Wednesday, July 08, 2020

US workers better off?

US manufacturing growth had slowed to its lowest level in August 2019 when the purchasing managers’ index fell for the first time since September 2009. Trump has failed to reverse the continuing decline in manufacturing’s share of GDP.
Nominal wages have risen by an average of 2.2% since Trump took office, but real wages fell 3.9% after adjusting for inflation. 
Real labour compensation, including fringe benefits, has declined 4.3%! Meanwhile, more than 53 million Americans, or 44% of all workers aged 18-64, earn low hourly wages, getting barely enough to survive.
US unemployment fell to 3.5% in December 2019, its lowest level since 1969, before rising again. However, the story behind the headline unemployment figure is less impressive.
For example, in January 2020, 1.3 million individuals who wanted work, were not counted as unemployed because they had not actively sought work in the preceding four weeks. This figure shot up to 9.4 million in May 2020, declining to over 8.6 million in June.
Of these, ‘discouraged’ unemployed, who believed that no jobs were available for them, more than doubled from 337,000 in January 2020 to 681,000 in June.
The high US incarceration rate lowers its jobless rate by about 1%. The US has the world’s highest incarceration rate, with more than two million in prisons. Many are discouraged African-American and Hispanic unemployed workers, jailed for minor crimes, often petty drug offences.
Three-fourths of the post-Second World War (WW2) decline in the labour share of GDP (i.e., paid as wages, salaries or employment benefits) has happened since 2000, after little change in the second half of the 20th century!
Overall US labour share of nonfarm business income fell from 65.4% of GDP in 1947-50 to 61.1% in 1994-98, before rising to 63.3% in 2000, and falling thereafter. After recovering from a nadir of 52.4% in 2013 to around 57% during Obama’s second term, labour’s share fell to 53% in 2018.
Low unemployment has undoubtedly raised nominal wages, but after adjusting for inflation, the median household income was roughly the same as two decades before, while the average real wage has barely changed, rising just 0.42% from December 2016 to September 2019.
Meanwhile, the value of fringe benefits – including health insurance, retirement and bonuses – declined by 1.7% during Trump’s first three years. 1.9 million more Americans lack health insurance coverage, raising the total to 27.5 million, i.e., 8.5% of the US population in 2018.
Thus, despite declining joblessness before the pandemic, aggregate real compensation fell 0.22% under Trump. Average real hourly earnings of US$23.24 in March 2019 were not higher than at its peak in March 1974.
With the pandemic, real (seasonally adjusted) average hourly earnings for all employees dropped 0.9% from April to May 2020, while nominal earnings of private nonfarm payroll employees fell 66 cents to US$29.37 in June 2020 from US$30.03 in April.
Meanwhile, labour income inequality has increased, with declining real incomes for the unskilled and poorly skilled, as remuneration gains have mostly and increasingly gone to the highest-paid, mainly executives.
Following policy responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, the US labour force participation rate (share of civilian population aged 16 and older working or looking for work) fell from 63.4% in January 2020 to 61.5% in June, well below the pre-financial crisis peak of 66.4% in January 2007, and the post-WW2 high of 67.3% in early 2000.
Job growth has slowed with Trump’s trade wars, with significant job losses in electorally key states. While 2018 saw 223,000 new jobs created monthly, this average fell to 184,000 in the last quarter of 2019. The 1.2 million ‘long-term unemployed’ (jobless for at least 27 weeks) accounted for 19.9% of the unemployed in January 2020, rising to 1.4 million in June.
Apparently, the US jobs survey mistakenly counted 4.9 million unemployed as employed! If corrected, the unemployment rate would have risen to 16.1% in May, and the rate for April would have been more than 19.5% – instead of 14.7%.
According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), even the very large increase in official unemployment since March is underestimated. Adjusting for the extra 4.9 million unemployed, and 6.3 million who have left the labour force since February, the PIIE’s more ‘realistic unemployment rate’ was 17.1% in May, the highest in over seven decades!
However, despite admitting the error, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has not corrected the official numbers “to maintain data integrity”. As the BLS regularly updates its estimates, its decision not to do so in this case has triggered calls for investigation.
As part of the US$2 trillion stimulus package, US$350 billion in ‘forgivable’ loans have gone to small businesses to retain staff. Businesses could access the funds if they retained or rehired laid off workers by the end of June, raising the month’s job numbers. Many employers acknowledge they will lay off these workers once the subsidies run out.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Filipinos and Duterte's Law

In the Philippines, the head of state holds office for a six-year term but is barred from running for reelection.

