Tuesday, February 09, 2016

America Needs Revolution

Capitalism has failed us.  We're overworked, underemployed and more powerless than ever before. Economists Emanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman found in 2014 that the concentration of wealth held by the top 0.1 percent has reached levels not seen since the 1920s. 16,000 Americans hold as much wealth as 80 percent of the nation’s population – some 256,000,000 people – and as much as 75 percent of the entire world’s population. The combined wealth of these 16,000 people is more than $9 trillion. A few billionaires are even wealthier. In the United States, 536 people had a shared net worth of $2.6 trillion at the end of 2015. Fortune 500 CEOs earned about 42 times as much on average as the typical worker in 1980. Today they earn 373 times as much. In fact, seven of this country’s 30 largest corporations paid their CEOs more than they paid in taxes.

American full-time salaried workers supposedly laboring 40 hours a week actually average 49, with almost 20% clocking more than 60. Today, only 11% of American workers belong to a union. Labor union membership has plummeted from a third of all private-sector workers in the 1950s to fewer than 7 percent today.

The median household income in the United States fell by more than 7 percent between 1999 and 2014. It’s now slightly over $53,000. According to the Census Bureau, median income has dropped by 6.5 percent since 2007. But rents keep going up. As a result, the number of families spending more than half their incomes on rent—the 'severely' cost-burdened renters—has surged from 7.5 million to 11.4 million in the last decade, a stunning 50 percent increase. Billionaire Steve Schwarzman finds the growing anger among voters "astonishing." But his company, Blackstone, is a corporate model for making money at the expense of desperate former homeowners. Since the recession, it has become the nation's leading landlord, buying up tens of thousands of homes at rock-bottom prices, and then renting them back, often to the very people who lost them.

Americans pay more for pharmaceuticals than the citizens of any other advanced nation, for example. We also pay more for Internet service. And far more for health care. With the average cost of a year's worth of life-preserving drugs over $50,000, 43 percent of sick Americans skipped doctor's visits and/or medication purchases in 2011-12 because of excessive costs. It keeps getting worse. About half of households age 55 and older have no 401(k) or IRA or other retirement savings.  Trade treaties protect the assets and intellectual property of big corporations but not the jobs and wages of workers. Over one generation, from 1984 to 2009, the net worth of an American under 35 dropped from $11,521 to $3,662, a 68 percent decline, in good part because of debt. In approximately the same time, the percentage of stay-at-home young adults rose from 11 percent to almost 24 percent. Apple makes a $400,000 profit per employee while paying its retail specialists less than $30,000 per year.

From the end of World War II through 1968, the wages for workers in the middle, and even the minimum wage, tracked productivity closely. Then something changed. Between 1979 and 2012, after accounting for inflation, the productivity of the average American worker increased about 85 percent. Over the same period, the inflation-adjusted wage of the median worker rose only about 6 percent, and the value of the minimum wage fell 21 percent. As a country, we got richer, but workers in the middle saw little of the gains, and workers at the bottom actually fell behind. If the national minimum wage had kept pace with productivity it would have been $22 per hour by 2013. Instead it’s $7.25 today. A slightly more conservative says the minimum wage would have been $18.42 per hour in 2015. On the other end of the spectrum most of the nation’s income gains are now going to the top. Income gains for the top 1 percent now dwarf those of other households. In 2011 the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that “between 1979 and 2007, income grew by: 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households; 65 percent for the next 19 percent; just under 40 percent for the next 60 percent; and 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent.” And most of the gains since the 2008 economic crisis have gone to the wealthiest among us. The middle-income cost of living has risen significantly. Even after wages are adjusted for inflation, middle-income has failed keep up with increases in such costs as child care, higher education, health services, retirement, and housing – expenses that disproportionately affect middle-income households.

Women earn just 80% of men's pay, and they have barely half the retirement assets of men. But women are acquiring more undergraduate degrees than men, more master's degrees than men, and more PhDs than men.

U.S. oligarchs maximize their wealth and keep it, using the “democratically elected” government to shape policies and laws favorable to the interests of their class. They insist that all of us have the “freedom” to create a business in the “free” marketplace, which implies that being hard-up and poor is our own fault. Wealth and income are more concentrated at the top than in over a century. And that wealth has translated into political power. The economic system is rigged in favor of those at the top. Giant companies have accumulated vast market power. Wall Street banks have more of the nation’s banking assets than they did in 2008, when they were judged too big to fail. Hedge-fund partners get tax loopholes, oil companies get tax subsidies, and big agriculture gets paid off. Low wages increases the profits of Walmart and their ilk, but requires its employees and their families to apply for food stamps and Medicaid in order to avoid poverty – an indirect government subsidy of Walmart. Overall, more than 48 million Americans live in poverty. The U.S. poverty rate for children is over 20 percent, higher than that of all other major developed countries.

Over a third of American troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been diagnosed with some sort of mental disorder. Yet from 1970 to 2002, the per capita number of public mental health hospital beds plummeted from 207 per 100,000 to 21 per 100,000 -- nearly a 90 percent cut! After the recession state funding was cut some more.

In 1971 Congress passed the bipartisan Comprehensive Child Development Bill to establish a multi-billion dollar national day care system for the children of working parents. In 1972, President Richard Nixon vetoed it. In 1972, Congress also passed a bill (first proposed in 1923) to amend the Constitution to grant equal rights of citizenship to women.  Ratified by only 35 states, three short of the required 38, that Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, was declared dead in 1982, leaving American women in legal limbo.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, obliterating six decades of federal social welfare policy “as we know it,” ending federal cash payments to the nation’s poor, and consigning millions of female heads of household and their children to poverty.

The average African American family had readily available liquid wealth of only $200 in 2011, less than $1 for every $100 owned by whites. A middle-aged black person with a graduate degree has about the same odds of being a millionaire as a white person with only a high school diploma.

For every THREE homeless children in 2006 there are now FIVE. For every THREE children on food stamps in 2007, there are now FIVE. And yet spending on children's programs recently declined for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The wealthy are afraid of radical change, the kind that might bring about a popular uprising against Big Business greed. It's too late for gradual change. Real change never comes from the top on down. It comes from the bottom on up. No change unless millions of people become engaged in the political process in a way that we have not yet seen. Re-designing our social and economic system is a massive undertaking and expecting one person or one party to do it is lunacy. Some pessimists say we shouldn’t even try to change the order of things and simply accept the status quo. They think it is foolish to aim for fundamental change and call socialism an impractical pie-in-the-sky goal. This is defeatism. Too many rather not rock the boat. But here’s the problem. There’s no way to reform the system without rocking the boat. There’s no way to get to where we should be without aiming high. Any other political strategy is defeatism. Change will never happened without people championing bold new ideas.

Socialism can be achieved if the people are mobilized for it with determined enthusiasm. There are more people who care than who don't care, it's a matter of working with those that are psychologically afraid of change and showing them why it is necessary. We will start challenging as true proponents for change, and we will start winning. If we don’t try there is no chance of hope. To say otherwise is to encourage a false cynicism that breeds permanent despair. This system is not sustainable. We must end capitalism and make economic democracy work for the many, not just the few. We must try. We have no choice. Which side are you on?

