Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Power Elite

According to the academic study, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizen” by Martin Gilens, a Princeton professor and Benjamin Page of Northwestern,  “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests (that) have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. ” This claim of policy implementation by powerful groups follows in the tradition of the Winner Takes All Politics of Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.

The elite are the CEOs of major financial institutions, like Jamie Dimon of J.P.Morgan Chase  and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. They are the band of Private Equity plutocrats like Apollo’s Leon Black, who took home $560 million last year, or Blackstone’s Steve Schwartzman or KKR’s Henry Kravis or Carlyle’s David Rubinstein. Not to speak of the dozens of Hedge Fund billionaires like George Soros and the activist investor band, about whom the financial media are positively giddy. They are the very top echelon of the 300,000 wealthy investors who make up the 1/10th of 1% of America who collect each year over 60% of the capital gains, taxed at far less than ordinary income. They use their influence to block attempts to limit the leverage of large financial institutions and to maintain the favorable carried interest tax treatment.

From here

The Pain of Eid

Eid is an occasion when the divide between the rich and the poor is quite visible. The latter want to celebrate this festival like the former, but they can’t.  Eid-ul-Fitr is a time of humiliation for the poor of society.

“Occasions like Eid are torturous for me as I see the burning desire in the eyes of my children for new cloths, bangles and shoes,” Freeduddin, who is a skilled worker at an engineering concern, said. The hard labour at the factory he works leaves his body in pain at every evening. “But, the agony and fear I spent the last 15 days of Ramazan with is more than anything else,” he remarked. “I just pray I get my salary on time to meet at least the routine expenses.”

Another labourer Hakeemullah considers festivals like Eid as a luxury for his family. “In the present circumstances, a poor feels lucky if he manages to provide two square meals a day to his family…Eid is a luxury my family cannot afford.”

 A lower middle income worker Naseem Ahmad is living this notion practically. “I see the children of my boss buying even moon any day, but I can’t fetch a new garment for my kid on a special occasion like Eid,” Ahmad lamented. This comparison worsens the frustration of the low income holders further. “I feel poor when I witness how other people are enjoying life.”

“The society humiliates me every day because of my poverty, but on Eid I feel humiliated in front of my wife and children for not being able to fulfil their desires,” Samiullah, a construction worker.

Muslims spend a lot of money on food during the 30 days preceding the festival. And, due to higher prices of food items during Ramazan, they don’t have much in pockets at the end the month. Therefore, the poorer segments of society find it hard to cope with the additional expenses needed to buy new clothing and shoes for the family members for Eid.

From here

McDonald's Lose Round One

Some businesses mis-classify their workers as independent contractors to cut costs; others use agencies to hire temporary workers who often work for years performing the same duties as permanent employees without the job security and employment benefits. Companies like McDonald’s exert a tremendous amount of control over the employment practices of their franchisees and then disavow responsibility for resulting labor violations.

“Employers like McDonald’s seek to avoid recognizing the rights of their employees by claiming that they are not really their employer, despite exercising control over crucial aspects of the employment relationship,” said Julius Getman, a labor law professor at the University of Texas. “McDonald’s should no longer be able to hide behind its franchisees.”

The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that McDonald’s could be held jointly liable for labor and wage violations by its franchise operators — a decision that, if upheld, would disrupt longtime practices in the fast-food industry and ease the way for unionizing nationwide. Some legal experts described it as a far-reaching move that could signal the labor board’s willingness to hold many other companies to the same standard of “joint employer,” making businesses that use sub-contractors or temp agencies at least partly liable in cases of overtime, wage or union-organizing violations.

Richard F. Griffin Jr., the labor board’s general counsel, said he found merit in 43 of the 181 claims, accusing McDonald’s restaurants of illegally firing, threatening or otherwise penalizing workers for their pro-labor activities. In those cases, Mr. Griffin said he would include McDonald’s as a joint employer, a classification that could hold the company responsible for actions taken at thousands of its restaurants. Roughly 90 percent of the chain’s restaurants in the United States are franchise operations. The fast-food workers who filed cases asserted that McDonald’s was a joint employer on the grounds that it orders its franchise owners to strictly follow its rules on food, cleanliness and employment practices and that McDonald’s often owns the restaurants that franchisees use.

lawyers for the workers asserted that considering McDonald’s influence over its franchisees, the decision merely recognized reality.
“McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the N.L.R.B. shows there’s no two ways about it: The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple,” said Micah Wissinger, a lawyer who filed complaints on behalf of several McDonald’s employees in New York. “The reality is that McDonald’s requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.”

The cases filed with the N.L.R.B. grew out of the five one-day strikes demanding a $15 wage that fast-food workers conducted against McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants beginning in November 2012. Over 100 workers complained to the board, saying that they had been fired, had their hours cut or were otherwise punished for the protests. Throughout the debate to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, as well as the campaign to pressure McDonald’s and other restaurant chains to adopt a $15 wage floor, the companies have said that they do not set employee wages, that the franchise owners do. The N.L.R.B.’s decision would weaken that defense considerably. The Service Employees International Union, said that McDonald’s had significant control over its franchisees’ employment practices, noting that it supplies many with software telling them how many employees to use at any given hour. The workers pointed to an instance in which McDonald’s even told a franchise owner that it was paying its employees too much. The average fast-food wage is about $8.90 an hour.

New Zealand's Inequality

The combined wealth of New Zealand’s Rich-Listers has passed $50 billion, more than doubling the combined wealth of Rich-Listers just a decade ago.

“For the bottom half of New Zealanders inflation-adjusted income has barely grown since the mid-1980s. Workers are normally told that wages will rise with productivity gains, but the productivity of the New Zealand workforce is 50% higher now than it was 20 years ago. Workers have been sold a lie.”  said FIRST Union General Secretary Robert Reid.

John Key, the country’s wealthiest Prime Minister in history, has seen his personal fortune rise by $5 million over the last year.

A Picture is Worth a 1000 Words


The United Nations released a series of satellite images showing the extent of destruction in Gaza following weeks of ongoing conflict, dated 25th July. The destruction has continued and intensified since then. See Link below:

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Cynical Rhetoric Of Class War

In California, the beaches belong to everyone. No private landowner along the coast can legally block the public from beach access. But a private landowner can sure try. Billionaire Vinod Khosla bought 53 coastal acres south of San Francisco six years ago for $32.5 million, then locked the gate on the access road locals had been using for decades. A coastal protection nonprofit group has since taken Khosla to court. Khosla, a private equity kingpin, told reporters earlier this month that activists challenging him are offering up only “the cynical rhetoric of class warfare — when all they really want is to permanently and irreparably upset the balance between public access and private property rights in our state.” What about the 1976 state law that guarantees the public beach access? Says Khosla: “I disagree with that.”

Summer Camps For Future Elites

America's hottest new luxury option?
The summer camp!

