Monday, August 03, 2015

Stealing from the Poor to give to the Rich

The rich are masters of public relations. They masquerade as defenders of the common folk while they continue to plunder them unimpeded.

The Robin Hood Foundation, founded by hedge fund mogul Paul Tudor Jones, boasts 19 billionaires on its leadership boards and committees.

Hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen, who, when he is not being probed for insider trading  (his company, SAC Capital Advisors, pled guilty to securities and wire fraud) is busy throwing parties for himself worthy of a Roman emperor at his Hamptons palace and bragging about his $700 million art collection.

Billionaire Home Depot founder Ken Langone, who threatened to turn off the charity donations if Pope Francis dared to continue criticizing capitalism and inequality, and also likened the plight of the wealthy in America to Nazi Germany. The GOP megadonor doesn’t care for bank regulation and it’s no surprise that he is the main booster for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s presidential bid, as his plan to shred Social Security is a fond wish of the tycoon’s.

Hedge fund billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller, funder of right-wing causes who dedicates himself to spreading deficit hysteria and ginning up generational warfare on college campuses by trying to convince young people that they are being robbed by seniors using Social Security and Medicare. A long-time anti-tax crusader and supporter of such anti-labor enthusiasts as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Druckenmiller warned President Obama that any attempt to tax the rich to pay for social services for the poor would be futile.

the Robin Hood Foundation has close ties to an organization called the Managed Funds Association (MFA) that — shocker! —lobbies tirelessly for unjustified tax breaks for hedge funders. Paul Tudor Jones’s top deputy, John Torell, chairs the MFA, and 31 members of Robin Hood’s governing board and leadership committees are executives at firms that belong to the highest membership levels of the organization.

Congress started considering closing the “carried interest” tax loophole which  brought out the heavy artillery of the elites to protect them from paying their fair share. The carried interest loophole is a sneaky ways that the rich use to escape their tax liability”  It works like this: Hedge fund managers brazenly claim they deserve to pay a special low tax rate on the money they earn overseeing the funds they manage because it’s not guaranteed. So they pay 20 percent instead of the 39.6 percent they would pay if the money were taxed as ordinary income. They get very rich from this windfall. But lots of workers have no guarantee about the money they’ll earn, all those whos income is based upon commission, for instance such as car salespeople. Do they get a special tax rate? No, they don’t. They pay the full rate.

This unfair tax break basically allows hedge fund managers to screw their fellow Americans out of money that could do things the illustrious patrons of the Robin Hood Foundation claim are so dear to their hearts, like building schools and feeding the poor. According to a Congressional Research Service cited in the Hedge Clippers report, closing the carried interest loophole would generate $17 billion a year. How many hungry children in New York City could that feed? All of them? The mission statement of the Robin Hood Foundation brays about all the funding it provides for school programs, generating “meaningful results for families in New York's poorest neighborhoods.” Soup kitchens! Homeless shelters! Job training! How far does this largesse actually go toward ameliorating New York’s poverty problem? Unsurprisingly, not very far at all. In fact, the poverty rate in the city has grown over the course of the Robin Hood Foundation’s history, from 20 percent in 1990 to 21.2 percent in 2012. Guess what’s also grown? The bank accounts of 19 billionaires on the Robin Hood Foundation’s boards, which have ballooned 93 percent since 2008. For every dollar the Robin Hood Foundation hedge fund managers studied give to the organization’s antipoverty efforts, they soak up $44 from the public in the form of tax avoidance and anti-tax advocacy, a conservative estimate.

Take the case of Steve Cohen.  The tally of his recent donations to the foundation: $4,850,000. The estimated amount he ripped off the public in 2014 by paying special low tax rates: $1,300,000,000. Quite a difference.

When they aren’t advocating tax swindles, members of the Robin Hood Foundation put in plenty of time fighting fair wages, trying to shred the social safety net, and killing worker protections through their associations with organizations like the Manhattan Institute, the Partnership for New York City (the voice of big business in NYC and a big foe of paid sick leave), and Fix the Debt (a notorious group devoted to crushing Social Security and Medicare).

Tale of Poverty (2)

India's latest Socioeconomic and Caste Census (SECC) paintsa stark picture of widespread rural poverty and deprivation. It comes as no surprise that the bulk of the Indian population is still overwhelmingly poor. 

Of the 300 million Indian households surveyed, an overwhelming majority (73%) live in villages. Of this rural population, less than 5% earn enough to pay taxes, only 2.5% own a 4-wheeler vehicle and less than 10% have salaried jobs. Not only does rural India have miserable statistics on income and asset ownership, its literacy rates are low. Only 3.5% of students graduate and around 35.7% of residents can't read or write.

India's definition of "poor" has been debated by development economists and activists, with several finding the official poverty line too low and leaving out a number of people who might still need government assistance. In 2014, a report by the Indian government Planning Commission estimated that 363 million Indians, making up 29.5% of the total population, were living below the poverty line in 2011-12. The report, by the Rangarajan Expert Group, also estimates that the India poverty ratio fell from 38.2% to 29.5% between 2009-10 and 2011-12, lifting 91.6 million individuals out of poverty.

According to a Pew Research Center report released this month, while people were able to move up the social ladder from poor to low income during the last decade, the actual number of people in the middle class (living on $10-20 a day) barely budged from 1% in 2001 to 3% in 2011. Most developing countries set poverty lines far below those of advanced country levels.

Living on double the Indian Planning Commission poverty line of $2.40 per day would still mean not meeting nutritional and other needs at developed economy levels. Many poor people "lifted out of poverty" are still living at levels closer to $2.40 than $10 per day. The Pew report estimates that at the proposed Rangarajan poverty line, food consumption alone would take up 57% of a rural family's budget and 47% of an urban family's budget.

Tale of Poverty (1)


Even though Mexico has made economic advancements over the last few years, in recent decades the rate of individual advancement has slowed. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, between 1960 and 1980, per-person GDP grew by 98.7%; over the last 20 years, it grew by 18.6%. The poverty rate at the end of 2012, 52.3%, was similar to the rate at the end of 1994. Wages, adjusted for inflation, rose just 2.3% between 1994 and 2012.

At the end of 2014, Mexico’s 16 billionaires were worth an average of nearly $US9 billion. In Centro Sante Fe, the country’s largest shopping plaza just west of Mexico City, attendants selling books and magazines at chain store Sanborns earn in two weeks what billionaire Carlos Slim — Mexico’s richest man and owner of Sanborns — makes in 20 minutes of banking transactions.

