Saturday, March 31, 2012

Socialist Standard No. 1292 April 2012

April Fools

3:00 PM
April 1,

The Socialist Party of Great Britain Head Office
52 Clapham High Street,
About 5 minutes walk south-east from Clapham North tube on the Northern Line

Speaker: Paddy Shannon

If you had to pick the perfect April Fool, who would it be? The world’s workers, who slave for a pittance while rich bankers trouser millions? Economics experts who can’t predict a disaster but confidently predict the sunny future of capitalism? Rebels who fantasise about improbably utopian alternatives to the money system? Conspiracy theorists who think everyone but them is ‘in on it’? Religious freaks who think that some god is going to save them? Or celebrities who think their box-office takings make them into fountains of wisdom?

How can humans be so clever and so dumb all at once? And what makes socialists think they’re any smarter? Are we fools as well?

If you had to pick an April Fool, who wouldn’t it be?

Free entry
Audience participation
Free refreshments

The Poor Bet

Lotteries are said to have begun in 1612 when King James created a lottery in London to aid Jamestown, the first British colony in America.

The Mega Millions lottery jackpot has risen to $640 million. In 2011, more Americans played the lottery than regularly attended church, bringing in $56 billion last year alone. Revenue from that pie is divided in three ways: About 60 percent goes to prize winners; 15 percent to retailers, marketing and operations; and 25 percent, or about $14 billion, goes back to the states for government services. After lottery winnings are paid out and administrative costs have been covered, the leftover money is transferred into state coffers to pay for state programs. This is a tax.

Two years ago The Consumerist suggested that poor people in the U.S. – those earning $13,000 or less – spend 9 percent of their income on lottery tickets.

Another study from Wired magazine suggested that on average households making below $12,400 a year spend 5 percent of their wages on lotteries.

A survey by Opinion Research Corporation for the Consumer Federation of America and the Financial Planning Association, revealed that one-fifth (21 percent) of people surveyed thought the lottery was a practical way to accumulate wealth. Cornell University economist Garrick Blalock told ABC News: "Lottery sales go up as the economy gets bad..."

Winning the lottery is yet another addiction that preys upon hopeless dreams of those trapped in poverty. Buying tickets helps keep them poor, which keeps them buying tickets. The more money they waste on the lottery, the poorer they become, making them even more desperate to keep playing. Studies in several states, including North Carolina and South Carolina, strongly indicate that poor people disproportionately purchase lottery tickets.

The lottery preys on the poor, the uneducated, the desperate and the hopeless… and the government runs and encourages it

Odds of picking the winning numbers for the Mega Millions are 1 in 176 million. If you bought up every single ticket combination that would cost $176 million. But you’d be guaranteed to win about $293 million after taxes. But there’s one big problem: First, if it takes five seconds to fill out each card, you’d need almost 28 years just to mark the bubbles on the game tickets. You’d also use up the national supply of special lottery paper and lottery-machine printing ink well before all your tickets could be printed out. Also, if just one other person picked the winning number, you’d end up losing $30 million all told.

Duke professor Charles Clotfelter is the author of a book on state lotteries. "It's very hard to say that these lottery dollars really make a difference," he said.

Overall, 27 states earmark some or all lottery revenue for education. In Colorado, the dollars go to environmental protection; in Pennsylvania, senior citizen programs; and in Kansas, some of the money pays for juvenile detention facilities. Many states bought into the lottery based upon the belief they were adding more and more money for education.In New York City the state started running the lottery in 1967 and has generated as much as $34 billion from lotteries, making lotteries a regressive tax, according to some. Because instead of using the money as additional funding, legislatures have used the lottery money to pay for the education budget and spent the money that would have been used had there been no lottery cash on other things. Public school budgets, as a result, haven’t gotten a boost because of the lottery funding.

In Virginia, lottery tickets have a tag­line that says “Helping Virginia’s Public Schools” and more than $5 billion in lottery proceeds have gone to public education in the last 24 years, about $450 million annually. But, according to the Virginian-Pilot, the money is used by state lawmakers to cover education expenses rather than extra money. And when it is time to cut budgets, education doesn’t get spared. “That’s been a slow and insidious movement that’s been going on for a few years now,” Kitty Boitnott, president of the Virginia Education Association, was quoted in the Virginian-Pilot, as saying. “It’s a big ruse, and I don’t believe Virginians, in general, are aware of it.”

In Maryland, more than $519 million of lottery proceeds was contributed to the state in 2011, and that was used for programs including education, public health, public safety and the environment, according to the Maryland Lottery Web site. The lottery has given more than $12 billion to the state since 1973. Yet, still, the state government is considering raising taxes in order to keep the state’s highly regarded public education system funded at record levels.

In Washington D.C., the lottery since 1982 has contributed more than $1.6 billion to the city’s general fund for programs including schools, recreation and parks, public safety, housing, and senior and child services. Still the city can’t meet its education needs.

In Texas, where the lottery was sold to the public, as in other places, as a fun game that would reap big rewards for public education. According to the American-Statesman, in 1996, lottery proceeds paid for about two weeks of schooling for Texas students. By 2010, the money covered barely three days.

In California last year, just one percent of that's state's $53 billion budget for K-12 education came from lottery funds. "The net effect of say earmarked education lottery revenue on education expenditures is close to zero," said Clotfelter

In 2010, states collected an average of $58 per capita in implicit tax revenue from their lottery programs. Delaware, which had the heaviest reliance on lottery revenue, collected a stunning $370 per capita.

In the UK research showed skilled manual workers were the most likely to play draw based games - such as Lotto - with more than 67 per cent in this category taking part once a month or more compared to 47 per cent of managerial and professional workers. And an analysis of where Lottery money for good causes was distributed found "insufficient funding" was being invested back into Britain's deprived communities in spite of high rates of play amongst less affluent players. Researchers said Blaenau Gwent in South Wales was the poorest area in the UK, according to one set of deprivation measurements, but ranked in 133 place when it comes to the amount of lottery funding it receives. Bridgend, also in South Wales, was ranked second using the same set of deprivation scores, but only in 224th place in terms of the amount of lottery funding it receives. The public funding package for the 2012 Olympic Games which relies heavily on the National Lottery, will exacerbate this problem by reducing the amount of money available to projects in deprived areas.

Socialists don't object to the lottery from any sour-puss point of view or moral high ground. We object to it as a manifestation of capitalism, as we object to all manifestations of capitalism.

As far back as 1732, lottery taxation lead to this poem by Henry Fielding :
A Lottery is a Taxation,
Upon all the Fools in Creation;
And Heav’n be prais’d,
It is easily rais’d,
Credulity’s always in Fashion;
For, Folly’s a Fund,
Will never lose Ground;
While Fools are so rife in the Nation.

Location, location, location

According to Ledbury Research, there are 63,000 people globally in possession of $100 million or more in assets, with 18,000 centa-millionaires located in South East Asia, China and Japan. That compares with 17,000 in North America and 14,000 in Western Europe. The number of centa-millionaires rose 29% globally between 2006 and 2011, with the U.S. accounting for a 6% rise. The wealth researchers figure that by 2016, the U.S. will still have the most centa-millionaires on a country-by-country basis, with 17,100, but probably not for much longer after that. China, it is assumed, will in that short time double its number of centa-millionaires to 14,000.

Why does London, New York and Paris draw the wealthy take up residence when so many of the capitalists are from the 3rd World. The reason is flight capital. The globe’s rich aren’t really moving to London or New York – they are fleeing their home countries and cities. A multi-millionaire in Moscow, Beijing or São Paolo makes their fortune, the first thing they do is figure out how they can ferret away large chunks of that wealth to countries that guarantee political and personal freedoms, have sound legal systems, a favorable tax environment, good security and good schools for their children. When asked what was the most important factor drawing them to a city, 63% of the globe’s super-rich said “personal security”. Being wealthy in Russia or China or Columbia or Egypt comes at great personal risk. If a wealthy businessman falls afoul of politicians in any of these countries, or attracts the attention of gangsters, it’s in the realm of very real possibilities that they will get a midnight knock on the door. Best to have a bolt-hole beyond the reach of the local thugs, political or otherwise.

In London

But never to be underestimated is the tax regime of the host city-country. That’s an important reason why London continues to keep its top berth. Whether it's a corrupt Middle Eastern dictator in exile, or a Russian oligarch, London will still be the world's No. 1 piece of real estate. In a law passed in 2008, so-called “non-doms” (non-domiciled residents from another country) living in Britain, only pay U.K. taxes on the money they physically bring into the country; any of their wealth parked overseas is simply taxed at a flat £30,000 ($48,000). This “flea-bite” tax for the mega rich, with literally hundreds of millions of dollars or pounds at stake, is now set to rise to £50,000 for any non-dom resident in the U.K. for more than 12 years.


