Friday, January 17, 2020

Socialism is Green

Thousands of protesters, including Greta Thunberg were on the streets of Lausanne, Switzerland Friday ahead a summit for the world's business and political leaders in Davos that kicks off Tuesday. The youth activists are planning to attend the Davos summit to demand that "participants from all companies, banks, institutions, and governments immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies, and immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels."

About 15,000 climate strikers came together for the protest in the city to demand that Swiss banks stop financing the fossil fuel industry, according to Klimastreik Schweiz, which organised Friday's march.

Socialism is not about redistributing the spoils of pillaging the planet more evenly among humans. It is not about gluttonous consumption. Socialist society is not about some central planning authority and the use of mass production technologies which are inherently destructive to the earth.

 Socialism means organising human societies in a manner that is compatible with the way that nature is ordered. 

Modern industrial society robs us of community with each other and community with the Earth. This creates a great longing inside us, which we are taught to fill with consumer goods. But consumer goods, beyond those needed for basic comfort and survival, are not really what we crave.

One of the principles of socialism is "production for use, not for profit." Or to re-phrase it, "production for need, not for greed."

Germany needs immigration

Germany has suffered from a chronic birth deficit in recent years and, as a result, has one of the world's oldest populations. Indeed, last year, Europe's largest economy had its highest number of deaths since 1972.

 Between 770,000 and 790,000 people were born in Germany while roughly 930,000 died. Numerical assessments put the number of net arrivals from abroad at between 300,000 and 350,000, though this figure is in decline for the fourth consecutive year

Germany's population continues to grow but at a slower rate than at any time since 2012. It has now reached 83.2 million, an increase of 200,000 compared with the previous year. However, this is entirely down to migration as the statisticians revealed: "Without migration gains the population would be shrinking."

China's Population Decline

China's birth rate has fallen to its lowest since the formation of the People's Republic of China 70 years ago - despite the relaxation of the "one-child policy". That reform has failed to reverse the country's falling birth rate.
The birth rate was 10.48 per thousand in 2019 - the lowest since 1949, the National Bureau of Statistics said. The number of babies born in 2019 dropped by 580,000 to 14.65 million.
Even if the government lifted all restrictions on childbirth, “that would only have a small impact on reversing the fertility trend, as the willingness to have three or more children is very low,“ said He Yafu, a Guangdong-based demographer
Despite the birth rate falling, a lower death rate meant China's population hit 1.4 billion in 2019, inching up from 1.39bn.  Researchers  forecast China’s total population to begin to decline around 2028.
China’s working-age population -- those aged 16 to 59 -- declined by 890,000. Chinese authorities have deliberated over raising the country’s retirement age, currently 60 for men and 55 for women, to cope with the shortage in the labor force and shortfall in the national pension fund

Meanwhile, the share of people older than 65 grew to 12.6% last year, compared with 11.9% in the prior year. China’s population is aging more quickly than most of the world’s developed economies, a hangover from decades of family planning policies. In 2001, those aged 65 and older accounted for more than 7% of the country and the proportion has grown at a quicker pace each year ever since. China’s elderly population is expected to grow by a total of 224 million between 2010 and 2040, with an average annual growth rate of 3.62% and net increase of 7.46 million, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimates.

Palm Oil Greenwash

The world’s biggest brands are failing in their commitments to banish deforestation from their supply chains through their use of palm oil, despite making public claims to environmental sustainability, according to two reports. Palm oil is found in a wide range of foods and some cosmetics and household goods, but its production is often problematic. The race to satisfy growing demand over the past two decades has resulted in vast plantations replacing native forest in countries in south-east Asia, while efforts to prevent forest destruction have often been stymied by corruption or companies flouting the rules.

Scores of the world’s biggest consumer brands have agreed to phase out deforestation through the use of sustainable palm oil by 2020, but this goal looks far out of reach for many, according to separate reports from the campaigning groups WWF and Rainforest Action Network.
Many of the companies highlighted as performing poorly or missing targets are household names, including Kellogg’s, Mondelez and General Mills, whose brands include Yoplait and Häagen-Dazs. In the UK, major brands such as Greggs, Warburtons, Reckitt Benckiser and Associated British Foods also ranked relatively low in the table.
WWF found that only 15 out of 173 companies surveyed were performing well and “leading the way”. Thirty companies were judged to be lagging behind, while 41 failed to respond.