Operators have been busy, the New York Post reports, turning rustic sleepaways into five-star “experiences” complete with everything from air-conditioned bunks to water-skiing.
Top summer camps for the 1 percent now fill up nine months in advance and cost as much as a college semester.
Eight weeks in Maine’s “blue-chip” camps typically run around $11,000.
The International Riding Academy in New York’s Catskills charges $2,150 a week and offers enticing optional extras, like chauffeur-driven stretch-limo hops down to Manhattan’s biggest toy store.
In Oregon’s High Cascades camp, tykes can learn how to snowboard — from former U.S. Olympic team trainers — at just under $4,000 per week . . .

A Shoddy Secret Deal

More people are killed by asbestos than road traffic accidents, with around 2,500 people dying every year from exposures which happened up to half a century ago.

A Government compensation scheme supposed to help the families of people killed by exposure to asbestos was too heavily influenced by the insurance lobby, the Justice Select Committee, a parliamentary inquiry, has found. It investigated how the Government had decided on a new compensation programme paid for by insurance companies and found the process gave insurers an unfair advantage. They discovered the government entered into a secret deal with insurers before deciding on the amount of compensation payable, the details of which they refuse to publish.

The committee said a heads of agreement was made between the Government and the Association of British Insurers, adding that the coalition was not open or transparent about the existence of the document. "The provisions of this document, which remained undisclosed to other interested parties, have shaped the Government's approach to this issue, and we are concerned that the Government appears to have had no intention of supplying us with this document as part of our inquiry.”

Because of the time-lag between exposure and a cancer developing many people cannot trace the insurer of the employer which allowed them to inhale the lethal fibres with no protection. The insurance industry has saved billions of pounds by not paying out on old policies because their details cannot be found. The announcement of a compensation scheme was a breakthrough for the families of asbestos victims, but they were disappointed when it emerged that they face being charged up to 25 per cent of their awarded damages to pay for legal costs.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The Justice Committee is right to criticise the shoddy deal done between the insurance industry and the Government. Victims of this terrible and fatal illness deserve proper and swift recompense.”

Thursday, July 31, 2014

One View Of Glasgow's Commonwealth Games

Since the Commonwealth Games got underway, much praise has been heaped on the city and its population for the event’s apparent success so far (even if Usain Bolt was alleged to have suggested otherwise). So to write something that is strongly critical of particular aspects of the event and its consequences perhaps runs a high risk of being declared too negative – and “off message”.
Yet in winning the games for Glasgow, important questions were asked about the social and economic effects of such an event. And important questions remain about how the games are working for some Glaswegians. We have been particularly aware of these as part of a research project into the city’s east end funded by the Openspace Research Centre.

There were protests around different proposed aspects of the games long before the event began and even as they started. For instance, a two-day protest began on the day of the opening ceremony by some low-paid workers in Glasgow council’s workforce over payment for additional hours and over management-imposed shift changes (which the council tried and failed to ban through the courts).
Other protests have focused on some of the impacts of the games on different communities. These have included protests over the forced eviction of a family whose house was being demolished to make way for the athletes' village, and over the closure of a day care centre to make way for other games infrastructure. And at other times there have been voices and protests around the cost of staging the games in the context of austerity and rising levels of poverty. Much of this received little media focus.

Involving local people in a partnership to make the games a success was an often-repeated claim made by organisers and council officials at the time of the bid to host the games in 2007. This was said to mean “working with” the communities in the areas most affected by the games. The event promised to bring prosperity, economic growth and badly needed urban renewal. “Legacy” was the byword for a flagship event that was presented as meeting the long-term interests of Glasgow – and especially those who lived in relatively disadvantaged east-end areas such as Dalmarnock and Parkhead, where the opening ceremony and other events have been taking place, and which is home to the athletes’ village.

Yet just weeks before the games began there was mounting anger among the residents of Dalmarnock and Parkhead that their lives are being hugely and negatively affected. “Treated like animals”, feeling “caged in” and being “kept out” are among the claims that have been made repeatedly by a number of the residents in the areas most affected. Such resentment has been as local amenities, a community centre and local shops in Dalmarnock, were bulldozed to make way for games venues and other related infrastructure.
The organisers will retort that there have been improvements to the area. They have built the Emirates arena and the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome, while the athletes' village will be converted into a mix of social and private housing. The national hockey centre has been built at nearby Glasgow Green, the swimming centre at Tollcross upgraded – also in the east end – and there have been improvements to transport infrastructure. Previous government surveys have also indicated that many residents are positive about how the games will affect the area in the long-run.

Yet these undoubted steps forward risk being undermined by the way that the organisers are interacting with the area. There have been longer-term complaints about the frequent disruption to utility supplies and there is a general feeling among many residents that the needs of local people are being overlooked by the organisers. These have largely been sidelined by the officials, dismissed as a temporary blip in a hugely successful event that will only benefit residents in time to come.

Such anger about the disruption to daily life in these communities reached new levels with the construction within a few months of the start of the games of eight-foot fencing around the athletes' village – fencing that has also almost entirely barricaded the residents of Dalmarnock into their housing scheme. Residents in the streets immediately adjacent to the village are effectively cut off from it. A temporary road entrance/exit represents the only way in and out of the area.
The fence is topped by CCTV cameras along its length, with security gates in place to allow into the village only those with the proper security passes. On the whole, the security budget for the games has topped £90m. Like the upheaval beforehand, there was little if any prior notification that it would be implemented in such ways and with such an impact.
People’s access to their properties, their ability to park beside their homes and even to enter their own area have been severely curtailed. Fears have been voiced that in the event of a fire or other incident, emergency vehicles would find it difficult to access some of the streets. Claims have been made that passes will be required for locals to access their own area. There are also health worries because local community health facilities and teams have also been moved out from the games areas. And there was a recent rat infestation within Parkhead and Dalmarnock due to the extensive building along the River Clyde.

The feeling has been strongly voiced that local people are being excluded, actively pushed out and contained in what some have a termed a “prison”. At a large community meeting in the Emirates indoor arena in Parkhead in late May, some residents said to us that, “had this been the [more prosperous] west end, such things would have never been allowed to happen”.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that securing the games is partly about securing them from the residents of the inner east end. As well as the fences, security gates and CCTV, the highly visible presence of police, military personnel and security staff sends out a strong message that the locals are not to be fully trusted. There is also the fact that a large proportion of the security staff both in the east end and elsewhere in the city have been draughted in from London and elsewhere outside Glasgow – so much for using the games to create local jobs.
Far from the warm words about urban renewal, the treatment of the east end only reinforces the longstanding stigmatisation of the area and its people. There are growing demands by many residents for some kind of compensation, but the response from the organisers and council officials has been relatively muted so far.
The view has been allowed to develop that the games are not for ordinary people in the east end to be part of or enjoy. So whose games are they? Who will benefit? It might not be very fashionable to say it during all the excitement of the event, but the strong sense among many residents in the area is that it is not them.

from here

Afghanistan: The Forgotten Unpeople

Last week, here in Kabul, the Afghan Peace Volunteers welcomed activist Carmen Trotta, from New York, who has lived in close community with impoverished people in his city for the past 25 years, serving meals, sharing housing, and offering hospitality to the best of his ability.  Put simply and in its own words, his community, founded by Dorothy Day, exists to practice “the works of mercy” and to “end the works of war.” We wanted to hear Carmen’s first impressions of traveling the streets of Kabul on his way from the airport to the working class neighborhood where he’ll be staying as the APVs’ welcome guest.
He said it was the first time he’d seen the streets of any city so crowded with people who have no work.

