable fact of life. It applies to any goods where the decision to use a unit of that good entails giving up some other potential use. In other words, whatever one decides to do has an "opportunity cost" — that is the opportunity to do something else which one thereby forgoes; economics is concerned with the allocation of scarce resources.

However, abundance is not a situation where an infinite amount of every good could be produced. Similarly, scarcity is not the situation which exists in the absence of this impossible total or sheer abundance. Abundance is a situation where productive resources are sufficient to produce enough wealth to satisfy human needs, while scarcity is a situation where productive resources are insufficient for this purpose. Abundance is a relationship between supply and demand, where the former exceeds the latter. In socialism a buffer of surplus stock for any particular item, whether a consumer or a producer good, can be produced, to allow for future fluctuations in the demand for that item, and to provide an adequate response time for any necessary adjustments. Thus achieving abundance can be understood as the maintenance of an adequate buffer of stock in the light of extrapolated trends in demand. The relative abundance or scarcity of a good would be indicated by how easy or difficult it was to maintain such an adequate buffer stock in the face of a demand trend (upward, static, or downward). It will thus be possible to choose how to combine different factors for production, and whether to use one rather than another, on the basis of their relative abundance/scarcity. It makes sense from an economic point of view to economise most on those things that are less available and to make greatest use of those things that are abundant. Factors lying in between these two poles can be treated accordingly in relative terms. Effective economisation of resources requires discrimination and selection; you cannot treat every factor equally – that is, as equally scarce – or, if you do, this will result in gross misallocation of resources and economic inefficiency.

Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Human behaviour reflects society. In a society such as capitalism, people’s needs are not met and reasonable people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organized in such a dog-eat-dog manner. If people didn’t work society would obviously fall apart. To establish socialism the vast majority must consciously decide that they want socialism and that they are prepared to work in socialist society. If people want too much? In a socialist society “too much” can only mean “more than is sustainably produced.” For socialism to be established the productive potential of society must have been developed to the point where, generally speaking, we can produce enough for all. This is not now a problem as we have long since reached this point. However, this does require that we appreciate what is meant by “enough” and that we do not project on to socialism the insatiable consumerism of capitalism.

If people decide that they (individually and as a society) need to over-consume then socialism cannot possibly work. Under capitalism, there is a very large industry devoted to creating needs. Capitalism requires consumption, whether it improves our lives or not, and drives us to consume up to, and past, our ability to pay for that consumption. In a system of capitalist competition, there is a built-in tendency to stimulate demand to a maximum extent. corporations, for example, need to persuade customers to buy their products or they go out of business. They would not otherwise spend the vast amounts they do spend on advertising. There is also in capitalist society a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. The prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class so then we can understand why, when the wealth of that class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status should be so deep-rooted. It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand. It does not matter how modest one’s real needs may be or how easily they may be met; capitalism’s “consumer culture” leads one to want more than one may materially need since what the individual desires is to enhance his or her status within this hierarchal culture of consumerism and this is dependent upon acquiring more than others have got. But since others desire the same thing, the economic inequality inherent in a system of competitive capitalism must inevitably generate a pervasive sense of relative deprivation. What this amounts to is a kind of institutionalised envy and that will be unsustainable as more peoples are drawn into alienated capitalism.

In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one’s command would be a meaningless concept. The notion of status based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? In socialism the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society, and the stronger the movement for socialism grows the more will it subvert the prevailing capitalist ethos, in general, and its anachronistic notion of status, in particular.

The docility of the world population has contributed greatly to keeping intact the increasingly unequal, barbaric and rapacious society that is global capitalism. Because people believe there is no alternative to capitalism, it keeps on existing. Politicians are incompetent to deal with the problem. The real powers of action are with the great majority of people. This will be when we decide to create a society in which we will be free to co-operate and to use all our great reserves of energy and ingenuity for our needs. If the environmental crisis is to be solved, this system must go. What is required is political action - political action aimed at replacing this system by a new and different one. There can be no justification, on any grounds whatsoever, for wanting to retain an exploitative system which puts privileged class interests and profit before the needs of the community, which plunders nature of its resources and destroys the natural systems on which all our lives depend. The well-intentioned climate scientists fails to realise that what those who want a clean and safe environment are up against is a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class privilege and property and governed by the overriding economic law of profits first. The framework within which humans can regulate their relationship with the rest of nature in an ecologically acceptable way has to be a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, freed from the tyranny of the economic laws that operate wherever there is production for sale on a market.

