Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Food Sovereignty Russian-Style

Photo courtesy of

Earlier this month, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that Russia will not import GMO products because Russia has enough space and resources to produce organic food.
This was not a political statement of posturing, given the current cool relations between the U.S. and Russia over the Ukraine. As it turns out, Russia’s food security is light years ahead of the U.S.
A significant portion of the Russian population own “dachas,” or seasonal garden homes, where they can grow their own food. At the height of the communist era, it is reported that these dachas produced 90% of the nation’s food. Today, with the land now privatized, they still comprise about 40% of the nation’s food.

Compare that with the United States, where less than 1% of the population controls the food, and small-scale family farms have for the most part been bought out by huge Biotech corporations.

While many in the world are completely dependent on large scale agriculture, the Russian people feed themselves. Their agricultural economy is small scale, predominantly organic and in the capable hands of the nation’s people. Russians have something built into their DNA that creates the desire to grow their own food. It’s a habit that has fed the Russian nation for centuries. It’s not just a hobby but a massive contribution to Russia’s agriculture.

In 2011, 51% of Russia’s food was grown either by dacha communities (40%), like those pictured above in Sisto-Palkino, or peasant farmers (11%) leaving the rest (49%) of production to the large agricultural enterprises. But when you dig down into the earthy data from the Russian Statistics Service you discover some impressive details. Again in 2011, dacha gardens produced over 80% of the countries fruit and berries, over 66% of the vegetables, almost 80% of the potatoes and nearly 50% of the nations milk, much of it consumed raw.

Food sovereignty puts the people who produce, distribute and eat food at the centre of decisions about food production and policy rather than corporations and market institutions that have come to dominate the global food system. In 2003, the Russian government signed the Private Garden Plot Act into law, entitling citizens to private plots of land for free. These plots range from 0.89 hectares to 2.75 hectares. Industrial agricultural practices tend to be extremely resource intensive and can damage the environment. 70% of global water use goes to farming, and soil is eroded 10 to 40 times faster.

Read the Full Article Here.

Capitalism: To Be Is To Have

Quote of the Day

Paulo Freire:

 "Money is the measure of all things, and profit the primary goal. For the oppressors, what is worthwhile is to have more--always more--even at the cost of the oppressed having less or having nothing. For them, to be is to have."

A World Beyond Profit

Capitalism and Artificial Scarcity

It is no secret that capitalism thrives off exploitation. It needs a large majority of people to be completely reliant on their labor power. It needs private property to be accessible to only a few, so that they may utilize it as a social relationship where the rented majority can labor and create value. It needs capital to be accessible to only a few, so that they may regenerate and reinvest said capital in a perpetual manner. And it needs a considerable population of the impoverished and unemployed - "a reserve army of labor," as Marx put it - in order to create a "demand" for labor and thus make such exploitative positions "competitive" to those who need to partake in them to merely survive. It needs these things in order to stay intact - something that is desirable to the 85 richest people in the world who own more than half of the world's entire population (3.6 billion people).

But wealth accumulation through alienation and exploitation is not enough in itself. The system also needs to create scarcity where it does not already exist. Even Marx admitted that capitalism has given us the productive capacity to provide all that is needed for the global population. In other words, capitalism has proven that scarcity does not exist. And, over the years, technology has confirmed this. But, in order for capitalism to survive, scarcity must exist, even if through artificial means. This is a necessary component on multiple fronts, including the pricing of commodities, the enhancement of wealth, and the need to inject a high degree of competition among people (who are naturally inclined to cooperation).
Since capitalism
is based in the buying and selling of commodities, its lifeblood is production. And since production in a capitalist system is not based on need, but rather on demand, it has the tendency to produce more than it can sell. This is called overproduction.
Overproduction is when capitalists produce too much compared to the demand for things or services. Suddenly capitalists build up stocks of things they cannot sell, they have factories with too much capacity compared to demand and they have too many workers than they need. So they close down plant, slash the workforce and even just liquidate the whole business. That is a capitalist crisis.
When overproduction occurs, it must be addressed. There are multiple ways to do this. Marx addressed three options: "On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones." Another is through the destruction of excess capital and commodities. Whichever measure is taken, it is paramount that the economy must emerge from a starting point that is different from the ending point where the crisis began. This is accomplished through creating scarcity, whether in regards to labor, production capacity, or commodities and basic needs.