Emma Keller, palm oil expert at WWF-UK, said:"... after a decade of promises, too many companies have failed to deliver..."

The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) assessed eight global brands – Kellogg’s, General Mills, Mondelez, Hershey’s, Mars, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Unilever – involved in a key area of south-east Asia known as the Leuser ecosystem. The survey found none were performing adequately in avoiding “conflict palm oil”, defined as palm oil whose production is leading to deforestation, loss of peatland or other habitat, and exploitation of workers or indigenous peoples.

“The policy commitments of all eight companies]have not stopped deforestation, threats to endangered species, or delivered respect for human rights or remedy for exploitation of indigenous peoples, local communities and workers,” said RAN. "None of the companies have adequate systems in place to identify and cut or reform non-compliant suppliers in their supply chains.”
Robin Averbeck, of RAN, said: “None of these companies has a plan to verify credibly that they are not causing deforestation from palm oil. They only respond when NGOs publicly shame them. Their claims are greenwash.”

Profits not safety

Scores of apartment blocks covered in the flammable cladding that encased Grenfell tower do not have plans in place to remove it.
21,000 households are still living in flats wrapped in the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding that allowed the flames to spread so rapidly in the early hours of 14 June 2017. 450 high-rise residential buildings in England found to have the combustible cladding, 315 are yet to undergo works to remove it, with 76 of these not having any plans in place to do so.
Housing expert Stuart Hodkinson said the government's response to the Grenfell tragedy had been "too slow, too narrow, too hands-off, and too many vested interests involved". He said private building owners without remediation plans were "putting profit before resident safety and well-being"
Grenfell United, the survivors’ and bereaved families’ group, said: “Over two and half years later, it’s obvious that the government have no intention of making people safe and are continuously dragging their feet on the matter. It’s only a matter of time before another tragedy happens, and the blame will lie solely at the government’s door.”

Bankers Lovin' It

"I made a lot of bankers look very good," President Donald Trump boasted.

It was reported Thursday that the nation's six largest banks alone have received an estimated $32 billion windfall thanks to Republican tax cuts  after Bloomberg News reviewed the 2019 profits earnings of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.

"The tax savings have spurred the banks to record profit," Bloomberg's Yalman Onaran reported. "The six firms posted $120 billion in net income for 2019, inching past 2018's mark. They had never surpassed $100 billion before the tax cuts."

Morris Pearl, chair of Patriotic Millionaires, which advocates for higher taxes on the wealthy and large corporations, said:

"The Trump administration touted that the average American was going to get $4,000 from their signature tax legislation. If you average six bank executives getting $32 billion while millions of people get $0, maybe that does average to $4000 per person. It's still reprehensible and fiscally irresponsible that just six banks got a $32 billion windfall while ordinary Americans are struggling."

Trump said to Mary Erdoes, who heads asset and wealth management for nation's largest bank, JPMorgan Chase, "Will you say, 'Thank you, Mr. President,' at least, huh?"

Poll Tax Imposed in Florida

Florida's state Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in favor of denying convicted felons the right to vote if they do not pay fines and fees associated with their incarceration, a decision that was immediately assailed by rights activists as an unconstitutional and immoral poll tax. Felons in Florida had their right to vote once restored by public ballot "upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation" in 2018, but the state's GOP-led government has worked to undermine the right.

In a statement condemning the ruling (pdf), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Florida, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund said, "A federal court has already held that the state cannot deny people the right to vote because of their inability to pay financial obligations," the groups said in their statement. 

"The Florida Supreme Court's decision is disappointing and cuts the 1.4 million people who voters expressly intended to re-enfranchise almost in half," said the Southern Poverty Law Center's deputy legal director, Nancy Abudu. "By holding Floridians' right to vote hostage, the Florida Supreme Court is permitting the unconstitutional modern-day poll tax."

This is how the GOP plans to continue to steal elections. They aim to shave off just enough votes here and there but in as many places as possible in critical states and continue with gerrymandering.

