Sunday, January 31, 2016


Tories have been lobbying the EU to remove the tax haven, Bermuda, through which Google funnels billions of pounds of profits from an official blacklist. Treasury ministers have told the European commission that they are “strongly opposed” to proposed sanctions against Bermuda, a favoured shelter for Google’s profits. Tory MEPs were instructed on six different occasions last year to vote against proposals that would clamp down on multinationals that engage in aggressive tax avoidance.
Tory MEPs opposed proposals designed to squeeze more money out of big companies, including a vote last month on imposing sanctions on companies using tax havens.

In November, Tory MEPs also voted against mandatory country-by-country reporting on tax receipts and the automatic exchange of information on tax rulings across borders.
In October they opposed the automatic cross-border exchange of information relating to companies’ tax planning within the EU.
And Tory MEPs voted in July against giving assistance to tax administrations in developing countries to tackle tax evasion.
In March and January, Conservative and Ukip MEPs voted against a report calling for action to tackle tax avoidance, tax evasion and aggressive tax planning and a motion calling for the commission to commit to clamping down on tax fraud through legislation.

Google has 10 employees lobbying in Brussels, where it spent £2.7m on promoting the goals of the company in 2014. The internet giant also held 67 meetings with members of the European commission last year

Google is expected to announce on Monday that it has amassed £30bn of profits from non-US sales in Bermuda, where companies are not liable to pay corporation tax. The UK is Google’s largest non-US market, accounting for 11% of its global revenues, according to documents.

More on wealth

Here are some  facts about the world’s super rich:

There are 211,275 ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs), with a combined net worth of $30 trillion – or 13% of the world’s total wealth. The 62 wealthiest individuals in the group, have a combined net worth of $1.72 trillion (under 0.8% of global wealth).

By 2019, these numbers will increase to more than 250,000 individuals with a combined net worth of $40 trillion.

The average billionaire has a net worth of $3.13 billion, while the average UHNWI has an average net worth of $212 million.

The average billionaire owns 4 properties, valued at an average of $23.5 million each. Real estate makes up 3% of billionaires’ net worth. UHNWIs own 2.7 properties on average, making up 8% of their net worth.

30% of UHNWIs have at least one residential property in another country.

Social Immobility

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission ranked every English council for disadvantaged children's prospects. The commission said some of the richest areas failed poor children the most.

Not one pupil eligible for free school meals in Cambridgeshire got into an Oxbridge university in 2014, and no Oxfordshire pupil managed it in 2013. Children from poor families in Oxford and Cambridge have less chance of good exam grades than those in London's most deprived areas, says a report. 

Despite being home to two of the world's best universities, Oxford and Cambridge "do quite badly" by children from disadvantaged homes, says the commission.

It found that of children eligible for free school meals in the two cities:
Fewer than four in 10 achieve a good level of development by age five
Only a quarter get five good GCSEs, including English and maths
More than one in five are not in education, employment or training a year after GCSEs
Relatively few go to university (15% in Cambridge and 14% in Oxford)
In Oxford only 4% go to a selective university and in Cambridge only 2%

By contrast, in London's Tower Hamlets, which has the highest rate of child poverty in England:
More than half of children on free school meals achieve a good level of development by five
More than half get five good GCSEs including English and maths
Only 11% are not in education, employment or training a year after GCSEs
A total of 39% go to university
Around 10% go to a selective university

Help the Aged - Claim your Rights

How they love to single out benefit fraud but one in three aged Londoners are missing out on Pension Credit worth an average of £23 a week, or £1,200 a year. £470 million goes unclaimed across London.

One in six older Londoners are estimated to be living in poverty. The Greater London Authority estimates that around 200,000 older Londoners are living in poverty. Older people in London are much more likely to be living in material deprivation than anywhere else in the country.Nearly three times the proportion of pensioners living in inner London are unable to afford basics like having a warm winter coat, being able to keep their home damp free and having a regular haircut.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Peoples Lives Count

The December issue of the Socialist Standard carried an articleentitled “Worked to Death” that highlighted the lack of health and safety and risky working conditions of many workers around the world. An article on theTruth Out website covers some of the same ground. 

For 7.45 million construction workers in America - one-fourth of them foreign born - going to work as a bricklayer, carpenter, electrician, framer, mason, painter, plumber, or drywall or tile installer means facing acute dangers within their daily work. Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi of the Philadelphia firm of Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett and Bendesky has represented victims of construction negligence for 30 years. "The root cause of injury and death is the lack of construction oversight," he said. "When builders incur debt, the faster they do the construction, the more profit they make. Given the profit motive, shortcuts are sometimes taken."

US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that fatal injuries on construction sites increased by 5 percent in 2014, to 874. In addition, hundreds of thousands of workers are injured on the job, filing an incredible 1 million workers' compensation claims a year for both temporary conditions - such as broken bones and sprains - and permanent injuries, including paralysis and loss of limbs.

Scott Allen, director for public affairs at the US Department of Labor's Midwest office, concedes that budget shortfalls have kept OSHA from being as vigilant as it would like to be. Still, he says, it's not for lack of commitment. "We know what we're dealing with and don't even use the word 'accidents' for death and injury on construction sites," he said. "We call them incidents because almost every one of them could have been prevented if the employer had done the right thing for his or her workers."

Charlene Obernauer, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), agrees. "Real estate is the domestic product in New York City," she said. "In other places, they have corn or coal, but in New York City it's about the race to build the biggest, most profitable buildings." That said, Obernauer points out that construction workers and their advocates face additional obstacles. OSHA - the federal agency responsible for protecting worker health and safety - is severely understaffed, she told Truthout. In the Empire State alone, she said, "It would take the 113 inspectors employed by the agency 107 years to inspect each workplace one time." Nationwide, fewer than 3,000 inspectors - an average of 60 per state - are charged with monitoring 8 million work sites. It's a small wonder that safety violations often fall through the cracks.

Allen also acknowledges that OSHA does not have enough staff to ensure that every construction site is in compliance with prevailing health and safety codes. "OSHA looks at the stats for the industry overall," he said, "and if we see a spike, say, in falls or electrocutions on a national or local level, we'll put an emphasis on that industry or place. We also go out to inspect if we get complaints about problems at a particular site and will issue a citation if violations are found."

If the employer shows a direct disregard for OSHA standards, or is a repeat offender, the fine amount can be increased to $70,000 for each violation and the business can be placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). Once they're put in SVEP, their workplaces will be inspected more regularly, and with more vigilance, since they have a track record of not protecting their workers. As of July 2014, 257 construction firms were on OSHA's SVEP watch list, a 23 percent increase over 2013.

Texas leads the United States in on-site construction deaths; New York, however, follows close behind. One of every 13 people employed in Texas works in construction. A 2013 report compiled by the Workers Defense Project revealed that 60 percent of the state's largely Latino construction workforce has never received health and safety training; 78 percent have no health insurance; 71 percent receive no benefits from their employer; and 20 percent have had to seek medical attention at least once for a serious workplace injury. Almost half, 41 percent, had experienced payroll fraud, from outright wage theft to lack of overtime pay. Their average earnings came to a paltry $12.24 per hour. And the situation has not improved in the three years since the report was released.

