Monday, August 31, 2015

Brasil's Land-grabbing

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 According to the report, "Violence Against Indigenous People in Brazil," recently published by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), the number of indigenous people killed in the country grew 42 percent from 2013 to 2014; 138 cases were officially registered. The majority of the murders were carried out by hit men hired by those with economic interests in the territories. In an effort to make way for new investment projects, the Brazilian government and transnational corporations have been taking over ancestral indigenous lands, triggering a rise in murders of indigenous people in Brazil.

In addition to this, there has been a steady flow of people forced to move to small territories after being displaced by economic development projects, as in the case of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where the majority of the population - over 40,000 people - live concentrated on small reservations. These are communities that are exposed to assassinations by hired hit men, lack education and basic necessities, and endure deplorable health conditions. Infant mortality rates in the community are high and rising: According to official statistics, last year 785 children between the ages of 0 and 5 died. A report, titled "Projects that impact indigenous lands," released by CIMI in 2014, revealed that at least 519 projects have impacted 437 ancestral territories, directly affecting 204 indigenous groups. The energy sector has most deeply affected indigenous people; of the 519 documented projects, 267 are energy-related. In second place is infrastructure, with 196 projects. Mining is third, with 21 projects, and in fourth place, with 19 expansive projects, is agribusiness. Ecotourism comes next with 9 projects. According to research carried out by Ricardo Verdum at the Center for the Study of Indigenous Populations at the Federal University in the state of Santa Catarina, of the 23 hydroelectric dams that will be built in the Amazon, at least 16 will have negative social and environmental effects on indigenous territories. They will destroy the environmental conditions that these indigenous groups depend on to live and maintain their way of life.

"In the Amazon region, the region of the Tapajos River, we are being fenced in," João Tapajó - a member of the Arimun indigenous group - told Truthout. "The Teles waterway is being constructed and the BR163 highway widened. This is being done to transport the transnational corporations' grain and minerals," added Tapajó, who is part of one of the groups that make up the Indigenous Movement of the region Bajo Tapajós, in the state of Pará. "We live under constant threat from agribusinesses and lumber companies. There is a construction project to build five hydroelectric dams on the same river. To top it off, our region is suffering from a process of prospecting for the exploitation of minerals, by the companies Alcoa y Vale do Rio Doce."

The states of Mato Grosso del Sur, Amazonas and Bahía figure heavily in the statistics. An emblematic case was the brutal killing of the indigenous woman Marinalva Kaiowá, in November of 2014. She lived in recovered territories, land that for over 40 years has been claimed by the Guaraní people as the land of their ancestors. Marinalva was assassinated - stabbed 35 times - two weeks after attending a protest with other indigenous leaders at the Federal Supreme Court in the Federal District of Brasilia. The group was protesting a court ruling that annulled the demarcation process in the indigenous territory of the Guyraroká.

"We, the Guaraní, principally from Mato Grosso do Sul, have been the greatest victims of massacres and violence," the Guaraní Kaiowá indigenous leader Araqueraju told Truthout. "They have killed many of our leaders, they have spilled much blood because we are fighting for the respect for and demarcation of what is left of our territories that the government does not want to recognize."

Capitalism has no interest in the health, safety or welfare of people or the environment. Its only interests are profits - this is why our planet is in such peril.


Scab Workers

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Pittsburgh firm Allegheny Technologies has been involved in a labor dispute with United Steelworkers that has led to 2,000 members being locked out over the course of this month. A company Storm Engineering, which finds scab workers to break strikes, has placed an ad on Craigslist looking for workers to work 84-hour-week during the lockout. The company is very upfront about that it is hiring scabs - “THIS IS A LABOR DISPUTE SITUATION – EMPLOYEES WILL BE TRANSPORTED ACROSS A PICKET LINE.”




In the UK, new proposed Tory legislation concerning the employment of temporary workers during industrial action will result in similar adverts appearing in the local press and on websites. 


War

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The Institute for Economics and Peace analysis for its 2015Global Peace Index, shows 81 countries involved in external conflict. The worst country in the world for internal conflict was Uganda, according to the IEP. It has been heavily involved in fighting in the DR Congo, as well as in skirmishes with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony in border regions. The US came second, followed by Rwanda and then the UK. Japan is ranked as the eighth-most peaceful country in the world, second only to New Zealand in the Asia-Pacific region. Iceland is the most peaceful country.

The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2014 was substantial and is estimated at US$14.3 trillion or 13.4 per cent of world GDP. This is equivalent to the combined economies of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. Since 2008, the total economic impact on global GDP has increased by 15.3 per cent, from US$12.4 trillion to US$14.3 trillion.

Meantime, tens of thousands of people protested outside the Japanese parliament on Sunday to reject plans put forth by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that would see an aggressive expansion of the nation's armed forces despite a long-standing constitutional mandate for a "defense only" military posture.


Fake Apprenticeships - Cheap Labour

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Hundreds of thousands of young people are being encouraged into low-skill, low-pay, on-the-job training schemes to meet ministers’ “mad” target of creating three million apprenticeships by 2020, new figures reveal. 60 per cent of all new apprentices are now studying for qualifications worth no more than five GCSE passes. In contrast, less than 3 per cent of new apprenticeships were at the higher level – equivalent to a foundation degree. There have been only 220 new science and maths apprenticeships created at any level, while engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships make up fewer than one in five of the new jobs. 

The roles being offered on the Government’s website appear to be little more than traditional school-leaver jobs in clerical, catering and retail work “rebranded” as apprenticeships. There are now apprenticeships in street cleaning, warehouse labouring and shop work. This allows employers to pay a new 18-year-old worker just £2.73 an hour compared with the national minimum wage for that age range of £5.13. While employers are obliged to pay those staff for the one day a week they spend in academic training, this is more than made up for by the government grants available for taking on apprentices.

Experts warned that ministers risked “devaluing” the apprenticeship brand in their efforts to hit an artificial political target. They pointed out that there were only two million 16- to 18-year-olds in the country, many of whom were still at school – making it hard to achieve the Government’s aim even if it were desirable to do so.
“It is a mad and artificial political target which risks undermining the reputation of apprenticeships,” said Professor Alison Wolf, who chaired a Government review into vocational education in 2011. “What the Government should be doing is concentrating on those high-value apprenticeships which teach vocational skills in manufacturing and engineering which historically Britain has been bad at fostering. The danger is that money and resources is put into hitting a meaningless numerical target.”


“The political narrative and the reality of what is happening in apprenticeships are quite far apart from one another,” said Naomi Weir, the Campaign for Science and Engineering group’s acting director. “The political narrative is about high-level, technical, graduate-equivalent apprenticeships whereas the reality is that there are only a few thousand of across the whole apprenticeship system. That is not a viable alternative to university. It could be but there needs to be a lot of effort to get us into a position of having a high-level technical system that we need to run alongside higher education.”

Sunday, August 30, 2015

WSP(NZ) Welcomes Refugees

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WORLD SOCIALISM
Almost every day New Zealanders watch the reports on the global refugee crisis. Anyone paying any attention to current events will have seen the Mediterranean turning into a watery grave as Europe argues over how to deal with this influx of asylum seekers. Workers should understand that the country’s intake is very small. The New Zealand government's response has been just 100 places within the quota since the war began four long years ago.