And in Japan

The collective fortune of Japan’s 40 richest has grown 13% to $93 billion since January 2010, according to Forbes Asia.

Fast Retailing Co.’s chief Tadashi Yanai’s $10 billion nest once again makes him the wealthiest in Japan. The retail king has added two new Uniqlo flagship stores on large stretches of some of the world’s most expensive real estate – Fifth Avenue in New York and Tokyo’s tony Ginza shopping district – his net worth has increased $2.4 billion, according to Forbes’ calculations.

Still, it’s a long way since Japan’s golden age of the 1980s. Japanese businessman Yoshiaki Tsutsumi was the richest person in the world when Forbes launched its list 25 years ago. His net worth in 1987 was $20 billion. The head of the Japanese conglomerate Seibu Corp. and real estate investor held that mantle for four years until he was overtaken by real estate developer Taikichiro Mori. Mr. Tsutsumi reclaimed the throne in 1993, but lost it permanently to a Bill Gates two years later.


Friday, March 30, 2012

He's back

Having failed last year to get elected to Scottish Parliament in Glasgow, George Galloway has succeeded in winning a seat once more to the Houses of Parliament via a by-election in Bradford.

"By the grace of God, we have won the most sensational victory in British political history".

Galloway targeted the votes of a large Asian community, winning the support of some leading mosques, even though the Bradford-born Labour candidate Imran Hussein is a Pakistani Muslim and deputy leader of the council. Like a good jockey, he knows what horses to ride. But organising groups such as Galloway attempts to do with Muslims through Respect is filled with risk , playing into the hands of the Right by introducing "communalist" politics. If, says the Right, Muslims can organise as a "community" to defend and further their "communal" interests, why can't the "indigenous" (read, "white") working class do the same? In other words, two can play at "communalist" politics and the Right will have the advantage since they are appealing to a majority "community".

Charismatic politicians, and who can question the fact that Galloway is undoubtably one, have a propensity to capture public admiration either through making articulate speeches or wearing fine suits. Galloway has a gift of both making fine speeches and a flair for fashion. This emphasis upon the individual has been an increasing symptom of the emptiness of capitalist politics. The emptier the politics, the bigger the personalities.

George Galloway is a corrupt and corrupting man. Not corrupt in the sense in which a capitalist would understand - grubbing for money in brown envelopes (although he was accused, and cleared, of padding his expenses account when working for War on Want). His corruption is one of a sort more familiar to the workers’ movement: a man giddy on success and status born from his ability to be at the centre of things. Galloway is a living confirmation of the Socialist Party’s case of avoiding leadership and leaders in our movement.

The effect of his election will be to help continue the mystification and confusion of the workers as to their own interests, as well the sullying of the name of socialism. Galloway has said that "... If you are asking did I support the Soviet Union , yes I did. Yes, I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life..."

The job of socialists is to bring the class struggle to an end, not to try and accommodate themselves within this system. Once we understand our real interest and begin to consciously organise to get it no leader or deceiver is going to be able to deflect us from our course, and the days of the likes of George Galloway will be numbered.

Foxconn exposed again

Once more and after repeated assurances that that they had addressed previous failings, Foxconn features in a new report decrying working conditions in China. A public investigation details "serious and pressing" concerns over excessive working hours, unpaid overtime, health and safety failings, and management interference in trade unions. The average age of all workers across the three plants was found to be 23, and many were migrant workers, with around a third of the workforce living in dormitories.

At Apple supplier Foxconn factories in China, which assemble millions of iPhones and iPads each year, the independent Fair Labor Association found that more than half of employees had worked 11 days or more without rest.

Despite several suicides, which raised the alarm two years ago, and an explosion that killed three workers last year, Foxconn still failed to consult workers on safety, with the committees "failing to monitor conditions in a robust manner". The management was found to be nominating candidates for election to worker committees, with the result that "committees are composed not by those who need representation, but instead are dominated by management representatives". This left workers feeling "alienated" and lacking confidence in safety procedures.

In December, 46% of the workforce clocked up to 70 hours per week, although Chinese labour laws say employees should work no more than an average of 49 hours a week, including overtime. The average maximum week was 61 hours, and between November and January more than a third of staff did not receive the statutory one day off in seven. While high turnover made Foxconn dependent on overtime, workers were often denied pay for extra hours, and around 14% were likely to have worked unpaid time. Overtime was only paid in 30-minute increments, so 29 extra minutes worked was not paid.

The use of student interns, supposedly on work experience related to their studies, but who are in fact used to supplement the workforce during holidays, was raised as of "major concern for external stakeholders", according to the report. The FLA found interns working both overtime and night shifts, in violation of the regulations, and said "their employment status remains vague and represents a major risk". Student labour peaks in the summer months.

Around two-thirds of workers said their take-home pay did not meet their basic needs, and the FLA will now conduct a cost-of-living study in Shenzhen and Chengdu.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Telegraph and the Socialist Standard

The businessman's newspaper The Telegraph writes :
"The key hindrance to growth is not absent credit but simply that businesses are reluctant to invest... UK corporates have cash sitting on their balance sheets of £754 billion, or around a half of annual GDP...These sums have doubled over the course of the past decade, with much of the growth having taken place during the financial crisis of the past four-and-a-half years...Companies would rather save the money than invest it. Capital spending remains some 17.5pc below its pre-crisis peak...The challenge is rather how to get them to spend their money..."

As the Socialist Standard explained:
" accumulation is what drives the capitalist economy...If businesses judge there is no prospect of making a profit from expanding production they won’t do it. They will simply hoard their extra profits and build up cash mountains."

Since capitalism runs on profits and responds to changes in the rate of profit, rather than to consumer demand, as the popular defence of capitalism claims, recovery will only come when the rate of profit is restored. Business investment falls either because profits are down or because they are not prepared to reinvest all of them as they don’t see themselves making a profit from doing so.

Governments cannot do anything to increase capital accumulation. That depends on the amount of profits that capitalist firms expect to make, which in turn depends on market conditions, which governments can’t control.

Consumer demand will never recover of its own accord. How could it? Workers can’t simply spontaneously increase their income. It will only revive when production and employment do. And that depends on the prospects of profitable production reviving. We cannot shop our way out of a crisis!

There is a the theory that, as taxes on profits are being reduced, capitalist firms will invest more. But it is by no means as simple as that. You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink!

Then there is the idea that business investment will resume just because government spending is reduced which is simply an ideological assumption.

the chinese rich get richer

Once more SOYMB reports on the ever-growing capitalist class in "socialist" China.

The Chinese Luxury Consumer White Paper 2012 suggested that there were 2.7 million high net worth individuals in China with personal assets of more than 6 million yuan ($950,000).

There are 63,500 ultra-high net worth individuals with assets of more than 100 million yuan, an increase of 10 percent.

The average Chinese worker's growth in income have more modestly gone from making less than $1,000 a year to around $5,000 a year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Nato Hypocrisy confirmed

SOYMB reported briefly upon the incident last year where over 60 migrants adrift in a boat were left to diebut now a Council of Europe investigator says deaths of migrants adrift in Mediterranean exposes double standards in valuing human life.

"We can talk as much as we want about human rights and the importance of complying with international obligations, but if at the same time we just leave people to die – perhaps because we don't know their identity or because they come from Africa – it exposes how meaningless those words are," said Tineke Strik.

The report states that those who died "could have been rescued if all those involved had complied with their obligations".

Despite Nato's initial claim that none of its ships received a distress signal regarding the migrant vessel, the report reveals that distress calls were sent out by the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome and should have been passed on to at least one ship under Nato command – the Spanish frigate Méndez Núñez, which was in the immediate vicinity of the migrant boat and equipped with helicopters. A rescue would have been "a piece of cake", said one Nato official.

"Nato declared the region a military zone under its control, but failed to react to the distress calls sent out by Rome MRCC," the report says. According to the report, another naval vessel, the Borsini, an Italian warship that was not under Nato command at the time, was also positioned close to the migrant boat when the distress calls went out.

More than 1,500 migrants have lost their lives in attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in 2011

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The new "socialist" man

The recent visit of the Pope to Cuba has again focussed upon the island and the economic and political changes it is under-going. Ahead of his visit, Pope Benedict had suggested Cuba's "Marxist" structure "no longer corresponds to reality" and called for the adoption of a "new model". Pope Benedict XVI has urged Cubans to build an "open and renewed society". His prayers at the island's holiest site included a plea for "those deprived of freedom." but Cuba is not Poland, where the catholic church was an important influence upon the opposition to the state-capitalist regime. Although around 60% of Cubans are baptised as Catholics, only 5% are practising. Santería, an Afro-Cuban religion, has more adherents.

