Monday, February 28, 2011

class war in Wisconsin

A Gallup poll in 2005 showed that while only 2% of Americans described themselves as "rich" but 31% thought it very likely or somewhat likely they would become one of the rich. A Pew survey in 2008 revealed that 91% Americans believe they are either middle class, upper-middle class or lower-middle class.

But trends and ongoing events are forcing a reappraisal of that self-image. Social mobility has stalled; wages have been stagnant for a generation. As the prospect of becoming rich diminishes, many are simply trying not to become poor. Inequality of income and wealth has been more readily accepted in the US because equality of opportunity has long been assumed. The absence of the latter raises serious questions about the existence of the former.

A Pew survey in 2008 – before the banking system imploded – showed that fewer Americans than at any time in 50 years thought they were moving forward in life. The number of those who don't believe you can get ahead by working hard has doubled in 10 years. Half the country thinks its best days are behind it.

Democratic politicians pretend not to take sides, casting the national conversation not in terms of bosses and workers or wages and profits but of rich and poor. The problem with this, explains Michael Zweig, the director of the centre for the study of working-class life at the State University of New York, is that "most people want to be rich and most of them don't know what rich is. If you put class in terms of power, you start to get to the source of the problem."

Union members do generally enjoy better benefits. That's the whole point of being in a union: to improve your living standards through collective action. And that is precisely why Republicans like Walker want to crush them. Politicians like Walker are making it clear which side of the class divide they stand on. A growing number of Americans, it seems though, have begun to understand that this is precisely the problem and are discovering the source of their own power.

Last weekend's demonstrations do not necessarily reflect a new sense of class consciousness, but they do suggest the potential for it. The idea of a class system where only a handful can ever be truly wealthy intrudes awkwardly on a culture rooted in notions of self-advancement, personal reinvention and rugged individualism, even if it is closer to reality. Old habits die hard. The weekend protests were organised under the banner "Save the American Dream".

Gary Younge in The Guardian

Buying off Protest

When Saudi King Abdullah arrived home last week, he came bearing gifts: handouts worth $37 billion, apparently intended to placate Saudis of modest means and insulate the world's biggest oil exporter from the wave of protest sweeping the Arab world.

But some of the biggest handouts over the past two decades have gone to his own extended family. The most common mechanism for distributing Saudi Arabia's wealth to the royal family is the formal, budgeted system of monthly stipends that members of the Al Saud family receive, according to the cable. Managed by the Ministry of Finance's "Office of Decisions and Rules," which acts like a kind of welfare office for Saudi royalty, the royal stipends in the mid-1990s ran from about $800 a month for "the lowliest member of the most remote branch of the family" to $200,000-$270,000 a month for one of the surviving sons of Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia. Grandchildren received around $27,000 a month, "according to one contact familiar with the stipends" system, the cable says. Great-grandchildren received about $13,000 and great-great- grandchildren $8,000 a month.

"By far the largest is likely royal skimming from the approximately $10 billion in annual off-budget spending controlled by a few key princes," a 1996 American dipomatic cable released by Wikileaks states. Two of those projects -- the Two Holy Mosques Project and the Ministry of Defense's Strategic Storage Project -- are "highly secretive, subject to no Ministry of Finance oversight or controls, transacted through the National Commercial Bank, and widely believed to be a source of substantial revenues" for the then-King and a few of his full brothers. In a meeting with the U.S. ambassador , one Saudi prince, alluding to the off-budget programs, "lamented the travesty that revenues from 'one million barrels of oil per day' go entirely to 'five or six princes,' " according to the cable, which quoted the prince.

Then there was the apparently common practice for royals to borrow money from commercial banks and simply not repay their loans. As a result, the 12 commercial banks in the country were "generally leary of lending to royals." The managing director of a bank in the kingdom told the ambassador that he divided royals into four tiers, according to the cable. The top tier was the most senior princes who, perhaps because they were so wealthy, never asked for loans. The second tier included senior princes who regularly asked for loans. "The bank insists that such loans be 100 percent collateralized by deposits in other accounts at the bank," the cable reports. The third tier included thousands of princes the bank refused to lend to. The fourth tier, "not really royals, are what this banker calls the 'hangers on'."

Another popular money-making scheme saw some "greedy princes" expropriate land from commoners. "Generally, the intent is to resell quickly at huge markup to the government for an upcoming project." By the mid-1990s, a government program to grant land to commoners had dwindled. "Against this backdrop, royal land scams increasingly have become a point of public contention." The cable cites a banker who claimed to have a copy of "written instructions" from one powerful royal that ordered local authorities in the Mecca area to transfer to his name a "Waqf" -- religious endowment -- of a small parcel of land that had been in the hands of one family for centuries. "The banker noted that it was the brazenness of the letter ... that was particularly egregious." Another senior royal was famous for "throwing fences up around vast stretches of government land." The confiscation of land extends to businesses as well, the cable notes. A prominent and wealthy Saudi businessman told the embassy that one reason rich Saudis keep so much money outside the country was to lessen the risk of 'royal expropriation.'

Yet another means of acquiring wealth royals kept the money flowing by sponsoring the residence permits of foreign workers and then requiring them to pay a monthly "fee" of between $30 and $150. "It is common for a prince to sponsor a hundred or more foreigners,"

Despite all the money that has been given to Saudi royals over the years there is not "a significant number of super-rich princes ... In the end," the cable states, Saudi's "royals still seem more adept at squandering than accumulating wealth."

Meantime in the Sultanate of Oman The sultan has ordered the hiring of 50,000 citizens in the aftermath of weekend protests that left at least one person dead and 11 others injured. Sultan Qaboos bin Said also issued royal orders saying job-seekers who register with the Ministry of Manpower will be paid 150 rials (about U.S. $390) per month until they find jobs.

Streets ahead

Victoria Road in Kensington, west London, has been named as the most expensive for property in England and Wales. The average property on the street had an estimated value of £6.4m.

The street runs down from Kensington Gardens, with major attractions such as the Royal Albert Hall and the Natural History Museum in the neighbourhood. It takes over top spot from Chester Square, which headed the list for two years. The square, in London's Belgravia, which is home to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, drops to third place behind Ingram Avenue in Hampstead, north London. Some 14 of the 20 most expensive streets in England and Wales were in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

The US wealth divide


What markets in a capitalistic model respond to, is not the actual demand, but the ability to pay for such. Only if social purchasing power is sufficiently covered will the market mechanisms create a production responding to demand...

The opposite extreme of capitalism shows us every day that markets can be saturated while human beings are starving to death...

Both, luxury brands as well as discounters, grow steadily but the latter not because people prefer cheap trash goods instead of high quality products but simply because they can’t afford them...

Economic capacity that could provide for a higher standard of living for everyone is wiped out from the market...

The free-market ideology produces oligopolies that dominate public life and that manage to bribe and blackmail elected politicians, who surrender the democratic state to a profit maximization principle that can not sustain itself because it only produces for profit and not for actual demand...

From here Ralph T. Niemeyer, Editor of EUchronicle

Once again SOYMB comes across an article that points to the true state of affairs of society but which unfortunately stops short of a real solution.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Only the words of a mad dictator, but Ghaddafi the Syndicalist may have be one of his saner personalities.

Declaration by the Guide of the Revolution on the occasion of 1 May

On the occasion of 1 May 1988 the Guide of the Revolution made the following declaration to the JANA:

"The 1st May this year is the day when wage workers are made fools of everywhere in the world, while millions of wage workers continue to be exploited and are still not freed from the wage slavery in which the leaders and bosses keep them to draw a profit from their labour and sweat.

The salvation of these millions of wage workers in the world lies therefore in the abolition of the wages system, of this servitude. The workers must transform this day of servitude into a day of resistance to these lies and to the forces of exploitation by marching on the factories and all places of production, to run them themselves, recover all their share of production and abolish the wages system for ever.

