Saturday, October 25, 2014

The More Accurate State Of US Poverty

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California, the home of Silicon Valley and more billionaires than any other state, is the poorest state in the country.
That's according to an Oct. 16 report from the Census Bureau, which also finds that Mississippi – typically ranked among the poorest states – has a poverty rate below the national average.
The report out last week is not the official census poverty measure, which came out a month earlier. But after decades of criticism that the official measure is broken and outdated, federal officials in 2011 began quietly piloting an alternative approach to measuring poverty.

Called the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), the report has no official bearing on policy. The latest SPM report puts the 2013 national poverty rate at 15.5 percent, one point higher than the official measure. But the regional differences are dramatic, upending some long-held notions about the distribution of poverty in the U.S.
Those notions are based largely on the official poverty measure, a formula that has changed little since the 1960s.
"It is antiquated," said Mark Levitan, the former director of poverty research for New York City, which in 2008 threw out the official federal measure and devised an alternative for city poverty reports.

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But for the most part, nonprofit organizations, community groups and the private charity world continue to rely on the official statistics.

To understand the official measure's limitations — and how it can be used as a political weapon against anti-poverty programs — it's important to understand how the official measure works.

Simply put, the official measure sets a single national poverty threshold by multiplying the cost of a basic subsistence diet by three, adjusting for family size and updating annually for inflation.
Last year, for a family of two adults and two children, the official poverty threshold was roughly $23,600.
That is regardless of whether the family lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming or in San Francisco – where average housing costs run 225 percent higher than Cheyenne, according to a comparison tool from CNNMoney.

In addition to the lack of regional adjustments, experts point to two critical flaws with the official measure. The first is a simple anachronism in household economics. When the formula was created in the 1960s, roughly a third of the average family budget went toward food.
But advances in agricultural technology have made food relatively cheaper, while skyrocketing housing and health care costs have become bigger strains on many low-income household budgets.

Recent estimates from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics put the average household food spend at 16 percent of the family budget for the bottom quintile of wage earners. The same group spends 40 percent of their income on housing – a massive share of household budget, but not that much higher than the 33 percent average share that Americans in all income brackets devote to housing.
The second issue with the official measure is subtler. It defines income strictly as pre-tax wages. This means that assistance programs such as tax credits and food stamps have — by definition — no direct impact on official poverty levels.
A family benefiting from housing tax credits or subsidized health insurance looks as destitute on paper as another family with the same gross income and no access to the same programs.


The Supplemental Poverty Measure aims to bridge that gap by counting food stamps, tax refunds and other public assistance toward a family's income, illuminating the impact of such programs. The SPM report found, for example, that 23 percent of children would be living in poverty if refundable tax credits were eliminated, as opposed to the current supplemental rate of 16 percent.
The SPM also offers a dramatically different geographic picture of poverty. Mississippi, which has one of the highest poverty rates under official measures, drops below the national average in the SPM. By contrast, California's poverty rate jumps from 16 percent under the official measure to 23 percent — making the Golden State the poorest in the country under the new measure.
The differences at the state level are due mainly to regional variations in housing costs, according to Kathleen Short, the Census Bureau economist who authored the latest SPM report.

But even regional cost-of-living adjustments to the official measure face a seemingly impossible hurdle in Congress. Because billions in federal funding to the states are tied to state poverty levels, any change to the official formula would likely divert dollars from states like Mississippi to places like California.
New York City's revised poverty definition, for example, found that 46 percent of its residents were at or near poverty, versus 31 percent under the official measure, according to the most recent of the reports.

extracted from here


Legislation and Community Pressure Stacking Up Against US Homeless

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In the United States, 21 cities have restricted sharing food with homeless people through legislation or community pressure since January 2013, and about 10 other cities are in the process of doing so, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) said in a report released Monday.

One of the most narrow-minded ideas when it comes to homelessness and food-sharing is that sharing food with people in need enables them to remain homeless,” the report said.
The report was released a day before Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was set to vote “on the city’s third ordinance this year that will target the life-sustaining activities of people experiencing homelessness,” the NCH said in a news release.

“If the biggest crimes we had to worry about in this country were sitting, sleeping (in public places) and eating and sharing food, we would be in a freaking good state,” said Paul Boden, director of Western Regional Advocacy Project, the organization that launched the Homeless Bill of Rights campaign, an ongoing movement to introduce legislation in California and Oregon to “overturn local laws targeted to remove people from public space.”

The NCH report outlines different means by which various jurisdictions allegedly restrict food-sharing. One is the passage of laws requiring a permit to distribute food in public places such as parks. Another is a requirement to “comply with stringent food-safety regulations,” the report said.
A third means — the “most difficult to measure,” according to NCH — involves community-level restrictions imposed by home-owners and businesses that do not want homeless people “in their backyard.” This takes the form of pressuring food-distributing organizations to either stop their activities or to relocate their programs to other areas so that homeless people are not “attracted to their communities.”
“Regardless of income and housing status, people are going to perform these activities (like sharing and eating food), but only a homeless person is going to see the inside of a jail cell for performing these activities,” Boden said, adding that local governments are passing laws that they know people are going to break.

One in six people struggle to get enough to eat in the United States, according to Feeding America, an organization that works toward hunger relief.
In a December 2013 Hunger and Homelessness Survey conducted by the United States Conference of Mayors, all but four of the 25 surveyed cities reported an increase in requests for emergency food assistance over the past year. Unemployment, low wages, poverty and housing costs were the leading reasons for hunger, according to the survey.

In all of the responding cities, emergency kitchens and food pantries had to reduce the quantity of food persons could receive at each food pantry visit or the amount of food offered per-meal at emergency kitchens,” the survey said. “In 78 percent of these cities, they had to reduce the number of times a person or family could visit a food pantry each month.”
In its report, the NCH recommends that protections for the homeless be added to city, county or state anti-discrimination laws.



Post-political labor unions

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Stanley Aronowitz is sociology professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, who has written or edited 25 books. His latest, The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement,  expands on his decades-long argument that unions need bigger goals and more direct action to succeed, or even survive. The following are his comments from an interview.

“...In the 2012 presidential election, unions contributed $141 million to the Democratic Party, one of the two establishment parties. Their main strategy for moving labor forward is electoral politics, yet they have not formed a labor party. Meanwhile, they have virtually given up the strike and any kind of harsh criticism of the capitalist system...Post-political means that the union movement may endorse candidates or run its own, but essentially does not rely on electoral politics and public officials—that is, the state—to fulfill its goals. Instead, unions should rely on their own resources, on their own members and on their own imaginations to create conditions to make their members’ lives better...We’ve been relying for so long on politicians to solve problems that the union membership no longer really relies on its own power. The proper word is really “post-electoral” or “post-state,” and it once had a tremendous resonance among large numbers of workers....Unions have become supplicants of the Democratic Party and depend on the electoral system to resolve workers’ problems.

...agitation for an anti-capitalist politics can’t wait for some kind of apocalypse. With the living standards of the American people stagnating as tremendous riches accumulate at the top, this is the time that anti-capitalist politics can resonate with the larger public....

....The big issue is the long-term contract, because that prevents workers from taking direct action as problems arise in the workplace or the economy changes... by still relying on elections and on contracts and grievance procedures rather than engaging in direct action, unions are on the road to doom....

....I don’t think that union leadership actually reflects the views of the members. Many of these unions have become general workers’ unions. They do not organize in one specific industry. And it’s very difficult for that diverse membership to create an internal democratic opposition that can win. There is no democratic education program to expose them to new ideas and information. So members are voting for leaders to be custodians of an insurance company that provides benefits. But workers don’t really expect them to be seriously involved in their day-to-day struggles, which are often led by the shop steward system—if the shop stewards are still there—and not by the national leaders....

...Two things need to happen, or I don’t see much hope. First, there have to be actions, even if they’re inconclusive, like the fast food and Walmart demonstrations—actions that give people some sense of power and of hope. Second, inside and outside of the unions, people need to be educated about their own history and the degree to which the system is no longer working for them. And they have to begin to think about a different way of life..."

Full interview here

India Spaced Out

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The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) makes India one of four (the US, the EU and Russia being the other three) that have ventured to our closest planetary neighbour. Nationalism drive such escapades, not the quest for knowledge and understanding. The space race between the US and the Soviet Union for example, was not undertaken for the sake of knowledge.

