Sunday, February 14, 2016

No change in Bahrain

Bahrain’s anti-regime protesters took to the streets as "Come to Revolution" campaign picks up speed ahead of the fifth anniversary of the country's popular revolution. Protesters staged a rally in the northern village of Musalla amid tight security and voiced their readiness to mark the anniversary of the uprising that engulfed their country on February 14, 2011. The protesters were holding photos of jailed political activists. Since mid-February 2011, thousands of anti-regime protesters have held numerous demonstrations on an almost daily basis in the kingdom, calling for the Al Khalifah monarchy to relinquish power. Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others injured or arrested in the ongoing heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful rallies.

Britain has been bankrolling a Bahraini police watchdog that failed to investigate torture allegations regarding a young political activist on death row in the Gulf state. The funding forms part of a broader £2.1 million (US$3 million) scheme to improve Bahrain’s criminal justice system and was sparked by Britain’s close strategic ties to the kingdom. Those with concerns about detainees’ treatment in Bahrain have been encouraged by the British government to contact the Gulf state’s police ombudsman. But the British-funded watchdog’s failure to investigate a complaint lodged by the family of a political activist on death row has brought its reputation into disrepute. Human Rights Watch warned that credible allegations of abuse and torture of detainees in Bahrain undercuts claims that the state’s criminal justice system is improving. The group said that new institutions in the Gulf state are “sham reforms,” and demanded to know how Bahrain and Britain’s governments could possibly claim they were protecting prisoners from abuse during interrogation.

British arms sales to Bahrain have increased significantly over the past five years, while in the  background abuse claims have continued. Between February 2011 and September 2015, the UK has done deals with Bahrain worth £45m, covering arms such as machine guns, assault rifles and anti-armour ammunition, according to the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) organisation. The total for the three years prior to the uprising was £6m. Saudi Arabia also sent UK-supplied armoured vehicles to Bahrain to safeguard infrastructure, allowing the Bahraini monarchy violently to repress the pro-democracy opposition movement, led by the country’s Shia majority. Doctors who treated protesters were tortured.

In 2014, the UK agreed to open a naval base in Bahrain as a result of a defence agreement. Construction began last November, with Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, celebrating the deal in a photocall with the Bahraini foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. The pair held brand new shovels as they laid the cornerstone of HMS Juffair, the first major naval base east of the Suez Canal opened by Britain since 1971.

A Bahraini human rights group lodged a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development against Fifa over Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa’s candidacy for the football governing body’s presidency. In the complaintthe campaign group Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) alleged that Sheikh Salman committed numerous human rights abuses while president of the Bahrain Football Association. The central allegation concerns the persecution and arrest of footballers who took part in pro-democracy protests. In 2011, Sheikh Salman reportedly chaired a special committee that led to the jailing of more than 150 athletes, coaches and referees. “All the evidence suggests that Sheikh Salman was involved in the government crackdown on free expression and human rights,” said Husain Abdulla, executive director of ADHRB. “This raises serious concerns about his ability to protect the athletes who would be under his care as president of Fifa.”

Yemen is real

In one of the sitcom Friends episodes Chandler attempts to evade an on-and-off girlfriend by telling her he’s been transferred to Yemen. It's the furthest place he can think of, where she can’t possibly follow him. Joey remarks, “Yemen, that actually sounds like a real country.”

It perhaps explains why few care about Yemen and why it has become a forgotten war. This is a complicated civil which makes the simplistic sound-bites and one-minute analysis of the news-rooms difficult so it is often reduced to a proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran. It lacks the clear good guy versus bad guy story-line so isn’t very popular in the search for a television audience. The media, insteads, gravitates towards the bigger regional conflicts in Syria, Iraq or Libya, whose impact on the West is so much clearer to define. Many expressed sympathy for the besieged Syrian town of Aleppo but how many know of Taiz, where in late November UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said 200,000 civilians were living under a “virtual state of siege.”

 Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled the country for 33 years and had been battling a Shiite Houthi rebellion since 2004, being forced out in 2011 amid a power struggle with opposition leaders and their tribal militias, as the country was rocked by months of popular demonstrations against his rule. His replacement, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, is the internationally recognised president of Yemen, but he has been effectively ousted when the Houthi rebels took the capital in January last year. That he was once the leader of a united Yemen and sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States is his main claim to legitimacy, but he also happens to be allied on the side of southern separatists, anti-Houthi tribal leaders and Sunni Islamists. The Houthis are often portrayed as proxies Iran, they have their own grievances, leaders, and decision-makers. Confusingly, they are now also backed by Saleh, their former enemy. Islamist groups have meanwhile taken advantage of the chaos to gain new territory. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and so-called Islamic State are both now present in the strategically important southern port of Aden.

UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year were at a record high – 2.8 billion pounds ($4.2 billion) in the first three quarters alone. That’s dwarfed by US sales. Since September 2014, Obama’s administration has informed Congress of arms sales to Saudi Arabia totaling more than $21 billion. Some members of Congress have spoken out against a proposed $1.29 billion deal on air-to-ground munitions because of how they might be used in Yemen, but the sale appears poised to go ahead.

The World Health Organization counts more than 6,000 conflict related deaths in the last 11 months. Given that Yemen’s health system is decimated – there’s a lack of supplies, not to mention 69 facilities damaged or destroyed – and 14.1 million Yemenis lack sufficient access to healthcare, it’s safe to say the real number is higher. 19.3 million people lack access to clean water or sanitation, and almost 320,000 children are severely malnourished.

OCHCR, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, recorded 318 civilian casualties in January: 118 killed, 200 injured. This brings estimated civilian casualties since March 2015 to 8,437: 2,913 civilians killed, 5,524 injured. By comparison, after a year of conflict in Syria, the UN was reporting 7,500 deaths.

Some day not so far in the future people will be asking why the world didn't we pay more attention to Yemen? Why didn't we take it more seriously when it had a chance to do something?

 To answer Joey, Yemen is a real country and its people are real flesh and blood, too.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sanders - The Churchillian

Bernie Sanders was asked "The world has seen many great leaders in history. Can you name two leaders, one American and one foreign, who would influence your foreign policy decisions?"

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the American leader who had influenced him and the foreign leader was Winston Churchill.
“Winston Churchill's politics were not my politics. He was kind of a conservative guy in many respects. But nobody can deny that as a wartime leader, he rallied the British people when they stood virtually alone against the Nazi juggernaut and rallied them and eventually won an extraordinary victory.”