That same year, the bottom 20% of Mexicans — nearly 25 million people — were worth an average of $US80. Yet Mexican workers labored 2,327 hours on average during 2014, far ahead of the 1,796 hours worked by Americans.

2,540 Mexicans hold assets of $US30 million or more. They represent an extreme minority in the country — but one that holds 43% of Mexico’s total individual wealth. Slim’s fortune alone equals 6.3% of Mexico’s gross domestic product. The income of the country’s poorest 20% equates to 4.9% of GDP.

Economic hardship is widespread in Mexico, which is home to more than 120 million people, more than half of whom lived in poverty at the end 2012. According to a study of the 34 member countries of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, the gap between wages and hours worked is larger in Mexico than in any other member country.

OECD figures show the country’s richest 10% earn more than 30 times what the poorest 10% make — making it the most unequal of the organisation’s 34 countries. Mexico’s bottom 20% doesn’t make enough to eat three meals a day.

Mexican workers, however, were only paid $US12,850 (based on purchasing power parity) during the year, which ranks at the bottom of the OECD’s list. Estonia was second to last at $US21,020. Americans earned $US57,139 during the same period.

In parts of the country where pay is better (i.e. urban zones), the minimum salary for Mexicans is 70.1 pesos ($US4.35) per day, according to El Daily Post. The government also sets a monthly minimum income for well-being, including essential purchases like food, transportation, and hygiene, that stands at 2,628 pesos ($US163.13) in urban areas. A worker making the minimum salary would need to labour for just over 37 days per month to bring in that monthly minimum — assuming they didn’t have any dependents to care for. In total, writes the El Daily Post, more than half of all Mexican workers fall short of this monthly standard.

This shortfall is worse in less developed areas. In the southern state of Chiapas, 70% of workers don’t earn enough to care for two people, based on the minimum monthly salary level.

Many Mexicans fall below Mexican, and even Western, standards of living. According to a report from news site Animal Politico, one out of four Mexican municipalities has living conditions similar to sub-Saharan Africa in terms of illiteracy, access to healthcare, and homes without toilets or solid floors. This state of affairs, with more than 7 million Mexicans living as if they were in Angola, comes despite a 16% increase between 1990 and 2012 in the budget of a variety of social programs aimed to lift Mexicans out of poverty and hunger. In that time, poverty in Mexico has been reduced by less than two percentage points. The reason some social programs have been ineffective is that “it was expected that the economy would grow, and the economy did not grow,” according to Gonzalo Hernández, executive secretary of the National Counsel for Evaluation of Social Development Policy (Coneval). “Now you have better-fed children, who go to school more but leave [school] for work and don’t have jobs; so they migrate or remain in poverty,” Hernández toldAnimal Politico.

Fact of the Day


The world is now halfway towards the internationally-agreed safety limit of a maximum 2°C rise in global average temperatures, researchers say. That limit seeks to prevent the global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels exceeding 2°C above the pre-industrial global temperature. The UN’s Paris climate summit later this year aims to ensure that it is not breached.

Hardening the Clamp-down

As this blog previously mentioned, there was no mass invasion of the Euro-tunnel by thousands of migrants at Calais. Police sources rejected suggestions of a “mass storming” of the site. They said that both on Monday night and in the early hours of today there had been repeated breaches of the security fence by groups of around 50 migrants at a time. The total trespass figure on both nights included people who had tried to enter the terminal several times. A police source said, “It is wrong to say that there was ever a mass break-in by 2,000 people at one time.” 

According to French media nine people have been killed at the tunnel since the start of June in accidents as they tried to smuggle themselves on to vehicles.

Eurotunnel has also been partially blamed for the recent rise of problems at the freight terminal. In a letter to the president of the company, the French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that the number of private security guards at the terminal had been cut in three since 2002.

Meanwhile, immigrants living in Britain illegally will face immediate eviction from their homes without the necessity of requiring a court order. Under the Right to Rent scheme, landlords will be obliged to see evidence of a person’s right to remain in the UK by examining their passport or biometric residence permit. A new criminal offence will target landlords who fail repeatedly to carry out the “Right to Rent” checks or fail to remove illegal immigrants from their properties. They could be fined, jailed for up to five years or face further sanctions under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

The government has also been accused of acting in a “morally reprehensible” way after the Home Office confirmed it was planning to strip families of the automatic right to benefits if their asylum applications were rejected. The government Is planning to bring the rules for asylum seekers with children into line with the rules for those without children. This means that unsuccessful asylum seeker families would lose their automatic right to benefits which entitle parents and children to £36.95 a week each through the Azure card system.

Lisa Doyle, the Refugee Council’s head of advocacy explained:“We have grave concerns about the government’s proposals to remove support from some of the most vulnerable families in the UK, many of whom fear there is real risk of serious harm or persecution to them and their children if returned to their countries of origin.
We know that the government frequently gets life-and-death decisions on asylum claims wrong, as nearly 30% of appeals are successful. This harsh proposal seems to be based on the flawed logic that making families destitute will coerce them into going home.
The government has a duty to protect all children in this country and previous governments have recognised it is morally reprehensible to take support away from families with children.”

In another move control immigration, cabinet minister Matt Hancock said people who do not speak fluent English will be barred from public sector jobs which involve working directly with the public. Managers will have to test employees can "communicate effectively with the public". They will also decide to what degree employees work in a “customer-facing” role.

Sunday, August 02, 2015




From the May 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard

The attitude of the Socialist Party toward leaders and the following of leaders seems to create a deal of mental disturbance, ranging from gentle indignation to double-distilled essence of Satanic malevolence, within those whose peculiar constitution demands a leader to look up to, worship, and follow.

Such injured innocents, and such injured people who are far from being innocents, seem to imagine that our opposition to leaders and followers is prompted by sheer cussedness and spleen, and grounded upon anything but reason and judicial consideration.

But it may be possible to give, within the limits of a short article, some reasons for our undeniably bitter hostility to all that savours of leadership, which will be sufficiently cogent to modify in some degree the criticism levelled against us, even if they fail to convert immense numbers to our view.

Now in the first place, the movement for working-class emancipation is unique in this respect—it is a movement for the emancipation of the only class in society that remains to be emancipated. The significance of this is easily grasped. So long as, in the struggle of classes, the class immediately seeking emancipation was not the only subject class; so long, that is, as there a class below them, the achievement of the particular revolution of the period by no means depended upon the class-consciousness of the majority of those fighting for it. On the other hand, in such circumstances there was always a class to be made the tools of those seeking emancipation, and therefore to be kept in ignorance of the true interests of their class.