Under Raúl Castro, Cuba has begun the journey from state-capitalism towards a more free-market capitalism. What Fidel Castro and Che Guevara called “socialism” did not correspond to Marx’s “first phase of communist society” that many erroneously associate with the term since it was based on the state, not the common, ownership and control of the means of production, the majority remaining propertyless and having to sell their working skills to live. As the state was controlled by the leaders of a minority vanguard party, these leaders became in effect the employers of the excluded majority.

Compared to many of its neighbours in Latin America and the Caribbean, for all its faults, Castro's Cuba did accomplish many achievements in social welfare that has to be acknowledged. Its social programmes from cradle to grave, provided free world-class health care and education as well as free pensions and funerals. Child malnutrition and adult illiteracy were eliminated. Life expectancy and many other social indicators rose above those of the United States. Thanks to good health care very few children die in infancy, and Cubans live to a ripe old age. Cuba is also the only Latin American country whose population is falling. In 2010, 37,000 Cuban doctors and other health workers were working in 77 countries around the world, mostly in Venezuela but also in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. The Cuban government also offers scholarships to 20,000 Latin Americans to study.

Every Cuban household had (and still has) a ration book (or libreta) entitling it to a monthly supply of food and other staples, provided at nominal cost. Many other services were (and are) similarly subsidised. Compared with the rest of Latin America, Cuba seemed to be achieving greater racial and sexual equality.

But ever since the fall of state-capitalism in the Soviet Union and the disappearance of its subsidies which had offset the economic embargo imposed by the United States in 1960 suddenly dried up, Cuba covered the gap by printing money, which stoked inflation. Cuba is starting to resemble the rest of Latin America. The Gini coefficient of income inequality (where 0 represents complete equality and 1 complete inequality) rose from 0.24 in the late 1980s to 0.41 a decade later, according to research quoted in Espacio Laical, a magazine published by Cuba’s Catholic church. A confidential later study is said to have put the figure at 0.5, similar to the Latin American average of 0.53 in the mid-2000s.

In real terms the average wage has dropped to just 25% of its value in 1989. A survey in Havana in 2000 found that 20% of the population was poor (defined as “at risk of being unable to satisfy their basic needs”); the national figure now is almost certainly higher.

Social services have suffered, too. According to a paper by Carmelo Mesa Lago, a Cuban economist at the University of Pittsburgh, and Pavel Vidal, an economist at Havana University’s Centre for the Study of the Cuban Economy (CEEC), in 1989 Cuba outranked every other Latin American country in all social indicators except housing. But between 1989 and 1993 social spending per head was slashed by 78% in real terms (It has since recovered somewhat.)

And now health services and education are becoming harder to access and getting worse. Secondary-school enrolment is below its 1989 peak. There is a surfeit of humanities graduates and a shortage of agronomists and engineers. Although infant mortality has continued to fall, maternal mortality has risen. Many drugs are in short supply. Hospital patients sometimes have to bring their own bed-sheets. There are reports of doctors starting to demand payment. But the main reason for the shortage of medical staff is low salaries. A woman who gave her name as Grisel says she worked as a family doctor for just $23 a month, but now earns $40 a month in an improvised craft shop in Havana. As a doctor “I faced a choice of buying shoes or eating.”

Cuba’s growing social inequalities are symbolised by the dual currency system introduced. The “convertible peso”, or CUC, is now fixed at par to the dollar. The ordinary Cuban peso is theoretically worth the same as the CUC, but that is an accounting fiction. In fact the peso is pegged at 24 to the CUC. The CUC is used for foreign trade and tourism. Wages and the prices of basic goods in the domestic economy are set in pesos. The average monthly wage is 454 pesos, or $19. The shelves of state-owned shops selling merchandise in pesos are sparsely stocked. Many things, from white goods to processed foods, can be bought only with CUCs. Having repeatedly defaulted on its foreign debt, Cuba has little access to credit. Instead of devaluing the CUC, which would have pushed up inflation, in January 2009 the government seized about $1 billion in hard-currency balances held by state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and foreign joint ventures.

Cuban statistics are incomplete, inconsistent and often questionable. But Carmelo Mesa Lago at the University of Pittsburgh has calculated that output per head of 15 out of 22 main agricultural and industrial products was dramatically lower in 2007 than it had been in 1958. The biggest growth has come in oil and gas and in nickel mining, largely thanks to investment since the 1990s by Sherritt, a Canadian firm. But output per head of sugar, an iconic Cuban product, has dropped to an eighth of its level in 1958 and 1989.

Across Cuba small businesses are proliferating. In 2008 private farmers and co-ops were permitted to lease idle state land for ten years. By December last year 1.4m hectares had been handed out. The government has now agreed to extend the lease-period to up to 25 years, allow farm buildings to be put up and pay for any improvements if the leases are not renewed.Cuba has no visible oligarchs as yet, but it does have a number of increasingly wealthy people. They include farmers, owners of some tourist-linked businesses such as guest houses and restaurants, and some officials who profit from their contacts. “Habana Libre”, a recently published book about the lifestyles of the city’s privileged caste of artists and musicians, included photographs of sons of Fidel and Che Guevara.

The "Communist" Party remains the only legal political party in Cuba. Cuba’s 1976 constitution defines the "Communist" Party as the “directing force of society and the state”. It has 800,000 members, and another 700,000 in its youth wing. The party bureaucracy has been accustomed to exercising power at all levels in a top-down fashion. When in 2002 activists gathered the 10,000 signatures needed to ask the National Assembly to debate their request for multi-party elections, the regime responded with a counter-referendum in which 8m citizens were persuaded to vote for a constitutional amendment to declare socialism “irrevocable”. Much of the resistance to democratic political change can be explained by bureaucratic inertia and the fear of loss of power and the perks that go with it.

Many political prisoners have been freed and Cuba has signed on to the UN covenants on human rights. Repression has become less brutal, though two prisoners have died on hunger strikes. Books are still being censored, but a few more critical ones are being published, along with films and art works. La Rotilla, an annual alternative-music festival that attracted thousands of young people, was cancelled last year after the government tried to take it over. Cubans grumble far more openly than they used to, and academic debate has become a bit freer. But calls for democracy and free elections are still silenced.

The romantic Leftist supporters of Cuba put their concerns for “national rights” before class solidarity, in supporting the Cuban regime, excusing the repressive parts of Castro's regime as mistakes, or excesses due to the American economic embargo against it. Many apologists stay stoically silent on Cuba's internal regime. They excuse its actions as a necessary defence against US aggression.

Cuba does indeed show what could be possible, even with meagre resources to meet the needs of human beings, and how artificial the deprivation across much of the rest of the world is. The Socialist Party do not, however, consider that the best way to assist the workers of Cuba is to support the régime that dragoons them in siege warfare with the US, but that the spread of the world socialist revolution is the only way to rescue them from the unpalatable set of choices facing them. To do that, we need to free socialism from the taint of the undemocratic methods applied in Cuba and stand clearly for the political freedoms of association and speech for the working class the world over, so as better to spread the ideas and consciousness required for the building of a truly stateless classless world co-operative commonwealth.

Statistics from the Economist magazine

In the spirit of Marx

One of the more influential social studies books of recent year has been The Spirit Level. Its co-author Richard Wilkinson was interviewed by the radcal magazine Red Pepper. Amongst other things he had this to say.

"If I had been living in the 19th century and someone told me now most of the population have air conditioning, and enough food to eat and obesity would have reversed its social distribution, I would have thought we are living in some kind of utopian harmony...Economics is based on the idea that the primary relationship is between people and material things. Our book in a way is saying the primary relationship is between people and people."

This is very much in tune with Marx's 19th Century explanation of poverty where he stated :
"A house may be large or small; as long as the neighboring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirement for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut. The little house now makes it clear that its inmate has no social position at all to maintain, or but a very insignificant one; and however high it may shoot up in the course of civilization, if the neighboring palace rises in equal or even in greater measure, the occupant of the relatively little house will always find himself more uncomfortable, more dissatisfied, more cramped within his four walls."

Irish Inequality Rises

The gap between the richest and poorest in Ireland grew by more than 25 per cent during 2010, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show. The average income of the top 20 per cent of earners was 5.5 times greater than those in the lowest 20 per cent. In the area of income inequality, the report shows Ireland had the sixth-highest measurement within the EU.

It found that average disposable income for Irish households in 2010 was €22,168, a 5 per cent drop from the 2009 figure of €23,326. This is the lowest figure recorded since 2006.

The number of people experiencing consistent poverty rose from 5.5 per cent in 2009 to 6.2 per cent in 2010. Consistent poverty is defined as having an income of less than €10,831 during 2010 and experiencing various forms of enforced deprivation on an ongoing basis. This figure is based on 60 per cent or less of the median disposable income – €18,051 – combined with being unable to afford at least two of 11 recognised indicators of deprivation, such as sufficient heating or clothing.