Many opposing help for refugees present the "put New Zealanders first" line. It goes like this: we have poverty here, once that is totally fixed we can accept more poor people from abroad. This argument mistakes refugees as a burden and is a reasoning mostly founded on xenophobic fears.

Murdoch Stephens, spokesperson and researcher for ‘Doing Our Bit - Double New Zealand's Refugee Quota’ suggests that the quota should keep pace with New Zealand’s rising population. This would increase the quota to 1120 places. But on top of the quota we also take 300 people through family reunification and about 120 people as asylum seekers (once appeals have been counted). Fifteen years ago the average was 500 accepted asylum seekers per year. The significant decrease since then has been due to pre-screening of people before they could get to New Zealand to claim asylum.  Since the government closed that window, it should open a door: 380 more places in the quota to make up for the number we used to take. Add this to the population increase and the quota should be 1500 places. NZ would be doubling the quota in nominal terms, but in real terms we'd be doing only what we've done in the past. The average Kiwi will not notice, but the 750 extra people – roughly 200 families – certainly will.

Amnesty International is also calling for New Zealand to double its refugee quota to help deal with the international humanitarian crisis. New Zealand executive director of Amnesty International, Grant Bayldon said New Zealand had not changed its refugee quota in almost 30 years and was ranked 90th in the world for the number of refugees it took annually. He said not only was New Zealand not leading the world in taking its share of refugees, it was a laggard.

Holocaust Research and Education Centre director Inge Woolf said the Government must increase its current refugee limit of 750 people. She said all nations should increase their refugee quotas. "I'm a survivor of the holocaust and I know my family found it very hard to find shelter. We eventually did by going on holiday visas to England, but most of my family didn't." She said asylum seekers faced huge obstacles as they tried to get to safety. Ms Woolf said she had empathy for refugees trying to flee their homelands. "These people are desperate to leave the places they've gone from. They don't do it for a joy ride and it's up to the nations of the world to take in more of them." She said refugees were valuable citizens to the country that took them in. After WW2 New Zealand took about 1,000 Jewish immigrants and said it had done its bit. Paltry, insignificant and inconspicuous are words they use to describe our efforts at rescuing people fleeing the worst persecution the modern world has seen. We now face the biggest refugee crisis since WW2. Sixty million people are displaced. This time, New Zealand should step up and offer to take some of those Syrian refugees. They're no different from us.

"What I am seeing here is quite hard to comprehend," says New Zealander Corinne Ambler who works for the Red Cross in Macedonia "It's hard to believe it's happening in Europe. These are human beings, leaving their homes, they don't want to do that, and people need to show them a little bit of humanity." Corinne Ambler says anyone could become a refugee. "At the end of the day, they're people, they're human beings, and other human beings should treat them like that."

The mayor of Ashburton says making it easier for migrants to work in Canterbury will, in turn, help reinvigorate the region's economy. Angus McKay said he wanted a friendlier, smoother transition for people coming to the area to live and work from abroad. Mr McKay said there had been an influx of migrants into Ashburton over the past 10 years. According to the latest census figures, he said, the average age of people in the district was falling as a result. 

It is the lucky few only who manage to break through the mass of regulations and restrictions which the various countries insist on imposing before they will allow a refugee to settle within their boundaries. Every country with room to spare should ease open its bureaucratic door and undertake to accept unfortunate men, women and children in urgent need of help with no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. Human beings are being shunted from one place to another, in response to political events, and treated as objects to be kept at arm's length or sent back as quickly as possible to wherever they came from.

Sadly, under capitalism, artificial lines on maps divide the world into different camps, which enable those who own the Earth to defend their bit of it. A sensible society would have no concept of refugee-hood or any of the other states of oppression. Far better to have a world where men and women can be free to travel over its surface without the futile restrictions of nationality, and where he or she can satisfy their needs from a sufficiency of wealth that only socialism can make available. Inside socialism, where the whole Earth is the common property of the whole world's population, we will all be able to travel our planet to work wherever we desire, safe in the knowledge that our brothers and sisters will welcome us on whichever shore we land.
That is the aim of the World Socialist Party (New Zealand). Shouldn't it be yours, too?

WSP(NZ) website:

E-mail: wsp.nz@worldsocialism.org

WORKERS UNITED
SOLIDARITY HAS NO BORDERS

In a festival mood

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The Socialist Party will have literature stalls at these two events and members will be available to answer any questions on the Party’s case that you may have.

Kent Miners' Festival
Monday, 31 August - 10:00am - 5:00pm
Betteshanger Community Park, Colliers Way (A258),
Betteshanger Business Park,
near Deal CT14 OLT

Carshalton Environmental Fair
Monday, 31 August - 10:30am - 5:00pm
Carshalton Park, Ruskin Road,
Carshalton SM5 3DD

What Golden Age?

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In 1919, the percentage shares of total income received by the top 1 percent and the top 5% stood, respectively, at 12.2 percent and 24.3 percent; in 1923 the shares had risen to 13.1 percent and 27.1 percent and by 1929 to 18.9 and 33.5 percent. According to the Brookings Institution, in 1929 “0.1 percent of the families at the top received practically as much as 42 percent of families at the bottom of the scale.”

By 1929, 71 percent of American families earned incomes of under $2,500 a year, the level that the Bureau of Labor Statistics considered minimal to maintain an adequate standard of living for a family of four. 60 percent earned less than $2,000.00 per year, the amount determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics “sufficient to supply only basic necessities.” 50 percent had less than $1700.00 and more than 20 percent had less than $1,000.00.

During the steep recession in the first years of the decade unemployment (among non-farm workers) hit 19.5 percent in 1921 and 11.4 percent in 1922. In 1924 it rose from 4.1 to 8.3 percent, fell to 2.9 percent in 1926 and was back up to 6.9 percent in 1928. 1922-1926 was the period of fastest growth in production and profits before over-investment and under-consumption slowed the rate of GDP and sales growth. Yet two of those boom years saw unemployment comparable to or exceeding 2015’s official unemployment figures.

Real poverty can be disguised, and the principal means of obscuring material insecurity when there has appeared to exist a middle class has been the extension of credit to vast numbers of working households. During both the 1920s and the Golden Age households accumulated mounting debt in order to achieve the “middle class standard of living.” Workers’ wages needed a substantial supplement of financial speed to goose the buying power required for middle class pleasures. The Twenties were the first instance of what was to become an abiding feature of American capitalism, the need for large scale credit financing to sustain levels of consumption required to stave off macroeconomic retardation and persistent economic insecurity. The Hoover Commission Report, a massive study of the economy of the 1920s conducted by a large team of the country’s most prominent economists, reported that:
“The most spectacular and the most novel development in the field of credit was the growth after 1920 of a variety of forms of consumers’ borrowing… the amount of such credit was tremendously expanded, both absolutely and relatively, during the past decade.”