The bottom line, said the ACLU and affiliated groups, is that the policy represents an unconstitutional poll tax.

Future Populations - Not an explosion but an implosion

Laurence Siegel is the director of research at the CFA Institute Research Foundation
"High death rates are the cause of high birth rates," explains Siegel. World population grew very slowly in the Malthusian past because, although people had lots of babies, more than half of them died before reaching adulthood. Modern sanitation and medicine and greater supplies of food meant falling death rates; that combined with still-high birth rates to produce a population explosion, with the number of people in the world rising from 1 billion in 1800 to 7.7 billion now.

The global total fertility rate—that is, the number of children each woman is likely to bear over her lifetime—has fallen from around 5 in 1960 to 2.42 now. The United Nations forecasts that world's total fertility rate will eventually fall below the conventionally defined replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman; the U.N. says population will then stabilize around 11 billion, and Siegel basically agrees.

So humanity is demographically transitioning from its natural state of high birth and high death rates to a more recent stage of high birth and low death rates to the low birth and low death rates seen in much of the world now. About half of the world's population currently lives in countries with below replacement fertility. The U.S.'s total fertility rate, for example, has dropped to a record low of 1.73 children per woman.

Siegel's projections of future population growth may in fact be excessively high. In a 2018 study, demographer Wolfgang Lutz and his colleagues at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis offer an alternative scenario projecting rapid economic growth, rising levels of educational attainment for both sexes, and technological advancement—all factors that tend to lower fertility. They expect that world population could peak at about 8.9 billion by 2060 and then decline to 7.8 billion by the end of the century.

Why are more people around the world having fewer children? Incentives, explains Siegel. Rearing children in modern societies costs a lot, both in money and in foregone opportunities and pleasures. Given that about 99 percent of kids born in countries like the U.S. will make it to age 20, parents are choosing to spend more resources on fewer children, who will thereby be more likely to enjoy successful lives. "To put it just a little too crassly, in wealthy societies and increasingly in less wealthy ones, children have become a cost center (some would even say a luxury good), not a profit center," Siegel observes.

These trends mean that there will be many more old people in the future.

Portugal wants more people

Portugal's government is celebrating rising immigration numbers after the number of foreign nationals living in the country hit half a million for the first time in its history.

The government said Portugal had "overcome" barriers to attracting more migrants, who it says are needed due to the country's relatively low birth-date and ageing population. "in 2019, for the first time in our history, the barrier of half a million foreign citizens residing in Portugal has been overcome," interior minister Eduardo Cabrita told the country's parliament. There were 580,000 foreign nationals were living in Portugal at the end of 2019, up from 490,000 at the end of 2018.

Portugal is one of ten EU states where fewer than five per cent of residents are foreign-born; between 2011 and 2016 it also suffered strong emigration due to the fallout from the global financial crisis and austerity. In 2017 prime minister António Costa's government passed new laws to boost immigration, with the legislation taking effect in the autumn of 2018. 
“We need more immigration and we won’t tolerate any xenophobic rhetoric,” Mr Costa said at the time.
The debate in Portugal over migration contrasts with that in other EU countries, notably the UK – where the government has been aiming to reduce immigration.  

Thursday, January 16, 2020

One in five deaths due to sepsis

11 million people a year are dying from sepsis (blood poisoning) - more than are killed by cancer. There are 49 million cases a year.

Prof Mohsen Naghavi said: "We are alarmed to find sepsis deaths are much higher than previously estimated, especially as the condition is both preventable and treatable."
"I've worked in rural Uganda, and sepsis is what we saw every single day," said researcher, assistant professor Kristina Rudd. "My colleagues treating patients on the ground in low- and middle-income countries every day have been saying this for years, that sepsis is a major problem."
Sepsis is also known as the "hidden killer" because it can be so hard to detect. It is caused by the immune system going into over-drive. Instead of just fighting an infection, it starts attacking other parts of the body too. Ultimately it causes organ failure. Even survivors can be left with long-term damage and disability. Bacteria and viruses that cause diarrhoeal infections or lung diseases are the leading triggers of sepsis. 
The overwhelming majority of cases (85%) are in low- and middle- income countries. Children were most at risk with four in 10 cases in children under the age of five.
But even in the UK, sepsis is a challenge. The death rate is higher than in countries such as Spain, France and Canada. There are around 48,000 deaths from sepsis in the UK each year.

