Monday, December 22, 2014

The Price of Sugar and Salt

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The nutrition challenges facing the world have changed enormously. Under-nutrition rates have dropped while obesity has skyrocketed - now killing more people than under-nutrition. Diabetes has become one of the top 10 causes of death globally.

“Non-communicable diseases [NCDs] have been declared a crisis for the Pacific. Most of it is due to the food environment where people live, where there are just not many healthy options,” explained Peter SousaHoejskov, a technical officer for food safety and non-communicable diseases with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) based in Suva, Fiji’s capital.

Six out of the 10 countries with the world’s highest diabetes prevalence are in the Pacific Islands, according to the Belgium-based International Diabetes Federation. In Fiji, two people undergo limb amputations almost daily due to the disease, according to local media. Warning signs for NCD are mounting: According to WHO, in at least 10 out of 14 inhabited Pacific island countries where health data is gathered, more than half the population is overweight. If current trends continue, the NCD burden - which now accounts for 70 percent of all deaths in nine out of 10 Pacific countries that have collected mortality data - will increase, warn experts

Residents in 14 Pacific island countries and five nearby “territories” who used to consume home-grown foods like root crops, or other locally-produced foods, have over the past decade increasingly turned to low-cost, low-nutrient, processed foods imported from abroad. High-sugar and high-sodium packaged goods have become the “new staples”. Some 27 percent of the food consumed on Vanuatu Island is imported; the figure goes up to 91 percent in the Marshall Islands.

A principal driver of the consumption of unhealthy imported food, said Hoejskov, is that healthy, domestically-produced food is neither plentiful nor cheap enough to compete with low-priced imports, and the time needed to deliver local perishables to isolated islands - up to a week by plane, boat, and truck - is too long for them to survive. According to FAO, “declining competitiveness of farmers and fishers in the Pacific islands has reduced their capacity to supply both export and domestic markets at competitive prices.”

Agriculture yields are on the decline. “significant pests and disease, combined with reduced soil fertility, are among the many factors impacting agriculture production in the communities.” According to the 2012 Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC - an intergovernmental organization made up of 26 nations.) Yams and sweet potatoes in Isabel Province of Solomon Islands typically took three months from planting to harvest, with nearly all planted seeds yielding crops, but now, villagers say, they take at least five months, and less than half a planted field bears fruit.

In Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, IRIN found that while a packet of instant noodles costs 26-70 US cents, locally grown cassava or sweet potato tubers cost 21 times that amount. “The soil here is not good for farming. Luckily we have the shop nearby so we can buy instant noodles and rice. My son eats instant noodles almost three times per day,” said Sarah Tareoha, a mother of eight living in Marau, the eastern part of Guadalcanal Island in Solomon Islands.  The traditional staple sweet potato has 55mg of sodium per serving and negligible fat; one serving of instant noodles has 1000mg of sodium and is 20 percent fat. “Until very recently people didn't even understand the negative health consequences of high fat, high sodium food imports,” said Stephen McGarvey, an epidemiologist and director of Brown University's International Health Institute. WHO is currently working with Pacific Island governments to develop food safety standards, and ensure nutrition labels are accurate and understandable to their populations.

Fiji, French Polynesia, Nauru, and Samoa have increased taxes on sugary soft drinks in the past decade, but it is still too soon to measure any health impact, noted WHO.  The economic interests behind the food industries from countries exporting to the Pacific Islands make prohibitions on products deemed unhealthy difficult, according to Hoejskov. For example, when Samoa tried to block turkey tails (a popular but gristly meat cut made up of 42 percent fat) from the US in 2007 for health reasons, the US brought the case before the World Trade Organization (WTO) and in 2012, the WTO gave Samoa 12 months to eliminate the ban in order to remain a member. By May 2013, turkey tails were back on the Samoan table.  Similarly, in 2004, Tonga's Ministry of Health campaigned to ban mutton flaps - the 50 percent fat sheep belly offcuts generally used for dog food in the exporting country, New Zealand - which had become a major staple in Tongan households. But Tonga's pledge to join the WTO eventually trumped health concerns, and policies were scrapped by the time it finally joined in 2007.

Roger Mathisen, a Hanoi-based nutrition consultant working in Southeast Asia., explained   “Emerging threats include the new and controversial dispute chapters in international trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) for the food industry to circumvent government’s sovereignty to enforce health and environment protection policies.” He suggests the adoption of policies that include “national codes on marketing restrictions…of breastmilk substitutes from infancy, to baby foods and other energy-dense foods and beverages high in sugar, fat, alcohol or salt, targeting the population. Moreover, this should cover import and export policies and price policies to promote quality and safe foods."

“The Pacific region should not be treated as a dumping ground for unhealthy products that are unwanted in other countries,” declared governments in a statement concluding a Pacific sub-regional workshop in Fiji in 2013 on trade and NCDs. WHO has recommended Pacific governments not allow more than 1600mg of sodium per 100g of instant noodles and 400mg for a similar amount of bread.  Kiribati and Vanuatu are developing national food legislation with salt targets in early drafts, according to WHO.

ALEC's Plans To Undo Minimum Wage Increases

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The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) laid out its blueprint for 2015 at its annual meeting in early December, making public a plan that includes attacks on labor unions, paid sick leave, and minimum wage increases that have proven popular across the political spectrum.
Despite the GOP gains in both Congress and statehouses across the country, the midterm elections saw the passage of several progressive measures fought for years by Republicans. Among those measures were several state and local minimum wage increases.

ALEC is the controversial right-wing lobbying group that has crafted wide-ranging legislation proposed and enacted by conservative legislatures across the country. And contrary to the group’s charge that it doesn’t get involved in so-called social political issues, ALEC has been deeply involved in blocking federal and state funding for abortion care.
Voters in 10 states—including deep-red states South Dakota, Arkansas, Alaska, and Nebraska—approved minimum wage increases on Election Day, as did many cities across the country. For example, voters in San Francisco approved a $15 minimum wage; the city will slowly increases its minimum wage until it meets that goal.

Half of those who responded to a March poll said they would be more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who supported a minimum wage increase, according to a Washington Post/ABC News survey. A Public Policy Polling survey released in October showed that overwhelming majorities over voters in conservative states such as North Carolina, Iowa, and Louisiana supported a wage increase.
Those new wage measures will likely get legislative push back in 2015, as ALEC teams up with Republican-controlled state and local governments to push its corporate-driven agenda. At the group’s States & Nation Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., ALEC officials included a presentation on “Minimum Wage Preemption Policies,” among other subjects discussed in its Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force meetings.

ALEC, in a publication made available on its website, charged that states “considering raising their minimum wage risk alienating business and harming their citizens” because such wage raises “artificially” increase the price of food and other goods. The U.S. Labor Department has debunked this charge, along with a variety of other talking points used to combat minimum wage hikes.
ALEC has long prioritized anti-minimum wage laws that the group says harm businesses’ bottom line.

The Center for Media and Democracy recently published a “Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act,” from a 2001 meeting like the one ALEC held this month. That legislative template says it will repeal “any local ‘living wage’ mandates, ordinances or laws enacted by political subdivisions of the state. It also prohibits political subdivisions from enacting laws establishing ‘living wage’ mandates on private businesses, including those businesses that have service contracts with and/or receive financial assistance from such political subdivisions of state government.”
The organization produced a “Starting Minimum Wage Repeal Act” in 1996, in which ALEC found that “starting wage laws represent an unfunded mandate on business by the government, and disproportionately make it difficult for small business—the engine of job creation—to hire new employees due to artificially high wage rates.”

ALEC has faced a kind of corporate exodus this year. Many of the group’s high-profile partners have severed ties and publicly lambasted the group. In September, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt announced that the company was leaving ALEC, saying that the right-wing coalition had been “lying’” about climate change.
Since Google’s decision, a handful of other corporations have left, including Yahoo!, Yelp, and AOL.