Churchill’s contribution to the war effort cheered by Sanders was to help contribute to the 1943 Bengal famine, which Churchill later callously exacerbated, leading to the fatal starvation of around 3 million people. Churchill exported huge amounts of food from India to Britain and various war theaters, despite being repeatedly warned that continued exhaustion of India’s food supplies would lead to famine. Churchill's government insisted that India continue exporting grain even as Bengal was collapsing into starvation, shipping out 260,000 tons of rice in the fiscal year 1942-'43. Grain imports that could have eased the devastation were diverted elsewhere, to feed Britain and create stockpiles that could be used to feed Europeans in the event they were liberated from Nazi rule. He declined offers of wheat from the United States and Canada, and had Australian ships carrying wheat bypass India and travel straight to Europe.

"I hate Indians," Churchill told his secretary of state for India, Leopold Amery. "They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." Amery accused Churchill of having a "Hitler-like attitude" toward Indians, but Churchill was unmoved. Amery recorded in his diary Churchill saying that “the starvation of anyhow under-fed Bengalis is less serious than sturdy Greeks.” He even seemed to view the catastrophic famine as a reasonable punishment for India's high birthrate, telling his war cabinet that the famine was Indians' own fault for "breeding like rabbits." Approximately 3 million Indians died in the famine.

During World War II, at the same time that he was rallying the British public with the inspirational speeches cited by Senator Sanders, Churchill produced a secret memorandum that made clear his desire to “drench” German cities with poison gas so that “most of the population would be requiring constant medical attention.” “I want the matter studied in cold blood by sensible people and not by the particular set of psalm-singing uniformed defeatists which one runs across,” he explained. Churchill didn’t get his wish, but he did get to play a hand in another World War Two atrocity that would arguably come to be most associated with his name: the carpet bombing of Germany. Churchill’s bombing of German cities, part of the “extraordinary victory” celebrated by Sanders, deliberately made no distinction between combatants and civilians and killed around 400,000 civilians. Dresden has become the most notorious instance of this, though by no means is it the only one. As World War II drew to a close, Britain indiscriminately bombarded the city with more than 4,500 tons of explosives, reducing the city to smoldering rubble and ash and killing between 18-25,000 people. The bombing turned the city streets into bubbling, molten tar and created a fiery vortex that sucked in everything around it.

It was Churchill, more than any other politician, who pushed for the disastrous campaign  against the Bolsheviks following the first world war. Taking a large British fleet and 1,600 men as Britain struggled to find the money to rebuild, he attempted to restore the Russian aristocracy to power.

 In the 1920s, as the British secretary of state for war, Churchill created the notorious "Black and Tans," in Ireland, a paramilitary militia that he recruited to maintain British control and suppress the Irish nationalists. 

In the Middle East Churchill was particularly keen on chemical weapons, suggesting they be used "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment". He dismissed objections as "unreasonable". "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes... to spread a lively terror". On the Palestinian issue in 1937 he had gone on to explain in a little more detail his views on the worth of subject peoples in his submission to the Palestine Commission, arguing:
“I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”

Churchill was particularly keen on chemical weapons, suggesting they be used "against recalcitrant Arabs as an experiment". He dismissed objections as "unreasonable". "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes... to spread a lively terror"

It was Churchill, more than any other politician, who pushed for the disastrous campaign in favour of the Whites against the Bolsheviks following the great war. Taking a large British fleet and 1,600 men as Britain struggled to find the money to rebuild, he attempted to restore the Russian aristocracy to power

He claimed that the fascism of Benito Mussolini had "rendered a service to the whole world", showing as it had "a way to combat subversive forces" and explained that “If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism... Italy has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.”
He was also an admirer of Hitler "I have always said that if Britain were defeated in a war I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among nations.”

While leading the UK in the 1950s, Churchill was responsible for other crimes. One of these was the CIA- and MI6-engineered coup in Iran, which saw the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadeq overthrown in 1953 after he nationalized British oil holdings in the country. Churchill had approved the plan and later told the main agent in the plot that he “would have loved nothing better than to have served under your command in this great venture.” This was the same coup that Sanders denounced earlier in the debate as an example of how the United States should not act on the world stage. 

In the same decade, Churchill also presided over the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, which saw at least 11,000 killed and many thousands more tortured. Rebels, including Obama’s grandfather, were rounded up in concentration camps that make Abu Ghraib look like Disneyworld. Harvard historian Catherine Elkins has described them as "Britain's gulags." Those imprisoned in the camps were subjected to torture, including sexual violence like castration and rape. Records show that Churchill's government was well aware of what was happening but failed to stop it, even as it received reports of detainees being burned alive during interrogations.

Nor should we forget it was Churchill who sent in the troops to break a coal miners strike. During the General Strike Churchill started printing the British Gazette whose sole aim was to print lies about the strike and spread ruling class propaganda. During the General Strike, Churchill was reported to have suggested that machine guns should be used on the striking miners.

Henry Kissinger may have too much blood on his hands to be a friend of Sanders but Churchill’s hands are also very much drenched in blood to be a person to admire which makes many wonder about Sanders and his knowledge of history.  Churchill was a war-criminal. 

The Return of the Dustbowl

When it comes to the environment, the bad news seems to never end. In the course of the most arid years, each acre of farmland can lose up to 70 tons of soil and then, wherever the dust is dumped, it can smother the crops it lands on. In the Oklahoma Panhandle, the most remote area of the state, recent rainfall has been so meagre that fears have been kindled of a return to the apocalyptic "Dust Bowl" scenes of the 1930s. Back then, agriculture collapsed and thousands of people left.

Gary McManus, the Oklahoma State Climatologist, told the BBC: "The drought right now is the worst in decades especially in western Oklahoma. This has had a big economic impact on our economy - if you look at agriculture in 2011-12 alone there were $2bn losses from crops and cattle." He highlights rainfall statistics for the weather station in Boise City in the midst of one of the hardest-hit areas, Cimarron County, where the total from October 1 2010 to June 12 2014 was just 43 inches. By comparison, over the same period in the 1930s, a time of extraordinary hardship, Boise City received only 41.62 inches of rain.
Dr Renee McPherson of the University of Oklahoma, author of the Great Plains chapter of the recent National Climate Assessment says the region experiences very large climate variability but that models suggest there will be a rise in maximum temperatures this century. That could increase evaporation from the ground and transpiration from plants.
"We're less sure of what will happen to our precipitation patterns, but even if they stay the same, we'll see increased drying with those increased temperatures," she explained. "We aren't sure what the droughts will look like in future - whether they'll be longer - but we feel that because of the increasing temperature they will be intensified."

US scientists have modelled how a 1930s-like "dustbowl" drought might impact American agriculture today, and found it to be just as damaging. A repeat of 1930s weather today would lead to a 40% loss in maize production. In a 2-degree warmer world, it becomes a 65% reduction, the team projects.