There was also an increase in people at risk of poverty. This equates to a disposable income of €10,831 or less, but without indicators of enforced deprivation.

The at-risk-of-poverty rate rose from 14.1 per cent in 2009 to 15.8 per cent in 2010. The threshold which is used to define “at risk of poverty” decreased by more than 10 per cent from €12,064 in 2009 to €10,831 in 2010, following a general drop in overall incomes.

Ireland ranked 12 out of the 27 member states using the at-risk-of-poverty measure.

The highest at-risk-of-poverty rates were in Latvia and Romania (both 21 per cent).

Fr Sean Healy, of Social Justice Ireland (SJI), said the report raised huge concerns over the working poor. "More than 706,000 people are at risk of poverty, up 92,000 over two years," he said. "The working poor make up 120,000 of the 706,000. These are people who are living in households with a job and are struggling to survive."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dog-food for people

At the turn of the century, Upton Sinclair, wrote The Jungle, a novel about the meat industry in Chicago and exposed the horror of the slaughter-men's existence and the horror of the food being produced. Although Sinclair originally intended to expose "the inferno of exploitation [of the typical American factory worker at the turn of the 20th Century]," but the public instead fixated on food safety as the novel's most pressing issue. In fact, Sinclair bitterly admitted his celebrity rose, "not because the public cared anything about the workers, but simply because the public did not want to eat tubercular beef"

Periodically similar revelations appear in the media. The latest features pink slime term coined by Gerald Zirnstein, a former microbiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to describe the unlabeled and unappetizing bits of cartilage and other chemically-treated scrap meat going into U.S. ground beef, or an ammonium hydroxide-treated filler known in the industry "lean, finely textured beef," a low-cost ingredient made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated and spun in a centrifuge to remove most of the fat. The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella. It has led to large supermarket chains to ban the product. McDonald's said it would stop buying hamburger containing it and the USDA has said school districts can opt out of feeding it to children. Now even manufactures of the stuff have suspended operations.

Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University's Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, said "If this is acceptable to people, it essentially means it's OK to eat the kind of stuff we put into pet food"

It sounds unappetizing but there's no evidence that it isn't safe or nutritious. Pink slime is not necessarily any more dangerous than many other industrial food practices. Years ago, cautious shoppers demanded that the butcher grind their beef in front of them so they could be sure he didn't toss in offal or scraps of lower-quality meat. Now a modern package of ground beef is more likely to come from not one animal but several and, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, will probably include head meat, the esophagus and other internal organs And, of course, pink slime.

Read more.

The sinking feeling

The news is featuring the triumph of movie mogul James Cameron to become the third person to go down into the Mariana Trench, 36,000 feet, or 11 kms deep.

Another mega-rich man , Richard Branson, ex- hot air balloonist and space tourist entrepenour, is planning to penetrate the Atlantic’s deepest point, the Puerto Rico Trench.
‘It’s enormously exciting that the oceans can now be explored and we have the vehicles to do that,’ Branson told AFP from his private Necker Island in the Caribbean.

Google's Eric Schmidt has helped to finance another sub being built by a US marine technology company called Doer Marine.

Charles Kohnen, co-founder of submarine builders SEAmagine, said his craft retail at between $1 million and $3 million with the annual upkeep of $15,000-$20,000. One recent private client has a specially designed 82 foot (25 meter) catamaran with a helicopter deck and submersible launch. Another didn’t need any particular design changes to hold his submersible, but that’s only because he has a 280 foot (85 meter) ‘luxury ship.’

A company called US Submarines offers the ‘Nomad,’ described as having an interior equivalent to a personal jet plane, the ‘Seattle,’ comparable in comfort to a large yacht, and the amazing ‘Phoenix.’ This vessel, a full 213 feet (65 meters) long, would be able to cross an ocean, diving whenever weather got rough, and has so much room it would carry its own mini-sub. At $78 million, according to its website, the ‘Phoenix’ exists only on paper, but could be built as soon as a buyer ordered. ‘It’s going to take someone who’s a little bit extravagant..."

Triton submarines, a Florida-based submersible company, intends to build a sub with a giant glass sphere at its centrepiece to take tourists down to the deepest ocean for $250,000 a ticket.

Submarines - yet just another exclusive hobby for the super-rich. And for Cameron - another hopefully block-buster movie to be made.

Buying Power

With access for cash scandal featuring recently in the Cameron ConDem government in America the super PACs [Political Action Committees] are reshaping elections. The floodgates of unlimited spending were opened by the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which placed individuals and corporations on equal "free speech" footing when it comes to independent campaign spending. The high court's decision allowed super PACs to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.

The top 100 individual super PAC donors make up just 3.7% of those who have contributed to the new money vehicles, but account for more than 80% of the total money raised. The top 46 donors have given a total of $67 million, or two-thirds of the $112 million in individual gifts to super PACs this cycle. Membership in this select group requires a $500,000 minimum donation.

"American elections are funded by a very narrow range of special interests, and that has the effect of making our democracy look a lot more like a plutocracy" Paul S. Ryan, an attorney at Campaign Legal Center.

In 2010, according to research, 93 percent of the additional income created in the country that year, compared to 2009 — $288 billion — went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at least $352,000 in income. That delivered an average single-year pay increase of 11.6 percent to each of these households. Still more astonishing was the extent to which the super rich got rich faster than the merely rich. In 2010, 37 percent of these additional earnings went to just the top 0.01 percent, a teaspoon-size collection of about 15,000 households with average incomes of $23.8 million. These fortunate few saw their incomes rise by 21.5 percent. The bottom 99 percent received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Compassion for who - people or animals?

For thousand years in India, people have been arguing about vegetarianism versus meat farming. How one should treat animals depended on how one saw them, and this in turn depended on one’s practical experience of them. Some socialists are vegetarians, but others are not. We have never seen a reason as a political party to take a stand on this issue, no matter how strongly some of our individual members have felt. All socialists are of course opposed to cruelty to animals but, just like the rest of the population, have differing views as to what constitutes cruelty. Some may go fishing, some even engage in shooting birds and rabbits, some eat meat, some are vegetarians, some are vegans. (One party wit alleged that vegetarianism was a capitalist plot to reduce workers to eating grass!) We have no line or policy on the matter, because we are an organisation of people who have come together to campaign for socialism and nothing else.

SOYMB came across this New York Times article which made interesting reading. Of course the processed and fast food companies don’t want their customers to think about where the food comes from.There can be no dispute that many animals are treated abominably under capitalism. No reasonable person today really questions the fact that animals, or at least farmed animals, are capable of fear and pain. Most people do not visit abattoirs nor do they really want to know what goes on in them, yet there is an unspoken knowledge behind the sterile and sanitized supermarket packaging.

Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight” by Timothy Pachirat.

"...We can start by owning up to the fact that our system is industrialized. And as horrible as that word — “industrialized” — seems when applied to what was once called animal husbandry, it is precisely the correct term...12 seconds is the frequency with which the Omaha slaughterhouse where Pachirat worked for five months killed cattle, a total of around 2,500 per day...
...Pachirat... took the job not as an animal rights activist but as a doctoral candidate in political science seeking to understand the normalization of violence. Like others, he concluded that our isolation from killing allows us to tolerate unimaginably cruel practices simply because we don’t see them. But Pachirat emphasizes that it’s not only we — consumers — who are isolated from the killing, but workers: at his plant only seven people out of 800 were directly involved with live cattle, and only four with killing.

“Every Twelve Seconds” shatters any belief you might have about the system treating animals with a shred of decency. “The sheer volume, scale and rate of killing, the way the animals form a continuous stream rather than individual creatures, makes it clear the animals are seen as raw material. The cattle are called ‘beef’ even while they’re alive — and that not only protects people from acknowledging what they’re doing and that they’re doing it to sentient beings, it’s also accurate, a reflection of the process itself.”

The most publicized stories about industrial agriculture represent the exceptions that prove the rule: the uncommon torture of animals by perverse individuals in rogue operations. But torture is inherent in the routine treatment of animals as widgets, and the system itself is perverse. What makes “Every Twelve Seconds” different from (for example) a Mercy for Animals exposé is, says Pachirat, “that the day-in and day-out experience produces invisibility. Industrialized agriculture perpetuates concealment at every level of the process, and rather than focusing on the shocking examples we should be focusing on the system itself.”

At that point we might finally acknowledge that raising, killing and eating animals must be done differently. When omnivores recognize that our way of producing and eating meat reduces not only slaughterhouse workers but all of us to a warped state, we’ll be able to bring about the kind of changes that will reduce both meat consumption and our collective guilt.

Pachirat says he has changed as a result of his experience, becoming increasingly interested in what he calls “distancing and concealment.” He now intends to work on those issues as they relate to imprisonment, war, torture, deployment of drones and other sophisticated weaponry that allow impersonal killing. And it’s because these connections make so much sense that we should look more carefully at how we raise and kill animals.