Maintaining scarcity is also necessary for wealth enhancement. It is not enough that accumulation flows to a very small section of the population, but more so that a considerable portion of the population is faced with the inherent struggles related to inaccessibility. For example, if millions of people are unable to access basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare, the commodification of those needs becomes all the more effective. On the flip side, the mere presence of accessibility - or wealth - which is enjoyed by the elite becomes all the more valuable because it is highly sought after.
In this sense, it is not the accumulation of personal wealth that creates advantageous positions on the socioeconomic ladder; it's the impoverishment of the majority. Allowing human beings access to basic necessities would essentially destroy the allure (and thus, power) of wealth and the coercive nature of forced participation. This effect is maintained through artificial scarcity - the coordinated withholding of basic needs from the majority. These measures also seek to create a predatory landscape where manufactured scarcity pits poor against poor and worker against worker.

Control through Commodification

A crucial part of this process is commodification - the "transformation of goods and services, as well as ideas or other entities that normally may not be considered goods, into commodities" that can be bought, sold, used and discarded. The most important transformation is that of the working-class majority who, without the means to sustain on their own, are left with a choice between (1) laboring to create wealth for a small minority and accepting whatever "wages" are provided, or (2) starving.

In The Socioeconomic Guardians of Scarcity, Philip Richlin tells us that:
"When society deprives any community or individual of the necessities of life, there is a form of violence happening. When society commodifies the bare necessities of life, they are commodifying human beings, whose labor can be bought and sold. Underneath the pseudo-philosophical rationalizations for capitalism is a defense of wage slavery. For, if your labor is for sale, then you are for sale."
We are for sale, and we sell ourselves everyday - in the hopes of acquiring a wage that allows us to eat, sleep, and feed our families. In the United States, the 46 million people living in poverty haven't been so lucky. The 2.5 million who have defaulted on their student loans have been discarded. The 49 million who suffer from food insecurity have lost hope. The 3.5 million homeless are mocked by 18.6 million vacant homes. And the 22 million who are unemployed or underemployed have been deemed "unfit commodities" and relegated to the reserve army of labor.

The control aspect of the commodification of labor comes in its dehumanizing effect - an effect that was commonly recognized among 18th and 19th century thinkers. One of those thinkers, Wilhelm Von Humboldt, when referring to the role of a wage laborer, explained "as whatever does not spring from a man's free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness, suggesting that "we may admire what he (the laborer) does, but we despise what he is," because he is essentially not human.
The worker, in her or his role in the capital-labor relationship, exists in a position of constant degeneration. This is especially true with the onset of mass production lines and the division of labor - both of which are inevitable elements within this system. "As the division of labor increases, labor is simplified," Marx tells us. "The special skill of the worker becomes worthless. He becomes transformed into a simple, monotonous productive force that does not have to use intense bodily or intellectual faculties. His labor becomes a labor that anyone can perform." As automation and technology progress, such specialized task-mastering even seeps into what was once considered "skilled" labor, thus broadening its reach.
In this role, workers are firmly placed into positions of control within a highly authoritative and hierarchical system.

A World beyond Profit

Dystopian narratives are no longer fiction. From birth, we are corralled into a system that scoffs at free will, stymies our creative and productive capacities, and leaves us little room to carve our own paths.
Another world is not just possible; it is inevitable if we are to exist in the long-term. In Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Murray Bookchin offers a glimpse into this world not constructed on labor, profit, and artificial scarcity:
"It is easy to foresee a time, by no means remote, when a rationally organized economy could automatically manufacture small "packaged" factories without human labor; parts could be produced with so little effort that most maintenance tasks would be reduced to the simple act of removing a defective unit from a machine and replacing it by another-a job no more difficult than pulling out and putting in a tray. Machines would make and repair most of the machines required to maintain such a highly industrialized economy. Such a technology, oriented entirely toward human needs and freed from all consideration of profit and loss, would eliminate the pain of want and toil-the penalty, inflicted in the form of denial, suffering and inhumanity, exacted by a society based on scarcity and labor."

whole article here

Alternatives: Le Guin Blasts Fear, Greed and the Profit Motive

Amidst the best-of-2014 lists seeking to burnish a pretty dark year, we should find a place for the barn-burning speech by 85-year-old novelist Ursula Le Guin at the National Book Awards, where she accepted a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for her decades of Marxist, feminist, gender-bending, capitalism-smashing science fiction - most notably The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed - dubbed by some admirers the anti-Ayn-Rand of literature.

Slamming the current reality of "a profiteer (trying) to punish a publisher for disobedience, writers threatened by corporate fatwa, (and writers) letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant," she suggested, "Hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now...We will need writers who can remember freedom."

"Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words...We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom."

from here with short video

A 2,500 Square-Mile Methane Plume Over Western US

A socialist system will embrace technology, but with the profit motive removed emphasis will be first and foremost on safety for both people and planet. There will be no headlong rush by corporations, no pressure from lobbyists, but a rational appraisal of what's necessary, desirable and acceptable. Whether food, fuel, medicines, rare earth metals or any resource required for production  priority will be given to firm democratic decisions based on the precautionary principle. Do no harm.

 below from here

A monstrous cloud of accumulated methane—a potent greenhouse gas—is now hovering over a large portion of the western United States according to satellite imagery analyzed by NASA and reported by the Washington Post.
Created by years of intentionally released and errantly leaked natural gas during fossil fuel drilling operations, the cloud—invisible to the human eye but captured by advanced satellite imaging technology—is centered over northwest New Mexico and described by the Post as "a permanent, Delaware-sized methane cloud, so vast that scientists questioned their own data when they first studied it three years ago."

So alarmed by the size of the plume were scientists, NASA researcher Christian Frankenberg told the Post, "We couldn’t be sure that the signal was real."
Though there is considerably less of it put into the atmosphere each year, methane is twenty times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon-dioxide or CO2.

The accumulation of methane is not a new problem, but one that appears to be worsening as hydraulic fracture drilling (or fracking) and other intensive fossil fuel extraction operations continue to soar in the southwest region of the country. The latest NASA analysis of the phenomenon put the approximate "average extent of the gas plume over the past decade at 2,500 square miles." Frankenberg pointed out that this estimate pre-dates the most recent gas and oil drilling boom now underway in the southwest.

Though the industry has longed ignored the dangers of so-called gas "flaring"—in which excess methane is simply burned off during oil and gas drilling or processing—environmenalists and climate scientists have long been sounding the alarm about methane's impact when it comes to global warming and other ecological hazards. And though natural gas has been heralded as a cleaner alternative to coal, numerous studies have shown that though gas burns cleaner than coal, the ability of gas to escape during extraction and transportation, the cumulative greenhouse impact could be equal or worse than coal.

Using available data, this graphic was created the Post:

Government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations

The richest people on Earth got richer in 2014, adding US$92 billion. The net worth of the world's 400 wealthiest billionaires as of yesterday stood at US$4.1 trillion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking system.

The biggest gainer was Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba Group, China's biggest e-commerce company. Ma added US$25.1 billion to his fortune, riding a 56 per cent surge in Alibaba's shares since its September initial public offering.

In 1848 John J. Astor, a merchant trader, was America’s richest man with $20m (now $545m). By the time the United States entered the first world war, John D. Rockefeller had become its first billionaire. When he died in 1992, Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was probably America’s richest man with $8 billion.

Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, added US$13.7 billion to his net worth after the Nebraska-based company soared 28 per cent as the dozens of operating businesses the 84-year-old chairman bought over the past five decades churned out record profit. Buffett passed Mexican telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim on December 5 to become the world's second-richest person.

Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, the world's largest social networking company, gained US$10.6 billion as the California-based business rose to a record on December 22. This year Facebook's mobile business has flourished and its acquisition of Instagram in 2012 for US$1 billion has also been paying off: a Citigroup analyst said this month that the photo sharing app is worth US$35 billion.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates was up US$9.1 billion during the year. The 59-year-old remains the world's richest person with a US$87.6 billion fortune.

Politics is both necessary to business and irresistible to the self-important. A growing number of robber barons and their children went into politics themselves. Two of Rockefeller’s children became governors—Nelson of New York and Winthrop of Arkansas—and Nelson went on to be Gerald Ford’s vice-president. The Senate was known as “the millionaire’s club”. Robber barons bought Ford. Now Google’s political action committee spent more on campaigns than Goldman Sachs, a company legendary for its political connections. Zuckerberg has founded a pressure group,, to push for immigration reform. The group’s head  boasts that the tech industry will become “one of the most powerful political forces” because “we control massive distribution channels, both as companies and as individuals”. These “channels” include old-media redoubts such as the Washington Post (bought by Bezos) and the New Republic (bought by Facebook’s Chris Hughes) as well as new media empires such as Yahoo. Silicon Valley is now a regular stop in fundraising and an established part of America’s revolving-door culture. Al Gore, a former vice-president, has been a senior adviser to Google. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, started her career as chief of staff to Larry Summers when he was treasury secretary. Meanwhile through his philanthropy and his charity foundation, Gates determines various governments policy throughout Africa.

Time to topple Old King Coal

A tradition for the Scottish Hogmanay is to bring a lump of coal when first-footing to signify that the house will keep warm, bring comfort and be safe for coming New Year. Sadly like many of the old ways, modern times no longer give the symbolism any positive meaning.