Construction accounts for 4 percent of jobs in New York State, it accounts for 20 percent of workplace fatalities. Charlene Obernauer explained "There is a huge correlation between non-union jobs and fatalities. Eighty percent of the deaths occurred on non-union sites, among workers employed by small non-union companies with only a few employees. On union sites, there is rigorous training. Just to get into the union a worker needs to complete a nine-month apprenticeship program. When you compare union to non-union workplaces, you see that workers on small sites typically lack an OSHA 10 card, a document that is needed to work on a building with 10 or more stories."

Smaller firms are also more likely to rely on day laborers. Gonzalo Mercado, executive director of the Staten Island Community Job Center, estimates that several thousand people - most of them young men from Ecuador and Mexico - go to one of the 35 city street corners known to be day laborer pickup sites in hopes of finding employment. Pay, he says, averages $120 a day but training is rare and safety precautions are virtually unheard of. Injuries, he says, are common.


The United Nations five-member Working Group of Experts onPeople of African Descent say they are "extremely concerned about the human rights situation of African Americans." 

"Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, ideology ensuring the domination of one group over another continues to negatively impact the civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights of African Americans today," said human rights expert and working group head Mireille Fanon Mendes France. "The persistent gap in almost all the human development indicators, such as life expectancy, income and wealth, level of education, housing, employment and labour, and even food security, among African Americans and the rest of the US population, reflects the level of structural discrimination that creates de facto barriers for people of African descent to fully exercise their human rights," Mendes France's continues.

Among the numerous problems noted in the findings is "the alarming levels of police brutality and excessive use of lethal force by law enforcement officials committed with impunity," citing the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and Laquan McDonald, as well as others.
"Contemporary police killings and the trauma it creates are reminiscent of the racial terror lynching of the past. Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency," the statement reads.

The group slams "the criminalization of poverty which disproportionately affects African Americans," and calls out cities like Ferguson, Mo. where jails are often "debtors' prisons."

The report goes on to note discriminatory voter ID laws; states' rejection of Medicaid expansion, which serves as just one way in which African Americans' realization of the right to health is thwarted; the existence of "food deserts" in many African American communities; schools' insufficient covering of the period of enslavement and the "root causes of racial inequality and injustice... [thereby] contribut[ing] to the structural invisibility of African-Americans"; the housing crisis, high rates of homelessness and gentrification; the high unemployment rate of African Americans; and the environmental justice denied African Americans by highly polluting industries often disproportionately being placed in their communities.

The group reiterates their calls from 2010 after their last visit to the country, including the need to establish a national human rights commission, for Congress to swiftly pass pending criminal justice reform bills including the End Racial Profiling Act, and the need for a national ban on the death penalty. It also states:
“There is a profound need to acknowledge that the transatlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity and among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and that Africans and people of African descent were victims of these acts and continue to be victims of their consequences. Past injustices and crimes against African Americans need to be addressed with reparatory justice.”

As the American author William Faulkner wrote, "The past is not dead. It isn't even past".


With the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, some on the Left are once again suggesting “socialists” should join the Labour Party. The Socialist Party will disappoint them becoause we will have no truck with this supposed workers organization. And it is a matter of principle, not opportunism or dogmatic sectarianism that we oppose the Labour Party. This debate from our earlier years is worth re-publishing as a statement of our position.


From the September 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard

A debate upon the above subject was held at the King and Queen Assembly Rooms at Brighton on 25th July.

A local celebrity, Mr. Winchester, took the chair, and introduced what he called “the two gladiators” to the audience. Mr. J. Ingham (I.L.P.) took the affirmative, and Mr. J. Fitzgerald (S.P.G.B.) the negative.

In opening the debate MR. INGHAM said the subject was not what was Socialism, nor even whether the legislation supported by the Labour Party leads to Socialism, but whether Socialists should affiliate with that party with all its shortcomings.

For the sake of clearness, the speaker went on to say, it would be as well to state that Socialism implied three changes—economic change, political change, and mental change. That was the theory or aspiration of Socialism. In practice it meant the revolt of the masses; but this revolt must have power behind it, and this power was both economic and political.

The power behind the vote was the power of nomination, which the working class have only had in late years.

As far as the capitalist class were concerned the S.P.G.B. or I.L.P. or B.S.P. didn't matter much, and the only menace to the rulers in society today were the Labour Party. They were demanding the right to manage affairs for themselves. It might be true that they were not doing this in the best way from the standpoint of the Socialist, and he aid not uphold the part played by the Labour Party in the House of Commons, but they represented the social consciousness of the the unions, who laid down the policy of the party.

The Labour Party consisted of the I.L P. and the Fabians—who formed the intellectual Socialist wing—and the mass of the organised workers. In all historic movements the intellectuality followed, it did not lead, the movement.

The question the Socialist had to face was, should he help the movement of the organised workers—the Labour Party—by being inside, or should he play the part of the so-called intellectual and stand outside on a mountain criticising and carping at their actions. Despite all their shilly-shallying and support of the Government the Socialist should be inside, doing his best to help it and to help it to take the right road.

The Revolution would be carried out by the workers becoming class-conscious and taking hold of political power to overthrow their rulers. In this connection he would point out that there had never been a traitor in the House of Commons. Every member there represented the views of those who sent him there. No member of the Labour Party could represent others than those who sent him to Parliament.

Intellectual Socialists should be inside of the Labour Party, guiding it by getting hold of the reins for that purpose. (Bell rang.)

MR. FITZGERALD said one fault he had to find with his opponent’s definition of Socialism was the order in which the changes were placed. Before the working class could carry through the political change having for its object the change in the ownership of the means of life, there would have to be a change in their understanding of the situation and a determination to alter it. Hence the mental change must precede the political and economic changes involved in the establishment of Socialism.

His opponent had said that the revolt must have power behind it. Exactly. But what power? What must it consist of? To answer the question it would be necessary to examine the power in the hands of, and used by, the present rulers. The working class to-day were in want and misery because they had no access to the means of life except by permission of the master class. How did the master class retain their possession of those things? Leaving out the various secondary agencies, the essential force came to the front when any big dispute occurred, as a railway strike, a miners’ or a transport strike. Then the army and navy and the judicial machinery were used, rapidly and ruthlessly, against the workers.

These forces received their instructions from the War Office, Naval Office, Home Office, etc., but the officials in the departments were appointed by the House of Commons, and this was done without any reference to the Hones of Lords, showing the character of the Labour Party’s campaign against that institution.

Hence the capitalists must have control of Parliament for the purpose of using the armed forces for the preservation of their property. To get this control they must be voted into Parliament.

The people possessing the majority of the votes were the members of the working class. Hence the political promises, the election red-herrings, and the buying of the “leaders” of the working class when elections were on. The capitalists clearly saw the importance of political power, and spent millions to obtain it.

Where did the Labour Party stand in this connection? They acted as decoy ducks to the capitalist class. From their first formation to the present day they had refused to lay down any principles or policy in the interest of the wording class. The Socialist Party’s Manifesto gave numerous instances and proofs of their treachery, but one or two cases having a particular bearing on his opponent’s statement would be useful.

