Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Preparing for war

We reported previously on the growing military tensions in the South China Sea.

China, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines all have competing claims on several clusters of South China Sea islands. The U.S. has sided against Beijing. Last year the U.S.S. George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, cruised into Vietnamese waters to mark the 15th anniversary of normalization of relations between two once warring nations. It also sent a signal to Beijing that Vietnam is seeking closer military ties with the U.S. Two weeks ago, three U.S. Navy ships paid call on Vietnam, China’s ancient antagonist, for a weeklong joint exercise. In Manila last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointedly assured her hosts that the U.S. would honor its mutual defense pact with the Philippines and sell it new weaponry on discounted terms. Arms imports to Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia have gone up 84 percent, 146 percent, and 722 percent, respectively, since 2000. The spending is on naval and air platforms: surface warships, submarines with advanced missile systems, and long-range fighter jets. Vietnam recently spent $2 billion on six state-of-the-art Kilo-class Russian submarines and $1 billion on Russian fighter jets. Malaysia just opened a submarine base on Borneo and spent spent $1 billion on two Franco-Spanish subs . Indonesia has just taken delivery of the last of six Russian fighter jets worth $300 million. Thailand has received the first of 96 Ukrainian armored personnel carriers ($125 million), with the first of six Swedish fighter jets and two other aircraft ($574 million) arriving in early 2011. Singapore will soon launch the second of two Swedish attack submarines ($128 million). The acquisition of sophisticated weapons indicates two things: First, that Southeast Asian nations are more wary of each other. Second, that the region maypublicly welcomes China's soft power but is also quietly tooling up for the hard version.

The Pentagon is refocussing on Asia and redeploying for a prospective war with China. War is far from inevitable even if competition is a given. Pentagon officials are seeking ways to adapt a concept known as AirSea Battle specifically for China. A recent article in Inside the Pentagon reported that a small group of U.S. Navy officers known as the China Integration Team "is hard at work applying the lessons of [AirSea Battle] to a potential conflict with China." It complements the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, a government white paper that precluded the rise of any "peer competitor" that might challenge U.S. dominance worldwide. The Planning Guidance is the Pentagon’s writ for control of what defense planners call "the global commons," a euphemism for the seaways, land bridges and air corridors that are the arteries of international commerce. In March 2010, when a Chinese official was quoted by Japanese media as identifying the region as a "core interest" of Chinese sovereignty, the White House retaliated by declaring that freedom of maritime navigation is a U.S. "national interest." For a foreign power to challenge this American dominion is to effectively declare war on the United States, and that is exactly what China appears to be doing in the South China Sea, a resource-rich and highly contested waterway in Southeast Asia. A U.S. mobilization in Asia is well underway, in faith with a spring 2001 Pentagon study called "Asia 2025" which identified China as a "persistent competitor of the United States," bent on "foreign military adventurism." Three years later, the U.S. government went public with a plan that called for a new chain of bases in Central Asia and the Middle East, in part to box in the People’s Republic. Beijing identifies the U.S. as an outright threat.

The South China Sea joins the Southeast Asian states with the Western Pacific, functioning as the throat of global sea routes. Here is the center of maritime Eurasia, punctuated by the straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, and Makassar. More than half the world's annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through these choke points, and a third of all maritime traffic. The oil transported through the Strait of Malacca from the Indian Ocean, en route to East Asia through the South China Sea, is more than six times the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and 17 times the amount that transits the Panama Canal. Roughly two-thirds of South Korea's energy supplies, nearly 60 percent of Japan's and Taiwan's energy supplies, and about 80 percent of China's crude-oil imports come through the South China Sea. What's more, the South China Sea has proven oil reserves of 7 billion barrels and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, a potentially huge bounty. Energy consumption is expected to double by 2030, with China accounting for half that growth -- make the South China Sea the ever more central guarantor of the region's economic strength.

Socialists never tire of pointing out, the primary function of military power in capitalism is to protect and expand control over resources, markets and transport routes on behalf of the capitalist class of the country concerned.

Details taken from here and here and here

Germany is not that equal either

Germany is a land of inequality. The gap between rich and poor has widened

The 5,000 best-earning German households have increased their share of the total national revenue by about 50 percent since the mid-1990s. At the same time, the real income of all Germans has remained about the same over this period.

The net share of wages -- that is, the share of national income accounted for by wages -- was about 44 percent in West Germany up until the 1980s. Ten years later, it was just over 38 percent. Now it's about 35 percent. In the same period, the portion of income accounted for by profits has continually risen.

The markets are constantly demanding higher returns. Those who do not meet their expectations are punished with declines in the price of their stock and higher borrowing costs. Companies, forced to adjust to these requirements, keep wages down and their workforces at a minimum.

Germans too live in a system where the few profit but the many do not.

From Der Spiegel

Land of Plenty?

In the land of super-size meals as a sign of prosperity yet obesity has been called an epidemic, it’s difficult imagine how anyone in America could be hungry.

Yet 1 in 4 Families with children are hungry in U.S.

“The food hardship rate for households without children is far too high, but we can see that the situation for households with children is far worse. Too many people continue to struggle with hunger in these uncertain economic times,” Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks.

Taken from Carmen M. Hubbard

The greatest nation on Earth?

30 signs that America has become a horrible place for children….

#1 There are more than 3 million reports of child abuse in the United States every single year.

#2 There are 314 counties in the United States where at least 30% of the children are facing food insecurity.

#3 In Washington D.C., the "child food insecurity rate" is 32.3%.

#4 If you can believe it, an average of five children die as a result of child abuse in the United States every single day.

#5 In the United States today, it is estimated that one out of every four girls is sexually abused before they become adults.

#6 The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is now publicly advising parents that infants and young children are "sexual beings".

#7 67 percent of all sexual assault victims in America are children.

#8 The state of Illinois has actually been paying convicted sex offenders to baby-sit young children.

#9 20 percent of all child sexual abuse victims are under the age of 8.

#10 Children in the United States are three times more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than children in Europe are.

#11 The United States has the highest divorce rate on the globe by a wide margin. This is ripping millions of families with children to shreds.

#12 According to one recent study, approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States were living below the poverty line in 2010. In the UK and in France that figure is well under 10 percent.

#13 It is estimated that up to half a million children may currently be homeless in the United States.

#14 In America today, many families allow the television to raise their children. In fact, the United States is tied with the U.K. for the most hours of television watched per person each week.

#15 Public schools are being transformed into prison camps. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has announced that school officials can search the cell phones and laptops of public school students at any time if there are “reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school.”

#16 Today, one out of every four American children is on food stamps.

#17 It is being projected that approximately 50 percent of all U.S. children will be on food stamps at some point in their lives before they reach the age of 18.

#18 More than 20 million U.S. children rely on school meal programs to keep from going hungry.

#19 The U.S. Department of Agriculture is spending huge amounts of money to install surveillance cameras in the cafeterias of public schools so that government control freaks can closely monitor what our children are eating.

#20 According to researchers, convicted rapists in the United States report that two-thirds of their victims were under 18, and among those cases 58% said that their victims were 12 years old or younger.

#21 Since 1973, approximately 50 million babies have been slaughtered in the United States before they were even born.

#22 One out of every four teen girls in the United States now has an STD.

#23 It has been reported that Texas police gave "1,000 tickets" to elementary school kids over one recent six year period.

#24 The number of young children that are being ripped out of good homes by "child protective services" continues to soar.

#25 All over the nation, little children are being publicly arrested by police in their own classrooms and are being marched out of their schools in handcuffs.

#26 Law enforcement officials estimate that about 600,000 Americans and about 65,000 Canadians are trading child porn online.

#27 All over the United States, lemonade stands run by young children are being shut down by police.

#28 The federal government has spent 14 trillion dollars that belong to our children and our grandchildren. Will future generations thank us for loading such a massive debt on to their backs?

#29 In airports all over the country, many young children are being subjected to "enhanced pat-downs" during which their private parts are touched before they are allowed to get on to their airplanes.