A third of the world’s poor – that’s almost 1 billion people – are in India. And despite twenty years of so-called development, the World Bank (WB) records that not only has this number not reduced, but, “the absolute number of poor people in some of India’s poorest states actually increased during the last decade.” These marginalized men women and children, live in rural India and, driven from their land by the commercialization of the countryside, the slums of the cities. In Mumbai alone – a city with a population of almost 21 millions – two-thirds live in rambling slums.

It is estimated that as many as 68% of people (or 885 millions) in India are living on less than US $2 (the ‘official’ World Bank poverty line) a day, over half of whom are persisting on an income of under US $1 a day (WB). Surviving on such a pittance is virtually impossible: parents cannot feed their children or themselves every day, or pay for health care or education; families live in suffocating conditions, a family of five, six, seven perhaps sleeping on the ground in one small room, which functions as kitchen, bedroom and living room. The majority of the population – over 50% ­– do not have the luxury of a toilet, and are forced to defecate in public. In a recent report on worldwide sanitation, The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF found that, “globally, India continues to be the country with the highest number of people (597 million people) practicing open defecation.”

While hundreds of millions in the sub-continent live impoverished, degrading lives, the Indian government is investing the nation’s income in sending a rocket to Mars at a cost of $78 million, part of a space program that drains $1 billion a year from the national budget. The Economist asks: “how can a country that cannot feed all of its people find the money for a Mars mission? (or the $32 billions on defense each year, making India the world’s biggest arms importer with the fourth largest air force.) Perhaps some of the 16,000 scientists and engineers working on the space program could be employed to design and install a nationwide sanitation system. The Indian government spends a mere 1.2% of GDP on public health, which as The Economist says, is “dismally low” (Afghanistan for example spends 8.7%, the Democratic Republic of Congo 5.6%). The needs and indeed rights of the Adivasi (indigenous) and Dalit (previously referred to as ‘the untouchables’) groups, are consistently abused and ignored. The truth is that the ruling elite care not for those living in abject destitution, they are an embarrassment to the Delhi/Mumbai set, the billionaires (India has 66 of the world’s richest).

Taken from an article by Graham Peebles here

Too Little, Too Late

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European governments are claiming to have agreed ambitious action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, boost renewables and reduce energy use by 2030. But the targets set by the EU's 28 heads of state are far below what is necessary and what could be done by Europe to combat climate change, according to Friends of the Earth Europe.

The non-binding pledges announced by members of the European Commission and European Council making commitments for emission reductions,  energy conservation, and the increase of renewable power sources simply are not strong enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the rate demanded by the science of climate change. Negotiators agreed to a formula that would include a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and a 27 percent increase in both energy efficiency and renewable energy creation, all by the year 2030. Friends of the Earth Europe believes three binding targets is the only way to ensure Europe effectively fulfills its responsibilities to tackle climate change. Emissions must be reduced by at least 60% by 2030 to deliver the EU's fair share of action and be in line with the latest science, and there must be binding targets to reduce energy use by 50% and increase the share of energy produced by renewables to 45%. Oxfam called for targets of 55 percent in emissions cuts, 40 percent for energy savings and 45 percent for renewables. Environment group Greenpeace said the EU had "pulled the handbrake on clean energy. These targets are too low, slowing down efforts to boost renewable energy and keeping Europe hooked on polluting and expensive fuel."

European Commission president, Portugal's Jose Manuel Barroso, said, "This package is very good news for our fight against climate change.” That opinion was not shared by experts at Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Oxfam International.

"To describe 40 percent emissions cuts as adequate or ambitious, as EU leaders are doing, is dangerously irresponsible," said Brook Riley, climate justice and energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.  "40 percent is off the radar of climate science. This deal does nothing to end Europe's dependency on fossil fuels or to speed up our transition to a clean energy future. It's a deal that puts dirty industry interests ahead of citizens and the planet."

Molly Walsh, also of Friends of the Earth Europe explained"The renewable energy target represents barely more than business-as-usual and will send a dangerous signal to national governments that EU renewables policy is being abandoned. The EU can achieve a much higher share for renewables by involving citizens in producing and controlling their own energy but this potential is being blocked by dirty energy corporations."

Oxfam International's Natalia Alonso said the EU details of the agreement fall "far too short of what the EU needs to do to pull its weight in the fight against climate change." She added, "Insufficient action like this from the world's richest countries places yet more burden on the poorest people most affected by climate change, but least responsible for causing this crisis."

Mahi Sideridou, managing director of Greenpeace Europe, highlighted the idea how the vague and non-binding commitments don't nearly match the extreme urgency of the crisis. "The global fight against climate change needs radical shock treatment, but what the EU is offering is at best a whiff of smelling salts," declared Sideridou. "People across Europe want cleaner energy, but EU leaders are knocking the wind out of Europe’s booming renewables sector. Europe can and should do more to stop the most devastating impacts of climate change.”

“It’s scandalous,” Julia Michalak, a spokeswoman for Climate Action Network Europe, “A continuation of free emission permits for Poland’s coal-reliant energy system would be a grave mistake. Leaders who came to Brussels to agree new historic climate goals, are actually discussing whether to hand out money to Europe’s dirtiest power plants.”

Profit is in fact the biggest stumbling block  and the World Socialist Movement wastes no time in exposing the agreement as the farce it is. The main source of CO2 emissions is the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) to power industry and transport and to provide heating and lighting. The trouble is that different states have access to fossil fuels more, or less, than others and each wants ‘the cheapest energy possible.’ So, any international scheme to reduce CO2 emissions that involved, for instance, cutting back on burning coal would disproportionally effect states for which this was the cheapest source of energy. It would increase the cost of production across their whole economy and make its products less competitive. The government of a state in this position will therefore oppose or seek to delay or water down any such scheme.

Global warming is a world problem requiring a world solution. This is not going to happen under capitalism. Something may well be attempted, but it will be too little, too late. The only framework within which the problem can be solved is where the Earth’s resources have become the common heritage of all. Then there will be no capitalist vested interests standing in the way nor any market forces working against a solution. A choice has to be made. It is no longer a matter of ‘socialism or capitalism’ or even ‘socialism or barbarism’. The choice now is between world socialism and global catastrophe.

Mostly taken from here

TB and Polio

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It is perhaps understandable that the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa should dominant the news but we also cannot ignore the tragedy and toll of other diseases that are inflicting many around the world.

In 2013 nine million people had developed TB around the world, up from 8.6 million in 2012, the World Health Organization estimates. About 1.5 million people had died in 2013 from TB, including 360,000 people who had been HIV positive, the WHO said in its Global Tuberculosis Report 2014. And in 2012, there had been 1.3 million tuberculosis deaths.

WHO said its report underlined that a "staggering number of lives are being lost to a curable disease and confirms that TB is the second biggest killer disease from a single infectious agent".

WHO said that insufficient funding was hampering efforts to combat the disease. An estimated $8bn (£5bn) was needed each year, but there was an annual shortfall of $2bn, it said.

Medecins Sans Frontieres said that the rise of drug resistant TB, especially in the former Soviet Union, was of "critical concern". For example, in Belarus, 35% of new cases were drug resistant.

"Access to proper treatment is drastically low: only one person in five with multidrug-resistant TB receives treatment; the rest are left to die, increasing the risk to their families and communities and fuelling the epidemic," said Medecins Sans Frontieres TB advisor Dr Grania Brigden. "This dismal news must serve as a wake-up call for governments, donors and drug companies."

Polio is an infectious viral disease that invades the nervous system and can result in paralysis within hours. The goal is to deliver a polio-free world by 2018.  Southeast Asia ( 1.8 billion people) was declared polio-free earlier this year, its 11 countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste – joining the ranks of those nations that live without the polio burden. High-performing countries like Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan eradicated polio a decade-and-a-half ago while India, once considered a stubborn hotbed for the disease, clocked its last case in January 2011, thus bringing about the much-awaited regional ‘polio-free’ tag.  Afghanistan and Pakistan blight Asia’s happy tale. Together with Nigeria, these two nations are blocking global efforts to mark 2018 as polio’s last year on this planet.

According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) immunisation drives reached some 7.5 billion children over the course of 17 years, not just in city centres but also in remote rural outposts. During that time, the region witnessed some 189 nationwide campaigns that delivered over 13 billion doses of the oral polio vaccine.