In such case, while the success of the revolution depended upon the class-consciousness (or knowledge of their class interests) of the revolutionary section of society, it found either a helpful or a stumbling block, in the class below.

For this reason the revolutionary class had much to gain from leading their dupes into battle on their account, but this did not absolve the former from the necessity of themselves attaining class consciousness, as a class, before any very serious effort could be made to attain social domination.

With the modern working-class the thing is entirely different. They have no class below them on whom to foist a fraudulent conception of class interests, and from whom to draw support and assistance in the struggle. All their strength must be of themselves and in them themselves. All their militant might must be based upon the knowledge of their class position and the logical course dictated by that position.

Therefore at the very outset it is seen that the need for leaders does not exist. Only those who do not know the way require to be led, and this very fact makes it inevitable that those who are led will be entirely in the hands of those who lead.

The working class can only find emancipation through Socialism, which implies the overthrow of the present ruling class and their social system. The only possible human instruments in the prosecution of the struggle for this end are those who understand the working-class position in society, realise that only Socialism can lift them from that position, and who desire that the proletariat shall be so lifted. Broadly speaking, only members of the working class will come in this category.

The class-unconscious mobs, therefore, whom the "leaders" place themselves at the head of, can never be effective factors in the struggle for working-class deliverance. It is often said that the leaders are in advance of the led, but in the broader sense this is not true. Lading, after all, must be by consent. So it happens that the "leader" can only lead where he is likely to be followed. Hence, so far is the leader from being in advance of the mob, that he is only the reflection of its collective ignorance.

As it is true that mens' political actions are, broadly speaking, determined by their conception of their economic interests, it follows that would-be leaders must persuade those they would lead that the interests of the latter lie the direction they desire to lead them. Here is the crux of the whole business. The political activities of the "leaders" will be determined by their economic interests—and what guarantee is there that these interests will coincide with those of the mob they invite to follow them?

It is not to be supposed that the interests of all members of the working class under all conditions and in all circumstances are identical. The shipwrights on the Tyne, for instance, are the competitors to those on the Thames, and the interest of every unemployed worker is, up to a certain point, opposed to those who are taking the wages he aspires to take.

In like manner the economic interest of the "labour leader," as such, may be opposed to that of those he "leads." The interest of the latter is certainly their emancipation from wage-slavery by the only road—the institution of the Socialist system of society. The interest of the "labour leader," as such, lies in his maintaining his position as a labour "leader."

Granted that these interests have not been shown to be necessarily antagonistic. It is not essential to insist that they are. It is sufficient that they may be, and this no logical person can deny without doing violence to his convictions.

No what are the facts concerning the economic interests of labour "leaders"? In the first place their bread and butter, in typical cases, depends upon their activities as labour "leaders." It is to their interest, therefore, to remove as far as possible the element of doubt and insecurity concerning their livelihood by constituting themselves the bosses of their mobs, instead of being their servants. This they contrive to do by the simple expedient of dividing their followers against each other. Hence they dare not assist their followers to arrive at a true conception of their class interest, for that, if it did not result in their immediate overthrow by the vast bulk of ignorance on which they batten, would replace confusion with unanimity and knowledge that would never submit to be bossed or "led."

So in actual fact the interests of leaders and led are diametrically opposed, insomuch that the knowledge which is essential to working-class emancipation must inevitably abolish leaders, and establish working-class effort on the faith and confidence in the intellect and ability of the working-class.

It is part of the necessary work of a Socialist organisation to point out this divergence between the interests of the workers and those who aspire to lead them, and to seize upon every instance and opportunity of illustrating and proving the contention that labour "leaders" are, and necessarily must be, misleaders.

The Socialist and the true Democrat does not place faith in leaders. He knows that the only hope lies in the intelligence and courage and energy of the working class as a class, and all his hope, all his faith, all his trust, rests in the working class.
A. E. Jacomb

Nuclear Madness

 There are still approximately 16,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of nine countries today, with more than 90 percent of these in the possession of the United States and Russia. Some 1,800 nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, ready to be fired within moments of an order to do so.

The United States plans to spend $1 trillion on modernizing its nuclear arsenal.

The 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty obligates its parties, including the United States, to engage in negotiations in good faith for a cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and for nuclear disarmament. In a 1996 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice interpreted this obligation as follows: "There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control."

Because these negotiations have yet to take place, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, has brought lawsuits against the nine nuclear-armed countries at the International Court of Justice and in US federal court, seeking court orders for these countries to fulfill their obligations under international law.

Jimmy Carter Talks Democracy

Ex-US President Jimmy Carter discusses American democracy 

"Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. senators and congress members. So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over. The incumbents, Democrats, and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger, so it benefits both parties…"
“…Corporate ‘domination’ of electioneering can generate the impression that corporations dominate our democracy.When citizens turn on their televisions and radios before an election and hear only corporate electioneering, they may lose faith in their capacity, as citizens, to influence public policy. A Government captured by corporate interests, they may come to believe, will be neither responsive to their needs nor willing to give their views a fair hearing. The predictable result is cynicism and disenchantment: an increased perception that large spenders ‘call the tune’ and a reduced ‘willingness of voters to take part in democratic governance.’ To the extent that corporations are allowed to exert undue influence in electoral races, the speech of the eventual winners of those races may also be chilled.

"Politicians who fear that a certain corporation can make or break their reelection chances may be cowed into silence about that corporation. On a variety of levels, unregulated corporate electioneering might diminish the ability of citizens to 'hold officials accountable to the people,’ and disserve the goal of a public debate that is 'uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.' At the least, I stress again, a legislature is entitled to credit these concerns and to take tailored measures in response."

There is only one humanity

The Church of England bishop of Dover, the Right Rev. Trevor Willmott, accused senior political figures, including the prime minister, of forgetting their humanity and attacked elements of the media for propagating a “toxicity” designed to spread antipathy towards migrants. 
“We need to rediscover what it is to be a human, and that every human being matters.”

Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, chief executive of the international charity, echoed Willmott’s call to remember the fact that the migrants were humans and many were refugees fleeing horrific abuse or extreme danger. “We are in danger of shutting our hearts to the desperation of the people pleading at the door, refugees not economic migrants,” he said.

The deputy mayor of Calais, Philippe Mignonet, branded the prime minister “racist”

The UN special representative on migration, Peter Sutherland, said Britain’s attitude towards the crisis suggested the lessons of Nazism had not been learnt.
“Many of those in Calais are refugees, just as the Jewish people were in 1939,” he said. “They can prove they were – and are – persecuted and would be persecuted if they were returned.”