GOOGLE-EYED! (weekly poem)


A Guardian letter writer said he would be contacting
HMRC to arrange to pay less tax--as per Google.

I’m writing to HMRC,
About my rate of tax;
As I’ve heard with their ‘Sweetheart Deals’,
The rate is rather lax!
I would prefer the three percent,
That Google have achieved;
Than pay the social dues of which,  
I’m normally relieved.  

I’ll contact George in Downing Street, (1)
To knock off a few pence;
And make a verbal contract and,
Then shake hands like bent gents.
We’d best avoid a written deal,
Because that’s evidence;
And George prefers to bullshit and, (2)
Then sit upon the fence.

The ‘Don’t be evil’ motto of,
The Google Company; (3)
Is clearly one big corporate sham,
Not unsurprisingly.
There’s clearly laws for rich and poor,
In our society;
And Google’s deal exposes one,
More impropriety.

(1) Google executives met Government ministers 25 times in the last 18 months before settlement.

(2) The tax deal, supposedly was 3% p.a. but £33m of the £130m paid was related to share options.

(3) 2005. Michael Howard’s chief of staff, Rachel Whetstone, joined Google as a European director.
2011. David Cameron’s head of strategic communications, Tim Chatwin, became a Google director.
2012. Jeremy Hunt’s adviser, Naomi Gummer, became Google’s UK policy adviser.
2015. Chris Grayling’s adviser, Amy Fisher, was responsible for Google’s policy communications.
2015. Baroness Shields, MD of Google Europe, Middle East & Africa became a Conservative minister.

© Richard Layton

Stealing medicines

This article on the Counter Punch website by Fran Quigley, a professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where he directs the Health and Human Rights Clinic is worth extensively quoting from:

“Along the path toward the creation of a global capitalist system, some of the most significant steps were taken by the English enclosure movement.
Between the 15th to 19th centuries, the rich and the powerful fenced off commonly held land and transformed it into private property. Land switched from a source of subsistence to a source of profit, and small farmers were relegated to wage laborers. In Das Kapital, Marx described the process by coining the term land-grabbing. To British historian E.P. Thompson, it was “a plain enough case of class robbery.”
More recently, a similar enclosure movement has taken place. This time, the fenced-off commodity is life-saving medicine. Playing the role of modern-day lords of the manor are pharmaceutical corporations, which have taken a good that was once considered off-limits for private profiteering and turned it into an expensive commodity. Instead of displacing small landholders, this enclosure movement causes suffering and death: Billions of people across the globe go without essential medicines, and 10 million die each year as a result.
Many people curse the for-profit medicine industry. But few know that the enclosure erected around affordable medicines is both relatively new and artificially imposed. For nearly all of human history, attempting to corner the markets on affordable medicines has been considered both immoral and illegal.
It’s time now to reclaim this commons, and reestablish medicines as a public good…

….As the English enclosure movement proved, exclusivity can be artificially created by literally or figuratively walling off common access. Exclusivity can be undone as well: The modern open-source software movement takes a good that some have tried to make exclusive — software code — and freely shares it, leading to a plethora of creative developments….

….“Letters patent,” meaning open letters, were issued in 14th century England to induce foreign craftsmen to relocate there. Attempts to coordinate global intellectual property rules led to the 1883 Paris Convention and the 1886 Berne Convention, and eventually to the creation of the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organization in 1967. But nations who signed on to those agreements retained the ability to determine the length of patents and what products would be covered. For many nations, that flexibility meant excluding medicines from patent protection. For example, Germany’s patent law of 1877 labeled medicines as “essential goods,” along with food and chemicals, and prohibited any attempts to patent them.
 In the middle of the 20th century, several post-colonial nations adopted similar laws. India’s patent law extended only to the processes for creating medicines, not the drugs themselves. The law opened the door for Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers to reverse-engineer patented drugs and then devise different, cheaper production methods. India soon became known as “the pharmacy of the developing world.” Brazil, Mexico, and other Central and South American countries also adopted limits on the patentability of medicines.
European countries like Italy and Sweden didn’t grant pharmaceutical patents until the 1970s, and Spain refused to do so until 1992. Even when medicine patents were given, many nations granted liberal access to compulsory licenses for patented drugs, meaning that generic manufacturers were free to make the drugs and pay a royalty to the patent holders. During the period between 1962 and 1992, Canada granted 613 licenses to import or manufacture pharmaceutical products….

….The enclosed medicine system inflicts additional damage beyond the artificially inflated cost of patented medicines. The resources of for-profit corporations are inevitably concentrated on the development and promotion of medicines that can be sold at a high mark-up to wealthy consumers. “Lifestyle” drugs that address male pattern baldness or sexual performance are exhaustively researched and marketed, yet the past half-century has seen just one drug developed to treat tuberculosis, which kills more than a million people each year. A landmark study published by the British medical journal The Lancet showed that of the 1,556 new chemical entities marketed between 1975 and 2004, only 21 were for tropical diseases….Remarkably, a full 70 percent of the medicine brought to market by the industry in the past 20 years provided no therapeutic benefit over the products already available. Instead, these “me too” drugs were put forward in order to grab a share of an existing lucrative market.

It beggars belief

Police are using plain clothes officers to catch people begging on the streets. Sussex Police last year arrested more than 60 people in Brighton. Critics argue that fines routinely imposed for begging offences simply increase the financial burden on rough sleepers, many of whom have issues with drug or alcohol abuse.

A defence lawyer, Ray Pape, who routinely deals with cases involving homeless people and individuals with mental health issues in Brighton said he was dealing with an increasing number of begging cases. “It is difficult to see why it is in the public interest to pursue these cases. I am not talking about aggressive begging or harassment but situations where people have asked for a few pence. I currently have two cases where the arrest was made by plain clothes officers. In one case it was two officers who stood in close proximity to the individual hoping that they would be asked for some change. Is this a good use of public money? We are talking about the cost of officers’ time to make and process these arrests, the cost of detention and the cost of prosecution.”

Jason Knight, a Brighton businessman who works with homeless people in the city, said: “People are effectively being victimised for sleeping rough. We have a ridiculous situation where homeless people are being arrested for asking for a few pennies, fined by the courts and then put back out on the street. These are vulnerable individuals who are being criminalised. Surely the police have something else they could be doing with undercover officers than this?”

The arcane legislation being used to arrest and prosecute beggars is the 1824 Vagrancy Act, which outlaws activities such as fraudulent palmistry and unlicensed trading by “petty chapman”, defines begging as a person “placing himself or herself in any public place, street, highway, court, or passage, to beg or gather alms”. It was introduced nine years after the Battle of Waterloo in part to deal with an increasing problem with jobless soldiers discharged following the Napoleonic Wars. Its original critics included the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, who complained it was too sweeping and failed to take into account individual circumstances. It is a view shared by many of the law’s contemporary detractors, who say its failure to distinguish between aggressive begging or harassment and so-called passive begging, such as simply sitting in the street, makes it an archaic and overly-blunt legal tool. The legislation, which includes a legal definition of the term “incorrigible rogue”, has been entirely repealed in Scotland and was thought to have become defunct in England.