Minimum wage laws were only one of many topics discussed at the ALEC meeting in December. Other issues included a paid sick days prevention bill, a “Medicaid Anti-Crowd-Out Act,” which would prevent low-income people from enrolling in Medicaid if they can receive health insurance through an employer, and a continued discussion on how to block climate change legislation.

from here
 
The Socialist Party and SOYMB argues for an end to the wages system overall. No minimum wage, no maximum wage, no average wage - but an end to wage slavery. No mortgage, no bills, no tax, no debt. Production for use, not profit, and free access to the common wealth. Forget the futility of fighting constantly for reforms. Support Socialism.

 

Political Denial In The Face Of Climate Change

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“The eastern coast of the United States– from the Gulf of Mexico to New England — has one of the highest rates of sea level rise in the world. As a result of climate change, 5 to 11 inches of sea level rise is expected by 2045 leaving communities like Norfolk, Virginia, Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Annapolis, Maryland essentially inundated. Dr. Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists speaks to Earth Focus about what’s at stake for major U.S. coastal cities and local communities and the choices they need to make to adapt to this imminent threat.”
“Using a mid-range scenario for future sea level rise, we find that, by 2030, more than half of the 52 communities we analyzed on the East and Gulf Coasts can expect to average more than two dozen tidal floods per year. Importantly, the rise in the frequency of tidal flooding represents an extremely steep increase for many of these communities. In the next 15 years alone, two-thirds of these communities could see a tripling or more in the number of high-tide floods each year. The mid-Atlantic coast is expected to see some of the greatest increases in flood frequency. Because many communities are already coping with tidal floods, a tripling in their frequency means that, by 2030, such floods could occur more than once a week…
Because communities are already coping with tidal floods, a tripling in their frequency means that, by 2030, such floods could occur more than once a week. Places such as Annapolis, MD, and Washington, DC, for example, can expect more than 150 tidal floods a year, on average, and several locations in New Jersey could see 80 tidal floods or more. By 2045—within the lifetime of a 30-year mortgage— many coastal communities are expected to see roughly one foot of sea level rise.”

See study here 
video link here 

Report after report of the urgency of the implications of climate change have been published and commented on. Many of the general public and social associations world wide have been keenly aware and have worked hard to achieve wider recognition of the imperative to curtail emissions of greenhouse gases and tackle the causes of global warming.
Concurrently, for more than two decades, at meeting after meeting of world 'leaders' in grand venues around the world there has been much hot air and countless false promises of action against the (let's face it) capitalist mode of business. Who, apart from the politicians themselves and the corporate giants they walk in step with, can now fail to see that is the capitalist system itself with its inexhaustible craving for profit above all else that is the root of this catastrophe? 
JS



The Pillaging of Paraguay For Profit

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“All signs show that Paraguay, both its territory and its population, are under attack by conquerors, but conquerors of a new sort. These new ‘conquistadors’ are racing to seize all available arable land and, in the process, are destroying peoples’ cultures and the country’s biodiversity — just as they are in many other parts of the planet, even in those areas that fall within the jurisdiction of ‘democratic’ and ‘developed’ countries. Every single foot of land is in their crosshairs. Powerful elites do not recognize rural populations as having any right to land at all.” 
 Dr. Miguel Lovera (from the case study: The Environmental and Social Impacts of Unsustainable Livestock Farming and Soybean Production in Paraguay. Dr. Lovera was the President of SENAVE, the National Plant Protection Agency, during the government of Fernando Lugo.)

The major injustices toward the land and the people in Paraguay are large-scale genetically modified (GM) soy production by multinational corporations and deforestation due to unsustainable livestock production.
The expansion of soybeans and cattle in Paraguay is based on the theft of peasant and aboriginal communities’ land holdings and ancestral lands.
The key common characteristic underlying all large-scale rural production in Paraguay is that it is based on massive illegal land grabbing.

Soybeans are produced on the fertile soils of eastern Paraguay, the best soils in the country.Most of the soy grown in Paraguay is Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready transgenic variety. Other U.S. transnational corporations involved in the soy business are Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).
Small-scale farmers have been displaced (or worse) due to soy production and forced off the land to live in slums.Some 50% of the deforestation in eastern Paraguay is the conversion of forests to soy monocultures.
And the main environmental implication of the growth of intensive cattle ranching is deforestation.


The Chaco region is where most of the deforestation is being undertaken today to create pasture and establish cattle ranches. In 2013, 268,000 ha of forest were destroyed in the Chaco. Deforestation rates in this region were the highest in the world in 2013, reaching up to 2,000 ha/day.
The production of beef for export markets by very large-scale, predominantly Brazilian (70% of the meat export facilities are in Brazilian hands) cattle ranchers are by far the main cause of deforestation and indigenous land grabbing in the Chaco.
The Ayoreo Indigenous People of the Chaco have been in the way of development and many have been captured and confined to to “concentration camp” settlements.
Many parts of the Chaco (and other areas South of the Amazon) are far too remote and isolated to explore in detail so the possibility is high that there are additional communities living in voluntary isolation.

The technological approaches driven by the Green Revolution, now including genetically modified seeds and pesticides, have caused degradation of the fertile lands and loss of biodiversity across the country and the indiscriminate use of agrochemicals.


Business as usual – U.S. style

“An island surrounded by land” is how Paraguay is sometimes described partly because it is one of the two land-locked countries in the Western hemisphere (the other is Bolivia), but also because of its distinctive history and politics. Paraguay’s economic activity centers on agriculture and livestock, and in terms of land tenure presents the most unequal and unfair case of distribution worldwide.
Livestock and soy production (almost wholly of Monsanto’s Round Up Ready transgenic variety) are the most important primary production sectors. Most of the land in the country is privately controlled and devoted to these two commodities. Hence, most of the negative environmental and social impacts derive from these two activities. A vast proportion, about 96%, of the soybeans cultivated in Paraguay are destined for export as livestock feed. A majority of the cattle slaughtered each year in the country are also exported, with most of this trade controlled by a handful of multinational companies that form an oligopoly not only in Paraguay, but  around the world.

from here with photos

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Post-Scarcity Socialism

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As a follow up to an earlier posted article on artificial scarcity 

If the human species is to survive then deep changes are necessary to the way we organise ourselves socially. The most destructive force of capitalism has been artificial scarcity. Capitalism is very inefficient at the just distribution of necessities. Capitalism assumes that people currently holding the most wealth are most deserving of life satisfaction, which is a spurious assumption. The myth of scarcity has one purpose: to justify not sharing the social wealth. There is no evidence that society does not have, and never could have, sufficient resources to meet human needs. On the contrary, the resources spent on war alone could provide everyone in the world with a very good life. The myth of scarcity was invented to justify the growing gap between what is possible – a world of plenty for all – and what exists – fabulous wealth for a few and declining living standards for the rest. The myth of scarcity is necessary to reconcile the obscenity of growing wealth alongside growing poverty. To continue the rule of the few and the misery of the many, to obscure what would otherwise be obvious: that ordinary people create all of society’s wealth and deserve their share of it, the elite who rule society who cannot abandon their system of private ownership and competition for profit promote the myth of scarcity instead. 

In most nations, the production of wealth has consistently outpaced the growth of the populations that produce that wealth. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures the annual value of all goods and services produced. Between 1950 and 2000, the population of the United States increased 86 percent, from 151 million to 281 million. Over the same 50 years, US GDP soared 3,239 percent, from $294 billion to $9,817 billion. In other words, the production of wealth grew 38 times faster than the population. Such a massive increase in wealth compared to the size of the population should eliminate poverty and result in a very generous rise in the standard of living, including universal access to medical care.