Carmen had noticed men sitting in wheelbarrows, on curb sides, and along sidewalks, unemployed, some of them waiting for a day labor opportunity that might or might not come. Dr. Hakim, the APV’s mentor, quoted Carmen the relevant statistics: the CIA World Fact Book uses research from 2008 to put Afghanistan’s unemployment rate at 35% - just under the figure of 36% of Afghans living beneath the poverty level.  That’s the CIA’s unemployment figure - Catherine James, writing in
The Asian Review this past March, noted that “the Afghan Chamber of Commerce puts it at 40%, the World Bank measures it at 56% and Afghanistan’s labor leaders put it at a shocking 86%.”

Overall statistics for Afghanistan are grim. A recent article in the UK’s Independent reported that one million children under five are acutely malnourished, 54 per cent of girls do not go to school and war has displaced 630,000 Afghans within their own country. Relentlessly, the fighting continues. Now, on average, 40 children are maimed or killed in fighting every week.  

Fact of the Day

Total fatalities of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza into Israel, 2001– July 30, 2014: 35

Iron Dome’s efficacy and the number of lives saved, is often expressed in vague or implausible terms, such as “countless lives saved”, “hundreds of lives saved,” and even “thousands of lives saved.”  However, Iron Dome was rolled out in stages beginning March 27, 2011. In the ten years prior to Iron Dome, only 17 fatalities were incurred.

 Israel’s casualty counts always incorporate numbers of people who have been treated for “shock and anxiety,” as well as “light injuries” resulting from the rush to safety, such as “falling down the stairs.” This practice is not employed in Gaza, nor for any other conflict.

A hungrier world

If you thought our post on water shortages was depressing enough, other reports predict famines. The world is headed for a potentially crippling famine by 2050 triggered by unabated global warming and a mounting and little known threat to the world's food supply: ozone pollution.

A study by researchers from MIT and Colorado State University published in Nature Climate Change, a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal explains the world's ability to produce food, however, may be degraded by climate and air quality changes. If everything else stays as it is today, global warming may reduce world crop yields by about 10 percent by 2050.

Portugal's Bandits

Ricardo Espírito Santo Silva Salgado is known in Portugal as “Dono disto tudo,” or “Owner of everything.’  Portugal’s answer to the Rothschilds, the oligarch’s family has been calling the shots in Portugal for over a century. It’s the largest shareholder of the country’s biggest stock market listed bank, and controls a string of other financial companies, agricultural, energy, health care and property companies in Portugal and across the globe.

Last week Ricardo Salgado was arrested. He was detained – later released on bail for €3m – in connection with a long-running investigation into money laundering and tax evasion. Ricardo Salgado’s arrest didn’t come about of nowhere. The Espírito Santo family has been under “intense scrutiny” since earlier this year when an audit ordered by the central bank discovered accounting irregularities at the Luxembourg-registered holding company ESI. The central bank has intervened, ejecting Mr Salgado and barring the family from further involvement in the management of Banco Espírito Santo; this followed loss of control of the bank after a €1bn capital increase to shore up the banks finances, even if the family remains the largest single shareholder. Tied to the bank through cross shareholdings, Portugal Telecom has run into trouble with a planned merger with Oi, operator of one of Brazil’s biggest wireless networks, after the Espírito Santo family failed to repay more than $1bn it owed to the telco.

With ESI and its 100%-owned Rioforte now preparing for bankruptcy, the country’s President Anibal Cavaco Silva has admitted that the failure could be systemic. As is the rule in any country where big money is in charge, the law for white collar crime is skewed to the wealthy who can easily afford the best lawyers, bail cash or damages to keep them out of jail. In the end Big Banking – propped up by mega bail outs – will come out of this mess just fine. And the people will keep paying. Until they decide, collectively, they’ve had enough.

From here

A drying up world

"There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we're doing today," said Professor Benjamin Sovacool of Denmark's Aarhus University, who co-authored two reports on the world's rapidly decreasing sources of freshwater. "If we keep doing business as usual, we are facing an insurmountable water shortage — even if water was free, because it's not a matter of the price," Sovacool said. "There's no time to waste. We need to act now."

 Most power plants do not even log how much water they use to keep the systems going.
"It's a huge problem that the electricity sector do not even realize how much water they actually consume," Sovacool said. "And together with the fact that we do not have unlimited water resources, it could lead to a serious crisis if nobody acts on it soon...We have to decide where we spend our water in the future," Sovacool said. "Do we want to spend it on keeping the power plants going or as drinking water? We don't have enough water to do both.”

The research says that utilizing alternative energy sources like wind and solar systems is vital to mitigating water consumption enough to stave off the crisis.

Unless water use is drastically minimized, the researchers found that widespread drought will affect between 30 and 40 percent of the planet by 2020, and another two decades after that will see a severe water shortage that would affect the entire planet. The demand for both energy and drinking water would combine to aggressively speed up drought, which in turn could exacerbate large-scale health risks and other global development problems.

The World Resources Institute estimates that in India, "water demand will outstrip supply by as much as 50 percent by 2030, a situation worsened further by the country's likely decline of available freshwater due to climate change".

Buying Europe's Bread-basket

Ukraine is the world’s third-largest exporter of cotton and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat. According to a 2013 forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ukraine is poised to become the world’s second biggest grain exporter in the world (after the U.S.), shipping over 30 million tonnes of grain out of the country last year.

According to a report released Monday by the U.S.-based Oakland Institute, over 1.6 million hectares of land have been signed over to multinational companies since 2002, including “over 405,000 hectares to a company listed in Luxembourg, 444,800 hectares to Cyprus-registered investors, 120,000 hectares to a French corporation, and 250,000 hectares to a Russian company.” A deal brokered between China and Yanukovych prior to the political crisis – now disputed under the present regime – granted Beijing control over some three million hectares of prime farmland in the east, an area about the size of Belgium that totals five percent of Ukraine’s arable land.

 International financial institutions (such as the IMF) are imposing Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in Ukraine, which from the experience of the Third World – will undoubtedly lead to severe austerity measures for the people and increase poverty among the Ukrainians.

Ukraine is also one of the 10 pilot countries in the World Bank’s new Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA) project,” Mittal told IPS, referring to a brand new initiative, still in the development stage, which is connected to the Bank’s controversial Doing Business rankings. This index has been criticised by numerous groups including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – comprised of over 176 million members hailing from 161 countries – for favouring low taxes for transnational corporations and lowering labour standards in developing countries as a means of attracting foreign investment. Research into the impacts of the Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ rankings in eight countries – including Mali, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and the Philippines – has yielded similar results: sharp increases in foreign investments and land-grabbing in a bid to appear more ‘business friendly’.