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council chief Michelle Bachelet released a report that characterized Duterte's rule as "heavy handed," which resulted in killings that are "widespread, systematic and on-going." The report detailed how extrajudicial killings were carried out with near impunity.

"Laws and policies to counter national security threats and illegal drugs have been crafted and implemented in ways that severely impact human rights. This has resulted in thousands of killings, arbitrary detention and vilification of those who challenge these severe human right violations," said Bachelet. 

Since Duterte was elected to the presidency in 2016, more than 27,000 suspected drug peddlers have been killed in a mix of police operations and vigilante killings. Additionally, almost 250 human rights defenders — including unionists, lawyers, journalists and environmental rights defenders — have been killed.

The release of the UN report coincided with Duterte's signing of a counterterrorism bill into law over the weekend. The legislation has been widely contested for its vague definition of terrorism and the wide powers its gives security forces to arrest suspected terrorists without a warrant and detain them without charges for a longer period of time. Critics warned that with the administration's track record of disregarding human rights and civil liberties in enforcing law and order, this new law would be used to further quell legitimate dissent.

Tension rises in the Med

In the eastern Mediterranean on June 10, a French frigate tried to inspect a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship suspected of smuggling arms to Libya in violation of a U.N. embargo.
The French said the frigate was harassed by three Turkish navy vessels escorting the cargo ship. A Turkish ship flashed its radar lights and its crew put on bulletproof vests and stood behind their  weapons, it said.
Turkey denies trafficking arms to Libya and says the cargo ship, the Cirkin, was carrying humanitarian aid. It has accused the French navy of aggression.

Syrians' Pain

More than 380,000 people have been killed and 13.2 million others - half of Syria's pre-war population - have been displaced inside and outside the country since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.
Syrian pro-government forces and their jihadist opponents flagrantly violated the laws of war during the battle for Idlib province, UN investigators say.
Civilians endured "unfathomable suffering" when the Syrian military launched a campaign late last year to retake the area, according to a report.
They were subjected to indiscriminate air strikes and ground shelling, as well as arrests, torture and pillaging. Hundreds of civilians were killed. Almost one million were displaced by the fighting and many were forced to live in dire conditions in overcrowded camps or open fields. Now, the investigators warn, "a perfect storm is in the making" as the war-torn country faces both the coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis.
The Syrian military and the allied Russian air force carried out attacks that "decimated civilian infrastructure, depopulated towns and villages, and claimed the lives of hundreds of Syrian women, men and children", investigators found.
Hospitals, schools, markets and homes in opposition-held areas were destroyed by air strikes and ground shelling, in acts the report says amounted to war crimes - the crimes of launching indiscriminate attacks, and deliberate attacks on protected objects. The bombardment of the towns of Maarat al-Numan, Ariha, Atareb and Darat Izza foreseeably led to the mass displacement of civilians, which the report says may amount to the crimes against humanity of forcible transfer and murder.
The report also accuses militants from the jihadist alliance that dominates the opposition stronghold - Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a UN-designated terrorist group - of detaining, torturing, and executing civilians expressing dissenting opinions. HTS also pillaged the homes of displaced civilians and indiscriminately shelled densely populated government-held areas "with no apparent legitimate military objective", spreading terror among civilians living there, the investigators found.
"It is completely abhorrent that, after more than nine years, civilians continue to be indiscriminately attacked, or even targeted, while going about their daily lives," said the commission of inquiry's chairman, Paulo Pinheiro. "What is clear from the military campaign is that pro-government forces and UN-designated terrorists flagrantly violated the laws of war and the rights of Syrian civilians."

UK and the Yemen Death Trade

The UK is to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite concerns they could be used against civilians in Yemen, in violation of international humanitarian law. Sales were suspended last year after a legal challenge by campaigners. The review found "isolated incidents" of possible violations but no pattern of non-compliance and "no clear risk" of future serious breaches.
The UN has verified the deaths of at least 7,700 civilians since 2015 and said 60% of these were due to bombing raids by the Saudi-led coalition, whose other members include the United Arab Emirates. Monitoring groups believe the toll is far higher with the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project identifying 12,000 civilians killed in direct attacks.
 International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said while some of these incidents were assessed as "possible" violations, she said they "occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons and the conclusion is that these are isolated incidents". She said sales could resume and the "backlog" of individual licences which have accumulated since last June would be cleared subject to them meeting UK and EU criteria.
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade said it was a "morally bankrupt" move. It said the government's decision was "disgraceful".
"The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing," CAAT explained. "The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of international humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places. The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the government to stop supplying the weaponry?"

