Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Road to Poverty

The average household allocates 14 per cent of weekly spending to transport – which is also its largest single cost – while the foundation said the poorest households with a car were spending at least 17 per cent of their income on transport.

It said those in “transport poverty” far outweighed those in “fuel poverty” – people spending more than one tenth of their income on heating.

RAC Director Stephen Glaister said: “Rightly, there is much concern about the four million households who need to spend more than 10 per cent of their income to keep warm. Yet this figure is dwarfed by the 21 million (80%) households which spend over 10 per cent on transport. For the average household, transport is the single biggest outgoing, bar none. Just like heating our homes, most of us have to spend money on transport. There is no choice. While savings can be made at the margins by making fewer journeys and combining those which are essential, people have no option other than to go to work, visit the supermarket, see the doctor and take the children to school. That means paying for transport. It is true the cost of buying a car has fallen over recent years, but the cost of running one has soared. While most people can delay replacing their vehicle, they have to fill it with fuel, get it taxed and insured, and keep it maintained.


Unions get militant

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, Britain's biggest union made it clear that 2012 could see a dramatic escalation in the battle between trade unions and the Con-Dem coalition.

"The attacks that are being launched on public sector workers at the moment are so deep and ideological that the idea the world should arrive in London and have these wonderful Olympic Games as though everything is nice and rosy in the garden is unthinkable. Our very way of life is being attacked. By then this crazy health and social care bill may have been passed, so we are looking at the privatisation of our National Health Service. I believe the unions, and the general community, have got every right to be out protesting. If there is a protest, then the purpose of protest is to bring your grievances to the attention of as many people as possible."

Some Conservatives have already been arguing that the government should tighten the strike laws.One idea not wholly ruled out by ministers, is for unions to be prohibited from striking unless 50% of their members back strike action – not just 50% of those voting.

McCluskey signalled that unions would refuse to comply with such a law, even if that meant calling strikes illegally. "If [ministers] make these attacks against us, trying to limit the type of strike action … if they push us outside the law, they are going to have to live with the consequences of that," he said. "Because if we need to break the law in order to defend what are our basic human rights – right of association – then we will do that."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Indian class war

Millions of workers in India are staging a 24-hour strike (bandh). The workers are demanding a national minimum wage, permanent jobs for contract labourers, social security for informal labourers, pensions for all workers, intervention by the government to stop the rising costs of living, and to end the sell off of publicly owned companies amongst other demands. One of the key demands of the strikers is to implement labour laws, a legislation that’s been passed decades ago but not been implemented. The unions say they will strike again later this year for as long as a week if their demands aren't met.

Tuesday’s strike, one of the biggest in recent times, is being backed by all 11 major trade unions in the country, including the Left affiliated All India Trade Union Congress [AITUC] and Indian National Trade Union Congress [INTUC] linked to ruling Congress party.

In the eastern city of Kolkata, a traditional trade union stronghold, most bank branches, shops and other businesses were closed, with taxis and rickshaws staying off the streets. In Mumbai, Vishwas Utagi, general secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association, claimed there was a "complete shutdown" in the banking sector. Kochi's streets are near-empty. Unionised dock worker also walk off job in Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi, Kolkata. Operations at the Port of Jawaharlal Nehru (Nhava Sheva) were severely disrupted Tuesday after dock workers at India’s largest container gateway joined a 24-hour nationwide general strike. Nearly 60 percent of India’s total containerized export and import cargo moves through Nehru.

AITUC leader Gurudas Dasgupta declared "We are fighting for our rights against a government that is anti-people."

Child poverty in the cities

Almost half the world’s children live in cities.

An UNICEF report, entitled “The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World,” reveals the shifting focus of aid and development agencies.
“We often think of poverty-stricken rural areas in Africa, Latin America and Asia,” says David Morley, president and CEO of UNICEF Canada . “But you can be in cities, almost like middle-class Toronto, and hidden in valleys there are people are living in shacks made of tin. We recognize this is where economic and population growth is going to happen and how do we make sure children don’t get squeezed out in the process?”

It’s often thought that opportunity abounds in cities. Families may be closer to schools or health services. But that doesn’t mean all have the same access, says David Morley. “The wealth divide between rich and poor is massive.” Many can’t afford the cost of uniforms and books or pay the fees for schools.

In Delhi, only 55 per cent of children who live in slums attend primary school, compared to 90 per cent for the city as a whole.

Of 503 health centres in three slum communities in Kenya showed only one per cent were public, 16 per cent were private not-for-profit, and the vast majority, 83 per cent, were private for-profit. These clinics were often unlicensed, in ramshackle buildings with no protocols for service.

Around the world, about one-third of children of the urban poor — the numbers are higher in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia — are not registered at birth. If you’re not registered at birth you can’t get a health card. Those without health cards didn’t get treatment.

Morley explained “Governments use it as a way of rationing services and they can save money.”

Doctoring health-care

Glasgow GP Dr Margaret McCartney is on a crusade against what she calls "sexed-up medicine".

The term, as she uses it in The Patient Paradox, her first book, covers everything from the oversold promise of preventative scans for cancer and "full-body MoTs" to charities pushing the cause of the week or pharmaceutical companies putting out misleading press releases.

It is political, too – given the argument she makes that some ailments are better treated as social problems than being viewed as medical. "We try to treat poverty with pills," she says. "You need to treat poverty with money." [alas, for SOYMB, our good doctor herself falls for another quack cure for poverty]

She explains "In the UK, social inequality is the biggest determinant of poor health and over-medicalising people is not going to help with that." The biggest area in which the health of Scots can be improved rapidly and effectively is by tackling those inequalities and preventing future ill health, Dr McCartney says. Instead, she argues, people are being put on drugs, such as statins (cholesterol--lowering tablets), including poor people deemed at higher risk because of their postcode or dietary factors. "Too often we are not looking at the real issues, offering a medical response to a social problem."

"I saw an advertisement urging people to have a CT body scan, with a patient saying 'I feel so healthy after it'," she explains. "Some are making a lot of money out of people's fears about their health."

GPs are paid for controlling risk factors, prompted by computer screens that remind them to do so. This can mean statins, smear tests and breast-screening or other scans.

For instance, most people on statins won't benefit, she points out. "For every 167 people we treat with statins, one will develop diabetes as a result. One in 60 people treated with it for five years will avoid a heart attack – 59 people who take the drug won't get that benefit. One in 268 will avoid a stroke – so 267 of them won't see that benefit."
While many people might think that finding a cancer, for instance, which can then be treated, is a self-evident good. But this ignores the risks of the test itself. Excessive scanning leads to people being treated because of "false positives", but also for problems picked up which would never have harmed them, she says. Breast scans are a classic example. "If 2000 women are screened for 10 years, one of them would avoid death from breast cancer, but we will also treat 10 women who were never going to be harmed."

The answer she proposes is not to stop smears, scans or prophylactic drugs, but to be more honest with patients about their limitations. However the system is skewed against such honesty.

She is also critical of charities, whose campaigns to raise awareness of a range of conditions can feed fear, and often depend on similarly hyped statistics. "It is understandable that they want their moment in the spotlight, but to get that people are having to sell their message in sexier and sexier style," Dr McCartney says. "The result is, for example, that young women asked by researchers about breast cancer overestimate their risk of getting it, while they underestimate the chance of successful treatment. A GP will see a woman who is terrified in case she gets breast cancer, but she may not be worried about her binge drinking or the fact that she's overweight."

The book contains the misleading press releases from drug companies which sex up a treatment's effectiveness by talking about relative risk ("it cuts your risk by 50%") rather than absolute risk ("it cuts it from two in 1000 to one in 1000").

What is good for a population may not be good for an individual, she points out. "Doctors have become de-professionalised so that we see patients as a list of indicators we have to satisfy...Most doctors will say they go into medicine because you feelthey have a vocation. By the time they come out of training that has been almost dismissed, and they are given a computer programme and a set of targets. I'd like us to re-professionalise"

SOYMB cannot provide the blueprint for the socialist health services but we can be sure that the debate and issues raised by this one working GP will be added to by the contributions of tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and medical workers leading to our approach towards health transformed.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The American Plutocracy

Recently, the New York Times praised Chelsea Clinton's current successes and commitment to public service. Ms. Clinton is the daughter of current U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton.