"And what we see at higher temperatures is that these crops - maize and also soy - are so sensitive that an average year come mid-century could be as bad as 1936, even with normal precipitation," explained Joshua Elliott, from the University of Chicago's Computation Institute.

Looking at the production of the major grains - rice, wheat, maize and soybeans - the taskforce's scientists found that the chances of a one-in-100-year production disruption was likely to increase to a one-in-30-year event by 2040.  One factor that does not help is the way that production of some of these important crops is highly concentrated. The US, for example, is the leading producer in the world for maize, with most of it grown in just Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois. But Dr Elliott said this concentration would have to be broken up, that a different and more varied approach would be needed if more extreme weather became the norm in the decades ahead. Maize might be better grown further north than the traditional Midwest states, he suggested. "It's most likely they will have to start growing other crops. "Maybe by mid to late century, Iowa will be known as the cotton state rather than the corn state, because cotton will basically have been eradicated out of much of the southern states because the temperature thresholds will have blown way past what cotton can handle there.

Tim Benton from the UK's Global Food Security Programme said  "Rather than seeing bad years as something that's rare and unlikely, we should go into each season with an expectation that 'average weather' doesn't exist anymore. It's either too hot, or too wet, or too cold or too dry. An average summer is very difficult to find these days."

The NHS and “junior doctors”

A comment from our forum that is worth repeating 
The government is doing its best to dismantle all state services and the NHS is no exception.  There have been some good articles on this subject in The Canary recently.
Also, I don’t know if anyone listens to James O’Brian on LBC, but he has spent a lot of time on his radio phone in to discuss this, with many “junior” doctors interviewed.  A “junior” doctor is nothing of the kind, it can be a hospital doctor with 20-30 years’ experience – it just means that he or she has not reached consultant level.  They are the backbone of the hospital service, and are the doctors we all come into contact with when we visit hospital.
From The Canary, re the new contract that have just been forced on doctors 
“The contract redefines Saturday work from 7am-5pm as ‘social hours’- with no pay increase, but offers a 30% premium for junior doctors who work more than one in four Saturdays. Hunt also announced he would lift basic pay from an 11% rise to a 13.5% rise. However, junior doctors called the rise a “cynical attempt” to “manipulate the figures”, claiming it would in fact amount to a real-terms pay cut of 26%, because of extra hours worked.”…….
“However, there is a gaping hole in Hunt’s claim that his imposed contract will bring safer services for patients. The Nuffield Trust thinktank has found:
While the number of patients attending hospital as an emergency is growing by 3.6% a year, hospitals are only receiving 1% more money a year to treat them.
This is entirely unsustainable. The Conservative government’s austerity programme is a threat to the safety of patients, and the imposed contract does nothing to address the gaping hole in funding.
The Department of Health just received an emergency bailout of £205m, but even this is taken from the budget for 2016-17. The Tories are deliberately setting the NHS on course to crash and burn, so the private sector can swoop in and ‘save the day’. Indeed, public dissatisfaction levels with the NHS are at the highest level for 30 years. This is all part of the plan.”
All this is very frightening, combined with the attack on trade union rights, access to legal aid and increased court fees, etc., etc.
The cattle voted to carry on with the slaughterhouse in the last election; but the figures I saw recently were that only 66% of the electorate voted, with only 24% voting for the Tories.
Some democracy.

Drying out?

Around two-thirds of the world population suffer from sever freshwater scarcity, a situation far more dangerous than previously thought, a new study published in the journal Science Advances, by two scientists from the University of Twente in Netherlands. "Water scarcity has become a global problem affecting us all," stated study co-author Arjen Hoekstra, a professor of water management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

Four billion people across the globe live under conditions of sever water shortage for at least one month of the year, adding that half of these people live in India and China. 500 million people live in regions where water consumption is twice as much as the amount received through precipitation during the entire year, leaving them highly vulnerable as natural underground reservoirs increasingly run down. Many countries, including Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia, are living on borrowed time, as their natural underground reservoirs of freshwater are increasingly depleting. The research further revealed that water problem in Yemen is very acute as the impoverished country of the Arabian Peninsula could run out of water within a few years.

The United States is far from immune to the problem, with 130 million people affected by water scarcity for at least one month a year, mostly in the states of Texas, California, and Florida. And among the rivers the study notes that are fully or nearly depleted before reaching their end is the Colorado River in the West.

"The water table is dropping all over the world," Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at the time. "There's not an infinite supply of water. We need to get our heads together on how we manage groundwater," Famiglietti added,"because we’re running out of it."

“Taking a shorter shower is not the answer” to the global problem, said professor Arjen Hoekstra, since just one to four percent of a person’s water footprint is in the home, while 25 percent is via meat consumption. “It takes over 15,000 liters of water to make one kilogram of beef, with almost all of that used to irrigate the crops fed to the cattle,” he explained.

The fact is this. There more than enough water to support life on this planet and several times over. There is not enough water to support the industrial scale consumption and pollution of the same. Drawing up water from the Earth so that desert areas can be greened to grow food, using and polluting fresh water as happened to the Flint River, using water for fracking and returning it to the ground as poisoned are all wastes of a precious resource. Added to this denuding lands of forests, blowing up mountains to get at coal, destruction of wetlands so as to plant crops or build homes or to get at tar sands underneath wastes yet more of that water as natural processes of retention of the same are destroyed. Then we got smokestacks emitting toxins so even the rain that falls from the sky is contaminated. Aquifers are not refilling because agriculture and industry uses the water before it can get to the aquifier. Water evaporates on falling due to lack of tree cover. Water washes away in rivers and streams because of hardened and compacted soil not allowing it to be absorbed into the ground. Water is wasted on things like Golf courses and people are moving in great numbers to areas that do not have the rainfall to support their numbers. It is poisoned by industrial practices such as fracking. It is used to flush away sewage and all manner of toxins and chemicals.

None of this a scarcity issue. It all an issue of misuse and of consumption for things not really needed. If it was truly scarce society would not treat it with such a callous disregard. It is important to recognize the difference between scarcity and misuse. There an agenda to privatize the world's stock of fresh water. Those in power use the meme of scarcity so as to advance the notion that if a financial cost be assigned to the consumer for use of water the market will help allocate that water in the most efficient manner. Capitalism itself is predicated on churning profits through scarcity. The scarcer a resource in demand the more profit to be made. We must by all means address the issues of water misuse. We must NOT use the market and privatization as a cure. While water was not distributed equally around the globe there was more than enough to support all of that life as there is today. It is not scarce. It can support life in its abundance. It is misused by industry

Gasping for fresh air

More than 5.5 million people worldwide are dying prematurely every year as a result of air pollution, according to new research. The main culprit is the emission of small particles from power plants, factories, vehicle exhausts and from the burning of coal and wood. Breathing in tiny liquid or solid particles can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, respiratory complaints and even cancer. Most of these deaths are occurring in the rapidly developing economies of China and India.
According to the study, air pollution causes more deaths than other risk factors like malnutrition, obesity, alcohol and drug abuse, and unsafe sex. The Global Burden of Disease Project puts it as the fourth greatest risk behind high blood pressure, dietary risks and smoking.