If the total wealth produced by American workers in 2003 had been shared, every US resident would have received the equivalent of $38,000, and every family of four would have received $152,000 in that year alone. This payment would have been much larger if it included a share of the wealth produced in the past. And much more could be produced if everyone who wanted to work were employed. However, capitalism is not about sharing. Because the means of producing wealth and the wealth produced are both privately owned, only a small elite benefit from rising productivity. The top five percent of individuals in the world receive about one-third of total world income. The top 10 per cent get one-half of world income, and the bottom 10 per cent get only 0.7 per cent of it. Within 48 hours, the richest people acquire more than the poorest people earn in a year.

In the world’s richest nation, an artificial scarcity has been created for American workers whose average real wages are back to what they were in 1958. More families are living paycheck to paycheck and relying on credit cards to purchase food and other essentials. As consumer debt rises, those with money to lend are further enriched at the expense of the impoverished. Back in the 1970s, the mass media promised that the new computer technology would raise productivity so high that people wouldn’t know what to do with all their leisure time. However, like the rise in wealth, the rise in leisure went only to the leisured class. Since the 1970s, the amount of time Americans spend on the job has risen steadily, and leisure time has declined by one-third. Workers have less time to sleep, eat and relate to their children. Overwork exists alongside chronic under-employment. Twenty percent of workers are unable to secure as many hours as they need to make ends meet.

In fact, there are not too many goods being produced, there are too few paying customers. Billions of people desperately need manufactured goods – agricultural machinery, construction equipment and supplies, plumbing, computers, medical supplies and technology, etc. If production was directed to meeting human needs, instead of making profit, there would be no economic crisis. When one need was filled, we would fill the next; and when all needs were filled, we would have leisure time for other pursuits. However, the capitalist system of privately-owned production, backed by the myth of scarcity, stands in the way. Most of the world’s starving people live in nations that export food. In India, where more than half the children are malnourished, the State spends more to stockpile food than it does to feed the hungry. In the world’s richest nation, 40 million Americans have difficulty putting food on the table, while up to 30 percent of all food produced, worth $48.3 billion, is discarded. Over the past 30 years, food production has consistently outpaced population growth. In 2008, record food production was accompanied by widespread food riots. The problem is not too many hungry bellies, but that food is sold for profit, and too many people can’t afford it. The same is true for medical care. There are not more people than can be cared for, but more people than can be cared for profitably. Because these truths cannot be admitted, social problems are blamed on too many people wanting too much.

 Eliminating poverty by ending artificial scarcity is what we mean by socialism. Socialism has emerged from scarcity. “Socialism” here bears no relationship to the “socialist” regimes that collapsed in the Twentieth Century, or supposedly continues in China, Cuba and North Korea, and it is regrettable that an alternative word with less historical baggage is not available. Post-scarcity free access may only seem like something from science fiction but rapid advances in seldom-reported technologies say otherwise. 3-D printing, nanotechnology and biotechnology could potentially provides a post-scarcity situation that fits the description of a socialist mode of production with maximum freedom. If post-scarcity seems unreal it is nevertheless every bit as plausible as democratisation of information through the Internet would surely have seemed twenty years ago. This is an alternate economic system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude. All resources become the common heritage of all of the inhabitants, not just a select few, made possible by use of advanced technologies to create an abundance of resources and thereby negate the need for any sort of rationing. It will be a system run by freely associated producers and their communities that excludes commodity exchange and money as primary forms of social reproduction. As a result, “the money-capital” including the payment of wages is eliminated. Even in Marx’s concession to the technology and production of his time and a requirement for what he believed to be some rationing, socialism’s “lower phase”, “the producers may…receive paper vouchers entitling them to withdraw from the social supplies of consumer goods a quantity corresponding to their labour-time” but “these vouchers are not money. They do not circulate.” In other words, “the future distribution of the necessaries of life” cannot be treated “as a kind of more exalted wages.” Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products. The communal character of production would make the product into a communal, general product from the outset, bypassing market exchange and the overcoming of workers’ alienation from production.


The most common objection to socialism is that without money to motivate, there is no reason to go to work, let alone innovate. However, that people will become ever more sedentary if their basic needs are fulfilled is a dogmatic supposition perpetuated by profiteering propaganda. There is no genetic basis that determines the superiority of money – or rather the threat to withhold money – over social incentive. Under capitalism, it is insecurity that motivates people to go to work. The benefits of work itself – social interaction, credit for one’s work output and access to luxuries – provide incentive to go to work. Would most people decide not to go to work and sit idly in front of a television if all their basic needs were provided for? The Socialist Party argues that the human need for creative activity motivates one to contribute to society in one’s best capacity if only one is provided dignity and the means to pursue one’s full potential. The Marxist maxim “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” is not merely an ideal but to be standard.  

For World Socialism

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“If Socialism, international, revolutionary Socialism, does not stand staunchly, unflinchingly, and uncompromisingly for the working class and for the exploited and oppressed masses of all lands, then it stands for none and its claim is a false pretense and its profession a delusion and a snare. Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement” Eugene Debs, 1910

Another proposed “crackdown” on immigration is being proposed. Depriving those who have studied and graduated in the UK of the right to stay on in the country for a short period to find a suitable job for their newly acquired UK academic qualification. Yet even Kenneth Clarke, the former Tory Cabinet minister admits that immigration does not cause housing shortages or pressure on hospitals:
"At the moment the politics of the country, because of anger, because of reduced living standards, because of the recession, are very susceptible to people telling them 'oh don't bother with all this complicated politics, it’s foreigners, let's get all these foreigners to go home'." 

Immigration for survival has been going on from the beginning of time. When most people are on earth are dealt such a bad hand, to try to stop them from bettering their condition seems heartless decision. Allowing someone to get a job is not charity nor welfare. Human beings from the beginning were looking for a place where their basic needs would be met. At the time there were no countries or no borders. Sovereign nations today attempt to control all entry into their territories through comprehensive passport regimes, but this is a recent development. Prior to 1914, the world’s borders were largely open to migration. Early America did not control immigration at all. A newcomer simply got off the boat and started a new life. Victorian Great Britain, too, had open borders. As the British Secretary of State put it in 1872, “by the existing law of Great Britain all foreigners have the unrestricted right of entrance and residence in this country”. The International Emigration Conference in 1889 affirmed “the right of the individual to the fundamental liberty accorded to him by every civilized nation to come and go and dispose of his person and his destinies as he pleases.” Ordinary people actively choose to move around the world to seek better lives for themselves, but that these are not abstract choices made on a whim. Those determined to move will not be stopped by any border regime because people are not passive objects. This is being realistic about people as agents of their own destinies.

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Workers of The World - 21

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Peasants, workers and indigenous people of Peru

 Indigenous Peruvian farmworker Maxima Acuña de Chaupe withstood violent eviction attempts, beatings, and a legal battle to protect her land from being turned into an open-pit gold mine

For over three years, indigenous Peruvian farmworker Maxima Acuña de Chaupe has refused to allow a U.S.-based multinational corporation to turn her land into an open-pit gold mine, withstanding multiple violent eviction attempts by corporate and state agents.
On Wednesday, Acuña de Chaupe finally saw victory when a Peruvian appeals court struck down a lawsuit levied by the Yanacocha mine—which is 51 percent owned by Colorado's Newmont Mining Corporation—that had sought to expel and imprison the family for "invading" their own land.
The ruling is an important win in a case that has become a rallying point for local resistance to multinational plunder.

In 1994, Acuña de Chaupe and her family built their home in Tragadero Grande in the region of Cajamarca next to the Blue Lagoon of Celendin. This lake was sought after for the building of the open-pit Conga gold mining project—an extension of the one at Yanacocha.
This mine is widely opposed by peasant, worker, and indigenous peoples in the region, who have protested its resource extraction, exploitation, displacement, and environmental harm with with mass marches and general strikes.
When Yanacocha sought to buy Acuña de Chaupe's land in 2011, she refused, in a bid to protect the environment and her family's home.