When we all know the system, we’ll be even more eager to change it."

Raymond Tallis, a physician turned philosopher, has commented that when humans regard their species as no more than animals they are inclined to treat one another even worse than hitherto.

The author of Animal Farm, George Orwell, commented: “Men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat”

Bob Torres in his book Making a Killing has made a political case for veganism arguing that animals perform unwaged labour and are super-exploited living commodities. In Marxian economics, however, they what is called “constant capital”, they do not create new value but merely transfers its value to the product. Just as slavery involved some humans being the property of others and hence treated just as means to the end of the owners, so animals are under the power of humans. They are bought and sold, kept and killed in appalling conditions, experimented on, and used to provide milk, meat and eggs. This is speciesism, Torres explains, integrated into society as much as racism once was. We do not need to eat meat or animal products in order to live, therefore we should not do so. Vegetarianism is not sufficient, since the production of both milk and eggs involves cruelty (e.g. cows must constantly be kept pregnant in order to provide milk). Veganism, which involves making no use of animal products at all, "must be not only the foundation and baseline of any movement to end the domination of animals, but also the daily practice of anyone who seeks to live their life free of all domination and hierarchy".

As the Nobel Prize winning writer Isaac Bashevis Singer put it in The Letter Writer (1968), speaking of factory farming: "In relation to animals, all people are Nazis; for the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka."

However others will ask what extent of this callous treatment is due to capitalism’s demands for profit and for constantly cheapening the costs of production. For it does not follow that mistreatment is a hallmark of all use of animals for food.

Ruth Harrison, author of Animal Machines (1964), recognised that sheep and other livestock are raised in ways designed to cut production costs to the bone, with little or no regard for the consequent suffering. Commenting on animal farming methods, Harrison observed: “The first instinct the farmer frustrates in all animals . . . is that of the newborn animal turning to its mother for protection and comfort and, in some cases, for food. The chick comes out of the incubator and never sees a hen; the calf which is to be fattened for veal or beef is taken from the cow at birth, or very soon after; and even the piglet is weaned far earlier now than it used to be. The factors controlling this are mainly economic(our emphasis)
Harrison drew attention to changes in breeding, feeding and housing that aimed at ever greater production at whatever cost to the animals' well-being.

What will become of the meat and dairy industry in socialism? At present the socialist case focuses necessarily on the emancipation of the human species from capitalist-induced oppression and suffering, while the ethical question of how we should regard and treat animals remains as one of the iceberg of other issues submerged below the waterline. It is perfectly possible that a Socialist society will involve less eating of meat and eggs, and any animals kept for food purposes will certainly be treated as humanely as possible. If socialists expect a large-scale meat industry they will have to face the fact that there is no compassionate "ethical" way to do this. But it is all very well to talk about opposing all hierarchy, including that of humans over animals, but if it came to the crunch we suspect almost everyone would regard the life of a fellow human as more important than that of a non-human animal. So there can be no real equality of treatment between humans and animals.

As stated above, the Socialist Party does not have a position on vegetarianism or veganism but would agree with William Morris that “a man can hardly be a sound Socialist who puts forward vegetarianism as a solution of the difficulties between labour and capital, as some people do”

Those who advocate animal rather than human liberation put the cart before the horse. Cruelty to animals will go the way of all forms of cruelty, when a real civilised existence becomes a possibility to everyone. The rise in demand for "cruelty-free" products in Western countries shows that, given the luxury of choice, people prefer not to be responsible for inflicting such suffering and without a global revolution in the way society collectively owns and controls its resources people are never going to get the luxury of choice over this or any other resource question. Unless and until the welfare and humane treatment of humans is first attended to the question of the ethical treatment of animals must remain an issue waiting for its moment.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cash For Questions....Again.

From LONDON (Reuters) -

A senior fundraiser for the Conservative Party resigned on Sunday after being secretly filmed offering exclusive access to Prime Minister David Cameron in return for donations of 250,000 pounds ($400,000) a year.

The disclosure is damaging for Cameron's party which has tried to shake off an image of being too close to the interests of business and the rich as Britain undergoes a strict austerity programme to cut its budget deficit.

The party's co-Treasurer Peter Cruddas stood down within hours of the Sunday Times newspaper publishing video of him telling undercover reporters, posing as international financiers, that the contributions would enable them to ask Cameron "practically any question you want".

The Conservative Party said no donation had been accepted or formally considered and that it complied with electoral funding legislation.

The coalition government is facing a backlash after a budget last week that cut tax for top earners while freezing tax allowances for pensioners.

While there were also some tax cuts for lower earners, the budget went down badly with many Britons, giving the impression the government was looking after the wealthy and cared little for those suffering rising unemployment and falling incomes as the economy struggles to recover from recession.

"The revelations ... prove that the problem is the ability of those with money to buy their way to the heart of government through political donations," Mark Adams, a Labour-supporting lobbyist who helped the Sunday Times with its investigation, told the paper.

The issue is embarrassing for Cameron, who promised before coming to power in May 2010 to curb corporate lobbying, saying it was the "next big scandal waiting to happen."

The Labour Party, which has called for limits on the amounts wealthy individuals can give to political parties, called on Cameron to reveal what he knew about the matter.

The Sunday Times reporters had posed as Liechtenstein-based fund managers who wanted to develop contacts with Cameron and other ministers on behalf of their Middle East investors.

Cruddas told them the access would be "awesome for your business", adding some of the party's bigger donors had enjoyed dinner with Cameron and his wife Samantha in their private apartment at his Number 10 Downing Street office.

He advised them that a donation of 100,000 pounds was a minimum but that 200,000 or 250,000 pounds was "premier league".


With that kind of funding "things will open up for you," he said. "You do really pick up a lot of information."

When they met Cameron "within that room, everything is confidential and you will be able to ask him practically any question that you want," he said.

He suggested they could even influence party policy, saying: "If you are unhappy about something, we will listen to you and we will put it into the policy committee at Number 10."

The paper reported Cruddas as saying he was sure there were "ways to work around it" when told by the undercover reporters that the money came from a foreign wealth fund. Foreign donations are banned under British election law. He suggested they establish a subsidiary company in Britain, the paper said.

In a resignation statement, Cruddas, founder of London spread betting firm CMC Markets, said he had not consulted any politicians or senior party officials before meeting the bogus financiers and he denied that donors would have been able to influence policy or gain undue access to politicians.

"I deeply regret any impression of impropriety arising from my bluster in that conversation," said Cruddas, himself a major donor to the Conservative Party.

"Specifically, it was categorically not the case that I could offer, or that David Cameron would consider, any access as a result of a donation," he said.

"But in order to make that clear beyond doubt, I have regrettably decided to resign with immediate effect."


So another year and another sleazy corruption scandal. When will the public realise that they are all the same shower of self-interested, self-serving corrupt career politicians with only their own greed and the furtherance of capital's interests?


One law for the bosses, another for the workers

In contrast to the government's passivity during the fuel tax protests of 2000 instigated by numerous road transport companies and some farmers, in effect a politically motivated strike by a section of the capitalist class, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the Government stood "ready to act" if members of the Unite union walk out. A tiny group of small businessmen and some farmers who, without ballots and for the most part acting unlawfully, decided to try and hold the government to ransom. David Cameron, gave them his support. During the protests the oil companies were accused of collusion with the protesters. The TGWU subsequently called for a public inquiry into reports of drivers who had been willing to deliver fuel being told not to. The fuel protestors were not acting in the interests of the majority of Britons as they claimed, but in their own narrow economic and political interests. The police did not immediately move against the fuel tax blockaders (who were guilty of secondary picketing, obstruction, a variety of road traffic offences, and intimidation) until ordered to do so by the government, in sharp distinction to disputes like Grunwick, Wapping, and the Miners' Strike. A few hundred small businessmen were allowed to act with impunity in that dispute until Blair was forced to act to get the petrol tankers rolling again as the effects on the economy and other capitalists interests were beginning to be felt. The London Chamber of Commerce reported that the protests cost businesses £250 million a day. After the protests had ended the Institute of Directors estimated the cost to UK businesses at £1billion.

Contrast now the response of the government when members of the working class wish to exercise their legal right to conduct democratically decided industrial action. The ConDem alliance is ready to mobilise the troops and use them to break a possible strike by petrol tanker drivers. The army are placed on stand-by to ensure fuel deliveries continue. .


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Too Big To Fail

For those interested in the background of the current recession the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas 2011 report makes interesting reading and reveals that 52 percent of all the assets held by the entire banking industry have now become aggregated into the hands of just five companies. The top 10 banks now account for 61 percent of commercial banking assets, substantially more than the 26 percent of only 20 years ago and the top 10 institutions possess wealth that equates to roughly half of America’s annual gross domestic product.