The error which prevails on this day in the world shows that the freedom of the workers is lacking, or that it is totally lost. This freedom can only be realised if the workers act together to emancipate themselves from wage slavery. The bosses will then have to accept this fait accompli and disappear.

The real workers' day is 1st September 1978, the day when wage workers freed themselves in the land of Jamahiriya, destroying the hotbeds of exploitation wherever they existed and taking possession of the factories and places of production to become associates.

The Green Book presents a third world theory, the only means to liberate humanity from oppression and exploitation, and traces the only way to the final emancipation of all the workers. All the workers of the world should be inspired by this theory to consecrate their freedom and abolish wage slavery.

Wage workers however good their wages may be, are a sort of slave, slaves of a master who hires their labour power,

All the speeches pronounced today do not incite the workers to free themselves from wage slavery. On the contrary they consecrate their exploitation.

The workers should therefore not pay any attention to them."

being abused

US Department of Health and Human Services' Administration reports that child abuse has reached epidemic proportions. 772,000 children were abused in 2008. 1,740 children were killed by their abusers in 2008.

Parents comprised the largest group of abusers, at 80 percent, with 9 out of 10 abusers being the children's biological parents.

Dr. Kenneth Feldman, medical director of the Children's Protection Program at Seattle Children's Hospital, explained "The vast majority are from families who are struggling financially."

Crystal Ward Allen, director for Public Children Services Association of Ohio, said "We're finding that child abuse is directly attributable to what is happening economically,"

being squeezed

People on low to middle incomes are facing a "perfect economic storm", which is cutting their living standards and dramatically reducing their ability to buy their own homes. The independent Resolution Foundation is to launch a major inquiry into living standards among the so-called "squeezed middle", having identified economic trends – in existence since the 1970s – that have led wages for this income group to grow at a slower rate than the economy. It defines low and middle earners as those with incomes between £12,000 and £30,000 for a couple with no children and up to £48,000 for a couple with three children. Broadly, they are defined as not wealthy enough to benefit from private markets but too prosperous to receive benefits from the state.

The foundation will say that 41% of young low-to-middle earners live in privately rented accommodation compared with 14% in 1988, suggesting a dramatic reduction in the number of those who can afford to get on the housing ladder. It will also highlight evidence showing that someone at the lower end of these incomes will take 45 years to accumulate a deposit to buy a home if they save an average 5% of their income a year. This compares with less than 10 years during periods in the 1980s and 1990s. The foundation, which is not allied to any political party, says low-to-middle-earning households have become more exposed as a result of the recession and the contraction of the consumer credit and mortgage markets, alongside recent rises in the cost of living.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Do you remember the Sandinistas? Well, on this day in 1990, one year after agreeing to free elections, they lost and Daniel Ortega was replaced by Violeta Barrios de Chamarro of the opposition. Nicaragua never was socialist, something you can read about here and here, as well as in the contemporary account below.


The main capitalist opposition in Central America to corporate dominance over the local economy comes, not as we might naively expect, from the existing capitalist class - the official bourgeoisie (the one which is presently constituted and which acts out its role on the stage of world history). It comes chiefly from the concealed capitalist class - the one which favors state-managed capital accumulation on the pretext that this will actually benefit the working class and (what little may remain of) the peasantry.

This class of latent capitalists is none other than the self-styled revolutionary left, most prominently the Leninists, but not by any means those of them who have served as such excellent bull's-eyes for the Reagan administration's target practice. (Moscow-oriented "Communist" parties in Central America - since the massacres of the 30s - have shown themselves incapable, on the whole, of forming more than a loyal opposition bound hand and foot to the status quo, a sort of left-wing Christian Democracy.) There is, in any case, a very definite tendency for the left to nationalize the accumulation of capital conceptually, before any actual question of a transfer of power arises.

A revolution supposedly carried out on behalf of a working class which does not form even a substantial minority of the population, as in a substantial part of the "third world" today (though not so much in Central America), cannot possibly be anti-capitalist, If the workers (wage earners plus professionals and any others who work for someone else) do not make up the majority, then neither can industrial capitalism form the basis of the state. Since the first order of business of a revolution in a state which is still pre-capitalist is necessarily the establishment of a capitalist economy it is nothing if not a pro-capitalist revolution: in an historical context of undeveloped capitalist production, such movements appear as anti-liberal revolutions. One of the warts of Leninism is precisely its confusion of the concepts of "liberalism" and "capitalism".

Capitalism, regardless of its degree of development, is any social system in which the bulk of social wealth is produced for exchange on the market at a profit, conducted through the payment of wages. So long as it observes this basic condition, it may assurne any form or character whatever. lf this implies totally reorganizing the personnel roster of the accumulators, then so be it! If the state must step in and directly manage all phases and facets of the economy, then that's how it must be! Capital does not care what its administrators look like: it seeks only to reproduce itself in ever-growing measure through the well-known mechanisms of accumulation.

Who makes such revolutions but those who intend to accumulate capital themselves? A minority political party heading a minority working class is itself the nucleus of a potential stratum of accumulators. Capital is equally well served by either sort of lackey. The full transfer of state power to such jerry-built ruling classes is indeed rare - or more precisely, it is an extremely complex event which does not take place most of the time. It is an example of the fortunes of an ideology, not of revolutionary socialist cass consciousness.  

The revolution in Nicaragua is an interesting study in Leninist doubletalk. Comparing Nicaragua with Guatemala and El Salvador, we note its relatively lesser degree of advancement at the time of the Sandinista Revolution in 1979. That is to say, Nicaragua was still more backward than El Salvador, where a civil war is now underway, yet its neo-capitalist revolution has already been successfully begun, while in Guatemala class conflict has yet to break out into open civil war. What explains this disparity?

A major factor in favour of the Sandinistas, certainly, was the very identification of primitive accumulation - vested as it was in the coffee barons - with a concrete clique of individuals (the clan of the Somozas backed by the United States). More decisive, however, was the extreme disgruntlement of the Nicaraguan capitalist class as a whole.

The Sandinistas are attempting to displace the original crew of black sheep with a group that will be more interested in keeping surplus value within Nicaragua. However, "limiting the intervention of the bourgeoisie in the government" - which is their self-attributed objective - is nothing but a collection of buzzwords, since none of them is seriously proposing to limit the role of capital accumulation in formulating government policy. The question revolves entirely around who will accumulate capital, and for what reasons. The Sandinistas thus represent the left wing of the capitalist class, itching to get on with the business of totally converting over to pure state capitalism.

A member of the Sandinistas' National Direction is quoted as saying that, now that they have control of the banks, they have "surrounded the bourgeoisie" (quoted by Roger Burbach in "Nicaragua: El Curso de la revolucion". Reuista Mensuel/Monthly Reuiew, July 1980). This is a highly ironic remark, in view of the fact that one group of capitalists (the nascent state capitalists) is saying that about the other (the official bourgeoisie). It also illustrates the Leninist belief that the concentration of finance capital is somehow different from the accumulation of capital in general. What is definitely not being encircled, however, is the function of capital accumulating itself. A society of continuing wageslavery is the fatal economic issue of the Sandinista revolution, given that the institution of production for profit remains sacred.

If wages as the basis of capital accumulation (through the production of surplus value) are not abolished, via the introduction of common ownership of the means of production, it is utterly specious to distinguish "reformism" and
"the revolutionary process". It is all reformism until society no longer depends on the possession of money as a prerequisite for obtaining goods and services.

Throughout all the vicissitudes of the "revolutionary process", none of the "revolutionary" parties - even the most radical - apparently would ever dream of abandoning commodity exchange and its inevitable consequence, production for profit. They confine themselves without exception to squabbling over the right to direct this process (as in El Salvador), with one position favoring total state capitalism - eventually - and an opposite position favoring a minimal state presence in the economy (or so they say). An "authentically socialist perspective" (a widespread demand for common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production) does not figure in any of their programs.