Shyam Raj Upreti, chief of the immunisation section of Nepal’s child health division credits his country’s success to a high degree of social acceptance of the importance of child health in overall national development. “Female health volunteers play a key role in making the community understand why immunisation is important,” he said, adding that these volunteers provide services to some of the poorest segments of the population. “... service delivery was decentralised, and access was made easie.”  Ashish KC, child health specialist at UNICEF-Nepal, said that immunisation programmes didn’t stop even during the ‘people’s war’, a brutal conflict between the Maoists and the Nepali state that lasted a decade and killed 13,000 people.

In the Philippines getting the vaccine out to distribution centres on the smaller islands obviously poses a logistical challenge, but the Philippines has proven it’s really good at that. Using strong networks of community health workers have enabled the Philippines to move into the “endgame”, the last stage in global eradication efforts that will require the 120 countries that aren’t currently using the IPV to introduce it by the end of 2016, representing one of the biggest and fastest vaccine introductions in history.

A 2012 Taliban-imposed ban has effectively prevented over 800,000 Pakistani children from being immunised in two years, health officials told IPS.  The Taliban has used both violence and terror to spread the message that ploio vaccination is a ploy by Western governments to sterilise the Muslim population. In 2014 alone, Pakistan has recorded 206 cases of paralysis due to wild poliovirus, the most savage strain of the disease. Last week, 19 new cases of this strain were brought to the attention of the authorities. Pakistan is responsible for nearly 80 percent of polio cases reported globally, posing a massive threat to worldwide eradication efforts. Altaf Bosan, head of Pakistan’s national vaccination programme, said 34 million children under the age of five are in need of the vaccine but in 2014 alone “about 500,000 children missed their doses due to refusals by parents to defy the Taliban’s ban.”


Friday, October 24, 2014

The Signs of UK Poverty

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“Holiday hunger” is a condition faced by hundreds of thousands of children from low-income families who struggle to eat healthily outside term time. Children living in poverty dropped further behind their better-off peers when schools closed and they had no access to free school meals, and they were often physically and mentally unprepared for learning when they returned. There’s enough anecdotal evidence to say that some children come back to school less well nourished and generally in less good shape than when they left, and they go backwards academically.

Carmel McConnell, the founder of Magic Breakfast, a charity which works with more than 440 school breakfast schemes, said in extreme cases children had been hospitalised after suffering from malnutrition during long school holidays. “We have a lot of kids who survive [in the holidays] on the £1 chicken box, and who live on crisps or anything they can get. The teachers tell me it takes about a month to get them back to where they were before the school holidays in terms of their digestive system, their hair, their skin, their teeth. They have real health problems.”

The Trussell Trust food bank network said it believed holiday hunger was behind an 11% spike in referrals of families with children to its food banks during the six-week holidays this summer. It said some of its members extended their opening hours during school holidays to cope with the extra demand for food parcels.

Campaigners say children whose families experience financial pressures are not only at greater risk of food insecurity, family stress, isolation and poor health during the holidays, but they also miss out on the so-called social “enrichment activities” such as trips and sporting and cultural activities enjoyed by better-off children. The Child Poverty Action Group said low wages, insecure employment, welfare cuts and unemployment, together with rising food and energy prices, meant many low-income families “could not afford the basics”.

Caroline Wolhuter, who runs a holiday hunger scheme called Holiday Kitchen in the West Midlands, said for children from families under financial pressure school holidays also meant the disappearance of routine opportunities to socialise and engage in active play, as well as putting them at risk of food poverty and poor health. Wolhuter, head of social inclusion at Ashram housing association, said: “What we see is happening through a landscape of austerity. It’s not just about benefit cuts, it’s about funding cuts and the hollowing out of the labour market. We have a lot more people on low incomes and working families living below the breadline.”

The Children’s Society pointed out that an estimated 500,000 UK children living below the bread line did not qualify for free school meals because their parents were in work, but were unable to afford to pay for a decent lunch.

With a booming property market forcing many more people into the private rented sector, there has been growing concern about the size and condition of some properties.

Islington is home to two streets, Holloway Road and Caledonian Road,  that together contain about 600 properties subdivided into flats and homes to 3,500 tenants, to allow landlords to maximise their income in London’s booming rental market. Of 208 properties visited by council officers, 141 had problems such as dirty communal areas, mice infestations and use of box rooms as homes. One property had been converted from a hostel to 19 studio rooms, some as small as three metres by three metres, for which tenants were paying £255 a week in rent.

Islington council is proposing to force landlords on the two streets to apply for licences for all rented properties occupied by three or more people living as two or more households. Under current rules, licences are only required if a house in multiple occupation, or HMO, has more than three storeys and is shared by more than five people. The council wants landlords to pay £260 to license each bedsit, studio or bedroom for up to five years; those who fail to do so could be fined up to £20,000 for each house.

James Murray, Islington’s executive member for housing and development, said “The problems with the private rented sector are widespread, but I think it’s right for us to be focusing our resources in this area – it really is the frontier of the wild west of the renting market...there is such a shortage of housing and that leaves them vulnerable to rogue landlords.”

Savills estate agents put the price of a starter home in the borough of Islington at more than £340,000 last year.

1918 By Michael Parenti

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Looking back at the years of fury and carnage, Colonel Angelo Gatti, staff officer of the Italian Army (Austrian front), wrote in his diary: “This whole war has been a pile of lies. We came into war because a few men in authority, the dreamers, flung us into it.”
No, Gatti, caro mio, those few men are not dreamers; they are schemers. They perch above us. See how their armament contracts are turned into private fortunes—while the young men are turned into dust: more blood, more money; good for business this war.
It is the rich old men, i pauci, “the few,” as Cicero called the Senate oligarchs whom he faithfully served in ancient Rome. It is the few, who together constitute a bloc of industrialists and landlords, who think war will bring bigger markets abroad and civic discipline at home. One of i pauci in 1914 saw war as a way of promoting compliance and obedience on the labor front and—as he himself said—war “would permit the hierarchal reorganization of class relations.”
Just awhile ago the heresies of Karl Marx were spreading among Europe’s lower ranks. The proletariats of each country, growing in numbers and strength, are made to wage war against each other. What better way to confine and misdirect them than with the swirl of mutual destruction. Meanwhile, the nations blame each other for the war.
Then there are the generals and other militarists who started plotting this war as early as 1906, eight years before the first shots were fired. War for them means glory, medals, promotions, financial rewards, inside favors, and dining with ministers, bankers, and diplomats: the whole prosperity of death. When the war finally comes, it is greeted with quiet satisfaction by the generals.
But the young men are ripped by waves of machine-gun bullets or blown apart by exploding shells. War comes with gas attacks and sniper fire, grenades and artillery barrages, the roar of a great inferno and the sickening smell of rotting corpses. Torn bodies hang sadly on the barbed wire, and trench rats try to eat away at us, even while we are still alive.
Farewell, my loving hearts at home, those who send us their precious tears wrapped in crumpled letters. And farewell my comrades. When the people’s wisdom fails, moguls and monarchs prevail and there seems to be no way out.
Fools dance and the pit sinks deeper as if bottomless. No one can see the sky, or hear the music, or deflect the swarms of lies that cloud our minds like the countless lice that torture our flesh. Crusted with blood and filth, regiments of lost souls drag themselves to the devil’s pit. “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’entrate.” (Abandon all hope, ye who enter.)
Meanwhile from above the Vatican wall, the pope himself begs the world leaders to put an end to hostilities “lest there be no young men left alive in Europe.” But the war industry pays him no heed.
Finally the casualties are more than we can bear. There are mutinies in the French trenches! Agitators in the Czar’s army cry out for “Peace, Land, and Bread”! At home, our families grow bitter. There comes a breaking point as the oligarchs seem to be losing their grip.
At last the guns are mute in the morning air. A strange almost pious silence takes over. The fog and rain seem to wash our wounds and cool our fever. “Still alive,” the sergeant grins, “still alive.” He cups a cigarette in his hand. “Stack those rifles, you lazy bastards.” He grins again, two teeth missing. Never did his ugly face look so good as on this day in November 1918. Armistice comes like a quiet rapture.
A big piece of the encrusted aristocratic world breaks off. The Romanovs, Czar and family, are all executed in 1918 in Revolutionary Russia. That same year, the House of Hohenzollern collapses as Kaiser Wilhelm II flees Germany. Also in 1918, the Ottoman empire is shattered. And on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, at 11:00 a.m.—the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—we mark the end of the war and with it the dissolution of the Habsburg dynasty.
Four indestructible monarchies: Russian, German, Turkish, and Austro-Hungarian, four great empires, each with millions of bayonets and cannon at the ready, now twisting in the dim shadows of history.
Will our children ever forgive us for our dismal confusion? Will they ever understand what we went through? Will we? By 1918, four aristocratic autocracies fade away, leaving so many victims mangled in their wake, and so many bereaved crying through the night.
Back in the trenches, the agitators among us prove right. The mutinous Reds standing before the firing squad last year were right. Their truths must not be buried with them. Why are impoverished workers and peasants killing other impoverished workers and peasants? Now we know that our real foe is not in the weave of trenches; not at Ypres, nor at the Somme, or Verdun or Caporetto. Closer to home, closer to the deceptive peace that follows a deceptive war.
Now comes a different conflict. We have enemies at home: the schemers who trade our blood for sacks of gold, who make the world safe for hypocrisy, safe for themselves, readying themselves for the next “humanitarian war.” See how sleek and self-satisfied they look, riding our backs, distracting our minds, filling us with fright about wicked foes. Important things keep happening, but not enough to finish them off. Not yet enough.

from here

Think Food - No One Can Eat Money

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Despite renewed interest in industrial agriculture by investment banks and sovereign wealth funds, more than 80 percent of the world's food is still produced by family farmers, according to new U.N. research published on Thursday. 