What Socialists Stand For

From the July 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

How is the Socialist Party different from other left-wing groups?

We’re not left-wing, we’re Socialists! The left (groups like the SWP or Militant [SPEW]) merely want to reform capitalism, generally by increasing the degree of state ownership in the direction of state capitalism. In contrast, the Socialist Party does not aim to tinker with a few features of capitalism — we want to do away with it altogether. Our sole objective is the establishment of Socialism.

Lots of people say they're in favour of Socialism, though it's not always sure what they mean by that word. What do you mean by it?

The Socialist Party is perfectly clear about the nature of Socialist society. We don't use "Socialism" as a slogan to impress people or win votes.

A socialist society is based on common ownership of the means of production and distribution. Land, mineral resources, factories and so on will belong to everybody. It will not be possible for some group of people to lay exclusive claim to some factory or whatever and exploit others, as happens under capitalism. Equally, there will be democratic control of the means of production — decisions about what to produce and how to produce it will be taken by the community, not by an elite few. Production will be to satisfy people's needs, not to make a profit.

That sounds like workers' control with higher wages than now.

Absolutely not. Common ownership and democratic control mean that socialism is a classless society, with no capitalist class and no working class. Since property will be owned in common, the whole idea of buying and selling simply will not be relevant. Consequently there will be no money and no wages — people will take what they need from the stock of goods produced, without needing to pay for it. With no classes or private property, there will be no government, laws or armies. Nor will there be national frontiers either.

Now you're making it sound like what some people call Communism.

We use the term "Socialism", but the name is less important than the idea. You should realise, though, that what we are advocating has nothing at all to do with the regimes in [former USSR] Russia, China, Cuba, and so on, which claim to be Socialist or Communist, but are actually state capitalist, because they still have wages, classes, etc.

But do we need such a drastic change as you envisage? Can't capitalism be reformed?

In one sense, capitalism can be reformed — governments are doing it all the time. But it can’t be reformed to run in the interests of the working class, the overwhelming majority of the population who rely on a wage or salary to live. It's an essential feature of capitalism that there is a relatively small class of capitalists who own the means of production and so can force the working class to work for them in return for a wage. It also follows that the workers are exploited — the goods and services they produce are worth more than they receive in wages; this is where the capitalists' profit comes from. Every reform of capitalism has to come up against this brute fact that capitalism needs profits.

What's wrong with profit? If a firm sells something for a profit, doesn’t that just mean that people want what they're producing?

The problem is that workers are restricted by the size of their wage-packets to buying what they can afford, which may be very different from what they want. And so much of what is produced is third- or fourth-best, because companies know that workers can’t afford the very best (whether houses, cars, clothes or whatever). Of course the very best is produced for the consumption of the capitalists, who can afford it.

What’s more, if people don’t have money, then what they want hardly matters under capitalism. You can see this very clearly by looking the housing situation. People living in the street or in slums, or sleeping on a friend's floor, have housing needs but don't have the resources to rent or buy. No company will make a profit out of selling a house to the destitute. This is all because under capitalism houses (like everything else) are produced for profit, not to meet people’s needs.

In fact, housing is a perfect illustration of the shortcomings of reformism. Since 1868 governments have been legislating about the housing problem. But it hasn't been solved — far from it — and it's actually getting worse at present.

William Morris once said that reforming capitalism is like trying to make hell a little cooler in order to be able to carry on living there. We agree — the answer is to do away with capitalism, not reform it.

So how do you propose to go about setting up a Socialist society?

The answer to this follows from what was said earlier about the nature of socialism. Socialist society will be democratic, it will be run by ordinary folk, so people will have to understand socialism and be prepared to take part in running it. In other words, there can be no socialism without socialists. This is something we insist on — to make socialism you have to make socialists. Once a sufficient majority are socialists, they will be able to win political power and introduce common ownership. It must be the working class who establish socialism, not some leadership or vanguard.

But there will always be leaders, won't there?

No, having leaders implies having followers, so leadership is utterly incompatible with the idea of a fully democratic system. And the Socialist Party has no leaders — all members are equal.