#30 It is estimated that 500,000 babies that will be born this year will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

Taken from Press TV

An Oxfam Appeal

An Oxfam official is interviewed here and made the following points.

There are seven billion people in the world and one and a quarter billion of them live on less than a dollar a day. That is the World Bank’s definition but poverty is not only about a lack of income. Very substantial portion of the world, approximately a billion people, go to sleep every night hungry. It is also about direct access to clean drinking water, for example, or can you afford to be ill, can you find a hospital if you are ill, can you afford send your children to school and the quality of teaching you find in that school. So, poverty is not just about income, it is about can you get the basic services that all of us want to see everybody has.

It is explained in various ways. Oxfam explain it in terms of poor people’s access to assets and resources which can be restricted; they might be restricted because they live in rural areas where infrastructure is poor.Or in terms of different life opportunities. In China, for example, many people have less countryside to go and live in urban environment where they can be poorly paid and have poor labor rights, so wages are depressed. Or in terms of public systems where there is no adequate distribution of wealth created to assist poor people. Most poor people still live in rural areas and are dependent on agriculture for their income; most of those people have an access to small amounts of land where they grow food. Oxfam argues that what they do not have is the right kind of support for them to grow more and also to be able to sell that more into markets – local markets or national markets. The food system does not work very well, there are a lot of blockages, so, for example, there is inadequate facility of storing food, so a lot of food that is grown rots away and so it never gets to market and the farmers never get pay for it. So, there are various things you can do, but the two key areas are to invest in agriculture and to invest in basic services – in education and in health, particularly education for girls.

Our Appeal
Of all the ways in which capitalism means extremes of poverty and privilege, deprivation and excess, none is greater than in the production, distribution and consumption of food. Socialists explain that the food industry under capitalism is part of the problem of starvation and malnutrition, not its solution. Capitalism seeks the nourishment of profits, not persons. There is more than enough food in the world to feed all of its population. But food is bought and sold. Those who have to live on a dollar a day or less struggle to survive and often die. The obvious solution is to institute a system where production is geared to meeting people's needs, not for sale on a market; that way, people's needs would be met as a matter of right without needing to pay for them – and without organisations like Oxfam having to devise ways of trying to ensure a adequate monetary income for poor farmers in developing countries.

It is not so much the reformist policies of politico-charities such as Oxfam that we criticise as the whole market system, under which people can only get access to the things they need if they have money and where most people can only get money by selling either their ability to work or the product of their work. Oxfam accepts this system and its logic which rules out giving away market surpluses to the needy as this only makes things worse, by undermining the market for the products in question even further. Organisations like Oxfam finance workers in the field in many places, doing what they can to provide seeds, tools and equipment and small scale irrigation schemes and things like fresh water wells. Socialists say that these efforts do not stand a chance of ever being able to solve a problem that is getting worse. Oxfam need to alter the present economic and political framework which is so destructive of their efforts. Albeit Oxfam are doing what they can to lessen world hunger but the problem is getting worse. The action to solve this problem must include action to bring about a society where you will have the freedom to act more effectively. Once artificial scarcity and built-in waste is eliminated, as it would be in a world where the Earth's resources had ceased to be the private property of states, national and multinational corporations and rich individuals, then these resources could be directed to turning out wealth to meet human needs. we often hear it said, “we do not have the resources”? What is meant by resources is always money. This ignores the fact that productive resources are materials, means of production, transport, energy, communications and networks of infrastructure through which goods and services are produced. And all these depend on one single resource which is labour. These are the real resources on which the lives of communities depend and there is an abundance of labour to provide for needs. If Oxfam and its supporters were to also join the work of organising for socialism, that would be a significant step forward. What could be their objections to a world organised solely for the needs of people? Surely this is what they claim to want.

All the world’s other natural resources won’t be traded. They will simply be transferred from one part of the world to another as required to meet needs. This wouldn’t be trade since there would be no question of payment or of any transfer of something of equal value from the part of the world where they went to the part they came from. Under these circumstances, if people in one part of the word needed food it would be transferred there, as for instance from the wheatlands of North America. This wouldn’t affect local agriculture since there would be no competition between the two; there’d be no local markets to undermine since local production wouldn’t be for a market either. In fact, local agriculture could be given the fertilizer and equipment that they need - without demanding any counterpart - so that it can contribute increasingly to satisfying local food needs. This - no trade, but production for use - is the alternative to the fair trade favoured by Oxfam.

It may take some time to completely clear up the mess left by the capitalist profit system, but people dying of hunger could be stopped almost immediately. Eliminating poverty is not impossible and the millions of people who go to bed hungry every night or who lack clean running water or who have no health care or education should not be happy with the present situation of what they have not got.

France - Not so Egalite

Increasing numbers of French people are living in poverty and the country is suffering rising inequality, according the latest figures from the French government.

The statistics cover 2009.

Half of French households have an income of less than €19,000

8.2 million people, out of a population of 60 million lived under the official poverty threshold of 954 euros per month .

The standard of living of the richest 10 percent went up, compared with the previous year, by 0.7 percent; for the poorest 10 percent it went down by 1.1 percent. The most wealthy 10% of households live on an average of €35,840 a year.

pensions are wages - fight for them

The wage is the sum of money necessary to the reproduction of any one's labour power. This amount is ever renegotiated following, in particular, the balance of power between workers and bosses helped by their state. Amongst contractual elements is the one of a guaranteed income for one's old age. That's why this theme had been for a long time one of class struggle's great factors. Henceforth, a pension is nothing else than wages deferred until a worker's legal exit at retirement age. Today, it is all about this part of our wages. Baloney about life expectancy are only smoke screens set by bosses and the state in order not to confront the question.

SOYMB reads that the number of workers planning to retire after the age of 66 has doubled over the past year as poor economic conditions force people to work for longer. Older people have been particularly hard-hit by the sharp rise in inflation due to their reliance on commodities such as fuel to heat the home, while many pensions are fixed or are not keeping up with the rising cost of living.

A new study has found that one in ten people now say they will have to retire between the ages of 66 and 70 to cope with the double whammy of increased living costs and the plummeting value of fixed-income pensions. The report, by Baring Asset Management, also found that a further 12.8 million people - a third of non-retired British adults - are unable to say what age they hope to retire at, while 10 per cent say they have no plans to retire at all.
A separate investigation by Prudential has revealed that a pensioner retiring this year on a fixed income - one which does not increase with inflation - could lose 60 per cent of their spending power over the course of a 20-year retirement. It also found that the average person retiring in 2011 expects an annual income of £16,600, but if that income remains fixed it will be worth a mere £6,700 in today's money in 20 years' time.

Marino Valensise, chief investment officer at Barings, said: "We have seen the cost of living continue to rise, making retirement more expensive and resulting in many more people having to put retirement off."

Industry experts warned that many older people have previously taken out loans in order to help younger family members to get on the housing ladder or fund them through university, but have now found that their pension payments will not be sufficient to make repayments.

Yvonne McDiarmid, chief executive of Money Advice Scotland, said: "People having to postpone their retirement is becoming a lot more commonplace, perhaps because they have taken on additional debt to help out family members, thinking they would be able to pay them off with a better lump sum payment (from their pension pot] than they are getting." She added that an increasing number of people working past the age of 60 would have a knock-on effect for the rest of the working population. "There is a limit to how much people can tighten their belts to cope with the increased cost of living, so we are seeing a much higher number of people continuing to work for longer. Although these people have very good reasons to do so … people staying in work for longer … means there are fewer jobs for the younger generation. Also, it means people who should be sitting back and enjoying their retirement are having to work instead."

Little is said about pension rule changes that expose those who retire to the financial market hazards of the stock-market. In the end the capitalist want us to pay more today to get less tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fewer Home-owners

Home ownership in England will fall to 63.8 per cent in 2021, according to the National Housing Federation – the lowest level since the mid-Eighties.