Debate with the Communist Party (1948)

Islington Branch’s debate with the Communist Party filled the Hornsey Town Hall to capacity.

 A. Turner (who opened the debate for us) first explained the meaning of socialism in all its aspects, and dealt with the political and economic foundations of the class struggle, showing the road the workers must travel to their emancipation. The Communist Party, he said, had never sought working-class support for socialism or the overthrow of capitalism. They had during their career opposed Parliament and urged the workers to arm themselves. Their attitude to the Labour Party had from time to time been one of opposition and then of support. They had first supported the 1939 war, then opposed it, and on Russia’s entry had supported it again. The somersaults in their policy could only be explained by their support of Russia, a country in which capitalism existed. The Communist Party were reformists, formed in the first instance by a number of reformist parties getting together. It was true that the Communist Party prosecuted the class struggle, but their efforts in fact served the interest of the capitalist class. Against the Communist Party’s claim that a minority could take control without the backing of an informed working-class, the Socialist Party said that socialism will be established by the working-class when it understood the issues involved, and not before. Turner quoted statements made by prominent members of the Communist Party in support of his arguments. 
G. Jones (Communist Party representative) replied that the capitalists had always opposed the Communist Party: in the “Communist Manifesto” Marx had said that the spectre of Communism was haunting the world. The Communist Party were extending the work of Marx and Engels and engaging in the elementary struggles of the workers, which Engels had said was an attack on the capitalist class. It was not necessary for the Communist Party to state the case for socialism, because this had been expressed so many times before. Lenin had stood for a party which aimed at smashing the State machine and replacing it with a working-class State machine, and this was in line with Marx’s views. The Communist Party changed its policy as circumstances demanded, but the Socialist Party were Utopians. In Russia the working-class had taken power and the capitalists could never stage a come-back there. 
A. Turner in his second statement said that his explanation of capitalism and exposition of socialism had not been contradicted by his opponent, but that the Communist Party had never advocated these ideas. The Communist Party was not democratic and its changes of policy came from the leadership and were imposed on the members. He gave a number of quotations from Communist Party literature showing how they alternately opposed and supported the last war. Lenin himself thought that the State would wither away, and not be smashed. The object of the Communist Party was to maintain the security of Russian Capitalism, and that of the Socialist Party to establish socialism by means of a working-class understanding socialism taking control of the State machinery by obtaining a majority in Parliament. He quoted from the “Communist Manifesto” showing that both Marx and Engels from the beginning had understood the necessity of there being a majority of socialist workers in order to establish socialism. The present task of the Socialist Party was, therefore, to spread socialist knowledge. In Russia the means of production were not owned by the working-class. The Communist Party had never advocated socialism, but had tried to gain support by lies and trickery. 
G. Jones in his second speech claimed that Turner had arranged quotations in a way calculated to deceive. Russia was weakening the capitalist chain in the fight to build socialism, and Turner's statements were an amazing travesty of Marxism. There must be leaders in any movement, even though some may turn out to be bad leaders. 
Both speakers had another session, but towards the end of the debate some members of the audience became so unruly that it was difficult to hear what was going on. In spite of these well-known Communist Party tactics, members of our party present thought the debate well worth while, particularly as it is so rare an event for a Communist to risk himself on our platforms. 

A collection of £32 was taken up, and good literature sales resulted.

Debate with Trotskyists: “Is Russia Capitalist?” (1948)

On July 1st 1948 at Conway Hall, D. Fenwick for the S.P.G.B. debated with R. Tearse for the Revolutionary Communist Party

In his opening half-hour Fenwick carefully defined Capitalism and Socialism in the usual Marxian terms and argued that the existence in Russia of a propertyless working class living by selling its labour-power for wages, and producing commodities for sale on the market shows that it is not Socialism but a form of State Capitalism. Admittedly it had not developed exactly on the lines of capitalism in the Western countries. Trotsky in “The Revolution Betrayed” had asserted that the term “State Capitalism” is meaningless, but certainly Lenin did not think so for in his “The Chief Task of Our Times” he had argued that State Capitalism would be a step forward for industrially backward Russia. The contrasts of riches and poverty in Russia and the growth of bondholding are features of Capitalism not Socialism. What is the interest paid to the bondholders if not surplus value resulting from the exploitation of the workers? Fenwick emphasised that the achievement of Socialism presupposes a socialist working class, it cannot he imposed by a dictatorship.