In 1906 a group of nearly 40 “Labour” leaders were returned to Parliament with the help of the Liberal Party. So much were they really part of the Liberal party that when, a little later, a by-election took place at Leicester, the Labour Party dared not contest the second seat. The same thing occurred at Newcastle, but it was left for the January 1910 general election to completely pull the veil away. A short time previously the Labour Party had received an immense addition to its membership and leaders by the affiliation of the Miners’ Federation, yet after the election they had only about 43 seats. This result by itself was a collapse of the Labour Party, but worse than this had happened. His opponent had said “those who nominate control," and had stated that the members of the Labour Party had nominated their representatives. At the 1910 general election the nominations of the rank and file were withdrawn by the score at the orders of the Executive acting on the instructions of the Liberal Party. Again, the election had been fought by Liberal and “Labour” Parties on the Veto of the House of Lords and the Budget. When the election was over Mr. Asquith announced that the Veto question would be deferred until after the Budget had been taken. A paper called the “Labour Leader” described Mr. Asquith’s action as one of treachery to his constituents. When the matter was first voted upon the Labour Party voted for the Government. They therefore were equally as guilty of treachery as Mr. Asquith.

In March 1910 the Labour Party moved an amendment on the Army Estimates over the wages of Government employees, and when it was voted upon about 22 were absent and 15 of the remainder voted against their own amendment to save the Government.

The fact that the Labour Party had lost every three cornered contest—as well as several others—in the January election, showed how completely dependent upon the Liberals they were.

While the working class accepted “leaders” they would always be misled. It showed that they had not yet reached that stage of class consciousness that was necessary for their emancipation. When they became Socialists they would abolish “leaders” and “leadership,” and keep control and power in their own hands.

Mr. INGHAM in his second speech said it appeared to him that the philosophy of the , S.P.G.B. had changed since the issuing of their pamphlet on “Socialism and Religion” according to Mr. Fitzgerald’s statements. There they laid down the materialist conception of history as their basis, while his opponent took up the idealist position. He was beginning to believe the S.P.G.B. had no intellectuality.

The working class must be free mentally from the influence of their rulers, but every class who had revolted had leaders. His opponent had stated that the S.P. were going to take control of the army and navy when they had a majority in Parliament. Did they think the capitalists would let them? Without organised labour outside political power would be useless. Men always had had and always would have leaders. It would not be by teaching but by economic pressure that the change would be brought about, and the mass would follow leaders at the period of change. Bat ae they would nominate these leaders they would control them. TheTories controlled those they nominated. Mr. Lloyd George was controlled by his nominators, who forced him to introduce measures that threatened his political career.

Snowden and Macdonald occupied the position of himself (Mr. Ingham) and the S.P.G.B, fifteen years ago, while men like Broadhurst then took up the attitude of Macdonald & Co. to day. Despite this, Labour politics must lead to Socialism and the future laid with the trade unions.

If the majority were with him at the Conferences the clique would soon be turned out. So long as the working class thought a clique represents their interests they would support them. It was because they thought the Liberal clique thus represented them that they supported them to day.

MR. FITZGERALD said that his opponent clearly contradicted himself, and in parts admitted the correctness of the policy of the Socialist Party.

If the workers must be free mentally from the influence of their rulers, obviously a mental change was the first requisite. With reference to the point of the lack of intellectuality on the part of the S.P.G.B., what he (Mr. Fitzgerald) had said was that the S.P. contained no “intellectuals” of the type condemned by his opponent. To try and twist this into an admission of "lack of intellectuality ” was both cheap and childish.

With regard to leaders, it was, perhaps, a trifle elementary, but as his opponent had introduced the point he must deal with it.

Under any system of organisation various activities had to be delegated to different individuals, but this delegation of function did not necessarily mean a sheep-like following, or the placing of power in the hands of the delegates. Thus in the Socialist Party certain members were delegated as speakers, some as writers, others as organisers, etc. But each and all were under the control of, and obeyed the directions of, the membership. The position of Mr. Ingham was similar to that of Keir Hardie, who stated that mankind was a herd who followed leaders, and that that was "the purest form of democracy” ! That, of course, was the sort of following the clique who run the Labour Party wanted, so that they could make their bargains with the Liberals for posts and positions a la Shackleton, Cummings, Mitchell, and others.

His opponent's statements on the army and navy showed how little he understood the power of the ruling class. They controlled these forces because they possessed the political machinery. When this machinery was wrested from them by the working class, how could the capitalists prevent the workers controlling those forces? He had dealt with these matters in his first speech and his opponent had not shown a single point to be wrong.

His opponent’s next statement showed how completely he was misled by the Anarchist rubbish re-labelled Syndicalism, that an economic organisation can destroy capitalism. No matter what the form of organisation or how complete its membership, such a combination of unarmed men would obviously he powerless against the armed forces while the capitalists had political power.

Macdonald and Snowdeu may have occupied a position fifteen years ago similar to that of his opponent to-day, but neither then nor now did they take up the attitude of the Socialist Party — i e., the Socialist attitude.

If his opponent agreed that he must get a majority on his side to get his views adopted, he was admitting the correctness of the policy of the Socialist Party, for this was their position.

MR. INGHAM in his last speech said that delegation of function was exactly the position of the Labour Party. To take up a position of delegate of the organised workers one must be in their ranks, not outside. The Macdonald crowd would be pushed aside by those inside the Labour Party, not by those outside. While they (the S.P.) remained outside their organisation, criticising and fault-finding, they antagonised the workers and had no influence upon them.

By economic pressure, not by intelligence, the workers would be forced to take control. The great trade unions were endeavouring to express themselves upon society, and would change with the growing consciousness of the workers. Thus the railway unions formed their great combination from inside; it was not formed by any men outside. The economic pressure would force the workers to realise the necessity for the Revolution, and the Socialists should be inside, aiding this development and bringing to a realisation the Socialist hopes and aspirations.

MR. FITZGERALD denied that the Labour Party adopted the policy of delegation of function that he had described. Their policy was one of delegation of power —and this made ail the difference. If a position outside the Labour Party would antagonise the workers, then opposition to the Liberals would antagonise a still larger number, as the working-class following of the Liberal Party was much greater than that of the Labour Party. And actually what his opponent was defending was Socialists joining the Liberal Party, for as he (the speaker) had shown them in his previous speeches, the Labour Party was but a portion of the Liberal Party.

Take the question of nomination continually insisted upon by his opponent. The rank and file could, within certain limits, make nominations, but they did not control them. As shown in mass in Jan. and Dec., 1910, as shown in various bye elections, the Liberal party controlled them, and at their instructions scores of nominations were swept aside. The support of the Government, even against their own amendments, coupled with these facts, showed that the liberal managers held the Labour Party in their grip, and dictated the policy as well as selected the candidates to be put forward. Hence his opponent's whole plea was for Socialists to join the Liberal Party.