"I may be poor. I may be illiterate, but I know that our mountain lakes are our real treasure," Acuña de Chaupe told New Internationalist Magazine two years ago. "From them, I can get fresh and clean water for my children, for my husband and for my animals!" "Yet, are we expected to sacrifice our water and our land so that the Yanacocha people can take gold back to their country? Are we supposed to sit quietly and just let them poison our land and water?"

What ensued, according to Acuña de Chaupe, was a corporate intimidation campaign, orchestrated by the mining company with the aid of private security and the Peruvian state. Acuña de Chaupe says she and her family have faced at least three violent eviction attempts by the company, aided by Peruvian police and soldiers. One beating left Acuña de Chaupe and her daughter unconscious and landed her son in the hospital.
The plight of Acuña de Chaupe and her family sparked outrage and support from regional and international organizations, including the Women's Movement of Peru and World March of Women. At the recent People's Summit in Lima, Peru, climate justice advocates held a large rally in solidarity with Acuña de Chaupe.

When Acuña de Chaupe refused to give in, Yanacocha sued her and her family on charges they were illegally occupying their own land. In August, a judge sentenced four members of her family to "to two years and eight months of suspended imprisonment for not vacating the land," Telesur reports. "The judge also ordered the family to pay close to US$2,000 in penalties."

Wednesday's ruling, however, tosses out all of these sentences.

"I want to thank the judges of the court of justice of Cajamarca for being impartial and applying justice and for not permitting that we the farmworkers suffer at the hands of Yanacocha," Acuña de Chaupe declared following her acquittal. "I pray to God to take care of them. During the four years this process has lasted, many authorities tortured me, defamed me, and persecuted me. But here we have good authorities."

from here + 4 minute video link




(Mis)Understanding Capitalism

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Reason Number 13,336 Why Capitalism Will Be The Death Of Us.

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Antibiotic-resistant bacteria – the “superbugs” – if left unchecked, could result in 10 million deaths a year by 2050. New drugs to fight the superbugs are desperately needed. But a panel advising President Obama warned in September that “there isn’t a sufficiently robust pipeline of new drugs to replace the ones rendered ineffective by antibiotic resistance.”

The problem, it appears, is that “Antibiotics generally provide low returns on investment, so they are not a highly attractive area for research and development.”

Aha! “Low returns on investment”! What could be simpler to understand? Is it not a concept worth killing and dying for? Just as millions of Americans died in the 20th century so corporations could optimize profits by not protecting the public from tobacco, lead, and asbestos.

Corporations are programmed to optimize profits without regard for the society in which they operate, in much the same way that cancer cells are programmed to proliferate without regard for the health of their host.

from here by William Blum

Breaking the chain

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The whole meat industry system is built around producing cheap meat and it means that fewer and fewer low-income families, even in the developed world, have access to high-quality meat.  

Undocumented workers, many from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, formed a perfect corporate workforce: thankful for their pay cheques, willing to endure harsh working conditions, unlikely to unionise or even complain. “They don’t ask for breaks. They don’t ask for raises,” one worker at the Hormel plant in Fremont told me. “They just work harder and harder, because they need to work.”

In modern meat-packing plants, the rate of production is set by a chain conveyor system. The chain determines everything about how a day in the plant goes, and workers often talk about it as if it were a living thing, something to be feared.

In 2006 and 2007, when the American mortgage crisis began to peak and then stock markets crashed worldwide, the freedom to run faster production lines positioned Hormel to capitalise on demand the economic downturn created for budget-friendly meat like Spam without significantly increasing its workforce or raising wages to match the elevated output. The industry has been stretched to the breaking point by the drive for cheaper and cheaper meat. And Hormel, in particular, with its runaway demand for Spam and no government regulation to slow things down, has pushed its lines to breakneck speeds.Consider this:
 In 2002, Hormel’s production lines were running at 900 pigs per hour; by 2007, they were running 1,350 pigs per hour. That’s a 50% increase in five years, but the number of workers on the line increased by only about 15%. So, obviously, everyone is working harder, working faster, and mistakes occur, like the incident involving Maria Lopez.

Statistically, people who work at any meat-packing plant for five years have a nearly 50-50 chance of suffering a serious injury. And an extensive study of packing-house workers conducted by the University of Iowa in 2008 suggested that the number of injuries may be significantly under-reported. The study found that the large numbers of undocumented workers from Mexico and other parts of Latin America are almost half as likely to report an injury or job-related illness as their white counterparts.

Every hour, more than 1,300 severed pork heads would go sliding along the belt. Workers sliced off the ears, clipped the snouts, chiselled the cheek meat. They scooped out the eyes, carved out the tongues, and scraped the palate meat from the roofs of mouths. The last worker harvested the brains by inserting the metal nozzle of a 90lb-per-square-inch compressed-air hose into the opening at the back of each skull, tripping a trigger that blasted the pig’s brains into a pink slurry. (The brains were sold in Asia as a thickener for stir-fry.) But each burst of air was also aerosolising small amounts of porcine brain tissue, which workers were unknowingly inhaling. The workers’ immune systems produced antibodies to destroy the foreign cells, but because porcine and human neurological cells are so similar, the antibodies didn’t recognise when the foreign cells had been eliminated – and began destroying the healthy human neural tissue of the workers. In the end, the plant experienced what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified as an “epidemic of neuropathy”, involving about two dozen employees, nearly all of them Hispanic, including several who sustained permanent brain, spine and nerve damage. Once the cause was clear, the machines were shut off. But after they filed workers’ compensation claims, many say they were fired for not having legal immigration status; some received compensation.

The speed of pork production is not only affecting the health and safety of workers on the line; now lines are moving so fast that the safety of consumers is being placed at risk. Inspectors have discovered pig carcasses with lesions from tuberculosis, septic arthritis (with bloody fluid pouring from joints) and smears from faecal matter and intestinal contents. But the plants were never shut down. The chain never stopped. The US Department of Agriculture’s inspector general warned that these “recurring, severe violations may jeopardise public health” but concluded that because they do not face substantial consequences for repeated food safety violations, “the plants have little incentive to improve their slaughter processes”. Despite the report, the agriculture department is not only advocating continuing a self-inspection pilot project, but now is proceeding along a path towards implementing it across the US. The government is arguing that the results of the programme are sufficiently encouraging that the US should expand it to more than 600 pork processing plants across America. Food safety advocates are asking the obvious question: in what sane universe do you make America’s worst violators into the new model?

In 2012, one of the participating Canadian packing houses was involved in the largest meat recall in the country’s history, more than 12m pounds of beef in all, after 18 people were sickened by E coli from meat processed at that plant. That same year, the US Food Safety and Inspection Service visited the participating plants in Australia and, according to internal communications, found repeated contamination of meat by faecal and intestinal matter. In November 2013, the European commission published its own audit of Australian meat from those plants being exported to Europe and concluded that the privatised meat inspection system was not in compliance with EU food safety regulations. In New Zealand, an exposé found that company-employed inspectors were less likely to report problems than their government counterparts –and even threatened government inspectors when they attempted to slow or stop production because of food safety violations. One government inspector reported “seeing copious amounts of faecal and other contamination being missed by the company inspectors”. When asked the reason, he responded bluntly: “It’s the speed of the chain.”

Because the speed of the chain determines everything about production – from the farms to the factories to the grocery counter – it gives new meaning to the Communist Manifesto slogan  “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.”




For immigration

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Does immigration exacerbate inequality? The assumption that less immigration equals less inequality is fundamentally flawed. Katy Long in her new book, 'The Huddled Masses: Immigration and Inequality', presents evidence indicating that freedom of movement can play a vital role in combating poverty and opening up opportunities for both immigrants and a state’s native population. She argues that a restrictive migration policy in a country like the UK would only serve to entrench divisions between citizens across both economic and social spheres.