Ron Elbert

(World Socialist, No. 4 Winter 1985-6)

economics above democracy

From the New York Times

Less than two weeks ago, the International Monetary Fund’s executive board, its highest authority, assessed a North African country’s economy and commended its government for its “ambitious reform agenda.” The I.M.F. also welcomed its “strong macroeconomic performance and the progress on enhancing the role of the private sector,” and “encouraged” the authorities to continue on that promising path. That country was Libya.

Tunisia was hailed last September for its “wide-ranging structural reforms” and “prudent macroeconomic management.

Bahrain was credited in December with a “favorable near-term outlook” after the economy “managed the global crisis well.”

Algeria’s “prudent macroeconomic policies” helped it to “build a sound financial position with a very low level of debt.”

Concerning Egypt, the I.M.F. directors last April praised the authorities’ response to the crisis as well as their “sound macroeconomic management.”

The I.M.F. was short-sighted. The macroeconomic numbers and the indicators that the fund’s envoys examined were genuine. They simply failed to assess whether reforms, structural or not, could be sustained in countries ruled by potentates without legitimate democratic mandates. The fund’s omitted to check whether the reform agendas were based on any kind of popular support. The I.M.F. might want to add another box to check on its list of criteria: democratic support

precious food to waste

Ms Hall lives in a flat above a Tesco Express in Essex and in January she saw the store staff throwing away large quantities of chilled food following a power cut. She is accused of joining passers-by in helping herself to some of it, including pies, potato waffles and ham. The police were called and Hall was arrested, handcuffed, and charged with taking £215 worth of food, in a little-known crime of "theft by finding", an offence with a maximum sentence of seven years.

British households throw away a third of the food they buy. Supermarket waste adds almost 25% to that. It's a global issue. In 2009 the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) reported that more than half the world's food is lost, wasted or discarded along the chain from farm to shop to consumer to dump. A Cabinet Office report the year before warned that if nothing was done to cut waste, severe food shortages would result, along with food price rises of up to 50%. Yet UNEP concluded that the world could easily feed itself, now and for a long time into the future, if only governments, producers, retailers and consumers radically changed their attitude to waste.

So what was the most serious crime committed? Ms Hall's self-appropriation or Tesco's wilful destruction and discarding of food?

Lazy workers?

A record 5.26 million people worked unpaid overtime last year, clocking up an average of more than seven hours a week without pay, according to a new study , the highest since records began in 1992.

One in five employees regularly put in extra unpaid hours last year, with public-sector workers most likely to work unpaid overtime.

The TUC said workers were missing out on almost £5,500 a year.

Friday, February 25, 2011

all workers together

On May 2nd, 1933, Nazi groups occupied union halls and labor leaders were arrested. Trade unions were outlawed by Adolf Hitler, collective bargaining and the right to strike was abolished. This was the beginning of a consolidation of power which systematically wiped out all opposition groups, starting with unions. Decimating unions has long been an objective of the rich and powerful. The banning started in 1349 with the Ordinance of Labourers and Statute of Labourers in England. Collective bargaining in the US was finally legalized for the private sector on a countrywide scale in 1935 with the National Labor Relations Act, extended to the public sector in 1962.

Every little gain for the rights of workers was hard fought and bitterly resisted by the rich and powerful. Over time, organized labor managed to abolish child labor*, as well as institute an 8 hour work day, 40 hour work week, mandatory breaks, safety guidelines, grievance procedures, a minimum wage, the concept of a work free weekend, workers comp, pensions, health safeguards, and paid sick days, vacation days, and holidays. If you enjoy any of these things, thank the unions.

Although Governor Walker’s bill being sped through the Wisconsin legislature will not outlaw unions, it will effectively neuter them. Public sector unions will lose their freedom to negotiate against the state together. This is a deliberate tactic effectively lessen the rights of working Americans everywhere for the benefit of the rich and multinational corporations.

Wall Street and the financial sector have been allowed to reap incredible profits after crashing the economy, and throwing people out of jobs and out of their homes. The only culprit that has yet to face any sort of justice for their actions is Bernie Madoff, who made the mistake of stealing from the rich rather than robbing the working-class like the rest of his peers. The very same individuals that wiped out the pensions of American workers and threw them out of their homes are now reporting record profits, bonuses, and throwing fund-raising dinners for their favorite bought politicians. Millions of Americans are still unemployed and millions more still stand to lose their homes but the trading floor on Wall Street is looking better. The economy has been turned upside down. Rather than serve the needs of society we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that society serves the needs of the economy that benefits only a few, to be funded on the backs of the poor and the working class.
Non-union workers are being led to believe that unionized workers are the evil ones soaking the American budget. Public service union benefits are nothing compared to the tax breaks reserved for the corporations and wealthy individuals that have profited from the pain of the American working class. Rather than fight against the unions that have brought us the benefits of the 8-hour work days, paid sick leave, worker safety protections, and an end to child labor exploitation, we should be working with them to extend those benefits and more, to the entire American workforce. Unionized workers are accused of being wrong if their labor is valued higher or if their benefits are greater instead of saying that employers are wrong for devaluing private sector labor in order to increase their profits. Why are private sector employees not seen as deserving more pay, or better working conditions, or collective bargaining power? Why have they allowed themselves to be convinced that the measure of their worth is in the bank accounts of their corporate masters rather than the quality of their own lives? Steal from the poor to give to the rich…. from Wall Street, to Washington, to Madison Wisconsin, this is what is happening.

When will Americans realize that they are nothing more than a resource to be exploited for profit? Union leadership has been no less corrupted by corporate money and political power than any other part of the system. The workers themselves need to discover the solidarity required to protect what previous generations fought, bled, and died for.

In response to calls for austerity and greater sacrifice by the vast majority of Americans, rallies are to be held this Saturday, Feb 26th. The common theme of these protests is the same: workers being told to work longer, harder, and faster for less pay, less benefits, and less job security. Things are already pretty dire for the American worker, who gets on average one half to one quarter the vacation days per year of other developed nations, with none legally guaranteed. 50 million Americans have no health insurance, and those that do are often severely underinsured. Wages have been stagnant for the most of the country since 1979. The richest 400 people in America now have wealth that is equal to the poorest entire half of the nation combined (155 million people). It is no wonder the people are rising up in protest. Enough is enough!

* All reforms are capable of being rolled back and even restrictions on exploiting children in the work-place is now under threat. Jane Cun­ning­ham a Mis­souri State Sen­a­tor has pro­posed a law for the whole­sale repeal of child-labor laws in that state. see here

Article adapted from here and here

"Oil-rich" and poor

As it is now becoming more and more apparent through coverage of the unrest in the Middle East, an "oil-rich" country certainly doesn't mean its people are rich. Unequal wealth distribution in the Middle East is behind much of the recent turmoil. Often, in "oil rich" countries, only a few share the wealth. Libya and a lot of other countries in the Middle East are often described as being "oil rich." And somehow leaders always find ways to enrich themselves. But what about the average citizen? Libya has had steady income from oil for 60 years yet for the average Libyan, oil has not really been an enormous blessing. There hasn't been the kind of real trickle-down effect. But in both Libya and Saudi Arabia oil wealth has mostly been used by the elite to consolidate power. Seventy-five percent of Libyans work for the state. That does provide an enormous amount of patronage and power to the state. Is Saudi Arabia anything like Alaska, where every resident gets a check with a cut of the state's oil largess? Saudis don't have a direct deposit into their checking account. But everybody in the kingdom understands that what they're after is a little slice of that oil revenue that comes into the kingdom, and they're entirely dependent on the royal family to make sure they get it. Patronage takes different shapes.