More than 500 million family farms manage between 70 and 80 percent of the world's agricultural land, the U.N.'s "The State of Food and Agriculture 2014" reported. Some analysts, however, worry that family farms are under increasing pressure from speculators, as prices for land rise due to a growing world population. Speculative capital is moving into agriculture, threatening family farmers, said Devlin Kuyek, a researcher with the international organisation GRAIN. "It's a structural change, you have companies who weren't investing in agriculture now jumping in: hedge funds, pension funds, different elites and governments." 

 Only 1 percent of the world's farms are larger than 50 hectares, but this small group controls 65 percent of the world's agricultural land, the FAO report said. Farms smaller than one hectare account for 72 percent of all farms, but control only 8 percent of agricultural land. 

"The highly skewed pattern of farm sizes at the global level largely reflects the dominance of very large farms in high-income and upper-middle-income countries and in countries where extensive livestock grazing is a dominant part of the agricultural system," the report said. "Land is somewhat more evenly distributed in the low-and lower-middle-income countries." 

Small and medium sized farms tend to have higher crop yields per hectare than larger operations, the report said "because they manage resources and use labour more intensively". Analysts worry that large agribusiness firms could undermine these productivity trends on smaller farms. "A lot of the new players, including hedge funds, don't have much of a track record on agriculture," Kuyek said. "They are more interested in buying land from small farmers and then flipping it to other investors when prices rise."





Despite renewed interest in industrial agriculture by investment banks and sovereign wealth funds, more than 80 percent of the world's food is still produced by family farmers, according to new U.N. research published on Thursday. More than 500 million family farms manage between 70 and 80 percent of the world's agricultural land, the U.N.'s "The State of Food and Agriculture 2014" reported. Some analysts, however, worry that family farms are under increasing pressure from speculators, as prices for land rise due to a growing world population. Speculative capital is moving into agriculture, threatening family farmers, said Devlin Kuyek, a researcher with the international organisation GRAIN. "It's a structural change, you have companies who weren't investing in agriculture now jumping in: hedge funds, pension funds, different elites and governments," Kuyek told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Only 1 percent of the world's farms are larger than 50 hectares, but this small group controls 65 percent of the world's agricultural land, the FAO report said. Farms smaller than one hectare account for 72 percent of all farms, but control only 8 percent of agricultural land. "The highly skewed pattern of farm sizes at the global level largely reflects the dominance of very large farms in high-income and upper-middle-income countries and in countries where extensive livestock grazing is a dominant part of the agricultural system," the report said. "Land is somewhat more evenly distributed in the low-and lower-middle-income countries." Small and medium sized farms tend to have higher crop yields per hectare than larger operations, the report said "because they manage resources and use labour more intensively". Analysts worry that large agribusiness firms could undermine these productivity trends on smaller farms. "A lot of the new players, including hedge funds, don't have much of a track record on agriculture," Kuyek said. They are more interested in buying land from small farmers and then flipping it to other investors when prices rise. - See more at: http://farmlandgrab.org/post/view/24073#sthash.TC4ABFBm.dpuf

Bring On The Revolution!

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We each have our grievances and many of them are aired on a regular basis here on this blog. What can be added about the generally recognised injustices of the world, about the huge imbalances within and between societies on all continents? Let's take a look at some of the most pressing.

First there are the masses of workers recognised as overworked and underpaid. There is widespread knowledge of the levels of hunger worldwide, not through lack of available food but because of a lack of money to buy that food. Then there are the millions without work, seeking work but surplus to requirements and those without enough work to earn sufficient to pay the bills and live a halfway decent life.
Recurrent in the news are accounts of never-ending 'wars', usually invasions by massive powers intent on imposing their blueprint for democracy on foreign territories for control of compliant regimes and unopposed access to resources at the same time keeping the arms and war material manufacturers turning over ever-increasing profits while killing thousands of innocent civilians known as collateral damage.
As each new report on global warming is published evidence shows that conditions are worsening, and faster than previously thought but simultaneously we read reports of increased fossil fuel extraction targets. Governments and International agencies fiddling while the earth begins to burn.

Our commons shrinks daily: whether land grab, water grab, or mass privatisation of all utilities with virtually no democratic process. Public spaces become reduced to private shopping malls. Beaches are claimed by private hotels and acres of land turned over to private golf courses. Streets and squares are denied to groups motivated to demonstrate against their shrinking access to civic involvement in any kind of democratic decision-making process, denied by armed police or security forces following the orders of 'democratically' elected officials! US, UK, Spain, Greece, France, Thailand, Hong Kong, Egypt, Brazil, Turkey, Israel, Ukraine, Myanmar - there are examples on all continents.

The facts are there for anyone interested to discover.
The system we have been born into and continue to live in and that our offspring and their offspring will live in – unless we consciously make the decision to change it – is, contrary to to what many people declare, working just as it's meant to do. It works by accumulating profit for a small minority by exploiting a) the commons and b) the majority population who are the workers.
The only two inputs necessary to produce any commodity are raw materials and labour.

Access to what was previously the commons for resources or raw materials is almost totally closed to the general population worldwide and is almost exclusively now made available to private corporations for exploitation. It seems nothing is off-limits as there are example after example of forests, farmland, rivers, lakes, mountains and sea beds being handed over to corporations for extraction of minerals or growing industrial-sized crops for fuel, even when it's an area known to be housing and providing livelihoods to ongoing generations.
Any production in any of the acquired areas is solely to produce for profit. All of the production, from start to finish, is carried out by the wage slaves, by us. And in different areas of work, wherever we happen to live, similar events are occurring day in, day out, year in, year out. Who can say that that is not successful?
That is the capitalist system in a nutshell. Take the resources and turn them into profit for a few by exploiting the many.

The crux of the matter is that somehow we, the huge majority, have allowed this tiny minority to get away with this for far too long. To turn this situation on its head and for all the people of the world to share this common wealth, to own the resources naturally occurring around the world, we need to make the decision democratically and emphatically and implement the measures to make it happen. That is what a socialist revolution will be. A decision for us to own the world's resources in common, for the benefit of all and then to implement it by abolishing private ownership and wealth and taking all production and distribution into the public domain.
What will change is the overworked and underpaid syndrome as only useful work will continue to be undertaken and superfluous activities will come to a halt, thereby both increasing the 'work force' massively and decreasing individual work load and including all persons fit to play their part within the global arena. No one will be underpaid or unemployed as there will be no pay. Everyone will have access to the common wealth.
From each according to ability, to each according to need. 
JS

 

Fact of the Day

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Four in 10 Australians who rely on social welfare payments – and nearly half of people on the disability support pension – are living below the poverty line, according to a major new report published by the Australian Council of Social Services.

2.5 million – or one in seven – Australians were living in poverty in 2012, a slight increase on the same survey two years earlier. Nearly 18% of children live beneath the poverty line, one-third of them in sole-parent families. Women, children, the elderly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, migrants from non-English speaking countries and people with a disability were all most likely to be living in poverty.

Single adults on less than $400 per week, and families with two children on less than $841 each week, were deemed as living below the poverty line. More than half of Australians on the Newstart Allowance, 48% of disability pensioners and 15% of aged pensioners struggle to meet basic living costs. The maximum payment for a single person on Newstart is $303 per week, nearly 25% less than what is required to stay out of poverty.