"In Beijing or Delhi on a bad air pollution day, the number of fine particles (known as PM2.5) can be higher than 300 micrograms per cubic metre," explained Dan Greenbaum from the Health Effects Institute, in Boston, US. "The number should be about 25 or 35 micrograms."

In China, there are said to be about 1.6 million deaths a year. In China, the dominant factor is particle emissions from coal burning. The project calculates this source alone is responsible for more than 360,000 deaths every year. Even though China has targets to restrict coal combustion and emissions in the future, it may struggle to bring down the number of deaths because it is acquiring an aging population and these citizens are naturally more susceptible to the illnesses associated with poor air quality.

In India, it is roughly 1.3 million deaths. In India, the problem that draws particular attention is the practice of burning wood, dung, crop residues and other materials for cooking and heating. This "indoor pollution" causes far more deaths than "outdoor pollution". Looking at the broad economic trends in India the country runs the risk of having even poorer air quality in the future. Chandra Venkataraman, from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, in Mumbai, warned: "Despite proposed emissions control, there is significant growth in the demand for electricity as well as industrial production. So, through to 2050, this growth overshadows the emissions controls (in our projections) and will lead to an increase in future air pollutant emissions in 2050 in India."

Drug dealers and the profits

GlaxoSmithKline has been fined £37.6m by Britain’s competition authority, the Competition & Markets Authority, for anti-competitive behaviour in relation to its antidepressant Seroxat. The pharmaceutical firm had paid generic drug-makers more than £50m between 2001 and 2004 in return for them delaying the launch of cheaper versions of the drug. The generic drugmakers involved, Generics UK Limited (GUK) and Alpharma, were also fined, bringing the total penalties imposed to £45m. GUK’s former parent Merck was fined £5.8m and further penalties of £1.5m were imposed on Alpharma and its parent Actavis.

The “pay-for-delay” agreements “potentially deprived the NHS of the significant price falls that generally result from generic competition”. In this case, when generic copies did come on to the market at the end of 2003, average prices dropped by more than 70% in two years. In the UK, 4.2m prescriptions were issued for Seroxat in 2000 and sales exceeded £90m in 2001.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Buying off the politician

In the United States, children go hungry. The American people are suffering. Yet this is not a poor country. The top 0.1 percent of Americans are sitting on as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent combined. Long have the powerful few profited from the poor majority. Exploitation is a highly profitable business. Corporate profits are at an 85-year high, while workers' pay is at a 65-year low.

US legislators and corporate executives are tied together. A handful of individuals and their corporations openly spend millions in political campaign contributions (and millions more anonymously in dark money), as well as $2.6 billion every year to lobby Congress (more than the Senate and House budget combined). Corporate executives profit from this investment in corporate welfare (subsidies, grants, incentives, tax breaks and tax loopholes), the preservation of the destructive status quo, and beneficial (or the lack of detrimental) legislation that their lobbyists actually help to write. Corporations have an inordinate amount of control over what legislation gets passed, and since, as one survey shows, big business is only concerned with protecting "the company against changes in government policy," and improving their "ability to compete by seeking favorable changes in government policy," the laws that CEOs want are often terrible for the rest of the country. Corporations are concerned with their bottom line, not people, and so are the bills for which they lobby for.

The Harvard University Center for Ethics reports, "Institutional corruption is, sadly, alive and well in Congress." This is starkly evident in the new 2016 spending bill that gives $400 billion in tax favors to big business.

Walmart is the largest employer in the United States, with 2.2 million individuals on its payroll, yet the company only pays a (brand-new) minimum wage of $10 per hour. If you work 40 hours every week of the year (12 months of nonstop full-time work) that wage adds up to a paltry $20,800, a salary below the poverty line for a family of three. You cannot earn a living off this. In 2014 alone, Walmart gave $2,366,629 in political campaign contributions, and spent $7 million on lobbying. Twenty-seven members of Congress hold investments in the company, and 84 out of 103 (81 percent) of Walmart lobbyists have previously held government jobs. The company is also freely evading $19 billion in taxes, and receiving $23 million a year (or $1 billion throughout its 42-year history) in government tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants - a figure Good Jobs First notes might "very well be the tip of the iceberg." Walmart pays its workers abysmally, abuses its employees and hurts small “mom and pop” and the family farmer businesses - but it has close ties with Congress, and that makes all the difference.

Since 1989, the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the two largest for-profit prison companies in the United States, have given nearly $10 million in political donations and spent almost $25 million on lobbying. In 2013-14, 78 percent of GEO Group lobbyists and 63 percent of CCA lobbyists previously held government jobs. These private prison companies are for-profit in the cruelest sense of the phrase: They lobby for harsher sentencing on nonviolent crimes through three-strikes laws, mandatory sentencing and truth-in-sentencing laws (the abolishment or reduction of parole), and push for new anti-immigrant laws to put more immigrants behind bars. The effects of this lobbying, donating and revolving are clear. GEO Group and CCA receive millions in government subsidies each year. Congress now has a quota for how many human beings must be locked in a tiny room per day: at least 34,000 immigrants, a number that continues to grow each year, eventhough the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has leveled off. If the beds are not filled, the government still must pay the corporation, to the further detriment of the taxpayer. In Arizona, 30 of the 36 state legislators who co-sponsored an (unsuccessful) immigration law to put even more people in detention received campaign donations from private prison corporations like GEO Group and CCA. When Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, GEO Group got a $110 million government contract to build another private prison; GEO has donated almost $40,000 to Rubio's campaigns throughout his political career, the highest amount in career money the company has ever donated to any US senator. Such "parasitic relationships" have allowed the private prison industry to pull in $2 billion in yearly profits.

In 2014, pharmaceutical giant Amgen Inc. gave $1.83 million in political campaign contributions, and, in 2013, spent $9.12 million on lobbying. Twelve members of Congress hold company shares, and 78 out of 93 Amgen lobbyists have previously held government jobs.