Oakland Institute report’s co-author Frédéric Mousseau says initiatives like the BBA and others exist primarily to pry open Ukraine’s doors to foreign capital. “These reforms sound good on paper, but when you look more closely you see they are actually designed to benefit large multinational corporations over workers and small-scale farmers,” Mousseau told IPS. “Ranking systems like the BBA push for contract farming, which entails farmers working for corporations, instead of as subsistence producers. We are denouncing this rhetoric, and its attendant struggle between different foreign interests over Ukraine’s resources.”

“Until now, Ukraine had banned the use of GMOs in the agriculture sector,” Mousseau stated. “So when we anaylsed the EU Association Agreement we were surprised by article 404, which states very clearly that both parties agree to expand the use of biotechnologies.”

 Monsanto’s Ukraine-based ‘Grain-basket of the Future’ project  offers 25,000-dollar loans to rural farmers and Cargill’s 200-million-dollar stake in UkrLandFarming, the eighth largest land cultivator in the world.

“It is necessary to see this in context of the U.S.– Russia struggle over Ukraine,” Joel Kovel, U.S. scholar and author of over 20 books on international politics, told IPS. “Geostrategic politics and neoliberal economics fit together within the overall plan …in which global finance capital under American control and neoconservative leadership imposes austerity, seeks dominion over the easternmost portion of Europe, and continues the policy of encircling Russia.”

War and Peace

 War and Peace

The United States have been re-supplying Israel with ammunition that it has used in the Gaza attack. The US allowed Israel to access its strategic stockpile to replenish its stocks of 40mm grenades and 120mm mortar rounds. Additional Israeli requests for US-manufactured ammunition were also being processed in the USA. The US Senate Appropriations Committee added $225m for Iron Dome to a spending bill intended mainly to provide money to handle an influx of thousands of Central American children across the US-Mexico border.

Rear Admiral John Kirby of the Pentagon explained "The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability.This defence sale is consistent with those objectives."

Just how the death toll at the last count of 1,361 Palestinians threatens the existence of the state of Israel he declined to say. Calling for peace and at the same time providing weapons to be used is a strange sort of diplomacy.

Meanwhile on another battle-front, Russia is the EU’s third-biggest trading partner with cross-border trade of $460bn (£272bn) last year, and the latest sanctions being introduced by the EU towards Russian individuals and banks will hurt European countries more than any other – particularly Germany, but also the City of London.

Germany and Russia have been working on a secret peace plan to end international tensions over the Ukraine. It hinges on stabilising the borders of Ukraine and providing the financially troubled country with a strong economic boost, particularly a new energy agreement ensuring security of gas supplies. The international community would recognise Crimea’s independence and its annexation by Russia. Russia would compensate Ukraine with a billion-dollar financial package for the loss of the rent it used to pay for stationing its fleets in the Crimea and at the port of Sevastopol on the Black Sea until Crimea voted for independence in March. The Ukraine would be offered a new long-term agreement with Russia’s Gazprom, the giant gas supplier, for future gas supplies and pricing. At present, there is no gas deal in place; Ukraine’s gas supplies are running low and are likely to run out before this winter, which would spell economic and social ruin for the country.

Some of Germany’s biggest companies have big operations in Russia, which is now one of Europe’s biggest car markets, while many of its small to medium companies are also expanding into the country. Although Russia now provides EU countries with a third of their gas supplies through pipelines crossing the Ukraine, Germany has its own bilateral gas pipeline direct to Russia making it less vulnerable than other European countries.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Our Answer to War


Capitalism must lead to war. War is not the cause of the troubles of society. The opposite is true. War is a symptom and result of the irreconcilable troubles and conflicts of the present form of society, that is to say, of capitalism. The only way to fight against war is to fight against the causes of war. Since the causes of war are part of the nature of capitalism, it follows that the only way to fight against war is to fight against capitalism. the only possible struggle against war is the struggle for the socialist revolution.  There is no “separate” or “special” struggle against war. The struggle against war cannot be divorced from the day-to-day struggles of the workers. No one can uphold capitalism – whether directly, as an open adherent of the capitalists, or indirectly, from any shade of liberal or reformist position – and fight against war, because capitalism means war. The wars of the contending national groups of capitalists are not the concern of the workers. All the ruling classes of the capitalist countries are bandits. Their wars, whatever the pretentious and hypocritical slogans, are wars between bandits.

The real roots of war can be seen in the class system of society. The narrow interests of each “national” capitalist class conflict one with the other.  It is not love of democracy but pure defence of the capitalist interests of the ruling class that pushes them into war. Democracy can never be imposed upon any country by a foreign power by force of arms. True democracy  can be won only in the struggle against capitalist domination. Wars are not accidental. An accident can be the immediate spark for a war but only if all the other conditions for war are present. But there is no such thing as an “accidental war”.  Modern wars as a rule have been caused by the commercial rivalry and intrigues of the capitalist interests in the different countries. Whether they have been frankly waged as wars of aggression or have been hypocritically represented as wars of “defense,” they have always been made by the ruling classes and fought by the masses. Wars bring wealth and power to the ruling classes, and suffering, death, and demoralisation to the workers.

The lesson is clear. Capitalism provokes slaughters of people. The Socialist Party’s aim must be to warn the workers against allowing themselves to be misled by the lies of the media and the mutual recriminations of capitalist groups, and to remember that the worker in enemy countries is just as much a victim of capitalist oppression as they are —that even though they are compelled by circumstance to fight against each other, that it will not be long before they are again compelled to help each other against the common foe – capitalism. War obscures the struggles of the workers for life, liberty, and social justice, breaking the vital bonds of solidarity between them and their brothers in other countries.

The working class has no quarrel with the working class of any other country. In support of capitalism we will not willingly give a single life. The end of wars will come with the establishment of socialized industry and industrial democracy the world over. The Socialist Party calls upon all the workers to join it in its struggle to reach this goal, and thus bring into the world a new society in which peace, fraternity, and human brotherhood will prevail. In the midst of abundance, with a productive apparatus which could, well organised and directed, cover more than all the present requirements of humanity, capitalism dooms millions of to misery, suffering and starvation. Capitalism is utterly incapable of assuring the well being of the people and equally incapable of assuring peace.

Once more the exploited are called upon to destroy each other for their respective masters. Once more cities are transformed into devastated blood-soaked tombs. When capitalism calls for war the working class of the world must answer with a call for world socialism. 

Revolving Doors And Pecuniary Interests, Cyber-Style

Former NSA Director Keith Alexander says his services warrant a fee of up to a million dollars, due to a cyber-surveillance technique he and his partners at his new security firm IronNet Cybersecurity have developed, Foreign Policy reported on Tuesday. The claim follows reporting earlier this month that Alexander is slated to head a 'cyber-war council' backed by Wall Street.
Alexander claims that the new technology is different from anything the NSA has done as it uses "behavioral models" to predict hackers' actions ahead of time.