To protect its vital oil supplies the USA and other Western countries have backed the ruling royal family in Saudi Arabia. The United States has made every effort to ensure that it remains close to the ruling family and is perceived to be so by all Saudis particularly those who loath the regime. The United States is also rightly seen to be close to Israel, so Saudi dissidents such as Osama bin Laden had no difficulty identifying the US as the number one enemy, particularly when they saw that the Saudi royal family would collapse without US support. The Saudi Government is just as repressive and misogynist as the Taliban. The reward for US abasement and abandonment of human rights in the Gulf has been to try and maintain an influence over Saudi and Gulf States oil policy, which has waxed and waned. Paradoxically for the US support for repressive Arab regimes led to the growth of a fundamentalist response which has taken root in other Muslim countries. Why is the US is fighting the Taliban and succouring the Saudis? The answer is oil. Secondly, these countries have been excellent customers of expensive and often sophisticated Western weapons systems. They are good for the arms business.

There is plenty of scope for unrest to develop inside Saudi Arabia. The population is just over 27 million. 7.5 million people are guest workers from Bangladesh, China, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam; they are poorly paid and treated. Female domestic assistants are particularly badly treated with claims of abuse ranging from deprivation of liberty to beatings and torture and all too often rape. Ten to 15 per cent of the population are Shiite Muslims who have little time for the Wahabis. The ruling male oligarchy including the royal family are sitting on a well of discontent numbering some 19.5 million people. And it is no better in the Gulf States where in Kuwait, 60 per cent of the population of three million are guest workers and 85 per cent of the population in the United Arab Emirates are guest workers. Having said all of this, overthrowing a brutal and heavily armed dictator is still not easy.

Nevertheless, the limitations of US influence have been exposed, the foundation of its foreign policy in the Middle East is in turmoil ; it sits mesmerised, transfixed, frustrated, and impotent. The US's global pre-eminence depends upon its strategic control of Middle East oil. This strategic control is at odds with the aspirations of the Arab peoples. Hence the US's problem with democracy in the Middle East. If the regimes are swept away and some form of democracy replaces them, US power will likely be critically undermined.

Poor Health

Rather than climatic conditions or complex epidemiology, specialists note that the major causes of ill health for people in developing countries relate to poverty and underlying political and social conditions. This direct causal link between poverty and ill health has long been recognised by many civil society organisations that highlight poverty as the "biggest epidemic" facing the global health community, thereby emphasising the importance of economic policy as a health issue. The WHO's Commission on Social Determinants of Health has also recently acknowledged that the high burden of illness responsible for premature loss of life arises in large part because of the poor and unequal conditions in which people live and work.

According to the most recent World Bank development indicators, 1.4 billion people were living on less than US$1.25 a day in 2005. A further 2.5 billion people were living on less than US$2 dollars a day, meaning that at least 45 percent of the world's population exist in a state of absolute or relative poverty, including half of the world's children. In contrast, the world's 497 billionaires (approximately 0.000008% of the world's population) have an estimated wealth of US$3.5 trillion (over 7 percent of world GDP).

While people in the West can expect to live until their late 70s, people living in poor countries, such as Burkina Faso or Chad, are unlikely to live beyond 46 or 47 years of age. In Africa, half the population lives on less than US$1.25 a day with little or no access to safe water. According to the UN, 12 million people die of preventable diseases every year, often caused by water-born parasitic diseases like dysentery, insect-born parasitic diseases such as malaria, or from other factors related to wider economic and social problems such as malnutrition and lack of medical care. But why does poverty mean that people are more likely to suffer from ill health or serious illness? In simple terms, poverty often means people lack access to medical services. Even where healthcare is available, poor people cannot afford to pay for it or it is prohibitively expensive. As the World Health Statistics 2009 reveal, people in the poorest countries paid 85 percent ‘out of pocket' for their healthcare costs in 2006. More than 60 percent of medication in low-income countries is only available through the private sector, where the cost is more than six times the international market price. The poorest people suffering from the worst health outcomes due to poverty, in other words, are forced to pay the highest proportionate costs for healthcare. The privatisation of health and other essential services resulted in health insurance schemes flourishing alongside a mix of public and private options for healthcare, often producing a two-tiered health system in low- and middle-income countries as a result of packages designed by the World Bank - meaning one for the rich who could afford choice, and a deficient version for the poor. The public sector, far from being supported by unregulated privatised health services, was increasingly eroded. And the international trend towards a privatised world has effectively redefined the concept of health from an inalienable human right, to a commodity to be bought and sold on the market.

The lack of access to clean water and sanitation is also part of a state of poverty that has both direct and indirect health consequences for the poor. An estimated 2.6 billion people - about 40 percent of humanity - lack adequate sanitation, and over 1 billion lack access to adequate water sources. Consequently, 5,000 children die each day because of a lack of safe, clean water. For millions of others, the daily grind of searching for and collecting water remains an aspect of poverty that transcends the notion of ‘basic' needs. In northern Ghana, for example, girls can spend up to five hours a day fetching water, whereas women may have to wait for hours at a standpipe in a city each day. Medically, the ingestion of contaminated water can lead to a variety of preventable illnesses, such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery. There were 131,943 cases of cholera infection alone in 2005, resulting in the death of 2,272 people across 52 countries - most of them in Africa. Once the cause of death for thousands in Europe during the nineteenth century before its spread was understood, the disease has since been eliminated from most Western countries. Cholera, like most waterborne diseases, is completely preventable and could be eliminated through the provision of clean water and adequate sanitation. According to the WHO, however, it is spreading again in many developing countries, especially across South America and Africa. Aid agencies estimate that the return of Cholera to Zimbabwe during 2008 killed 4,000 people and inflected close to 100,000 others.

This strong intellectual property regime, pushed by the US, EU and Japan at the WTO on behalf of their pharmaceutical companies, has also limited access to medicine for the poorest in the developing world. Under TRIPS agreements, governments grant patents to give a company monopoly power to manufacture and sell a medicine free of competition from any other manufacturer in that particular country, usually for a period of ten years. Such an imposed monopoly significantly increases the price of essential drugs, such as antiretroviral medicine for HIV/AIDS, as well as legally restricts the ability to produce ‘copy-cat' drugs that provide a lifeline for many of the world's poor. Furthermore, the intellectual property regime and the vast profits that can be secured from patented drugs has skewed the incentives for research and development of drugs away from the needs of the poor in the developing world towards ‘lifestyle medicines' that service the desires of the richer members of society. Many of the diseases in the developing world should be entirely preventable with modern medical knowledge and an understanding of the structural causes of poverty.

It is clear that the crisis of global health is intimately related to the crisis of global poverty. However, whilst the direct causes of ill health in the developing world can be attributed to a lack of resources and poverty, if we delve deeper, we can state that a major source of poverty itself is the current structure of the global economic system. Improving global health is impossible without addressing the wider political and economic cause of poverty - capitalism

Adapted from here

Thursday, February 24, 2011

SOYMB expresses solidarity

The Socialism Or Your Money Back blog applauds with sympathy and admiration the courageous stand of the Libyan protesters.

Intellectual development cannot be where there exists suppression of free expression of opinion. And where intellectual forces are stifled, real social material well-being is impossible of attainment. There must be no mistake that we in the Socialist Party hate Gadhaffi in a manner beyond question. His regime stands out to us calling aloud for destruction. For ourselves, we, as socialists, would render the Libyan people any service which would assist in their accomplishing the overthrow of their despotic ruler gang, if only to gain for them the immediate means of being able to give expression to their social and political aspirations without fear of being murdered or placed in prison. Until the Libyan people or anywhere else can gain the means of emerging from underground into the daylight, their chances of finally freeing themselves from capitalism through socialism are well-nigh hopeless. It has always been recognised by socialists that it is necessary for the workers to gain the vote, so that they may be able to place themselves democratically in control of the machinery of government. Socialists are on the side of the exploited in their struggles against the landed and monied classes. This is true whether the workers concerned are socialist or not. Having defied Gadhaffi the next step which the Libyan workers must take is to organise a class conscious, democratic political party, to aim for the common ownership and democratic control of the means of wealth production and distribution. To this end, the Socialist Party of Great Britain offers its support to our fellow workers in Libya.