The conflict in Syria has displaced 6.5 million people internally and caused another three million to flee the country entirely. While the majority of these refugees end up in border countries like Turkey and Jordan, an increasing number of Syrians are fleeing to Europe. The main route to reach Europe is by crossing the Mediterranean from Libya on a crowded boat.

“I don’t want to die. I don’t want to kill anyone,” a Sudanese man told me. He had fled soldiers trying to force men into militias all around him. He was happy to stay in the camp indefinitely. “No guns. No killing here,” he explained.

Alex, a 22-year-old Ethiopian hoping to reach Britain spent six months as a political prisoner and fled as soon as he was released from jail. He has already been in Calais for nearly two months, trying to cross almost every evening: “If I spoke more French I would stay here, but I will be like a baby, have to start again from nothing.”

“The French language is very difficult, but we try hard. If we come every day, maybe we can touch our dreams,” says Kamal, a refugee from Sudan’s war-torn Darfur district who comes to three or four hours of classes every day. “It’s a good thing to keep your brain active.” The 29-year-old electrical engineer is one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of refugees living in the “jungle” camp outside Calais who have applied for asylum in France and are eager to learn the language of what they hope will be their new home. France is already home to more than a quarter of a million refugees, according to United Nations data – the country has taken in more than twice as many as the UK, even though the countries have similar populations.

Jenny Flahaut, 33, who works at a children’s home, was inspired to volunteer. She is particularly frustrated by the depiction of migrants in the media and by politicians who have never visited the camp, most recently David Cameron, who in a much criticised speech talked about “swarms” of people trying to reach the UK. “They don’t know them and have a bad vision, but they are not like that,” Flahaut said. “Most of them are very good people. They are welcoming and friendly. They want to improve their life and make it better, and learning is part of that.” 

Zimarco Jones, the school’s Nigerian founder, who arrived in Calais two years ago and is still waiting for his asylum claim to be processed hates the camp’s name “The Jungle”, because he says it implies the residents aren’t people. “We are not animals.”

Why do all the people coming across the Mediterranean want to come to Britain? Most of them don’t. This is a rather small part of the issue. So far this year, more than 180,000 migrants have reached Greece and Italy by sea (others come from Turkey via the land border with Bulgaria). Of those, only a few thousand make their way overland across Europe to Calais. In the first four months of this year, more than a quarter of a million people claimed asylum in a European Union member state; fewer than 10,000 of those claims were in the UK.

But isn’t the UK, as the mayor of Calais put it, “El Dorado” for immigrants, with our generous benefits and booming economy? For those who speak English, the UK will obviously be more attractive than, say, Sweden, although the latter is considerably more welcoming to refugees. And some will have family and friends connections. It is unlikely to be the munificence of the UK’s benefit system, which is not particularly generous compared with many continental countries, and isn’t open to asylum seekers anyway.

Aren’t refugees supposed to seek asylum in the first European country they arrive in? So why can’t we send them back to Italy or Greece? This is indeed what the Dublin Regulation says. But this is a lot harder in practice than in principle.
Greece, for example, is experiencing one of the worst depressions in recorded economic history. It’s hardly surprising that Athens hasn’t got the resources to process asylum claims and is happy to let migrants pass through on the way to northern Europe, without registration or fingerprinting, making it difficult or impossible for them to be returned.
Italy, not unreasonably, feels it, too, has been left to deal with most of the burden on its own. And remember that these countries would, in theory, be within their rights to issue genuine refugees with permanent residence permits, allowing them free movement within the entire EU.

Wherever they come from, don’t we have a huge problem with illegal immigrants? The last serious – although extremely rough – estimate of the number of people living in the UK illegally was made in 2009, which gave a range of between 420,000 and 860,000. These are the numbers most commonly quoted, although Migration Watch and the Daily Express routinely round the number up to a million. The lower estimates imply that there are several hundred thousand people living illegally in London and that figure may well be too high. A few years ago the Metropolitan police started checking the immigration status of everyone arrested in London. They seemed to find immigration irregularities only for a relatively small proportion, perhaps 1%. So unless we believe that irregular migrants are remarkably law-abiding compared with both natives and legal immigrants, it may be that levels of irregular migration are much lower than previously thought. Most people here irregularly didn’t come through the Channel tunnel. Most estimates suggest that at least 80% are people who arrived in Britain legally and then overstayed. The “typical” illegal immigrant is someone who came here on a tourist visa and decided to stay and make some money working in a restaurant; or a person who arrived on a working visa and changed occupations. He or she is not an Eritrean who hid in the back of a lorry – who in any case is quite likely to have a valid claim for refugee status.

Why are so many people coming to Europe anyway? And are they genuine refugees or economic migrants? The most common nationality by far of those currently arriving in Greece and Italy is Syrian. Other common nationalities are Eritrean, Afghan, Somali, and Iraqi. In most cases they are fleeing civil war, violence and oppression. Those who do make it to the UK are highly likely to be granted refugee status or humanitarian protection. Legally and morally, they are not illegal immigrants, still less “bogus asylum seekers”.

Surely the answer, as the government says, is to intervene at the source of the problem, with development aid, so that people don’t want to migrate? That sounds like a win-win: if Britain uses its aid budget to help the countries of origin grow, people will be more prosperous and will not risk their lives trying to migrate to Europe. Sadly, the evidence that development aid can in practice reduce migration flows is thin to non-existent. In fact, the list of countries of origin above illustrates the difficulties. In Syria, Britain decided not to intervene (although it is now reconsidering). In Afghanistan and Iraq, the UK intervened militarily at great cost and with less than universally successful results. In Eritrea, the EU continues to provide development aid to a hugely repressive regime, with no obvious influence on either its behaviour or migration flows. That’s not to say that it’s not worth trying to use aid to create jobs and opportunities in the countries of origin; but it won’t change things any time soon. EU tariff walls and unfair trade rules continue to retard the growth of stronger economies in Africa. That entrenches the poverty

Doesn’t the EU need migrants anyway? One of the ironies about Europe’s state of panic about migration across the Mediterranean is that for a number of years policymakers have been warning that Europe’s population is ageing and, in many countries, shrinking. The EU’s total fertility rate is just over 1.5 – you don’t need to be a demographer to work out the long-term implications. If it weren’t for migration, the EU’s working-age population would already be shrinking. Last year, deaths exceeded births in both Greece and Italy – where the vast majority of the migrants arrived – and in Germany, where the largest number end up. Like that of the UK, Germany’s economy is creating jobs faster than the natives can fill them. We’ve been here before – in the 1960s, labour shortages in Europe were filled by North Africans in France, Turks in Germany and, of course, Commonwealth migrants to the UK. Those routes were mostly closed off after the 1970s.
And it’s not just about the number of people or workers – migrants can bring new ideas and new dynamism to an economy, something many European countries sorely need. Our NHS is held together by immigrants, with 30 per cent of our doctors coming from abroad.