In 2013, Amgen received a $500 million financial gift from Congress when a handful of legislative aides slipped a provision into the final fiscal bill, allowing Amgen to evade Medicare cost-cutting controls for two more years. The change was supported by Senators Max Baucus (D-Montana), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), all of whom have political and financial ties to Amgen, receiving $68,000, $59,000 and $73,000, from 2007 to 2013, respectively. Another pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, spent $10,140,000 on lobbying in 2013, and gave $2,217,066 in political campaign contributions in 2014, while 40 members of Congress hold shares in the company, and 48 out of 84 Pfizer lobbyists in 2013-14 previously held government jobs. This company has been allowed to evade $69 billion in taxes. Americans are paying more for their prescription drugs than any other wealthy country on earth (helping to keep us sicker and dying younger than people of other wealthy nations) to the further profit of large pharmaceutical corporations. Unlike any other rich countries Congress does not regulate predatory pricing practices.

In 2014, through PACs and individuals, JPMorgan Chase gave $1.4 million in campaign donations to lawmakers, TPG Capital gave $1.3 million, Wells Fargo gave $2.6 million ($6 million on lobbying), Citigroup spent $2.5 million ($5 million on lobbying), Bank of America gave almost $3 million ($2.7 million on lobbying), Goldman Sachs gave $4.7 million ($3.4 million on lobbying) etc.

Wells Fargo is the fourth-most popular stock in Congress, and JPMorgan Chase is the ninth. General Electric, the company that paid zero taxes in 2010 and helped crash the economy in 2007, is the most popular stockholding in Congress, with $967,038 being the minimum Democratic investment and $1,392,475, the minimum Republican investment in 2014, the last year data is available. GE spent nearly $4 million in political campaign contributions during the 2014 election cycle, and over $15 million in political lobbying. The company has $110 billion stashed offshore, and is taxed at an effective rate of 4 percent - 31 points lower than what it actually owes the IRS. Wall Street CEOs are collecting millions while threatening to crash our economy yet again (JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs are all on the Financial Stability Board's 2015 "too-big-to-fail" list). Meanwhile, Americans are still suffering from the last crash - and Congress, while receiving campaign donations from and investing in Wall Street, is doing nothing to curb their growth. Congress has yet to pass true Wall Street reform.

If the person benefiting from the status quo is trying to convince you that things should stay the same, take a close look at who is filling his or her pockets.

Fyffes are not an ethical company

The Irish-based banana company Fyffes has been accused of having “no respect” for workers’ rights, amid allegations that staff on Central American fruit plantations are being mistreated.

 GMB’s international officer Bert Schouwenburg, said: “Fyffes is an appalling employer that cares nothing for its workers who toil in boiling heat to produce the fruit that makes the company’s profit. They have no respect for domestic or international law governing workers’ rights and must be brought to book.”

The GMB trade union called for Fyffes to be thrown out of the Ethical Trade Initiative, which promotes labour rights, over reports of abuses by subsidiaries in Costa Rica and Honduras. In one case, 14 workers on a melon plantation, which is 60%-owned by Fyffes’ subsidiary Suragroh were allegedly hospitalised after being poisoned by noxious chemicals. The GMB said the female workers had not been given safety gear to protect them while handling fruit.

 It said workers had also reported that they were not being paid the minimum wage, were denied extra pay for overtime and Sundays and were not given public holidays. Workers were also illegally charged for transport to the fields where they work. When they tried to form a trade union branch in January 2016, the GMB said, four members were abducted, threatened and held for 24 hours until they renounced membership.

In Costa Rica, Fyffes’ Anexco pineapple subsidiary was accused of running “a purge” of union members

The Titanic Class Struggle

Bernie Sanders recently featured on a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch based on the theme of the inequality of the 1912 Titanic sinking.

The Titanic carried enough lifeboats for only 52% of its passengers, and judging by which passengers got a seat, class clearly mattered. Some 62% of first-class passengers found places in the boats, compared with 41% of second-class passengers, and 25% of steerage (or third-class) passengers. The crew fared even worse, with just 24% saved.

As Walter Lord, author of the classic account of the Titanic disaster A Night to Remember, observed, the famous “women and children first” rule of the sea only went so far. “In first class, just one child was lost,” Lord noted in a later book, “…while in third class, 52 out of 79 children were lost—about the same percentage as first class men.”

Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon, a Scottish aristocrat and his fashion designer wife. They and their secretary left the Titanic in a lifeboat that held just 12 people, despite having a capacity of 40. Sir Cosmo was later accused of bribing the crew to row away from the sinking ship as well as not to turn back and rescue other victims. Their lifeboat was mocked in the press as the “Money Boat.” Lady Duff Gordon as they watched the ship disappear beneath the waves, with some 1,500 children, women, and men still aboard, lamented to her secretary, “There is your beautiful nightdress gone.”

For more information about the rich V the poor on the Titanic read ‘The Class Struggle Aboard the Titanic’ 

Indian slums are not created by rural migrants

Across the globe half the population live in urban areas whereas in India it is around 30 per cent and it has grown from around 11 per cent in the first census after independence. It is a misconception that migrants from rural areas carry poverty to urban areas.

Planning Commission Prof. S.R. Hashim, in a talk on ‘Policy perspectives of Urbanisation in India’ at the Andhra University Department of Economics dismissed the popular myth that poverty is brought to cities by the migrants. Prof. Hashim said that urban poverty is a creation of the city itself. The slums in the city are a consequence of land prices and non-availability of affordable housing for the low income group and it is not a result of migrant work force. For the migrants there is no shortage of work in urban areas and more often the migrants do better than those who are established in the same agglomeration, he explained. Transportation is the biggest limitation to size of the city.

He explained that throughout the history civilisations have grown around urban centres. Urban agglomerates are centres of knowledge creation, fine arts and crafts have developed in urban centres. Knowledge develops in clusters and not in isolation. The area of interaction is larger in urban areas and this is beneficial to nurturing culture, civilisation and the people.

World Socialism Party (India)

Rural Poverty in Ireland

As the Irish election approaches we should remind ourselves of some of the social problems.

There are approximately 336,000 people in rural Ireland living in poverty. This means that over 336,000 people in rural Ireland are surviving on incomes of less than €10,786 per annum.

The poverty rate in rural Ireland is 4.5 percentage points higher than in urban areas.

Disposable income in the Border, Midlands and Western region was 16% lower than for those living in the Southern and Eastern regions. It also possesses the highest poverty rates, the highest deprivation rates, as well as the lowest median income in the State.