Despite the intimidation, workers in many Arab countries took courage into their hands, came onto the streets and openly defied their oppressors. What has been impressive has been the sophistication of the ways in which these workers have conducted themselves. By their nature these events could not be well planned in advance, the movements had little structure of organisation behind them, yet despite these disadvantages in every case except Libya (which was not the fault of the workers) they managed to conduct themselves without too great amount of bloodshed in a dignified and self-controlled manner. When we see these oppressive structures collapsing, what is being demonstrated is the power and force of popular consciousness. So, when we say that a majority of socialists will be able to take over the state and establish a system of cooperation and direct production for human needs on the basis of common ownership, the worker's ability to carry this through has been demonstrated in Tunisia and Egypt over the past few weeks. Socialists can be greatly encouraged by recent events throughout the Middle East. Having seen these vile and despotic structures continue intact decade after decade, we might have been excused for thinking that they were so firmly in place that they would last for ever. In fact, they were so fundamentally weak that they collapsed overnight. Having seen world capitalism stagger on decade after decade, similarly we could get the impression that it is so firmly entrenched that it will remain for ever. In fact, confronted by a socialist majority, the lesson is that it will prove so fundamentally weak that its abolition will be a mere formality causing it to dissolve into history. We say that in recognition of their common interests throughout the world, workers can cooperate and act simultaneously in each country; that a socialist majority will be able to organise this great revolutionary change through a series of fast-moving events in a level-headed and self-controlled manner, the ability to achieve all these things has also been demonstrated now by the working class in many Arab countries.

plutocrats against the rest

"The World is dividing into two blocs - the Plutonomy and the rest. The US, UK, and Canada are the key Plutonomies - economies powered by the wealthy.In a plutonomy there is no such animal as “the U.S. consumer” or “the UK consumer”, or indeed the “Russian consumer”. There are rich consumers, few in number, but disproportionate in the gigantic slice of income and consumption they take. There are the rest, the “non-rich”, the multitudinous many, but only accounting for surprisingly small bites of the national pie." Citigroup Report 2005

The median family income in the US dropped in the years before this recession. It went from $52,301 (in 2009 dollars) in 2000 to $50,112 in 2008. And, of course it continued to drop as the recession set in. Was it that labor became less productive? No. In fact, there has been a major gap between the increase in the productivity of our workforce and the increase in their wages. Even when wages were improving at the end of the Clinton years, productivity went up 2.5% per year and median hourly wages went up only 1.5%. From 2000 to 2004 worker productivity exploded by an annual rate of 3.8% but hourly wages went up only 1% and median family income actually dropped 0.9%. Although worker productivity has continually risen since the mid-1970s, wages haven’t kept pace, said Daisy Quarm, an associate professor of sociology at UC. According to the Economic Policy Institute, productivity has been on the rise since 1975, and has been ever since. “But the people in the middle, the workers, at 80 to 90 percent, are not benefitting very much from that increased productively,” she said.

The bottom line is that people who work for a living (most of us) are getting a smaller and smaller share of the economic pie. At, Eva Pereira noted recently that since 1983, 43% of all financial wealth created in America went to the top 1%, 94% went to the top 20% while the remaining 80% of Americans were left to divvy up just 6% of the wealth created since the early 1980s.

In August of 2006, the New York Times reported that Federal Reserve study showed that, "Wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation's gross national product since the government began recording data in 1947; while corporate profits have climbed to their highest shares since the 1960."

Virtually all of the increase in gross domestic product over the ten years before the Great Recession went to the wealthiest 2% of the population. Between 1980 and 2004, real wages in manufacturing fell 1%, while real income of the richest one percent rose 135%. These changes in income distribution are not the result of "natural laws." They are the result of systems set up by human beings that differentially benefit different groups in the society.

The single largest contributor to this stagnation of middle incomes has been the corporate attack on organized labor. The percentage of private sector workers in unions has shrunk from 35 percent to 7%. The exception has been the public sector, where 35% of teachers, firemen and public service workers now have access to collective bargaining.The last thirty years shows conclusively that the "competitive market" -- absent collective bargaining -- simply does not assure that everyday employees share in the fruits of increased productivity or economic growth. Left to their own devices, CEO's will pad their own massive incomes and seek higher returns for the stockholders that hire them. That is especially true in an economic world that is globalized -- where CEO's can often hire labor at pennies on the dollar of what they would have to pay in the U.S. - if it were not for union contracts.

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker and his corporate supporters want to destroy labor unions -- to eliminate the right to choose a union. They want a low wage economy. They want the freedom to pay people as little as possible at their companies -- and in the government. They believe if they can break public employee unions, that they can ultimately eliminate organized labor as a meaningful force. The capitalist clas are hoping that you can always hire one-half of the working class to kill the benefits of the other half, to paraphrase a quote from railroad baron Jay Gould. Pay no attention to that man in the gated community who shipped your job overseas, destroyed the value of your home, drained the wealth out of the country and tanked the economy, go after your neighbor for having health care coverage. The war on public sector unions began in Wisconsin and has since spread to Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

Attacking unions is not just about the money, it's about power. Through the early part of the 20th-century unions lacked the legal authority to engage in collective bargaining and strike. Strikes to improve wages and labor conditions were considered restraint of trade or illegal combinations that were fought both by the law and by brute force. The Pinkertons were originally a police force used to break up strikes, and the origins of municipal police departments can be traced to efforts to control unions. Debates surrounding the Sherman Anti-Trust Act often included discussion over whether unions were trusts that should be prevented. But through the early 20th century workers continued to strike and organize. They organized to earn better wages for their families. They organized to improve deadly labor conditions in mines, mills, and factories. Finally, the Wagner Act — aka the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) — in 1935 recognized the right to collectively bargain and organize in the private sector. Subsequently, similar rights were extended to workers in the public sector. Wages, income and working conditions dramatically increased, economic inequalities decreased, work place safety improved, and features such as the 8-hour day/40-hour week emerged. Yes, in many cases unions sided with management on protectionist practices and had corruption problems, but they also did a lot of good, by raising the standard of living.

By the early 1950s private-sector unions constituted approximately 38 percent of the private-sector workers but the 50s was the high point of unions. The 1970s brought the Vietnam War and oil embargos. It was at this point that corporate interests converged to attack labor unions. Restructuring domestic and global labor markets by busting unions and dismantling government regulations would free corporations to cut wages, restore profits, and shift capital across the world. The beginning and most visible effort to break unions and limit their power was the decision by President Reagan to dismantle PATCO in 1981. He busted the air traffic controllers' union and that sent a clear signal that it was OK to go after unions. The corporations waged a battle against unions, claiming that America's economic decline was rooted in high union wages, inflexible rules, health care and benefits. Of course, not all of this is true. The unions became the scapegoat for American industrial decline, hiding the fact that many businesss failed to invest in new facilities and instead bled old ones, had failed to respond to new technological advances and sought restrictive trade policies to prevent foreign competition. Unions and workers were not the cause and they were not the reasons for economic outsourcing to China. Increased corporate power, globalization, and the drive to maximize profits were the cause.

The war on unions has been a success. Private-sector unions are now relatively weak. They now constitute about 8 percent of the private-sector workforce. Their decline correlates with significant increases in economic inequality, declining wealth for workers. Public-sector unions are now under attack. Blame the public-sector unions and fault the workers. It is just so easy. It is a great wedge issue — use the dispair, fuel the resentment and play the divide and conquer cards with private-sector workers - if only business could be free to hire and fire at will, slash wages, and cut and gut benefits, then we would not need to raise taxes and deficits would disappear. It is such a simple solution - level the playing field by bringing everyone downinstead of raising the standard of living for all workers . This is what the battle in Wisconsin is about.

American workers need unions now more than ever.

Taken from here and here and from here

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

wage slavery

We are aware of the struggle for democracy in the Arab states but we should also recognise another class struggle going on for rights that is taking place in the region which is conveniently often ignored.