The proportion of total retail sales financed by credit increased from 10 percent in 1910 to 15 percent in 1927 to 50 percent in 1929. Over 85 percent of furniture, 80 percent of washing machines and 75 percent of phonographs and radios -indeed most new consumer items-   were purchased on time. A prime reason GM pulled ahead of Ford in car sales was that it enabled credit purchases through the General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC). Credit was even used to buy clothes. Young single working women often went into debt to keep up with the latest styles. By 1929 sales on installment approached $7 billion. Many more people bought these goods than would have had they had to save the total price in cash before making the purchases. Credit pervaded the household economy and disguised low wages, as it would again in the postwar period.

In Middletown, the landmark study of the industrial town Muncie, Indiana, in the years 1924-1925, Robert and Helen Lynd note the pervasiveness of credit in the everyday lives of working people there:
“Today Middletown lives by a credit economy that is available in some form to nearly every family in the community. The rise and spread of the dollar-down-and-not-so-much-per plan extends credit for virtually everything – homes, $200 over-stuffed living-room suites, electric washing machines, automobiles, fur coats, diamond rings – to persons of whom frequently little is known as to their intention or ability to pay.”

Wages did not increase as rapidly as did debt growth. In fact, wages remained flat throughout the 1920s. So debt grew to the point at which it could not be paid. Borrowing and purchasing power then declined in 1926; under-consumption became conspicuous as excess inventories and capacity built up. Crisis ensued.

In 1946 the ratio of household debt to disposable income stood at about 24 percent. By 1950 it had risen to 38 percent, by 1955 to 53 percent, by 1960 to 62 percent, and by 1965 to 72 percent. The ratio fluctuated from 1966 to 1978, but the stagnation of real wages which began in 1973 pressured households further to increase their debt burden in order to maintain existing living standards, pushing the ratio of debt to disposable income to 77 percent by 1979. And keep in mind that accumulating debt was necessary not merely to purchase more toys, but to meet rising housing, health care, education and child care costs. With prohibitive health care costs the leading cause of personal bankruptcy, debt was necessary for all but the wealthy to stay out of poverty.
By the mid-1980s, with ‘neo-liberalism’ in full swing and wages stagnating, the ratio began a steady ascent, from 80 percent in 1985 to 88 percent in 1990 to 95 percent in 1995 to over 100 percent in 2000 to 138 percent in 2007. As debt rose relative to workers’ income, households’ margin of security against insolvency began to erode. The ratio of personal saving to disposable income under neoliberalism began a steady decline, falling from 11 percent in 1983 to 2.3 percent in 1999. The debt bubble that became unmistakable in the 1990s was to be far greater than the bubble of the 1920s; the financial system by now was capable of far more fraud and treachery than was possible in the 1920s, thanks largely to deregulation and derivatives.

The majority of Americans were poor. Working Americans were poor. America was a poor country. In neither period was hard work and the corresponding wage sufficient to avert relative poverty. In the absence of organized resistance, the current age of rising inequality, low wages, high un- and underemployment and increasing economic precariousness will persist indefinitely.


12 countries with highest wealth inequality

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This list is ranked based on the Gini coefficient. To put it simply, the closer the number is to zero, the more equal the financial standing between rich and poor. No country has ever gone below 30% so we can say that there is always at least a 30% difference between the wealth of the rich and the poor.

12. Belize
Wealth Inequality: 53.1%
Found on the eastern coast of Central America, Belize is the only country in the area with a national language of English. It has the lowest population density in the region but is one of the highest growing populations of the world so far.

11. Colombia
Wealth Inequality: 53.5%
One of the more popular countries in South America, Colombia is very diverse. Their population consists of different races, from immigrants of other countries to colonist lineages from centuries ago. The country has been well known for armed conflicts in the past.


10. Zambia
Wealth Inequality: 54.6%
Since Zambia’s independence in the 60s, growth and improvement have been slow, and it was not only until a few years ago that Zambia experienced economic growth. This has been due to an effort to stem out corruption and improve the standard of living. Zambia is now known as one of the world’s fastest economically reformed countries.

9. The Central African Republic
Wealth Inequality: 56.3%
Also known as CAR, the Central African Republic is known as one of the poorest countries in the world despite being rich in natural resources. This may be a case of mismanagement, but the country has had its share of violent conflicts especially between religions.


8. Honduras
Wealth Inequality: 57.4%
 The country has been constantly experiencing political instability and social problems. Due to this the country has become one of the poorest in the world. They also have the highest murder rate in the world.

7. Angola
Wealth Inequality: 58.6%
Angola is one of the oldest inhabited regions in the world. Despite it being one of the fastest growing economies today, it still has a lot of problems to overcome. The country’s standard of living remains low and so it’s population’s life expectancy.

6. Haiti
Wealth Inequality: 59.2%
Haiti is one of the first countries to have success with a slave revolt. They are also one of the first countries to receive independence in Latin America having defeated the superpowers of the West. As of now Haiti is riddled with problems especially with the frequency of political killings and instability.

5. Botswana
Wealth Inequality: 61%
Botswana is the fastest growing economy in Africa and was formerly the poorest country in the world. The country is one of the most sparsely populated places in the world. One of the major problems they have to overcome is the high HIV/AIDS infection rate.

4. Namibia
Wealth Inequality: 61.3%
Coming from a history of violence, Namibia has become one of the most stable countries in the world having a consistently growing economy because of accessible natural resources. Growth has been slow however as the population remains very low and sparse due to the country being mostly desert.

3. Comoros
Wealth Inequality: 64.3%
Comoros is an archipelago island nation found in the Indian Ocean. They are a mixture of different cultures. According to studies half of the population of the country is below the international poverty line.


2. South Africa
Wealth Inequality: 65%
South Africa has a diverse and somewhat solid history having very little violence in terms of their politics. They are the second largest economy in Africa but they still suffer from a very high poverty rate and inequality.


1. Seychelles
Wealth Inequality: 65.8%
One of the reasons why inequality is quite noticeable in a country like Seychelles is because of their low population. With such a low number for comparison, the differences are made larger despite the country being quite stable.




You Stink!

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“This is not a protest for political parties. It is for all the Lebanese people... we are against the parties that are exploiting citizens,” international theatre director Lucien Bourjeily, one of the figureheads of the movement, told AFP. According to Reuters, many of the demonstrators were chanting “Make it a revolution!,” while others adapted the Arab spring slogan: “People want the downfall of the regime!”

Rubbish has been piling up on the streets of Beirut since Lebanon's largest landfill shut down last month with no ready alternative. This led to the creation of the You Stink movement, which blames political paralysis and corruption for the failure to resolve the crisis. It was a stroke of genius that Lebanon's young protesters named their movement "You Stink". In just two words, they captured both the essence of their country's immediate crisis over uncollected garbage and its longer-term structural problems. The "You Stink" garbage campaign has been mobilizing independently of the big sectarian parties that dominate Lebanese politics.