Humans are capable of integrating themselves into a stable ecosystem and there is nothing whatsoever that prevents this being possible today on the basis of technology and methods of production, all the more so, that renewable energies exist (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and whatever) but, for the capitalists, these are a “cost” which penalises them in face of international competition. No agreement to limit the activities of the corporations in their relentless quest for profits is possible. Measures in favour of the environment come up against the interests of enterprises and their shareholders because by increasing costs they decrease profits. No State is going to implement legislation which would penalise the competitiveness of its national enterprises in the face of foreign competition. States only take into account environmental questions if they can find an agreement at international level which will disadvantage none of them. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Competition for the appropriation of world profits is one of the bases of the present system. So it is not “Humans” but the capitalist economic system itself which is responsible for ecological problems and the capitalist class and their representatives, they themselves are subject to the laws of profit and competition.

The scientists striving against the environmental destruction of the world have to start with the struggle for socialism. If they can convince people of the reality of climate change, they must also explain the economic cause and present the only feasible solution.

“Capitalism can no more be ‘persuaded’ to limit growth than a human being can be ‘persuaded’ to stop breathing. Attempts to ‘green’ capitalism, to make it ‘ecological’, are doomed by the very nature of the system as a system of endless growth.”Murray Bookchin

(1) http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/6646/20140417/food-shortages-could-become-critical-by-2050-study-says.htm
(2) http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/april/bats-rethink-habitat-041714.html

Death's Men (Review)

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Death's Men by Denis Winter (Penguin Books)

It is November 11, 1979. The Queen has just laid the wreath for the Unknown Warrior at the Cenotaph to commemorate "Our Glorious Dead". The bands have played God Save the Queen and the flags have been saluted.

Glorious! You've got to be joking!

From August 1914 to December 1915 the voluntary enlistment amounted to about 100,000 a month. By the autumn of 1915, fifty-four million posters had been issued, eight million letters sent and twelve thousand recruiting meetings organised. One recruiting sergeant wrote in the Whitby Gazette "I've talked to twenty fellows this morning. Not one of them has any intention of enlisting . . . others told me to mind my own business". And this despite the fact that poverty was so widespread that men were often much better off in the army on a shilling a day than in their civilian jobs. Winter quotes the case of Harry Winter (no relation) a clerk in Hackney on 15 shillings (75p) a week. With his army pay-off, his firm's allowance of five shillings (25p) and his uniform and ration allowances of 18/1d (90p), he was actually receiving more than double his peacetime pay.

The bovine stupidity of the army commanders was out of this world. On joining his regiment the recruit received 11 weeks "basic training" which had nothing to do with the war at all. Its purpose was to "instill discipline". Disobeying orders resulted in bread and water in solitary confinement, loss of pay and leave and field punishments No.s 1, 2 or 3—lashed to a gun carriage wheel for so many hours.

The army regulations were substantially the same as those drafted by Wellington for the Spanish campaign. The bayonet drill, charging a sack of straw and sticking a 15-inch bayonet into it was a relic of the times when an infantryman might be attacked by horsemen. It was a defence against cavalry and part of the British army tradition from the Colonial wars in Africa and India, Bayonet inflicted wounds in the Great War were .03 per cent of all casualties.

Most of the High Command were cavalry officers from the colonial campaigns—French and Haig from the North West Frontier in India and Kitchener from the Sudan. They regarded motor engines and aircraft with grave suspicion, revelling in the memory of the Charge of the Light Brigade. One General said he had "little time for machine guns". They were military Luddites, dumbfounded when men and horses were mown down like ripe corn by the accurate German machine gun fire.