The Times reported Ms. Clinton is making the sacrifice of leading us because she feels a responsibility to serve the public good and "hopes to make a positive, productive contribution."

Ms. Clinton's newsworthy steps toward public service, noted by the NYT, include: meeting people such as Elton John and Richard Gere, taking a public role with her father's Clinton Global Initiative, presenting an award to her mother at Diane Von Furstenberg's International Women's Day event, and hosting her father's 65th birthday at a Clinton Foundation Hollywood benefit with fellow guests Lady Gaga and Bono.

Ms. Clinton's board of directors seat at media conglomerate IAC, alongside former Disney CEO Michael Eisner and former Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman, was also described. Ms. Clinton's IAC position pays $50,000 a year, plus a $250,000 grant of restricted stock. Mentioned too was Ms. Clinton's joining NBC News as a special correspondent, after her advisers arranged interviews with top network executives.

The NYT didn't question why a 30-ish year old (with no significant media or management experience) joins the board of a multi-billion dollar media corporation, with compensation qualifying Ms. Clinton (by my quick calculation) for America's top 1 percent, for only about 1 to 2 hours of work per week. The IAC position clearly raises the issue of whether Ms. Clinton is being paid for her skills, or access to her family.

The Washington Post found a pattern of members of Congress using tax dollars to benefit their families (e.g., tax money to entities represented by lobbyist relatives).

Western media criticize the favorable treatment received by offspring of the politically important outside the U.S., particularly the princelings in China. In a vicious circle, princelings' access to powerful people (derived from their parents) gains them prestigious private-sector positions (with high pay for little work). These prestigious private-sector positions justify public-sector leadership positions, which justify even more lucrative private-sector opportunities, and so on. Princelings insist a sense of noblesse oblige draws them to leadership. A fawning domestic press facilitates this cycle by treating princelings as celebrities. Companies granting princelings lucrative positions expect a return on their investment, through influence with (or at least access to) the government. Even if not overtly corrupt, this nepotistic approach erodes leaders' legitimacy (making it difficult to govern), and prevents the best qualified from leading (resulting in less competent institutions). Most corrosively, government by princelings sends a message that putting personal and family interests ahead of society's interests is acceptable.

Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index 2011 ranks the U.S. as more corrupt than Qatar, a small Middle Eastern state ruled by a hereditary monarchy with a tradition of nepotism. (U.S. ranks 24th, behind Qatar ranked 23rd and far behind New Zealand, ranked 1st.)

According to the New York Times, 1 percent of the population owns almost one-third of the nation's wealth. Whenever this is pointed out, conservative commentators level accusations of promoting class warfare against the rich. There is class warfare, but it is directed at the working class, not the rich. In the past few decades, the working class has not participated in economic growth like the rich. The rich get richer and the working class continues to increasingly struggle from paycheck to paycheck.

As the working class is painfully aware, they are being squeezed economically from all sides. The annual raise cannot be relied upon. Fewer employers provide medical insurance and retirement benefits. Workers are told to save for their own retirement by buying stock and mutual funds. These savings can be decimated by the vagaries of the stock market. The ability to make these investments is reduced by a paycheck that does not keep pace with inflation.

Meanwhile, many CEOs receive millions in annual compensation. According to Forbes magazine, the CEO of United Health Group received $101 million in one year.

America is fast becoming a nation of people who sell products and services to each other but do not produce anything, while the bankers get rich by money manipulation. According to Politifact Ohio, during a 10-year period, 56,190 U.S. factories have closed.

TB returns to London

Tuberculosis is staging a comeback in London, where some neighborhoods suffer infection rates found in African countries in which the disease is endemic.

The number of cases surged 50 percent in the 10 years to 2009, according to a National Health Service agency. One sneeze can release up to 40,000 droplets and each one can potentially cause infection. An untreated patient can infect up to 15 others a year, the World Health Organization estimates. The condition, which can remain dormant in the body for decades but spread through the air and require extended courses of antibiotics once it has been roused, is difficult to diagnose, treat and contain.

Brian McCloskey, the Health Protection Agency's regional director for London, said "TB is one of the biggest public health problems we have."


The Chinese Plutocracy

The richest 70 members of China’s legislature added more to their wealth last year than the combined net worth of all 535 members of the U.S. Congress, the president and his Cabinet, and the nine Supreme Court justices.

The net worth of the 70 richest delegates in China’s National People’s Congress, which opens its annual session on March 5, rose to 565.8 billion yuan ($89.8 billion) in 2011, a gain of $11.5 billion from 2010, according to figures from the Hurun Report, which tracks the country’s wealthy. That compares to the $7.5 billion net worth of all 660 top officials in the three branches of the U.S. government. The richest 2 percent of the NPC - 60 people - had an average wealth of $1.44 billion per person. The richest 2 percent of Congress - 11 members - had an average wealth of $323 million. The wealthiest member of the U.S. Congress is Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who had a maximum wealth of $700.9 million in 2010, according to the center. If he were in China's NPC, he would be ranked 40th.

The National People’s Congress, whose annual meeting will run for a week and a half, is legally the highest governmental body in China. While the legislature, with about 3,000 members, is often derided as a rubberstamp parliament, its members are some of China’s most powerful politicians and executives, wielding power in their home provinces and weighing in on proposals such as whether to impose a nationwide property tax.

“The NPC is not exactly what you would call a center of power, but being on it certainly gets you deeply engaged in the political system,” Kenneth Lieberthal, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at Washington’s Brookings Institution. said.

“The prevalence of billionaires in the NPC shows the cozy relationship between the wealthy and the Communist Party,” said Bruce Jacobs, a professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. “In all levels of the system there seem to be local officials in cahoots with entrepreneurs, enriching themselves, and this has led to a lot of the demonstrations.”

“The rich in China have strong incentive to become ‘within system’ due to the relative weakness in the rule of law and of property rights,” Victor Shih, a professor at Evanston, Illinois-based Northwestern University who studies Chinese politics and finance, wrote in an e-mail. Being a member of the NPC “means that one’s commercial or political rival cannot easily throw one in jail or confiscate one’s property.”

Zong Qinghou, chairman of beverage-maker Hangzhou Wahaha Group (HWGZ) and China’s second-richest person, with a family fortune of 68 billion yuan, is a member. So is Wu Yajun, China’s richest woman, chairwoman of Beijing-based Longfor Properties (LHREZ) Co. She has family wealth of 42 billion yuan, according to the Hurun Report. The third-richest person in the NPC, auto-parts magnate Lu Guanqiu, traveled with Vice President Xi Jinping to the U.S. during his official visit this month

In China, the per capita annual income in 2010 was $2,425, less than in Belarus and a fraction of the $37,527 in the U.S.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thieves Fall Out

GlaxoSmithKline claimed that new cancer treatments are being delayed to save money. "Strategic thoughtfulness" was being lost in the "stampede" to cut costs, GSK chief Sir Andrew Witty said. It was a Europe-wide problem as governments coped with austerity and got more anxious about debts, he added.

Mr Witty, the head of the pharmaceutical company, told the BBC: "We're seeing oncology drugs being systematically delayed from introduction and reimbursement. "We're seeing a variety of the more innovative, and yes more expensive medicines, being delayed in a whole series of different diseases across Europe."

Prof Jonathan Waxman, professor of Oncology at Imperial College London, said Nice had blocked a number of new cancer drugs offering "significant benefits" to patients.
"Unfortunately, the committee that regulates their availability in the UK has ruled against many of them. And they've ruled against them on the basis of what many oncologists, many doctors, many cancer doctors believe are unfair grounds."

The Department of Health, meanwhile, countered "...drug companies need to look hard at the high costs they are asking of the health service for their latest treatments."