The population in the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain was 4 million in 1950 and increased to 40 million in 2006, making this population jump one of the highest in the world. The major influx of foreign workers into the Middle East began following the oil price boom in 1973. The GCC had a combined workforce of only 1.36 million. The need for labour meant an influx of skilled and unskilled workers from other Arab countries (principally Egyptians, Yemenis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Sudanese) and from Asia (mainly Pakistanis and Indians) almost doubled the populations of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait within the decade between 1975 and 1985. By the early 1980s, an increasing number of migrants were recruited from Southeast Asia. Until the end of the 1980s, these comprised over half of the Asian migration to the Middle East. The ILO estimates that there are 15 million migrant workers in the six-nation GCC states, making up about 40 per cent of the total population. Foreigners form a majority of the population in all of the GCC states apart from Saudi Arabia and above 90 percent in the UAE and Qatar, according to the ILO. The United Nations provides demographics for the populations in these states in their Migrant Workers in the Middle East research report:
“Towards the end of 2004, the year of the latest relatively reliable statistics, the GCC states were inhabited by 12.5 million foreigners, who constituted 37 percent of the total population. In Qatar, the UAE, and Kuwait, foreigners constituted a majority; in the United Arab Emirates they accounted for over 80 percent of population. Only Oman and Saudi Arabia managed to maintain a relatively low proportion of foreigners: about 20 and 27 percent respectively.”

Typically, temporary foreign contract employees are the preferred migrants to Middle Eastern countries, as there are no expectations of permanent settlement or citizenship rights. Most countries do not cover such employees under local labour laws, and no UN or ILO conventions that offer national or international protection are in force or ratified, particularly for unskilled labourers. However, despite the temporary nature of such labour contracts, there remains a permanent pool of migrant workers in the receiving countries. It is argued that temporary foreign workers are not formally “free” in receiving countries, because they cannot access the local labour markets in the receiving country without express permission from the state. In other words, temporary employees are normally legally attached to a sponsor/employer until the completion of an employment contract, at which time the employee is required to either receive a renewal of a work permit or leave the country. Temporary workers who do leave their employers/sponsors (or attempt to run away) are rendered illegal and are subject to arrest and deportation. Periodic “crackdowns” are undertaken to find and deport these illegal foreign residents. In most countries, many people in this category continue to live and work, although precise numbers are unknown.

It is difficult to imagine that slavery exists so openly in today’s world, but for migrant workers indentured servitude is the reality of their daily life. These workers usually come from uneducated and impoverished backgrounds from South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia or the Philippines. Yet as they leave their spouse, children, and the life they know to start this new one in a foreign country, they are quick to discover upon arrival at the airport the complete dependence they will have on their new employer as they have no choice but to hand in their passport along with their human rights.

This sponsoring system that involves withholding a worker’s passport is known as “kafala”, a routine practice in the GCC states to regulate the residency and employment of foreign workers. This system signifies the hold that an employer will have on these foreign workers. A migrant worker’s salary, living accommodations, meals, ability to work elsewhere, and even their ability to return home are at the mercy of their employer. In Kuwait, immigration regulations allow for criminal charges against workers who leave their jobs, while in Saudi Arabia and Qatar workers must have their employers' permission to get exit visas to leave the country. In addition, labour laws in these states are usually in favor of protecting the employer who is a citizen of the state rather than the foreigner who is not, which leaves the treatment and well being of these workers to the will of the employer. Qatar's economy and entire way of life depends heavily on the efforts of foreign workers. According to 2009 figures from the Qatar Statistics Authority, an astonishing 94 percent of the workforce is non-Qatari. Most of these non-Qatari workers originate from developing countries such as Nepal, India and the Philippines. Of the almost 1.2 million documented migrant workers currently employed in Qatar some 20,000 migrant workers in 2007 simply running away from their employers. The status of migrant workers under Qatari legislation, including both labour and human rights law is not dissimilar to the status afforded illegal aliens. Labour laws offer little protection because of lax enforcement, while foreign embassies of developing countries do little besides offer refuge to their nationals, for fear of jeopardizing the flow of remittances workers send to their families back home. Labour laws in these states are usually in favor of protecting the employer who is a citizen of the state rather than the foreigner who is not, which leaves the treatment and well being of these workers to the will of the employer. These countries also exclude domestic workers from the labour laws, leaving them open to abuse with few avenues for redress. Organisers of strikes are summarily deported.

chickens coming home to roost

The WSM is not necessarily a movement to advance vegetarianism. Some socialists are vegetarians, but others are not. We have never seen a reason to take a stand on this issue as a party, however strongly some individual members may feel. But this does not stop some socialists responding to the cruelty that the profit system inflicts on the vast majority by becoming vegetarian or vegan.

No creature has been optimized and exploited for mass production as much as the chicken. The barns are largely automated -- a single worker now handles 100,000 animals. Fifty years ago, it took two months until a chicken was ready to be slaughtered, at a weight of about one kilogram (2.2 pounds). Today's chicken, housed in a gigantic, constantly illuminated barn, needs only 33 days to eat its way to a slaughter weight of 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds). It has been bred to no longer feel satiated. Its flesh grows faster than its bones, which often fail under the weight of the modern turbo-chicken. By the end of this manic fattening period, many animals, turkeys and broilers alike, can hardly stand up anymore. Walking to the feed or water trough is torture, and many chickens are in constant pain from blisters on their breasts, fractured bones, chemical burns on the balls of their feet and wounds inflicted by the beaks of other birds. The industry, however, doesn't necessarily need healthy animals. Business is just as profitable with sick ones. More than 50 billion birds a year are produced in industrial poultry hatcheries worldwide. A slaughterhouse is having built in Wietze near Celle in north-central Germany, which will have the capacity to slaughter 27,000 chickens -- an hour. With an annual capacity of 135 million birds, the slaughterhouse will be Europe's largest. The major players, like Wiesenhof and Heidemark, are more or less fully integrated. They own everything from breeding operations to feed producers, chick production and broiler fattening facilities, slaughterhouses and processing plants. PHW/Wiesenhof even makes its own vaccines.

In the past, a chicken could easily live to the age of 15 years. They were robust and adaptable, and they ate whatever fell to the ground. Romans treated the chicken as an oracle, the Teutons used chickens as funerary objects, and they served as emergency food reserves on ships. Even old breeds like the crested red laid eggs, about 36 a year. Today's laying hens produce about 300 eggs a year, no matter how poorly they are treated. "They simply lay until they drop dead," says a veterinarian working for a state regulatory agency. Laying hens are killed after one year. For the industry, it's cheaper to start over again with new animals. The genetic makeup of the animals was thoroughly manipulated. Of the hundreds of chicken breeds that once existed, only a handful of hybrid varieties dominate the market today. Attempts to liberate these broilers and allow them to continue living on farms have been miserable failures, with many of the over-bred birds dying of heart attacks within weeks. Even an internal Lohmann memo admits that this genetic depletion and lack of fitness is "a critical issue." Between 1935 and 1995, the average weight of a fattened chicken increased by 65 percent, while its average life span declined by 60 percent. "These animals are so degenerated that even daylight is a stress factor for them," says veterinarian and author Anita Idel.

Although the individual farmers are theoretically independent, they are in fact nothing but wage earners. They buy chicks for about €0.20 apiece, and when they sell the chickens to Wiesenhof and other processors, they are paid about €0.95 a kilo. When the investment in the barn and the costs of feed, energy and veterinary services are deducted, the chicken farmer is left with little if any profit. To make matters worse, in this system the farmer bears the risks of epidemics and disease.

The rise in demand for ‘cruelty-free’ products in Western countries shows that, given the luxury of choice, people prefer not to be responsible for inflicting such suffering.
No reasonable person today really questions the fact that animals, or at least farmed animals, are capable of fear and pain. Most people do not visit abattoirs nor do they really want to know what goes on in them, yet there is an unspoken knowledge behind the sterile and sanitized supermarket packaging. As the Nobel Prize winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer put it in The Letter Writer speaking of factory farming: "In relation to animals all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka."