Although their policy proposals vary, Cameron, Farage, and Miliband seem agreed on one fundamental, that mass immigration exacerbates inequality. ‘Ordinary, hard-working people of this country’ do not benefit from mass migration, instead they lose wages, jobs, opportunities that were previously theirs. UKIP’s is partly a result of a campaign that insisted immigrants keep Britons poor. For if the problem is inequality, and ‘uncontrolled, mass immigration displaces British workers, forces people onto benefits, and suppresses wages for the low-paid’, then surely the equation is simple. Less immigration equals less inequality. It is a simple seductive story.

Kat Long, however shows that this assumption is mistaken. There is in fact overwhelming empirical evidence that enabling freedom of movement for labour opens up opportunities, not just for immigrants and foreigners, but for the poor here too.

The World Bank has estimated that up to 50 per cent of a person’s income is determined by only one variable – their country of citizenship. And in a world where only 3 per cent of us are international migrants, our country of citizenship is overwhelmingly an accident of birth. Migration offers an obvious means to overcome these arbitrary inequalities of birth: the United Nations Development Programme determined in 2009 that migrants who moved from a low-income to a high-income country saw, on average, a 15-fold increase in income, a doubling of education enrollment rates and a 16-fold reduction in child mortality numbers.

There is now a process of creating an immigration system that – supposedly bent on protecting “our” poor from “those” migrants – is in fact fast turning legal migration into a privilege accessible only to corporations or those with personal wealth. These new migration policies are not just cynical but regressive: they often harm the very citizens they are ostensibly designed to protect. The continued relevance of nation-states isn’t to be found in an appeal to patriotic nostalgia: it’s to be found in the working of institutions and services – schools, hospitals, transport – that make citizenship something tangible. Yet in insisting that immigration exacerbates inequality, we are ignoring the vital contributions that migrants – including the low-skilled and low-waged – make to these institutions continued functioning and who are only too often the human face of our health, social care and education systems.

For instance, new minimum income requirements mean 47 per cent of the British public – and 60 per cent of women – now fail to meet the minimum income required in order to sponsor a foreign relative into the country. Since July 2012, anyone wanting to sponsor their non-EEA spouse’s visa for the UK must show that their annual income exceed £18,600 (rising to £22,400 for a spouse and a child, with an additional £2,400 asked for every further child). These are you’re your average families, many of whom work in public sector jobs. While this is a policy ostensibly aimed at keeping poor migrants out, researchers from Middlesex University have concluded that this policy not only risks creating a tier of second-class citizens, but it may in fact end up costing the UK taxpayer up to £850 million in the next decade. This is because UK citizens who have been left coping as single parents while their partners wait in immigration limbo are unable to take-up full-time employment and are forced to rely upon state benefits.

Another example of migration law entrenching division is the growth of the billion-dollar Migration Industry. At first glance it might seem less obvious why the industry – populated by such multinational conglomerates as G4S and Serco – also disadvantages poor citizens. After all, new detention centres and border patrols help to employ thousands of citizens, often for low wages and in geographically marginalised areas where job opportunities are scarce. As researchers found in March 2014, when interviewing locals in Weymouth about the opening of new detention centre the Verne, ‘‘everyone ‘knows someone who knows someone’ who will work at the Verne… it’s all about jobs”. Yet these jobs are low-paid and precarious: these workers do not share in the profits of the migration industry. Trade unions have consistently produced evidence that employees of companies like G4S and state border agencies like the United Kingdom Border Agency  are often poorly trained, constrained by unresponsive management structures that deliberately foster cultures of hostility. This means the migration industry does not protect Western workers from poverty as much as it entrenches them in it, taking advantage of immobility in socially marginalised and geographically isolated communities in pursuit of more profit.

Survival Crime

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Shoplifting has soared in the past year as people battle austerity cuts. There were more than 21,000 extra thefts from stores across England and Wales, a rise of near 7% per cent, figures reveal. In the year up to last June there 321,014 shoplifting crimes. The worst hit area was London with 37,680 thefts. The all-party Parliamentary group on food poverty and hunger revealed it had heard evidence from police officers about the rise of ‘survival crime’.
 PC Helen Priestley, of Devon and Cornwall Police, told the inquiry: “We are concerned that although there has been a reduction in almost every type of crime shoplifting has seen a 16 per cent rise across the county.”

Nicky Gjorven, a duty sergeant at Northumbria Police, warned: “It’s now your essentials rather than your alcohol and sweets that were stolen in the past.”

The Citizens Advice Bureau spokeswoman Julia Hannaford said: “One of the reasons for shoplifting is levels of usemployment, benefits being cut and coping with the cost of living. It suggests criminality is poverty-related.”

Blackpool foodbank boss Chris Phillips said essentials like food and clothes were stolen. “We are not saying it is right,” he added. “But sometimes people do not have a choice. They have to feed their families.”

The Failure of Philanthropy

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After 10 years and an investment of $1 billion, none of the projects funded under the Gates Foundation’s  Grand Challenges program has yet made a significant contribution to saving lives and improving health in the developing world, according to thisarticle in the Seattle Times.

Launched with fanfare a decade ago, the original Grand Challenges program mobilized leading scientists to tackle some of the toughest problems in global health. Gates handed out nearly half a billion dollars in grants to 45 “dream teams” of researchers working on everything from tuberculosis drugs and new vaccine strategies to advanced mosquito repellents and bananas genetically engineered to boost nutrition. Not only did he underestimate some of the scientific hurdles, Gates said. He and his team also failed to adequately consider what it would take to implement new technologies in countries where millions of people lack access to basic necessities such as clean water and medical care.

So in 2008 he introduced a program of small, highly focused grants called Grand Challenges Explorations. With headline-grabbing goals like condoms that feel good and waste-to-energy toilets, the explorations initiative has probably garnered more media attention than anything else the giant philanthropy has undertaken. But none of those projects has yet borne fruit, either.

“Was the program actually a success?” asked Nobel Prize-winning biologist Harold Varmus, who served on the founding board. “We don’t know.”

Among Bill Gates’ favorite projects is an effort to eliminate Dengue fever by infecting mosquitoes with bacteria that block disease transmission. Another is a spinoff biotech working on a probiotic to cure cholera. But critics say projects like those demonstrate the foundation’s continuing emphasis on technological fixes, rather than on the social and political roots of poverty and disease.

Dr. David McCoy, a public-health expert at Queen Mary University, London, said “It’s in looking constantly for new solutions, rather than tackling the barriers to existing solutions.” The toll of many diseases could be lowered simply by strengthening health systems in developing countries, he said. Instead, programs like Grand Challenges — heavily promoted by the Gates Foundation’s PR machine — divert the global community’s attention from such needs, McCoy argues.

There exits a disconnect between laboratory science and the field. An effort to develop vaccines that don’t need refrigeration yielded good ideas, but it didn’t make sense to commercialize the technology because the entire vaccine-distribution system in Africa is built around the use of refrigeration.
Several Gates-funded, high-tech toilets were installed in the Indian city of Raichur last year, at a cost of about $8,000 each, residents refused to use them. Many of the other toilet prototypes funded through Grand Challenges are so complex, with solar panels and combustion chambers, they would never prove practical. Jason Kass, founder of Toilets for People, a company that sells simple, composting toilets to nonprofits in the developing world, explained in the  New York Times that “Bill Gates Can’t Build a Toilet…If the many failed development projects of the past 60 years have taught us anything, it’s that complicated, imported solutions do not work. ”


Artificial Scarcity

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Our lives are driven by fear. Fear leads us to political apathy regarding our power. Exploitative capitalism leave us feeling hopeless. Our nature is presented in dualities.  Are we competitive or cooperative? Generous or greedy? Violent or peaceful? A common theme among religion has been that human beings are “born into sin” and heavily influenced by “evil forces” to do harmful things. Human beings are not capable of co-existing in harmony without the threat of a supreme being bringing down divine retribution.