Alan Maynard, a professor of health economics, argued drug firms were demanding much higher prices than were reasonable, and the economies were justified. "Nice are looking for good evidence and the industry is rather poor in doing good trial and telling us about the full effectiveness - which is often marginal," he said. "I think it's quite inevitable that in a period of austerity there will be downward pressure on the introduction of new drugs that are not demonstrably good in terms of improving patient health and which are extraordinarily expensive."

GlaxoSmithKline reported pre-tax profits of £1.9bn during the three months to the end of December 2011, up from a £193m loss during the same period in 2010. For the whole year, the firm reported pre-tax profit of £8.2bn, up from £4.5bn in 2010.


The bank myths debunked

The Socialist Party often finds itself waging a lonely fight on some issues within the left. One of those is is the popular misconception about banking and the power of banks to create money out of thin air. As Marx was able to use the capitalists' own findings against them, the capitalist economists often provide the argument of the Socialist Party.

Here's an extract from the BBC Business Editor Robert Peston. Notice the matter-of-fact way he takes it for granted that banks are financial intermediaries that borrow at one rate of interest and lend at a higher one, that they can only lend what they have got the funds for, and that their profits are squeezed if they find these harder to get:

"Perhaps the most striking trend is that what's called the interest margin - the difference between the interest Lloyds charges for loans and what it pays out in interest - has shrunk and will shrink again this year. The interest margin fell from 2.21% to 2.07% and is expected to fall by a similar amount in 2012.

One of the main reasons for this income squeeze is the rising cost for banks of borrowing money on wholesale markets, or from other financial institutions, at a time when what banks can charge for loans to customers remains under pressure - partly because central banks, and in its case the Bank of England, are keeping official rates at record lows, and partly because the demand for credit is subdued.

Lloyds is becoming less dependent on these less reliable wholesale sources of funding - as part of a strategic effort to make itself safer. And there has been considerable progress in that regard: its more dependable retail deposits represent 62% of all its funding today, compared with 56% a year ago.

But the price of wholesale funds is still a big influence on Lloyds' profits."

Nobody on the ground in the real world thinks that banks can create the money they lend out of thin air. If they could, why would a bank such as Lloyds have to borrow money from the money market and pay interest on it? Any banker who did this instead of just keying some numbers into a computer who surely not only be refused his bonus but would lose his job for such stupid behaviour that would cost the bank millions in unnecessary interest payment

Target - Somalia's Oil

SOYMB recently posted about the exploitation of Somalia's fishing wealth being looted by the world's real pirates. The Observer today reveals that for all the humanitarian cant being professed by the international community.

Talks are going on between British officials and Somali counterparts over exploiting oil reserves that have been explored in the north-eastern region of the country.

Abdulkadir Abdi Hashi, minister for international cooperation in Puntland, north-east Somalia – where the first oil is expected to be extracted next month – said: "We have spoken to a number of UK officials, some have offered to help us with the future management of oil revenues. They will help us build our capacity to maximise future earnings from the oil industry." Hashi, in charge of brokering deals for the region's oil reserves, also said Somalia was looking to BP as the partner they wanted to "help us explore and build our oil capacity".

On Thursday, the last day of the London's Somali conference, BP and Shell unveiled an initiative to support job-creation projects in the coastal regions of Somalia.

Last month oil exploration began in Puntland by the Canadian company Africa Oil, the first drilling in Somalia for 21 years. Hashi, who sealed the Africa Oil deal, said the first oil was expected to be extracted within the next "20 to 30 days". The company estimates there could be up to 4bn barrels (about $500bn worth at today's prices) in its two drilling plots. Other surveys indicate that Puntland province alone has the potential to yield 10bn barrels, placing it among the top 20 countries holding oil. Chinese and US firms are among those understood to have also voiced interest about the potential for oil now that, for the first time in 20 years, the country is safe enough to drill. The state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation has tried to acquire an interest in Somalia's reserves. Senior officials from the Somali transitional government are adamant that the imminent extraction of oil in Puntland next month would kickstart a scramble from the multinationals.

It is the extent of oil deposits beneath the Indian Ocean that is most exciting Somali officials. One said the potential was comparable to that of Kuwait, which has more than 100bn barrels of proven oil reserves. If true, the deposits would eclipse Nigeria's reserves – 37.2bn barrels – and make Somalia the seventh largest oil-rich nation.

Somali prime minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said his government had little choice but to entice western companies to Somalia by offering a slice of the country's natural resources, which include oil, gas and large reserves of uranium. "The only way we can pay [western companies] is to pay them in kind, we can pay with natural resources at the fair market value."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The food rebels

Of the 40,000 food items in a typical U.S. grocery store, over 20,000 are supplied by just 10 corporations.

Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef, Tyson, Cargill and JBS.

More than 90 percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by just one company: Monsanto.

Four companies are responsible for up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain.

And one in four dollars spent on food is at a Walmart.

Raj Patel, activist, academic and author of The Value of Nothing, reflects: "It's hard for us to imagine life without food corporations because they've made our world theirs. Although we think food companies make food for us, in almost every way that matters, we - and our planet - are being transformed to suit food companies. From their marketing to children and exploitation of workers to environmental destruction in search of profit, the food industry represents one of the most profound threats to sustainability we face today."

Vandana Shiva, Indian physicist and internationally renowned activist, adds: "Our food system has been hijacked by corporate giants from the Seed to the table. Seeds controlled by Monsanto, agribusiness trade controlled by Cargill, processing controlled by Pepsi and Philip Morris, retail controlled by Walmart - is a recipe for Food Dictatorship. We must Occupy the Food system to create Food Democracy."

Friday, February 24, 2012

The looting of Somalia

Press headlines declare world leaders have pledged to boost support for measures to fight piracy, terrorism and political instability in Somalia. A two-decade war has wrecked Somalia, leaving it without a proper government. The current transitional government propped up by 12,000 African Union soldiers has direct control only in the capital, Mogadishu. There were no fewer than four Somali "presidents" at the London conference.

SOYMB has previously posted in 2009 about one of the root problems in Somalia. Commercial interests taking full advantage of the power vacuum in Somalia to exploit its natural resources and impoverish its peoples.

Has the world powers mobilised its muscle to end the theft and return the wealth to the Somalis? No! A new report says Somalia is still fighting a losing battle with the plundering of its rich maritime resources. Somalia has been unable to cope with vessels from Asia and Europe that have moved on to its coastline in order to illegally fish.

"Having over-fished their home waters, these sophisticated factory ships are seeking catch in one of the world's richest remaining fishing zones," the report published by the New York-based Global Policy Forum says. "The foreign boats are illegal, unreported and unregulated - part of a growing international criminal fishing enterprise," it says.
Yet the naval ships of several nations deployed to stop Somali piracy ignore this international piracy. The United Nations working with the international community could easily address the illegal fishing and toxic dumping.

"Crises like Somalia are not accidental and they can be solved, but as always in these cases, geo-strategic and economic interests are at stake, preventing sensible outcomes and actually deepening the crisis," James Paul, one of the reports authors says. "There is a plague of criminal activities of this kind that are stripping the world's oceans of all the major fish species and polluting the oceans with toxic wastes"

Paul says that the international community must act quickly. "Now is the time to act, before every last fish has been hunted down, and every second Somali killed in the name of counter-terrorism"

council workers frozen out

1.6 million council workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will have their pay frozen for a third consecutive year. Public sector workers earning less than £21,000 were promised a £250 pay rise this year. But local government pay is negotiated separately and council staff did not get the rise.

GMB national officer Brian Strutton said "The politicians who lead local councils are a disgrace to the workforces they employ for offering no pay rise for the third consecutive year while feathering their own nests. Council leaders' pay has shot up and councillors vote themselves higher allowances while the carers, dinner ladies, dustmen, social workers, school support staff and all the other council workers serving their communities will have seen their pay fall in real terms by over 15%."


Thursday, February 23, 2012

A History of Struggle

Mahalla El Kobra is a town in northern Egypt's Nile Delta. It is the home of the Spinning and Weaving Company, the largest textile factory in the Middle East and Africa. Founded in 1927 more than 20,000 workers now live and work on the 1,000 acre site. In the 1930s, the factory operated just over 12,000 spindle machines. Today, it has 300,000. The factory is made up of 10 textile mills consuming one million quintals of cotton a year. More than five million items of clothing are produced annually.