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/oct/12/one-in-seven-australians-living-poverty

Kafala Servitude

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“I would wake up to start cooking, then cleaning, washing clothes, and then cooking again. No rest, there was just no rest... Because she kept yelling, I cried and asked to go back to agency, but madam said ‘I already bought you…’” a 23-year-old Indonesian domestic worker in Dubai

Domestic workers across the UAE have been subjected to horrendous physical, verbal and sexual abuse or passport confiscation in the abuse of the kafala, or sponsorship, system according to a new report by Humans Right Watch. 

HRW estimates that some 146,000 domestic female workers have arrived to the UAE from countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, India or Bangladesh. They come on promises of good working conditions, higher wages, and a chance to escape the poverty of their home countries. However, the NGO heard complaints that workers are forced to labor excessive hours, or are even being subjected to physical violence or sexual abuse - while they cannot leave as employers confiscate their passports.

The problems arise through the UAE’s visa sponsorship system, known as ‘kafala’ which creates a tie between migrant workers and their visa sponsor and which also means that migrant workers cannot switch employers. The kafala system is also used in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Gulf Arab states including Qatar,

“The UAE’s sponsorship system chains domestic workers to their employers and then leaves them isolated and at risk of abuse behind the closed doors of private homes,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at HRW. “With no labor law protections for domestic workers, employers can, and many do, overwork, underpay and abuse these women.” 

End Capitalism End War

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As Karl Marx explained so long ago, those who have capital will invariably seek to maximize “share-value”: increasing revenues (and net profits), reducing competition (through mergers), and reducing labor-costs (through automation, union-busting, offshoring). It becomes sickeningly easy for the “savvy investor” to “make a killing”. Rampant war profiteering is a familiar subject.

Those mega-giant corporations which are almost exclusively in the war “business”—most prominently, LockheedMartin and General Dynamics—are, of course, critically dependent on “perpetual war.” With new military “engagements,” product-demand is ramped up (the profit-margin already exorbitant on contracts), as Congress invariably approves increases for such costly weapons as Apache attack helicopters, Tomahawk cruise missiles (Raytheon), and Hellfire air-to-ground missiles (Boeing/Martin)—the latter “delivered” by Predator/Reaper drones (General Atomics). A cursory examination of Bloomberg.com share-price graphs: in the past 52 weeks, Lockheed grew by 43%, General Dynamics by 41%. It is, of course, a well-known but rarely mentioned fact that such retired military generals and admirals generally hold considerable stock in these “defense” behemoths. One of these retired generals, say, holding Lockheed at $125/share a year ago, offers his interventionist “advice” on FOX-TV (with the assistance of those videos of beheadings), and sells those shares in Sept. 2014 at $184/share. Not bad: $7 million, say, becomes $10 million—in eleven months.

Morally loathsome? Unquestionably. But so much of the economy is propped up by fraudulent and/or harmful products: think of mortgage-backed securities (and phony “adjustable” mortgages), harmful drugs (e.g., Vioxx) and unnecessary surgeries, low-quality, high-fat “food products,” vulgar and degrading “entertainment” products, various “insurance” scams (deductibles, disclaimers, fine print), ad nauseam. These days, of course, the Dow 30 “Industrials” usually include cut-rate, low-quality, labor-exploitative companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s (rarely “fast” and barely “food”). But truly useful consumer products—say, real food rather than “processed” junk—are only modestly profitable, compared to, say, military hardware which is of no use or value yet demonstrably lethal to people living in the oil-rich Middle East.

As to the ultimate moral abomination—the widespread, indiscriminate “delivery” of fiery deaths, pulverization and dismemberment by such “weapons-systems”-one may view actual war footage, or “demonstration videos,” on youtube and other sources. Or, most hauntingly, one may see photos of the mournful, tormented faces of children—horribly dismembered–so that (blood-splattered) shares of stock can keep rising in “value,” so that the “business” of invading, killing and bombing can satiate the pecuniary appetites of the big shareholders.

Professor István Mészáros, the Hungarian philosopher, identified what must be done:
“The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself.”

Taken from here 

The mouse that roared

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Lawsuits have been filed by the tiny country of Marshall Islands against the nine nuclear-armed nations. Between 1946 – 1958 the Marshall Islands was used as a test ground for the U.S. nuclear program during this time. 67 nuclear bombs detonated over the Marshall Islands during this time period. That is the equivalent of  1.7 Hiroshima bombs detonated daily for 12 years .

The lawsuits raise the following issues:

First, the nuclear-armed countries party to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (the US, Russia, UK, France and China) are obligated "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament . . . "  The four nuclear-armed countries that are not parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) have the same obligations under customary international law.

Second, all nine nuclear-armed countries are in breach of their obligations to negotiate a cessation of the nuclear arms race.

Third, all nine nuclear-armed countries are in breach of their obligations to negotiate for nuclear disarmament.

Fourth, all nine nuclear-armed countries are in breach of their obligations to act in good faith.  They are not engaged in negotiations.  Rather, they are modernizing their nuclear arsenals.  The United States alone has plans to spend $1 trillion over the next three decades modernizing its nuclear arsenal.

Fifth, these breaches undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and international law itself.

Sixth, continued reliance on nuclear weapons keeps the door open to nuclear proliferation by other countries and by terrorist organizations, and to nuclear weapons use, by accident or design.

The housing crisis

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The spiralling cost of buying a first home in the UK means that almost half of all renters are not sure they will ever be able to get on the property ladder, a survey has revealed.

Just 56 per cent of those renting in Britain said they had plans to buy their own home at some point in the future, with the biggest factor preventing people from doing so being the vast deposit required – nowhere more so than in London.  A single-car garage off the King’s Road in Chelsea has an asking price of £550,000 – more than double that of the average British home – and has come to epitomise the London property bubble. Last week, the National Housing Federation (NHF) published a report that said only Londoners earning more than £100,000 a year can afford a typical mortgage.

More than one in four of those surveyed said they definitely did not have plans to buy property in the future, while another 19 per cent admitted they were not sure whether they would.

Even among those who did plan to buy, optimism about their chances of ever doing so has fallen.

Wot Recovery? (2)

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A report casts doubt on forecasts that a six-year decline in living standards is about to end. Britain’s private sector employers plan to restrict pay awards to 2% over the next year. Only sectors such as housebuilding and engineering, where skills shortages have caused recruitment problems, are likely to see a pay rise of more than 3%, the report found. It was based on interviews with 262 employers.

It said: “The majority of employees are unlikely to receive a pay rise that matches inflation. RPI inflation is forecast to be higher than 3% over the course of 2015, and only one pay award in three is expected to match or exceed this figure.”

Although pay rises next year could exceed the consumer prices index, which stood at 1.2% in September, they may fail to beat the generally stronger retail prices index (RPI), the measure of inflation more commonly used in wage negotiations, which showed an annual rate of 2.3% in the same month.

A weak manufacturing survey from the CBI reinforced the sense that Britain’s economic recovery is losing steam. A sluggish eurozone economy and a stronger pound pulled export orders lower in the three months to October for the first time in 18 months, the business lobby group said, frustrating government ambitions for a big push in UK exports. Manufacturing output and orders overall grew at the slowest pace in a year. Rain Newton-Smith, director of economics at the business lobby group, said: “It’s disappointing that a sluggish exports market has taken some of the steam out of manufacturing growth, which was going from strength to strength throughout most of this year. “Global political instability, mounting concerns about weakness in the eurozone, and recent rises in sterling are all weighing on export demand.”

Subdued retail sales in September and the first fall in export orders for 18 months added to the gathering gloom over the state of the economy amid expectations that the first official estimate of third-quarter growth morning will show Britain’s recovery is slowing. Economists are forecasting 0.7% expansion between July and September, a slowdown from more robust 0.9% growth in the second quarter. Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said: “It does look like consumers have reined in their spending to some degree after splashing out at a strong rate overall through the first half of the year. This is not that surprising given the overall pressure coming on consumers’ purchasing power from prolonged very weak earnings growth.”

The protracted squeeze on pay packets since the financial crisis means the average worker in Britain is already £5,000 a year worse off than in 2008, a leading labour market expert, Prof Paul Gregg of Bath University, warned this month.

The TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “This looks like pay misery without end...”