Mobilize for May-Day

In a capitalist society, only capital matters. Strong unions demand an active and engaged membership. This means participatory democracy, where members actually feel that they are the union, instead of a small clique making all the decisions. Unions are under attack because they aren’t viewed as winning. But there is still time to show that the bosses have misjudged union power if unions mobilise their memberships to defend themselves. A massive show of force is necessary. When the union acts powerfully, the members feel powerful; strong unions defend themselves. And they defend their community against corporate attacks. All unions should be the voice of the people in their ongoing fight against low wages, deteriorating working conditions and rising costs of living. Ultimately, unions must be transformed.

The San Francisco Labor Council, has called upon the AFL-CIO to organize “massive marches in Washington D.C. and on the west coast to defend public services and to call on the Supreme Court to rule against the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. CTA…” In Oregon SEIU 49 and Portland Jobs With Justice passed a similar resolution, as did the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, which specially called for May 1st to be the day of national action.

Open Letter to the U.S. Labor Movement about the Friedrichs Case
To All Labor Union Officers and Rank and File Members:

Our movement faces imminent danger. The Supreme Court has signaled that it plans to rule against unions in the landmark case ‘Friedrichs vs California Teachers Association.’ 

The destruction that such a ruling would cause cannot be exaggerated. Public employee unions could be decimated across the nation, exposing all other unions to deepening attacks. Employers everywhere will be emboldened to take action against us, directly affecting our bargaining power and ability to organize. When Scott Walker attacked unions in Wisconsin, AFSCME’s membership dropped 64%. Similar numbers are possible across the country if we lose Friedrichs. 

In response, the San Francisco Labor Council recently passed a resolution calling for the AFL-CIO to organize “...massive marches in Washington D.C. and on the west coast to defend public services and to call on the Supreme Court to rule against the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. CTA…”

We, the undersigned, urge all unions to collaborate to make this vision a reality: a nationwide day of action, with mass rallies in every state. On or about May 1st would give us time to fully mobilize before the decision will be announced. 

Massive rallies across the country can become a reality if we fully mobilize our members as well as the broader community. The war on unions is part of the same war against working people in general who are suffering under the insecurity of part-time, low-wage work and cuts to public education and social services combined with rising rents and other costs. Their fight is our fight and ours is theirs. If we fight for them, they will fight for us.

We can also mobilize all the positive sentiment that the public shares towards the public employees who are targeted by Friedrichs, especially teachers, firefighters, and other union members dedicated to public service. 

We encourage all members and officers to sign and forward this letter to others in your local community and/or regional/national affiliates of your union. If necessary, members are encouraged to use the resolution included below to pass in your unions, which is a modified version of the San Francisco Labor Council resolution. 

By uniting the labor movement on this issue and working with our community allies we have the power to affect the Supreme Court's decision.

The fate of the U.S. labor movement is in our hands. 

Draft Resolution to Defend Public Employee Unions and Public Services by Marching on the U.S. Supreme Court

Whereas: Public sector unions have been in the forefront of defending education and other vital public services from cutbacks and privatization; and

Whereas: Right-wing think tanks and state and federal politicians, bankrolled by corporations and billionaires who stand to benefit from workers' inability to defend themselves, are attacking public and private sector unions; and

Whereas: In the first half of 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case brought by a dissident teacher and right-wing legal foundations that seek to impose open shops on public unions, thereby encouraging freeloaders and severely weakening the dues base necessary to provide services; and

Whereas: The severity of the threat is underlined by the fact that Wisconsin AFSCME's membership declined by 64% after Governor Scott Walker stripped publicsector unions of their bargaining rights and a year later imposed “right to work” laws that stopped all unions, public and private, from requiring membership or fair share payments to sustain the union; and

Whereas: Union members organized to fight are the real power that can stop the assaults on working people’s livelihood;

Be it therefore resolved that [name of union] use political action funds to mobilize members and friends to oppose all manifestations of “right to work;” and

Be it further resolved that [name of union] urge the AFLCIO, NEA, and SEIU to work together to organize massive marches in Washington D.C. and in every state on or about May 1st, 2016, to defend public services and to call on the Supreme Court to rule against the plaintiffs in Friedrichs v. CTA; and

Be it finally resolved that [name of union] use its ties to other unions, labor councils, labor federations and to those organizations served by union members to build a united front to educate and apply pressure to counter the threat of right to work laws nationwide.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Act Now or Face Doom

A study from the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern warns that delaying global carbon emission reductions by even ten years will have a profound impact on the long-term.
"The results of our study underscore the urgency of action", says Thomas Stocker, co-author of the study and past Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "With every decade of delaying global emission reductions, we lose roughly 0.5°C of climate target". This means that the most ambitious targets already become unachievable within the next few years. 

The agreement hashed out at the COP21 Paris climate talks "leaves a lot of leeway" for countries to postpone making critical cuts to their emission outputs—"more than the climate system allows," said report co-author Patrik Pfister.

Since policy decisions are based on money and profits above all scientists are given a back seat if any at all and the chances of really accomplishing what it takes to save Planet Earth are slim to none. The quest for wealth and "growth" via capitalist economics rules and moulds the future. 

The Great Australian Divide

Sydney – particularly those parts where the richest live – is full of wild beauty. Beaches, harbour coves, houses poking up through native gardens noisy with bird life, and perched on cliffs. According to an AustralianBureau of Statistics report, Sydney has become Australia’s most unequal city, where 11.4% of all income goes to just 1% of residents.

This class of super-rich Australians can be found in Sydney’s CBD, the inner-city areas of Haymarket and the Rocks, and the eastern suburbs Rose Bay, Vaucluse, Watsons Bay, Double Bay and Bellevue Hill – places where more than 22% of all income went to the top 1% of earners.

The cliffs around the eastern beaches of Bronte and Tamarama are favoured eyries for Sydney’s banking and finance community, and high real estate price barriers and a lack of mixed housing means these areas are like gated communities in all but name. You have to go all around the coastline to south Coogee and into Maroubra before you come across any significant pockets of public housing.

In his 2006 book Evil Paradises, Mike Davis edited a selection of essays examining spaces occupied by a super-elite – “phantasmagoric but real places – alternate realities being constructed as ‘utopias’ in a capitalist era unfettered by unions and state regulation. These developments – in cities, deserts and in the middle of the sea – are worlds where consumption and inequality surpass our worst nightmares.”

Think private islands, gated communities, towers rising out of the desert built by workers imported for the task, who sleep in shipping containers. In 2014, public housing in Millers Point was sold. The state government announced the sale of nearly 300 properties and said with the proceeds it would build new homes further out – in Sydney’s south-east and south-west, the Illawarra region and the Blue Mountains. One of the Millers Point homes was auctioned for a record $4.2m.