Working at the factory is something that is passed on from one generation to the next - making it an integral part of the lives of those who live and work there and creating a sense that the workers are essentially one big family. They help each other - sharing money or food. During the numerous strikes that have taken place there, it was this type of support that enabled many to get by without an income.

Class Struggle

In 1938, the workers went on strike for the first time. They demanded that their work pattern be changed from two 12-hour shifts to three eight-hour shifts. That moment marked the beginning of their fight for a fundamental change in the system.
A decade later, in September 1947, workers organised another strike to demand the reinstatement of colleagues dismissed for demanding better working conditions. Tanks entered Mahalla for the first time to suppress the workers. Three workers were killed and 17 injured.
When, in July 1952, a group of army officers led by Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser overthrew Egypt's monarchy, the workers at Mahalla were inspired. A month later, they went on strike in protest over long-standing grievances with the factory management. But they were in for a rude awakening - the strike was brutally suppressed by the army.
Unrest at the factory continued throughout the early 1980s and in February 1986, workers went on strike over their demand for a 30-day monthly wage rather than the 26-day wage paid by the company. The company eventually caved in but protests would soon erupt again.
In September 1988, Hosni Mubarak announced the cancellation of special school grants to workers. Within a few hours, 20,000 factory workers were out on the streets of Mahalla in protest. While previous strikes had centred around economic demands and grievances over working conditions, workers had now begun to make more overt political demands. The government responded to the strike with an iron fist and, to this day, many workers still remember the brutal treatment meted out to them by the security forces.
In April 2008, 10,000 workers took to the streets to protest against privatisation and corruption, they chanted "Down with Hosni Mubarak". It was the first anti-Mubarak protest to take place since the president came to power in 1981 and it would serve as a spark for others. The workers received widespread support from outside the factory walls. The workers clashed with thousands of policemen who used tear gas and guns to quash the demonstrations. The battle in which the state used brutal force to silence unarmed and peaceful protesters would become engraved in the memory of the city. Hundreds of Mahalla citizens were arrested, dozens were injured and three, including a young boy, were killed. State security eventually occupied the city, taking over control of the factory.

The courage of the Mahalla workers proved contagious. Egyptian workers learnt from Mahalla how to fight for decent wages and working conditions. Their plight came to symbolise the broader issue of deteriorating living standards for the majority of Egyptians and their activism the connection between economic and political demands.


Kidney failures in Central America

Continuing our recent blogs identifying capitalism as literally an unhealthy economic system, a mysterious epidemic is currently devastating the Pacific coast of Central America, killing more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua since 2000 and striking thousands of others with chronic kidney disease at rates unseen virtually anywhere else.

Scientists say they have received reports of the phenomenon as far north as southern Mexico and as far south as Panama. In Chichigalpa, a town in Nicaragua's sugar-growing heartland, studies have found more than one in four men showing symptoms of chronic kidney disease. n Nicaragua, the number of annual deaths from chronic kidney disease more than doubled in a decade, from 466 in 2000 to 1,047 in 2010, according to the Pan American Health Organization, a regional arm of the World Health Organization. In El Salvador, the agency reported a similar jump, from 1,282 in 2000 to 2,181 in 2010. Farther down the coast, in the cane-growing lowlands of northern Costa Rica, there also have been sharp increases in kidney diseaseand the Pan American body's statistics show deaths are on the rise in Panama, although at less dramatic rates.

El Salvador's health minister, Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, appealed for international help, saying the epidemic was undermining health systems.

The roots of the epidemic, scientists say, appear to lie in the grueling nature of the work performed by its victims, including construction workers, miners and others who labor hour after hour without enough water in blazing temperatures, pushing their bodies through repeated bouts of extreme dehydration and heat stress for years on end. Many start as young as 10. The punishing routine appears to be a key part of some previously unknown trigger of chronic kidney disease, which is normally caused by diabetes and high-blood pressure, maladies absent in most of the patients in Central America.

"The thing that evidence most strongly points to is this idea of manual labor and not enough hydration," said Daniel Brooks, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University's School of Public Health, who has worked on a series of studies of the kidney disease epidemic.

Because hard work and intense heat alone are hardly a phenomenon unique to Central America, some researchers will not rule out manmade factors. Many of the victims were manual laborers or worked in sugar cane fields that cover much of the coastal lowlands. Patients, local doctors and activists say they believe the culprit lurks among the agricultural chemicals workers have used for years with virtually none of the protections required in more developed countries.In comparison with Nicaragua, where thousands of kidney disease sufferers work for large sugar estates, in El Salvador many of them are independent small farmers. They blame agricultural chemicals. Elsy Brizuela, a doctor who works with an El Salvadoran project to treat workers and research the epidemic, discounts the dehydration theory and insists "the common factor is exposure to herbicides and poisons."

"I think that everything points away from pesticides," said Dr. Catharina Wesseling, an occupational and environmental epidemiologist who also is regional director of the Program on Work, Health and Environment in Central America. "It is too multinational; it is too spread out. I would place my bet on repeated dehydration, acute attacks everyday. That is my bet, my guess, but nothing is proved." Working with scientists from Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua, Wesseling tested groups on the coast and compared them with groups who had similar work habits and exposure to pesticide but lived and worked more than 500 meters (1,500 feet) above sea level. Some 30 percent of coastal dwellers had elevated levels of creatinine, strongly suggesting environment rather than agrochemicals was to blame, Brooks, the epidemiologist, said.

Dr. Richard J. Johnson, a kidney specialist at the University of Colorado, Denver, is working with other researchers investigating the cause of the disease. They too suspect chronic dehydration. "This is a new concept, but there's some evidence supporting it," Johnson said. "There are other ways to damage the kidney. Heavy metals, chemicals, toxins have all been considered, but to date there have been no leading candidates to explain what's going on in Nicaragua. As these possibilities get exhausted, recurrent dehydration is moving up on the list."

Nicaragua's highest rates of chronic kidney disease show up around the Ingenio San Antonio, a plant owned by the Pellas Group conglomerate, whose sugar mill processes nearly half the nation's sugar. The Ingenio San Antonio mill processes cane from more than 24,000 hectares (60,000 acres) of fields, about half directly owned by the mill and most of the rest by independent farmers.

According to one of Brooks' studies, about eight years ago the factory started providing electrolyte solution and protein cookies to workers who previously brought their own water to work. But the study also found that some workers were cutting sugar cane for as long as 9 1/2 hours a day with virtually no break and little shade in average temperatures of 30 C (87 F).

In 2006, the plantation, owned by one of the country's richest families, received $36.5 million in loans from the International Finance Corp., the private-sector arm of the World Bank Group, to buy more land, expand its processing plant and produce more sugar for consumers and ethanol production.

Glaser, the co-founder of the activist group in Nicaragua, La Isla Foundation, said that nonetheless many worker protections in the region are badly enforced by the companies and government regulators, particularly measures to stop workers with failing kidneys from working in the cane fields owned by the Pellas Group and other companies. Many workers disqualified by tests showing high levels of creatinine go back to work in the fields for subcontractors with less stringent standards, he said. Some use false IDs, or give their IDs to their healthy sons, who then pass the tests and go work in the cane fields, damaging their kidneys.

"This is the only job in town," Glaser said. "It's all they're trained to do. It's all they know."

The trade group for Nicaragua's sugar companies said the Boston University study had confirmed that "the agricultural sugar industry in Nicaragua has no responsibility whatsoever for chronic renal insufficiency in Nicaragua" because the research found that "in the current body of scientific knowledge there is no way to establish a direct link between sugar cane cultivation and renal insufficiency." Brooks, the epidemiologist at Boston University, explained that the study simply said there was no definitive scientific proof of the cause, but that all possible connections remained open to future research.