In his article, "The NSA's Cyber-King Goes Corporate," Foreign Policy journalist Shane Harris says that Alexander stated that IronNet has already signed contracts with three separate companies, although Alexander declined to name them. He plans on filing at least nine patents for the technology and finishing the testing phase of it by the end of September.
While it's not uncommon for former government employees to be granted patents for their inventions, Alexander is thought to be the first ex-NSA director to apply for patents "directly related to the job he had in government," said Harris.
"Alexander is on firm legal ground so long as he can demonstrate that his invention is original and sufficiently distinct from any other patented technologies," according to Harris. Therefore when he files the patents, if he can prove that he "invented the technology on his own time and separate from his core duties, he might have a stronger argument to retain the exclusive rights to the patent."

According to critics, Alexander's very experience as the NSA director has informed his move to the corporate sector—whether or not he developed the technology independently—and that in itself is cause for alarm and a possible investigation.
"Alexander stands to profit directly off of his taxpayer-funded experience, and may do so with a competitive advantage over other competing private firms," Carl Franzen pointed out at The Verge.
"Is it ethical for an NSA chief to pursue patents on technologies directly related to their work running the agency?" wrote Xeni Jardin of boingboing. "Will the Justice Department investigate? Don't hold your breath."

As independent journalist Marcy Wheeler pointed out on her blog, there are a multitude of questions still remaining concerning the legality of Alexander's services, that are unrelated to the issue of patent legality. Among those she poses this:
with Alexander out of his NSA, where will he and his profitable partners get the data they need to model threats? How much of this model will depend on the Cyber Information sharing plan that Alexander has demanded for years? How much will Alexander’s privatized solutions to the problem he couldn’t solve at NSA depend on access to all the information the government has, along with immunity?
To what degree is CISA about making Keith Alexander rich?
The NSA's own actions under Alexander seem to have laid the groundwork for the exact cyber-defense market the retired general is now looking to exploit.
When Alexander first addressed Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association shortly after his retirement in March, company executives were apparently most interested in learning about destructive programs such as Wiper, which the U.S. government has claimed was used in cyber-attacks originating in North Korea and Iran.

Harris says the singling out of programs like Wiper is "a supreme irony" in the eyes of many computer security experts, who say that it is nothing more than "a cousin of the notorious Stuxnet virus, which was built by the NSA — while Alexander was in charge — in cooperation with Israeli intelligence."

from here

Inequality By The Numbers

Billionaire wealth

Too Much?

Things should be hopping this Wednesday at the annual meeting of the medical products giant McKesson. Activist shareholders will be trying to water down the severance package that’s awaiting company CEO John Hammergren.
If McKesson changes hands in a buyout, turns out, Hammergren currently stands to walk away with $292 million in severance. Hammergren is also sitting on a rather hefty stash of McKesson stock and options already awarded to him. He’ll exit McKesson, Businessweek notes, with a total windfall of $616.6 million.
McKesson’s board of directors is, of course, opposing any move to downsize Hammergren’s exit package. Generous rewards, the company informs us, remain “an important tool for motivating our executives.”

Fact of the Day

The UK could be losing out on 800m meals from ‘hidden food’ which could help 5.8m people living in ‘deep poverty’, according to food redistribution charity FareShare.

It estimates that up to 400,000 tonnes of this food surplus is edible and in date and could provide equivalent to 13 meals per person in the UK.

“We are only using 1.5 per cent of surplus food. However this is just the tip of the iceberg of what is potentially available and we could be providing so much more from this source.”

The tribulations of being a migrant

Migrant workers building the first stadium for Qatar's 2022 World Cup have been earning as little as 45p an hour, the Guardian revealed. The pay rate appears to be in breach of the tournament organisers' own worker welfare rules. Pay slips show they are toiling up to 30 days a month for as little as £4.90 a day

 Migrant labourers who fitted out luxury offices used by Qatar's World Cup organising committee have not been paid for up to a year and are now living in squalor.

One labourer was hired on a basic monthly salary of £136 and worked 64 hours of overtime in April. He was paid just £29 for the overtime, making the overtime rate 45p an hour. His basic salary, if he worked the maximum 48-hour week allowed, was 64p per hour. Another labourer's pay slip shows he worked every day in April, including 38 hours overtime, for a total salary of £33.50 per week, or £4.80 a day.

Low pay, late pay and even no pay are now an increasing concern.

While back in the UK the attack on migrant workers’ conditions also continues. Welfare entitlements now end after three months rather than the previous six months. And just to add some fear David Cameron  issued a direct threat to illegal immigrants that "we will find you and make sure you are sent back to the country you came from".

Tuesday, July 29, 2014



July 2014. George Clooney called the Daily Mail,
(edited by Paul Dacre) “the worst kind of tabloid”
after its false claim about his coming marriage.

The Daily Mail’s a loathsome rag,           
A tissue sheet of lies;                                  
Unfit for wrapping fish and chips
And dumping inside rubbish skips,
As it attracts the flies! 

Heed not the bunkum that it writes,
To sell it every day;
To those who ‘think’ they’re ‘middle-class’
(And thus are talking out their arse)
And shop at Bonmarché.  (1)

Paul Dacre the wiseacre strives,
With all his vengeful might; (2)
To shield the Mail from what he calls
(And this is just a load of balls!)
“Those hostile to the right”.

The joke is that it’s rarely ‘right’,
One need not be a sleuth;
To fathom out most stories are
By any standard, way by far,                                      
Mere travesties of truth.

The P.C.C. confirms the Mail, (3)
Attracts twice the complaints;
Of any other tabloid print,
(And thus the Mail should take the hint)
As none of them are saints! 

The best use for the Daily Mail,
Is in the smallest room;
Where it need not be held in lieu
But can, thereafter, be flushed through,
The U-bend to its doom!

(1) A budget clothes store whose Gallic name
suggests that its products are ‘haute couture’.

(2) Stephen Fry called Daily Mail Editor Paul Dacre,
“a loathsome, self-regarding, morally putrid,
vengeful & disgusting a man as it’s possible to be”.

(3) The Press Complaints Commission.

© Richard Layton

And The Crisis Is -


The Graduate Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap between women and men graduates has long been an indicator of pay disparities later along the career path. New data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency has shown there is still a £2,000 gender gap in average graduate salaries six months after leaving a full-time university course – £19,500 for women and £21,500 for men.
While the median pay for graduates is now level at £20,000, men are still more likely to be the top earners and women the low earners. Curt Rice, head of Norway’s Committee on Gender Balance in Research and a professor at the University of Tromsø, say it’s important to keep in mind that the median salary is not the average. “While the median is the same, it’s clear from the data that the average salary for men is higher.”