David Orr, chief executive of the federation, which represents England’s housing associations, said: "With home ownership in decline, rents rising rapidly and social housing waiting lists at a record high, it’s time to face up to the fact that we have a totally dysfunctional housing market. Home ownership is increasingly becoming the preserve of the wealthy and, in parts of the country like London, the very wealthy."

Today, the typical first-time buyer has to save £26,346 to get a mortgage – the equivalent of 20 per cent of the value of their home – according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Four years ago, they needed only a deposit of 10 per cent.

House prices and rent are both predicted to rise by about 20 per cent over the next five years. This would mean the average tenant paying £1,152 more per year. Matt Griffith of campaign group said young people in particular now faced the "toughest housing environment in decades. "Squeezed incomes from rent rises, inflation and stagnant wages are making saving for a deposit difficult.".

However, Mr Orr blamed builders, not banks, for the housing crisis. "Despite the overwhelming need to increase supply, house building has slumped to a 90-year low, plunging the country even deeper into the mire" he said.

Developers say they are willing and ready to build more homes. But they worry that they won't be able to sell them, because potential buyers will not be able to raise the finance - cycle, of restricted supply leading to high prices, which leads to curtailed demand, resulting in unwillingness to build.

"Millions of people across the country remain desperate for an affordable place to live, with more and more forced into expensive and unregulated private rented accommodation," said Campbell Robb, chief executive of housing charity Shelter.

Another report - Being poor kills

Poor people are more at risk than others for heart disease even after addressing risk factors including smoking and high blood pressure, U.S. researchers say.

The study indicated that people with lower socioeconomic status had a 50 percent greater risk of developing heart disease than other study participants.

"It is known people with low socioeconomic status have a greater risk for developing heart disease and other health problems, the reason is often attributed to reduced healthcare access or poor adherence to treatments such as smoking cessation or medication," Lead author Peter Franks, a professor at the University of California, says "This study showed for the first time that the increased risk endured despite long-term improvements in other risk factors, indicating that access and adherence could not account for the differences."

Kick 'em out Obama -

President Obama has deported more people than any other president in United States history. The Obama Administration seeks to make its unprecedented level of deportations palatable by dismissing those deported as criminals. The day labourers convicted of trespassing, the mother who returns to the United States after deportation to reunite with her family, the person of colour convicted of a minor traffic offence – all are labelled "criminal aliens".

On 5 August, the Obama Administration announced that it would unilaterally impose its controversial deportation programme known as "secure communities" (also known as S-Comm) upon every city in the United States by 2013. S-Comm is a deportation programme that requires local police to run immigration background checks on every individual booked into custody, regardless of the charges and whether they are dropped or upheld. The effect is to make local police departments a primary gateway to deportation.

Obama continues to portray himself as a champion of immigration reform to Latino voters, while at the same time, his department of homeland security institutionalises policies that criminalise and divide immigrant (mostly Latino) families. In the case of children who came to the US at a very young age, not of their own choice, and may now be in college, are they 'illegals' who broke the law to be here? In the case of families where there are undocumented parents with US-born children, does upholding "American family values" mean breaking up those families by deporting the adults? In the US immigration system, the wait times for LEGAL immigration, whether family- or employment-based can run for years.

Immigration (illegal or otherwise) is the oil that lubricates the capitalist machine. In China over 200 million rural illegal immigrants reside and work in China's big cities at sweat-shop level wages, but are excluded from registering in the cities' the Hukou System (resident permits) which would give them access to education and other government services. The American economy depends on the illegal immigrant low wage workers and American businesses have encouraged and profited by immigration. In Georgia crops rotted in the fields because no one was around to pick it due to the state's new labour laws. Immigration and its effect upon "native" workers is of course not new. Corporations, farmers and business need for cheap labour, will make it unlikely we will see any real shut down in immigration. For politicians it's the case of sounding tough but doing little. Until, that is, when the economic times get hard lets target the immigrants. It is easier to scape-goat the disenfranchised rather than apportioning the blame on the venal politicans, the souless corporations who own then and the benighted bankers who fund them. .

20,700 agents, twice as many as in 2004, are guarding the U.S. border. Borders are lies, a "legal fiction". The World Socialist Movement call on all workers to recognise their class interests. The WSM recognises that race and nationality are very real issues but the only manner of solving the problem was by crushing the corporations and the system and let us stand together as one class – because divided we fall. The interest of all members of the international working class being identical, workers recognise no alien but the capitalist.

It's that middle class again

According to Polly Toybee of the Guardian Britain is adopting the American political dishonesty of disguising ever-widening income differences by calling nearly everyone "middle class".

Only 24% call themselves working class now (67% claimed it in 1988). 70% now call themselves "middle". Those calling themselves "middle" stretch from euphemisms for the highly privileged – the 7% with children in private schools – all the way to families struggling on the edge to pay a half-mortgage on an ex-council house.

Yet birth determines destiny more certainly than 50 years ago. When the income gap is wide, few cross the class divide. Only 21% of children from families in the lowest fifth of incomes get five good GCSEs, against 75% from the richest fifth.

GDP has doubled since 1978, but only the top 10% have seen incomes grow at or above that rate, twice as fast as the median and four times faster than the bottom 10%.

The Independent reports that executive pay is set to continue rising more quickly than the salaries earned by the majority of workers over the next 12 months. Pricewaterhouse Coopers reveals that four-fifths of pay consultants specialising in executive pay expect the rewards offered to the executives of FTSE 350 companies to increase next year, with base pay set to rise between 2-4 per cent, ahead of the average salary increases expected for workers as a whole. The average director of a British company now earning 69 times as much as his typical employee.

Yet in another development advertising authorities have deemed the "middle class" itself (roughly 60 percent of us, depending on where you draw the income line) to be unworthy consumers. We're too poor to matter, they say.

Even though America's workaday majority has produced a phenomenal rise in wealth during the past decade, that majority's income has shrunk — and there's no improvement in sight. Where did the gains go? Practically all of the new wealth flowed straight up to the richest 10 percent of America's people, who own more than 80 percent of all stocks and bonds. Instead of deploring this widening disparity, major hawkers of consumer products are choosing to embrace it. Advertising Age, the marketing industry's top publication, has curtly declared that "mass affluence is over." Nearly half of consumer spending today is done by the richest 10 percent of households, and the richest of these richies are deemed to be the most desirable of consumers.

"Simply put," says Ad Age, "a small plutocracy of wealthy elites drives a larger and larger share of total consumer spending and has outsized purchasing influence."

The magazine goes on to inform us that households with less than $200,000 in annual income hold little interest for advertisers and sure enough, corporate executives in such diverse businesses as airlines, movie theaters, banks, and health care are focusing more and more on platinum-level customers.

Could this mean we're all working class at last?! Bring on the "middle class" revolution!

Monday, August 29, 2011

On and off the dole blues

The number of long-term unemployed has more than doubled since the financial crisis struck in 2008, leaving tens of thousands of people with little chance of ever working again, according to the Institute of Public Policy Research. More than 400,000 people have been unemployed for over two years. People lose their skills, fall behind in training and lose their confidence if they are out of work for too long, making them much less attractive to new employers.

Tony Dolphin, the chief economist at the IPPR said: "The longer someone is out of work, the more they lose motivation and confidence. They also miss out on vital training and work experience. This means that even when employment starts to pick up again, they will find it hard to compete with other jobseekers and could find themselves permanently shut out of the jobs market."

The IPPR analysis shows that 100,000 older workers (those aged 50 and over) who were made redundant at the start of the recession could be forced to retire earlier than they planned. This means many will be left with significantly lower pensions and therefore lower standards of living, Dolphin, says.