The Socialist knew the majority of the workers were still below the stage of mental development necessary for the revolution, but experience showed that the most effective method was to fight all the enemies of working class interests, i.e., Socialism, to add to the education, and so shorten the time required for the establishment of Socialism.

“Comrade Bala”, not our comrad

Court hearings commenced against Aravindan Balakrishnan, 75, known by others as “Comrade Bala”. Bala was a Maoist cult leader based in Brixton and later Lambeth in South London charged with rape and indecent assault. A police investigation into trafficking and slavery led to his arrest and the rescue of three women from his residence in 2013, one of whom was his daughter. The prosecution allege “The atmosphere within the collective was controlled by Bala and his moods. Each woman lived a life of violence, fear, isolation and confinement. “(His daughter) in particular was bullied, beaten and separated from the world. She never went to school, played with a friend, saw a doctor or a dentist. “She barely left the house. She was hidden from the outside world, and it kept from her, except as a tool with which to terrify her into subjugation. “Her freedom of movement was restrained to the extent that even though she could have left physically, the power that (Bala) exercised over her meant that she could never leave.”

The other two women rescued are believed to have met him through the small political group he led called “Workers' Institute of Marxism–Leninism–Mao Zedong Thought”. After a police raid in 1978 the then tiny group went underground and did not seem to appear in public.

Unfortunately just as people calling non-socialists “Comrade” is not new, nor are cults calling themselves communist. The “Workers Revolutionary Party” in the 1980s demonstrated such cults can practice widespread long-lasting abuse by leaders even within a relatively large membership. None of this is indictment of communism or what we call socialism. Socialists in Britain operate openly not insularly, socialists operate transparently not secretly, and socialists purporting to study Marxism over thirty years would not omit study of the Marxist perspective of the family in The Origin of the Family. There is no political justification for domestic violence.

He was found guilty and sentenced to 23 years prison


War Crimes? What War Crimes?

A UN panel of experts eventually acknowledged this January the stench of Saudi Arabia’s war crimes, calling on the UN Security Council to “investigate reports of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Yemen by all parties and to identify the perpetrators of such violations.” The report reads: “The panel documented that the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as the airport in Sana’a, the port in Hudaydah and domestic transit routes.”

Evidence from a UN report that suggests the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen has targeted innocent civilians may have been falsified by Houthi rebels Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood suggested in the House of Commons. Addressing MPs in the House of Commons, Ellwood said he took the UN report’s allegations seriously. However, the Tory minister noted that its authors had not personally made their way to Yemen. He argued that the evidence of potential attacks on civilians was predominantly based on “hearsay” and satellite pictures.

“We are aware that the Houthis, who are very media-savvy in such a situation, are using their own artillery pieces deliberately, targeting individual areas where the people are not loyal to them, to give the impression that there have been air attacks,” he said. Ellwood has vowed to sit down with Saudi officials to ensure the UN report’s findings are carefully analyzed.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) said the government must revoke all existing licenses for arms to Saudi Arabia. Elwood’s position seems to be that we should just take Saudi Arabia’s word for it – this is despite the fact it is one of the most violent and repressive regimes in the world.” He continued “For decades now the UK has shared an almost entirely uncritical relationship with the Saudi regime. One group that has benefited is the arms companies, who have made millions from the bombardment. The UK may not be bombing Yemen directly, but it has been complicit in the destruction. By arming and supporting the Saudi regime it is aiding and fueling the destruction that is taking place.”

Britain £1 billion worth of missiles, rockets sold over and bombs to Saudi Arabia last summer despite evidence of war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia totaled £2.95 billion (US$4.23 billion) for the first nine months of 2015, and roughly £7 billion since Prime Minister David Cameron took office in 2010. Saudi Arabia revealed earlier this month that British and American forces are stationed in the control center from which military operations against Yemen are being directed. However, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has refused to disclose how many British personnel are involved.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ending Welfare in America

Several states were moving to cut thousands of people from their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or “food stamp”).

In New Jersey, for example, Governor Chris Christie pulled the plug on benefits to 11,000 unemployed state residents. By this spring, an estimated 500,000 people nationwide could be cut off. For most of them, the maximum benefit of less than $200 a month is all the federal aid they get. For some, it’s their entire income.

These people live in states that have chosen to reinstate work requirements on able-bodied adults without children, which had been suspended since the 2008 economic downturn. It means that single adults who aren’t working at least 20 hours a week or participating in a job-training program may only get three months of nutrition assistance in a three-year period. After that, they’re on their own.

Joe Soss, a University of Minnesota professor who studies the drive to “end welfare as we know it” that started in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton, it’s the latest chapter in a misguided ideological campaign. This drive is a consequence, he explained, of political rhetoric suggesting that low-income people are poor because of their inability to exercise self-discipline and make good choices. “It’s a modern update of longstanding prejudices,” Soss said. These “get-tough policies are cast as benefiting the poor in the long run,” he added, while their hardline supporters claim to shield taxpayers from “criminal thugs, undocumented immigrants, and those who live off the welfare system.”

Under Christie, New Jersey has sharply reduced the share of federal block grant money it spends on direct cash assistance to needy families, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. But as the number of people getting help has fallen, the percentage of the state’s residents living in poverty actually went up — from 9 percent to 11 percent — between 2009 and 2012. Public servants worry that more stringent work rules for food assistance are being imposed when there isn’t enough job and education assistance for people who need it. “I don’t know where these work programs are. And I know we are not ready for this,” Diane Riley of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey pointed out. 40% of the food produced in the United States goes to waste. There is not one good reason for anyone in the USA to ever go hungry.

In capitalism being poor is the highest crime. It is the ultimate reflection of your failure. You didn't try hard enough, you didn't work hard enough, and you didn't pray hard enough. The majority of us bought into the corporate culture and we are all now doomed to labor for a few generations under the yoke of the oligarchy. For the first time in US history, life expectancy is headed downward.

The Forgotten War

More than half of the total population of Yemen, some 14.4 million people, are food insecure due to ongoing conflict and import restrictions, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

Imports are essential as only four percent of the country's land is arable and only a fraction of that is currently used for food production. A shortage of critical inputs like seeds and fertilizers have severely reduced crop production, with estimates suggesting the recent conflict has caused dramatic losses to the agriculture sector. Crop production, livestock rearing and fisheries employ 50 percent of Yemen's workforce and are the main sources of livelihoods for two-thirds of the country. Yemen is among the most water-scarce countries in the world with less than five percent of the world average available per person per year, making irrigation a key concern for farmers.
2.3 million people internally displaced puts added pressure on host communities already struggling with limited food resources.

"Food insecurity and malnutrition are becoming highly critical," FAO Representative in Yemen Salah Elhajj Hassan said.  

Population Space

50% of the world’s population is crammed into just 1% of the Earth’s landmass. Yet if you wished you could fit the entire world’s human population into the state of Texas.
The world’s population is predicted by some to reach 11 billion by 2100. The map shows there is space for us all to live but it’ll take some clever socialist thinking to ensure we actually do.