In nations with more developed health systems, the disease that impairs the kidney's ability to cleanse the blood is diagnosed relatively early and treated with dialysis in medical clinics. In Central America, many of the victims treat themselves at home with a cheaper but less efficient form of dialysis, or go without any dialysis at all.


Coronary capitalism

Obesity affects life expectancy in numerous ways, ranging from cardiovascular disease to some types of cancer. Moreover, obesity - certainly in its morbid manifestations - can affect quality of life. According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one-third of US adults are obese (indicated by a body mass index above 30). Even more shockingly, more than one in six children and adolescents are obese, a rate that has tripled since 1980.

Highly processed corn-based food products, with lots of chemical additives, are well known to be a major driver of weight gain, but, from a conventional growth-accounting perspective, they are great stuff. Big agriculture gets paid for growing the corn (often subsidised by the government), and the food processors get paid for adding tonnes of chemicals to create a habit-forming - and thus irresistible - product. Along the way, scientists get paid for finding just the right mix of salt, sugar and chemicals to make the latest instant food maximally addictive; advertisers get paid for peddling it; and, in the end, the healthcare industry makes a fortune treating the disease that inevitably results.

Coronary capitalism is fantastic for the stock market.

Market forces have spurred innovation, which has continually driven down the price of processed food, even as the price of plain old fruits and vegetables has gone up. But consumers are provided with precious little information through schools, libraries or health campaigns; instead, they are swamped with disinformation through advertising. Conditions for children are particularly alarming. With few resources for high-quality public television in most countries, children are co-opted by channels paid for by advertisements, including by the food industry.

Beyond disinformation, producers have few incentives to internalise the costs of the environmental damage that they cause. Likewise, consumers have little incentive to internalise the health-care costs of their food choices.

Taken from here

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

capitalism is unhealthy

According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham and University of Ulster, work related stress increases by 40% during a recession, affecting 1 in 4 workers. Furthermore, researchers found that the number of workers who take time off, as a result of work-related stress, increased by 25%, and that total time off, as result of this type of stress, rose by more than one third during an economic downturn.

The researchers surveyed tens of thousands of civil servants in Northern Ireland in 2005 (before the recession), and again in 2009, whilst the economy was severely hit, and compared the findings.

"We were fortunate to have access to staff survey data collected before the emergence of initial signs of a forthcoming recession and again four years later at the height of the recession. The stark differences in the responses given at these two time points clearly show that national economic crises can have substantial implications for workers' health and organizational performance."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"I'm just a monkey watcher."

Biological research is increasingly debunking the view of humanity as competitive, aggressive and brutish.

"Humans have a lot of pro-social tendencies," Frans de Waal, a biologist at Emory University in Atlanta, told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Monday. New research on higher animals from primates and elephants to mice shows there is a biological basis for behavior such as co-operation, said de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society.

The common view which was previously held among scientists was that humans were "nasty" at the core but had developed a veneer of morality - albeit a thin one. But humans - and most higher animals - are "moral" in a scientific sense, because they need to co-operate with each other to reproduce and pass on their genes. Research shows that animals naturally have pro-social tendencies for "reciprocity, fairness, empathy and consolation.

Asked if wide public acceptance of empathy as natural would change the intense competition on which capitalist economic and political systems are based, de Waal quipped, "I'm just a monkey watcher."

Whilst socialists may not be ready to say that co-operation is programmed through our genes, it is certainly predisposed by our physical make-up. Without co-operation society would never have got off the ground. To say that we are naturally co-operative is much closer to the truth than saying we are naturally competitive.

This is the case for at least two important reasons.

By co-operating with others through a division of labour we greatly increase what we can produce for our mutual benefit. This is not only true of the consumption of goods; co-operation has led to our enjoyment of art, music, drama, sport and all entertainment. It has led to science and our greatly expanded knowledge of the world, its systems and its place in the universe. Without all these things made possible by co-operation, life would not just be impoverished, it would be unthinkable.

But co-operation gives us more than material benefits. It is through co-operation that we develop as individuals. Our individuality grows and finds its expression in relation to others and this would be impossible in social isolation. In this process of individual growth we draw not only on personal relationships, we draw on society in general and even on the lives of those who lived in the past.

Co-operation is sometimes said to be impossible because there is an inherent conflict between self-interest and the interests of others. In fact, the reverse is true. The interests of the individual are best realised when people are working together. The best achievements of one person can enhance the lives of all people.

Socialism isn't based upon altruism. Socialism will work even if everyone suddenly decides that they dislike everyone else. Supporting socialism involves recognizing the fact that the current system just doesn't work for most people. Socialism will be a society in which satisfying an individual's self interest is the result of satisfying everyone's needs. It is enlightened self-interest that will work for the majority.

Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Even very short term changes in those conditions can change the way people behave. Most of what people refer to as "human nature" is actually human behaviour: reactions to the world around them. Human behaviour reflects society. In a society such as capitalism, people's needs are not met and reasonable people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organised in such a dog-eat-dog manner.

Disabled and Discarded

There are an estimated 70 million disabled people in India. Mental illness is one of the least addressed.

Bangalore is a city of 10.3 million people is home to many of the world's leading hi-tech industries – Dell, Microsoft, Yahoo, Infosys, Capgemini. Every fourth employee of IT giants IBM, Oracle and Accenture is said to be in India and most are here. Bangalore now has more pubs than any other Indian city, some five million vehicles, dozens of designer shopping centres and top hotels. Ornate Hindu temples stand next to new ring-roads and flyovers, roadworks for the metro system. The disparity between the poverty and the wealth is striking.

There is nothing in the surrounding slums to hint at Bangalore's reputation as India's Silicon Valley.

Hasina, 35, is one of tens of thousands still living in the city's slums. Her husband earns 300 rupees (about £4.20) a week when he can find labouring work. Her son is 10 but she says he refuses to go to school. Some days he earns 20 rupees (about 28 pence) a day. They struggle to afford two meals a day. She sits in squalor, tormented by the voices that haunt her mind, conscious of some level of injustice but unaware that her home city is becoming so prosperous. "The doctor has refused to give her a medical certificate to allow her to draw a mental health pension because physically she's not disabled," says Selvi Armugam, her community social worker "She's been diagnosed with schizophrenia but it's always very difficult to get the mental health pension of 400 rupees (about £6) a month."

India has experienced rapid growth which still stands at about 8%, but there has been little significant reduction in poverty or hunger.

"In Bangalore, the prosperity is very much linked to IT and the service sector," says Chiranjib Sen, professor of economics at Azim Premji University in Bangalore. "These IT jobs are very well paid but there are few of them and the IT sector cannot integrate huge numbers of people. It is a magnet of growth but can be a great spreader of inequality. In many ways Bangalore is a make-believe modern city," Sen explains.

"Bangalore is one of India's most caste-ridden cities," says Prabhakaran Rajendra, an independent consultant and caste expert. "The slums are a reflection of the caste system. Caste is a social and political disability."

Although caste discrimination is illegal, biases remain in many areas.

Sagai Kalyani, 35, spends her days sitting on her bed in darkness in Djalli slum. Sagai is from the Dalit caste. Dalits, formerly known as "untouchables", are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system in India. They still face widespread suffering and segregation. She usually leaves the room only on Sundays when she attends church to pray for a cure. She starts crying when she mentions her family. "Sometimes there is not enough to eat," she says. "My brother earns about 200 rupees a day (about £2.80) when he can get work. Some days he doesn't find work. I still believe God could cure me in the future. I read my bible every day.Ten years ago I was taken to all the shrines and worship places," she says. "They believed I had been possessed by a devil and so I was beaten with a broomstick every day for a week to drive out the spirit. I thought I needed the treatment to drive it out but it made it worse. I used to hear voices. "

"Some 70-75% of people with a disability are from the lower castes," says Krishnapura Gopinath, programme director at Association of People with Disabilities. "The real causes may be malnutrition, poverty, poor healthcare and pregnancy care. The mindset of people – whether literate or illiterate – is that mental disabilities are some kind of evil curse that has got into the body. Some still think that of physical disabilities, too. There are many superstitious beliefs and so few psychiatrists."