Public hatred is focused on the most visible and vulnerable migrants. The Tories came to power promising to reduce net migration into Britain to below 100,000 a year. “No ifs, no buts,” said Cameron. But he could not stop EU citizens moving to the UK and business was and remains desperate for workers from the rest of the world too. With his attempts to control economic migration in ruins, the only possible way Cameron can sustain his pose of the hard man is by refusing sanctuary to Syrians and Eritreans. They have proved an easy target.

 “Human beings move. We are a restless species. If you have never moved to a new country to find work, your forebears certainly did. Go back far enough in your family, my family or any family on this planet and you will find that our common ancestors were migrants. In hating them, we hate ourselves.” Writes NickCohen in the Guardian.

The solution to the immigration crisis lies not with building fences and bulldozing camps but with the creation of conditions that does not necessitate people leaving their homes, their family and their friends and neighbours. The reality is that the solution is socialism.   

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Worthless (video)


Our Mother Who Art In Earth


  Today in the towns of the Andes, Mother Earth, Pachamama, celebrates her big fiesta.

  Her children sing and dance on this everlasting day, and they share with Mother Earth a mouthful of every corn delicacy, and a sip of each of the strong drinks that lubricate their joy.

  At the end they ask for forgiveness for the harm the despoiled and poisoned earth has suffered, and they plead with her not to punish them with earthquakes, frosts, droughts, floods or other furies.

 This is the oldest faith in the Americas.

  Her is how the Tojolabal Mayas in Chiapas greet our Mother:

    You offer us beans,
    which are delicious
    with hot peppers, with tortilla.

    Corn you give us, and fine coffee.
    Dear Mother,
    take good care of us, do.
    And may it never occur to us 
    to put you up for sale.

  She does not live in heaven. She lives deep in the depths below ground, and there she awaits us: the earth that feeds us will feed on us in turn.

by Eduardo Galeano from Children of the Days


Socialist Standard No. 1332 August 2015


Friday, July 31, 2015

We are with our fellow workers

There are attempts by politicians and the media to dehumanise some of the world’s most vulnerable and desperate people, men, women and children who risk their lives to flee poverty, oppression and war in search a better life.

Berakat from Eritrea, where he was discriminated for being Christian but now he is being persecuted for wanting to reach England. “Why are you closing the door?” he asked. “We’re not animals, barbarians.”

Across in Calais Leigh Daynes, executive director of Médicins du Monde explains
“We’re treating a growing number of people who have been injured, many of them seriously, after falling from trucks and from police brutality. Almost all have fled their home countries because of armed conflict, political, religious or racial persecution. Many have endured extremely long, difficult and dangerous journeys.”

Politicians and the media talk of an “immigrant invasion” and the part of feral press has called for British troops to be used in France to guard the Euro-Tunnel. They declare 2,000 migrants had attempted to enter Britain in one night, without making it clear they meant many repeated attempts by the same group of a few hundred migrants. But the original claim was enough to leave the clear impression that Britain was now under nightly siege and the government was powerless to do anything about it.

United Nations’ Peter Sutherland said: “Anybody who thinks that by erecting borders and fences in some way a particular state can be protected from alleged ‘floods’ – which are anything but floods of migrants – is living in cloud cuckoo land.”

In Germany for the first half of this year, 200 attacks on asylum-seekers’ homes have been recorded. The real figure, say analysts, is probably far higher. Many refugees fail to report attacks, largely because they do not want to bring further attention to themselves. The Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban, actively incites peoples fears to compete for popularity with the neo-fascists. “What we have at stake today is Europe, the European way of life, the survival or disappearance of European values and nations, or their transformation beyond recognition … We would like Europe to be preserved for the Europeans. But there is something we would not just like but we want because it only depends on us: we want to preserve a Hungarian Hungary.” He organises xenophobic referendum campaigns and builds walls on his borders – ironically, where the Iron Curtain was lifted.

This not need to be.  German local communities come together gathering food and clothing for refugees , retired teachers offering language lessons for free, and people opening their homes for foreigners to live with them. In Fürstenfeldbruck, a town of 35,000 in Bavaria , that has taken in 1,600 refugees over the past few months, 600 locals have signed up to volunteer their time for everything from teaching refugees German to organising computers and internet access. “We’re working flat out,” said a woman who helps asylum-seekers fill out their application forms. “And we have been for months.”

Professor John Salt of UCL’s Migration Research Unit placessome reason within the immigration issue.

Is the UK full up? "For example, you could say that if we hadn’t built all the golf courses we have in Surrey, then we’d have a lot more space to build housing and therefore be in a better position to manage an increased population….Logic dictates that you cannot keep increasing your population forever. However, when I first began studying this subject in the 1960s, the assumption was that the population would increase to as much as 80 million by the end of the century. All sorts of regional strategies were developed, including plans to create substantial extra capacity in towns like Milton Keynes, Swindon and Northampton. But then the pill was invented and that simply didn’t happen."

Are immigrants taking our jobs? “When something like a quarter of a million Poles entered the UK. However, recorded unemployment rates went down between 2003 and 2005, and recorded vacancy rates actually went up slightly… the data would suggest that they weren’t taking the jobs of Brits…The econometric evidence suggests immigration doesn’t generally impact on the pay or employment rates of existing citizens. People in lower paid jobs are more likely to be affected, but even then the effect, statistically speaking, is relatively small.”

Are most immigrants illegal? There are only two countries that really have any idea how many immigrants have entered illegally, and they are Australia and North Korea. This is because Australia counts everyone in and out, while North Korea has border controls that most people would consider unacceptable. Many of the people who are in the country illegally are people who have entered legally, but stayed beyond the period they had permission for. But the number of people who actually get into Britain illegally must be pretty small, due to the stringent checks that exist at our main points of entry.

Do immigrants claim a disproportionately high amount in welfare and benefits payments? “The studies that have been done do show that immigrants are less likely to claim benefits that native Britons. People who have asylum claims, for example, are not allowed to be employed while their application is being processed, so it is inevitable that they will need more support through welfare payments. But again, that is a relatively small group. On the whole, the story is that migrants are less likely to access benefits payments.”

Do immigrants put too much strain on education and health services?” Services may be under pressure, but you simply cannot generalise….The number of immigrants who work in health and care sectors…have suggested as many as a one in four new nurses are recruited from abroad.”