It explains how the housing bust and recession disabled the financial system. "...Struggling banks could not lend, slowing economic activity. Massive layoffs followed, pinching household and business spending, which depressed stock prices and home values, further reducing lending. These troubles brought more layoffs, further reducing spending. Overall economic activity bogged down.The chain reaction that started in December 2007 became the longest recession in the post-World War II era"

"Greed led innovative legal minds to push the boundaries of financial integrity...All booms end up busts. Then comes the sad refrain of regret: How could we have been so foolish?" the report reads "...For capitalist economies to thrive, weak companies must go out of business. The reasons for failure vary from outdated products, excess industry capacity, mismanagement and simple bad luck. The demise of existing firms helps the economy by freeing up resources for new enterprises, leaving healthier survivors in place."

The term Too Big To Fail disguised the fact that commercial banks holding roughly one-third of the assets in the banking system did essentially fail, surviving only with extraordinary government assistance. "In essence, dealing with TBTF financial institutions necessitates quasi-nationalization of a private company, a process antithetical to a capitalist system... The rationale for providing public funds to TBTF banks was preserving the financial system and staving off an even worse recession. The episode had its downside because most Americans came away from the financial crisis believing that economic policy favors the big and well connected. They saw a topsy-turvy world that rewarded many of the largest financial institutions, banks and nonbanks alike, that lost risky bets and drove the economy into a ditch. These events left a residue of distrust for the government, the banking system, the Fed and capitalism itself..."

The Dallas Fed details how it views the idea of "Too Big To Fail" as a severe "perversion of capitalism."
"Here are some ways TBTF has violated basic tenets of a capitalist system:
Capitalism requires the freedom to succeed and the freedom to fail. Hard work and good decisions should be rewarded. Perhaps more important, bad decisions should lead to failure—openly and publicly. Economist Allan Meltzer put it this way: “Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin.”
Capitalism requires government to enforce the rule of law. This requires maintaining a level playing field. The privatization of profits and socialization of losses is completely unacceptable. TBTF undermines equal treatment, reinforcing the perception of a system tilted in favor of the rich and powerful.
Capitalism requires businesses and individuals be held accountable for the consequences of their actions. Accountability is a key ingredient for maintaining public faith in the economic system. The perception—and the reality—is that virtually nobody has been punished or held accountable for their roles in the financial crisis.
The idea that some institutions are TBTF inexorably erodes the foundations of our market-based system of capitalism"

Dallas Fed president Richard Fisher argues, the risk of a “Too Big To Fail” institution collapsing, which gave lawmakers the impetus for unprecedented financial bailouts in 2008, obstructs capitalism itself. Fisher warns that “megabanks” have become so powerful that they threaten the Fed’s ability to conduct monetary policy. “Perhaps the most damaging effect of propagating [too big to fail] is the erosion of faith in American capitalism,” he explains “Diverse groups ranging from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the Tea Party argue that government-assisted bailouts of reckless financial institutions are sociologically and politically offensive. From an economic perspective, these bailouts are certainly harmful to the efficient workings of the market.”

The full report.

Friday, March 23, 2012

evangelical riches

Proverbs 10:22 says, "The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it."

The world's largest Christian TV channel, the California-based Trinity Broadcasting Network, has become embroiled in a multimillion-dollar financial scandal after members of the family that founded it alleged widespread embezzlement. The claims – by Brittany Koper, whose grandfather Paul Crouch founded TBN, and by Joseph McVeigh, another family member – describe exorbitant spending on mansions in California, Tennessee and Florida, private jets and even a $100,000 (£63,000) mobile home to house the dogs of Crouch's flamboyant wife. The network's lawyer said the Crouches travel by private jet because they have had "scores of death threats, more than the president of the United States".

The network, which claims to broadcast in every continent and has 18,000 affiliates, was set up by Crouch in the 1970s and preaches a "prosperity gospel" which promises material rewards to those who give generously. Two years ago it declared a net worth of more than $800m, although in recent years it has faced increasing financial problems.

According to the lawsuit, reported in US newspapers, Paul Crouch Sr obtained a $50m luxury jet for his personal use through a "sham loan", while church funds – many of which come from donations during events like its "Praise-a-thons" – paid for the dogs' mobile home. McVeigh's lawsuit makes the most damning allegations, claiming "unlawful and unreported income distributions to Trinity Broadcasting's directors". Brittany Koper, the network's former finance director, claims she was fired after she discovered the extent of the financial wrongdoing.

Directors of the network are also accused of misusing funds to cover up sex scandals, including the alleged "cover-up and destruction of evidence concerning a bloody sexual assault involving Trinity Broadcasting and affiliated Holy Land Experience employees; the cover-up of director Janice Crouch's affair with a staff member at the Holy Land Experience; the cover-up of director Paul Crouch's use of Trinity Broadcasting funds to pay for a legal settlement with Enoch Lonnie Ford (a former TBN employee who said he had a homosexual affair with [founder] Paul Crouch)".

In 1998, the elder Crouch secretly paid an accuser $425,000 to keep quiet about allegations of a homosexual encounter which he has consistently denied, saying he settled only to avoid a costly and embarrassing trial.

David E. Harrell, a professor emeritus of American religion at Auburn University, who has written about well-known televangelists told Associated Press. "Business squabbles, if they're complicated with family squabbles, can get nasty indeed."


Selling and buying kidneys

What would persuade you to sell a kidney to a stranger? For the Bangladeshi kidney sellers interviewed by Monir Moniruzzaman, an assistant professor in anthropology at Michigan State University, the answer was simple: poverty. An illegal organ trade in Bangladesh connects wealthy transplant seekers with poor people enticed, often with false promises, to sell parts of their bodies. Moniruzzaman uses the phrase "bioviolence" to describe the exploitation.

How much is a Bangladeshi's kidney worth? The average quoted price is $1,500. Yet an estimated 81 percent of the sellers don't even receive the money they were promised.

Organ brokers tell the story of "the sleeping kidney": One kidney sleeps, the other kidney works, so people don’t need two kidneys. Doctors turn on the sleeping kidneys and extract the old kidney and give it to the recipient. Doctors say a kidney operation is a routine procedure; it saves a life and there is no harm to the donors.The whole recruitment of donors is a package of deception, manipulating the Bangladeshi poor.

Those selling their kidneys often receive more-invasive surgery than necessary because buyers want to avoid the extra $200 cost. All sellers except one had a long scar about 15 to 20 inches long [38.1 to 50.8 centimeters] on their bodies. They did not know that if the brokers or recipients paid $200 more, the surgeons could have used laparoscopic surgery, which requires the incision as small as 3 or 4 inches [7.6 to 10.2 centimeters]. After the surgery, sellers experience physical problems like long-term back pain, an inability to pay for follow-up care, social stigma, difficulties working that aggravated their poverty, and psychological trauma.

There are many kidney patients who follow ethics and think of organ trafficking as an illegal, unethical act. They have access to it and they decline to take that route in life. But many recipients in are unable to get donations from family members or why put a family member at risk, rather, get a kidney from the market because the market is out there. The price is the price of a laptop.

Organ trafficking is the commercialisation of medicine: More transplants mean more profit. There are many good hospitals, but there are some private hospitals that turn a blind eye. How come they don't know when the broker is bringing in 10 sellers at a time? There is no interview; on paper, everything that is happening is a "donation", but in real life, it is selling and buying.

Adapted from this interview

Capitalism can indeed be described as vampire-like, sucking life from the poor.

The water wars

Water has always been an issue in the American west. For 90 years, Nevada and six other south-western states have shared the waters of the once-mighty Colorado river, according to an established formula. It became clear, however, that the allocations of water decided in 1922 were overly optimistic about the projected rivers flows of the Colorado. Nevada, which for years has been drawing more water from its Lake Mead reservoir than has been flowing in, could be at serious risk of going dry in 20 years.

Las Vegas needed a Plan B. "When you have got a community of 2 million people and it is 90% reliant on the Colorado river you have to have a contingency plan," Pat Mulroy, the manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority said. Las Vegas, where the population had been doubling every decade until the most recent recession, planners had an idea. They want to tap into groundwater and pump up to 300bn litres of water a year out of valleys in eastern Nevada and transport it 300 miles south to the thirsty metropolis of casinos and golf courses. Opponents of the pipeline say draining the desert of groundwater would destroy the livelihoods of the cattle ranchers, Native American tribes, and Mormon enterprises that call this expanse home, and reduce a vast swath of the state to a dust bowl.

Conservation groups, such as the Great Basin Water Network, accuse Mulroy of an urban water grab. Environmental groups say Las Vegas has not done enough to conserve water, or to explore other solutions.