A Feast of Nationalism and a Festival of Freaks

Army reserves are being mobilised for the Olympic Games.

2,100 extra personnel, together with 13,500 military staff will be on duty.

Territorial Army and Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Marine reservists are being called up under the terms of the 1996 Reserve Forces Act.

In December ministers almost doubled the security budget for the Games to £553m.

"The modern Olympics have always been a political football – nothing more and nothing less – endlessly traduced and manipulated by the regimes that ‘host’ them. This one is no different, presenting a fine opportunity for the British security state apparatus and its private security firm hangers-on to deploy the mass-suppression and urban paranoiac technologies in the service of export earning. Some peace, some freedom." Will Self

In the 19th century the idea of worldwide peace became part and parcel of general humanistic thinking. Peace organizations were founded in many countries. Pierre de Coubertin had the idea of renewing the ancient Olympic Games, which duly took place in Athens in 1896 where his main idea was peace among nations. 80% of the honorary members of the IOC founding Congress 1894 in Paris were members of national peace movements. Five of those won later Nobel Peace Prices.

“Wars break out because nations misunderstand each other. We shall no have peace until the prejudices which now separate the different racesshall have been outlived. To attain this end, what better means than to bring the youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trials of muscular strength and agility?"

Coubertin was convinced that peace education could only be effective if theoretical learning was accompanied by personal experience. Olympic sport was the very means to achieve this aim. Sport in the sense should become an instrument to reform economy and politics and thus society asa whole: “The Olympic Games will be a potent, if indirect factor in securing universal peace”.

Article 6. of the nine Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter “The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

We can witness to-day that the enormous cost of staging the Games, its commercialisation and the intense international rivalry of nationalism have corrupted that original Olympic Games ethos. Modern capitalist sports is organised with a view to realising profit. Profit-making thrives best when people are kept divided. There is no way then that sports as it is organised today can bring peoples of the world together as one. In reality sports entrenches petty, myopic chauvinism. Each country sees the other as an enemy. People competing under national flags only helps in keeping them disunited.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What about the workers?

How do the presidential candidates stand on unions?

Mitt Romney has done nothing but bash them. He vows to pass so-called "right to work" legislation barring job requirements of union membership and payment of union dues. "I've taken on union bosses before," he said, "and I'm happy to take them on again". When Romney's not blaming China for US manufacturers' competitive problems, he blames high union wages.

Rick Santorum says he's supportive of private-sector unions. While in the Senate he voted against a national right to work law (Romney is now attacking him on this), but Santorum isn't interested in strengthening unions, and he doesn't like them in the public sector.

Newt Gingrich would jettison child-labour protection laws.

Free-marketeer Ron Paul would take away a key protection Americans currently enjoy at work. He supports ending a provision of the National Labor Relations Act that makes it illegal for employers to fire workers based on their support of unions.

Meanwhile, President Obama praises "unionised plants" but the president has not promised that if re-elected he'd push for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to organise a union. He had supported it in the 2008 election but never moved the legislation once elected. The president has also been noticeably silent on the labour struggles that have been roiling the Midwest - from Wisconsin's assault on the bargaining rights of public employees, through Indiana's recently enacted right to work law

The once-mighty United Auto Workers has been forced to accept pay packages for new hires at the Big Three that provide half what new hires got a decade ago. At $14 an hour, new auto workers earn about the same as most service-sector workers in the US. GM just announced record profits - but its new workers won't be getting much of a share.

US corporations - in both manufacturing and services - are doing wonderfully well. Their third-quarter profits (the latest data available) totaled $2 trillion. That's 19 per cent higher than the pre-recession peak five years ago.

Wages continue to drop, adjusted for inflation. Of every dollar of income earned in the United States in the third quarter, just 44 cents went to workers' wages and salaries - the smallest share since the government began keeping track in 1947.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The 1% and the 0.01%

1 per cent of US households control 42.7 per cent of the country's assets. With wealth, comes influence - 24.3 per cent of all political donations in the 2010 election cycle were made by 0.01 per cent of Americans.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund, the richest 20 per cent of the world’s population control 82.8 per cent of its income, while the poorest 20 per cent control just 1 per cent.

Fast Track Capitalist Olympics

The Games lanes comprise 30 miles of road in central London, introduced to ensure that VIPs can travel quickly to events.on which only the "Olympic family" will be allowed to travel – athletes, officials and sponsors, including Coca-Cola and McDonald's. BMW has donated 4,000 3 and 5 series cars to be used during the Games.

Sick and vulnerable NHS patients will be left stranded in ambulances in traffic jams while dignitaries and sponsors race past in a fleet of expensive cars. . Medical Services, an independent business that transports patients for the health service, and whose clients include the hospitals closest to the Olympic stadium, says it fears that the ill, including those on dialysis, will be trapped in vehicles as London suffers unprecedented congestion, with traffic on key routes expected to slow to a crawl.

Leah Bevington, head of communication at Medical Services said: "This means that sick people, often elderly and frail, urgent blood supplies, oxygen, will all be made to wait in traffic with the rest of us. Congestion can be bad enough around London on a regular day so you can imagine that we are concerned that patients will be on a vehicle for much longer periods of time." She added: "As much as the NHS and everyone else is trying to run business as usual, without some help it won't happen. But I really, really can't see how elderly sick people who live here aren't as important. They should be at the top of the list. From a healthcare side of things I think it is crazy that they are not offering an exemption."

A report from NHS Blood and Transport warns of an impact on its ability to transport potential organ donors to hospitals.

Sara Gorton, senior national officer for health at the medical union Unison, said: "The Olympic organisers need to get their priorities straight. That means making sure that patients needing care, whether that's kidney dialysis or cancer treatment, do not get stuck in long traffic queues, especially in the heat of summer. Now is the time to sit down and plan the best way to ensure the Olympics are a benefit to all Londoners, not just a few."

Is Iran Next?

“The thing that convinces people that their religion is true, is that the more they study it the more they realise that God hates the same people as they do” - Anonymous

We live in dangerous times. How volatile and dangerous capitalism can be is clearly demonstrated by the bitter diplomatic exchanges between the West and Iran.

There will probably be a news-flash on TV, and we will be informed that the RAF, along with the USAF’s bombers, and the Israeli Air Force have carried out overnight bombing raids across Iran, targeting nuclear facilities, radar stations, airfields and anti-aircraft bases.

The government and their media pundits will assert if Iran’s nuclear programme is not halted, they will be able to lob a nuclear missile at the West at a few minutes warning and that Iran is supporting international terrorism and that its people, secretly harbouring thoughts of Western-style democracy, are crying out for regime change. A familiar narrative.

Iran will be no military push-over like Iraq which had been exhausted by over a decade of perpetual bombardment and sanctions. True, a lot of Iran’s military hardware is no match for the state-of-the-art weaponry the US and Israel will deploy. In 2006 it was reported that America alone had at its disposal 200 strategic bombers plus numerous Tomahawk cruise missiles. Using just half the available force, 10,000 targets could be attacked almost simultaneously. This strike power is sufficient to destroy all major Iranian political, military, economic and transport centres. Nevertheless, Iran is capable of delivering damage to US forces or any other country within striking distance of its missiles perceived as being pro-American. With Iran controlling the Strait of Hormutz, oil tankers could easily be bombed as well tankers and platforms elsewhere in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Iran could escalate the conflict, giving the nod for its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, for retaliatory attacks on Israel.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which carries out regular inspections in Iran, despite the headlines claims to the contrary, has found no proof of a nuclear weapons programme in Iran. Moreover, according to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory it does in fact have the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, on condition they inform the IAEA of their progress. The hawks misinformation machine is at work creating fear that the West is in danger from Iranian nuclear weapons unless, we are supposed to infer, America or its ally Israel pre-emptively attacks Iran. Iran is a rising power with ambitions of exerting influence in a region crowded with nuclear powers. It may well be that Iran feels a little threatened surrounded by those countries who do possess nuclear weapons; the United States, Israel, Russia, Pakistan and India. As such it is very likely to acquire nuclear weapons at some point. It might be willing to barter the nuclear weapons option for international recognition of its status as a regional power, but that is precisely what the US and its allies are unwilling to grant. The US seeks to prevent Iran from going nuclear because it would shift the balance of power in the Middle East, making American nuclear capabilities less intimidating and depriving Israel of its regional nuclear monopoly. Indeed, a nuclear armed Iran could result in Saudi Arabia or other Gulf States from acquiring their own, too. But while the risk of accident or miscalculation does increase with the number of nuclear powers, there is no serious reason to suppose that they would be any more dangerous than those other states already in possession of nuclear weapons.