"Life" in the trenches was utterly unspeakable. The soldiers were soaked to the skin in three feet of bloody mud, sniped at and bombarded, frozen stiff in winter, harassed by the rats living off the stinking corpses, infested by lice and plagued by flies in summer. Trench fever was rife. During the two or three weeks of front line duty, soldiers were often unable to remove their clothing or boots. They subsisted on a diet unfit for a diseased dog—bullybeef, stale biscuits and plum jam; supplemented by a revolting mess known as "gype", which consisted of a mixture of tealeaves, cocoa, sugar and soup in hot water.

Officers above the rank of major were seldom seen in the front line, prompting Sassoon to write:

If I were bald and fat and short of breath
I'd live with scarlet majors at the base
And speed glum heroes up the line to death
You'd see me with my puffy, petulant face.

Officers' pay was ten times that of privates. They could spend their more frequent leaves in towns where privates could not afford to go, even if allowed to. And after all this—for those lucky enough to get back home—what was the glorious Hero's reward? Full disablement pension for a permanently incapable invalid was 25/- (£1.25) a week. Soldiers with one arm missing at the shoulder received 16/- (80p) weekly; above the elbow 14/- (70p); below the elbow 11/6d (57p); a left arm was paid 1/- (5p less). Legs were similarly assessed.

Denis Winter rightly says that the  books on the war were written by poets, journalists, politicians and, above all, Generals trying to explain away their crime. Robert Graves, J. B. Priestley, Harold Macmillan and Rudyard Kipling to name but a few. The impression is left that the great mass of common soldiers just didn't think at all. But Winter has tried to find out what "Other Ranks" felt about it all. He frequently refers to the simple triviality of their gripes and complaints—such things as whether the rations had arrived, how soon they would be relieved in the line and so on.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, with the advantage of historical knowledge was able to issue its 1914 Anti-War Declaration, calling on the workers of all countries to unite against the war. But this appeal fell largely on deaf ears and those who made it were scattered to the ends of the earth or locked up in Wormwood Scrubs. So, predictably, in 1939 it all happened again. During the last war there were 66,000 conscientious objectors. This war was for "Democracy", so it was hardly politic to suppress public meetings at which Socialists denounced war, especially as the meetings grew larger as each war went by.

In 1911 the hand grenade lobbed by human muscle power was the infantry-man's weapon. Today the old fashioned foot-slogger, the Poor Bloody Infantry, has practically ceased to exist. Artillery barrages, flinging huge quantities of metal, are already obsolete. In 1917 guns were set every six yards, delivering 4¾ tons of steel per yard of enemy front line. Today a missile launch pad capable of hurling nuclear warheads to destroy whole cities are stationed throughout the world and fitted to submarines at sea. The technical difference is greater than that between the Roman invasion of Britain and the Battle of the Somme.

Despite all the appeals to "never let it happen again", both Russia and America are perfectly capable of using their terrifying powers to destroy much of humanity should their interests demand it. Nuclear war can happen if workers continue to ignore the Socialist appeal of 1914:

    "Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow-workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism." (Socialist Standard, August 1914)

Horatio
March 1980


Monday, April 21, 2014

How the Rich Make Their Money

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1. Betting on Food Prices to Rise

Chris Hedges noted that Goldman Sachs’ commodities index "is the most heavily traded in the world. The company hoards rice, wheat, corn, sugar and livestock and jacks up commodity prices around the globe so that poor families can no longer afford basic staples and literally starve." Numerous sources agree that speculation drives up commodity prices. Wheat, for example, rose in price from $105 to $481 in just eight years.


2. Betting on Mortgages to Fail

In 2007 hedge fund manager John Paulson conspired with Goldman Sachs to create packages of risky subprime mortgages, so that in anticipation of a housing crash he could use other people's money to bet against his personally designed sure-to-fail financial instruments. His successful bet against American households paid him $3.7 billion.

Adding to the insult is that much of a hedge fund manager's income is considered carried interest, which is taxed at the lower capital gains rate. How do they merit this? They don't. As Dean Baker explains, "Carried interest...has no economic rationale. With most other tax breaks there is at least an argument as to how it serves some socially useful purpose."