Enclaves of wealth, ghettoes of poverty

Fifty percent of Filipino families judge themselves as poor are revealed by the “self-rated poverty” survey figures of the Social Weather Stations in December 2015. This means from a total population of 100 million, 50 million admit to being poor. The much-touted growth in gross national product merely reflects the galloping growth in the income of fictitious persons—known as corporations—and not real people and families. These corporations belong to a mere 1 percent of population.

If you don't ever see poverty, you can convince yourself it doesn't exist. Within half a kilometer from any affluent house in Metro Manila, there is a squatter colony where people live in miserable conditions. This is generally true no matter how upper-class and exclusive one’s residential subdivision is, give or take a few exceptions.

The upper class stay in their manicured landscaped gated communities, driving along roads lined with prosperous businesses, cocooning themselves in the air-conditioned offices. At the weekend they visit the make-believe world of shopping malls, and at home become glued to the fantasy world of television. They live, work, and play in pockets of comfort insulated from the compacted communities of poverty around them without the inconvenience of trespassing upon the dens of squalor of their poor neighbors. But no matter how much the rich isolate their lives from the lives of the poor, pretending that they do not exist, they affect the lives of the privileged in so many crucial ways, nor will the poor go away.

Chinese New Year

February 8 marks the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year

Spending during this season in 2014 on shopping and dining was around 610 billion yuan – about US$100 billion in a country of extreme wealth that is also home to 7% of the world’s poor. This is almost double the amount American shoppers spent over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Migrant workers are the backbone of China’s low-cost and labour intensive economy. They make up an estimated 278m workers who have migrated from rural parts of China to work in the big cities and for many, Chinese New Year is their only holiday. It’s often the only chance they have to spend some time with their entire family, including children who are left with their grandparents. Chinese New Year is believed to be behind the largest movement of people in the world. Up to 2.91 billion trips are expected to be made this year via road, railway, air and water. 100,000 migrant workers stuck in Guangzhou train station in the heart of China’s manufacturing region due to train delays, as they try to make their long journey home for the holiday. Migrant workers bring home their hard earned cash, which is vital to the local rural economy. Earnings from the big cities enable families to move into new and better homes, send their children to school, purchase livestock and other home additions such as new flat screen TVs.

Wealthier Chinese opt to avoid the New Year chaos and social obligations by travelling abroad for their holidays. Last year 5.2m left mainland China over the holiday. The most popular destinations are other countries in East Asia, as well as the US and Australia. China is the biggest outbound tourism spending country, with vast amounts spent on luxury goods. In 2015 Chinese consumers spent more than US$100 billion on luxury goods, accounting for 46% of the world’s total. Around 80% of these sales are made abroad.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Avoiding the tax

Executives and major shareholders of more than 160 listed companies transferred 80 billion baht to children, spouses, parents, siblings, cousins and holding companies

Under the law, inheritors of a legacy will be taxed 10% of the amount exceeding 100 million baht, though the tax rate will be halved to 5% if beneficiaries are donors' direct ascendants or descendants. If the person who created the will is still alive when a bequest worth over B20 million a year is made to heirs who have a direct blood relationship, recipients will be liable to 5% tax for the amount exceeding B20 million. Inheritors with no direct blood line to the donor will be taxed a flat 5% for a legacy worth over B10 million a year. Taxable assets include property, securities such as treasury bills, bonds, shares and debentures as well as investment units, deposits, registered vehicles and financial assets to be described in royal decrees.

Prasert Prasarttong-Osoth, the founder of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services Plc (BDMS) and Bangkok Airways Plc, transferred his stakes in both listed companies with a combined worth of over B10 billion to his wife and children, the SEC report said. Prasert, the richest businessman on the Thai stock market last year, transferred 9.96 billion baht worth of BDMS shares to his wife and children and another 868 million baht worth of Bangkok Airways shares to a daughter.
Wichai Thongtang, dubbed the take-over king, transferred 173 million shares of BDMS worth 3.75 billion baht to his children.
BDMS vice-chairman Chuladej Yossundharakul also passed his shareholding in the luxury hospital chain worth 4.16 billion baht to his family, the report said.
Ichitan Group Plc president and chief executive Tan Passakornnatee transferred 90 million shares to his three children with a combined value of 1.1 billion baht, while his wife Ing Passakornnatee also gave 60 million shares valued at nearly 1 billion baht to her two children.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

The new locals

According to the 2011 census, Bognor Regis just over 10% of the town’s 24,000 residents come from the so-called accession countries of the European Union, with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia accounting for by far the largest number. The town hall says that in several areas of Bognor more than 25% of the residents now speak an eastern European language as their first.

“I don’t believe they come for the benefits, not for a minute,” said Robert, 50, a nurse married to a Pole – also a nurse – “We need them; I have a lot of Polish and Lithuanian colleagues and I don’t know how we’d do without them. Plus, it’s a crap benefit system anyway, even for us. I was ill for three months and got no help at all with the mortgage; my wife worked overtime to get us through. She’s never claimed, and never would. It’s really not benefits that brings people here.”

Toms Vimers, 25, a Latvian logistics team operator, said he “never thought once” about benefits when he was planning his move five years ago, and that even now, apart from the £80 child benefit that “everyone gets”, he did not fully understand the system. “Maybe there are things I should be getting,” he said. “I don’t know. No idea.”

Krzysztof Kaplanski, 26, an HGV driver, said he needed all the money he could get to help him pay off the 20 years remaining on his mortgage, but he was not claiming any kind of benefit or tax credit. “I don’t know who they are, all these east European people the government says are doing this,” he said. “My sister is a nurse here, she gets child benefit but that’s all. We come to make a better life for ourselves; how is living on benefits a better life?

Natalia Totoriene, 37, the deputy manager of a betting shop, said I work full time; I have three kids. But nobody I know came here for benefits and I don’t think not getting them will stop anyone coming. Maybe one or two. There’s always someone. But I know many, many more British people who live on benefits than east Europeans.” The couple, who have a home and mortgage, receive child benefit and a disability allowance for their eldest son, who is partially deaf, as well as subsidised childcare that allows Natalia to work full time. “The real benefit for us here is the better care our son gets,” Totoriene said. “He has been in a special school, he gets individual classroom support, free hearing aids. But we both work and we pay our taxes. We’re not getting anything we shouldn’t.”

Elezi has been working in the supermarket for three years. Before that, when she arrived in 2008, she did – like almost all newcomers – agency work, in food processing, warehouses, factories, contract cleaning. “I came here to work,” she said. “Before I came, I didn’t even know you could get benefits here. Yes, now we have tax credits and child benefit, maybe £100 a week, but we spend the money on our son, and we save some, for his education.”

Toyubur Rahman, Bognor’s town centre manager, “The people who come here, live here, work here, settle here, whose children go to school here, are part of our modern identity…Our problem street drinkers are not east Europeans. They’re here because there are jobs for them; because they do them well, and at a good rate.