But long-term unemployment has increased even more among younger people – trebling to 95,000 since 2008. Research from previous recessions suggests that members of this group are likely to earn less than their peers when they do find work and more likely to experience further unemployment in later life.
From the Independent here

Yet for those still in work it does not bode well. Researchers say more and more Canadians are suffering from stress on the job and Americans don't seem to faring much better: recent polls found that 70 percent of American workers consider their workplace a significant source of stress.
Co-author of the study Mesbah Sharaf from the Concordia Department of Economics says that all this extra work stress adds up to numerous health risks, including back pain, colorectal cancer, infectious disease, heart problems, and diabetes. Meanwhile, he adds that job stress can interfere with healthy habits, such as getting to the gym, eating well, and not indulging in fatty or sugary treats.

Another recent study published in European Heart Journal found clocking in overtime may adversely affect a healthy heart.

More Food Riots?

Bill Lapp, president of the US food industry consultants Advanced Economic Solutions. “The increased cost of food is somewhere near $30bn in the past year. That has not been passed on to the consumer yet,” he said. “At some point, food manufacturers, restaurants, grocers and livestock producers and others in the middle of the chain will pass that on.”

Although UN food price index remains near record levels, in the west, slow growth and stagnant incomes have been a brake on price increases. In the US, consumer prices for food eaten at home have gained 5.4 per cent in the past 12 months. Food price inflation looks set to continue as a threat into 2012 as expectations for the US corn harvest, the world’s largest, are being lowered by the week. The US accounts for half the world’s corn exports and the size of the crop has an outsize impact on global prices. The price of corn is on the upswing. Corn is also a critical feeding commodity, so a smaller crop would push prices higher, rapidly translating into more expensive beef, lamb, pork and poultry and thus, higher food inflation.

The rising cost of food could heighten social pressures and force central bankers to raise interest rates.

Taken from here

Microfinance Fails the Poor

SOYMB has already blogged a few times on the miracle cure of Mohammed Yunis and his Grameen Bank scheme to provide the poor with credit and lift them out out of poverty. The Guardian reports on a new study commissioned by the UK Department for International Development (DfID). Maren Duvendack and her team concluded "No clear evidence exists that microfinance programmes have positive impacts." Furthermore, the much-cited claims that microfinance can empower women have not been found to stand up.

These findings contradict the claims of champions of microfinance. Duvendack's own research shows that microfinance is not much better for the poor than any other form of finance, such as moneylenders or banks.

"Some people are just too poor to do anything productive with credit. If you can't secure basic survival, you can't grow a business. Food security and health are crucial and perhaps once these have been secured, people can graduate to microcredit. Microfinance often has to be combined with other interventions," comments Duvendack.

Duvendack's review for DfID is paralleled by another review commissioned by the department on microfinance in Africa, which is yet to be published but which, according to Duvendack, comes to broadly similar conclusions.

Previous SOYMB posts here , here , and here

Sunday, August 28, 2011

University Challenge

We can demonstrate until we are blue in the face, but as long as the government keeps a firm hand on the state (the police and army), they will get their way in the end. So targeting Lib-Dem politicians and threatening them with electoral defeat is the surest way of putting on pressure.

But the question is, who will take their seats if they are ousted? Almost certainly another candidate that stands for cuts and austerity. Lib-Dems, Conservatives, Labour and the Greens are all simply factions of the Capitalist Party, the party that supports a system that needs poverty and unemployment simply to exist. So we'll all be back on the streets protesting again.

We need to get organised to use elections to not simply change personnel within the Capitalist Party, but to rid ourselves of the system that demands these cuts. If we stand together, we can drive away the owners of the world whose interests have created this crisis. We can abolish poverty and unemployment.

If we organise for common democratic control of the resources of the world, then not only education need be free, but food, clothing and housing. We can be free. We can get rid of lying leaders, and run our own communities in our own interests.

Leaflet issued by the Socialist Party

Meantime, class in the class-room

Wellington College is set in 400 acres of lush Berkshire countryside. With annual fees approaching £30,000, a year at Wellington costs more than the salary (around £25,000) of the average person. Its 1000 students enjoy not only small classes and pioneering teaching methods, including lessons in happiness, but an astounding array of extra-curricular opportunities. The school has 16 rugby pitches, two floodlit astroturf pitches, a state-of-the-art sports hall, 22 hard tennis courts, 12 cricket pitches, an athletics track, two lacrosse pitches and six netball courts, a shooting range, an acclaimed nine-hole golf course, six art studios, a professional recording studio, several concert venues, its own theatre and TV crew.
From The Guardian

SOYMB also reads that one of Britain's other posh schools Eton College, where fees are around £30,000 a year, which boasts Prince William and Prince Harry among its old boys and that David Cameron is the 19th Prime Minister to be educated at it, is paying “poverty” wages to its staff. And it avoids falling foul of the minimum wage law by making cleaners and chefs take unpaid leave. In its job adverts before the start of term next month the school offers pay rates only just above the national minimum wage, which goes up 15p to £6.08 an hour in October. One post for pantry-dining room staff pays £10,745 a year for 40 hours a week, including weekend work. The advert says the job comes with four weeks’ paid holiday but adds: “The remainder of the school holidays constitutes unpaid holiday.” Two assistant chefs are also wanted for £13,080 a year for a 40-hour week. One of the posts is to “live in” – but the advert warns that is deemed a benefit in kind worth £1,929 a year to the taxman.

China's toys r us

Disney's best-selling Cars toys are being made in a factory in China that uses child labour and forces staff to do three times the amount of overtime allowed by law, according to an investigation. One worker reportedly killed herself after being repeatedly shouted at by bosses. Others cited worries over poisonous chemicals.

The factory, called Sturdy Products, makes toys for the giant Mattel company, which last month announced quarterly profits of £48m on the back of strong sales of Barbie dolls and Cars 2 toys. Sturdy Products, in the city of Shenzhen, also makes toys for US superstore chain Walmart. Among the brands produced are the Thomas the Tank Engine range, Matchbox cars, Cars, Toy Story, Barbie and Fisher Price products, Scrabble and the Hot Wheels sets.

Workers were interviewed away from the factory, and an investigator then spent a month working inside it to gather more information. He found evidence of the use of child labour and illegal working hours, along with concerns over the use of poisonous chemicals.

A Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour spokeswoman said: "Mattel, Walmart and Disney, the renowned toy companies, always claim they strictly comply with local laws and adhere to their respective code of conduct. The rampant violations at Sturdy Products, including excessive overtime, arbitrary wages, unfair punitive fines, child labour and negligence of occupational health, prove that the pledges are empty statements. There is no effective enforcement mechanism and remedies for workers at all."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Indian farmers stop growing rice

Farmers in the fertile Konaseema region, often referred to as the "rice bowl" of Andhra Pradesh, to declare a "crop holiday" this season. Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) officials believe that the decision of the farmers of East Godavari district not to grow crops this season could turn contagious and find an echo in other parts of the country too. As it is, farmers in Kurnool, Khammam and Nellore districts, taking a cue from their East Godavari counterparts, have already announced their intention to go in for a crop holiday. While the crop holiday will hit the paddy production very hard this season, the biggest sufferers are agricultural labourers and daily wage workers.

Hundreds of farmers spread over 250 villages in the fertile region have decided to keep their fields fallow rather than risk continued losses, attributed to the soaring input costs and non-remunerative price for the produce. This means that there will be no paddy cultivation in over 1.70 lakh acres in the region that accounts for 60 per cent of the state’s food production.

G Subba Rao, a farmer says that while it costs around Rs28,500 to cultivate paddy on one acre, the yield fetches only Rs21,000.

A majority of the farmers could not sell their produce last season due to lack of Minimum Support Price from the millers. As a result, they could not repay bank loans taken last year and the banks refused to give fresh crop loans and input subsidy this year. Despite a bumper crop in the last agricultural season, the farmers could not sell their entire produce because the rice millers had offered them a meagre rate of Rs700 to Rs750 per quintal as against the MSP of Rs1,000 to Rs1,030 per quintal depending on the quality of paddy. The small and marginal farmers had to resort to distress selling.