The map is based on NASA’s gridded population data, which records the population of Earth in 14 square kilometre patches. This map uses a grid of 28 million cells of roughly 3 x 3 miles. “The yellow region in the map includes every cell with a population of 8,000 or more people. Since each of them has an area of about nine square miles, the population density of each yellow cell is at least 900 people per square mile, roughly the same population density as the state of Massachusetts.

The Housing Crisis Once More

According to new estimates from the Local Government Association (LGA), 66,000 council homes in England will be sold to tenants under the Government’s Right to Buy scheme. Because local councils only receive one third of the cash from Right to Buy purchases, they will not have the money to replace the lost social housing, the LGA said. In fact, council finances are in such a dire state that they will be forced to sell a further 22,000 council properties – a forecast of 88,000 homes to be lost by end of decade. The number of council houses has dropped from 5million in 1981 to 1.7million in 2014. More and more people are being driven into the private rental centre, leading to a £210m increase in the housing benefit bill.

The independent Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) also voiced concern that measures in the new Housing and Planning Bill, which is currently being debated by the House of Lords, would make it “very difficult” for councils to build homes and warned that its own research indicated that extending Right to Buy to housing associations could lead to the loss of an additional 7,000 council homes a year which may not be replaced.

The Right to Buy scheme helps council and housing association tenants in England buy their home with a discount of up to £103,900, or £77,900 outside London. The policy hits council budgets for house-building, which will also be affected by a proposed £2.2bn reduction in social housing rents. The LGA is calling for 100 per cent of the receipts from Right to Buy sale to go to councils. Currently, they only get one third, with much of the remainder going to the Treasury.

The Government pledged to build 200,000 starter homes for people entering the property market, but the LGA’s housing spokesman, said ministers needed to recognise that “not everyone can afford to buy”. He said  “With 68,000 people currently living in temporary accommodation, annual homelessness spending of at least £330 million and more than a million more on council waiting lists, it is clear that only an increase of all types of housing – including those for affordable or social rent – will solve our housing crisis. This loss of social rented housing risks pushing more families into the private rented sector, driving up housing benefit spending and rents and making it more difficult for families to save the deposit needed for their first house.” Discounts offered to buyers of the 200,000 starter homes have a knock-on effect on the social housing sector, LGA experts said, because it is funded by allowing developers off the hook on their obligations to fund affordable housing. Research by Savills estate agents has shown that the average first time buyer now requires a deposit more than double their annual income to get onto the housing ladder.

Breast-milk – ‘liquid gold’

Werner Schultink, chief of nutrition at UNICEF, said, "Breastfeeding is a cornerstone of child survival, nutrition and development. More investment is required to promote breastfeeding and to encourage governments, health care professionals, workplaces, communities, and families to create an environment that supports, protects, and encourages it."

The Lancet finds that globally, the costs of not breastfeeding amount to more than $300 billion each year, a figure comparable to the entire global pharmaceutical market. About 820,000 child deaths could be prevented annually (about 13 percent of all under-5 child deaths) by improving breastfeeding rates, in addition to the lives already saved by current breastfeeding practices. Nearly half of all diarrhea episodes and one-third of all respiratory infections would be prevented with breastfeeding. For each of the first two years a mother breastfeeds over her lifetime, she decreases her risk of developing invasive breast cancer by six percent. She also benefits from reduced ovarian cancer risk. Approximately 20,000 breast cancer deaths are prevented each year by breastfeeding; improved rates could prevent another 20,000 deaths each year.

Dr. Cesar Victora, emeritus professor from the International Center for Equity in Health, Post-Graduate Programme in Epidemiology, Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil. "Breastfeeding is a powerful and unique intervention that benefits mothers and children, yet breastfeeding rates are not improving as we would like them to--and in some countries, are declining.”

Increasing breastfeeding rates to 90 percent in the U.S., China, and Brazil and to 45 percent in the U.K. would cut treatment costs of common childhood illness and save at least US$2.45 billion in the U.S., US$29.5 million in the U.K., US$223.6 million in China, and US$6.0 million in Brazil.

Yet there exists aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes (including infant formula) by their manufacturers and distributors which undermines breastfeeding. Newly commissioned market research conducted by Euromonitor International for the Series found that the breastmilk substitute industry's reach and influence is growing--the retail value is expected to reach US$70.6 billion by 2019. Such a figure far outpaces the dollars spent to promote the benefits of breastfeeding worldwide.

According to Dr. Rollins, the success of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, adopted at the 34th World Health Assembly in 1981, depends upon countries enacting legislation, along with rigorous monitoring and enforcement. "The multi-billion dollar breastmilk substitute industry - and its marketing practices - undermines breastfeeding as the best practice in early life."

Dr Alison McFadden, one of the authors and a senior researcher specialising in inequalities in maternal and infant health at Dundee University, said the UK along with other countries should end advertising of formula for babies over six months old. She said: "The work we have done is not about whether individual mothers or babies should or should not breastfeed, it is their choice. We are saying there is no role for the blatant marketing of breast milk substitutes or infant formula. If we compare what the government spend on promoting breastfeeding with the value of the global sales of milk formula then there is absolutely no comparison." Restricting the promotion of alternatives to breast milk, she said, is one way to tackle barriers which make it more difficult for mothers to breastfeed.

The article, also published in The Lancet, says: "BMS companies circumvent the ban on advertising infant formula by promoting follow-on milks that are not nutritionally necessary and for which companies make exaggerated claims. "In some countries, including Bangladesh, Brazil, and the UK, BMS companies were reported to seek to influence health professionals through inappropriate sponsorship of health conferences, promotion of their products (eg, by offering incentives to health professionals who sell or promote their products), and forming links with national health professional associations." They say urgent action is needed to "ensure that the public, health professionals, and decision makers do not continue to be exposed to the dominance of the promotion of BMS."

Despite international recommendations that all children should be exclusively breastfed from birth to six months of age, these rates globally are only at 35.7 percent. The World Health Assembly's global target is for countries to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life to at least 50 percent by 2025.

Telling Porkies

Recently, the city council of Randers approved with the relative majority of votes from the Liberals and the Danish People’s Party a decision that makes it mandatory for public institutions to serve pork. Obviously, this was not prompted by the dietary concerns of the city of Randers, a town in the Mid-Jutland peninsula with a population of about 60 thousand people.  According to the Randers city council, municipal institutions must provide - by law - that the daily menu at childcare centers safeguards what is seen as a principle of Danish food culture and tradition, by compulsory including pork on a daily basis. The representatives of the Randers municipality hastened to explain that their decision was not to force anybody to eat anything that ‘goes against one’s belief or religion’, oh, no, but rather only a necessary motion to safeguard the cultural heritage of Danish gastronomic cuisine. Danish roasted pork with parsley sauce has been nominated as Denmark’s official national dish and was decided in a voting scheme where only 1.15% of Danes participated, and only 40% of them voted for the pork dish.

The harsher exclusionary migration laws, the worsening of asylum conditions, the tightening of citizenship rules, the curtailing of welfare provisions and help to refugees, the implementation of border controls, are all part of the competition to be the hardest-hitting and toughest on immigration issues. Migration and asylum politics have thus been taken hostage in the politics of vote-catching between the Liberals and the Danish People’s Party. 