3. Renting Houses Back to People Who Lost Them

Private equity firms like Blackstone are buying up foreclosures and renting them back at higher rates while waiting for home prices to rise. As absentee landlords they have little interest in long-term community issues.

They go for even bigger money by packaging the rental agreements into rental-backed securities, which are disturbingly similar to the mortgage-backed securities that brought down the economy in 2008.


4. Being a Banker

Almost all of the big names have participated. HSBC Bank laundered money for Mexican drug cartels. Countrywide and Wells Fargo targeted Blacks and Hispanics for unaffordable subprime loans. GE Capital skimmed billions of dollars from its customers. Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase hid billions of dollars of bonuses and losses and loans from investors. Banks fixed interest rates in the LIBOR scandal, and illegally foreclosed on millions of homeowners in the robo-signing scandal.


5. Making "Can't Lose" Bets on Wall Street

With high-speed computer trading, programs can identify 'buy' orders, purchase the stock in a few nanoseconds, and then sell it to the identified buyer for a few pennies more. By doing this millions of times per hour, billions of dollars can be extracted from the stocks that make up our retirement accounts.

Some evidence of the strategy's effectiveness comes from the astonishing performance of Virtu Financial, which made money in the stock market on 1,277 out of 1,278 days over a five year period. That is, only one bad day in five years.


6. Checking the Stock Portfolio Every Morning

In one year the Forbes 400 'earned' more than the total combined budget for SNAP, WIC (Women, Infants, children), Child Nutrition, Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Housing. These lucky 400 were the main beneficiaries of a stock market that grew by $4.7 trillion in just one year.


7. Having the Right Friends and Relatives

Like having Fred Koch or Sam Walton as your daddy. The authors of The Meritocracy Myth say it well: "In the race to get ahead, the effects of inheritance come first and merit second, not the other way around." Much of the individual wealth in our country was taken by individuals who had the right connections. The CEOs of Silicon Valley, the alleged mecca of self-made tech visionaries, are no different. A Reuters analysis concluded that a prestigious degree and personal connections to power-brokers are "at least as important as a great idea" for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

From the Common Dreams website

Top of the world?

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It was the deadliest disaster ever on Mount Everest. The bodies of 13 Sherpa guides had been taken from the mountain. Three more are missing, though few held out hope they were still alive.  If the avalanche had struck a few days later when climbing teams begin working their way up Everest, then there could have been many foreign fatalities too. The Sherpas are the ones who go first up the mountain. They break the deep snow, lay the fixed ropes and carry the heaviest loads. They face avalanches, altitude sickness, lack of oxygen and brutal cold.

The Sherpas, the once-obscure mountain people whose name has become synonymous with Everest, and whose entire culture has been changed by decades of working as guides and porters for wealthy foreigners, it was a brutal reminder of the risks they face.

"The mountains are a death trap," said Norbu Tshering, a 50-year-old Sherpa and mountain guide, "But we have no other work, and most of our people take up this profession, which has now become a tradition for all of us," he said. The work is dangerous — a year rarely passes without at least one death on Everest.

The economy of Mount Everest brings tens of millions of dollars to Nepal every year.  Climbers can pay $100,000 for a chance to reach the summit.

“ It is a job which helps feed our families, sends our children to school," Dawa Dorje, 28, a mountain guide “We make more money than most of the people in the country. If the foreigners did not come, then we would be out of a job. They need us and we need them”

While the average annual income in Nepal is just $700, a high-altitude Sherpa guide can make $5,000 during the three-month climbing season.

"The risks for Sherpas on the mountain are twice that of the Western climbers," said Nima Tenzing, a 30-year-old guide "Death and injury on the mountain is part of our lives now.”

From here 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Toll

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As a species we have tremendous talents. Our scientific achievements are incredible; our advances in medicine and technology are stunning.

In the US, 15% of its citizens, 46 million, live below the poverty threshold of $23,492 and 1.5 million of its children become homeless every year. Worldwide, 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day, 360 million of whom live on less than $1 a day. Grinding poverty, hunger and lack of clean water and effective sanitation blight their lives and their future. 22,000 children die every day due to poverty. Yet in this world of need and suffering, the world military spending stood at over $1.7 trillion in 2012.