"It will devastate this part of the state," said Dean Baker He and his sons have grazing rights to 160,000 hectares of land straddling the Utah-Nevada state line. Baker is convinced the scheme would dry up the natural springs that feed his cattle herd and water his alfalfa and hay fields. The federal government's Bureau of Land Management released a study last summer warning the pipeline would lower water tables in some valleys by up to 60 metres over the coming decades. Smaller springs would dry up completely – and the animals that depend on them would die off.


Iran and the bomb

Israel has possessed a nuclear weapons capability since the late 1960s, and remains outside of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - an international treaty obligation that would place all civilian facilities under the purview of international monitoring and safeguards, and force the abandonment of existing nuclear weapons programmes in return for various security guarantees. Iran most certainly does NOT possess a current nuclear weapons capability. It is a signatory to the NPT and is subjected to - despite some reluctance - international verification and safeguards standards by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a way that Israel is not. Iran has categorically and emphatically stated that it has no intention of acquiring a nuclear weapons capability yet Western intelligence, including that by the UN nuclear watchdog contended that it does. Iran is under greater scrutiny for nuclear weapons development than Israel has been for actually possessing an undeclared and uninspected nuclear arsenal for over 40 years.

Several years ago, the UK had a Kelly who exposed the false claims that Iraq possessed WMDs . Today another Kelly is reported in the Guardian throwing doubts upon Iran's supposed WMD potential. Robert Kelley, a former US weapons scientists who ran the IAEA action team on Iraq at the time of the US-led invasion, said there were worrying parallels between the west's mistakes over Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction then and the IAEA's assessment of Iran now. "What we learned back in 2002 and 2003, when we were in the runup to the war, was that peer review was very important, and that the analysis should not be left to a small group of people," Kelley said. "So what have we learned since then? Absolutely nothing. Just like [former US vice-president] Dick Cheney, Amano is relying on a very small group of people and those opinions are not being checked."

Kelley argues that with war and peace in the balance, as well as the IAEA's credibility, anything it publishes must be thoroughly verified. In particular, he questions the agency's focus on a bus-sized steel vessel supposedly installed in an Iranian military site at Parchin in 2000, which the November report said was for "hydrodynamic experiments" – testing shaped, high-explosive arrays used to implode the spherical fissile core of a warhead and start a chain reaction. Kelley disputes the agency's logic.

"You don't do hydrodynamic testing of nuclear bombs in containers," he said. "All of such tests would be done at outdoor firing sites, not in a building next to a major highway."

Kelley also says the suggestion in the November report that weapons experimentation could be continuing is based largely on a single document, which ElBaradei had rejected as dubious. In his memoir, The Age of Deception, ElBaradei talks about documents supplied in 2009 by Israel, the authenticity of which was questioned by the agency's experts.

Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "The election [of Amano IAEA's director] was extremely polarised and bitter." US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks which revealed Amano's assiduous courting of American support. In an October 2009 cable, the US charge d'affaires, Geoffrey Pyatt, wrote: "Amano reminded [the] ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the developing countries group], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program." In an earlier cable in July that year, the Americans recount discussions with Amano on the future of officials, particular in Expo [the agency's office of external relations and policy co-ordination], "some of whom have not always been helpful to US positions". Last year, the named officials were moved to other jobs, out of the inner core which drafts the quarterly reports, like the one on Iran in November.

No one knows for sure whether Iran is presently working to acquire the atomic bomb or not. But we're left with a situation similar to that faced by Saddam Hussein's Iraq: prove that you don't have what you claim you don't have! Iran's enemies and their threats of bomb the country are leaving it little room to manouver - either actually develop a nuclear weapons programme to protect the country from future attack or turn your peaceful intentions of acquiring nuclear energy into appearing something more sinister. If Iran is purposefully playing a diplomatic game of ambiguity, they are only following the the example of Israel's deliberate equivocation upon the existance of their nuclear deterrent.

The threat that the mullahs of a nuclear armed Iran would commit national suicide by firing missiles at Israel or the US is without credibility. SOYMB does not presently see any reason to doubt President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent statement when he explained "The Iranian nation is wise. It won't build two bombs against 20,000 [nuclear] bombs you have...".

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Profits before people

Further to our earlier blog on the budget.

At least the Coalition government knows how capitalism works – it runs on profits, so priority must be given to profitability and profit-making. It’s written all over their economic policies and has been confirmed in the budget.

The only way capitalism gets out of a slump is when profit-making opportunities reappear. When they do, “growth” resumes. This means that, in a slump, any government must not do anything that will adversely affect profitability and profit-making prospects. Just the opposite, it must encourage these. That is, if it is going to do anything. Another option is to simply let spontaneous economic forces operate to restore profitability, as through unprofitable firms going bust and their assets passing cheaply to their rivals and increased unemployment pushing down wages.

A government can help restore profitability in two ways. It can reduce taxes on profits. In the budget, for the second year running, the Chancellor announced a cut in corporation tax, a direct tax on profits. This reduces government revenue, which means that it has to cut back on some of its other spending, as the present government is doing with a vengeance, forcing local councils to reduce public amenities and slashing payments to those who can’t find or who are unable to work.

The second way a government can help restore profitability is to reinforce the downward pressures that mass unemployment exerts on wage levels. Two recently announced measures openly proclaim this as their aim.

The Chancellor confirmed that national pay bargaining for public sector workers is to be replaced by regional bargaining on the grounds that the present system results in wage levels in some regions being too high, so high that to attract workers employers have to pay higher wages than otherwise. The aim of regional pay bargaining is to reduce wages – and so boost profitability – in areas of the country where public service workers are considered to be overpaid.

The minimum wage is to go up in October but by only half the rate of price increases. So, it’s going to be reduced in real terms. For those under 21, the rate is not going to be increased at all. Business Secretary Vince Cable justified this on the grounds that it would make it easier for young people to get a job, i.e. the lower wage is aimed at boosting the profit prospects of firms employing workers on the minimum wage.

But what about taxes on the rich that have also been announced? That’s a side-show. “Tycoon taxes”, “mansion taxes” and the like are not taxes on profits, but taxes on the consumption of the capitalist class. A government can safely increase them in a slump as they don’t affect profitability. This even has the political advantage of allowing them to justify the austerity measures imposed on the rest of the population as “fair” as even the rich are effected.

It is true, though, as the Labour Opposition has been quick to point out, that this propaganda ploy has been rather undermined by the government’s reduction of the rate of tax on incomes over £150,000 from 50 to 45 percent, supposedly to attract overseas businesspeople to come to invest in Britain. But, as the traditional party of the rich, the Tories can’t clobber their clientele too much.

There is no alternative under capitalism. As long as capitalism lasts all governments have to pursue a policy of giving priority to profits. Profits before people is the rule. It’s why we need socialism.

Apple rewards

The curent issue of the Socialist Standard carries articles about Apple. SOYMB came across this piece on Business Insider.

Apple shareholders have been rewarded very handsomely with as Apple stock soared from a $5+ stock in 2006 to today's $600+ level. Apple stock went up 75% in the past 52 weeks alone.

Apple said it will pay a quarterly dividend of $2.65 per share, starting July 1, and plans to buy back up to $10 billion in stock over three years starting Sept. 30.

According to Moody's, U.S. corporations, including Apple, has amassed a record $1.24 trillion of cash last year post 2008 credit crisis.

Do Apple stock holders really need more cash reward from Apple? Would Apple not better off re-investing its cash in innovative technology and product R&D

Better yet, how about giving some cash back directly to the employees at Foxconn--Apple's iSweatshop--or Apple's own mid to low levels. After all, Apple owe a large part of its' enviable iSales and iMargins to the hardworking worker bees at Foxconn and Apple.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) reveals that labor’s share of income in the United States has plummeted while personal dividend income as a percentage of disposable income has soared since 2009. In fact, CFR noted that dividend income along with corporate profits took the biggest jump in the early 1980s, a time in which labor’s share of income has fallen almost continuously.

The Standard Center of Poverty and Inequality notes that "The U.S. ranks third among all the advanced economies in the amount of income inequality. The top 1% of Americans control nearly a quarter of all the country's income, the highest share controlled by the top 1% since 1928."Perhaps it is time for corporations to rethink more meaningful and long-term strategic use of their cash, instead of driving income gap ever wider to appease the 1%."

Do Apple stock holders really need more cash reward from Apple? Would Apple not better off re-investing its cash in innovative technology and product R&D

Better yet, how about giving some cash back directly to the employees at Foxconn--Apple's iSweatshop--or Apple's own mid to low levels. After all, Apple owe a large part of its' enviable iSales and iMargins to the hardworking worker bees at Foxconn and Apple.

Sweden's down-turn

Sweden, the social-democrat welfare-dream-state, has seen the steepest increase in inequality over 15 years amongst the 34 OECD nations, with disparities rising at four times the pace of the United States. Eurostat said recently that after Bulgaria, Sweden had the second biggest rise in the percentage of its population deemed at-risk-of poverty.