It is perfectly possible that a socialist society would involve less eating of meat and eggs, and any animals kept for food purposes would certainly be treated as humanely as possible. To-day, the consumer pays the price by having to buy meat that tastes of nothing. "Anything that grows so quickly simply doesn't have much flavor, so you just have to add plenty of seasoning," says Wilhelm Hoffrogge, chief lobbyist for the umbrella association of the German poultry industry.

From Der Spiegel

divide and rule

In America, we have the continual onslaught against the welfare state. The old are supposedly bankrupting the nation with Social Security and Medicare. The myth underlying these attacks is that most old people don't need entitlements - they are affluent pickpockets fleecing younger Americans. The image of prosperous elderly is not accurate. The notion of an aging population well prepared to take care of itself is a delusion.

The myth is based partly on a misconception about today's oldest Americans. The frequently repeated statistic - 75 percent of all assets are owned by people over 65 - is misleading. Those assets are held by a few, very rich hands. Nearly half of older Americans receive no income - none - from assets such as stocks and savings. Of those who do, half get less than $2,000 a year. Three-fourths of those over 65, according to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, have annual income, with Social Security, of less than $34,000. Household income plummets as people age. Most of the poor in their 80s and 90s are women, who are likely to become poorer when they are widowed.

Its always been divide and rule it's the young against the old.

What's wrong is not that the old have too much - but that the young have too little.

Taken from here

poor kids

The figures, compiled by Save the Children, show that 1.6 million youngsters live in severe poverty, which the charity condemned as a "national scandal". The government's survey defines severe poverty as a household with half the average income – for a family of four this would be pay of less than £12,500 – and also suffering from material deprivation. For example, they might not be able to pay for repairs to appliances or afford insurance.

Save the Children says more than one in five children now lives in severe poverty in 29 areas of the country. The highest proportion – 27% – is in Manchester and the London borough of Tower Hamlets. More than 20% of children experience severe poverty in Birmingham and Liverpool. Wales has the highest proportion of children living in severe poverty (14%), followed by England with 13%, then Scotland and Northern Ireland which have 9% each.
Sally Copley, Save the Children's head of UK policy, said "Children up and down the country are going to sleep at night in homes with no heating, without eating a proper meal and without proper school uniforms to put on in the morning. No child should be born without a chance. It is a national scandal that 1.6 million children are growing up in severe poverty."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A nice capitalism , not a nasty one.....

An interesting article in the Financial Times by Andrew Hill about "constructive capitalism" or “shared value” promoted by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer as well as Umair Haque. Porter and Kramer make the claim that profits with a long-range social purpose represent “a higher form of capitalism”. They some of the same examples: Hindustan Unilever’s Shakti initiative for distributing its products through a network of poor female entrepreneurs in Indian villages; mobile phone-based methods to encourage micro-businesses in Kenya or Bangladesh. But is this higher form really that different from the self-interested variety that Milton Friedman backed when he wrote that “the social responsibility of business is to increase profits”?

But many of these initiatives are not that new and the impetus behind them isn’t either. Porter and Kramer urge companies to see their decisions “through the shared-value lens”. But business leaders must still calculate if a new market or a new way of sourcing will improve efficiency, productivity and profitability, whether the new market consists of poor villagers rather than wealthy yuppies or the new supplier is round the corner rather than halfway around the world. The pursuit of shared value plainly cannot eliminate the greed, excessive risk and bubbles that caused the Enron scandals and, later, the financial crisis. Constructive capitalists are still capitalists. Like all markets, these new ones will eventually become subject to diminishing returns. At that point most investors will choose the higher return available elsewhere, even if it yields the “wrong kind of profit”. More companies are learning to reap commercial benefits from strategies that have a wider social value. That’s great. But the basic job of coaxing capitalism in the right direction is the same as it always has been: find ways to harness society’s needs to companies’ self-interest and hope the two stay together.

The above is a pro-capitalist's assessment of the constant search for a humane capitalism , and in the end SOYMB can only judge as a forlorn one. What has been the most pernicious lie of this century is that hope for the future lay in the amelioration of capitalism through the process of reform. The false hope of piecemeal improvement of an essentially cancerous system in the reformist struggle to humanise the profit system. Whether the changes were to come through company board rooms employing PR departments with their humanitarian slogans and "green" appeals for a nicer, gentler world, the system which puts profit before need has persistently spat the hope of humane capitalism back in the face of its advocates. As Hill pointed out in his Financial Times piece under the profit system profits always come first! This is why the Earth's non-renewal resources are plundered. This is why natural balances are upset and the environment destroyed. Society is turned into one huge market-place. Capitalism can't help doing this. It's the only way it can work. Which is why it must go.

Business as Usual

Of course, the British capitalist class support the demands for democracy throughout the Middle East. David Cameron was one of the first Western leaders to rush to establish contact with Egyptian military government and then on to Abu Dhabi, for the Middle East's biggest defense exhibition. He, of course, brought along experts in the democratic process to assist with advice in the transfornation from dictatorship to democracy - representatives of defence firms attempting to secure contracts in the Gulf states. Among them are: Ian King, chief executive of BAE Systems; Alastair Bisset, group international director at QinetiQ; and Rob Watson, regional director of Rolls-Royce. More than 100 UK firms are showcasing their weaponry at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference, which is aimed at governments in the Middle East and North Africa. British companies offer a range of products useful for controlling hostile crowds – two stands were selling teargas grenades, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The UK Government has approved the sale of tear gas and crowd control ammunition to Bahrain and Libya in the last year. The arms giant BAE Systems showed off a formidable armoured personnel carrier that it has sold to Dubai's police force.

Yasmin Khan, senior campaigns officer at the charity War on Want said: "It is deplorable that David Cameron is seeking to exploit the crisis by promoting sales of weapons and torture equipment to the region."

Sarah Waldron, campaigns co-ordinator at Campaign Against the Arms Trade, said: "...People in the Middle East are dying in an attempt to get democracy and yet Cameron and other ministers are still selling weapons used to oppress them."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Killing humans and saving money

Death and Deliverance: "Euthanasia" in Germany 1900-1945 - Michael Burleigh

As many as 200,000 Germans were murdered by their fellow countrymen. Their crime in the eyes of the Nazi ideologues was that they were mentally ill or physically disabled.One aim was central to the Nazi ideology: the so-called "purification" of the race. The other was styled as practical: to save money and resources for the Reich, and to create space in the institutions that cared for the mentally ill so that civilian and military battle casualties could have the use of them. After the war the Americans found, at one of the main euthanasia centres, a careful calculation that had been made by the functionaries there as to the monetary savings which this mass murder had achieved for the Third Reich. Given the cost of maintaining each mental patient in that particular institution, and assuming a life expectancy of ten years per patient, the practitioners of euthanasia calculated a saving of almost a billion Reichsmarks.

The origins of these crude and criminal euthanasia killings lay in pre-Hitler scientific tracts and theories. But most of those who carried out the mass murder of those Germans who were labelled as "mental defectives" during the Hitler years were not men of science or theory. The euthanasia programme, Burleigh writes, "represented a modest form of social mobility, whereby butchers, cooks, policemen or tram-ticket collectors could, and did, become camp commandants". They were "brutal and insensitive" before they started their euthanasia work, "tough and hard-drinking working-class males, who could have a party around a corpse or weep drunkenly as they sang plangent songs about their homeland around the barrack stove in the extermination camps". Two years before Jews were being deported to their deaths, Germans with severe mental or physical disabilities were being taken from hospitals to gas chambers.

The euthanasia killings of Germans by Germans were, like the mass murder of Jews, the subject of many postwar trials. As late as 1987 one such trial found two Germans guilty of having been the accessories to the murder respectively of 11,000 and 4,500 people in mental institutions. They received four-year prison sentences which, Burleigh points out, were one year more than the statutory minimum sentence for the same offence involving one victim. Yet in 1988 a Federal court of appeal decided that as both men must have taken holidays and leave while working in extermination centres, the number of victims for which they were personally responsible must have been "only" 9,200 and 2,340 respectively, whereupon their sentences were cut to three years.