Preparations for an attack on Iran are well advanced. American spy-drones probe the country’s air defences. CIA-trained MKO terrorists infiltrate Iran on sabotage and assassination missions. Accusations against Iran are elaborated and repeated ad nauseam. Pressure is exerted on other countries to impose trade sanctions and assist in the war plans. Resolutions are pushed through at the U.N. Security Council to create spurious “legal” justification for aggression.

The war propaganda provides a highly distorted and incomplete picture of the real reasons.If we seek the reason why Iran is seen as a threat we must also look at the geo-politics. Iran is strategically placed, straddling the Middle East and Central Asia and must be at least neutralised if the US is to control the region's oil supplies. Control over oil has various aspects. One is control over price – gaining the leverage to ensure the continued flow of cheap oil to the American economy. The other is control over who buys the oil. The US wishes to be in control of its distribution, to whom, and on its own terms. There is a seriously concern about the onset of peak oil production and that a rising competitor - China - is prevented from gaining a stranglehold on world resources. The two countries may appear to be on friendly terms, but both are jockeying for position in expectation of a possible showdown. Should China grow in economic strength, sell off its dollar holdings, US world domination will be threatened. Therefore, to protect future US global resource flows, Iran has to be warned don't mess with American interests. The US seeks to gain and maintain control over the hydrocarbon resources of the Middle East, a region that contains 55 percent of the world’s oil and 40 percent of its gas. The occupation of Iraq marked an important step toward that goal. The collapse of the Soviet Union enabled the US to establish a temporary global geo-political predominance, though at the cost of enormous military expenditure that exceeds that of all other countries combined. Iran's unforgivable crime - leaving aside its refusal to halt its uranium enrichment programme - is to have enviable oil and gas reserves, to control access to the Persian Gulf , which is a vital oil and gas transhipment route to Europe, Japan, and the rest of the world. Securing energy supplies is a basic condition for the continued existence of every nation state.To put it in context; a billion barrels of oil will last the world at current rates of consumption—just 12 days. Studies show that existing supplies will not meet capitalism’s future needs. Thus struggles for access and control of them are inevitable.

We hope we are wrong - for the sake of workers who will die as a result of an attack upon Iran- but history shows that where the interests of mega-business are threatened, spilling blood is of no consideration. Before the slaughter begins yet again, SOYMB once more take the opportunity to declare our heart-felt solidarity with the workers of all countries, and their true common cause. We appeal to workers to organise consciously and politically and to use the power at their disposal to head off the threatening bloodshed, and secure the space we need in order to build a world of peace and stability. We appeal to the workers of all lands to join with us in campaigning for a system of society where there are no leaders, no classes, no states or governments and no borders; a world where the earth's natural and industrial resources are commonly owned and democratically controlled and where production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the benefit of all; a world of free access to the necessaries of life. A world without waste, or want, or war.

Muzzling the messengers

The Canadian government has been accused of "muzzling" its scientists. Speakers at a major science meeting being held in Canada said communication of vital research on health and environment issues is being suppressed. The allegation of "muzzling" came up at a session of the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting to discuss the impact of a media protocol introduced by the Conservative government shortly after it was elected in 2008. The protocol requires that all interview requests for scientists employed by the government must first be cleared by officials. A decision as to whether to allow the interview can take several days, which can prevent government scientists commenting on breaking news stories. Sources say that requests are often refused and when interviews are granted, government media relations officials can and do ask for written questions to be submitted in advance and elect to sit in on the interview.

Andrew Weaver, an environmental scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, described the protocol as "Orwellian". The protocol states: "Just as we have one department we should have one voice. Interviews sometimes present surprises to ministers and senior management. Media relations will work with staff on how best to deal with the call (an interview request from a journalist). This should include asking the programme expert to respond with approved lines." Professor Weaver said that information is so tightly controlled that the public is "left in the dark" and "The only information they are given is that which the government wants, which will then allow a supporting of a particular agenda," he said.

Prof Thomas Pedersen, a senior scientist at the University of Victoria, said he believed there was a political motive in some cases. "The Prime Minister (Stephen Harper) is keen to keep control of the message, I think to ensure that the government won't be embarrassed by scientific findings of its scientists that run counter to sound environmental stewardship," he said. "I suspect the federal government would prefer that its scientists don't discuss research that points out just how serious the climate change challenge is."

Margaret Munro, who is a science writer for Postmedia News she said its effect was to suppress scientific debate on issues of public interest. "The more controversial the story, the less likely you are to talk to the scientists. They (government media relations staff) just stonewall. If they don't like the question you don't get an answer. You have a government that is micromanaging the message, obsessively. The Privy Council Office (which works for the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper) seems to vet everything that goes out to the media"

With scientific knowledge reputedly doubling every twelve months people tend to be intimidated by science, with little choice but to place reliance upon experts. Allowing capitalist priorities and capitalist political structures - such as the government's hierarchy to control what information is released to the population under its rule is a danger to humanity, and to the planet. The politics of the environment raises many questions, not least of which is what the facts are about the state of our planet and how they should be interpreted, yet much of the data and information is concealed by vested interests. The real decisions that influence the world are made in secret and it is because we live in a society where the interests of the class that own the corporations and companies reign supreme.

There is a need for open democratic, social control of how the resources of our planet are managed. The public understanding of science empowers individuals and enables informed debate.

Friday, February 17, 2012

We Are All Jock Tamson's Bairns

"Tell people that patriotism is bad and most of them will laugh and say: ‘Yes, bad patriotism is bad, but my patriotism is good!’ " - Leo Tolstoy

Alex Salmond claimed that Scottish independence would ensure more prosperity. "We have 25 percent of Europe's tidal power potential, 25 percent of its offshore wind potential and 10 percent of its wave power potential -- not bad for a nation with less than 1 percent of Europe's population"

David Cameron claimed Scotland would be “safer and richer” if it continued with the UK. "We're stronger, because together we count for more in the world,”

As socialists, we have always opposed nationalism. While we certainly sympathise with those oppressed and displaced on national grounds, we refuse to simply identify with the many "solutions" offered up by the liberals and leftists in support of the victims. We must ask ourselves “independence for who?” and “freedom for what?”

The division of the world’s population into distinct nations seems to be perfectly natural. The idea of nationalism is that "we" all have certain characteristics in common, and "we" should stick together. We are all assumed to belong to a national group but nationality is a product of social processes. The modern state is a product of bourgeois development. There exists a mistaken belief in a country's permanence - the myth of the "eternal nation", based on national character, or territory or its institutions and upon its continuity across many generations, the community's common ancestry. Political scientist, Benedict Anderson, discusses nations as socially constructed "imagined communities," because "the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion." Link
Nationalism is the ideology of always putting one's nation first, often at the expense of other nations. It is not necessary to be a powerful nation to carry out nationalistic policies and practices. Governments and corporations of every shade engage in nationalistic practices in the name of patriotism. National media and political parties manipulate patriotic feelings to forward agendas for personal profit. Nationalism is foremost about shoring up the power of dominant groups and legitimising their rule. To speak of "the nation" or its "people' as if these are the same flies in the face of the reality that capitalist society is divided into mutually antagonistic classes. "The people" have never determined their own political, social and economic affairs. In every country, political, social and economic policies are drawn up by, and in the interests of, the ruling class. The nation is the camoflage which cloaks the struggle between classes. Nationalism has nothing to offer most of the time except blood, toil, tears and sweat. Nationalism is an ideology of sacrifice. What is presented as being for the good of the nation is purely for the benefit of the bosses. Any ideology which denies this, is a barrier which must be broken down if the working class is to assert its own independent class interests. Nationalism conceals the real nature of capitalism, turns worker against worker and serves to impede working-class solidarity. Workers must know that under capitalism nationalism is now doing them great deal of harm, far more harm than the advantages it confers. Independence only enhances the power of the local boss class. Nationalism is an ideology of class collaboration. Here in Scotland socialists will not align with those whose antecedents depopulated the Highlands for the sheep and the grouse.