“We tried to bring pressure on the government to make the millers buy at the MSP, but the officials succumbed to the millers’ lobby and denied us the rate,” another farmer from Amalapuram, N Satyanarayana, said.

Capitalism's crazy price system.

The Greek 'Tsunami Of Poverty'

Greece will face a desperate situation this autumn, with a wave of poverty stemming from its crippled economy, Costis Dimtsas, a spokesman for the Orthodox Church in Athens warns.

"We are at the beginning of the wave," he said. "At this moment, we just learnt that the tsunami is coming. In September we will see it, and next year we will see the results."

The Church runs a number of feeding stations and shelters around Greece, through a project known as 'The Mission'. Since the crisis began, those centres have seen a sharp increase in the number of Greeks seeking help.

"About 60% of the beneficiaries are now people of Greek origin,"
Mr Dimtsas said. "Two years ago, the statistics were inverse. We had 25-30% Greeks and the rest were immigrants. We are handing out 10,000 meals per day. We've been doing it for the last three months in order to confront the financial crisis." He explained "The tragedy is the increase in ages - unemployed people who are over 45 and cannot find a job again, and older people who are suffering lately from the reduction of their pensions."

There is an alternative

The world is rich in raw materials, technology, knowledge and human "doing power", to the extent that if the world was organised in a different way everyone would enjoy a comfortable poverty-free life.

Why don't we re-organise society to reap the benefits of these scientific advances? Because governments (which people put there) all look for solutions within the framework of the money/wages/buying-and-selling system of society.

History shows us that capitalism was set up by a minority of people (the owners of capital) to run in the interests of that minority. If we all had enough capital, we'd not be compelled to become wage slaves – then who would do the work?

So, if there's no profit in it, there's no production of it and no supply of it. That's the way the system of today works! If you can't afford it, you'll have to do without it.

Some people (because they've been encouraged to think solely in terms of money, wages, buying and selling) will undoubtedly dismiss any alternative as a far-off dream. Others will claim that human nature will make it impossible.

It's essential that you understand and believe in the ability of people to change, or you give up any possibility of serious change in society.

The alternative is the world belonging to all its people, producing the things we need to live and enjoy life. Directly meeting people's needs! This means no money, wages, buying and selling.

Why should we have to buy back what we've collectively produced?

This outmoded rationing system must go. There's a world of abundance to work for. Work would be co-operatively organised on a voluntary basis. Everyone would have open access to what they need, and an equal voice and vote in decisions which would affect their lives.

Friday, August 26, 2011

womens suffrage

Today we celebrate the anniversary of American female suffrage where women won the right to vote in 1920.

In Congress only 17% of its members are women. Between 1923 and 2011, only 28 women have chaired congressional committees, and only 45 women of color have ever served in Congress — just one in the Senate.

Women on average still make only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, according to the National Women's Law Center. This pay disparity is worst for women of color, who earn only 61 cents if they are African American and 52 cents if they are Latina.

At Wal-Mart - the nation's biggest employer - women make up about 70% of hourly workers but only about 30% of managers. Although women outnumber men on college campuses, the upper echelons remain male-dominated.

Time magazine's data showed that married women with children still do more work at home than their husbands, and full-time employed moms with children under age 6 spend more hours on household chores than any other group. When it comes to support for child-rearing, a few states and cities have taken the initiative to implement their own policies, the vast majority of mothers (and fathers) have no right to paid time off to care for a newborn baby. Many workers do not even have a right to take unpaid leave, because the federal Family and Medical Leave Act applies only to relatively long-term workers in workplaces with 50 or more employees, leaving out small businesses, new employees and workers who have put in fewer than 1,250 hours at that job.

Fertility control is now legal, but women's reproductive freedom is under intense attack. The 2011 legislative session saw a record number of anti-choice bills introduced — and passed into law. In just six months, state legislatures passed 80 laws to restrict access to abortion. State legislatures also have made deep cuts to family planning budgets, which has the perverse result of increasing unintended pregnancies. The Hyde Amendment bans federal Medicaid coverage of abortion, and only 15 states pay for abortion care with their own revenue. This means that low-income women in most of the country can have an abortion only if they can afford to pay for it out of pocket, making the right to abortion an empty promise for millions of women.

In socialism women will not be forced to choose between children and paid employment or to work out unhappy compromises between the two. Children will no longer be seen as the sole responsibility of the mother or even of both parents, but of the community as a whole. Women, if they wish, will be relieved of having to care for small children twenty-four hours a day, freeing them to pursue other interests as well as being mothers. Men too, freed from the tyrannical demands of wage-slavery, will be better placed to participate equally in the raising of children. Those men and women who care for children in socialist society will do so because they want to. Socialism will have no need for marriage in the sense of the property relation which, in essence, it is. Men and women will not be bound together by pre-determined roles and notions of what is or is not 'natural', or out of economic necessity. Rather they will be free to enter into relationships which are suited to the emotional needs of the particular individuals concerned. A non-sexist, socialist society is not a dream or an unattainable utopia but could begin to be a reality now if there were a majority of people who wanted it and were prepared to take the kind of political action necessary to achieve it.

Socialism will include the liberation of women as part of its project of human emancipation. A political organisation whose object is socialism cannot permit sexism within its ranks on the grounds that nothing can be done now and that the problem will be resolved 'after the revolution'. For a political organisation to be credible, it must embody the attitudes, values and practices that it seeks to institute in society at large. The Socialist Party's Declaration of Principles drafted in 1904 has the following clause:
"... the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex."

SOYMB can only end with the words of the poet Tennyson:

“The woman’s cause is man’s: they rise or sink
Together, dwarf’d or godlike, bond or free”;

its getting hotter

Can unusually warm weather help cause wars? Researchers at Columbia University’s Earth Institute have published a study suggesting that may, in fact, be the case: hot weather facilitates war. El Niño shows up every three to seven years along with higher temperatures and decreased rainfall. According to the study, El Niño doubles the risk of civil wars across 90 tropical countries. The authors say it may have helped start a fifth of worldwide conflicts in the last 50 years.

“If you have social inequality, people are poor, and there are underlying tensions, it seems possible that climate can deliver the knockout punch,” Solomon Hsiang, the study’s lead author, said.

Wars are triggered by a complex cascade of events that include political, monetary, and ethnic reasons but, importantly, control of resources. While the study doesn’t suggest that weather alone can cause wars (which would be an absurd premise), it does makes sense that the droughts brought by El Niño, puts extra pressure on the root causes. Events like droughts put strain on food and water resources, which can cause conflict. Natural disasters can also cause disease, famine, and economic distress, which may create tensions between factions.

The future does not bode well for the world when the effects of climate change escalate and intensify.

Obituary for a Tiger

As in elections generally, throughout the so-called democratic world the Irish general elections offered the people only one choice; that choice was the continuation of the economic system that in its current mode was inflicting a more-than- usual burden of misery on the overwhelming majority of the people.

Anger was palpable throughout the nation. The frenzied activity of the Celtic Tiger years had ground to an abrupt halt, remembered now in the towns and cities only by the forests of angular cranes stagnating in the bankruptcy of speculators nourished in the belief that there was a God, an omnipresent, kindly banker. For some his munificence was boundless, a generosity demonstrated by a small-town shopkeeper from County Monahan who was given 32 million Euro by a Zurich bank to transform his shop into a shopping mall currently valued at one million euro.

Some of the native entrepreneurs became poor again overnight but many, like the late Chairman of one bank, had millionaire wives or healthy portfolios protected by the profane blessings of limited liability to comfort them and ensure the continuance of their dynastic class position, As elsewhere, throughout the world of capitalism, the government showed its class credentials by establishing a National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) a sort of state charity to resuscitate the fortunes of the bankers, speculators and assorted racketeers whose opulence is derived from the skills, energies and political ignorance of the working class.

NAMA’s, openly referred to as the ‘Bad Bank’ is a state agency that takes over the massive amounts of toxic debt acquired by banks under the mismanagement of directors who, we were told were such clever dicks in the area of financial management that their continued retention required that they be given multi-million euro bonuses to ensure their loyalty.