Are we really drawn toward conflict? Must we compete with one another to survive? Peter Kropotkin in his classic Mutual Aid observed “Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species, and its further evolution?”

There is ample evidence that we are drawn to cooperation.

“Caring about others is part of our mammalian heritage, and humans take this ability to a high level,” explains neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt. “Helping other people seems to be our default approach, in the sense that we’re more likely to do it when we don’t have time to think a situation through before acting. After a conflict, we and other primates-including our famously aggressive relatives, the chimpanzees-have many ways to reconcile and repair relationships.”

So, if we are truly inclined to cooperate with one another, why is there so much division and turmoil in the world? The answer is to be found in the mechanisms of capitalism, its creation of artificial scarcity as a means to maintain hierarchies. It is no secret that capitalism thrives off exploitation. It needs a large majority of people to be completely reliant on their labor power. It needs private property to be accessible to only a few, so that they may utilize it as a social relationship where the rented majority can labor and create value. It needs capital to be accessible to only a few, so that they may regenerate and reinvest said capital in a perpetual manner. And it needs a considerable population of the impoverished and unemployed – “a reserve army of labor,” as Marx put it – in order to create a “demand” for labor and thus make such exploitative positions “competitive” to those who need to partake in them to merely survive. It needs these things in order to stay intact – something that is desirable to the 85 richest people in the world who own more than half of the world’s entire population (3.6 billion people)

But wealth accumulation through alienation and exploitation is not enough in itself. The system also needs to create scarcity where it does not already exist. Even Marx admitted that capitalism has given us the productive capacity to provide all that is needed for the global population. In other words, capitalism has proven that scarcity does not exist. And, over the years, technology has confirmed this. But, in order for capitalism to survive, scarcity must exist, even if through artificial means. Maintaining scarcity is necessary for wealth enhancement. It is not enough that accumulation flows to a very small section of the population, but more so that a considerable portion of the population is faced with the inherent struggles related to inaccessibility. For example, if millions of people are unable to access basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare, the commodification of those needs becomes all the more effective. On the flip side, the mere presence of accessibility – or wealth – which is enjoyed by the elite becomes all the more valuable because it is highly sought after. In this sense, it is not the accumulation of personal wealth that creates advantageous positions on the socioeconomic ladder; it’s the impoverishment of the majority. Allowing human beings access to basic necessities would essentially destroy the allure (and thus, power) of wealth and the coercive nature of forced participation. This effect is maintained through artificial scarcity – the coordinated withholding of basic needs from the majority. 

A crucial part of this process is commodification – the “transformation of goods and services, as well as ideas or other entities that normally may not be considered goods, into commodities” that can be bought, sold, used and discarded. The most important transformation is that of the working-class majority who, without the means to sustain on their own, are left with a choice between (1) laboring to create wealth for a small minority and accepting whatever “wages” are provided, or (2) starving. When society commodifies the bare necessities of life, they are commodifying human beings, whose labor can be bought and sold. Underneath the pseudo-philosophical rationalizations for capitalism is a defense of wage slavery. For, if your labor is for sale, then you are for sale.

We are for sale, and we sell ourselves everyday – in the hopes of acquiring a wage that allows us to eat, sleep, and feed our families. In the United States, the 46 million people living in poverty haven’t been so lucky. The 2.5 million who have defaulted on their student loans have been discarded. The 49 million who suffer from food insecurity have lost hope. The 3.5 million homeless are mocked by 18.6 million vacant homes. And the 22 million who are unemployed or underemployed have been deemed “unfit commodities” and relegated to the reserve army of labor.

In Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Murray Bookchin offers a glimpse into this world not constructed on labor, profit, and artificial scarcity:

“It is easy to foresee a time, by no means remote, when a rationally organized economy could ‘automatically manufacture small ‘packaged’ factories without human labor; parts could be produced with so little effort that most maintenance tasks would be reduced to the simple act of removing a defective unit from a machine and replacing it by another-a job no more difficult than pulling out and putting in a tray. Machines would make and repair most of the machines required to maintain such a highly industrialized economy. Such a technology, oriented entirely toward human needs and freed from all consideration of profit and loss, would eliminate the pain of want and toil-the penalty, inflicted in the form of denial, suffering and inhumanity, exacted by a society based on scarcity and labor.”


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Leaked: Secret Deal To Steal Our Privacy

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A new leak exposes US attempts to boost mega-corporations by undermining privacy rights and internet freedoms through the top-secret TISA trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Associated Whistleblowing Press published a new leak revealing US attempts to undermine privacy rights, net neutrality and internet freedoms through top-secret negotiations over the little-known Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). Even a quick glance at the leaked document is already extremely revealing. At the top of its front page, in capital letters, the word CONFIDENTIAL is highlighted — and further down the full extent of the treaty’s secret nature is revealed: “Declassify on five years from entry into force of the TISA agreement.”

A full reading and understanding of the text, however, not only explains these harsh terms, but makes them necessary. Because what government would tell its citizens, explicitly, that they are opening the door for mega-corporations to take control of their public services? What company would clearly inform its customers that their private data will be handed over to foreign entities without any restrictions? In the case of TISA, when the players involved include the US, the EU and more than twenty other countries — together making up almost 70% of the world services market — the answers are painfully obvious.
As Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International (a global federation of unions that represents over 200 million workers, and one of the most active voices against TISA) puts it: “the leaked documents confirm our worst fears: that TISA is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth.” These interests, of course, are directly opposed to those of most of the world population.

Where did TISA come from?

To understand the nature of the treaty, we have to go back to 2001, when the Doha rounds of the World Trade Organization intended to tear down all barriers and limitations to global commerce. After the failure of these negotiations and other similar treaties — such as ALCA — the global powers began the process of signing bilateral and multilateral treaties to achieve their goals. The objective is always the same: to open up all possible services to international competition on a minimally regulated market.
The global financial crisis of 2008, however, forced a drastic change of plans, and there were even a couple of important voices that timidly spoke out against the deregulatory trend they believed had sparked the crisis. At this point, the big fish behind this trend of market liberalization — the United States, Canada, the European Union and Switzerland — conceded, if only for a while.
But now that the smoke has cleared these same countries and the powerful business lobbies behind them — who actually call themselves ‘Really Good Friends of Services’ and who claim that there is no connection between market deregulation and the global financial crisis — are planning to bypass public concerns through secrecy and completely liberalize up to 70% of all services worldwide, even those related to our personal privacy.

“The end of privacy as we know it”

All of this is why, for now, the little information we have about TISA has come to us through a set of carefully leaked documents. The first time the public caught a glimpse of what was happening between negotiators in Geneva was thanks to Wikileaks, who published a chapter on finance last June, revealing that these global powers were well on their way to achieve their plans for further deregulation by the time public concern had diminished.
The new documents — technically referred to as the United States’ Proposal of New Provisions Applicable to All Services and the Annex of Professional Services — shed a whole new light on the scope of the treaty: legal services, private education, veterinary care, taxation services and even bookkeeping are all on the table, as well as technical services such as internet providers, electronic transactions, digital signatures and Big Data flow.

This last point, relating to the movement of information, is particularly serious. Article X.4 states that “no party may prevent a service supplier of another Party from transferring, accessing, processing or storing information, including personal information, within or outside the Party’s territory, where such activity is carried out in conduct of the service supplier’s business.” According to lawyer Josep Jover, an expert in intellectual property, this spells “the end of privacy as we know it,” as “the consumer becomes fuel for the services provider.”

On this issue, Rosa Pavanelli is once again crystal clear: “Negotiation of unrestricted data movement, internet neutrality and how electronic signatures can be used strike at the heart of individual rights … Negotiating provisions that potentially circumvent privacy laws in the interests of corporate profits is a scandal. The TISA negotiators have now lost the confidence of the public and can only regain it with the immediate release of all documents.”