As Leigh Daynes again pointed out: “These are ordinary people – mothers, fathers, daughters and sons – living in the most horrendous conditions that no one should have to endure. Many are highly educated, including doctors, dentists and engineers, fleeing extreme violence and poverty and simply wanting better lives for themselves, so much so they are prepared to risk their lives for it.”

Wherever capitalism draws invisible lines across the planet and say that any human on one side of the line can have dreams, but any human on the other side of the line, can only live in a nightmare, people will think about crossing that imaginary line.

For those of us in the World Socialist Movement, they are our fellow-workers, fully deserving our sympathy, support, and solidarity. 

“Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement while they entertain such aristocratic notions of their own assumed superiority.” - Eugene Debs 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hunger and Farming

The global population is predicted to be 9.7 billion people by 2050 despite fall in fertility. 

The rush to increase food production has caused catastrophic environmental degradation – we need to make agriculture climate-resilient and more efficient. The World Bank’s view that we need to grow 50% more food by 2050 to feed 9 billion people, while finding ways to reduce carbon emissions from agriculture at the same time, ignores one very simple fact – we already grow enough food for 10 billion people. But a combination of storage losses after harvest, overconsumption and waste mean that some 800 million people in developing countries are malnourished.

Today the environmental toll from this boom is all too evident. 38% of the planet’s cropland is degraded, 11% of the irrigated area is salt contaminated, 90% of the biodiversity of the 20 main staple crops has been lost, nitrogen fertiliser produces 6% of greenhouse gases and its runoff creates 400 marine “dead zones” (areas where oxygen concentration is so low that animal life suffocates), and more than 350,000 people die every year from pesticide toxicity.

Research on planetary boundaries estimates that nitrogen fertiliser use needs to decline by 75% to avoid large-scale environmental impact of this kind. The focus on productivity over efficiency has meant that the amount of energy needed to grow the same quantity of food has increased by between one-quarter and one-third over the last 25 years. Even without climate change, conventional chemical agriculture is driving humanity towards a food-security cliff.

A Christian Aid briefing paper argues that if we are to reverse this situation in the face of climate change, agriculture needs a transformative change in the way it addresses climate resilience. Small-scale farmers and pastoralists, who manage 60% of agricultural land and produce 50% of the planet’s food, should be central to this agenda. Research to solve their problems should be guided by their priorities, and take place largely on their farms. The kind of support farmers want often includes advice on soil management and testing, reliable climate forecasts, and development of their own seed and livestock breeding processes. The advice they get usually revolves around unaffordable chemical fertilisers and pesticides, while their ability to exchange and sell locally adapted crop seeds is threatened by corporate-inspired legislation promoting crop varieties developed in distant biotech labs. Small-scale women farmers manage up to 90% of staple food production but only 15% of agricultural advisers are women, and only 5% of advice reaches women.

For farmers to invest in resilience, they need secure land tenure, especially when they participate in communal land-tenure systems. Land deals with largely foreign buyers have increased to 55 million hectares. This not only dispossesses farmers but also undermines the confidence that others need to invest in measures to control land erosion, in trees and in other adaptations that pay off over several years.

The "rush to production" was simply about profit - primitive accumulation of capital - it has absolutely nothing to do with feeding dispossessed people who can't pay for it. The rape of land and resources, the driving off the land of subsistence farmers, the domination and control of seeds (deliberated engineered to produce plants that produce infertile seeds), the creation of dependency on insecticides and fertilisers ... and finally the ulitmate insult to hungry people - the deliberate hoarding and destruction of food to keep market prices from falling so that profits are maintained. Nothing has changed since the "Great Irish Famine": when 1 milllion starved while those who owned farms and livestock carried on exporting to markets that could pay for the produce. The reason people in developing countries are malnourished is that they are poor, and don't have enough money to feed themselves properly.

Coal - Keep it in the Hole (2)

Following on from an earlier postthe World Bank said coal was no cure for global poverty on Wednesday, rejecting a main industry argument for building new fossil fuel projects in developing countries. Coal, oil and gas companies have pushed back against efforts to fight climate change by arguing fossil fuels are a cure to “energy poverty”, which is holding back developing countries, arguing instead that the low global prices for coal and oil are a benefit for poor countries. Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest privately held coal company, went so far as to claim that coal would have prevented the spread of the Ebola virus.

In a rebuff to coal, oil and gas companies, Rachel Kyte, the World Bank climate change envoy, said continued use of coal was exacting a heavy cost on some of the world’s poorest countries, in local health impacts as well as climate change, which is imposing even graver consequences on the developing world. 

“In general globally we need to wean ourselves off coal,” Kyte explained . “There is a huge social cost to coal and a huge social cost to fossil fuels … if you want to be able to breathe clean air.” Kyte said that when it came to lifting countries out of poverty, coal was part of the problem – and not part of a broader solution. “Do I think coal is the solution to poverty? There are more than 1 billion people today who have no access to energy,” Kyte said. Hooking them up to a coal-fired grid would not on its own wreck the planet, she went on. But then Kyte added: “If they all had access to coal-fired power tomorrow their respiratory illness rates would go up, etc, etc … We need to extend access to energy to the poor and we need to do it the cleanest way possible because the social costs of coal are uncounted and damaging, just as the global emissions count is damaging as well.”

The fossil fuel industry has launched a global public relations offensive around the notion of “energy poverty”, trying to rebrand the dirtiest of fossil fuels as a poverty cure. Spokesmen for Shell have called efforts to cut use of fossil fuels in developing countries “energy colonialism”.

Fact of the Day

Globally, London is the third most expensive city to live in. London is 36 per cent pricer than Manchester, 38 per cent more than Glasgow, and 40 per cent more than Belfast. London rents were now more than double the national average, and in May is was announced by forecasting group Oxford Economics that it was likely the average home in London would cost £1 million by 2030. A study conducted by Liverpool Economics on behalf of four London borough councils found that the Government's plans to sell off more council homes through an extension of the Right to Buy scheme would drive rent prices up even further. London has the second most expensive public transport in the world, the third most expensive utility costs, and the fifth most expensive theatre tickets.

After London, the most expensive UK city is Aberdeen - which has notoriously high rents and prices due to it being a centre for Britain's oil industry in the North Sea.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Coal - Keep it in the hole

Renewable energy is an easier, quicker and cheaper method than burning coal to help lift people out of poverty through access to power, Oxfam Australia says, intent upon challenging the mining industry's "spin" about coal and poverty. Coal, Oxfam says: "has found a loyal champion in the Australian government." 