Parliament doesn't meet, can't muster the votes needed to elect a new president (and so the post has been vacant for almost two years), hasn't passed a budget in a decade, and has twice extended its mandate because it can't agree on how to run the next election. In the absence of effective state institutions, power and privilege reside in the country's clans and sects and the feudal chiefs who run them. In a perverse way, this weak state and the agreed upon distribution of power and patronage served, for a time, as a source of Lebanon's resilience. It provided members of each sect a degree of access and patronage, and absorbed their discontent. This system became ossified, but remained "the only game in town". The neighbouring Syrian civil war has inflamed passions, directly involved some Lebanese (most notably Hizbollah), and brought one and one-half million Syrian refugees into Lebanon, placing severe stress on the country's resources and decaying political system.

One of the movement’s activists, Michel Elefteriades, a Lebanese artist, explained "This is not similar to what happened in Egypt or elsewhere where people were manipulated, or without greater political awareness. There is an awakening of democratic awareness, and it has been a very long time since Lebanon has not come out of these political parties and religious sects to ask that all political leaders be punished or sidelined.” He added: "It's a sort of popular revolution, a mix of many movements – some anarchic in the good philosophical sense such as the refusal of the centralised power – it's really a grassroots movement so I don't think it’s going to stop. The movement will grow." Elefteriades claims their goal is the same: "To bring the collapse of a system that has been in place for decades." The government's failure to solve crises linked to electricity and water shortages stems from what Elefteriades describes as "a rotten political class" and "our use of confessionalism" – a system of government that proportionally allocates political power among a country's communities (whether religious or ethnic) according to their percentage of the population. "On top of everything now we have that waste, and it has become unacceptable, especially because we are not a country at war. We are a country with an economy that is holding together rather well, with very rich people and luxury shops on every corner. But, despite that, it's worse than in poor countries or those at war.”

“There is a leadership that is ready to take over and there will not be a vacuum," Elefteriades explained. "There are many people, with great capacities, but that are still suffocated by this political elite and this new class will never be able to lead this country because those in place don't want to give them space. So, as soon as that old political class will have left, there will be the emergence of a new political class, from one day to the next." The activist described how a new government could be made up of personalities from the public sector, who have been in the political life for 20 or 25 years but "have been marginalised by those in power, who have money and who have the system on their side". A second possibility could be to set up a military interim government. "I say a military government because, in Lebanon, even if I consider myself to be a bit of an anarchist, I trust the military. We have officers who have values and ideals – so they should be more trusted than the politicians," Elefteriades said.

SOYMB recalls a similar optimism when the youth peacefully took to the streets of Syria a few years ago to demand democracy, only to see it succumb to the State’s repression which led to the militarization of the protests and the subsequent involvement of outside parties with their own political agendas. We can only hope that history does not repeat itself. 

The recession begins in the womb

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Economic recessions can be as damaging to a baby’s health as smoking or drinking during pregnancy, according to the first study to establish a causal link between foetal exposure to financial stress in an advanced economy and the health of babies at birth.

Research by Arna Vardardottir, assistant professor at the department of economics at Copenhagen Business School, tracks the unexpected collapse of Iceland’s economy in 2008. After studying the weight of newborn children in Iceland’s national birth register, Vardardottir found that babies who had been in their first trimester during the crisis were born 120g lighter than the average. They were also 3.5% more likely to have a low birth weight (less than 2.5kg) than average and were generally more likely to suffer from neonatal diseases.


Vardardottir said her results showed that financial stress had an impact similar to those of the two most widely cited behavioural issues during pregnancy: smoking and drinking. “My results show that a sudden deterioration in economic conditions has a negative impact on birth outcomes and that children in the early stages of gestation are more vulnerable to such shocks,” she said. “The findings suggest large losses from financial distress that have previously been ignored: children with worse health at birth can expect to earn substantially less over their lifetime, and low-income families are more likely to experience financial stress.” She explained, “The results imply large welfare losses from financial distress that have hitherto been ignored because children with worse health at birth can expect substantially lower lifetime earnings,” she said. “They suggest that economic hardships may in general exacerbate income inequalities in the long run, since low-income households are typically more exposed to financial stress.”

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The reason why some refugees died

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NOT JUST REFUGEES BUT ALL ARE WELCOME 
Austrian police opened the back of a truck abandoned on the side of a motorway to find the bodies of 71 migrants. They had suffocated after paying smugglers to transport them across the border from neighbouring Hungary. Despite having made it into the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone, they still felt the need to travel clandestinely to avoid being fingerprinted and registered for asylum in Hungary, which would have offered them few opportunities to work or integrate.

“This tragedy comes as a cruel reminder that the Dublin Regulation results in death,” commented Hungarian NGO Migszol after the news broke. “What we need is a safe passage through our country, and for that, we need to fight the European legislation.”

Under the EU’s Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers registered and fingerprinted in one country, for example Hungary, can be returned there if they later try to register an asylum claim elsewhere, say in Germany or the UK. The rule was designed to determine which member state was responsible for processing an asylum claim and to deter people from registering multiple claims. In practice, northern EU states have used it to avoid processing claims for people already registered in another country - usually frontline states such as Italy, Greece and Hungary. As well as placing additional pressure on frontline states, it forces refugees to stay in a country where they may have no family connections, cannot speak the language, and struggle to support themselves.

Critics point out the rule places an unfair burden on frontline states such as Greece and Italy, which are already struggling to cope with thousands of new arrivals and deters such states from fingerprinting and registering. Italy in particular has been accused of failing to fingerprint a significant portion of the 170,000 migrants who arrived there by boat in 2014. For their part, asylum seekers intent on joining family members in Sweden or Holland, or on finding work in the UK, are extremely reluctant for their fingerprints to be loaded into Eurodac, an EU-wide fingerprint database.

Greg O’Ceallaigh, a London-based barrister who deals with Dublin removals of asylum seekers from the UK back to countries such as Italy, said that many asylum seekers were taking clandestine routes through Europe to evade detection until they reached a country where they had a family member or at least spoke the language. “We see people who have burned the skin off their fingertips in an effort to avoid being fingerprinted,” he told IRIN. “...There does need to be a more politically brave response to all of this; a proper pan-European asylum strategy.”

Jeremy Corbyn - Counterfeit Socialist

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A leaflet being distributed by our Kent and Sussex Regional Branch on Jeremy Corbyn.



Talking Marx in India

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An article on Marx was recently published in the Indian magazine The Statesman and our comrades in the World Socialist Party (India) responded:

Dear Editor,
In the evening of August 23, 2015 in the Sunday Discussion Meeting of our party, the World Socialist Party (India), we read with interest the Saturday Statesman, August 22, 2015 article “Relevance of Marx” written by Professor Gargi Sengupta. It is really heartening to note that a nineteenth century communist revolutionary, Karl Marx, is being revisited by the 21st century mainstream press to find answers to the present-day woes and worries. Hopefully, this signals the beginning of Marx’s media-ride in India too. This happens because, as Marx and Engels themselves observed, “consciousness can sometimes appear further advanced than the contemporary empirical conditions, so that in the struggles of a later epoch one can refer to earlier theoreticians as authorities." – (The German Ideology) “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past,” wrote Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

In her defensive appreciation of Marx, Gargi Sengupta has rightly claimed that “Marxism enables us to understand the nature of the capitalist crisis,” and also that “Marx believed that human development requires a cooperative society based on common ownership of the means of production.”