The Price of Pollution (2)

Invisible pollution kills up to 9,000 people a year in the UK capital. But under government plans, from school gates to shopping streets, Londoners will be breathing dangerous air until 2025. The greatest problem is with nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a pollutant that inflames the lungs, stunting their growth and increasing the risk of respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer. Unlike smog of the past, NO2 is a hidden killer. London has an acute problem with NO2, possibly the worst in the world. Putney high street broke its annual emission limits just eight days into the new year, with Knightsbridge, Oxford Street, Earls Court and Brixton all following suit before the end of January. Across the country, the government estimates 23,500 people die prematurely from NO2 pollution. The life-shortening effects of air pollution are equivalent if not greater than the risks of inactivity and obesity and alcoholism. Richard Howard, at the think-tank Policy Exchange found a Londoner’s life expectancy is cut by about 16 months by air pollution with poorer neighbourhoods worst affected.

Prof Sir Malcolm Green, founder of British Lung Foundation and an eminent respiratory physician, is in no doubt about the scale of the issue. “London certainly has significant pollution, enough to have effects on health. It is a hidden killer.” In addition to NO2, particulate matter (PM) remains at double the WHO guideline levels. “It’s like inhaling little particles of tar,” says Prof Green. “They go right down into the lungs and can pass through the membrane into the bloodstream”, increasing the risks of strokes and heart attacks. Though levels in London are close to the higher EU limits for PM, no threshold has yet been established below which harmful effects end.

 1,000 schools in London sit just 150 metres or less from roads on which at least 10,000 vehicles go past. Simon Birkett, director of the Clean Air in London campaign group, says: “Children are ultimately defenceless. They can’t vote but they are lumped with the health effects for life.” His research revealed that one-third of London’s schools are close to busy roads and suffer illegal levels of pollution

NO2 levels are 2.5 times higher inside the vehicle than outside. There’s a concentrating effect of being in a confined space. “The public health message is, you can’t hide from air pollution inside a car,” says Ben Barratt, an air quality expert at King’s College London. “We advise the public to leave the car at home whenever possible. This exposes you and your family to lower levels of air pollution, you’re not contributing to the problem, and you’re also getting the benefits of exercise. That’s tackling three of our biggest public health challenges in one go: air quality, climate change and obesity.” Birkett cites the great smog of London, which killed 4,000 people over the course of a few weeks in 1952. It led to the landmark Clean Air Act of 1956, which rapidly improved air quality, but recent decades have seen air pollution climb again with the rise of diesel vehicles. “We are back where we were in a sense,” he says. “There were 4,000 deaths from the great smog and we did something about it. Now it’s 4,000-9,000 deaths a year in London. We need to ban diesels as we banned coal 60 years ago. That is the only way we can comply with World Health Organization guidelines,” Birkett says. The Ultra Low Emission Zone coming into force in London in 2020 will charge – not ban – more polluting vehicles but it only covers 300,000 people in the capital, not the 3 million living in polluted inner London boroughs.

We Accuse...

More than 60 Australian writers – including Nobel laureate JM Coetzee and Booker prize winners Thomas Keneally and Peter Carey – have condemned the government’s offshore detention policies as “brutal” and “shameful”. The open letter’s  61 signatories include: Coetzee, a South African-born novelist and naturalised Australian who won the Nobel prize in 2003; Booker prize winners Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally; Helen Garner, Gail Jones, Michelle de Kretser, Alexis Wright, and Frank Moorhouse.

Both Nauru and Manus detention centres have seen consistent reports of physical and sexual abuse of men, women and children, as well as acts of self-harm and attempted suicide, including by children as young as seven. Two asylum seekers have died in offshore processing since 2014.

The writers ask: “do we wish to live under a government that routinely treats other humans cruelly? Can we be sure of our own immunity to cruel treatment when such practices are, we know, obviously common, no matter how secretive immigration authorities are about the entire detention system. Not only does our current system bring shame to Australia, in its demonstration of brutal government power and disregard for human dignity it brings shame on us as a nation. We express our outrage at this in the strongest possible terms.”

The letter cited former director of mental health services for IHMS Dr Peter Young, who said conditions on Nauru and Manus meet the threshold for “torture”, and Dr David Isaacs, a paediatrician who formerly worked on Nauru and who describes conditions there as “child abuse”. It also quotes Behrouz Bouchani, an Iranian journalist incarcerated on Manus Island, who wrote of his detention: “How can I describe the pain and suffering? Who can answer our questions and explain what human rights and freedom means? ...nobody can answer my questions and they are treating me like a criminal. We begin the day with pain and we sleep under nightmares.”

Author Thomas Keneally, who won the Booker Prize in 1982 for Schindler’s Ark, explained the lives of children were being used as “pawns” to pursue the government policy’s of stopping boat arrivals. “These children are being forced to endure every pain imaginable short of death, for this stated policy aim of stopping drownings at sea. The best professional advice, and all the medical advice, says that these people, these children in particular, will be damaged by being sent to those places. But the proposition that the only way to stop drownings at sea is to run these punitive camps is not only wrong, it is grotesque. There are other policies, they may be difficult, but there are other more constructive, more humanitarian, and less punitive policies Australia could be pursuing.” He said political discourse over refugees in Australia had been debased by political sloganeering and the calculated dehumanisation and demonisation of asylum seekers.

The Price of Pollution (1)

It became known that Volkswagen Group has been cheating with fraudulent emission tests for diesel engines over the last six years, resulting in on-road emissions vastly exceeding legal standards for nitrogen oxides in Europe and the United States.

Volkswagen has been labelled responsible for the loss of over 45,000 healthy years of European lives, in a study by Dutch researchers. Researchers warn that the total could rise to 72,000 years if the affected vehicles aren't recalled. The study, 'Valuing the human health damage caused by the fraud of Volkswagen', is published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

From 2009 to 2015, approximately nine million fraudulent Volkswagen cars, as sold in Europe and the US, emitted a cumulative amount of 526 ktonnes of nitrogen oxides more than was legally allowed. These fraudulent emissions are associated with 45 thousand disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and a value of life lost of at least 39 billion US dollars, which is approximately 5.3 times larger than the 7.3 billion US dollars that Volkswagen Group has set aside to cover worldwide costs related to the diesel emissions scandal.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Billionaires don’t live in the same world as us

Steve Schwarzman is worth around $12 billion. He’s the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of the Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest financial firms, specializing in private equity, hedge funds, and mergers. He’s a Republican. In 2010 Schwarzman told the New Yorker, “I don’t feel like a wealthy person.” When there was some talk of closing the carried interest loophole, Steve Schwarzman strongly objected, as if Wall Street was actually being invaded: “It’s a war…. It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

But he freely admits (or pretends to admit) that he doesn’t understand why others aren’t as satisfied with the status quo as he is.