Yet coal is ill-suited as a power source for most people living without electricity.

More than one billion people around the world don't have power and 84 per cent of those live in rural areas, the Powering Up Against Poverty report says. It says the cost of extending electricity grids to those rural areas offsets any economic incentive of coal power, making renewable energy a cheaper option. It's also quicker to install local solar panels than build coal plants. In addition to the negative consequences of extreme weather events because of global warming, it says, coal mines kill hundreds of thousands of people as a result of air pollution, and displace poor communities.

Oxfam Australia's climate change policy advisor and report author Dr Simon Bradshaw said contrary to the rhetoric of the coal industry, coal was not suited to meeting the needs of most people in the developing world living without electricity. 

"Four out of five people without electricity live in rural areas that are often not connected to a centralised energy grid, so local, renewable energy solutions offer a much more affordable, practical and healthy solution than coal," he said. "The Australian coal industry, faced with the rapid decline in the value of its assets and an accelerating global transition to renewable energy, has been falsely promoting coal as the main solution for increasing energy access and reducing poverty around the world. But as well as failing to improve energy access for the world's poorest people, burning coal contributes to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year due to air pollution and is the single biggest contributor to climate change, pushing people around the world deeper into poverty."

Dr Bradshaw said Oxfam was seeing the world's poorest people made even more vulnerable through the increasing risk of droughts, floods, hunger and disease due to climate change.  "The argument that 'coal is good for humanity' really doesn't stack up when you consider the facts; such as the major shifts in energy and climate policy in China, India and other major economies; the cost of renewable energy is falling fast; new technologies such as advanced batteries are overcoming any shortfalls renewable energy has had in the past; investors are shifting their focus from coal towards renewables, and the evidence of harm that coal does to communities," he said. "The future can be brighter for both Australia and poorer communities around the world; but only if we wake up to the changing global realities, stand up to vested interests and help to build the renewable energy economies of the future."

Puerto Rico Austerity

In Puerto Rico over 13 percent of people are unemployed, 45 percent of people live below the poverty line.

Hedge fund managers and bondholders are pressing the government of Puerto Rico to drive through a series of punishing austerity measures, including dramatic cuts to public education and workers' rights protections. A group representing $5.2 billion of debt held by 38 investment managers paid three former economists for the International Monetary Fund, who now are employed by the firm Centennial Group International, to devise policy recommendations in response to Governor Alejandro García Padilla's claim last month that Puerto Rico's $72 billion debt is "not payable."

The report urges slashing public programs—particularly education—and privatizing assets and industries including proposals to: "Reduce number of teachers to fit the size of the student population; Reduce subsidy to University of Puerto Rico; Cut excess Medicaid benefits."

Puerto Rico's government has already closed 100 schools in 2015 alone. Puerto Rico's teachers' unions have vigorously opposed attempts to drive through cuts, and in May, thousands of educators and students took to the streets and staged strikes to protest a proposed $166 million cut to the University of Puerto Rico's budget.

The study also recommends "structural reforms" to regulations and worker protections, including calls to: "Amend local labor laws regarding overtime, vacation time, mandatory bonuses, and others;" and changes that would "make welfare benefits consistent with local labor market conditions."

The report calls for taxpayers' money to be put towards "public private partnerships" to construct or operate buildings and ports.

Activist Vijay Prashad recently argued that the government embraces the IMF agenda of privatization and cutbacks: "Garcia Padilla continues to use the word 'sacrifice' in his speeches. The question asked by Puerto Ricans is why such a word is only used against ordinary people and never against the bankers."

From here 

More tips on TTIP

Offering a stark warning of how corporate-friendly trade pacts like the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) put both democracy and the environment at risk, a Canadian company is seeking damages from Romania after being blocked from creating an open-pit gold mine over citizen concerns. Gabriel Resources Ltd. announced that it had filed a request for arbitration with the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes to seek as much as $4 billion of damages.

The corporation's Rosia Montana open-pit gold mine project stalled after a series of protests in cities across Romania in 2013 demanded Gabriel's plan be dropped. Romanian residents and environmental activists have opposed the mine since it was proposed in the 1990s, charging that it would blast off mountaintops, destroy a potential UNESCO World Heritage site, and displace residents from the town of Rosia Montana and nearby villages. In particular, local communities opposed the use of cyanide as part of the extraction process. Such opposition led to widespread street protests in 2013, which in turn pressured the Romanian Parliament to reject a bill introduced by the government that would have paved the way for the mine. Now, Gabriel Resources, which holds an 80 percent stake in the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, says the country has violated international treaties.

With the vast expansion of the use of Investor-State Dispute Settlement brought about by the TTIP Romanians and other Europeans can only expect more of such cases. TTIP and a few other trade agreements being negotiated at the moment would expand the coverage of investor-state arbitration from around 20% to around 80% of investment flows to and from the U.S. and the EU. The recent case opened by Gabriel Resources against Romania serves as an omen of what Europe's future may look like if citizen power is not restored. Corporations whose operations are resource-extracting (mining, fracking, gas, oil, etc.) look at geological reports and only see dollar$. They lay waste to pristine areas, villages, towns and pollute soil, air, and water that may never be saved, restored or returned. History has shown what wanton ravaging of natural resources does to all flora and fauna; our planet is consumed by the drive to accumulate profits.

Haiti - The "Humanitarian" Occupation

The movie image of Haiti has been centred on “voodoo” and “zombies” but yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the U.S. Occupation of Haiti. On July 28, 1915, U.S. Marines landed on the shores of Haiti, occupying the country for 19 years. Many argue that the U.S. has never stopped occupying Haiti. Some use the word “humanitarian occupation” to describe the current situation, denouncing the loss of sovereignty, as U.N. troops have been patrolling the country for over 11 years. Foreign troops are on the ground, controlling the country; the military regimes operated with complete immunity and impunity. Haitian NGO worker Yvette Desrosiers declared: “the Americans hide their face, they send Brazilians, Argentines… he’s hidden but he’s the one in command!”

During the 1915 U.S. Marines Occupation, a young, ambitious secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt bragged to have personally written the Haitian constitution, easily scuttled through the puppet regime installed by the Marines. This constitution, formally adopted in 1918, opened up land for foreign ownership, and formalized the linguistic exclusion and hegemony of the ruling classes by naming French as only official language. This constitution paved the way for U.S. agribusiness interests such as United Fruit (Chiquita) to buy up tracts of land, and capitalist speculators such as James P. McDonald to build a railroad, asking to own the tract for 13 miles on either side, almost all of Haiti’s arable land. Needless to say this was a boon for foreign investors, and the local merchants who monopolized foreign trade, while expropriating thousands of peasant farmers.