We Shall Fight, Comrade (music video)


We Shall Fight, Comrade
"We shall fight, comrade, for the unhappy times
We shall fight, comrade, for the bottled-up desires
We shall gather up, comrade, the fragments of our lives
The hammer still falls on the bare anvil
Furrows are still made in the clayey soil
Is it our duty to fight?
We shall forget this question
And fight, comrade
We swear by our crushed desires
We swear by our hopes turned to ashes
We swear by our horny hands
We shall fight, comrade
We shall fight
Until Veeru the goatherd
Has to drink goat piss
Until those who till the land
Cannot inhale the fragrance of mustard blossoms
Until the swollen-eyed school teacher’s husband
Does not return from the war front
Until the police constables are duty bound
To strangulate their own brethren
Until the babus keep writing on their files
In human blood
We shall fight
Until there are reasons for us to fight
If we don’t have the gun, we shall have the sword
If we don’t have the sword, we shall have the passion
If we don’t know the art, we shall have the reason
And we shall fight, comrade…
We shall fight
Because one gets nothing without a fight
We shall fight
Wondering why we did not fight until now
We shall fight
To acknowledge our guilt
To keep alive the memory of those who died fighting
We shall fight, comrade…"

World Socialism Party (India)

We Shall Fight, We Shall Win

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fact of the Day (2)

Matt Brittin, the President of Google’s European, Middle Eastern and African arm, told the Public Accounts Committee that he was not sure what his basic salary even was. 

Asked five times to clarify, the technology giant boss said he would look the amount up after the session – apparently unable to provide even a “ballpark figure”.

Fact of the Day (1)

OECD figures that show that of European countries,  the UK ranked 18th with 531 applications for political asylum per million population, between January and November 2015.

Covering up the abuse

The Catholic church is telling newly appointed bishops in a training document that “According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds,” that it is “not necessarily” their duty to report accusations of clerical child abuse, and that only victims or their families should make the decision to report abuse to police. The special commission created by Pope Francis, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, had appeared to play no role in the training programme, even though it is supposed to be developing “best practices” to prevent and deal with clerical abuse. The committee’s position is that reporting abuse to civil authorities was a “moral obligation, whether the civil law requires it or not”.

The training guidelines were written by a controversial French monsignor and psychotherapist, Tony Anatrella, who serves as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family. The French monsignor is best known for championing views on “gender theory”, the controversial belief that increasing acceptance of homosexuality in western countries is creating “serious problems” for children who are being exposed to “radical notions of sexual orientation”. The guidelines reflect Anatrella’s views on homosexuality. They also downplay the seriousness of the Catholic church’s legacy of systemic child abuse.

SNAP, a US-based advocacy group for abuse said the news proved that the church had not substantially changed.  “It’s infuriating, and dangerous, that so many believe the myth that bishops are changing how they deal with abuse and that so little attention is paid when evidence to the contrary – like this disclosure by Allen – emerges,” the group said in a statement.

Fighting for the commons

Freeman’s Wood is an 11-hectare parcel of land on the south-west edge of Lancaster. For years, Lancaster locals treated Freeman’s Wood as common space. Precisely who owned the land has been, for as long as most locals can remember, ambiguous and irrelevant. They treated it as a common – a place formally defined as “pertaining or belonging equally to an entire community, nation or culture”. In its broadest sense, a common can be any kind of resource, a plot of land or even an idea. It can “belong” to a community whether or not this is officially sanctioned. In 2012, locals were incensed when fencing, plastered with “No Trespassing” signs, suddenly encircled the site. No one seemed to know who had built the fence until it was revealed the parcel of land was listed as being owned by The Property Trust plc, an investment firm now headed by PT Holdings, a company registered in Bermuda. The firm owns more than 30 properties in England, and had submitted an informal planning proposal in 2010 to build housing in Freeman’s Wood.

 Now the commoners are fighting back. Council documents record that “local people took exception” to the No Trespassing signs and “they disappeared”. Those signs that remained were subversively mutilated. For instance, “WARNING: Keep Out – Private Property – No Trespassing” became “NARNIA: Kop Out – Prat Proper – Try pissing.” The fence was breached in several places. The intention was clear: no global investment firm was going to bar locals from their shared outdoor space. In Lancaster they are fighting to have Freeman’s Wood designated a village green under the Commons Act 2006. A village green is a type of common used primarily for recreational purposes, and local residents must prove they have done just that for at least 20 years.

In England, commons are often associated with rural agrarian land, mentally welded to the 18th- and 19th-century “enclosure of the commons”, when between 1760 and 1870, about 7 million acres (about one sixth the area of England) were changed, by some 4,000 acts of parliament, from common land to enclosed land. This period was, in effect, the birth of private property as we know it in England – and the consequences have been dramatic. Karl Polanyi saw the enclosure of the commons as “a revolution of the rich against the poor” because enclosing commons was a process of imposing a designation on land from a position of power on a resource that had become a communal space over long periods of local use. The justification for doing so is always economic; however much joy varied use of space might bring to a people, land can always be put to more efficient, profitable use. Today every penny is being squeezed out of every inch of land in England, often through speculative real estate investment by transnational firms such as The Property Trust. In the 18th and 19th centuries, enclosures of the commons were labelled as “improvements”; these days it is known as “redevelopment” or “regeneration”. Today nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06% of the population. But much common land was also preserved during that process. There are still 1.3 million acres of common land in England and Wales.

A New Commons movement has also gained steam in recent years, spearheaded by Duncan Mackay from Natural England and championed by the writer Robert Macfarlane. “The importance of the New Commons movement is that the commons it is envisaging really are new,” says Macfarlane. “They’re not sustained or surviving ancient commons, but actively newly designated land, with all the implications for community involvement, and access and long-term survival that are implied by that hugely powerful designation of a common.”

Syrians - the price they pay

Syria’s national wealth, infrastructure and institutions have been “almost obliterated” by the “catastrophic impact” of nearly five years of civil war. The report notes that “Despite the fact that Syrians have been suffering for … five years, global attention to human rights and dignity for them only intensified when the crisis had a direct impact on the societies of developed countries.”

11.5% of the country’s population have been killed or injured since the crisis erupted in March 2011, the report estimates.

Fatalities caused by war, directly and indirectly, amount to 470,000, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR) – a far higher total than the figure of 250,000 used by the United Nations. The number of wounded is put at 1.9 million.

Of the 470,000 war dead counted by the SCPR, about 400,000 were directly due to violence, while the remaining 70,000 fell victim to lack of adequate health services, medicine, especially for chronic diseases, lack of food, clean water, sanitation and proper housing, especially for those displaced within conflict zones.

Life expectancy has dropped from 70 yrs in 2010 to 55.4 yrs in 2015. In statistical terms, Syria’s mortality rate increased from 4.4 per thousand in 2010 to 10.9 per thousand in 2015.