Rice points to the fact that there are 50% more men than women earning between £25,000-£30,000 and nearly four times as many men as women earning more than £35,000.
Out of the 430,000 university graduates who answered the survey six months after graduating from a full time course, 66% disclosed their salary. The mean salary for both men and women has increased £500 for 2012-13 (as the graph below shows), but the difference still remains at £2,000 between men and women.
It’s worth noting that the survey has been expanded this year, and now includes more graduates from other types of higher education institutions, and so may not be directly comparable.
Click to enlarge

For the first time since the 2008-2009 version of the survey, the median salary of graduates six months after leaving a full-time university course was the same for men as for women, at £20,000.
But the results show that women are still more likely to be in lower-paid jobs and there were more men in the higher salary bands (see graph below). Of those earning between £25,000 and £30,000, 16.7% were men and 10.7% were women, while for top-end earners making more than £40,000, 2.3% were men and 0.5% were women.
Percentage of UK full-time first-degree who entered full-time work by salary band and sex, 2012-13. HESA
taken from here
Socialism will mean the abolition of wage slavery - the wages system -  ushering in a system in which all will be valued for their contribution to society and none will go without for lack of money. 

Monsanto Agrees On Class Action Settlement To Avoid Going To Trial

People who lived, worked or attended school in areas impacted by dioxins produced at Monsanto’s Nitro plant can register their interest in obtaining medical monitoring or property clean up if they haven’t already done so.
The Monsanto class action settlement took effect May 7. Beginning Tuesday, July 8, the court-appointed administrator of the Nitro Class Action Settlement, Thomas V. Flaherty, will have an office in Nitro through Oct. 31 to help individuals who qualify obtain benefits for exposure to the dioxins, a chemical by-product of the weed killers produced at the Nitro plant.

Dioxins have been linked to cancer, birth defects and learning disabilities as well as other serious health concerns.

To avoid going to trial, Monsanto agreed in 2012 to spend up to $84 million on a 30-year medical monitoring program — $21 million for the initial testing, with another $63 million available if dioxin levels warrant. They also agreed to spend another $9 million on property clean up.

The claims office, located at 2303 1st Avenue, Nitro, will be open July 8-Oct. 31 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Flaherty and Class Counsel Stuart Calwell said the settlement comes after eight years of litigation and appeals. Now that the agreement is finalized, settlement money can be used for “medical examinations and property cleanup services to people and property affected the production of ‘dioxin’ at the Nitro Monsanto plant,” they said.
To be eligible for medical testing, individuals must have gone to school, worked or lived near Nitro in Putnam or Kanawha counties full-time between January 1, 1948 and Sept. 30, 2010.

taken from here

Plans For Ukraine - Capitalist Accumulation

A new report from the Oakland Institute, Walking on the West Side: the World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict, exposes how the international financial institutions swooped in on the heels of the political upheaval and are vying to deregulate and throw open Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector to foreign investors. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of an EU Association agreement in favor of a Russian deal was a major factor in the crisis that led to his ouster in February 2014. Immediately following the change to a pro-EU government, the country’s pivot to the West was solidified with a $17 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and an additional $3.5 billion aid package from the World Bank, both of which require significant economic reforms and austerity measures that are set to have disastrous effects within the nation.

The report details how the aid packages, contingent on austerity reforms, will have a devastating impact on Ukrainians’ standard of living and increase poverty in the country. Reforms mandated by the EU-backed loan include agricultural deregulation that will benefit agribusiness corporations and natural resource and land policy shifts that facilitate foreign corporate takeover of enormous tracts of land. The EU Association Agreement also includes a clause requiring both parties to cooperate to extend the use of biotechnology.
"While the World Bank and IMF often disguise their activities in other countries under the objectives of development, the case of Ukraine makes it clear that this is just Orwellian double-speak. Their intent is blatant: to open up foreign markets to Western corporations. It’s telling that one of the key reforms enforced by the Bank is that the government must limit its own power by removing restrictions to competition as well as the role of state ‘control’ in economic activities," said Frederic Mousseau, Policy Director of the Oakland Institute and co-author of the report.

“The high stakes around control of Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector, the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat, constitute an oft-overlooked critical factor. In recent years, foreign corporations have acquired more than 1.6 million hectares of Ukrainian land,” he continued. An additional deal signed with China for 3 million hectares of farmland in September 2013 is in limbo, since it is unclear whether the freshly minted government and its new Western allies will allow it to go forward.
Walking on the West Side exposes how the international financial institutions serve the interests of agribusiness corporations through deregulation of the food and agriculture sectors and policies favoring foreign land acquisitions. Ukraine is also one of the 10 pilot countries in the World Bank’s new Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture (BBA) project, a widely criticized ranking system that promotes agricultural policy reforms including the deregulation of seed and fertilizer markets.

“The Bank’s activities and its loan and reform programs in Ukraine seem to be working toward the expansion of large industrial holdings in Ukrainian agriculture owned by foreign entities,” said Mousseau.
Beyond agriculture, it is expected that reforms pitched as a means to improve the business climate and increase private investment in the country will have a devastating social impact, resulting in a collapse of the standard of living and dramatic increases in poverty.
The acceleration of structural adjustment led by the international institutions following the installation of a pro-West government is likely to further expand foreign acquisitions of agricultural land and extend the corporatization of agriculture in the country. The structural adjustment program will also likely increase foreign control of the economy while increasing poverty and inequality in the country. The World Bank and the IMF, however, have failed to demonstrate how such programs will improve the lives of Ukrainian citizens and build a sustainable economic future.

Learn more and download report here

National Interest

Over half of Britain's landmass is now open to bids for drilling by fossil fuel companies seeking "unconventional hydrocarbons," UK government ministers announced. The new rules  make it easier for fracking companies to drill in “protected places” such as national parks and world heritge sites by entrusting the Communities minister with the sole authority to determine if the request meets the criteria of being an "exceptional circumstance." Far worse is the status of wildlife sites which are to receive no specific protection at all.

In Australia the government has okayed the construction of the country’s largest coal mine. UNESCO is concerned with the environmental impact upon the Great Barrier Reef. Although they too produced a list of supposed safeguards the approval waters down precautions and fast tracks its development. The mine requires 12 billion liters of water each year from local rivers and underground aquifers. That’s enough drinking water for every Queenslander for three years. Even ten kilometers away, water tables are expected to drop by over one meter. The burning of coal from Carmichael mine would produce four times the fossil fuel emissions of New Zealand.

While the U.S. has cut its own coal consumption and promotes energy efficiency and cracks down on dirty power plants within its own borders, thereby reducing U.S. carbon pollution, it has increased its coal-export capacity — with coal producers and companies that sell coal seeking to expand that infrastructure even further. Fossil fuel trade has soared under Barack Obama, and threatens to undermine his strategy to reduce the gases blamed for global warming. It also reveals a little-discussed side effect of countries acting alone on a global issue. As the U.S. tries to set a global example by reducing demand for fossil fuels at home, American energy companies are sending more dirty fuels than ever to other parts of the world, exports worth billions of dollars every year. In some cases, these castoffs of America's clean energy push are ending up in places with more lax environmental standards, or where governments are resistant to tackling the emissions responsible for global warming.  The U.S. appear to be making more progress on global warming than it actually is, because it shifts some of the pollution — and the burden for cleaning it up — onto another country's balance sheet. Low price coal exports encourage burning coal and discourage the investments in energy efficiency. A sizable portion of the coal exported is  via federal coal leasing programs operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that allow private coal companies to mine and sell coal owned by the American Federal government.  Using the federal government's method to calculate the social cost of carbon damages expected from publicly owned coal that has been leased during the Obama administration (2.2 billion tons so far), Greenpeace show that one ton of coal has sold for $1.03 on average, but will cause between $22 and $237 in damages to society. The carbon pollution from government owned coal leased during the Obama administration will cause damages estimated at between $52 billion and $530 billion. In contrast, the total amount of revenue generated from those coal lease sales was $2.3 billion.