She has excellently pronounced, “The overall significance of religion may have declined, but the family, the schools, and the capitalist controlled mass media continue to brainwash the working class and prevent them from realizing their true destiny.”

Her observation: “From a global perspective, a class-based analysis is still relevant,” holds up one of the basic principles of Marxism. She defends Marx for “making a very fundamental contribution” whereby “He placed human beings and their conscious, purposive activity – human labour – at the centre of his analysis” and also for a “unique contribution” – the role of “class struggle” in “human historical development”. She is right in pointing out that “Marx’s writings still evoke interest across the world. … Marx’s writings can throw light on the problems of our age”. Simply because, as Marx viewed, “The nature of capital remains the same in its developed as in its undeveloped form”; and “Production of surplus value is the absolute law of this mode of production.” – Capital , vol - I

Actually, Marx is more relevant today than ever before.

This said, I would like to comment on a couple of inaccuracies in Professor Sengupta's article. She says, “Marx visualized the remedy in violent revolution followed by decades of civil and international warfare.” This is a half-truth. True, in his early years Marx held a “violent revolution” view. However, eventually and finally he arrived at the following conclusion: “proletariat – organized in a separate political party. That such organization must be pursued by all the means, which the proletariat has at its disposal, including universal suffrage, thus transformed from the instrument of trickery, which it has been up till now into an instrument of emancipation.” – Written on about May 10, 1880, Printed according to L'Égalité, No. 24, June 30, 1880, checked with the text of Le Précurseur.

Secondly, in portraying capitalism as only a “private enterprise” system she has missed the yardstick of defining state capitalism – the defining characteristic of which is state ownership and control of the means of production and articles for distribution. As a result she is mistaken in recognizing the erstwhile so-called ‘communist’ dictatorial and despotic state capitalist regimes of Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. How could there be “the eclipse of Communism” when Communism (Socialism the same) has nowhere and never been attempted at all? Just what happened in these countries was appropriately described in 1918 by Fitzgerald of the Socialist Party of Great Britain: “What justification is there, then, for terming the upheaval in Russia a Socialist Revolution? None whatever beyond the fact that the leaders in the November movement claim to be Marxian Socialists.” – Socialist Standard, Aug 1918

Hopefully the letter will be published by the magazine in due course, if not, then the reply on this blog will have to suffice. 

For those interested in the WSP (India)
Email: wspindia@hotmail.com




Where Are the Syrian Refugees (video)

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Paying the rich to pay the poor

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Peter Georgescu has a message he wants America’s corporate and political elites to hear: “I’m scared,” he said in a recent New York Times opinion piece. He adds that Paul Tudor Jones is scared, too, as is Ken Langone.

Georgescu is former head of Young & Rubicam, one of the world’s largest PR and advertising firms; Jones is a quadruple-billionaire and hedge fund operator; and Langone is a founder of Home Depot.

“We are creating a caste system from which it’s almost impossible to escape,” Georgescu wrote, not only trapping the poor, but also “those on the higher end of the middle class.” Georgescu has the remedy: “Invest in the actual value creators—the employees,” he writes. “Start compensating fairly (with) a wage that enables employees to share amply in productivity increases and creative innovations.” They have talked with other corporate chieftains and found “almost unanimous agreement” on the need to compensate employees better. How to do that? Get the government to pay. “Government can provide tax incentives to business to pay more to employees.” That’s this big idea. The government will subsidise corporate wage-hikes with tax-cuts. Their proposal is to basically have the government pay them to pay their employees more.

Fact of the Day

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Data from the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions reveals the death of more than 2,000 benefit claimants between 2011 and 2014. 

The DWP figures disclosed that most of the claimants were reported dead within weeks of being declared “fit for work” and taken off sickness benefits. Between December 2011 and February 2014, 2,380 were those who were found fit for work, meaning that they were at risk of losing their ESA benefit.

Quote of the Day

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“The tragedies we’ve seen in the last 24 hours highlight the failure of Europe’s migration and refugee policy. We should be ashamed to see children dying on our doorstep. The people who lost their lives in the truck in Austria, including four children, were reported to be Syrians – they had fled unimaginable horror in their home country only to die a lonely death just where they should have been safe. Desperate people are making dangerous journeys to reach sanctuary in Europe, and we are failing our fellow human beings if we let them die trying.” - Justin Forsyth, Save the Children. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Catholic Kama Sutra!

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Father Knotz, a celibate Polish Roman Catholic Priest, has written a best-selling sex-manual, ‘Sex Is Divine’- but for married couples only!
______________________________________________

The Catholic Kama Sutra!

 A celibate Priest’s sex-pertise,
Aids married couples with the ‘hots’;
To try out bondage as a wheeze,
To tie each other up in ‘Knotz’!

Rome’s devotees are off the hook,
 For making love in ways thought odd;
 It sayeth in the Priest’s new book:
“The new positions pleaseth God”!

 In days of yore a work as such,
 Would top the Vatican’s banned list; (1)
 As priests in lust’s unholy clutch,
 Might fancy a forbidden tryst. (2)

 As in the past some monks had erred,
 (Their ‘holy spirit’ was Chartreuse)
And on the whole they much preferred,
Those sins involving ‘his’ not ‘hers’!

These willy-nilly goings on,
 Employed those bits Saint Paul eschewed; (3)
 In places where the Sun ain’t shone,
 With practices both lewd and crude!

Unholy habits struck down nuns,
Who biblically knew Beelzebub, (4)
And ended up with ‘oven buns’,
Inside the convent’s pudding club!

In Inquisition times a purge,
 Was launched to quell this moral lapse;
 And flagellate those with the urge,
To sport with both the gals and chaps.

 Now in the Priest’s sex-guide today,
Of the positions shown therein;
The missionary way is passé,
Though onanism’s still a sin. (5)

The book’s sold out through Christendom,
Allegedly as each page shows;
 Hot pics of Blair and Widdecombe, (6)
 In many an erotic pose!
______________________________________________

(1) The Index Librorum Prohibitorum.
(2) Henry III, Bishop of Liege, was deposed in 1274 for having 65 illegitimate children.
(3) Paul was the earliest Christian writer to believe that sex ought to be avoided if possible.
(4) The Devil: Beelzebub (Baal-Zebub) the Canaanite deity who, in the Bible, was transformed into Satan.
(5) An unspeakable depravity thought to be rife amongst Boy Scouts - hence Lord Baden-Powell’s warning to them that it could cause blindness, insanity and hairy hands.
(6) Both converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism. © Richard Layton

Sunday, August 23, 2015

‘Us’ and ‘Them’

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There is no immigration problem. There is a problem of poverty and inequality, wars and civil wars, but most of all, a problem of an economic system that render the lives of many people in the world unsustainable, sentencing many to misery and suffering. Anybody can become a refugee. Rich or poor, black or white, male or female, adult or a child. There can never be absolute safety in this capitalist world. By the Grace of God, go I, according to the saying. Only a few decades ago, the Irish Republic were preparing to set up refugee camps for displaced Northern Irish catholics.