Thursday, October 23, 2014

US Military and Climate Security Budgets Compared

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As the U.S. debates the President’s plan for new military engagement, hundreds of thousands converged on New York to urge the world’s nations to take stronger action against the threat of climate change.  A new report connects these two issues, and finds that the gap between U.S. spending on traditional instruments of military force and on averting climate catastrophe has narrowed slightly.  Between 2008 and 2013, the proportion of security spending on climate change grew from 1% of military spending to 4%.
The report argues that a change from 1% to 4% of security spending is not commensurate with the role U.S. military strategy now assigns to climate change: as a major threat to U.S. security. Nor is it remotely sufficient to bring greenhouse gas emissions under control.

The U.S. balance between military and climate security spending compares unfavorably to the record of its nearest “peer competitor,” China.  Although China’s environmental record is unquestionably problematic, it strikes a far better balance than the U.S. in the allocation of its spending on military force and on climate change.  Its climate security spending, at $162 billion, nearly equals its military spending, at $188.5 billion.
Other Key Findings:
  • The balance in the area of international assistance has not improved.  The U.S. actually increased its military aid to other countries from 2008-2013, relative to the help it gave them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
  • For the price of four Littoral Combat Ships — currently there are 16 more in the budget than the Pentagon even wants — we could have double the Energy Department’s entire budget for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
  • The U.S. currently spends more on its military than the next seven countries combined. The disparity between U.S. military spending and the countries presumed to be threats to our security is even more extreme.
Download the full report.

from here

The opium pipedreams of an ex-general

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 The former head of the British army Gen Sir Peter Wall said on a BBC documentary: "The lasting impact we will have had is not just to sanitise the threat to allow the development of governance and economy, but to be a witness to and stimulus for very significant social change, with an improving economy, with jobs, with much developed farming opportunities in contrast to narcotics.”

This is an example of crass denial which is a persistent and constant feature of UK military history.

 The LA Times reports that there was a record harvest of opium last year and John F. Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction has concluded that the counter-narcotics strategy is failing badly. The amount of land used to grow poppies in 2013 eclipsed the previous record set in 2007, producing nearly $3 billion in profits, up from $2 billion in 2012. He stated in a report "The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability" of the U.S.-led counter-narcotics program.”

Several areas once declared poppy-free by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are now awash in opium. Afghanistan provides 80% of the world's opium. Much of it is grown in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, strongholds of Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan. Nangarhar province also produces a significant crop.  Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, was declared poppy-free in 2008 and cited as a model for successful interdiction. The province saw a fourfold increase in opium production in 2013. "Poppy production is on the increase and is a significant threat to U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan," the Pentagon said.

Rather than the growth of farming opportunities claimed by Gen. Wall, high opium prices and a cheap and skilled agricultural work force, much of the newly arable land has been dedicated to poppy cultivation. Part of the reason is affordable deep-well technology that has provided ample water for poppy plants, the US report says. The wells have turned 494,000 acres of desert land into arable agricultural areas over the last decade in southwestern Afghanistan, the center of the country's opium cultivation.

In 2013, Afghan farmers grew an unprecedented 516,000 acres of opium poppy, surpassing the previous record of 477,000 acres in 2007, according to the U.N. drug office. Sopko's report predicts further increases in production for this year's harvest.

Wall is simply another example of a soldier who wants to rewrite history to hide failure. But we hardly expect the BBC to correct him.


Water - Everyone's Basic Need Or Profits For A Few?

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 Big institutional investors are being encouraged to get a slice of the $1.6 billion market in annual water trading. Since water titles were split from property titles, irrigators have been trading water, sometimes for greater returns than growing a crop that year. But Australian superannuation funds have been very reluctant to get into agriculture.
 For $100 million, a super fund could buy just a small number of farms, grow only a couple of commodities, and be exposed if prices collapsed. Or, for the same amount of money, super funds could invest in water, across 350 different irrigation areas from the Murray and Murrumbidgee, to the Burdekin in Queensland or the Ord in the Northern Territory, with a vast range of commodities - from rice to almonds, vegetables, cotton, dairy cattle, prime lambs and beef.

 Blue Sky Water Partners managing director Kim Morison says because water is so scarce, and demand for food is growing, the investment is sound. "Tree crops that at the moment are performing extremely well are things like almonds and walnuts, with demand from Asia with higher per capita wealth. "The three-year drought in California, which produces 80 per cent of the world supply ,has enabled Australia to capture that market. "It might surprise you to know one of the best performers on the Australian Stock Exchange this year is an almond company. Water is being used efficiently to produce a high value crop." 

Mr Morison says on current estimates almond growers are getting returns of $1,500 per megalitre gross margin for the water, while rice might be $120-150 per megalitre or cotton around $300-500 per megalitre. But despite promising a 10 per cent return on investment, per year, over seven years, Blue Sky Water Partners is still waiting for the flood of calls from superannuation funds. Blue Sky has raised less than its target of $100 million over the past two years to trade in water. 
 Mr Morison says it's early days. "What we've been working on at Blue Sky is tapping into passive long term institutional capital that exists in big pools in Australia and offshore and how to deploy it into agriculture. "We're looking at the ownership of a portfolio of water rights, so the water is then traded to farmers, so they can access it by leasing it or buying it, as another input in their business." 

Tom Chesson, chief executive of the National Irrigators Council, agrees big super funds have been reluctant to get into the multi-billion water trading market. He says the price is high right now as farmers get their crops in. "We're in dry times at the moment. A lot of people are looking for water, but it could flood next month and water could be worth nothing. "Water trading allows farmers to manage that risk. "Agriculture is one of the growth industries. You can never be without a feed. "But if you're investing in agriculture or water, you need to understand the risks. "Super funds and anyone should look at agriculture and irrigation."



The Global Elite Grows Richer

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The “ Global Annual Wealth Report,” released by investment giant Credit Suisse, analyzes the trend of growing wealth inequality around the world. What the researchers find is that global wealth has increased every year since 2008, and that personal wealth seems to be rising at the fastest rate ever recorded, much of it driven by strong equity markets. But the benefits of this growth have largely been channeled to those who are already affluent. While the restaurant workers in America struggled to achieve wages of $10 an hour for their labor, those invested in equities saw their wealth soar without lifting a finger. So it goes around the world.

The bottom half of the world’s people now own less than 1 percent of total wealth, and they’re struggling to hold onto even that minuscule portion. On the other hand, the wealthiest 10 percent have accumulated a staggering 87 percent of global assets. The top percentile has 48.2 percent of the world wealth.  The scary thing about the wealth of the super-rich is what French economist Thomas Piketty pointed out in his book, Capital in the 21st Century. Once they’ve got a big chunk of wealth, their share will get bigger even if they sit by and do absolutely nothing. The rich will grow inevitably richer and the poor poorer.  We are returning back to the days of 19th-century Britain or 18th-century France, where great dynastic fortunes ruled and everybody else fought for scraps.

While the global elite zip around the world in private jets and watch their stock portfolios expand on computer screens from within their gated mansions, the bottom half stays awake at night trying to think of how to pay for medicine for a sick child. The things that give life dignity and meaning, like a quality education, a decent job, and the security of knowing you have a roof over your head and a doctor to care for you when you are ill grow further and further out of reach. Anxiety never leaves because one unforeseen mishap can push you down into poverty, and if you’re already there, you spend much of your time searching, often fruitlessly, for a way out.

Taken from here

Awwww...what a shame...

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Bad News Day for the Rich

Nelson Bunker Hunt has passed away and was briefly a candidate for the title of the world’s richest man.  He owned vast acreages of oil and ranchland around the globe, as well as the Circle T Ranch, 30 miles outside Dallas. For some, Nelson was JR Ewing of the eponymous TV series made flesh.  He was a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who loathed communism and the federal government in equal measure. He was a council member of the radical right-wing John Birch Society. He was also a certified Bible Belt, evangelist Christian, whose positions included chairman of the Texas Bible Society and head of the Campus Crusade for Christ International.