The political system has been successful. The system succeeded in serving that class for whom the political system was DESIGNED to serve: the capitalist class. The "national interest" is just another code word for the interests of the 0.1%.

 If we don't kill capitalism, it will kill us (and is killing us.)

Details from Common Dreams website

Tax or Not to Tax

"The federal government still gets a tenth of its revenue from corporate profits taxation," Paul Krugman, a Nobel-prize winning economist writes. "But it used to get a lot more — a third of revenue came from profits taxes in the early 1950s, a quarter or more well into the 1960s. Part of the  decline since then reflects a fall in the tax rate, but mainly it reflects ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance — avoidance that politicians have done little to prevent."

 One tax-avoidance ploy is called “ inversion.” A legal maneuver that allows companies to claim that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate. The company does not need to move overseas to do this.  It's all done on paper although  it might sometimes involve opening an office somewhere abroad. Walgreen, a thriving pharmacy business in the U.S., for purely tax reasons, is reportedly about to declare itself Swiss, which "will deprive the U.S. government of several billion dollars in revenue that you, the taxpayer, will have to make up one way or another," Krugman writes.

Why does the government not curtail this tax dodge with legislation??

The claim is that taxing corporate profits hurts investment and job creation. Opponents of more strict tax laws argue instead of closing loopholes the US should reform the whole system by which we tax profits, and maybe stop taxing profits altogether. The goal of a corporation is to maximize shareholder profits and by law this is their number one priority. Governments serve the interests of elites, and they always will. It is all about impoverishing the citizens to enrich the few. Expecting government to be benevolent is like hoping cancer has some health benefits.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Banksters Caught Again

Lloyds Banking Group has been fined £218m for "serious misconduct". Lloyds manipulated the London interbank offered rate (Libor) for yen and sterling and tried to rig the rate for yen, sterling and the US dollar. It also manipulated submissions for another short-term rate linked to the value of UK government debt.

"Such manipulation is highly reprehensible, clearly unlawful and may amount to criminal conduct on the part of the individuals involved," Bank of England chief  Carney wrote. Will we witness any actual court proceedings against anybody but the lowly servants of the Boards of Directors? SOYMB doubt it very much

Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland have previously paid $453m and $612m in fines related to the scandal.

 Meanwhile ‘Virtuous Banking: Placing ethos and purpose at the heart of banking’ report by the think-tank ResPublica will be launched on Tuesday by the chairman of the Banking Standards Review Council, Sir Richard Lambert. It calls for bankers to take a solemn oath  "I will do my utmost to behave in a manner that prioritises the needs of customers...It is my first duty to provide an exemplary quality of service to my customers and to exhibit a duty of care above and beyond what is required by law...I will confront profligacy and impropriety wherever I encounter it, for the conduct of bankers can have dramatic consequence for society."

 Fat chance. Banking executive are already under a legal obligation to place the interests of stock-holders ahead of supposed society’s interests. And we must ask why should such an oath be limited to just one particular industry and not extended to all businesses.

Organic Food Policies Contaminated By Agribusiness Executives?

The Cornucopia Institute has called upon USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to make public all candidates for appointment to fill the four vacancies on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB, a 15-member board of organic stakeholders representing farmer, consumer, environmental, retail, scientific, certifying and organic food processing interests, was established by Congress to advise the USDA on organic food and agriculture policies and review materials allowed for use in organic food production and processing.

Past investigations by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, found that prior appointments, during the Bush and Obama administrations, violated the letter of the law, and congressional intent, by appointing agribusiness executives to fill slots on the NOSB reserved for farmers and other independent stakeholders. Public interest groups have suggested that these extra agribusiness representatives on the board have voted in favor of weakening the organic standards.

from here

"Non-Persons" Have No Rights

Hand it to President Obama for appointing Eric Holder the first African American Attorney General in US history. Then try to fathom that after generations of civil and human rights work by African Americans -- whom the US Constitution once called "3/5 of a person" -- it is Holder who declared some brown skinned prisoners of war to be "non-persons." The men are held outside the law by the US at Guantánamo Bay.

Attorneys for the POWs have asked for an order that would allow group prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, but Holder's Justice Dept. has formally replied that the men aren't entitled to relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because the Supreme Court has not found that Guantánamo's prisoners "are 'persons' to whom RFRA applies."

from here

Power Elites Dominate Unsustainable Water Policy

Conservationist and environmental organizations in California - The Southern California Water Alliance, the Environmental Water Caucus, the Winnemen Wintu tribe, Food and Water Watch, California Sports Fishing Protection Alliance (to name a few) - are building support for a giant rally against Governor Brown’s twin tunnels (misnamed the Bay Delta Conservation Plan), an industrial project to re-engineer the San Francisco Bay Delta.
Each tunnel, designed to send more estuary water to arid regions of the state, is large enough for a high-speed rail. According to Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, "Draining fresh water from the Delta will only doom sustainable farming and decimate salmon and other fisheries."

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan is 40,000 pages long. To keep it simple, the $25 billion water-transfer project is based on a single assumption: that California's water ecosystem crisis is caused by a lack - a lack - of engineering projects in the Delta watershed. As if the Delta needs more steel, more pumps, more cement (and more farmers dispossessed through eminent domain). The peripheral tunnels, the industrial heart of the project, do not replace, they actually augment hundreds of dams, aqueducts and pumps that already send water to corporate farms and cities south of the Delta.

The Central Valley Project, initiated in 1933 as an ongoing federal subsidy for corporate farms, now includes 20 dams, 11 hydroelectric generators, 500 miles of canals, aqueducts, ditches, dredged channels and countless pumps.
The State Water Project, begun in 1960, added 29 dams, five hydroelectric power plants, hundreds of miles of canals and pipes reaching from the southernmost regions of the state up to Lake Davis, Frenchman Lake and the upper tributaries of the Feather River, where the Orville dam, the tallest dam in the United States, towers 770 feet above its riverbed.
At Tracy, 11 thundering pumps are lined up in a row. An 80,000-horsepower engine moves 6.7 billion gallons of water south through the San Joaquin Valley, where it runs up to a 2,000-foot-high barrier - the Tehachapi Mountains. The Edmonston Pumping Plant shoots water up 1926 feet through 10 miles of tunnels inside the mountains. Except for the Florida Everglades, ruined by development and unrestrained growth,  the SF Bay Delta watershed is the most micro-managed, over-developed estuary in the United States. Including the mighty rivers that once replenished it, our Delta is now the most complex, extensive, and costly hydraulic system in the world.