Spending on welfare benefits such as pensions, unemployment and incapacity assistance has fallen by almost a third to 13 per cent of GDP from the early 90s, putting Sweden only just above the 11 per cent OECD average.

At the other end of the spectrum, tax changes and housing market reforms have made the rich richer.

Since the mid-80s, income from savings, private pensions or rentals, jumped 10 per cent for the richest fifth of the population while falling one percent for the poorest 20 per cent.


Demand Nothing - Take Everything

The details of yet another offensive in the class war was announced by the Chancellor. The budget was, Osborne said it "unashamedly backs business". He announced an additional cut of £10bn in welfare spending in 2016-17. 300,000 top-rate taxpayers, who currently pay top rate tax, will see a tax cut averaging £10,000 per individual, £40,000 for the 14,000 millionaires in the UK. Yet five million pensioners will be worse off due to their tax changes. Nor did the budget contained any help for the three million in the UK too poor to pay income tax.

The Resolution Foundation think- tank chief executive, Gavin Kelly, said "People on low and middle incomes were mostly targeted by the Chancellor's rhetoric. It is astonishing that the Coalition has chosen to prioritise a cut in income taxes on the rich at a time when low to middle-income families are seeing their standard of living fall and are struggling to afford day-to-day essentials."

The issue of taxation dominates contemporary political debate. The immense complexity of the taxation system, coupled with intricate shifts in the economy and in methods of presentation, makes it a struggle to try to accurately find out what is really happening. Endless streams of statistics are hurled in all directions, with illumination being no-one's goal. Like a stage magician, the government must keep on performing its budgetary tricks to give the appearance of doing something - anything - to keep hold of some sort of interest in its audience. Taxes go up, go down, and are moved from place to place in a blinding game of find the lady. Underneath it all is the illusion that the state can control the economy, can direct its course, by playing around with its tax structure. That smoke and mirrors act remains the same, time after time. They’re axing government spending, freezing government wages, cutting benefits, keeping interest rates low and, last but not least, lowering corporation tax on profits (reduced again by 2% and will be cut again by another 2% in 2014). There’s no guarantee that all this will work, but there is a guarantee that people will suffer.

Decades ago politicians and economists were promising a future where automation and the increasing productivity would mean a shorter working week, earlier retirement and rises in the standard of living. But listen now. All the talk is about austerity measures and cuts. Public sector workers, the jobless, those on housing and sickness benefits have been the main targets but everybody is being hit in one way or another.(And the retirement age is to go up not down!)

Capitalism as we all now know is in the middle of one of its economic crises, this time a bigger one than in the recent past. The "Recession," "Slump," "Downturn" or "Crisis," whatever you want to call it, is now accepted as part of economic life. Speculative bubbles always burst sooner or later – and the larger the bubble, the greater the correction that needs to follow. And unfortunately, the consequences are typically worst for the most vulnerable section of society – wage workers. Politicians rationalise such crises, describing them as a "necessary pain" to be endured every so often. And, as usual, we are the victims. This crisis has been caused, as all capitalist crises are, by the uncontrollable pursuit of profits that drives the capitalist economy. Capitalism in relatively “good” times is bad enough, but capitalism in an economic crisis is brutal and callous. It is vital to realise that this economic crisis is just the latest in a series of slumps which are quite natural to the capitalist system. In the past, supporters of this system have mistakenly believed that politicians would be able to rid society of the detrimental effects of the trade cycle. Gordon Brown is particularly infamous for his claims to have “abolished boom and bust”. Past slumps have included the Great Depression of the early 1930s, and recessions of the mid 1970s, the early 1980s and 1990s.

The savage cuts in spending by government departments, the pay freezes for public servants, the cuts in welfare benefits, price increases due to higher VAT confirm that the role of governments is to run the state machine in the general interest of the capitalist class, the tiny minority of super rich who own and control the means of wealth production. That governments really are the "executive committee of the ruling class" that Marx said they were. Any government, whether Tory, Labour, Liberal or any combination of the three in a coalition, that takes on the job of running the general affairs of capitalism has to act this way in the circumstances. They have to accept, and do accept, that that's the way the capitalist system works and put profits before people. Ultimately, it is the economy that controls politicians and not the other way around. Some will blame the wicked ConDems for all this. But they have essentially been the agents - to be true, more often than not, the all-too-willing agents - of economic forces beyond the control of any government. Cuts are what the economic laws of capitalism require at the present time and no government can defy this. If you accept the logic of capitalism, you play by its rules – and by its rules, savage government spending cuts are just necessary and inevitable. By its rules, to fight against cuts and for higher wages is as senseless as trying to shake fruit from a dead tree.

This is a not an easy thing to explain to protestors but the fact is that under capitalism there is little that can be done to stop the cuts. These sort of protests have been going on since the end of the 1970s, when the reforms brought in in the 50s and 60s began to be gradually whittled away and, if the truth is to be told, ever since the capitalist class has had the workers on the run. Which is why most demonstrations these days are not to demand improvements but merely to stop things getting worse. All that can be achieved is a few concessions here and there. Of course people should protest at things getting worse but they shouldn't have any illusion that they can stop this. At most they can only slow it down. Fight back is necessary - the gains made by wage and salary workers on pay, pensions and other related issues have not, after all, been granted by benevolent governments or employers – they had to be fought for. And the only way for working people to defend those gains is through democratic and unified action. There is not, insists the government, any political choice about any of this: the cuts are just inevitable. To their inevitable facts of life, we must pose our own: resistance and socialist education. They started this particularly nasty and vindictive phase of the class war, and all workers are in it together whether we want to be or not. The propertied elite may have let their greed get the best of them. In their quest to re-distribute wealth from the labouring class to the idle, they have been a bit too successful: the exploited are waking up. Systems that fail to respond to the needs of the masses risk finding themselves replaced. Are we beginning to see a resurgence in the class struggle? We certainly hope so. But without a decent anti-capitalist argument, and an idea of what we are for, we¹ve lost before we’ve begun.

Governments, not just in Britain but everywhere, have had to resort to drastic austerity measures to raise money and capitalism being what it is, governments are trying to find ways to save money that they can then use to reduce taxes on profits and so help restore the profitability needed before any chance of a recovery. They have had to sell off state assets to the private sector. They have undermined the integrity of their state by introducing into it the degraded standards of the marketplace and by hiving off whole sections to private businesses. They have considerably worsened the working conditions of public sector employees. And they have drastically reduced the scope and level of services provided by national and local government. The cuts have been massive steps backward, aimed, of course, at the most vulnerable in our society. As members of the working class living on state benefits are well aware, it is quite impossible to put a little by for a rainy day, for every day is forecast as a downpour, and trying to keep your head out of the deluge is a constant problem. And for those who are wholly dependent on benefits as their only source of income, their whole lifestyle is dictated by their resourcefulness in eking out their pittance from one day to the next. Yet the government is planning to make things worse, bowing to the need to impose austerity measures in response to the global crisis of capitalism.

The story from the government is that the cuts in borrowing and public spending need to be imposed in order to restore profitability to UK Plc. The capitalist class, as taxpayers, don’t like paying a portion of the taxes that fall on them to go to repay with interest those other capitalists who lent the government the money. That’s what servicing the so-called National Debt involves: a transfer of wealth from one section of the capitalist class to another section. So, again, not our problem. It’s their debt not ours. Recovery will only come when the rate of profit is restored. Which employers are actively seeking to bring about by imposing wage freezes, even wage cuts, watering down pension schemes, and anything else they can think of to reduce their labour costs. Some have even been asking their employees to work for nothing. The capitalist class – and their political representatives in the bourgeois parties who are vying with each other with talk of a austerity cuts – have started a campaign to defray some of the costs of these payments to their fellow capitalists by cutting down on the payments and services they reluctantly have provided for the working class. The gap between those at the top of society, and the rest of us, is actually getting bigger. This is a general trend in capitalism throughout the world. In truth, the capitalists pretty much look after themselves – but for the workers under capitalism, they always did get the shitty end of the stick. To fight the same old welfare reform battles over several decades is demoralising enough, but when previous reforms are put into reverse the case against the system is stronger than ever.

Which is one good reason why we should not put up with capitalism any longer. The tyranny of money maintains injustice and division world wide. The only framework within which can be solved the problems facing humanity, not only obviously global problems such as climate change, wars and food shortages, but also the more “local” problems such as in the fields of healthcare, education, transport and the like but which are basically the same in all countries. The Socialist Party is thus anti-capitalist. There is only one solution to the economic crises and slumps of capitalism: a socialist revolution that will sweep away the fetters of the market economy for good. It can‘t be mended, so it must be ended. When we challenge capitalism, we challenge it all or we do not challenge it at all.