That, honestly, is not an Irish joke; rather is it an Irish imitation of what other national governments were doing as a kiss-of-life to a desperately ailing world capitalism. The absurdly funny bit is that as we write the national news is about millions of pounds sterling being paid to these ant-social elements by British banks to retain their services.

Unfortunately people are nurtured by all the agencies of our limping democracy to believe that capitalism is a controllable system that is managed by governments. Accordingly, politicians are made accountable for the sins of the system while the real culprits, the capitalists and their exorbitantly remunerated financial flunkies, escape public opprobrium.

As in Britain last year when an inept gang of Labour careerists were ousted in favour of an inept motley of Tories and Lib-Dems while the fatally flawed economic system was protected by anonymity, so in Ireland. Unlike Britain however, where politics had been sculpted by economic history, Irish politics largely reflected in its two main political parties the enmities of a bitter civil war that had attended on the birth of the state in 1922.

The Free State
Known as The Irish Free State, reflecting the British imposed ‘settlement’ of the ‘Irish Problem’, the birth of the new state was a difficult one. The IRA and its political arm Sinn Fein divided on the status of the new state and a bloody civil war ensued between those elements of the republican movement who accepted British hegemony and those who rejected it. The former, representing disparate interests from those simply wanting to see the end of violence to the Unionist or Protestant interest - standing in the new state at some 9 percent - established the governing political Party to be known as the Cuman Na N’Gaedheal. The Party reflected the Rightist politics of the founder of the Sinn Fein movement, Arthur Griffith who in Sinn Fein’s initial manifesto in 1905 promoted the notion of ‘Ireland as a separate kingdom hereditary to the [British] Crown‘.

The Cuman Na N’Gaedheal remained in government until 1933; troubled years of bitter economic pain for the working class. In the 1930s it had a dangerous flirtation with fascism when General Mulcahy, its ex-chief of the Garda (police) created the Blueshirts in imitation of the Nazi Brown shirts.

Ultimately its electoral fortunes badly depleted, Cuman Na N’Gaedheal disguised itself as Fine Gael and was succeeded in government by De Valera’s Fianna Fail which had been established in 1926 and represented those republicans who had been defeated in the civil war.

Fianna Fail changed the name of the state to Eire, giving a favoured place in a new Constitution to the Catholic Church. It ruled from 1933 until 1948 in which latter year it was distinguished by the odium of being one of four governments where the real wages of the working class were lower than in 1938 while taxable profits had risen by 400 percent! The other three countries were France, Czechoslovakia and Japan the latter three emerging from the Second World War in which Ireland had remained neutral.

The Republic of Ireland
In 1948 the Irish electorate, reacted to poverty, unemployment and mass emigration by dismissing Fianna Fail from government. In a manner not dissimilar to the latest election, the working class left the disease, capitalism, but elected a group of diverse political physicians to treat its symptoms. Fine Gael, Labour and a new leftist Party, The Clan Na Poblacta, became the main partners in a coalition government that broke the last tenuous links with the British Crown by making the state The Republic of Ireland.

Some attempt was made to free the country from the fetters of history. For example, the new Minister of Health, Dr Noel Browne, a member of the Clan Na Poblacta, proposed a new Health Service offering free medicare to children and expectant mothers. Dr John Charles Mc Quaid, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, instructed the Taoiseach that the Catholic Church would not tolerate this ‘socialism’. So the government’s health proposals were abandoned and the Health Minister replaced.

It is noteworthy that Archbishop Mc Quaid’s memory surfaced again in the Report of the Ryan enquiry into clerical abuse of children when it was revealed that he had been informed by the Catholic chaplain of the Artane Boy’s Home in Dublin about the rampant sexual, physical and emotional abuse of boys and had remained silent to protect the reputation of the Church.

‘Cute Hurism’
In the intervening years government in the Republic has undergone many vicissitudes. ‘Cute Hurism’ - freely translated into English as ‘Cute Whore-ism’ - became a virtual political phenomenon, that earned some subsequent Taoiseachs an almost reluctant respect and, in the case of the political miscreant, Charles J Haughey, created the precedent of a state funeral.

Ireland was strategically placed for investment into the EC and Irish politicians made it clear that there was an abundance of well-priced and technically adaptable labour available for exploitation together with the lowest corporation tax in Europe. As far as the working class was concerned being exploited for wages was preferable to idleness on the dole and the kindly bankers were buying bungalows and shiny new cars for the masses - or enough of the masses to secure the belief that life was not too bad.

Almost suddenly we learnt that the new largesse was built on foundations of sand. The agencies of capitalism in the US, Europe and China and elsewhere throughout world capitalism who were lending the money to the banks were looking for repayment of capital and interest and the banks had long lists of corporate incompetence. Panic spread; the mystery element in wealth production, capital, had become paralysed and devastation was stalking the land. The venial prosperity of the years of the Celtic Tiger were gone; capitalism, following its awful and inevitable cyclic pattern, was in slump.

The recent elections reflected the anger of the people; sadly, as in Britain last year, it also demonstrated the success of the loathsome conditioning processes used to canalise anger away from real economic change in favour of a staff change in world capitalism’s Irish political office.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

How much is a billion

SOYMB never gets weary of exposing the inequlities of the capitalist system

Some capitalists make over a billion dollars a year – each year.

How much is a billion dollars? How can you visualize an amount of money so high? Here is one way to think about it: The median income in the US is around $29,000, meaning half of us make less and half make more. If you make $29,000 a year, and don’t spend a single penny of it, it will take you 34,482 years to save a billion dollars. Some people make more than $1 billion in a year But that is in a single year. If you make vast sums every year, after a while it starts to add up. (And then there is the story of inherited wealth, passed down and growing for generation after generation...)

The top 1% took in 23.5% of all of the country’s income in 2007. Between 1979 and 2008, the top 5% of American families saw their real incomes increase 73%, according to Census data. Over the same period, the lowest-income fifth (20% of us) saw a decrease in real income of 4.1%. There are now almost 46 million people in the United States on food stamps, roughly 15 percent of the population. That's an increase of 74 percent since 2007

Top 1% owns more than 90% of us combined. In 2007, the latest year for which figures are available from the Federal Reserve Board, the richest 1% of U.S. households owned 33.8% of the nation’s private wealth. That’s more than the combined wealth of the bottom 90 percent.

400 people have as much wealth as half of our population. The combined net worth of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans in 2007: $1.5 trillion. The combined net worth of the poorest 50% of American households: $1.6 trillion.

The top 1% also own 50.9% of all stocks, bonds, and mutual fund assets. The top 10% own 90.3%.

Told you so

Why society is falling apart

At present, society is in deadlock. The capitalist class have no perspective to offer society other than even more of that which is causing the problems. And for its part the working class has been unable to implement its own historic solution to the contradictions of capitalist society – socialism. The result of this situation on the political field is a form of political stalemate, and on the social level the descent of capitalism not just into the type of political decadence already discussed, but a very real social decadence too. Society does indeed seem to be rotting on its feet, and nobody has been able to do anything to stop it.

This putrefying of capitalism's social basis and codes has taken on a number of forms, all of which are symptomatic of a society which is, to paraphrase, "ill at ease with itself". Here are some of the most obvious manifestations of capitalism's social decadence:

• the ongoing break-up of community relationships and the atomisation of the individual. This has been particularly characterised by the development of a competitive "every man for himself" type culture as the dominant one in society, and by the appearance and consolidation of seemingly unbridgeable generation gaps.

• the massive explosions of crime and drug taking, phenomena which were once peripheral or isolated in pockets, but which are now generalised throughout the market economy. Even in 'tranquil' Britain the official crime rate has more than doubled in the last 15 years alone, and drug culture and youth culture are now virtually synonymous.