Chinese Inequality

Some unrepentant Maoists would have us believe that despite of the glaring obvious, the Chinese model, although not perfect is, nevertheless, progressive and perhaps even a still a step towards socialism.

China’s widening wealth gap is one of the country’s fastest growing social concerns, according to the recently released 2015 China Livelihood Development Report. At the center of this year’s report is an investigation into the growing national income distribution gap. More than a third of China’s property and wealth is concentrated in the hands of the country’s top 1 percent; the bottom 25 percent of all families control only 1 percent of China’s wealth.

During the past three decades, China’s income Gini index soared from around 0.3 in the 1980s to 0.45 now – well above the warning level of 0.4.

Unchangeable factors such as hukou and one’s parents’ educational background dramatically affect children’s education opportunities. The public healthcare system, which should play a leading a role in shrinking the differences cause by the income gap, has been turned upside down to apply intense financial pressure to vulnerable families. 

“No matter whether we look at social structure, class or a trans-regional picture, all evidence shows that inequality is growing,” said LiJianxin, the report’s director and a professor at Peking University. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sanders De-Cyphered

So some would like us to believe
Election frenzy possesses the USA every four years because they have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining the nation’s destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two leaders who have already been chosen for us.

We should not be surprised that populist ideas are making a comeback. Many believe Bernie Sanders role in the nomination contest is to sheep-dog the disenchanted back into the Democratic Party fold. He will shepherd his supporters towards Hillary Clinton’s after she defeats him with her massively superior financial resources and corporate media approval. He will help legitimize the plutocratic “two party system” – in which the Republicans and Democrats function as “two wings of the same bird of prey.” Democratic Party activists will try to sell their Wall Street-protecting nominee as the candidate for the 99 percent and Sanders will fuel this deadly illusion of the lesser evil. Those genuine radicals will sadly experience a deepened sense of powerlessness that will be engendered when Sanders is defeated, as he almost certainly will be. The best thing and the worse thing that can be said of Sanders is that he meant well.

As Howard Zinn said, “the really critical thing isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in-– in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating – those are the things that determine what happens.”

Before and after those two minutes in a voting booth, casting our ballots, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House. This election, like others before, will suck up political energy that would be better expended elsewhere; and, as usual, little, if any, good will come from of it. In order to vote for Bernie as a presidential candidate, you have to join the Democratic Party. But even that is not the real issue. The issue is many people will volunteer for the Sanders campaign and dump thousands of hours of activist time into the dead-end of the Democratic Party. Those activists could be doing grass-roots movement work. Bernie's candidacy for the Democrats will not help the movement, it will deliver those people to the Democrats. Mainly what Bernie's campaign will do is to re-legitimize a Party that has lost all legitimacy. Dumping the Democrats would prove his belief in principal over party. To support Hillary, if she defeats him in the primaries, makes Sanders a paper tiger.

There are very much two Bernie Sanders. One persona most definitely can come across as sincere about concern for the poor and disadvantaged, but make no mistake, his other side is a militarist who isn’t about to challenge U.S. supremacy. The “military industrial complex” is something Sanders likes to denounce yet he embraced the building of a wasteful F-35 fighter jet base in his home state.  

He supported the war in Kosovo against Serbia, the invasion of Afghanistan, funding for the endless Iraq disaster as well as the losing and misguided War on Terror. He voted in favor of Clinton’s 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which expanded the federal death penalty and acted as the precursor to the Patriot Act.

As for Israel, Bernie Sanders has been would never halt the $3 billion the U.S. government sends to the country every year. Last summer he backed Israel’s murderous bombing of Gaza. He’s even questioned Palestine’s right to resist. Several former members of Sander’s staff have also been employed by AIPAC, including Israel apologists David Sirota and Joel Barkin. Want to change in the U.S. policy in the Middle East? Bernie isn’t your man. Sanders doesn’t oppose U.S. power, nor does his campaign do a single thing to build independent politics in the country, perhaps the last chance to salvage any democracy we may have left. In the end, Bernie Sanders will play the lesser-evil card and plea for us all to hold our noses and vote for Hillary Clinton, who guarantees a future of more war and economic inequality.

“The Vermont senator has given out more than $200,000 through his two PACs, Friends of Bernie and Progressive Voters of America. The PVA, in turn, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to embattled red-state Democrats like Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana”

Mark Begich promotes expanded oil and natural gas drilling on federal lands, starting with opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration. Begich voted multiple times against ending or reducing federal tax subsidies to oil and gas companies, helping to convince Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to drop such a move from the Nevadan’s budget proposal, and in voting for development of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas.
Kay Hagan as a North Carolina senator is just as protective of her state’s capitalist interests as. In her case, it is the tobacco lobby. When the European Union mandated that cigarette packages labeling consists of at least 75 percent warnings that the contents were carcinogenic, she and other politicians warned the European Union warning of dire consequences should the Union adopt the regulations on cigarette packaging it was proposing. The Senators said the proposed regulations would violate international trade rules and adversely affect trade relations with the United States.
Mary Landrieu from Louisiana is a politician in thrall to the power of oil companies. Senator Mary Landrieu calls on government to lift EPA ban on BP. The ban imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent BP from securing sensitive federal contracts  even as the state sues the oil firm for the environmental damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. His voting record? When GW Bush was president Landrieu voted 74% in line with Bush supporting tax cuts eleven times and also cuts to the Death Estate tax.

What Bernie Sanders means by “socialism” is something more like capitalism with a human face. But this is not what socialism is about. The Scandinavian model have indeed managed to achieve social welfare objectives, but has never involved fundamental alterations of capitalism’s underlying property relations. Neither would Sanders. Scandinavian reformists thought the benign hand of the state would replace the merciless invisible hand of the market but today the reformers have their hands full trying to retain what they can from the gains of the past.

That’s why socialists won’t be jumping on his band-wagon anytime soon. Nevertheless, it has been a terribly long time that an aspirant for the presidency of the United States is talking about “socialism”, no matter how vague his meaning of it is. If Sanders succeeds in getting the idea of socialism back in peoples’ minds, he might even be sowing the seeds of thought that will someday take hold in a more constructive way and that would be very welcomed. The best thing about Bernie Sanders is that he talks about “socialism” even if he really means something else by the word.

There can be no escape nor substantial relief for people from the economic and political domination of the greedy vested interests of which they are now the victims, except through the working people, organized as a powerful political force challenging the oligarchy now in control. Without such a party all political achievement of the workers is inadequate and ineffective, and true social progress utterly impossible. The Socialist Party is ready and willing to merge its political functions in a genuine independent political party of socialist workers and will certainly continue to put forth its best efforts to that end. For the time being, we raise high our unsullied banner, and with principles inviolate and ideals undimmed, we stand as the Socialist Party, appealing to the producing class to join us in building up the party of their class — the party standing staunchly and uncompromisingly for their aspirations. Nothing frightens the ruling class more than the prospect of a truly independent revolutionary working-class movement.

“Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism:
“A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society. To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind. This form of socialism has, moreover, been worked out into complete systems. The Socialistic bourgeois want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society, minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat. The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best; and bourgeois Socialism develops this comfortable conception into various more or less complete systems. In requiring the proletariat to carry out such a system, and thereby to march straightway into the social New Jerusalem, it but requires in reality, that the proletariat should remain within the bounds of existing society, but should cast away all its hateful ideas concerning the bourgeoisie.” - Communist Manifesto

Sounds like good ol’ Bernie to us.

 It was a real independent workers movement that Marx was trying to assist by helping it to clarify its goals. He wasn’t trying to get reformers elected to be the head of state.

Let us go back a little into history and we see that the origins of the Scandinavian welfare state model was in Otto Bismarck’s Prussia -  a Sickness Insurance Act, an Accident Insurance Law followed, Old Age and Disability legislation and then came a code of factory legislation, with a system of labour exchanges to promote employment. Many of these measures were the first of their kind in the world. Along with the nationalization of the railways this began to look like socialism to many people. Shrewdly Bismarck understood the stick had to be supplemented by the carrot. It was intended to ensure internal unity and class peace while the state intensified an aggressive foreign policy of colonialism and foreign-market penetration, thereby compensating the wealthy for its social-welfare expenses. This policy was also going to drive a wedge between the right wing and left wing of the Social-Democratic Party.

There is a shared premise in the debates regarding Bernie Sanders’ presidential and they tend to assume that Sanders would be able to meaningfully advance his politics if he were to become president. That is, they presuppose the State is neutral and malleable and can be shaped and reshaped by those who govern it. History illustrates a very different story, one in which the political party and personal inclinations of presidents (let alone candidates) are generally irrelevant to how they wield power. Presidents and Prime Ministers have historically advanced the objective interests of the nation-state, prioritizing its international power and the profitability of its economy above all other considerations. It is irrelevant whether Sanders is sincere or a phony, if elected president, he will in fact be sworn to do so. Selecting who will rule without any ability to control the content of that rule, the voter casts the ballot as an act of faith. Investing political and emotional energy into nothing more than the good name of the system (election nights are always exercises in flag-waving celebration of a system that lets us choose our rulers), voters incorrectly argue that voting is better than doing nothing and condemn those who abstain. Yet, the disillusioned are not to blame for forces that they have no control over. And if the disillusioned do become interested in challenging the abuses of everyday life, it will not be through voting but through criticizing the system that voting acclaims. The opposite of hope is not despair. It is power. Everyone gets all emotionally attached to some single "savior" that going to fix the rotten system. There will be no saviors, only WE in massive numbers can affect any real change in the status-quo. Resistance in all forms brings about change. Real and enduring change is hard work.

Using the words of Eugene Debs, "If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out." 
Neither Sanders nor any other politician can lead us to the alternative new society we fight for. We must build it for ourselves.

He talks the ‘socialist’ talk, but he has reliably aided and abetted the Pentagon and the militarists in their theft of resources. Resources that were and continue to be stolen from the poor. If Sanders is a socialist, it is only in a very Orwellian sense. More likely, he is another Trojan Horse, mouthing liberal platitudes, but in the end betraying working people.

The “independent” Sanders has enjoyed a special agreement with the Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate. He votes with the Democrats on all procedural matters in exchange for the committee seats and seniority that would be available to him as a Democrat. (He can break this rule in some exceptional cases if Democratic Senate Whip Dick Durbin agrees, but the request is rarely made.) Sanders is free to vote as he wishes on policy matters, but he has almost always voted with the Democrats on such matters.

Consistent with this party loyalty, Sanders refuses to seriously or substantively criticize his “good friend” and Democratic presidential primary “rival” Mrs. Clinton – a militantly corporatist and militarist right-wing Democrat. Sanders has backed Obama’s numerous murderous military actions around the world, from Libya, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq to China, Ukraine, and Russia. During the 1990s, the not-so “independent” Congressman Sanders voted for and/or otherwise supported:
* Economic sanctions that killed more than a million Iraqi civilians
* Every U.S. bombing of Iraq from 1992 on
* The sending of U.S. military units to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to threaten Iraq because “we cannot tolerate aggression”

Sanders has said repeatedly that he will not be a third- party “spoiler” in the general election and thus will direct his primary delegates and voters to line up behind Hillary.Inc. in 2016. In his presidential campaign speeches, Sanders has been unwilling to mention the corporatized Democratic Party as part of the nation’s oligarchy problem. 

A 'bunch of migrants'

Europe is on a dangerous, slippery slope of increasing xenophobia and racism. There has been some disgraceful treatment of refugees and a growing fear about refugees around Europe. Some of this anxiety relates to culture, some to crime, some to terrorism, but much is economic in nature. Whether officially or unofficially, Europe is becoming more and more racist, turning into a xenophobic fortress. Europe’s refugee “crisis” is turning into an irrational, xenophobic panic that is not justified by facts. It is misleading people into dangerous political territory of persecution and racist discrimination  that infringe on all our rights as citizens.

One prevalent idea is that Europe is bearing the brunt of the human fallout from the conflicts of the Middle East. There has certainly been a pronounced pick-up in asylum applications in the European Union: 995,000 in 2015 alone, double the previous year. Yet that still needs to be put in a global perspective. Of the 14 million cross-border refugees worldwide just one million are in Europe. There are two million Syrian refugees in Turkey alone. Jordan is also home to two million displaced people, equivalent to around a third of the native population. Europe’s intake of one million refugees last year amounts to 0.2 per cent of its total 500 million population. Denmark’s intake of 21,300 asylum-seekers last year constitutes less than 0.4 per cent of its national population.

Another perception is that refugees are all indigents who can’t work or contribute economically. But the experience of Nordic countries in recent decades suggests the labour market participation rates of refugees show the greatest increase over time of all migrant groups. While on arrival only around 15 per cent of refugees in Sweden worked that ratio ultimately rose to more than 60 per cent. It’s worth remembering that skills flee along with people. In Germany a fifth of Syrian refugees in 2013-14 had been through higher education, roughly the same ratio as native Germans. This may be because often only wealthier and more educated individuals can afford the passage to Europe. Another fear centres around how European countries with already painfully high jobless rates, such as Spain and Greece, can possibly cope if there is a new influx into the labour market. Yet most asylum-seekers have tended to choose to claim asylum in countries with high employment rates such as Germany and Sweden.

The International Monetary Fund recently estimated that there will actually be a modest short-term GDP boost due to the higher government spending on feeding and sheltering refugees. The IMF also suggests refugees can, in the longer term, help alleviate Europe’s demographic crisis, helping relieve the pressure on national pension systems. Many fear that a flow of refugees will have a negative impact on natives’ living standards. But evidence from Turkey suggests its sizeable influx of Syrian refugees into the informal local labour market has actually boosted the average wages of native workers in the formal economy. The net impact on the public finances of higher refugee flows could be offset by allowing asylum-seekers to work while awaiting their claims to be processed. The UK has considerably more onerous restrictions in this regard than Germany and Sweden.