How do I join?

Well, before you think of joining you should get to know our views properly, by reading several issues of the Socialist Standard and some of our pamphlets. Also, if at all possible, you should visit your local Socialist branch and talk to some of the members there. Joining the Socialist Party involves a bit more than filling in a form. Applicants need to understand and accept the case for socialism. If you do join, you will find that you are involved in the worthwhile task of helping to create a world where human welfare not making profits will be the over-riding objective.

Little Progress Ending Poverty

International institutions are losing the fight against global poverty despite “self congratulatory” messages to the contrary, according to the UN’s outgoing special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston.
Alston warns that states and global organisations are “completely off track” to meet the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, with more people instead likely to become highly impoverished by new shocks, including coronavirus and existing challenges like the climate crisis. He told the Guardian he was sceptical about the role of the private sector in poverty reduction.
Alston said: “Even before Covid-19, we squandered a decade in the fight against poverty, with misplaced triumphalism blocking the very reforms that could have prevented the worst impacts of the pandemic.”
UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), Alston suggests the framework provide for poverty eradication appeared more tailored for “colourful posters” and “bland reports”.
“Rather than providing a roadmap for states to tackle the critical problems of our time, the energy surrounding the SDG process has gone into generating colourful posters and bland reports that describe the glass as one-fifth full rather than four-fifths empty. Covid-19 and the accompanying economic debacle should provide an impetus to revisit the framework of the 2030 agenda.”
Alston is particularly scathing about reliance on one of the key metrics used internationally to measure extreme poverty – the World Bank’s so-called international poverty line of $1.90 (£1.52) a day as the measure of the amount per day below which people are said to be extremely impoverished. He points to the fact that a large percentage of the world’s population live in high levels of precarity close to that limit, with nearly half living on below $5.50 a day, a figure that has barely changed in three decades.
“The result is a Pyrrhic victory, an undue sense of immense satisfaction, and dangerous complacency. Using more realistic measures, the extent of global poverty is vastly higher and the trends extremely discouraging,” Alston said. “Even before the pandemic, 3.4 billion people, nearly half the world, lived on less than $5.50 a day. That number has barely declined since 1990.”
He also criticises the widespread insistence, driven in large part by the World Bank’s policies, on the private sector in poverty reduction, saying there was little evidence that it is more efficient.
“The rush to fund the SDGs through ever-greater reliance on the private sector, whether through public-private partnerships or philanthropy, is a blind alley. Too many ‘win-win’ promises are fairy tales,” Alston said. “Instead multinational companies and investors draw guaranteed profits from public coffers, while poor communities are neglected and underserved.”
Given the state of affairs before the coronavirus pandemic, he is also deeply sceptical that there is any prospect for improvement.
“Covid-19 is projected to push hundreds of millions into unemployment and poverty, while increasing the number at risk of acute hunger by more than 250 million. But the international community’s abysmal record on tackling poverty, inequality and disregard for human life far precede this pandemic,” said Alston. “Over the past decade, the UN, world leaders and pundits have promoted a self-congratulatory message of impending victory over poverty, but almost all of these accounts rely on the World Bank’s international poverty line, which is utterly unfit for the purpose of tracking such progress,” said Alston. The expert condemned the near universal reliance on the bank’s line, which he said is deeply flawed and yields a deceptively positive picture.”
Although the World Bank claims that the number of people in extreme poverty fell from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 736 million in 2015, says Alston, he adds that is “scandalously unambitious”, and evidence shows it doesn’t even cover the cost of food or housing in many countries. The poverty decline it purports to show is due largely to rising incomes in a single country, China. And it obscures poverty among women and those often excluded from official surveys, such as migrant workers and refugees.
Alston expanded on his point about China, saying that while the country’s leaders did appear genuinely committed to poverty reduction – like other countries – that often amounted to a statistical exercise in pushing people over the World Bank’s $1.90 threshold.
“One of ‘miracle’ case studies always used is China. But I remember visiting China, and meeting with key people in charge of a taskforce eradicating extreme poverty, where it would be clear the discussion was how you could take a]village or situation to get people the extra three cents a day [to get them over the threshold], not about how to improve their miserable situation. It was a statistical challenge.”
 He added: “I think saddest things in the west is that support for poverty elimination has largely evaporated.”
Alston explained it largely in terms of the focus of political interest. “It was Bernie Sanders who said to me at one stage, look how many colleagues have rallies in very poor areas. They don’t see votes in them. And the overwhelming success of the ideological campaign that supports neoliberal policies is that it has succeeded in convincing people that those in poverty have no one to blame but themselves, while supporting the notion that trickle down policies will address it.”