Then came a disaster beside which even the loss of the Libyan interest paled. In the early 70s the brothers began to amass vast quantities of silver futures, at first ostensibly as a hedge. But by the end of the decade the buying had turned into a bid to corner the world market in silver whose price, following that of gold, soared in early 1980 to more than $50 an ounce. By some estimates the Hunts controlled up to half the world’s deliverable silver, worth more than $7bn. But on 27 March 1980 – a date that has gone down in the annals of market disasters as “Silver Thursday” – the speculative edifice collapsed, and with it most of the Hunts’ money. The Federal Reserve had drastically raised interest rates to fight inflation and the silver bubble burst. That day the Hunts failed to meet various margin calls, and a $7bn paper asset turned into a $1.7bn debt. Fines, claims and lawsuits consumed much of the Hunts’ remaining wealth. The choicest family assets were sold and Nelson Bunker was eventually forced to file for bankruptcy, emerging in 1989 reportedly with a bare $10m to his name. [still not exactly a pauper, though, SOYMB]

But even without Nelson Bunker, the epic story of the Hunts continues – indeed, it may be said to have come full circle. Oil made the family fortune in the first place, and now oil is resurrecting that fortune. In 2012, William Herbert Hunt sold his company’s stake in the Bakken Field for $1.45bn, lifting his net wealth to an estimated $3bn or more. For the first time in a quarter-century, a Hunt, now aged 84, is back on the lists of America’s richest men.

Meanwhile, we should shed a tear for Warren Buffet, presently the third richest man in the world. Having last week confessed a bad investment decision in putting money into Tesco which has seen its share price more than halve in the past 12 months following a series of profit warnings.his bet on Coca-Cola and American tech giant IBM have cost him more than $2 billion in just three days.

On Monday, Buffett lost nearly $1 billion after shares in IBM plummeted to a three-year low after it badly missed third-quarter earnings estimates and announced it would pay $1.5 billion to ditch its loss-making chip division. That’s bad news for Buffett considering his investment firm, Berkshire Hathaway, is the largest investor in IBM. Yesterday, another vehicle for Buffets capitalism, Coca-Cola, saw its shares plummet six per cent in New York trading after it reported flat sales and lowered its guidance for the year.

SOYMB hope he loses the lot. Are we supposed to have sympathy for this leech who makes money off the backs of the workers without ever lifting a finger?


Heartless Austerity

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More than a third of people with degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis are having their benefits slashed because the Department for Work and Pensions deems they will recover enough to look for work.

Thousands of those with diseases that only worsen with time - and who have become too ill to work - are being denied full Employment Support Allowance. Instead they are assessed as suitable for work-related activity which is designed for people likely to recover to the point where they can seek employment. People in The Work-Related Activity Group receive less money and the threat of sanctions if they do not attend regular sessions. Many also have this benefit removed after a year as an added “incentive” to find employment.

When people with illnesses and disabilities are assessed for ESA they are either paid full support, told they are fit to work or, if they are deemed likely to recover, put into a third Work-Related Activity Group to apply for jobs and prepare for the workplace. Almost 8,000 people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Parkinson’s Disease, Cystic Fibrosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis have been put on this third, lesser benefit. Of these, 5,000 were put into the category despite assessors explicitly recognising on reports that their prospect of working is “unlikely in the longer term”.

Steve Ford, Chief Executive at Parkinson’s UK, said: “These latest figures are an utter disgrace and serve to underline just how little the Government cares for those with progressive conditions like Parkinson’s. To set up a system which tells people who’ve had to give up work because of a debilitating, progressive condition that they’ll recover, is humiliating and nothing short of a farce. These nonsensical decisions are a prime example of how benefits assessors lack even the most basic levels of understanding of the conditions they are looking at.”

Ailsa Bosworth, chief executive of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, said: “To continue to regularly reassess claimants with progressive conditions, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, is absurd and unnecessary. We know that most people with Rheumatoid Arthritis want to work for as long as they possibly can and will only claim ESA as a last resort.”

The MS Society, Parkinson’s UK, Motor Neurone Disease Association, the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society and The Cystic Fibrosis Trust - are calling for people deemed unlikely to return to work in the longer term to be automatically placed in the support group.

Over the last five years seven out of 10 new claimants with a progressive condition have been reassessed two or more times on the same claim, which health experts say causes unnecessary stress and anxiety for people who are already unwell. Atos healthcare has come under staunch criticism for the way it conducts the assessments and has pulled out early of a DWP contract to provide the service.

Tax-free Facebook

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Facebook paid no UK corporation tax for the second year in a row in 2013, while employees received shares in the company worth tens of millions of pounds. Facebook UK incurred a corporation tax charge of just £3,169, and received a credit of £182,000.

The world’s largest social media company reported a pre-tax loss of £11.6m in the UK last year, despite its US parent company reporting a net profit of $1.5bn (£900m).

UK revenues rose from £34.6m to £49.8m. The company made £371m in advertising revenue last year, a 67% year-on-year rise from the £222m in 2012.

The company employed an average of 172 UK staff, who were paid £40.8m last year, almost double the 2012 figure of £21m. This is because of a £15.5m payment cost for “share-based payments”. UK staff received 1.52m free Facebook shares worth $118m at their current share price of about $78. There were also 2.2m shares worth more than $170m “outstanding” as at 31 December.

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/oct/22/facebook-uk-corporation-tax

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

News of Thailand

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  Claiming that he staged the coup to save Thailand from falling into a political abyss,  Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has promised to implement sweeping reforms and prepare the country for elections. But there have been no indications of serious progress on democratic development. On the contrary, the democratic space continues to shrink as the military entrenches itself in politics.  The international community should not be misled by pledges of political reform and elections; these have never been a top priority of the generals. The professed aim of the government is to cleanse Thai politics of corruption, supposedly nurtured by the controversial regime of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. But this owes more to expediency than to real intentions. The underlying truth is that the military is here to stay, and is busy working on a governmental infrastructure that will allow it retain political power.

From writing an interim constitution that empowers the military, to appointing allies in the National Legislative Council, the National Reform Council and the Cabinet, the military has set out to fashion its own control network. Even ostensibly independent agencies have been drawn in. The National Anti-Corruption Commission has targeted key figures in the Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai Party, in large part to prevent them returning to compete in elections. The result is clear: even if forced from the frontline of politics, the military will remain able to pull the strings of power through legal means.

Imagine world socialism

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Squeezed Workers Versus Power And Wealth

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The Supreme Court kicked off its 2014-2015 term with a case called Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk. The issue in the case is whether employees who do work for Amazon had a right to be paid for time they spent waiting - for as long as 25 minutes - to be screened for theft.
Or, to be more accurate, this is a case in which Amazon was not named as a party in the case, because other corporations acted on Amazon's behalf. In this case, the named defendant was Integrity Staffing Solutions (ISS).
The Integrity Staffing Solutions website clearly shows that it is an agent of Amazon who acts on Amazon's behalf. For example, the website says, "Here's where to find Amazon warehouse jobs, light industrial work, temporary and seasonal jobs, part-time employment and a job to make you proud." Indeed, Integrity Staffing's website advertises a number of jobs, but it has specific links only to jobs at Amazon.

What This Case Is About
No doubt, there are many ways to think about this case. It is certainly fair to say that this is a case involving a powerful and wealthy corporation that uses its power and wealth to squeeze workers who have little-to-no power and no wealth. What evidence do we have that Amazon has used that wealth and power in this case? According to www.oyez.org:
At the end of each day, all the workers were required to pass through a security clearance checkpoint where they had to remove their keys, wallets, and belts, pass through a metal detector, and submit to being searched. The whole process could take up to 25 minutes. Similarly, up to ten minutes of the workers' 30-minute lunch period was consumed by security clearance and transition time. In 2010, Busk and Castro sued Integrity and argued that these practices violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as Nevada state labor laws.
Amazon is known for creating systems that generate as much revenue as possible for Amazon and that do so by squeezing every penny out of Amazon's system.

Amazon Is Not a Party to the Case or Is It? 
The American Bar Association's website for this case - and all Supreme Court cases - includes links to the parties' briefs and to amicus briefs. In the Amazon case, notice that, although the plaintiff-employees were doing work for Amazon and Amazon was calling the shots, Amazon was not the focus of this case. In fact, Amazon was not even a party in the case.
The parties are plaintiffs Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro, and the defendant is Integrity Staffing Solutions, not Amazon. It may seem odd that Amazon was not a party when the work was carried out on Amazon's behalf, and the outcome of this case could affect Amazon in the future.

In fact, even though there is almost no mention of Amazon, Amazon's interests were well represented. Amazon's subcontractor - Integrity Staffing Solutions - was the defendant and effectively represented Amazon's interests.
Amazon's interests were also represented by most of the organizations that filed amicus briefs in support of Integrity Staffing Solutions, including briefs by National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, US Conference of Mayors, Government Finance Officers Association, International Municipal Lawyers Association, National Public Employer Labor Relations Association, and the International Public Management Association For Human Resources, National Retail Federation, the Retail Litigation Center, Inc., Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, Society for Human Resource Management, National Association of Manufacturers, National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, and the United States.