In the end, the case for generosity to refugees should be based on humanitarian, rather than economic, arguments and there is a danger of over-claiming over the material benefits from an open door policy. There is a short-term boost to Europe’s GDP under the IMF’s latest forecasts, but GDP per capita is still seen as falling slightly. And much of long-term fiscal impact will depend on the extent of refugees’ participation in the labour market and the skills mix of refugees. Yet it is still useful to dowse the economic alarmism.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized Europe’s response to ongoing refugee crisis gripping the continent, saying the European governments’ reaction to the problem has resulted in a crackdown on basic freedoms. HRW director, Kenneth Roth, made the remarks in his introductory essay to the rights group's annual report.

"Fears of terror attacks and of the potential impact of refugee influx led to a visible scaling back of rights in Europe and other regions," Roth said. "Blatant Islamophobia and shameless demonizing of refugees have become the currency of an increasingly assertive politics of intolerance.” The right response to the inflow of refugees is not more repressive border and immigration enforcement, but a better controlled program for the resettlement of asylum seekers, according to the report. "The effect of European policy so far has been to leave refugees with little choice but to risk their lives at sea for a chance at asylum," Roth said.  The official further warned that “a polarizing us-versus-them rhetoric” adopted by Europe and the United States has moved from 'the political fringe to the mainstream.' 

Cameron is not interested in the humanity of refugees – lumping them, their stories and their suffering into a “bunch of migrants” for mere fodder for his jokes at Prime Minister's Question Time which can be added to his expression  “swarm of people” in his other earlier attempt to dehumanise desperate men, women and children. We see the results of all this, a rise in hate crimes on British railways – up 37% in five years. This confirms a trend seen last year, when there was a 43% increase in religious hate crime, and a 15% rise in race hate over the previous 12 months.

We should be addressing the root cause of the problem, not reacting to the symptoms. We should be shaming the villains, not blaming the victims, and the culprit is capitalism with its armed conflicts and its trade wars.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Poisoning kids to cut costs

Flint once boasted 80,000 General Motors employees, but now only has a tenth of that. Unemployment is rampant. The racial composition of Flint is 56.6% African American. The US Census Bureau reported that Flint is the second most impoverished city for its size. Just over 40 percent of the municipality’s residents are living at or below the poverty line. Those in power find it easy to ignore the cries of poor people—especially if those poor people happen to be largely black. The people of Flint has consistently voted Democrat. In 2006, the Bay Area Center for Voting Research ranked Flint as the 10th most liberal city in the United States. Put bluntly, since the voters in Flint, Michigan, are a lost cause and of no use to the Republican Governor Rick Snyder and his Republican Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General who all had little incentive to respond to the complaints. As the citizens of the city lost hair and developed rashes, as  children drank water that was tainted with lead and E. Coli those with the power to help did nothing. Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) officials urged those people concerned about lead in Flint’s drinking water to “relax,” that there was no “broad problem” with contamination and described the whistleblower EPA official, Miguel Del Toral, whose draft report initially alerted lead-poisoned Flint residents to their great danger, as a “rogue employee.” They also attacked the work of Virginia Tech safe drinking water expert Marc Edwards. The analysis by Edwards and his team of graduate students revealed that some Flint tap water measured nearly 2.5 times more lead contamination than EPA’s hazardous waste designation level. They cast doubts upon Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Flint’s Hurley Hospital whose research showed that after the switch to untreated Flint River drinking water, blood lead levels in children doubled, or even tripled.

Two years ago, the people of Flint turned on their faucets and a brown horror came flowing out. Many people complained to the state's government but were roundly ignored and dismissed. The people of Flint and other surrounding towns have been drinking, cooking with and bathing in lead-contaminated water for two years. In order to "save money," Governor Snyder's hand-picked emergency manager decided to change Flint's water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. General Motors used the river as its personal dumping ground for decades; it is highly polluted, and more importantly is highly acidic. When Flint River water began flowing through Michigan's ancient water supply system, it absorbed the lead right off the pipes and delivered it to thousands of homes. Lead contamination in water cannot be smelled, tasted, or seen. Flint’s water did have other problems besides lead contamination, including discoloration, foul odor and taste, but these were due to other harmful biological and chemical contaminants than lead.

What does lead do to the human body? Infants and small children can suffer brain and nervous system damage, weakened immune systems and general physical collapse that can lead to death. Pregnant women have a higher risk of stillbirth or miscarriage. A raft of studies has pretty much concluded that lead can cause cancer. It causes cardiovascular diseases and kidney damage which, like cancer, can also kill. Five parts per billion of lead are a concern. 5,000 parts per billion is considered "toxic waste." From April 2014 until October 2015 the people of Flint were drinking water with up to 13,000 parts per billion of lead in it.

Flint residents are still getting billed for water the Virginia Tech study described as toxic waste.. In France long ago, it was "Let them eat cake." Today, in Flint, it's "Let them drink bottled water" ... except a whole lot of people in Flint can't afford bottled water, and they sure can't bathe in it.

"Everybody knows," wrote Flint native, author and film-maker, Michael Moore, "that this would not have happened in predominantly white Michigan cities like West Bloomfield, or Grosse Pointe, or Ann Arbor. Everybody knows that if there had been two years of taxpayer complaints, and then a year of warnings from scientists and doctors, this would have been fixed in those towns." Moore described what is happening in Flint as a "racial crime." It was a crime against humanity done by a negligent administration which shows utter contempt for the welfare of the people whose welfare it is supposed to ensure. To them, certain people can just be ignored, pushed around and bullied.

It often takes a disaster to draw attention to environmental injustice. The crisis in Flint is terrifying - residents were left to drink poisoned water for months despite warnings from researchers who found elevated levels of lead in children - but presidential candidates and the dominant media did little to acknowledge that the pattern of pollution in communities of color extends far beyond Michigan. Nationally, people of color are nearly twice as likely as white people to live within one mile of facilities that use and store chemicals so dangerous that facility operators must submit risk management plants to the government. Children of color make up nearly two-thirds of the 5.7 million children living near these high-risk facilities, and poor people of color are significantly more likely to live near massive stockpiles of dangerous chemicals than white people living above the poverty line. In the event of a toxic release, spill or explosion, communities of color would face the brunt of the impact, according to a recent report by the Center for Effective Government.

Researchers at the University of Michigan published twin studies in January showing that low-income people and people of color don't end up living near hazardous waste sites and other polluters because housing is cheap. Instead, their communities are disproportionately targeted by industries that follow "the path of least resistance" when deciding where to build facilities. Hillary Clinton alluded to these disparities at the close of the January 17 Democratic debate, declaring that "if kids in a rich Detroit suburb" were drinking contaminated water, authorities in Michigan would have acted quickly to stop the problem. Bernie Sanders was not to be outdone - he demanded Snyder resign, saying that thousands of children may now suffer brain damage from lead because the governor knew about the problem and did nothing for months to fix it. Seeking media attention around the mass poisoning of children resulting from the ineptitude of government officials, if not their outright racism, is easy. But would either of these candidates really fight for environmental justice as president?

Flint’s catastrophe serves as a stark reminder that safe, clean drinking water is the essence of life.