The Al Jazeera's  news organisation said that it would no longer use the word 'migrant' to refer to people trying to cross the Mediterranean.
"The word migrant has become a largely inaccurate umbrella term for this complex story," online editor Barry Malone wrote. Malone went on to  say that the word 'migrant' "has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative" and from now on Al Jazeera will use the words 'people', 'families' and 'refugees'. He explains “ It is not hundreds of people who drown when a boat goes down in the Mediterranean, nor even hundreds of refugees. It is hundreds of migrants. It is not a person – like you, filled with thoughts and history and hopes – who is on the tracks delaying a train. It is a migrant. A nuisance. When we in the media do this, we help to create an environment in which a British foreign minister can refer to "marauding migrants," and in which hate speech and thinly veiled racism can fester. We become the enablers of governments who have political reasons for not calling those drowning in the Mediterranean what the majority of them are: refugees.”

You cannot ignore the headlines in the papers, the deaths in rusty leaking refugee boats, the futile attempts to scale razor-wire fences, the death risking scrambles to get on lorries and trains. We cannot turn deaf ears to the desperate cries for help. They have little promise of a future of their own. Political refugees from repression, war refugees, economic refugees who run away from hunger, and soon to arrive if not already, the climate change refugees. They have endured horrific violence and terrors. To governments they are all nobody's people. But to socialists they are our fellow workers. We offer what sympathy and solidarity we can to brothers and sisters in need.

The humanitarian disaster the world is seeing is almost beyond imagination. Hatred is once again  on the march. In almost every country, nationalists exploit concerns over immigration, crime and jobs in ways that easily translate into finger-pointing scapegoating of “foreigners”. There has been attacks on refugees and refugee centers. Yet this wave of attacks has led to another wave: one of public compassion to assist migrants with their basic needs. In a number of countries on the front lines, private groups have formed to provide temporary housing, language training, clothing, and health services to supplement the services of overwhelmed governments.

“While attacks against refugee homes dominate the headlines, a new movement to aid asylum seekers is taking root in Germany,” declares the German publication Spiegel. “From Munich to Berlin, Dresden to Hanau, tens of thousands of people are standing up to help refugees: high school and university students, workers, retirees.”

 One survey shows a quarter of Germans would share their homes or offer housing to a refugee.

“One needs to recognize the agency and dignity of those migrants and refugees,” says François Crépeau, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights. “They face very difficult choices as well as exclusion and violence on a daily basis, and yet they endure, they persist. Migration is most often a survival mechanism undertaken out of love. And rather than trying everything we can to prevent them from coming, welcoming them in a regulated way would be a much more productive response.”

Instead we are faced with a situation that Arezo Malakooti, a senior researcher with Altai Consulting, a firm that conducts on-the-ground investigations for the U.N. refugee agency, describes is becoming “intensely commercialized,” with migrants being treated increasingly like “market commodities,” with a clear hierarchy based on means and nationality. In Libya, the hub for the lucrative trade in migrant smuggling from Africa to Italy, the system determining migrants’ survival is based primarily around wealth, migrants said. Smugglers there aim to maximize profits through a web of extortion, abuse and ultimately price differentiation. “Syrians have put more money together, they are able to pay more so they’re placed at the top level of the boat and sometimes even buy life jackets,” said Ms. Malakooti. “Sub-Saharans are put in the hulls. If the boat takes water, they’re the first to drown,” she added. 

This is verified by Lamin Wandi Dampha, a 17-year old Gambian, was in the belly of a boat for two days in April. “There was no food, no water, no light, no toilet,” he said, at a reception center in Pozzallo, Sicily. He said he paid the smuggler $300, whereas many Syrians say they pay as much as $1,800. And his claim is corroborated by others

Smugglers in Libya for example tend to believe Eritrean refugees are worth more money than West Africans, because many have wealthier families in Europe, according to researchers and Eritrean refugees. They abuse or kidnap Eritreans and extort their families, getting payments of thousands of dollars from relatives abroad.


Don't Blame the Old Folk

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The term ‘baby boomer’ is increasingly used as a term of abuse with an increasingly polarised public debate pitching generations against one another.

The popular notion that wealthy baby boomers are hoarding the country’s wealth in retirement, at the expense of younger generations, is wrong, according to a TUC report into wealth inequality. It acknowledges that today’s young people will be poorer than their parents, but says the answer is not to cut pensioner benefits. The TUC attacks the “myths that all pensioners are rich and that reducing older people’s benefits would be a solution to young people’s problems”, and warns that “growing wealth inequalities across generations” are the real problem.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, says: “Big cuts to working-age social security benefits [over the past five years], combined with relative protection for some pensioner benefits, sparked divisive debate about intergenerational inequalities and whether the so-called baby boomer generation have been feather-bedded at the young’s expense.”

Written by James Lloyd, director of the Strategic Society Centre, the report draws on an analysis of the UK Wealth and Assets Survey by researchers at the University of Bristol. It reveals that people of working age are those most likely to be wealthy, with two thirds of the richest 10 per cent of households aged between 45 and 64. Only about a quarter of such households are aged 65 or above. Although rising house prices have “seen some older households accumulate as much wealth during retirement as during their working lives”, there is “substantial inequality” among pensioners, with only 5 per cent paying higher-rate income tax, the report adds.

Cuts to public spending on pensioners would have little, if any, impact on young people. Winter Fuel Payments are cited as one example. If these were cut, the £2.1bn which the DWP would recoup would result in extra public spending of only £181 each for 16- to 30-year-olds, it says. “Cuts in support for older people will eventually become cuts in support for today’s young workers,” it adds. “Reducing public expenditure on pensioners as a means to increase spending on young people would not provide the answer to the challenges today’s new labour market entrants face, leaving wider inequalities untouched and young people even worse off as they grow older themselves.”

A spokesperson for Age UK said: “Of course, some older people have been lucky in life and as a result are financially comfortable and secure, but unfortunately this is by no means the case for all or probably even for most. It is in all our interests for young people to get on and do well, and for older people to have enough money for a decent retirement. Surely these aims are complementary, not in opposition to each other.”

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Green New Zealand?

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A WORLD TO WIN, A PLANET TO SAVE 
In just 100 days or so, world leaders will gather in Paris for the COP21 climate change talks. The urgent need for action to reduce CO2 emissions and stop global warming was recently described by both Barack Obama and Pope Francis as a “moral imperative” and summed up by President Obama who said: “We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change, and the last generation to be able to do something about it.”

New Zealand’s recently-announced climate change target are the second weakest of nine countries and regions. Only Canada will take a less ambitious goal to the United Nations December climate change conference in Paris. Even the carbon tax-scrapping Australians promise to do more than New Zealand to address climate change. Of the nine countries, New Zealand has the slowest greenhouse gas reductions planned for the decade beginning in 2020 decade.