13.8 million Syrians have lost their source of livelihood. Poverty rose by 85% in 2015 alone. Health, education and income standards have all deteriorated sharply.

45% of the population have been displaced, 6.36 million internally and more than 4 million abroad. The shrinking of the population by 21% helps explain the numbers of refugees reaching other countries.

Spiritual Capitalism

Yoga guru Baba Ramdev is behind one of India's fastest-growing consumer goods companies. Forbes magazine calls his Patanjali empire the "Indian version of Body Shop". Ramdev sells honey, health drinks, fruit juices, sweets, cookies, spices, tea, flour, muesli, pickles, soap, balms, shampoos and noodles.

Encouraged by Ramdev's commercial success, another guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, has unveiled his own line of food products. Better known for his bling and for tacky performances on stage the guru will now also sell pickles, honey, bottled water, and yes, noodles. The guru, who runs a thriving sect, wants the "nation to become healthier" by consuming "organic products". He lists 117 "humanitarian activities" on his website, including efforts to eliminate homosexuality, running an international blood bank, promoting vegetarianism and feeding birds.

In southern India, Sri Sri Ravishankar, a guru popular with the middle and upper classes, has a line of ayurvedic (traditional Indian medicine) products, including toothpaste, protein shampoos, herbal tea, anti-diabetic tablets, balms and syrups, produced out of a "world-class" facility in Bangalore.

The country's most famous woman hugging guru Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as Amma, runs hospitals, a TV channel, engineering colleges and business schools, among other things.

Sri Satya Sai Baba, an orange-robed guru with an afro hairstyle, left behind a multi-billion dollar empire, straddling hospitals, clinics and universities, when he died in 2011.

Indian gurus have long used their followers for commercial gain. Mahesh Yogi, for example, sold yoga and meditation to millions of foreigners. Selling yoga to foreigners is nowadays almost passé.

"Gurus - spurious or genuine - are key players in the business and politics of spirituality," says Lise McKean, anthropologist and author of Divine Enterprise, a book that examines the business side of the Hindu religion. "The activities of many gurus and their organisations in the 1980s and 1990s are related to the simultaneous expansion of transnational capitalism in India and abroad."

The new-age gurus have set their sights beyond their followers and are reaching out to India's growing domestic market, a move that must be making a number of multinational companies skittish. So, their products are now finding buyers even among the non-believers. Spiritual capitalism is alive and well in India. The business empires of devotion are flourishing.

World Socialism Party (India)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

'The Levellers and the Diggers' – Wakefield Forum


Another Wakefield Forum has been arranged following the successful one on the 'EU Referendum' back in November.

Saturday, 13 February from 1pm.
The Red Shed,
18 Vicarage St South,
Wakefield WF1 1QX

Here's the line-up for this event:

Ian Brooke (spoke at 2015 Wigan Diggers Festival; author of "England's Forgotten Revolution: 1641-1663); also written a history of Huddersfield Trades Council
Steve Freeman (member of Republican Socialist Alliance and stood in Bermondsey and Old Southwark in General Election; member of Left Unity)
Clifford Slapper (SPGB)
Alan Stewart (Convenor of Wakefield Socialist History Group)
In the chair will be Kitty Rees

UPDATE Clifford Slapper has had to drop out. His place has been taken by Shaun Cohen from the Ford Maguire Society of Leeds.

Admission is free. There is also a free light buffet and an excellent bar with real ale.

Are we really over-crowded?

In 1960, in the US journal Science, a paper by the distinguished physicist and philosopher Heinz von Foerster and two colleagues declared, “Our great-great-grandchildren will not starve to death. They will be squeezed to death.” The paper was titled Doomsday: Friday, 13 November, AD 2026.

Last year, London’s population reached an all-time peak of more than 8.6 million. By 2050, it is forecast to be 11 million, and possibly as high as 13 million. The rest of the UK’s population is growing, too. The Office for National Statistics expects it to swell by 4.6 million during the 2010s – “the biggest growth in the last 50 years”. In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK had almost 65 million inhabitants, its greatest ever total. The rate of population growth doubled in the 90s and doubled again in the 00s. It is predicted to be home to more people than France by 2030 and more people than Germany by 2047, which would make this much smaller land mass the most populous country in Europe. This expanding population is almost always talked about in negative terms. In 2011, a Royal Commission on Demographic Change and the Environment concluded: “In practice, there is little government can do to have any real effect on the size of the population over the next 40 years.” The boom’s causes are too interconnected and powerful – and the British state insufficiently authoritarian – for our population trends to be set by Whitehall. The commission recommended instead that governments protect the UK by “improving resource use and influencing consumption patterns”

But Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research thinks alarm is wrong. “We find it hard to be positive about population growth. But it has boosted economic growth. It has made austerity less painful, by increasing total employment and tax revenues. And congestion, pressure on services – they’re considerably easier to cope with, from a collective point of view, than the opposite problems. We’ve forgotten what depopulation feels like.” Between 1975 and 1978, the UK population fell. In 1982, it dropped again. “The population of inner London fell by 20% in the 70s,” says Portes. “Many people said London was basically doomed. It was going to go the way of Detroit. Inner London would become wasteland.” The consequences of depopulation could be bleak: boarded-up houses; miles of urban dereliction; dwindling investment and passenger numbers in and on public transport. In some places, despite the recovery of the population since, this emptied Britain still exists.

Jonathan Portes points out that much of the UK is not crowded anyway. Liverpool and Glasgow have barely half as many inhabitants now as they had at their peaks in the middle of the 20th century. All population statistics are by definition slightly out of date and approximate, but while England has roughly 410 people a sq km – the second highest in the EU – Wales has only 150, Northern Ireland 135 and Scotland 70. Even heaving, stressful London is much less full of people than is widely supposed. “London is the lowest-density mega-city on the planet,” says Danny Dorling. “The densest part of London is four times less dense than Barcelona, a normal, well-planned European city that Britons all want to visit.”

Danny Dorling, a demographer and professor of geography at the University of Oxford argues that the UK’s “overpopulation problem” is really the product of poor land use and social division, of corporate wage squeezes and cuts in state provision. “We’ve managed to organise ourselves so that much of our daily lives is crowded. We have the smallest homes in Europe. Meanwhile, there’s lots of wasted space.” Inner London is increasingly taken up by the huge, little-occupied homes of the super-rich and empty investors’ properties. He thinks the population panic will pass. “I find it hard to believe that we’ll have this gloomy discourse on population in 20 years’ time.” Portes agrees: “You can build more schools and hospitals. Population redistribution is hard, but not impossible. You obviously can’t plonk people in the middle of nowhere, but we built new towns in the 50s. Why not build more within commuting distance of, say, Manchester?” Sooner or later, Dorling points out, the current rise will go into reverse. The British economy will enter a recession and cease to be so attractive to immigrants. The Mediterranean economies will recover. Even the civil wars in the Middle East and Africa, and the resulting refugee crisis, will end. At this point, the size of the British population will depend much more on our fertility rate, which is around 1.9 children a family – one of the highest in Europe, but lower than the 2.1 needed to keep a population stable.