Only two amicus briefs were filed on behalf of the plaintiff employees, one filed by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the other filed by the National Employment Lawyers Association.

What Is at Stake in This Case?

It appears that Amazon, that is, Integrity Staffing Solutions, has chosen to be a thoroughly modern, cost-cutting corporation that uses every angle to pay its workers as little as possible. For example, Integrity's workers have an unpaid, half hour lunch, during which the workers must also spend roughly 10 minutes being scanned and searched.
If the plaintiff employees win this case, their employer will no longer be able to get free work, and the employer will have an incentive to hire more workers to speed up the time it takes the workers to go through the security line during their lunchtime and at their shift's end.

taken from here

Whilst recognising the seemingly 'unfair' aspect of extra time spent on work premises without pay - another benefit for the employer - the employer is always able to 'get free work', and every day does 'get free work' from ALL employees.
Ask 'where does the wealth come from?'


" How does profit arise from the exploitation of workers? Workers are paid (generally and more or less) the full value of what they sold – their labour-power – yet are still exploited because the exercise of their labour-power produces a greater value than that of their labour-power. This “surplus value” is the source of their employer’s profit and of all capitalist property incomes."
(See here for full explanation)



US Inequality

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1) 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined. This ratio has been verified by Politifact and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich . To put it into context, last year the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that there were over 316 million people living in the United States. That means 400 Americans have more money than over 158 million of their fellow citizens. Their net worth is over $2 trillion , which is approximate to the Gross Domestic Product of Russia.
One explanation for the vast discrepancy in wealth is the definition of “worth,” which includes everything a person or household owns. This means savings and property but also mortgages, bills and debt. Poorer households can owe so much in debt that they possess a negative net worth.

2) America has the second-highest level of income inequality, after Chile. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development studies thirty-four developed countries and ranks them both before and after taxes and government transfers take effect (government transfers include Social Security, income tax credit and unemployment insurance). Before taxes and government transfers, America ranks tenth in income inequality. After taxes and transfers, it ranks second. Whereas its developed peers reduce inequality through government programs, the United States' government exacerbates it.

3) Non-union wages are also affected by the decline of unions. The Economic Policy Institute claims that 20 percent of the growth in the wage gap between high-school-educated and college-educated men can be attributed to deunionization.
Between 1978 and 2011, union representation for blue-collar and high-school educated workers declined by more than half. This has also diminished the “union wage effect,” whereby the existence of unions (more than 40 percent of blue-collar workers were union members in 1978) was enough to boost wages in non-union jobs - in high school graduates by as much as 8.2 percent. Not only did unions protect lower- and middle-class workers from unfair wages, they also established norms and practices that were then adopted by non-union employers. Two prime examples are employee pensions and healthcare.
Today, about 13 percent of workers belong to unions, which has reduced their bargaining power and influence.

4) Tax cuts to the wealthiest have not improved the economy or created more jobs. Krueger also revealed that the tax cuts of the 2000s for top earners did not improve the economy any better than they did in the 1990s (meanwhile, income growth was stronger for lower- and middle-class families in the 1990s than in the last forty years).
Tax rates for the top income earners in America peaked in 1945 at 66.4 percent. Following decades of gradual reductions, they have since been cut in half . During the same time, the payroll tax has increased since the 1950s and individual income tax has bounced between 40-50 percent through the present day. Conversely, corporate tax declined from above 30 percent in the 1950s to under 10 percent in 2011.
All of these tax cuts are made ostensibly to improve the economy and create jobs. However, the National Bureau of Economic Research has concluded that it is young companies , “regardless of their size,” that are the real job creators in America. Tax cuts to the wealthiest do not create jobs .

5) Incomes for the top 1% have increased (but the top 0.01% make even more). Between 1979 and 2007, the average incomes of the 1 percent increased 241 percent . Compare that to 19 percent growth for the middle fifth of America and 11 percent for the bottom fifth. Put another way, in 1980 the average American CEO earned forty-two times as much as his average worker. In 2001, he earned 531 times as much .
Average income across the 1 percent is actually stratified into widely disparate echelons. Compare the $29,840 average income for the bottom 90 percent to the $161,139 of the top 10 percent. Compare the $1 million average income of the top 1 percent to the $2.8 million of the top 0.1 percent. Yet both still pale beside the $23 million average income of the top 0.01 percent.

6) The majority of Congress does not feel your pain. Empowered by the Constitution to represent their constituents, United States Congress members are, for the first time in history, mostly millionaires . The 2012 financial disclosure information of the 534 current Congress men and women reveals that over half of them have a net worth of $1 million or more.
After the past seven facts it is difficult to read this last one and believe that these 268 legislators have the best interests of the remaining 99 percent at heart. But if that is too presumptuous a leap, it is not too bold to say that wealthier donors, lobbyists and special interest groups enjoy greater access to these lawmakers than the average American.
In January, Congress failed to extend emergency benefits for unemployment , leaving 1.3 million people without federal aid. Congress then went on a weeklong recess that kept them from debating the issue until the end of the month. The bill was too divisive for Republicans and Democrats to reach an agreement on, though unemployment was then above 7 percent nationally.
Thankfully, the unemployed have their Congress working for them. And at $174,000 annual pay , those representatives are sure to return from their vacations committed to fresh solutions.

Taken from here

Also watch video here

Cost Advantage - The Crazy World Of Import/Export

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Not able to get the right price for tomatoes, farmers often resort to throwing away the produce -- The Hindu pic


On a visit to a food processing unit in Sonepat district in Haryana, I was shocked when I was told that tomato paste is being imported in large quantities from China. In fact, most of the big brands of tomato ketchup and tomato puree are using imported paste and pulp from China. This is happening at a time when farmers are repeatedly being forced to throw tomatoes onto the streets for want of buyers. This year too, when food inflation was at its peak, reports of dumping of tomatoes by farmers had poured in from several parts of the country, including Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

With tomato prices crashing to Rs 2 (and at several places to Re 1 per kg) farmers had no choice but to feed it to cattle or to throw it away.
(£1 = 99 rupees, $1 = 61 rupees)

This was happening at a time when the tomato processing industry was merrily importing tomato paste and up mainly from China. While politicians, TV commentators, editorial writers stressed on the need to strengthen food processing, not many know that the existing tomato processing industry was relying heavily on cheaper import of pulp and paste. This is not the first year for such imports, a review of reports on Google showed that such imports are continuing over the years.

Not many know that the popular brands of tomato ketchup, tomato puree and even tomato juices that we consume at home are made from tomatoes imported from China, Nepal, Italy, USA and the Netherlands. In other words, we are inadvertently helping tomato farmers of the countries from where we import while our own farmers are left to die.

Just in one month, between Aug 28, 2014 and Sept 28, 2014, India imported US $ 376,009 worth of dried tomato and tomato products (like paste, pulp and juice concentrate) from China, followed by US $ 94,057 worth of imports from Nepal, and US $ 44,160 from the Netherlands. Some more research, and I find that in 2010 when traders were eyeing the market opportunities in Pakistan arising from devastating floods, the Indian processing industry was busy importing tomato paste from China. A news report in the Economic Times (Oct 20, 2010) quoted Pradeep Chordia, managing director Chordia Food Products Ltd saying: "We can't afford the high local prices so we imported 80 per cent of our requirement of tomato paste from China this year."

Another food processor, Akshay Bector of the Ludhian-based Rs 400-crore Cremica Group said: "There is a cost advantage in buying from China versus India where prices fluctuate." This company supplies to McDonalds, Taj Group, ITC Group, Jet Airways, Indian Airlines, and chains such as Barista, Cafe Coffee Day, Pizza Hut, Domino and Papa John's.

Go back a little more, and you find a lot of Indian companies importing tomato paste way back in 2005, and even before. No wonder, tomato farmers in India have been at a great disadvantage for several years now, if not decades.

from here

Above is just one example of the waste, worldwide, connected to the system of production in capitalism. Wasted food, wasted labour, wasted fuel for transnational and transcontinental shipments - all in the pursuit of monetary profit, the be all and end all of capitalism's logic.
Crazy, illogical system!
If we look at the negative impacts of such transactions, in terms of unnecessary use of fossil fuels for instance and those ramifications, plus the impacts on people's lives and livelihoods, it is easy to see that by removing the financial aspect from the 'business' of food production and processing, etc., living in a socialist system will have many advantages for both people and planet.
JS