Victoria University climate change scientist James Renwick said it was disappointing to see New Zealand could not even match the commitment of Australia, let alone the European Union’s goal to cut 40% from its emissions by 2030. “Australia are not actually doing particularly well either, but New Zealand is doing worse. It is not a good look. New Zealand already has a rather poor reputation in these meetings and negotiations, in my understanding.” The comparisons contradicted the government’s description of its target as “fair and ambitious”, Renwick said “It’s unimpressive and it is not fair, because it is not fair on future generations. As this becomes more and more important, this is going to hurt us, economically.” http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/aug/21/clean-green-new-zealand-falls-behind-australia-on-climate-change

Paul Young, co-founder of Generation Zero, said “New Zealand’s emissions are growing and the ministry for the environment tells us we’ll be nowhere near our target by 2030 under current policies. It would look even worse for New Zealand if you took that into account. Even if we had a plan to meet these weak pledges, we’d be in a much better position.”

Let’s cut to the chase, civilisation as we know it is coming to an end unless urgent action is taken. We are doomed and our time on this planet is rapidly approaching its endgame. The capitalist structures of society, and the foundations that our economic system and way of life are built on, are completely unsustainable. We are blindly and seemingly willingly accelerating towards our own self-destruction as a species. Many may think that this is an exaggeration and little more than a depressing dystopian look to the future.

The rising global temperature on both land and in the sea impacts on every living thing on this and it is caused by increasing levels of C02 in the atmosphere and has numerous knock on effects. New Scientist reported that a 2 degree rise in global temperatures would see water availability drop by 20-30%, crop yields in Africa drop by 5-10%, 40-60 million more people exposed to malaria in Africa, 10 million more people affected by coastal flooding, Arctic animal species will begin to die out, and Greenland’s ice sheet could melt permanently.
The UN has said that “desertification is a phenomenon that ranks among the greatest environmental challenges of our time.” Through unsustainable farming practices and through the impacts of climate change, more and more arable land is lost each year. It is occurring at “30 to 35 times the historical rate” and causes 12 million hectares of land to be lost every year. That is 23 hectares every minute with a single hectare being roughly the size of a rugby pitch. 1.5 billion people are currently affected by desertification.
With capitalist society’s relentless drive for bigger, better and more expensive, we have taken the phrase “out with the old, in with the new” to an unparalleled stage. Human waste and pollution has turned enormous parts of our Earth into dumping grounds of last seasons’ commodities. Its detrimental effect can be seen across the globe. Scientists from the US, France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand have found that there are “more than five trillion pieces of plastic, collectively weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes… floating in the world’s oceans”. On the island of Midway, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest continent, birds are found dead with plastic in their stomachs.
In March of this year, The Observer reported that the “fresh water shortage will cause the next great global crisis”. Though typically many see this problem as an issue for the developing world, Californians can attest to the fact that it is a concern for us all. The state is now in its fourth year of drought and cities and towns are being urged to cut back on their water usage by 35%. The crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, recently admitted: “For us, water is now more important than oil.”
There are also increasing number of floods each year, more numerous and more violent tropical storms and cyclones, droughts, the threat of volcanic explosions, earthquakes, rising sea levels, soil erosion, coral reef destruction, ocean acidification, nuclear waste, and unsustainable and damaging human farming methods.

The World Socialist Party (New Zealand) would love to write about the coming global social revolution, but realistically it seems more likely that the world will collapse rather than capitalism being overthrown. Our society and our way of life need to be in harmony with nature, not always battling against it, because in a fight against Earth and Nature there can only be one winner, and it will not be us. There are so many ongoing signs that the planet is heating up, even “on fire” when one reads the reports of raging forest-fires around the globe. Globally, surface temperatures have been setting record highs. Human-induced climate change is relentless. As the WSP(NZ) continually point out, to pollute or not, is a matter of the impacts on profits, and that alone. It does not take much digging to unearth the direct relation between a system of production for profit and a whole range of problems. This is particularly clear in the case of environmental problems. Capitalism is all about capital accumulation and the insatiable pursuit of profit is naturally accompanied by tremendous waste and destruction. If there are profits to be gained, capitalists are not too bothered by the long-term, or even short-term, consequences for other people or future generations. Political leaders lecture about the need to address environmental problems, while turning a blind eye to the role played by this rapacious system of profit chasing. Capitalism is a blind process of profit accumulation. It doesn't understand moral arguments. The functionaries of capitalism serve a supremely ignorant master. New Zealand political leaders are never going to challenge the thing they most believe in. They will still be making their bogus hot-air speeches while the world burns round them.

The survival of humanity depends upon the victory of the working class over the ruling class. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chair R. K. Pachauri, said “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change...Addressing climate change will not be possible if individual agents advance their own interests independently; it can only be achieved through cooperative responses, including international cooperation.”

The threat of global warming is clearly a global problem that can only be dealt with by co-ordinated action at a world level. But this is not going to happen under capitalism. As a system involving competition between profit-seeking corporations backed up by their protective nation-states, it is inherently incapable of world-wide cooperation. So it’s not going to happen. There is not going to be any coordinated world action to deal with global warming as long as capitalism is allowed to continue. Something will be done but it is bound to be too little, too late. Individuals do have some responsibility in the matter. Capitalism - the cause of the problem - only continues in the end because people put up with it. Effective remedial action will only be possible within the framework of a united world which can only be possible on the basis of the Earth’s natural and industrial resources being the common heritage of all humanity. A growing consciousness that we are all inhabitants of a single world, that we share the globe in common despite our different languages and cultures, is essential if we are to tackle ecological problems such as global warming. What is required is association with the other peoples of the world, on the basis of socialism. What is required is world socialism where the Earth's resources will be owned in common and democratically controlled through various inter-linked administrative and decision-making bodies at world, regional and local levels. A system without money and the profit motive in which the interests and needs of all are paramount. In such a system the challenge of the human impact on the environment can be seriously addressed for the first time. People and not money will control the world and steer the direction of social progress.
 
WORLD SOCIALISM
Think globally, act locally, we hear many sincere voices within the green movement say. Anyone who follows the news cannot help but think globally. We are up against a global system which can only be effectively and lastingly dealt with at that same level. The urgent need for world co-operation in dealing with the problems of world energy supply cannot be realised within the social productive relations and the existing economic framework. It is completely impossible under capitalism for humanity to use the earth's resources for the benefit of all people. Yet there is in fact no barrier presented by any alleged inability of people to co-operate in their mutual interests. On the contrary, this ability to co-operate is universal. This movement already exists as the movement for world socialism. It is vital that those who see the need for world co-operation in dealing with the problems facing all of humanity should join its ranks to swell its voice of sanity and thereby contribute to the work of preparing practical programmes of action which could be implemented once the socialist political objective is achieved. This political objective is one of democratically gaining political control with a view to taking the means of production and the earth's resources out of the hands of the world's capitalist class and placing them at the free disposal of the whole world's community. In the long run, humanity's greatest productive resource lies in the innovative genius of our species. The essential problem is one of how to establish a society in which this genius can find its fullest expression directly for human needs.

So perhaps not all hope is lost.

WSP(NZ) website:
E-mail: wsp.nz@worldsocialism.org

Rich and Poor Moms

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Pretty much all developed countries require companies to offer paid maternity leave to new mothers — all countries except, of course, for the United States. About a quarter of new mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth.