• the increases in violence and social disorder, spurred on by the horror and violence infecting the media (especially for children), and the re-appearance-generally for the first time since capitalism's turbulent infancy-of mass rioting on a regular basis. The worst of these riots, such as in Los Angeles, have turned major cities at the heart of capitalism into uncontrollable war zones.

• the continuing, if not increasing political vacuity of the capitalist class which has been mirrored in the rise of a nihilistic "no future" culture among large sections of young dispossessed workers who see no progress and no hope beyond their pint glass or next 'hit'.

• the massive corruption of capitalism's political apparatus, which is particularly evident in Britain with the succession of 'sleaze' scandals, but which is in fact a feature of the modem nation state virtually across the globe, from the US to France to Japan (let alone in Africa or Latin America).

• the revival of religious fundamentalism, creationism and the spread of mystical and millenarian sects, this being based on a loss of confidence in science and human progress together with a general rejection of rational thought and problem solving.

• and lastly, though certainly not least, heightened nationalism, racism and inter-ethnic violence, engendered and encouraged by the rampant competition eating away at the social fabric of society.

It is in these ways that capitalism is undermining the principles and continued existence of collective life. Social decadence has eventually followed on from political decadence and all the signs are that it will continue and probably deepen, for there are few if any forces or tendencies within capitalism operating in the opposite direction. Filling the prisons is no long-term solution on many grounds, not least of which is cost, and no government following this line has yet really succeeded in reversing the process which the market has started. None of the TV evangelising by Tony Blair or political appeals to "family values" are likely to succeed either as the very continued existence of capitalism and the forces it has unleashed make that near impossible. Appealing to some sort of higher morality or set of values within the context of the market is clutching at straws, a long way from a considered and practical response to the problem. If the social decadence infecting society is to be overturned it has to be tackled at source – and that means the abolition of the market and the poisonous relationships which spring from it.

DAP, Socialist Standard, May 1997

It's not too many people

The population density of Somalia is about 13 persons per square km, whereas that of the US state of Oklahoma is 21.1. The western part of Oklahoma is also semi-arid, is suffering from a serious drought this year, and was the poster child for the 1930s Dust Bowl. Furthermore, if we take into account differing levels of consumption, with the average American consuming about 28 times as much as the average Somali in a normal year, then Oklahoma's population density of 21.1 persons per square km equates to that of 591 Somalis. Despite the fact that Oklahoma's per capita impact on the landscape is more than 45 times that of Somalia (when accounting for population density and consumption levels), we don't talk about overpopulation in Oklahoma. This is because, in spite of the drought and the collapse of agriculture, there is no famine in Oklahoma. In contrast, the presence of famine in the Horn of Africa leads many to assume that too many people is a key part of the problem. Why is it that we often isolate population growth as the key environmental problem in the poorest regions of the world?

Firstly, many that reducing the number of mouths to feed is one of the easiest ways to prevent hunger and famine. Having fewer or no children may be easy for a middle-class person in the United States, where raising children is expensive and most of us expect no economic return from our kids as they grow older. In fact, one could argue that having children in the American context is economically irrational. The situation is quite different in the Horn of Africa. It's true that many families desire access to modern contraceptives, and filling this unmet need is important. However, for many others, children are crucial sources of farm labour or important wage earners who help sustain the family. Children also act as the old-age social security system for their parents. For these families, having fewer children is not an easy decision. Families in this region will have fewer children when it makes economic sense to do so. As we have seen over time and throughout the world, the average family size shrinks when economies develop and expectations for offspring change.

Second, we tend to focus on the additional resources required to nourish each new person, and often forget the productive capacity of these individuals. Throughout Africa, some of the most productive farmscapes are in those regions with the highest population densities. In Machakos, Kenya, for example, agricultural production and environmental conservation improved as population densities increased. Furthermore, we have seen agricultural production collapse in some areas where population declined (often due to outmigration) because there was insufficient labour to maintain intensive agricultural production. [As SOYMB has quoted others before "every extra person born brings not only an extra mouth but also an extra pair of hands."]

Third, we must not forget that much of the region's agricultural production is not consumed locally. From the colonial era moving forward, farmers and herders have been encouraged to become more commercially oriented, producing crops and livestock for the market rather than for home consumption. This might have been a reasonable strategy if the prices for exports from the Horn of Africa were high (which they rarely have been) and the cost of food imports low. Food prices in Somalia are now often three times as high as the normal, making these goods inaccessible to much of the population.

Lastly, large land leases (or "land grabs") to foreign governments and corporations in Ethiopia and to a lesser extent in Kenya and Somalia have further exacerbated this problem. These farms, designed solely for export production, effectively subsidise the food security of other regions of the world (most notably the Middle East and Asia) at the expense of populations in the Horn of Africa.

Yet Oklahoma is not perceived as overpopulated because, in spite of a horrendous drought, it is not facing famine. Famine in Oklahoma is inconceivable because it receives a fair price for its exports, it has not leased its land to foreign countries, the poorest of the poor receive a helping hand from the government, and farmers and ranchers receive federal assistance in times of droughts. It is a lack of these factors in Horn of Africa, (plus political insecurity in Somalia), which explain the famine - not overpopulation.

Re-produced from an article in Al Jazeera by William G. Moseley, professor at Macalester College in Saint Paul, author of Taking Sides: Clashing Views on African Issues

citizens of the world

Some 12 million people around the world do not have citizenship of any country, and are being denied basic human rights as a result, the UN has warned. The issue is becoming worse as stateless children are born to stateless parents.

"These people are in desperate need of help because they live in a nightmarish legal limbo," said Antonio Guterres of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Governments often have to set up arbitrary criteria for nationality, with regard to such matters as entitlement to a passport. In the future socialist commonwealth, questions of ancestry will be a thing of the past. Inside world socialism there will be no countries and no national borders. Everyone on Earth will be free to roam the whole world without passports or visas. There will be no border patrols.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Skint !

In The Independent SOYMB reads that a survey shows that fewer than half of Britain's 11 million low to middle-income earners have any money left over at the end of the month.

Research by Ipsos Mori for the Resolution Foundation think tank found that 48 per cent of people in low to middle-income households – defined as having a gross income of between £12,000 and £48,000 a year – have any cash left over at the end of each month.(compared with 66 per cent among higher-income households.)

Fewer than three in 10 - 27 per cent - of low to middle-earners make any monthly savings (compared with 47 per cent of those on higher incomes)

One in four of people surveyed expect their financial position to get worse over the next year.

Only 41 per cent of those in work said that they felt secure in their jobs and among part-timer workers, the figure dropped to 33 per cent.

Gavin Kelly, RF's chief executive, said: "Working people in low to middle-income households continue to be squeezed from all angles. Everyone is saying that households need to save more and run down their debt – but this new poll shows just how hard that will be. Families simply cannot afford to put money aside."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Remove slums not slum-dwellers

The Guardian reports that according to the BBC, as many as a billion people live in slums today and that number is set to double by 2050. Manila is growing by 60 people an hour, making it the fastest growing city on the planet. Indian cities are growing by about 40 people an hour (In comparison, London's rate is seven people an hour.) All over the world, as urbanisation has gathered pace, country people have arrived in cities. They have set up their shacks (black plastic bags strung up on sticks) and slowly converted them into more acceptable living quarters, buying a few bricks every month, volunteering at the school, pressuring the local council to provide running water. The main issue is the insecurity of land – they have no right to be where they are.

But there are good reasons people have left the land they have lived on for generations to seek a better life in precarious wooden shacks next to rubbish tips. A combination of conflict, climate change and chronic poverty makes life in the countryside unbearable. But most of all there are no jobs. There are always reasons to move people off their land, and usually "development", that most treacherous of terms, is one of them. The Filipino government wants to move half a million slum dwellers back to the countryside. The only sustainable way to repopulate the countryside is to provide opportunities there. Guards are being placed around evicted slums to prevent previous occupants returning. The Filipino government estimates the cost of rehousing slum dwellers in Manila at about a third of the national budget; it is cheaper to ship them off to the countryside. This coming from a government that loses $2 billion of its budget to corruption annually. Those creaming off this money are the same hypocrites claiming it is too expensive to house poor people better.