“I find the whole thing astonishing and what’s remarkable is the amount of anger whether it’s on the Republican side or the Democratic side…. Bernie Sanders, to me, is almost more stunning than some of what’s going on in the Republican side. How is that happening, why is that happening?..What is the vein that is being tapped into across parties, that has made people so unhappy?” He said "The question is, what is everyone protesting about? There are a lot of things that I guess you could, but what's needed actually is a cohesive, healing presidency, not one that's lurching either to the right or to the left….”  Having said that, Schwarzman expressed support for Donald Trump. 

Fellow Blackstone billionaire Byron Wien back in 2010 perhaps offers some clue when he said   
“The retirement benefits for state workers, really not only in New York, California and New Jersey, but throughout the country, are very generous. Too generous. And it is very hard to change that.... But I think we have to be more realistic. We literally can't afford the benefits we have given our retirees in state and local governments. And we have to change that.”

In early 2015 Wien commented about the depleted savings of “many” households: 
“Among those who had savings prior to 2008, 57% said they’d used up some or all of their savings in the Great Recession and its aftermath. What’s more, only 39% of respondents reported having a ‘rainy day’ fund adequate to cover three months of expenses and only 48% of respondents said that they could not completely cover a hypothetical emergency expense costing $400 without selling something or borrowing money. Of course, for those in the top 10% of wage earners – ‘it’s all good.’ 

Last October, Blackstone Group paid a $10 million penalty for cheating customers (10/7484th – or .1336% – of its income.)

Steve Schwarzman is “astonished” by peoples’ anger that lots of people resent that he made billions in the financial racket that brought the country to its economic knees. He wants you to believe he’s not smart enough to figure out that we don’t understand the system that made him a billionaire while directly and indirectly impoverishing millions. Of course, the naiveté he pretends to possess isn’t real. He knows full well about the class war…and knows he is winning it…for now

Organics - A partial answer


It’s not just a matter of producing enough, but making agriculture environmentally friendly and making sure that food gets to those who need it. There's already more than enough food being produced for the world—low yields are not the root of hunger. Even with drought, waste and spoilage, there is enough to feed the worlds hungry. Organic agriculture is a relatively untapped resource for feeding the Earth’s population, especially in the face of climate change and other global challenges. Mainstream conventional farming systems have provided growing supplies of food and other products but often at the expense of other sustainability goals.

A new review of four decades of science has come to this conclusion: organic agriculture has a key role to play in feeding the world.

John Reganold, Regents Professor of Soil Science and Agroecology at Washington State University, and doctoral candidate Jonathan Wachter compared conventional and organic farming using the metrics of productivity, environmental impact, economic viability, and social well-being. Reganold and Wachter write that "no single approach will safely feed the planet. Rather, a blend of organic and other innovative farming systems is needed." 

Critics have long argued that organic agriculture is inefficient, requiring more land to yield the same amount of food. In terms of productivity, they found that organic yields averaged 10 to 20 percent less than conventional—but that's not always the case. "In severe drought conditions, which are expected to increase with climate change, organic farms have the potential to produce high yields because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils," Reganold said. "If you look at calorie production per capita we’re producing more than enough food for 7 billion people now, but we waste 30 to 40 percent of it.”

On environmental impact, organic agriculture, which now accounts for one percent of global agricultural land, is the winner, as it supports more biodiversity, creates less water pollution and greenhouse gases, and is more energy efficient. On top of that, organically managed soils can hold more carbon and can reduce erosion.

Comparing the two using the economic metric, organic is the winner again, because consumers are willing to pay more. And while both approaches have drawbacks in terms of the social well-being metric, organic still has the edge because of less exposure to chemicals for communities and farm workers.

There has to be something very wrong with an economic model that requires, to sustain itself, endless suffering.

How connected is the world?

It’s a smaller world than we think when the conventional wisdom was that there were six degrees of separation between everyone on the planet but Facebook used its friend graph to calculate the degrees separating its 1.6 billion members and found it is as few as 3.57 people. That means every person in the world – you and me, are connected to every other person by an average of three and a half other people. Within the United States, the gap is even smaller, 3.46 degrees.

Our collective “degrees of separation” have shrunk over the past five years. In 2011, researchers at Cornell, the Università degli Studi di Milano, and Facebook computed the average across the 721 million people using the site then, and found that it was 3.74. Now, with twice as many people using the site, we've grown more interconnected, thus shortening the distance between any two people in the world.

As the Socialist Party always argued...we are all friends and comrades

Solidarity is win-win

According to 2015 Italian National Institute of Statisticsestimates, there are more than 138.000 Bangladeshi nationals legally residing in Italy – a 9 % increase compared to 2014. 75.6% of Bangladeshi workers in Italy are employed in the service sector. 23% of them are employed in the hotel, restaurant and catering sector. Additionally, more than 20.000 Bangladeshi entrepreneurs were registered as business owners in 2013.

There are two kinds of visas, one for agricultural workers and one for all the others. The former is quite easy to obtain and costs less, about € 8.000, while for the latter, the one I obtained, a sponsor residing in Italy is required and the cost is over € 12.000.

After China, Bangladesh is the second country of destination of remittances from Italy, amounting to €346.1 million in 2013 (7.9% of all remittances)

Restaurant worker Roni is just one of the many faces representing the migration crisis Italy is facing today. He earns more than €1000 per month, enough to send some money home, requiring over €400 per month for his own survival in Italy, he is able to send home between €400 and €600 per month. He is contracted for six hours of work each day, he works for 10 hours or more for the same wage, and, days of leave or sickness do not count as working days. Roni claims he is paid less than other workers with different nationalities. Although Roni’s terms of employment appeared to be better than those of other migrant workers, it nevertheless disregards many of the employment rights regarding remuneration, sick-leave, and weekly working hours outlined in the many directives set out by the EU Commission. With the weakest suffering the worst consequences of the crisis, from a policy perspective, there is no doubt that an integrated EU approach will be the only effective way to face the issue. This is especially true when attempting to ensure implementation and enforcement of the social welfare laws, human rights and labour rights laws.

 “I think government policies to protect workers are good”, he explained. “It is not a matter of policies, it is how they are implemented to make sure that laws are respected.” And continued “This is not only about bad bosses exploiting migrants”, said Roni, “we, as migrant workers have to stand up for our rights and stop accepting these humiliating conditions. As long as there is another migrant willing to accept unfair conditions, my attempts to fight for a better contract and for workers’ rights will be in vain.” Roni carried on by making an appeal to his own people: “let’s help each other and put our strengths together. Do not forget to help the newcomers… Solidarity will lead to a win-win situation and it is the only way to improve our condition.”

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Slavery and the Accomplices

"I thought I was going to die. They kept me chained up, they didn't care about me or give me any food…They sold us like animals, but we are not animals – we are human beings."

21 million men, women and children are enslaved globally, according to the International Labour Organisation. These people may have been sold like property, forced to work under mental or physical threat, or find themselves controlled by their "employers".

Last month the Nestle company, along with Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, failed to get the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a lawsuit seeking to hold them liable for the alleged use of child slaves in cocoa farming in the African nation of Ivory Coast.