Re-Visiting the Serbian Bombing

An interesting article has been published on the progressive website Alternet which recalls the “humanitarian” war to protect ethnic Albanians in Kosovo from Serbian aggression.

Back in 1999 NATO dropped 23,000 bombs on 19 hospitals, 20 health centers, 69 schools, 25,000 homes, power stations, bridges, a TV station, plus for good measure, the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. The media failed to overlook the trial in 2008  when international prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, accused Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of Kosovo of using the U.S. bombing campaign as cover to murder hundreds of people to sell their internal organs on the international transplant market. Del Ponte’s charges seemed almost too ghoulish to be true. But on June 24th, Thaci, now President of Kosovo, and nine other former leaders of the CIA-backed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA,) were finally indicted for these 20-year-old crimes by a special war crimes court at The Hague.

From 1996 on the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) to instigated violence and chaos in Kosovo manufacturing a civil war. Even U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard called the KLA a “terrorist group” and the UN Security Council condemned “acts of terrorism” by the KLA and “all external support for terrorist activity in Kosovo, including finance, arms and training.”    

By September 1998, the UN reported that 230,000 civilians had fled the civil war, mostly across the border to Albania, and the UN Security Council passed resolution 1199, calling for a ceasefire, an international monitoring mission, the return of refugees and a political resolution. A new U.S. envoy, Richard Holbrooke, convinced Yugoslav President Milosevic to agree to a unilateral ceasefire and the introduction of a 2,000 member “verification” mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  The chair of the OSCE, Polish foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek, appointed William Walker, the former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador during its civil war, to lead the Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM).  Walker’s deputy, Gabriel Keller, France’s former Ambassador to Yugoslavia, accused Walker of sabotaging the KVM.

At a village called Racak the KLA had fortified it into a base from which to ambush police patrols and dispatch death squads to kill local “collaborators.” In January 1999, Yugoslav police attacked Racak, leaving 43 men, a woman and a teenage boy dead.  After the fight, the KLA reoccupied it and staged the scene to make it look like a massacre of civilians. When William Walker and a KVM team visited Racak the next day, they accepted the KLA’s massacre story and broadcast it to the world, and it became a standard part of the narrative to justify the bombing of Serbia and military occupation of Kosovo. Autopsies by an international team of medical examiners found traces of gunpowder on the hands of nearly all the bodies, showing that they had fired weapons. Appeared not to have been shot as in a summary execution, and only one victim was shot at close range. But the full autopsy results were only published much later, and the Finnish chief medical examiner accused Walker of pressuring her to alter them. Two experienced French journalists and an AP camera crew at the scene challenged the KLA and Walker’s version of what happened in Racak. Christophe Chatelet’s article in Le Monde was headlined, “Were the dead in Racak really massacred in cold blood?” 

 France agreed to host high-level talks. But instead of inviting Kosovo’s mainstream nationalist leaders to the talks in Rambouillet, Secretary Albright flew in a delegation led by KLA commander Hashim Thaci.  Albright presented both sides with a draft agreement in two parts, civilian and military. The civilian part granted Kosovo unprecedented autonomy from Yugoslavia, and the Yugoslav delegation accepted that. But the military agreement would have forced Yugoslavia to accept a NATO military occupation, not just of Kosovo but with no geographical limits, in effect placing all of Serbia under NATO occupation.
When Milosevich refused Albright’s terms for unconditional surrender, the U.S. and NATO claimed he had rejected peace, and war was the only answer, the “last resort.” They did not return to the UN Security Council to try to legitimize their plan, knowing full well that Russia, China and other countries would reject it. When UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told Albright the British government was “having trouble with our lawyers” over NATO’s plan for an illegal war of aggression against Yugoslavia, she told him to “get new lawyers.”

In March 1999, the bombing began. Pascal Neuffer, a Swiss KVM observer reported, “The situation on the ground on the eve of the bombing did not justify a military intervention. We could certainly have continued our work. And the explanations given in the press, saying the mission was compromised by Serb threats, did not correspond to what I saw. Let’s say rather that we were evacuated because NATO had decided to bomb.”  