80 percent of college graduates took at least six weeks off to care for a new baby, but only 54 percent of women without college degrees did so. This is how maternity leave works in a country that has no guarantee of time off: It goes to the women who have higher-income jobs with better benefit packages, or those who can afford to forgo income for a number of weeks or months. Low-income women have little option but to return to work quickly.

Economists have looked at the relationship between maternity leave policies and children's well-being — and they find, perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, that kids raised in countries that guarantee more time off have better health outcomes. One 1995 study found that every extra week in guaranteed maternity leave correlated with a 2 to 3 percent decline in infant deaths. Separate research elsewhere found similar results. And this makes pretty intuitive sense: Mothers with paid leave have more time to care for their children, giving additional time to invest in a newborn's well-being.

The divide between rich moms and poor moms — those who do get maternity leave and those who don't — is an example of a situation in which economic inequality leads to unequal opportunities for the next generation. Kids born to moms without paid maternity leave are getting a worse shot at life, simply because of a benefit that their parent's employer declines to offer.


Too Poor For Justice

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Poverty-stricken people are being encouraged to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit out of fear they will face crippling costs imposed by new financial penalties, leading lawyers, magistrates and campaigners have warned. 

A new levy was introduced to make criminals pay for the upkeep of the courts. Because the charge can be up to 10 times higher if someone is found guilty after pleading innocence, critics say it is undermining the justice system by encouraging impoverished defendants to plead guilty even if they have done nothing wrong. The charge is not means-tested or adjusted according to the seriousness of the crime. In the magistrates’ court it is fixed at £150 if someone pleads guilty, but it can rise to £1,000 if they are found guilty. Campaigners also say it has created an extra hardship for those whose crimes are motivated by poverty – and makes the punishment for small crimes disproportionate.

Many of those affected are homeless or unemployed, with no hope of paying. Cuts to legal aid mean more people are representing themselves, making them less confident of successfully proving their innocence – and more likely to plead guilty in order to avoid exorbitant costs. The charge is so immovable that even if you go to prison for failure to pay it is not wiped out. The debt collection will be outsourced to private firms.

At least 30 magistrates – many of them among the most experienced – have already stepped down from the bench over the changes and many more are predicted to resign as further cases come through. Richard Monkhouse, chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, the independent charity representing the majority of magistrates in England and Wales, said: “The chief concern of our members is the observation that pleas are being influenced by the charge. Defendants may be pleading guilty in order to avoid a larger financial penalty… We hope that the Lord Chancellor will grant the urgent review we’re calling for and grant magistrates discretion in applying the charge.” Mr Monkhouse added: “We are seeing experienced magistrates resigning from the bench, and we expect this figure to increase as the cycle of trials with the charge kicks in.”

Philip Keen resigned from the bench on 2 July after serving as a magistrate for 30 years in the Isle of Wight. He said: “I couldn’t justify sitting there and imposing that. Our discretion has been taken away and it goes against everything we’ve been taught about fining people within their means and ability to pay. The people we’re dealing with don’t have any money, that’s what [the Government] can’t understand... This charge needs to be knocked on the head quickly because it’s just unfair.”

Bob Hutchinson, who resigned as deputy bench chairman of Fylde Coast magistrates this summer after serving for 11 years, has been an outspoken critic of the new charge. “There’s a strong possibility that people will feel financial pressure to plead guilty when they’re not,” he said.

District Judge James Henderson expressed exasperation at the charge. Sentencing a homeless man for burglary at Wimbledon magistrates’ court, the judge told the court of his disappointment that he was unable to waive the charge because he had no discretion to do so.

A judge at Exeter Crown Court questioned the viability of the Criminal Courts Charge after imposing a mandatory £900 fee on a homeless shoplifter in June. As Stuart Barnes, 29, was led away for stealing £60 of cosmetics, Judge Alan Large asked: “He cannot afford to feed himself, so what are the prospects of him paying £900?”


Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “There’s beginning to be evidence that people who are innocent and would like to say they’re innocent are worried that if they do it will be like Russian roulette. This is encouraging them to plead guilty because it carries less financial risk.” Ms Crook compared the charge to the poll tax. “Because it’s mandatory and because it’s a fixed amount it’s a bit like the poll tax. There’s no discretion, which makes it unfair on the people who haven’t got money – as well as those who could pay more. The fines system has always worked on the basis of whether people could pay.”

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Our" children not "their" children

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The economics editor of the NZ Herald writes, “Wherever you draw the line, too many children are going without. By one measure, one in every 10 New Zealand children is growing up in conditions of material hardship. By a less exacting measure it is one in four. ” 

For 100,000 children, or one in 10, home is somewhere where at least nine of those 17 tests of deprivation are met - a level the ministry labels "more severe hardship." Of those 100,000 children, 69,000 are from families with an income - after housing costs - of less than 60 per cent of the median household income, and 58,000 from those with an income of less than 50 per cent of the median (a more stringent "poverty line").

"A weekly rise in benefits of up to $25 for families at the hardest end will be helpful for families with one child, though less so for those with more children as the increase is per family rather than per child," the Children's Commissioner, Dr Russell Wills, said in his submission on the legislation. Children living in hardship in larger families, where poverty is more prevalent, would see very little effect, he said. And it is a one-off adjustment to benefit levels.

Myths

1)      There is little or no real child poverty in New Zealand

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

2)      It's the fault of lazy or irresponsible parents.

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

3)      The real problem is that poor people have too many children

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

4)      Assisting poor families will simply encourage them to have more children.

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

5)      The real problem is poor parenting

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

6)      We can't do anything about child poverty

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

7)      We can't afford to reduce child poverty

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

8)      Reducing or even eliminating child poverty is relatively easy.

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

9)      Increasing incomes for the poor won't solve child poverty

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


The World Socialist Party (New Zealand) can understand why children may well be "innocent", "our future" and other such sentimentalised slogans, but, yet, more significantly, are also an immense hindrance to the smooth operation of the system of production for profit. Government promises are all very well, but it's the economy that usually decides whether a political reform will stick. One of the main criticisms that the WSP(NZ) have of attempts to reform the insane system called capitalism, is that gains obtained one year may disappear when the economy dips, and you find yourself back at square one again. Those social workers whose job it is to mop up the human victims of the profit machine, are variously described as "failing", "incompetent", "not fit for purpose" but these
adjectives should instead be directed at this social system. The cause of poverty, however defined, is the way that society is organised, with a small minority owning the means of production and the overwhelming majority forced to sell their labour power for a wage in order to survive. Workers may sometimes be able to maintain a reasonable standard of living, while at other times they may be excluded from what is by any criterion a basically acceptable way of life. But we are always excluded from true empowerment over our lives and those of our families – and that is not something that can be achieved under the present social system. Poverty is an inescapable part of capitalist society. It can be abolished, but only when there is a fundamental change in how we organise society. The means to end poverty are with us now. They have been with us for a hundred years or more.

WSP(NZ) website:
E-mail: wsp.nz@worldsocialism.org