Burleigh shows that the number of people who courageously protested, among them the Roman Catholic Bishop of Munster, Bishop Galen, was very small. Ironically, by the time of Galen's public protest in August 1941, the main euthanasia killing programme had been halted, having slightly exceeded its target of killing one chronic patient per thousand inhabitants of Germany, a horrendous statistic. But, on Hitler's express instructions, the euthanasia of children continued and, when the personnel involved in the adult killings were released from their task, these same experts took part in the first killing of Jews by gas, in specially designed vans sent to the Baltic. Other euthanasia functionaries were transferred to one of the first death camps for Polish Jews, located in the remote village of Sobibor. Just as their work against Germans had taken place in isolated sanatoria, so much of their new work was deliberately hidden in obscure regions. One of those who had participated in the work of five separate euthanasia centres before 1941, Christian Wirth, was made the commandant of the death camp at Belzec, where 600,000 Jews were killed by gas.

From the Times Higher Educational

Sunday, February 20, 2011

climate genocide - 10 billion people set to die this century

Dr Donald A. Levin (Professor of Biology, University of Texas, Austin) and his son Dr Phillip Levin (a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service) (2002) explain:
“ Some 2,000 species of Pacific Island birds (about 15 percent of the world total) have gone extinct since human colonization. Roughly 20 of the 297 known mussel and clam species and 40 of about 950 fishes have perished in North America in the past century. On average, one extinction happens somewhere on earth every 20 minutes. Ecologists estimate that half of all living bird and mammal species will be gone within 200 or 300 years. Although crude and occasionally controversial, such statistics illustrate the extent of the current upheaval, which spans the globe and affects a broad array of plants and animals…The current losses are, however, exceptional. Rates of extinction appear now to be 100 to 1,000 times greater than background levels, qualifying the present as an era of 'mass extinction'. The globe has experienced similar waves of destruction just five times in the past.”

More depressing is that Dr James Lovelock FRS (Gaia hypothesis) and Professor Kevin Anderson ( Director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester, UK) have recently estimated that fewer than 1 billion people will survive this century due to unaddressed, man-made global warming – noting that the world population is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, these estimates translate to a climate genocide involving deaths of 10 billion people this century, this including 6 billion under-5 year old infants, 3 billion Muslims in a terminal Muslim Holocaust, 2 billion Indians, 1.3 billion non-Arab Africans, 0.5 billion Bengalis, 0.3 billion Pakistanis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis. Unaddressed, man-made climate change will thus yield an average annual avoidable death rate to 100 million per year.

Dr James Hansen, (heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, and an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University) has concluded: “After the ice has gone, would the Earth proceed to the Venus syndrome, a runaway greenhouse effect that would destroy all life on the planet, perhaps permanently? While that is difficult to say based on present information, I’ve come to conclude that if we burn all reserves of oil, gas, and coal, there is a substantial chance we will initiate the runaway greenhouse. If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale, I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty” (James Hansen, “Storms of My Grandchildren.")

Yet it needn't be.

An Australian engineering team called Beyond Zero Emissions has released its 5 year study that shows how Australia can have 100% renewable energy by 2020 using renewable technologies of wind power and concentrated solar thermal with molten salts energy storage for 24/7, baseload operation. Professor Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, California, and Mark A. Delucchi of University of California Davis have produced a plan for 100% renewable energy plan for the whole world by 2020. James Hansen in answer to the question “Is there any real chance of averting the climate crisis?”, has stated: “Absolutely. It is possible – if we give politicians a cold, hard slap in the face. The fraudulence of the Copenhagen approach – 'goals' for emission reductions, 'offsets' that render ironclad goals almost meaningless, the ineffectual 'cap-and-trade' mechanism – must be exposed. We must rebel against such politics as usual.”

Capitalism denies - or through resolute inaction effectively denies - the acute problem of man-made climate change. Capitalism – that brought us wars and holocausts – has been unable or unwilling to address man-made climate change and now threatens a climate genocide.

It must be system change, not climate change.

Inequality usa - 2

In 2009, the hourly wage of employees in the 90th pay percentile—those whose wage exceeded that of 90% of the working population—stood at $38.50, according to a new study by the Congressional Budget Office. That’s 364% more than the $8.30 an hour earned by those in the 10th percentile.

water rises

The report, Vulnerability to Heat Waves and Drought: Adaptation to Climate Change, by the environmental consultancy AEA and a team from the University of Surrey, warns that water is becoming scarce as a result of climate change and increased consumer demand. An estimated four million households in the UK are already "water poor", according to the report, and the situation is likely to worsen.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation, one of the largest social policy research-and-development charities, says that low-income households are at particular risk because of new methods being introduced to increase the efficient use and distribution of water. It defines "water poverty" as when households spend 3% or more of their income on water bills. Water companies are moving away from flat-rate fees to new charging models that bill customers with steadily higher prices according to how much water they use. The report warns that this could create affordability problems for some low-income households and lead to "water poverty".

"We currently waste a lot of water, so on one level it makes sense to encourage greater efficiency by charging people depending on how much water they use," the report's lead author, Magnus Benzie said. "But some tariffs can put unfair pressure on households that cannot reduce their water consumption, either because of household size, medical needs or an inability to invest in water-efficient appliances."

Water poverty is expected to be acute in "urban heat islands" – built-up environments that retain heat more than surrounding areas. Failures to anticipate the threat posed by climate change can be fatal. The authors point to the heatwave across Europe in 2003 that led to more than 30,000 premature deaths.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Vindicated: Solidarity’s “market socialism”

In an article " Solidarity:Not So Solid" in the February 1969 Socialist Standard (see previous post) and in another piece from 1973 on “Solidarity, the Market and Marx” that SOYMB re-published here , we criticised the author of the Solidarity pamphlet The Meaning of Socialism , which outlined a blueprint for “workers self-management” of a market economy, for in effect advocating the self-exploitation of workers. This was a translation of part of a 1957 article in French in “Socialisme ou Barbarie” by Cornelius Castoriadis writing under the pseudonym of “Paul Cardan”. The 1973 piece drew attention to the fact that the English translation had deliberately watered down the market aspect of Castoriadis’s scheme.

We have now learnt that in 1991 in a "Response to Richard Rorty" Castoriadis (by which time he had become a French “public intellectual”) asked: "Why did Marx have his head in the clouds when he talked about the abolition of money, commodities, and so on?" And that in an interview in 1990 in Radical Philosophy 56, he had made this point in more detail. Here is what he said about money and the market:

“Marx was certainly wrong in thinking that all impersonal mediations have to be abolished. This appears in his critique of the commodity, and also of money. I repudiated this as early as 1957 in a text called 'The Content of Socialism' which is in my Political and Social Writings. For me, it’s quite obvious: you can’t have a complex society without, for instance, impersonal means of exchange. Money has this function and is very important from this point of view. It’s another thing to deprive money of one of its functions in capitalist and precapitalist economies as an instrument for the personal accumulation of wealth and the acquisition of means of production. As a unit of value and as a means of exchange, money is a great invention, a great creation of humanity. We are living in societies; there is an anonymous collectivity; we express our needs and preferences by being willing to spend that much on that item, and not on anything else. This doesn’t, to my mind, create any problem. The real problem starts when you say 'market'.Again, in this text from 1957, I said that the socialist society is the first society where there’s going to be a genuine market, because a capitalist market is not a market. A capitalist market is not a market, not only if you compare it with the manuals of political economy, where the market is transparent and where capital is a jelly that moves from one field of production to another instantaneously because profits are bigger there—all that is nonsense—but because prices have nothing to do with costs. In an autonomous society you will have a genuine market in the sense of both the abolition of all monopolistic and oligopolisitc positions and a correspondence of the prices of goods to actual social costs.”

In other words, our criticism of him and Solidarity has been fully vindicated.