R. Tearse in reply claimed that the S.P.G.B. is wrong in describing the 1917 revolution as a bourgeois revolution. It would be a peculiar capitalist revolution that expropriates the capitalists. The S.P.G.B. idea of all the workers moving together towards Socialism is wishful thinking, and the notion of Capitalism and Socialism being divided by a sort of Chinese Wall is erroneous. In the introduction to “Civil War in France” Engels had conceived of a whole new generation after the working class seizure of power before it would be possible to have fully-fledged Socialism. The R.C.P. never claimed that Socialism exists in Russia. Marx and Engels, in the Communist Manifesto, when they wrote of revolutionary measures such as steeply-graduated income tax, and the centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, obviously envisaged the continuance of the wages system and commodity production in the transition period after the workers had gained power. The first essential step for the workers is to secure the centralisation of large-scale industry in the hands of the State as had been done in Russia. Inequality exists but this does not prove the existence of Capitalism. The rich in Russia are the artists and writers but in the S.P.G.B. pamphlet “Socialism” it is claimed that these better-paid workers are still members of the working class.

Bondholding is a very small feature in relation to the whole economy. The bondholder does not control undertakings. The bureaucracy may receive parasitic income from the exploitation of the working class but accumulation of capital through the individual capitalist and the resulting capitalist crises of boom and slump do not exist in Russia. What social group constitutes the capitalist class in Russia? He challenged Fenwick to answer. As regards the R.C.P.’s willingness to support Russia in war, this is justified because there you have a progressive economy based on the nationalisation of the whole economy.

In further contributions to the debate Fenwick referred to Marx’s statement of the possibility of the workers overthrowing the bourgeoisie and of this merely serving the development of the bourgeois revolution itself as happened in France in 1794 (quoted in “State and Socialist Revolution” by Martov). He also quoted from “Socialism, Utopian, and Scientific” where Engels showed that the nationalisation of industries does not lessen their capitalist nature. Russia was in fact affected by the 1931 crisis like other countries. He referred to the change in the law which allows holders of State bonds in Russia to bequeath them to their heirs and quoted Trotsky’s statement in “Revolution Betrayed” that if any such development occurred it would be a victory for the bureaucracy and would mean their conversion into a new ruling class. The measures at the end of Section II of the Communist Manifesto, showed that at that time the immediate establishment of Socialism after the capture of power was not entertained by Marx or Engels; but industry and knowledge had undergone great development since then. In 1872 Engels had said that the passage in question would have been very differently worded under the different conditions existing at the later date.

R. Tearse repeated his argument that wholesale nationalisation is different in kind from the nationalisation of sectors of industry as in this country. In Russia nationalisation would form the basis of Socialism after the transition period. The 1931 crisis did not affect Russia in the fundamental way it affected other countries. It was not the result of the accumulation of capital in the hands of private capitalists. As regards the quotation from “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” about the capitalist nature of nationalised industries, it should not be overlooked that in the very next sentence Engels argued that though the capitalist relation is not done away with it is “brought to a head, it topples over.”

In Russia industry as a whole has been taken over by the State and the anarchy of private appropriation of surplus value does not exist. The defeat of Russia in war would be a defeat for the working class and a further lease of life for capitalism. There must be a transition period between capitalism and socialism and during this period capital and wages would exist but this alone does not make it capitalism. Though in 1872 Engels had said he and Marx would not in the changed conditions lay special stress on the measures proposed in the Communist Manifesto Engels never said the measures were wrong and he continued to call them revolutionary measures.

The debate was well-attended and the audience showed the closest attention to the by no means simple clash of argument. A collection of £10 15s. was taken up.

Clifford Groves,
General Secretary.