A study by professor Linda J. Blimes of Harvard University concludes that the cost to the US of the Iraq and Afghan wars, taken together, will be between $4 and $6 trillion. This includes long-term medical care and disability compensation for service members, veterans and families, military replenishment and social and economic costs. The cost so far is $2 trillion. In order to get our head round the colossal figure of $6 trillion, this is equivalent to $75,000 for every household in the US.

Deaths of Iraqis and Afghans taken together are estimated from 600,000 to a million, coalition troop deaths around 8,000, over 7,000 of whom are Americans. The suffering and the sheer misery of widows, orphans and families behind these statistics are unimaginable.

The vast majority of us individually can see that there is something seriously wrong with the way our priorities are perceived. It is beyond comprehension that with so much poverty and need worldwide, that so much wealth is spent on wars and weapons of death and destruction.

Leaders and those who would profit from these wars package their language in distortions and omissions to hide the truth. George Orwell summed it up: “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

The suffering to millions of fellow human beings is kept from us by mainstream media too ready to play its role as servants to the ruling class.

From here 

Fact of the Day

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Since it is Easter.

 In 1911, English liturgical scholar Herbert Thurston counted all the nails that were at that time believed to have been used to crucify Jesus. Though only three or four nails (the exact number is up for debate) were supposed to have pinned Christ to the cross.  30 holy nails were being venerated in treasuries across Europe.

Time to Work Less

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People tend to think the way things are is the way it's always been. Once upon a time, they thought technology would produce more leisure time, but that didn't happen.

"Throughout the 19th century, and well into the 20th, the reduction of work-time was one of the nation's most pressing issues," professor Juliet B. Schor wrote in her seminal 1991 book The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. "Through the Depression, hours remained a major social preoccupation. Today these debates and conflicts are long forgotten."
 "By today, it was estimated that we could have either a 22-hour week, a six-month work-year, or a standard retirement age of 38," Schor wrote, citing a 1958 study and testimony to Congress in 1967.

But that didn't happen. Instead, declining work hours leveled off in the late 1940s even as worker productivity grew rapidly, increasing an average of 3 percent per year 1948-1968. Then, in the 1970s, workers in the US began to work steadily more hours each week while their European counterparts moved in the opposite direction.

Writer David Spencer in The Guardian UK in February wrote, "Why work more? We should be working less for a better quality of life: Our society tolerates long working hours for some and zero hours for others. This doesn't make sense.” He cites practical benefits of working less, from reducing unemployment to increasing the productivity and happiness of workers, and cites a long and varied philosophical history supporting this forgotten goal, including opposing economists John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx who thought “that under communism work in the 'realm of necessity' could be fulfilling as it would elicit and harness the creativity of workers. [Marx’s son-in-law, Paul Lafargue wrote the seminal work, “The Right to be Lazy”.]

Whatever irksome work remained in realm of necessity could be lessened by the harnessing of technology," Spencer wrote. He also cited Bertrand Russell's 1932 essay, "In Praise of Idleness," in which he reasoned that working a four-hour day would cure many societal ills. "I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached," Russell wrote.

Spencer concluded his article by writing, "Ultimately, the reduction in working time is about creating more opportunities for people to realize their potential in all manner of activities including within the work sphere. Working less, in short, is about allowing us to live more."

Carol Zabin — research director for the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC Berkeley, who has studied the relation between jobs and climate change explains the main stumbling block was a political one, rooted in the assumption that American-style capitalism, based on conspicuous consumption, would continue more or less as is. "Politically, reducing economic growth is really, really unviable," noting how that would hurt the working class. "It seems a little utopian when we have a problem we need to address by reducing energy use," Zabin said before finally taking that next logical step: "If we had socialism and central planning, we could shut the whole thing down a notch." Instead, we have capitalism, and she said, "we have a climate problem that is probably not going to be solved anyway."