 Far more people had fled the bombing than the so-called “ethnic cleansing. After the bombing ended, 900,000 refugees, nearly half the population, returned to a shattered, occupied province, now ruled by gangsters.  Serbs and other minorities became second-class citizens, clinging precariously to homes and communities where many of their families had lived for centuries. More than 200,000 Serbs, Roma and other minorities fled KLA rule.
In 2019, Kosovo’s per capita GDP was only $4,458, less than any country in Europe except Moldova. In 2007, a German military intelligence report described Kosovo as a “Mafia society,” based on the “capture of the state” by criminals. The report named Hashim Thaci, then the leader of the Democratic Party, as an example of “the closest ties between leading political decision makers and the dominant criminal class.” In 2000, 80% of the heroin trade in Europe was controlled by Kosovar gangs, and the presence of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops fueled an explosion of prostitution and sex trafficking, also controlled by Kosovo’s new criminal ruling class.  
Carla Del Ponte, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY), explained that the ICTFY was prevented from charging Thaci and his co-defendants by the non-cooperation of NATO and the UN Mission in Kosovo. In an interview  she explained, “NATO and the KLA, as allies in the war, couldn’t act against each other.” 
Human Rights Watch and the BBC followed up on Del Ponte’s allegations, and found evidence that Thaci and his cronies murdered up to 400 mostly Serbian prisoners during the NATO bombing in 1999. Survivors described prison camps in Albania where prisoners were tortured and killed, a  house where people’s organs were removed and an unmarked mass grave nearby. 
A central part of the Western propaganda was the demonization of President Milosevich of Yugoslavia, who resisted his country’s Western-backed dismemberment throughout the 1990s. Western leaders smeared Milosevich as a “New Hitler” and the “Butcher of the Balkans.”  The web of lies spun by Clinton and Albright has unraveled, and is a case study in how U.S. leaders mislead us into war. Kosovo established the template for being tough on “dictators”  that U.S. leaders have used to since.


600 Americans own as much as a full 60% of Americans, or 200 million people. About half of the billionaire wealth has accumulated from passive stock market gains over the past ten years. Protests in the streets don't impact the people who have taken so much while doing so little. Instead, the often self-destructive uprisings usually target small businesses that are themselves part of the victimized lower-to-middle income segment of the population. Whenever there's talk of public banks or public health care or public schools, the wealthiest Americans use their media power to try to convince us that working together as a society is a step toward communism. The protests that seem to work, such as Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street, are temporary answers to a systemic pattern of oppression that seems to have no end. There has been many people's protests, around the world and the super-rich have fortified themselves against any threat.

At this moment many authorities are busily meeting to discuss removing various statues and renaming buildings in the wake the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed. The Establishment hold up their hands and declare “mea culpa” for the past. To the symbols of slavery we say good riddance but we also understand the motives of gesture politics. 

Are our rulers really intending to right the wrongs of history? Or make the past crimes harder to see? Does erasing the record of exploitation provide a decent wage, affordable housing, free healthcare?

 If the aim is to address inequalities then “white supremacy” is only just a symptom, not the cause of poverty among the minorities and migrants. If the monuments legitimized our old masters, their elimination is hiding the new ones and the continuance of capitalism.   

Ignoring the Hungry in America

 Republican senators are blocking $16 billion in food assistance for Americans struggling in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Let's be clear: this delay in food aid may lead to even more Americans unnecessarily dying," declared Hunger Free America CEO Joel Berg. "The opposition of congressional Republicans and President Trump to increasing domestic food support during the worst health and hunger crises in modern times is not only morally outrageous and economically self-defeating, but it is also, frankly, dumb politics...It is simply unconscionable that Leader McConnell and the Senate GOP are playing politics with food aid while massive numbers of their own constituents struggle against hunger."

French Pharma and a Deadly Poison

French pharmaceutical company Servier Laboratories is facing millions of euros in potential fines and damages after the company allowed a diabetes drug to be widely and irresponsibly prescribed as a diet pill — with deadly consequences. 

“Patient safety was not at the heart of Servier’s policy,” the prosecutor told the court last week, saying the drug should have been withdrawn in the 1990s. “The firm was only interested in money.”