Now that we know that this is probably just wishful thinking, we can only hope that the leaks keep on coming — and the public resistance to this highly secretive trade deal keeps on growing.



Australia's New Migration Bill Strengthens Anti-Immigrant Measures

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This week's passing into law of Australia’s Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment Act, which comes on the heels of a year of tightened border controls and refugee intake policy changes, could chill regional cooperation. Experts say it reflects global trends of treating migration as a security problem, and acknowledge that might be an important avenue for Southeast Asian regional policy development.

Since September 2013 Australia has run Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB), a military-led initiative the government describes as an effort to “to combat people-smuggling and protect Australia's borders”. Navy ships intercept boats carrying asylum seekers, who are then detained in off-shore processing centres, the conditions of which have been criticized repeatedly, including by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Only one boat has made it to shore in 2014, to resounding cheers of “success” by the government, and condemnation by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said OSB was “leading to a chain of human rights violations”.   

In November 2014 Australia reduced its resettlement quota from Indonesia from 600 to 450 and said no refugees registered (with UNHCR) after 1 July 2014 would be eligible for resettlement, sparking criticism from Indonesia, which cited the country’s own current refugee bottleneck (it is host to around 10,000 refugees, who experience notoriously long waits).  
Australia portrayed the move as an export of its domestic success, “designed to reduce the burden, created by people smugglers, of asylum seekers entering Indonesia”. But critics say it “puts into serious question the humanitarian rationale for Australia’s resettlement programme.”

Anne Hammerstad, a lecturer at the UK’s University of Kent said that while the regional dialogue may need to allow focus on migration as a security issue, that discussion alone won’t erode the global construal of migrants as a threat. For Hammerstad, that task is broader – and involves restoring public understanding that migration has been a human behavior throughout history.

“The question is how to get to a point where societies receiving migrants feel that the balance is OK,” she said. Calling the current global migration situation “a bit like a perfect storm”, she explained: “We have refugee receiving countries feeling like their economy is not very solid, coupled with large-scale humanitarian crises and record level migration.”

The current debate, she says, includes a “knee-jerk reaction that migration is unnatural and that the people who migrate are there to abuse your system and take advantage, rather than people who want to prosper in a different place than their home. It’s a lack of empathy in public discourse.

full article here


What did Australia's new migration law do?
The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment Act changed the way Australia manages and processes asylum seekers by amending five domestic laws: the Maritime Powers Act of 2013, the Migration Act of 1958, the Migration Regulations of 1994, the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act 1946, and the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act of 1977. Much of the bill’s focus was on eliminating references to international law, a tactic Immigration Minister Scott Morrison touted when he introduced the legislation in parliament.
Expanding Australia’s reach, limiting its obligations
For example, the Act removes from the Maritime Powers Act of 2013 the phrase “In accordance with international law, the exercise of powers is limited in places outside Australia,” and adds “Failure to consider international obligations etc. does not invalidate authorization” and “Failure to consider international obligations etc. does not invalidate exercise of powers.”  Putting on paper the Australian Navy’s practice of hauling intercepted boats back to their origin in, for example, Sri Lanka, the bill explains: “To avoid any doubt… a vessel, aircraft or person may be taken (or caused to be taken) to a destination under section… whether or not Australia has an agreement or arrangement with any other country relating to the vessel or aircraft (or the persons in it)… and irrespective of the international obligations or domestic law of any other country.”  
Diluting checks on deportation
The Act even foresaw objections, namely a separate piece of proposed legislation that would amend the Migration Act of 1958 to define Australia’s non-refoulement obligations in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which Australia ratified in 1980), and the Convention Against Torture (which Australia ratified in 1989).
Pre-empting its impact, in a section entitled Amendments if this Act commences after the Migration Amendment (Protection and Other Measures) Act 2014, the MMPLAB read: “It is irrelevant whether Australia has non-refoulement obligations in respect of an unlawful non-citizen... [And] an officer’s duty to remove as soon as reasonably practicable an unlawful non-citizen under section 198 [of the Migration Act, which outlines removal procedures for unlawful citizens] arises irrespective of whether there has been an assessment, according to law, of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations in respect of the non-citizen.” As one Australian legal researcher explained: “This is saying that Australia is now entitled to return an asylum seeker to a country where they have been, or know they may be, tortured or persecuted.” 



Swiss 'Environmental' Anti-Immigration Plan Is Defeated

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"Fake ecologists, real fascists. Ecopop No!"


“Fake ecologists, real fascists. Ecopop No!”


A purportedly pro-environment campaign to keep out immigrants has been defeated in Switzerland.
The campaign was initiated by  Ecologie et population — usually abbreviated as Ecopop — which describes itself as “the only environmental organization in Switzerland, which focuses on population growth.” In 2012 it gathered enough signatures to force a binding national referendum on a two-part proposal: to limit annual immigration to 0.2% of the country’s total population, and to devote 10% of Swiss foreign aid to population reduction programs in Third World countries.
In an interview with the BBC, a spokesman for Ecopop explained that both proposals aimed at the same goal: “For Switzerland the key source of the fast growth of population is immigration, hence we have to limit that. If however you look at poor countries the source of the population growth is clearly fertility.”

The Green Party, which called for a no vote, accused Ecopop of scapegoating immigrants for problems they didn’t cause and promoting neo-colonial policies towards poor countries: “It is not our role to say you are having too many children, when in fact we are causing 80% of the environmental pollution.

In the referendum vote, held November 30, voters rejected the Ecopop proposal by a decisive 3-to-1 margin.
That’s an important victory, but the fight is far from over. The right-wing Swiss Peoples Party (SVP), which has more seats in the federal assembly than any other party, also favors strict limits on immigration, and is not averse to using environmental arguments to promote them.
For an idea of where this might lead, look across the border in France, where this week the virulently anti-immigrant National Front launched a movement called New Ecology to campaign for “patriotic” environmental policies including opposition to a global climate agreement and support for France’s nuclear industry. Campaigns such as Ecopop’s strengthen such groups by lending green cover to their racist policies.

from here

For the Socialist Party's stance on overpopulation see this article




Spoiled Food

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Our food system isn’t working. Obesity is spreading globally and diet-related illnesses are the biggest killers in most higher-income countries. Harsh agricultural methods degrade our lands and both cause climate change and suffer from its consequences.  The UK food system uses roughly eight calories of energy to produce every one calorie of energy from food. The UK food system employs approximately 11% of the UK labour force, but most of them are in the least paid jobs, with salaries of less than half the UK average. We all eat food. But how much does each of us know about what our whole food system really looks like and how it’s changing?

Advocates of the UK's food system will point to the sheer volume of products available as evidence that choice exists and that consumers can vote through spending. But most of these products are owned by the ten or so behemoths (Pepsico, Kraft, Nestle etc.) that dominate the supermarket shelves. The "choice" between different brands is what these multinationals are heralding here—the choice between Doritos and Cheetos, Robinsons and Rubicon—but real alternatives just don't exist. 

"We're fed the story of empowered consumers shaping the markets for the better, that through their purchasing power, product selection, and preference for environmentally friendly goods they can shape the world," says Stephen Devlin, an environmental economist at the NewEconomics Foundation (NEF) "The reality is it's just not that convenient, especially when it comes to food. If anything they're probably the disempowered half of the producer-consumer relationship."

The annual number of people given emergency parcels from food banks last year was almost a million.

"People are struggling to afford food, but that's a reason to change the system, not perpetuate it," says Devlin. "The whole point of the system was to make food cheap and it did that pretty well for quite a long time, with food prices falling pretty consistently in the decades after the war. But if your objective is to eradicate hunger, constantly trying to reduce the price of food won't work. We've basically proven that with the food system we have."