Constitutional changes were also in store during the contemporary occupation. In addition to rejecting the increase in the minimum wage, Bill Clinton and the U.N. are also credited for introducing constitutional reforms. Haiti’s 1987 constitution was the culmination of what Fritz Deshommes called a re-founding of the nation. The popular movements that succeeded in forcing out the Duvalier dictatorship stood fast against the military junta and repression. Passed with over 90 percent of the vote on March 29, 1987, the constitution was based on human rights, guaranteeing both liberal political rights like freedom of press, religion, and assembly as well as social rights such as education and housing. In addition, the constitution elevated Haitian Creole as official language, shared with French. Reeling from 29 years of the Duvalier dictatorship, the public was wary of centralization of power in the executive. The office of Prime Minister, to be ratified by Parliament, was put into place. Power was also shared in the Territorial Collectivities, including 570 communal sections. Despite advances in gender equity and dual citizenship for Haitians living abroad, many of these gains were reversed by the amendments. The amendments to the constitution lay dormant, out of public view. In fact, Parliament voted to dissolve itself to make way for the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), co-chaired by Bill Clinton, in April 2010. Importantly the IHRC was to hand over governance to Parliament and the newly elected president. When Parliament was back in session in 2011, the first task laid out for them was to ratify the amendments to the constitution. President Michel Martelly, a.k.a. “Sweet Micky,” the winner from the second round of a record low voter turnout of 22%, less than half the previous 2006 elections, pushed for the ratification. He was joined by several foreign agencies, apparently keen on naming the Permanent Electoral Council in a top-down, rushed process that gave the current government the advantage. The coverage of this was murky and confused. Like all other laws, it needed to be published in the official journal of the State, Le Moniteur. Following all this discussion, it was not clear what the final version was. Only the French version was published.

One of the changes included that the President name a Prime Minister and apparently without requiring a full Parliamentary ratification. The new constitution allows for the leaders of both houses to agree. These two individuals had the most stake in the prolongation of their mandate following the deal reached with Martelly. When Prime Minister Lamothe resigned, Martelly named Evans Paul, a.k.a. K. Plim, who had perennially promoted and positioned himself as “mediator.” The terms of the lower house, the Deputies, were set to expire the second Monday of January, which turned out to be January 12, the fifth anniversary of the earthquake. In addition, a third of the Senate’s terms were also set to expire, meaning that this house too would be below quorum. The sticking point in the conflict between Martelly and the opposition was following the electoral law and naming the representatives for the Electoral Council. As Parliament teetered toward collapse, President Martelly’s hand grew stronger, and the international pressure to “negotiate” to avoid a “political crisis” grew. In effect international agencies like the European Union, the U.S., the U.N., and the World Bank were lining up to support Martelly. These actors concerned with “democracy” said nothing when Martelly replaced all but a handful of the country’s mayors. They indicated that if a negotiated solution – Martelly’s position hadn’t changed – was not reached, they would continue to support the government of Haiti even though he would have to rule by decree. This same state of affairs, ruling by decree, was cited by many of these same international agencies in 1999 as the reason they suspended assistance to Haiti.

With a speculated estimated value of $20 billion, this represents a significant wealth. However, given Haiti’s infrastructure, especially after the earthquake, there is insufficient in-country capacity and even technical expertise to evaluate contracts. Significantly, the “exploitation” contracts were granted without Parliamentary approval. However, in February of 2013 Parliament responded, issuing a resolution calling for a moratorium on mining in Haiti, citing the questionable legality of the Conventions as one of their main concerns. Shortly thereafter, the Martelly administration successfully recruited the World Bank to support its effort to restructure its mining laws and obtained support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to manage mining contracts and create a national cadaster. Communities and civil society organizations have organized to promote their interests and defend their rights. At issue was local communities’ participation and approval, given the loss of agricultural land and therefore peasant livelihood, not to mention the significant environmental damage mining causes. The contracts made no provisions for environmental review or protections. Finally, the contracts expropriated the vast majority of the profits out of the country. The campaign succeeded in a parliamentary inquiry and eventually a resolution in December 2012 with these safeguards in effect. Mining activity has been on hold in Haiti as the government rewrites the law.

Without a parliament and President Martelly ruling by decree, allowed for resumption. This – in addition to other development strategies such as high-end tourism that benefit foreign capitalist interests at the expense of local communities – is the main motivation colleagues attribute to the so-called “international community’s” support of the current status. In fact the facilitating exploratory law was on the books in 2005, during the “transition” following Aristide’s ouster. In addition to secrecy, which seems to be the modus operandi of capital advancement, companies openly cited UN’s presence as attracting foreign investment. And so mining activities recommenced, with the World Bank not listening to local concerns, until a journalist unearthed that one of these no-bid contracts went to none other than the brother of the then-Secretary of State, current Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton, this April.

Killing with kindness is a more powerful strategy. With a humanitarian mask, NGO aid has made inroads in almost all corners of the country. While the results of foreign aid are mixed, with most of the benefits accruing to foreign aid workers and local elite groups, a nonstop humanitarian occupation has led to greater complacency, dependency, and division. Explicitly racist and imperialist foreign troops might succeed in pacification and building institutions, but they also tend to trigger a violent, nationalist resistance. Contemporary foreign aid is more far-reaching, and more effective at quelling, buying off, or dividing potential threats to the foreign-imposed order.

Full unabridged article here

Robot Wars

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms. Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. Artificial Intelligence technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is feasible within years, not decades.

autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow. Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. A military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity.

Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.

There has been so far 1850 signatories to an open letter calling for the ban on such weaponry. Stephen Hawkings, Noam Chomsky, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Google DeepMind chief executive Demis Hassabis. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

THE OLD BULL AND BUSH! (weekly poem)


Jeb Bush is seeking to be the third member
of the Bush family to become US President.

Three-Hundred Million citizens,
Throughout the USA;
But just one clan for President,
Who think they have a natural bent,
To run the US Government,
From each Election day.

Appointment to the White House job,
Is honourable and fair;
As all can run for the top post,
Provided they can truly boast,
That they have really got ‘the most’--
i.e. a millionaire.

One’s prospects are assisted if,
One is another Bush;
With brains inside one’s dick not head,
(And voters who are easily led)
Plus all those sponsors with the bread,
To fund the final push.

So if you want a poop for Pres.,
Then vote for good ole Jeb;
Or any other millionaire,
Who’ll sob and say they really care,
Just like the spider in its lair,
Says to flies in its web!

© Richard Layton