So-called self-determination encourages workers to waste their efforts in chasing something which cannot be achieved. Not simply because the native capitalist class preserves their power but any rulers of any newly independent nation-state immediately find themselves having to come to terms with a worldwide economic system dominated by powerful blocs and integrated on a global scale. Their room for manoeuvre within this framework is extremely limited. Despite the hopes of the Left, either the dominant power relinquished direct political control but continues to exert its domination at an economic level. Or the client state frees itself entirely from the domination of one imperialist bloc only by switching to the all-embracing embrace of a rival bloc. Competition between nation-states puts pressure on each state to maximise its power to avoid subordination to others. States that have little power are under pressure to ally themselves with stronger states that have major economic forces at their disposal. In neither scenario is the result any real independence for the local capitalists or any weakening of imperialism as a whole. The formation of new nation-states can no more put an end to imperialism than the formation of new businesses can put an end to capitalism.

Any supporter of Scottish nationalism who believes that independence is possible in any meaningful sense within modern capitalism should simply look at the history of the Irish Republic. Would a capitalist independent Scotland be really any different?

The socialist position on nationalism is simple. The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. This is not just a slogan, but the reality of the world we live in. The Scottish "national interest" is simply the interest of capital within Scotland. It is the interest of the Scottish ruling class. Nationalism distorts class struggles. Workers can waste their time supporting parties that openly stand for capitalism; they can delude themselves into believing that there is a half way house between capitalism and socialism; they can even bury their heads in the sand and say they are not interested in politics. Or they can study the case for world socialism. They have the choice of enduring the miseries of capitalism within the confines of national frontiers or enjoying emancipation in a socialist world.

What is our alternative? The alternative to Scottish nationalism is not British unionism. Because one "nation" rules another, one does not have to chose one or the other. Socialism is the self-liberation of working class people, by their own efforts, creating and using their own organisations. As we live in Scotland we struggle for socialism here.

"Our true nationality is mankind." -- H.G. Wells

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Poisoned Food

Food is essential for life. It should be pure, nutritious and free from any type of adulteration for proper maintenance of human health.

Delhi, a city of 17 million people, has just 32 food safety officers and their job is all the harder because traders often see attempts to clamp down on bad practices as an attack on their livelihoods. India only has about 2,000 food safety officers.

Bhim says he's been adding calcium carbide to his apples for years to artificially ripen them after a long journey from the Himalayan foothills, despite being told that it causes cancer. In India, where highways are often potholed and jammed with traffic, and where storage facilities are primitive, up to 40 percent of perishable food rots before it can be sold. Traders cannot buy fruit such as apples or mangoes when they are already ripe, because these would go to waste during the bumpy, un-refrigerated journey from the orchards. Instead, they buy the fruits and later ripen them with calcium carbide

A report by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in January found that most of the country's milk was watered down or adulterated with products -- including fertilizer, bleach and detergent -- used to thicken the milk and help give it a white, frothy appearance.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. From rat poison found in vegetables and Diwali-festival sweets laced with caustic soda, to batches of moonshine liquor that kill scores of people at a time -- adulteration is rife. Poverty tempts sellers to add dilutants such as water to products to make them go further. Cheap cooking oil is mixed with expensive oil, tea waste is mixed with new tea, and anything from urea to blotting paper is added to thicken the food sold. The FSSAI has found that 13 percent of all food in the world's second-most-populous country failed to meet its standards.

"The problem is so widespread that everything is contaminated," said Savvy Soumya Misra of the New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment (CSE). "If everything has problems, there is no choice but to eat whatever is available."

"Poor people don't care much about the quality. Whatever is cheaper, they'll buy it," said Ashok Kanchan, technical adviser at Consumer VOICE, a rights group. "They're just worried about how to fill their stomachs somehow."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Manchester meeting

Monday 26 March,
8.30 pm

The Crisis
Church Street,
City Centre.

Could the present slump really last for a decade or more? It’s not impossible, as this has already happened twice. The present slump has already lasted for three years and GDP is still a long way from what it was at its peak in 2008. So it’s not going to be a short one.

The future course of capitalism is largely unpredictable. All we can say with certainty is that it is an irrational system subject to swings from boom to slump which have nothing to do with the level of actual human needs.

Come along and discuss the causes of the recession and why Socialists want to do away with capitalism root and branch.

Art for art's sake

Art dealers have been reduced to mere "commodity brokers" as the super-rich have lost interest in the aesthetic value of major works and instead obsess about their monetary worth, according to one of the industry's most experienced auctioneers.

Anthony McNerney, head of contemporary art at Bonhams, said: "Many more people talk about art as an investment. A lot ask: 'Is this investment potential? Can we see it as an asset class?'...A lot of us were frustrated, it is always about the estimates and the deal, not the art. We wanted to talk about the works of art. It's whether the art works are important...When I started at Christie's many years ago clients would ask me about the work of art or the artist. In late 2007 they started asking: 'what's it going to cost me and how much will it be worth.' That's when you become a commodities broker."

Art market adviser Tania Buckrell Pos agrees. "A lot more buyers with an investment point of view are coming into the market,"

Collector Charles Saatchi has also criticised the new "super rich art-buying crowd" who just wanted "big-brand name pictures".

Art is an institution as well as a massively profitable industry, worth billions of pounds every year. This institution has a number of functions, none of which would be particularly welcome in socialism, or particularly feasible. Currently, it defines what art is, and consequently blocks what it does not consider to be art. It promotes a cult of the individual artist as gifted genius whose brushes we are not worthy to clean. It finances profitable art and refuses to finance art from which a profit cannot be realised regardless of its quality or importance. Because the practices it engages in are inherently antisocial, divisive and procapitalist, no such organisation could survive the transition from capitalism to socialism.

Socialism may well prove to be an artistic renaissance in which more people produce more art than in any previous time in history. The things which historically have prevented them creating art will no longer exist: schooling, the art institution's failure to take seriously some forms of art, the art industry's failure to see beyond the profit motive, and people who may think that there is little point creating art unless someone is prepared to cross their palms with silver. Socialism may generate a a people's art renaissance, at a level which touches everybody and to which no one is denied access. But that does not mean that socialist art will be good art. In socialism, art will be complementary not competitive. Some artists may acquire small-scale status, but socialism contains no mechanism to allow individual artists to acquire privilege or power. So with no art institution which effectively decides what art is and isn't, and no art industry judging the quality of a work by its cost, people may be encouraged to create art. something like folk art or "people's art" will emerge, that is art created by the average person without state sponsorship or the support of the institution, and created not for purposes of individual gain or acclaim, but for other reasons such as self-expression, ornamentation, beautification and so on. The person who creates such art may not even be called an artist.

There are The Greats: the Old Masters, the Pre-Raphaelites. These comprise a small minority and their works are highly revered and among the best-known. Galleries and museums seem more like temples to the idols of art. Then there is all the rest: the vast majority of artists and people creating art whose output is either ignored or unrecognised. Because the people who create this art lack the privileges and advantages of the artistic elite, their work is considered substandard, if it is considered at all. It is also unknown to the wider public. Historically, artists of the greatest skill would be more likely to find patronage and success than those of less talent. Art became conceptualised as an activity of high skill restricted to a few gifted individuals of supreme talent. The art of the overwhelming majority of people, who were equally capable of producing art but who lacked the privileges of the Great Artists and whose work was inevitably of a different standard, became marginalised as rough and ready "folk art" and not a serious aesthetic form.

Art, if confined to a small leisured class, did not deserve the title of art.