So we have capitalism and unchecked global warming, or we can have a more sustainable system and socialism. Hmm, which one should we pick? Capitalism has given us great abundance, more than we need and more than we can safely sustain, so let's talk about slowing things down.

"There's a huge amount of work going on in society that nobody wants to do and nobody should do," Author and historian Chris Carlsson said, imagining a world where economic desperation didn't dictate the work we do. "Most of us would be free to do what we want to do, and most of us would do useful things."

Taken from an article on the Common Dreams website

Arguments for a 4-hour day by the Industrial Workers of the World can be read here

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Capitalism is killing you

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 The wealthy in the United States are enjoying longer lifespans than lower income Americans, according to a new analysis from Brookings Institute researchers, and the gap is threatening to get wider.

By the age of 55 years old, the average American man in the richest 10 percent of the county can expect to live another 35 years. But the average man in the poorest 10 percent only has about 24 years left. And the discrepancy is even starker among women, since low-income women’s life expectancy has actually been declining.

“Life expectancy is rising for those at the top of the distribution of individuals ranked by alternative measures of socio-economic status, but it is stagnate or declining for those at the bottom,” the researchers conclude.

Economic insecurity has a long list of negative effects on physical and mental health. People living in poverty are less likely to have access to quality food and clean air, and they’re more likely to struggle to afford the medical care they need. What’s most concerning is the fact that poverty is worsening, and extreme income inequality continues to widen the gulf between the richest and the poorest sectors of the country.

At the same time there are attempts to raise the age to qualify for Medicare or Social Security benefits, based on the erroneous assumption that everyone is living longer.

 Since the Supreme Court ruled the health law’s Medicaid expansion to be optional, over 20 GOP-led states have declined to implement it, leaving millions of the poorest Americans without any access to affordable insurance whatsoever. These people, who are already disproportionately poorer and sicker than the residents in other states, are the ones who need health coverage the most. It’s not an exaggeration to say that their lives may depend on it. A recent study conducted by Harvard researchers estimated that as many as 17,000 people will die directly as a result of their states refusing to expand Medicaid.

From here



Friday, April 18, 2014

Workers Versus Multinationals and Government In Colombia

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A national strike in Colombia -- involving groups of indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians, students, women, small miners, petroleum workers, and campesinos (farmers) -- may begin on May 1st. The decision to strike if the government does not respond by the first week of May was made during the Peasant, Ethnic, and Popular Agrarian Summit, held from March 15-17 in Bogotá. Over 4,000 delegates, activists, and leaders from different departments, sectors, and organizations in Colombia converged in the capital to discuss issues facing the agrarian and popular sectors. . . .

The summit is part of an ongoing attempt by Colombia's social organizations to provide space for people to articulate the problems they are facing and to collectively create solutions for a new order in the country. This process was constructed after the agrarian strike in 2013, when campesinos took to the streets and demanded an end to displacements, exploitation of labor, land and resource expropriation by multinational corporations and the government, and international free trade agreements; and a right to a dignified life. . . .

The agrarian strike began on August 19, 2013. Campesinos from the petroleum sector, small-mining sector, potato-growing sector, milk-production sector, and coffee-production sector mobilized in 22 departments across the country. Campesinos and their allies participated in a variety of actions, such as long-term roadblocks on highways and marches in Colombia's major cities. The mobilizations during the strike resulted in 19 dead, 600 injured, and hundreds detained.
The government responded to the strike with the "Pact for Agrarian and Rural Development," which was essentially a development program for the agro-industrial elites, favoring the industrial monoculture of exportable cash crops while largely ignoring the problems of small subsistence farmers. The minister of agriculture recently proclaimed: "I am not a friend of the poor campesinos who only farm for self-support and no more."