Promising the Earth

“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquests over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivatable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of those countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture . . .Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature - but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.” ("The part played by labour in the transition from Ape to Man" – Engels)

Obama's plans to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide from US power plants have been stalled by the US Supreme Court. The court ruled that the president's Clean Power Plan could not go forward until all legal challenges were heard. A group of 27 states, utilities and coal mining companies are blocking the proposal in the courts. They argued that the plan was an infringement on states' rights. Under the Clean Power Plan, individual states were due to submit their proposals on how to meet the CO2 restrictions by September this year. That date will be missed. It is also unlikely that all the legal questions over the future of the Clean Power Plan will be resolved before President Obama leaves office next January. If the Clean Power Plan suffer further setbacks in the Supreme Court it may ultimately render it useless and if that was to happen, the ability of the US to live up to its commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement would be in serious doubt.

Capitalism is simply unable to run on green lines, as its motive force is expansion and domination, with no thought for the consequences for the people or the environment. Capitalism is unable to cope with the ecological challenges that lie ahead, from global warming to depletion of resources. If we look at the world around us today we cannot fail to notice the extent to which nature is being ravaged in the name of short-term economic gain. It is all too clear that the prevailing economic system of capitalist competition is quite incapable of seriously taking into account the long-term considerations with which ecology is vitally concerned. Only where the system's immediate objective of profit maximisation is threatened does it become expedient to act upon such considerations.

Will capitalism bring the world to the brink of ecological disaster? It is certainly having a good try. Its pursuit of profits and its competitive pressures to keep costs down have led to all sorts of inappropriate technology being used in production. Why must the planet live under the threat of ecological destruction. It is impossible to deny that the world is a mess and is becoming a bigger and more horrible mess as the days, months and years go by. Many shut their eyes to it, but quite how long they will be able to carry on doing so is only a matter for speculation. Large tracts of the world are a stinking hole and the stench is wafting in all our directions. The only way to stop capitalism plunging the world even deeper into the mire is for the working class to look beyond the confines of the profit system. Under capitalism technology has not been used to secure a peaceful planet but to increase the dangers and consequences of war. Technology has not been used to create a safe energy supply but to develop one which could kill whole populations. To allow world capitalism to continue is to gamble with our future, with the very conditions of life itself. We need to abolish the state of affairs in which the community as a whole exercises little democratic control over society apart from voting for politicians to run the madhouse for another four or five years.

Instead, we need to organise politically to place the means of life — including energy production which is a basic requirement for any society to function — under the democratic control of the whole community and not just governments or groups of experts. We need to abolish the out-moded and old-fashioned division of the world into nation states. Instead we need to cooperate on a world basis to meet our material needs and energy requirements. Only in a socialist society will the community be able to make decisions about energy production which are based on what is safe and in the human interest (including our shared environment) instead of decisions based on, and limited by, economic considerations. Socialism needs mass understanding and support — and then the world will be changed. We have but one policy. We want socialism, and we say we want it now. Sooner or later; socialism, a system of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use will have to figure on the agenda of the working class if humankind’s collective existence and very survival is not to be put at stake.

The allocation of most resources to the market is incompatible with the realisation of environmental goals. The market responds only to those preferences that can be articulated through acts of buying and selling. Hence the interests of the inarticulate, both those who are contingently so - the poor - and those who are necessarily so - future generations and non-humans - cannot be adequately represented. Moreover, a competitive market economy is necessarily oriented towards growth of capital, and such an orientation is incompatible with a sustainable economy. A non-market system is the only framework within which humans can organize their interaction with the rest of nature in ecologically acceptable ways. As long as production is carried on for making profits and not for needs the same problems of pollution, resource depletion and species extinction will remain.

Before anything constructive can be done, capitalism must go and, with it, the artificial division of the world into separate, competing states. More and more people are becoming aware and concerned about the way the environment is abuse. But campaigning for new laws in regard to protecting the environment is not the answer. The problems cannot be solved by either minor or major policy reforms but only by drastic reconfiguration of the system itself. We need to get rid of a society where a small minority can manipulate nature for their own ends and replace it with one where we all have a real say in how nature is used. The Earth, and all its natural and industrial resources, must become the common heritage of all humanity. A democratic structure for making decisions at world as well as at local levels must come into being. It is to facilitate that process that the World Socialist Movement exist. Our message to the working class is that capitalism’s time has gone. There are plenty of reasons why the task of building a political movement for socialism is more urgent than ever. The choice before us is now “socialism or barbarism”, a progressive move to the next higher stage of social evolution, or a regression from which we may never recover. The choice is yours. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Shunning refugee children

Thousands of young people who sought refuge in Britain as unaccompanied child asylum-seekers have been deported to repressive regimes and countries partly controlled by Isis and the Taliban, the Home Office has admitted. Over the past nine years 2,748 young people – many of whom had spent formative years in the UK, forging friendships and going to school – have been returned to countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria.

It raises serious concerns about what happens to child asylum-seekers when they turn 18, and at a time when Britain is being urged to help thousands of orphaned child refugees from Syria. Unaccompanied child asylum-seekers arriving in the UK are given temporary leave to remain. But this expires when they become adults, at which point many are sent back to their home country – even if they have taken GCSEs and A-levels, integrated into British society and lost touch with their homeland. They often struggle to start new lives, because their Westernised mannerisms mean they are regarded with suspicion.

Labour MP Louise Haigh observed “These shocking figures reveal the shameful reality behind our asylum system. Children who flee countries ravaged by war in the most appalling of circumstances are granted safe haven and build a life here in the UK, but at the age of 18 can be forced on to a flight and back to a dangerous country they have no links to and barely any memory of. With many more vulnerable young children due to arrive in the UK over the next five years the Government needs to answer serious questions and provide a cast-iron guarantee that vulnerable young people will not be sent back to war zones.” 

Meanwhile, US presidential candidate and demagogue, Donald Trump, says he has “absolutely no problem” with “looking Syrian children in the face” and telling them to leave. “I can look in their face and tell them they can’t come here,” because their parents “…may be Syrian, they may be ISIS, may be ISIS-related,” Trump responded to enthusiastic applause from his xenophobic supporters.