The issue isn't really expensive food, the issue is poverty. The obsession with rock-bottom prices has failed to eradicate hunger in the UK, or the rest of the world. If anything it's contributing to the problem by proliferating dangerous practices—the use of fertilizers, fossil fuels, battery farming, wage poverty—and jeopardizing the environment. The modern agricultural methods utilized are unprecedented in the natural history of the world; the widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides, the sheer stress soil goes through in churning out such phenomenal yields, and the huge carbon emissions built up across the supply chain are all contributing to climate change. So much of what we eat will travel an intercontinental web of laboratories, farms, factories, and supermarkets before hitting our plates.

"Climate change and the food system are totally intertwined. It's almost a unanimous opinion amongst commentators and analysts that the way we produce food is hugely detrimental to the environment." explained Devlin. “But that's not all it is. It's just failing on so many other levels as well. Diet related illnesses are ruining us at the moment—obesity, heart disease, diabetes, various cancers—so much of it is about how we eat and that's determined by the food system. The health impact is completely unsustainable."

Nor do the potential risks of genetically modified crops, increased exposure to fraud and disease, and wages for producers suppressed by a chain of middlemen get factored in too much. The "sophisticated" system thrives on consumer ignorance, with many people having a warped perception of how food is produced. Labels rarely offer more detail than the standard traffic lights and percentages on the packets, let alone factory conditions and wider environmental impact. More than one in three 16- to 23-year-olds didn't know bacon came from pigs, according to a survey.

Resistance to change is strengthened by the highly concentrated agricultural land ownership (0.25% of the population own all 17 million hectares.) 

"We can categorically classify it as unsustainable. I'm a big believer in the idea that the power lies with communities, at the grassroots," says Devlin. "That's ultimately where most of the change comes from in order for it to be sustainable and democratic. The problem is the current system puts up a lot of boundaries to that kind of community action…”

A successful food system is one that delivers well being, social justice and environmental stewardship yet within capitalism the distribution of working hours – with most people either overworked or underemployed – forces households to seek time-efficiencies, opting for fast food and ready meals, forces many to compromise on the quality and healthfulness of what they eat and so propping up companies that provide these products.


Race and Inequality

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 The Great Recession hit American families hard across the board, but it turns out that certain households haven’t recovered as well as others. According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, the wealth inequality in America has widened significantly along racial and ethnic lines since the country began recovering from the Great Recession, and blacks and Hispanics have been hit the hardest.

The poverty rate for black Americans age 18-64 in 2012 was 27%. The rate for white Americans that age was 9.7%, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality reports. Both numbers have risen over the past decade. For black children the poverty rate is 33% — the highest rate of any group of children in the country

$629: The median weekly earnings for a black full-time wage or salary worker in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compare that to $802 for a white worker. The New York Times reports both numbers have climbed since 1980, but the gap between the two has widened.

$98,305 is the average wealth for black families in 2010. Investopedia defines wealth as "total market value of all [one's] physical and intangible assets," making it a strong indicator of whether a family gets richer or poorer as time passes. The average wealth of white families in that same year was a staggering $631,530. The wealth gap between white and black Americans has widened steadily for at least the past decade.

In 2013, the median wealth of white households was 13 times that of black households. In 2013, the median black household had a wealth of $11,000, compared to $19,200 in 2007.

$33,321 is the median household income for black families in 2012, down from $37,558 in 2007. Compare that to $57,009 for white families in 2012 — a nearly $24,000 gap that hasn't just remained constant, it's actually widened since the early 1970s.

$27,808 is the average amount of student debt for a black college graduate in the class of 2012. The average white student graduated with $19,613, or roughly $8,000 less.

The unemployment rate for black college graduates in 2013 was 13.4%, a number that's been climbing since 2007. That's more than twice the unemployment rate for white grads in 2013, which stood at 5.6%.

Nearly a 100 people murdered by registered members of online white supremacist network Stormfront in the past five years, as of April.

It is 21 times more likely a black male age 15-19 was to be killed by police than a white male the same age between 2010 and 2012

4,347 per 100,000 of black men were incarcerated in 2010. The number for white men that same year was 678 per 100,000.

Madison’s  Young, Gifted and Black Coalition mounted a series of large, peaceful protests over the past few weeks. “We will NOT support the status quo. We will NOT continue to support prison labor and low wages,” they say in their post. “Corporations are making millions off of government subsidies for employees on government assistance,” the organizers argue. 

The current white-to-Hispanic median wealth ratio has reached its highest point since 2001. The study shows that the median white household has 10.3 times the wealth of the median Hispanic household. That number is drastically higher than at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007, when white households had 8.2 times the wealth of Hispanic households. From 2010-2013, the median wealth of Hispanics decreased from $16,000 to $13,700. During the same time frame, the median wealth of non-Hispanic white households actually increased by 2.4 percent, rising from $138,600 to $141,900.

While white households have recovered better than both black and Hispanic households, there is still one common trend throughout every group – everyone’s median wealth is still below its pre-recession level.

Who are in the middle?

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Early this year Hillary Clinton made headlines when, in response to a question about her personal fortune, she claimed her family was “dead broke” when they left the White House. That statement followed New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide casting those making $500,000 a year as merely upper middle class. More recently Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s reckoned being a millionaire does not constitute living high above the ranks of ordinary people. The data suggest otherwise. Lew was usually paid between $700,000 and $800,000 a year as New York University’s vice president, while also receiving a $440,000 mortgage subsidy. Lew also earned $300,000 a year from Citigroup, with a “guaranteed incentive and retention award of not less than $1 million.” Lew was given a $940,000 bonus from Citigroup in the same week the bank received a $300 billion bailout from the federal government.

According to IRS data, 99 percent of American households make less than $388,000 a year, and 95 percent make less than $167,000 a year. The true middle in terms of income—that is, the cutoff to be in the top 50 percent of earners—is roughly $35,000 a year.

Of course, there remains a bit of a debate about what constitutes “rich” in America. A recent New York Times poll showed 27 percent of Americans believe a family of four can be considered “rich” if its annual income is between $100,000 and $200,000, while another 20 percent say “rich” is defined as making between $200,000 and $300,000 a year. Two-thirds of the country told the pollsters that making more than $300,000 means a household is wealthy.

A recent study found Americans grossly underestimate the divide between CEO and average worker pay. Such misperseptions were recently spotlighted by comedian Chris Rock in an interview with New York magazine. Of inequality, he said: “People don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.”

Everyone knows about wealth inequality. Everyone knows about poverty. To end global poverty, we have to end global capitalism. There are a host of people’s movements across the world who are trying to battle poverty. But with little success. The Arab Spring was a vast anti-poverty protest – a revolution for “Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice” (aish, hurriya, adala igtimaiyya) as the slogan went.. Bread or ‘aish, in the Arabic of Egypt, refers to life. The call for bread is a call for life. What produces poverty? Not the lack of property titles, or the lack of high growth rates or the lack of twenty-first century infrastructure. What produces poverty is a system of social production for private gain — in other words, capitalism.

In capitalism not only accounting but the actual impetus of markets favors accumulation and profit making. Not only pharmaceutical companies but even hospitals are generally seeking market share and profit. Those without money get short shift. Those with money, should be separated from them, if possible. Those who own, whether the pharmaceutical companies or the hospitals or medical practices, should benefit. Profit above all sounds like rhetorical excess but in fact it is only a little wrong. Profit always operates, always pressures, and what is gained that isn’t actually profitable is gained only by virtue of fighting hard against profit making pressures. Ironically, everyone knows this.

Capitalist contradictions - crises emerge - and then get sorted out before the next crisis comes. These crises do not bring capitalism to its knees, do not inaugurate a new order. The agent for the transformation, even in the twenty-first century, remains the working class. This is the class that has no capital. It is more realistic to believe that a socialist alternative, rather than charity or World Bank policies, will make poverty history.