The high court’s refusal to take up an appeal by the three commercial giants comes after Nestle admitted in 2015 that it had bought materials from Thailand produced on the backs of forced labor. In reporting that it had unknowingly used such products, the company said it was entering a new era of self-policing.

Andrew Wallis, chief executive of Unseen UK, an anti-trafficking charity advocating for more supply chain accountability, argues that Nestlé’s self-reporting could also be seen as a tactic to head off or deflate other pending civil litigation suits. This would be the same Nestle' that continued selling infant formula to mothers in poor world slums although they knew that using formula with dirty water would course the deaths and morbidity of infants. And they suborned and bribed doctors and nurses to do so.

“It’s easy to own up to something that has already been uncovered,” he says. “By the time Nestlé owned up to slavery in the Thai seafood industry it was accepted knowledge. It’ll be a brave new world when companies are actually doing the real investigation to probe into part of their supply chains that have remained outside the public domain.”

“If you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labour," said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International.

A six-month investigation has established slaves forced to work for no pay for years at a time under threat of extreme violence are being used in Asia in the production of seafood sold by major US, British and other European retailers. Men who have managed to escape from boats supplying Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, a company with an annual turnover of $33bn (£20bn), and other companies like it told the Guardian of horrific conditions, including 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings. Some were at sea for years; some were regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going. Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them. The supply chain works in this way: Slave ships plying international waters off Thailand scoop up huge quantities of "trash fish", infant or inedible fish. This fish on landing to factories is ground down into fishmeal for onward sale to CP Foods. The company uses this fishmeal to feed its farmed prawns, which it then ships to international customers. The alarm over slavery in the Thai fishing industry has been sounded before by non-governmental organisations and in UN reports. The Guardian has established how the pieces of the long, complex supply chains connect slavery to leading producers and retailers.

Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco, Aldi, Morrisons, the Co-operative and Iceland as customers of CP Foods. They all sell frozen or cooked prawns, or ready meals such as prawn stir fry, supplied by CP Foods and its subsidiaries. CP Foods admits that slave labour is part of its supply chain. "We're not here to defend what is going on," said Bob Miller, CP Foods' UK managing director. "We know there's issues with regard to the raw material that comes in to port, but to what extent that is, we just don't have visibility."

Thailand is considered a major source, transit and destination country for slavery, and nearly half a million people are believed to be currently enslaved within Thailand's borders. There is no official record of how many men are enslaved on fishing boats. But the Thai government estimates that up to 300,000 people work in its fishing industry, 90% of whom are migrants vulnerable to being duped, trafficked and sold to the sea. Rights groups have long pointed to Thailand's massive labour shortage in its fishing sector, which – along with an increased demand from the US and Europe for cheap prawns – has driven the need for cheap labour.

Capitalism is slavery ultimately. An economic dictatorship by capital exploiting all those who make the products and profits. The reformers are really just calling for the spoils of empire to be spread out more equally in the first world.

Is politics a racket? (short story)


Is politics a racket? (1957)

A Short Story from the September 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

He assures me with expansive worldliness that he is not interested in politics, and continues to instruct me that “. . .  it’s a dirty business . . .  a racket!” So he is not interested in what my dictionary tells me is “the science of government” With great temerity I inquire whether or not he casts his vote at elections. Yes, he votes at elections. Why? Well, according to him, there is a principle involved: “. . . The right to vote! Lose that and where will you be? ” He launches into a diatribe about Hitlers and Stalins, and tells me about totalitarianism, finishing, as he began, with: “Lose the right to vote, and where will you be? ”

In order to ascertain where we will be if we lose the right to vote, I wish to know where we are now: this I convey to him.

His rhetoric overwhelms me, and his knowledge of history . . .! With calculated erudition he turns the pages of the past, telling graphically of the struggles of our forbears to win for us (“the common people") the right to choose our own form of government; he reminds me that “universal suffrage” is the strongest weapon in the arsenal of “the people.” He leaves no gainsaying the truth of his instruction—truly have our forefathers won for us out of their blood, sweat and tears a great thing: the right to choose for ourselves, in defiance of any oligarchy, how we shall run our world.

He rests after this, and I take advantage of his silence to ask a few more questions. I confess first that he has proven his point, but that in so doing raises the gravest suspicion that we, “the common people,” are ill-deserving the prize our forefathers paid so dearly for; that in fact we are downright unworthy of our democratic heritage, using it as we do. Did not he himself declare politics to be “a racket”? What names should we apply to ourselves, we who permit the bright path to freedom, so hardly won for us by those who went before, to become the toll-road of racketeers?

Misuse of the Vote
We have the power to control our own destinies, and how have we used this power? Have we not poverty —oh yes. organised and catalogued in the bureaus of a “welfare state,” but still poverty? Do we not still fear the boss will sack us, and us with next year's wages mortgaged for this year’s necessities? Are we oblivious to the fact that we possess the measure of full employment; we do only because we make weapons of the most staggering potency with which to destroy one another? Is this the way we control our own destinies?

We have partly succeeded in relegating Nature to the role of the servant; invented the most complicated devices to ease our toils; developed the most intricate electronic marvels capable of working out formulae at the press of a button that would normally require weeks of concentration by an army of mathematicians. We have conquered the gods and devils of our forefathers; are capable of providing a plethora of all the things needed by humanity; we CAN control our destinies, and yet we permit an archaic condition of social relationships to maintain conditions of want, misery and destruction. We are asked to fight totalitarianism which denies us the right to vote and choose our way of life: yet, given that right, we allow this terrible economic despotism to prevail!

He looks dejected. Lamely he agrees that this is the terrible truth—in fact, he assures me it is things being as I claim they are that forces on him the conviction that politics are a swindle: he had always been aware that the Tories and the Liberals could do nothing about this sort of thing, but the Labour Party ...? They had PLEDGED themselves to destroy these evils, yet when they got the political reins the old Band Wagon just acquired new faces and rumbled on as before.

They don’t love the Tories
It would appear, according to him, that there is just nothing we can do about it. With a knowledge of events that belies his alleged disinterest he illustrates for me the dismal failure of the Labour Party in their efforts to change the lot of the worker. Interpreting a gesture from me as an attempt to interject on behalf of that Party, he anticipates with: "And don’t tell me they didn’t get a chance; the people may not be very politically conscious, but they are not so stupid as not to know when they ARE well off—if they were why’d they sack the Labour Party? Don’t tell me it was out of sentiment for the Tories!”

This, of course, is logic with a vengeance; no hairsplitting, nor playing with dubious statistics: the workers withdrew their allegiance from the Labour Party at the polls, in spite of the fact that that Party was allegedly the Party of Peace, Prosperity and Plenty. Either Labour had not delivered the goods, or the mass of the people had gone mad. On reflection it does seem peculiar— rather like the organised workers consciously and voluntarily cutting their living standards for the poor rich!

I have not told him yet that I do not support the Labour Party, and I am very happy that I do not, for I am a poor hand at political apologetics!