Remove slum-dwellers to another part of the country and they are dependent on others, with no political voice or organisation but they are presently organising themselves to defend against government aggression and what they believe is the threat of arson. "We will barricade, we will fight for our freedom and security of tenures," says one community leader.

this land is our land

The Independent writes that nineteen months after the earthquake, almost 600,000 Haitian people are still living in camps, mostly under tents and tarps. Despite the billions of dollars of aid pledged by governments and donors since the earthquake, there are probably less than 50,000 that have been resettled. And for the 600,000 homeless, the strategy seems to be moving in the direction of evictions – without regard as to where they might end up. Landowners have stepped up their efforts at evictions, often through violence and coercion. Some have hired thugs with machetes and knives to destroy tents. In the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas, the mayor has ordered police to deploy, without a legal order to evict, destroying tents and using force to evict the residents – the majority of whom are women and children. With the compliance of NGOs, they have sometimes even cut off water supplies.

"The government, in collaboration with international donors and some NGOs, is trying to pretend that there is no land," says Etant Dupain, an activist with the group Bri Kouri Novel Gaye (Noise Travels, News Spreads). His group is organising to stop the evictions "But there is land"

To the victors , the spoils

With the fall of Gadaffy The New York Times carries the story that the scramble to secure access to Libya’s oil wealth has already begun.

Although Libya exported just 1.3 million barrels of oil a day, less than 2 percent of world supplies, only a few other countries can supply equivalent grades of the sweet crude oil that many refineries around the world depend on. Italy in recent years has relied on Libya for more than 20 percent of its oil imports. France, Switzerland, Ireland and Austria all depended on Libya for more than 15 percent of their imports before the fighting began.

Western nations — especially the NATO countries that provided crucial air support to the rebels — want to make sure their companies are in prime position to pump the Libyan crude. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy said on state television on Monday that the Italian oil company Eni “will have a No. 1 role in the future” in the North African country. Mr. Frattini even reported that Eni technicians were already on their way to eastern Libya to restart production. Eni, with BP of Britain, Total of France, Repsol YPF of Spain and OMV of Austria, were all big producers in Libya before the fighting broke out, and they stand to gain the most once the conflict ends.

It is unclear whether a rebel government would honor the contracts struck by the Qaddafi regime or what approach it would take in negotiating new production-sharing agreements with companies willing to invest in established oil fields and explore for new ones. Even before taking power, the rebels suggested that they would remember their friends and foes and negotiate deals accordingly. Abdeljalil Mayouf, a spokesman for the Libyan rebel oil company Agoco, was quoted by Reuters as saying. “But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.” Russia, China and Brazil did not back strong sanctions on the Qaddafi regime, and they generally supported a negotiated end to the uprising. All three countries have large oil companies that are seeking deals in Africa.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Building an agro-ecosystem

An average 2,000-3,000 litres per day is needed to produce food per person, compared to 200-300 litres for household use per day.

“Given that we have to produce more food, how do we do that and not destroy ecosystems? That’s the biggest question in agriculture right now – not producing more food but doing it sustainably,” said David Molden, research director of the Sri Lanka-based International Water Management Institute. His institute released a new report on building “agro-ecosystems” to protect water and food security. The report asserts that “it is possible to feed everyone without massive and irreversible damage to our ecosystems – damage that would ultimately endanger both water and food security in the future.” Making it happen, however, is a huge challenge, the report acknowledges.

Researchers and people confronting water shortages around the world are coming up with some creative ways to produce more food with less water. Those include everything from raising fish in rice paddies to planting trees on farmland to protect and enrich soils, Molden said. “The best people to figure it out are local people. It’s their survival. It’s amazing what kinds of things they come up with,” he added.

In Africa, where degraded soils are a widespread problem, some farmers are switching from plowing fields to “minimum tillage” systems that protect the structure of the soil, allowing it to absorb and hold more water. Such changes can help get farmers through short drought periods that could otherwise damage their crops, the researcher said. Under traditional plowing and planting systems, only about 20 percent of rainfall is absorbed into crops, with the rest lost to evaporation and runoff. Improving soils – through planting fertilizer trees, adding compost and avoiding tilling fields, for instance – can help crops absorb up to 70 percent of the rain that falls, Molden said. That is particularly crucial as climate change increases the variability of rainfall and snowmelt, making the water available to farmers less reliable, he said. “When you’re sitting on the brink of water scarcity, a five to 10 percent difference (in water availability) is huge,” Molden added.

Agricultural experts increasingly understand that simply clearing land for agricultural expansion – including cutting trees and draining wetlands – is not the best way to boost production in the long run because of the impacts it can have on water availability, Molden said. By integrating trees and hedgerows, farmers can prevent runoff and soil erosion and preserve more water for feeding their crops.

“It’s possible to feed everybody and still come up with a good healthy environment,” Molden said. “But that’s not the track we’re on."

The birth of capitalism

NHS maternity units are colluding with commercial companies to make thousands of pounds by persuading new mothers to buy photographs of their babies and by selling on their personal information.

The companies are given exclusive access to the wards, where they encourage women to have their photos taken with their babies hours after they have given birth and later charge them from £20 per print. The largest of the companies, Bounty, also buys the right to distribute information packs to new mothers, with free samples of nappies and creams. The packs include the government claim form for child benefit, making them appear official. Bounty pays about £5,000 for the exclusive right to distribute the packs in a large maternity hospital and can later sell on names and addresses of new mothers who supply them to marketing organisations, for about £1 each. Mothers are then phoned at home by organisations selling insurance and similar services.

The National Childbirth Trust chief executive, Belinda Phipps, said: "We find it gobsmacking that commercial companies are given free rein to do this at a time when women have just given birth and are at their most vulnerable. We have had cases of photographers asking women, prompting the women to burst into tears because their baby is unwell and in the special-care unit. In other cases, photographers have sat waiting for women to come out of the shower, compromising their privacy and dignity."

Janet Fyle, adviser to the Royal College of Midwives, said: "We have always objected to Bounty going in and offering these packs."

SOYMB observes the amount of economic activity in the NHS is immense, and the opportunity to turn that into profitable activity for private capitalists – especially in straightened economic times – is as alluring as an oasis to a thirsty desert traveller. The NHS has always had a massive private element, pharmaceutical companies and other providers.

The New Jim Crow

From construction to agriculture, to restaurants to gardening, to childrearing, hotels and home help, illegal immigrants are a major driver of the US economy. They may have no papers, but that does not stop them paying taxes, buying homes and raising children who, if born in the US, are American citizens. Illegal immigrants have become a fundamental part of the American system. Huge swaths of the economy rely on the cheap labour they provide.

In Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, new laws have been signed that represent the toughest crackdown on illegal immigrants – the vast majority of whom are Hispanics – in America. They give the police sweeping new powers and require them, and employers, to check people's immigration status. In Alabama, they even make helping illegal immigrants, by giving them a lift in a car or shelter in a home, into a serious crime. For many, the laws echo the deep south's painful history of segregation, sending out a message to people of a different colour: you are not wanted here. Andrew Turner, a lawyer with the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Centre explained "We view it within the context of the history of the deep south. It is using the law to push out and marginalise an ethnic minority." The critics say that the strict anti-illegal immigrant laws raises the prospect of a new Jim Crow era – the time when segregation was law - across a vast swath of the old Confederacy.

Isabel Rubio, director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama points out "It's a huge step backwards. After all the progress that has been made in terms of race, and then his happens. Where do I begin?" she produced a copy of the law and pointed out a shocking segment. In the text there is an exemption for domestic service, meaning that anyone with an illegal immigrant maid is not defined as an "employer" under the law. It was a grim reminder of old social realities. "It's Alabama," said Rubio. "It means you can still have your Latina household help."

Adapted from this Guardian article