Given that the strike was realized by small farmers whose livelihoods have been threatened by free trade agreements and agro-industrial production, this pact was widely criticized and rejected by social movements. . . .
The discussions after the working groups' meetings were dedicated to creating plans for future mobilizations. In all of the discussions, unanimous consensus was reached that there must be another national strike. Delegates stressed that this strike cannot just be of the agrarian sector: the next strike will be a national agrarian, civic, popular, and urban strike. The resolutions were used to create a strong united agenda which will be used in future government negotiations.
from here


Wealth Beats Health

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The fracking industry is having a bad week.
In the third asssessment in as many days focused on the pollution created by the booming industry, a group of researchers said Wednesday that the controversial oil and gas drilling practice known as fracking likely produces public health risks and "elevated levels of toxic compounds in the environment" in nearly all stages of the process.
The latest research, conducted by the Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy, compiled "the first systematic literature review" of peer-reviewed studies on the effects of fracking on public health and found the majority of research points to dangerous risks to public health, with many opportunities for toxic exposure.
“It’s clear that the closer you are [to a fracking site], the more elevated your risk,” said lead author Seth Shonkoff, from the University of California-Berkeley. “We can conclude that this process has not been shown to be safe.”
According to the "near exhaustive review" of fracking research, environmental pollution is found "in a number of places and through multiple processes in the lifecycle of shale gas development," the report states. "These sources include the shale gas production and processing activities (i.e., drilling, hydraulic fracturing, hydrocarbon processing and production, wastewater disposal phases of development); the transmission and distribution of the gas to market (i.e., in transmission lines and distribution pipes); and the transportation of water, sand, chemicals, and wastewater before, during, and after hydraulic fracturing."
Citing the recent research, the report continues:
Shale gas development uses organic and inorganic chemicals known to be health damaging in fracturing fluids (Aminto and Olson 2012; US HOR 2011). These fluids can move through the environment and come into contact with humans in a number of ways, including surface leaks, spills, releases from holding tanks, poor well construction, leaks and accidents during transportation of fluids, flowback and produced water to and from the well pad, and in the form of run-off during blowouts, storms, and flooding events (Rozell and Reaven 2012). Further, the mixing of these compounds under conditions of high pressure, and often, high heat, may synergistically create additional, potentially toxic compounds (Kortenkamp et al. 2007; Teuschler and Hertzberg 1995; Wilkinson 2000). Compounds found in these mixtures may pose risks to the environment and to public health through numerous environmental pathways, including water, air, and soil (Leenheer et al. 1982). [...]
At certain concentrations or doses, more than 75% of the chemicals identified are known to negatively impact the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system, and the liver; 52% have the potential to negatively affect the nervous system; and 37% of the chemicals are candidate endocrine disrupting chemicals.
The group also warns that while numerous studies have proven the alarming and destructive nature of fracking, there is still not nearly enough research on the issue, particularly on the long-term effects of fracking on public health, such as future cancer rates.
"Most importantly," say the authors, "there is a need for more epidemiological studies to assess associations between risk factors, such as air and water pollution and health outcomes among populations living in close proximity to shale gas operations."
The review follows on the heels of two other reviews on the dangers of fracking released earlier this week.
The first report, a scientific study released Monday, found that methane emissions from fracking could be up to 1000 times greater than what the EPA has estimated. Methane is up to 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
The second report, a review conducted by Bloomberg News on Wednesday, detailed how industrial waste from fracking sites is leaving a "legacy of radioactivity" and other toxic problems across the country and spawning a "surge" in illegal dumping at hundreds of sites in the U.S.

From here


The Vulture Culture of the Rich

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“...Though the richest among us may be touted as beneficent “job creators” by ideologues and the obsequious mass media who revere them, the rich, in fact, are actually the major source of the harms and evils facing our society. Their vast industrial and corporate enterprises directly and indirectly contribute to the majority of all fossil fuel emissions, toxic pollution, worker exploitation, and income inequality. Contrary to popular opinion, the rich do not gain their wealth because they work harder or possess more skills and intellect than the rest of us; they amass profligate fortunes because they are more selfish, narcissistic, and sociopathic than others. They are rich for a specific reason. Where you or I would freely give of ourselves to help others and eschew extravagant excess, the goal of the rich is money-making, so everything they do is toward that end. Psychological studies have demonstrated that wealthy people are less altruistic than poorer people, which is precisely why they are wealthy...According to Professor Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, “the higher you go up the ladder… the great number of sociopaths you will find there.”...”

From here