And he knows about the Communist Party too. As he indicts he seems to postulate my support for that which is indicted: accusingly he asks me why he should struggle to bring the British "Commies" to power. (Not knowing aught of political alchemy, I am incapable of giving, in the language of serious discussion, a reply.) He speaks of prison-type social security and the probable fate of bell-ringing shop stewards under a Soviet system.

And now again this pessimism pervades his talk: the utter futility of politics, the uselessness of trying. The sombre philosophy of disinterest—and despair.
I inquire whether or not society can afford the luxury of disinterest. If he was a fire-fighter whose fire-fighting activities had been unsuccessful in the past, could he morally justify this as a reason for refusing to deal with his next fire? Would not the unsuccessful fireman, troubled by his lack of success, demand of himself a complete re-approachment to the whole question of HIS UNDERSTANDING of the nature of fire and, accordingly, of the most successful method of combating it?

Angrily he accuses me of considering him an utter fool. I am insinuating, he accuses, that he does not understand that the poverty of the overwhelming mass of the people, the soul-destroying insecurity with which we are faced, and the horror of stock-piled H-bombs arise from the existence in the world of a system of economic organisation that has long since outlived its usefulness- Capitalism.

Social Ownership
Hopefully I suggest that if Capitalism, with its private ownership of the machinery of wealth production is the basic cause of our problems, then is not the solution to be found in a system where these means of production are owned by society as a whole? No. I do not mean nationalisation. I reply to the unspoken criticism that shows in his eyes; I mean exactly what the word “owned” means, when not used in its political context by Labour or Communist politicians. Owned by the people in a way similar to that in which the family unit own a chair or the food in the cupboard—to be used by all in accordance with their self-determined needs, and abused by none. Poverty would be eliminated, for in such a society the keystone of production would be the satisfaction of human needs. Wages would cease to exist, for the old capitalist relationship of owner buying the labour-power of workers would no longer obtain: and since there would be no competition between rival groups of trade-seeking capitalists for markets, trade routes, sources of raw materials or cheap labour, workers would no longer be called upon to indulge mass murder on the battlefields of the world, and our H-bombs could take their rightful place (rendered duly harmless) in the museums of the world, with the other barbarous weapons of class-society.

Has he not said that the right to vote is the right to choose for ourselves the manner in which we shall run our world? It is exactly that right! We have wrung from the hands of the Master class a blank cheque on which we can write: "Socialism” and achieve a sane world! What stays our hands? Apathy, ignorance, and the confusion created by reformist political parties, like the Labour and Communist Parties, who tell us we should devote our lives to struggling for the apple, when we can win the orchard with less trouble!

*      *      *

He is a cautious man and is not yet convinced that the way of the Socialist Party is the only way forward for the working class; but now he is asking questions! We welcome questions, for we are not a Party of sheep being led into the pens of confusion and disillusionment by "leaders.” We welcome questions because we are confident that if our fellow-workers face up to the reality of existence under Capitalism, made even more terrible today by the threat of atomic war, and "plague” us with questions, they, too, will join us in the struggle and bring nearer the dawn of Socialism.

          Richard Montague

The ‘Dogs of War.’

A report by charity War on Want claims Britain has become the world’s “mercenary kingpin” with hundreds of firms employing thousands of ex-military freebooters in a shadowy industry worth billions. Private military and security companies (PMSCs) are reaping massive profits from the war, instability and chaos which have accompanied the ‘War on Terror.’ The report, titled ‘Mercenaries Unleashed: The brave new world of private military and security companies,’ examines the rise of the industry over the past 15 years. For those years the firms have been cashing in on the instability created in the Middle East and Central Asia following the removal of the Saddam Hussein and Taliban regimes. It argues that the time has come to ban mercenary firms and “end the privatization of war.”

The charity’s executive director John Hillary said: “Private military contractors ran amok in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving a trail of human rights abuses in their wake.” He continued “For too long this murky world of guns for hire has been allowed to grow unchecked,” Hillary said. “In letting the industry regulate itself, the government has failed.” He added “The time has come to ban these companies from operating in conflict zones and end the privatization of war.”

14 companies have head offices in the English town of Hereford, where Britain’s most famous special forces unit, the SAS, is based. War on Want estimates around 46 companies compete for recruits from the special forces. Most mercenary companies boast of their links to special forces, elite infantry units like the Royal Marines and to the intelligence community. High profile groups like Aegis Defence Services, Olive Group and 3e Global are all at pains to highlight their military expertise. Former British Army Major General Graham Binns, now CEO of Aegis, as saying: “In the world of business, ex-military people have got a lot to offer – I certainly hope so anyway.” The report notes that “at the heart of the industry is a revolving door between PMSCs, military, intelligence and corporate worlds, with the interests of these sectors closely intertwined.”

“In Iraq in 2003 and 2004 money was basically free,” Director General of the British Association of Private Security Companies Andy Bearpark says in the report. “That meant contracts were being let for ridiculous amounts of money – millions and millions of dollars of contracts being pumped into the industry. The industry exploded in terms of the volume of business on the back of Iraq.” It is estimated that Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office handed out Iraq security contracts worth around £150 million (US$218 million) between 2007 and 2012.

“Royal Dutch Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and other multinationals have signed deals to produce, refine and export oil and gas from the country, and are willing to pay PMSCs to help secure their operations,” War on Want claims. Another big winner is G4S, now the biggest single private security firm in the world. Again, its activities straddle both government and corporate security interests. In 2015 G4S announced it had won a $270-million-dollar contract with the Basrah Gas Company, even as it renewed its contract with the UK government to secure the British embassy in Afghanistan for another five years. The Afghan deal is valued at around £100 million.

In 2011 Prime Minister David Cameron authorized the employment of armed guards on British registered ships. It was at a time when the seizing of ships by Somali pirates was regular news. Since then the British have been profiting from a maritime security industry estimated to be worth $500 million per year. Experts say UK firms “dominate” seaborne security operations. Professor Chris Kinsey of King’s College told War on Want that British military firms are “following the cash cow ... putting armed contractors on ships is something the British are particularly good at, and they seem to be the ones dominating this particular type of security activity.”

One key feature of maritime security operations is the use of a legal loophole to operate floating armories, keeping the ship-borne guard well stocked with weapons and ammunition. Heavily guarded boats ready to do business can be found throughout the Indian Ocean, with some registered in countries with soft-touch arms regulation. One ship, the report claims, is licensed in landlocked Mongolia. In 2013 the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills issued 50 licenses for floating armories in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

Africa looks set to be the next big thing. Cashing in on political upheaval appears to be the name of the game. The report claims all the major UK firms operate in Africa, with Aegis claiming to provide services in 18 countries and G4S reportedly making a third of its profit from the continent. Andy Baker, head of African operations for G4S, is quoted in the report as pointing out that “demand has been very high across Africa. The nature of our business is such that in high-risk environments the need for our services increases.”

In 2015 the Swiss government banned private military firms operating from inside its borders from taking part in foreign conflicts. British authorities do not appear to have been inspired by the Swiss example, however.