In the 33 years that Mediator was on the market, it was suspected in 1,000-2,000 deaths among millions who took it as an appetite suppressant, according to a 2010 study. Doctors linked it to heart and lung problems. Servier is accused of manslaughter, involuntary injury, fraud, influence trading and other charges. Investigating magistrates concluded that Servier for decades covered up Mediator’s effects on patients. The national medicines agency is suspected of colluding in masking its dangers,  accused of failing to take adequate measures to protect patients and of being too close to Servier. The agency, since reformed and renamed, is accused of manslaughter by negligence and causing unintentional harm. 

One doctor flagged concerns as far back as 1998, and testified that he was bullied into retracting them. Facing questions about the drug's side effects from medical authorities in Switzerland, Spain and Italy, Servier withdrew it from those markets between 1997 and 2004. But it took an independent investigation by another worried French doctor before the company suspended sales in its main market in France in 2009.

“There are men and women who put a deadly poison on the market,” the whistleblower, Dr. Irene Frachon. She maintains that Servier knew about problems with the drug since 1993. After she spoke out, she said, “One of the drug agency experts said to me, you’re going to pay for this. He wanted to punish me...Servier’s pressure was omnipresent. I become persona non-grata in many scientific events.”

Green Fashion?

"Sustainable" collections with aspirational own-brand names like C&A's "Wear the change," Zara's "join life" or H&M's "CONSCIOUS" are offering cheap fashion and a clean environmental conscience. Such, at least, is the message. 

Viola Wohlgemuth, a textiles expert at Greenpeace says companies create their sustainability labels and criteria themselves. "Sustainability is not a protected or specific term, which leaves the door wide open for so-called greenwashing," she told DW.

"Fashion brands are capitalizing on the fact that consumers are interested in buying fairly and ecologically produced items," said Katrin Wenz, an expert in agriculture at Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND).  "Organic cotton is certainly a step in the right direction, because neither genetic modification nor synthetic pesticides can be used in its production. But these own-brand sustainability labels rarely tell us anything about what happens later on in the production chain."

Heike Hess, head of IVN's Berlin branch, says using organic cotton alone "is not enough to make fashion really sustainable," and that producing clothes involves a more involved production chain. After being grown in the fields, cotton fibers have to be separated from their seeds, spun, dyed, printed and sewn to create finished items of clothing.

"Ecological and social standards are important at every stage of production," Hess said. "That includes minimizing the use of harmful chemicals, managing water usage and waste, limiting CO2 emissions and ensuring human rights, fair wages, protections for workers and much more. Only then can fashion really be called sustainable." 

Growing cotton also requires a huge amount of water and vast areas of land, says Sabine Ferenschild from the Südwind Institute for Economics and Ecumenism in Bonn. Ferenschild is critical of major fashion brands' attempts to go green with their own criteria and labeling for certain products, while the majority of what they're selling is still produced conventionally.

"Organic cotton is only sustainable when grown in rainy regions such as India, and planted in combination with food crops rather than in competition with them," she said. "But we have seen that cotton farming is increasingly being shifted to desert regions. That can never be sustainable."

Textile production often uses harmful chemicals, especially during the wet processing stage when threads are formed, dyed and woven, says Wohlgemuth. According to the UN Environment Programme, around 20 % of global wastewater is generated during textile dyeing and processing. Communities and ecosystems in textile producing countries across Asia are worst affected.

 According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, organic cotton costs between 10 and
50 % more than conventional cotton. Premium fibers boost prices the most; the raw material is not necessarily the most important factor in terms of cost. Global fashion brands like H&M are able to keep their prices down, even for the products in their 'sustainable' ranges, due to the huge volume of items they produce, textiles expert Ferenschild told DW. H&M uses its own 'CONSCIOUS' label for products which contain "at least 50 percent sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester." It is not clear to consumers what percentage of organic cotton is used in the items labeled as such. In response to DW's request for clarification, H&M wrote: "Across our entire range, H&M uses 16 percent organic cotton according to our most recent figures." 

According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, just 0.7 percent of the global cotton harvest in the 2017/18 season was organic. 

Even if the big fashion brands wanted to move further towards truly sustainable production, current consumption habits would make that almost impossible. The real problem is that far too many clothes are being produced. According to a 2015 Greenpeace study, there are more than five billion items of clothing in German wardrobes alone. "

A party top is worn on average just 1.7 times," said Viola Wohlgemuth. "Fast fashion is the SUV of the fashion industry. It will never be sustainable. The fashion industry needs to shift away from production and towards service provision."