True, there are bigger dams on larger rivers in China, but no region of the world draws more water from more rivers through more conduits at greater public expense over greater distances than Southern California. When is enough enough?

No water-conveyance system - not the Los Angeles Aqueduct that turned Owens Valley into a dustbowl; not Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Las Vegas and other desert city conduits that drained the Colorado River so dry it no longer reaches the Sea of Cortez; not the water transfers that put Mono Lake on life-support; not the subsidized Central Valley Project that ended wild salmon migrations up the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers; not the massive State Water Project, which Governor Pat Brown proclaimed in 1960 "a permanent solution to the state's water crisis"; none of the federal- or state-sanctioned projects, nor all of them taken together, has ever appeased the water appetites of agribusiness, developers and land speculators and the powerful Association of California Water Agencies that still frames water policy in Sacramento.

The very title of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, like Chevron Oil TV ads on clean air, is disingenuous. Crafted by the development and water lobby, the plan is profoundly anticonservationist. The entire project goes contrary to the long-held consensus that fishery declines and mass habitat degradation are the direct result of excessive technological interventions in nature's ecosystems.

In 1969, Barry Commoner, one of the founders of the environmental movement, wrote: "We need to reassess our attitudes toward the natural world on which our technology intrudes.  . . . Modern technology has so stressed the web processes in the living environment at its most vulnerable points that there is little leeway left in the system."
"The larger the technical fix," writes Cynthia Barnett in Blue Revolution, "the larger the unintentional consequences for the next generation, or even for the next fiscal year. The constant re-engineering of past engineering mistakes is a costly drain, which America keeps circling while our most important water resources go down."
In Unquenchable Robert Glennon writes, "Engineering mentality assumes that there must be a technological fix to water shortages. There's no need to live within our means, to tailor land use plans to available water supply, because an engineering solution can solve the problem and allow growth and unsustainable water practices to continue for a while longer. This is how we've always conceived of water problems: There must be someplace to go for more water . . . a new pipeline to import more water."

It is absurd to believe that one more engineering project, crafted by the same power elites that have dominated water policy throughout the 20th century, will somehow bring stability to a state whose leaders continue to promote growth in desert regions already living beyond their regional means.

 taken from here

The Nuclear Winter

  General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military, reveals that America are once again re-studying their strategic war plans against Russia, updating military options “we haven’t had to look at for 20 years" and warned that Putin—whom he characterized as escalating the crisis inside Ukraine—“may actually light a fire” he cannot control. And not just in Ukraine or eastern Europe, Dempsey said, but globally.

It perhaps would be wise to remind ourselves of the consequence of a nuclear war. The effect of the nuclear conflict will lead to worldwide famine, deadly frosts and global ozone losses up to 50 percent, researchers have said.  Global cooling would put significant pressures on global food supplies and could trigger a global nuclear famine that would lead to death of hundreds of millions and even billions.

 Five megatons of black carbon would be released into the atmosphere if 100 nuclear weapons would be detonated that would block out the sun and would be fatal to humans. The nuclear conflict would affect the temperature of the earth which would be begin to drop, there would be ozone losses which would increase UV rays in some locations by as much as 80 per cent. UV rays which increase the chance of developing skin cancer for large swathes of humanity, the researchers have said, adding that the conflict would also affect the rainfall by 9 percent.

Inequality in Australia

Australia's top 1 per cent accounted for 7.7 per cent of the nation's total pay.

180,000 Australians in the top 1 per cent earned an average of just under $400,000 a year before tax. To join the wealthiest 1 per cent, you had to earn at least $211,000. 1.8 million Australians in the top 10 per cent of income earned above $88,000 and accounted for nearly 29 per cent of total income

By comparison, the 18,000 people in the top 0.1 per cent of income earners earned over $600,000, and had an average income of over $1.1 million.

Professor Wilkins said the statistics could not account for tax avoidance or evasion. “The tax data is only what gets declared to the tax office, and it is pre-tax, so there is always the potential that what has been declared isn’t the whole story.”

The top 1 per cent in the US  raked in 17.5 per cent of that nation's total income, the United Kingdom,12.9 per cent of total income,  and New Zealand, where the top 1 per cent earned 8.1 per cent of total income.

From here

China's Growing Inequality

Income inequality has been climbing fast in the US. The top 1 per cent of households accounted for 8.9 per cent of total national income in 1976. A bit over three decades later, that proportion rose to 23.5 per cent in 2007. John Paulson, the famous hedge fund manager who betted against the US housing market, netted $3.7 billion in 2007 -- 74,000 times bigger than the median household income. In 2013, The typical American household is worth a third less than it was in 2003. But even as the average American household’s wealth declined, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially. The average wealth of the American household in the 95th percentile was $1,192,639 in 2003, and $1,364,834 ten years later, an increase of 14 percent.

 China has overtaken the US in terms of income disparity.

China’s Gini coefficient, a widely used gauge of inequality, rose from 0.3 in 1980 to 0.55 in 2010. A Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality, where a figure of 0 represents perfect equality while 1 indicates perfect inequality. A reading of 0.5 is regarded as ‘severe inequality’.

Not only has China overtaken the US, the level of inequality in the world’s second largest economy is also approaching that of highly inequitable Latin American countries like Brazil, Honduras and Mexico. China is now among the least equal 25 per cent of countries worldwide. Few Asian countries are in this group. According to research, previously reported by SOYMB, the top 1 per cent of households account for one third of total asset ownership in China. At the same time, the bottom 25 per cent of households only own 1 per cent of all assets in the country.

China’s widening inequality is not due to deterioration in income. However, the rising income inequality is due to the fact that income for rich groups is increasing much faster than poorer households. Income levels have been rising steadily in the country. Chinese migrant workers, who are usually from poor households in the countryside, have seen double-digit increases in their incomes recently.

For example, income for the poorest 10 per cent increased 50 per cent between 2002 and 2007, according to the China Household Income Project. However, during the same period, income for China’s top 20 per cent households nearly doubled. “As a consequence, the income gap between the richest and poorest deciles widened from 19:1 to 25:1

Another contributing factor to the income disparity is the proliferation of so-called ‘grey income’ for rich households. China’s hidden household income totalled 6.2 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion) or 12 per cent of the country’s GDP.  The income for richest households is much higher than the official figure. For example, the income for top 10 per cent is 3.2 times higher than official statistics. China’s urban rich earn 21 times more than the rural poor.

China’s rural and urban divide is also one of the most important contributing factors to the rising inequality. Researchers estimate that the rural and urban gap contributes to as much as 51 per cent of inequality in China. The country operates a quasi-apartheid system where rural migrants are barred from moving from the countryside to cities on a permanent basis. This policy denies rural migrant workers many social benefits provided to urban residents such as health care and education. This partly contributes to the income disparity between rural and urban residents.

 China’s strong economic growth has for a long time masked the worst effects of social inequality, but considerably slower economic growth is likely to bring that deep tension to the surface.

From here