Experts warn coal use is growing unsustainably and coal prices are likely to stay low over the next five years, according to the International Energy Agency. Coal will likely overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017, and without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change. It forecasts rising demand for the cheap fuel from India and other Asian countries, with global coal use on an upwards march to hit a record 9 billion tonnes by 2019. Burning coal emits soot, mercury, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides – pollutants that are associated with lung and heart disease that threatens to cause needless deaths and rampant greenhouse gas emissions unless the international community backs low carbon development, experts warned. Coal-fired power plants account for just 40% of global electricity production, but they are responsible for more than 70% of its emissions. “We have heard many pledges and policies aimed at mitigating climate change, but over the next five years they will mostly fail to arrest the growth in coal demand,” said IEA chief Maria van der Hoeven. He stressed that despite its “undeniable” contribution to energy access, coal use was “simply unsustainable” in its current form.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

THE NATIONAL ELF SERVICE (our weekly poem)

(Shrinking by the minute!)

If you ring for an ambulance, 
Because you’re at death’s door;
You’ll only have to wait six hours,
And not a minute more.
But if Fate’s given you a week,
Before you pass away;
The Medics somehow seem to know,
And so they’ll take all day.
Thus if you’ve had a heart attack,
Don’t waste time on the ‘phone;
Get jogging to the hospital,
Because you’re on your own.
Or if you’ve broken your left leg,
Don’t wait for them all night;
Get on yer bike to A & E,
And pedal with the right.

A touch of mild Bubonic Plague?
Then here’s a savvy tip;
Don’t tell Emergency Control,
Or they’ll just send a skip.
And when the promised ambulance,
Fails to appear at all;
The moment that you phone them back,
They’ll treat you like a fool.
It’s not they’re understaffed and have,
An insufficient fleet;
But everyday each ambulance,
Drives through rain, snow and sleet.
Then when they reach the hospital,
They’ll form a lengthy queue;
To try the patient’s patience and
Weed out the dying few.

So when you finally arrive,
In frenzied A & E;
You’ll wish you’d gone to BUPA and,
Paid their excessive fee.
Because some hours further on,
You’ll hear it vaguely said;
That your condition’s terminal,
But they’ve got no spare bed.
The selfish bloke in the next bay,
Has still not gasped and died;
Until he does, the hospital
And all its hands are tied.
Your visitors will then endure,
That bureaucratic sleaze;
The privilege of paying for,
The Health Trust’s parking fees.

They won’t admit it’s a cash cow,
But glibly fib and say;
That it prevents cars parking for,
The shops three miles away.
Assuming that one can, of course,
Get in the parking lot;
As the lake at the hospital,
Takes half the space they’ve got.
Now with Health Budgets frozen then,
Such waiting will increase;
So take some Wittgenstein to read,
And also ‘War and Peace’.
The NHS would be quite good,
Our politicians say;
If it weren’t for the patients who,
Get in the bloody way! 

© Richard Layton 

It pays to invest

On December 30th, 1999, the FTSE 100 index of the UK's biggest companies hit its highest closing level ever. Despite  two stock market crashes (the IT crash and the global financial crisis), the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and a euro crisis , on  average, shares in the FTSE 100 yield about 3% a year, which is comfortably better than the best cash ISA, even allowing for tax free interest

Even if the capital value of some shares in the index may have declined over the last 15 years, its dividends have grown healthily. The equity market has delivered significant returns ahead of inflation for long term investors.

"Despite the FTSE 100 remaining below the level it achieved in 1999, the vast majority of investors should have made money over this 15-year period," says Rebecca O'Keeffe, head of investment at Interactive Investor. She estimates that anyone reinvesting dividends would have generated an overall return of 60% since 1999. Others put the figure at nearer 80%.

HSBC shares have fallen by 15% since 1999, but dividends have produced an overall return of 64%.

Even if  someone who invested £10,000 in the FTSE 100 at the worst moment, on 30 December 1999, would now be sitting on more than £15,000 with income reinvested, according to Laith Khalaf, a senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. Someone investing £10,000 in a FTSE 250 tracker in 1999 would have more than doubled their money to £23,000 over the period. If they had reinvested the dividends, they would have more than tripled their money, to £36,000.

How Corporations Get Richer

Over half of U.S. corporate foreign profits are now being held in tax havens, double the share of just twenty years ago. Corporations are stealing from the nation that made them rich.

There are many examples of greed among individual firms. Based largely on 2014 SEC documents submitted by the companies themselves:

---Exxon has almost 80% of its productive oil and gas wells in the U.S. but declared only 17% of its income here. The company used a theoretical tax to account for 83% of last year's income tax bill, and paid less than 2% of its total income in current U.S. taxes.

---Chevron has about 75% of its oil and gas wells and almost 90% of its pipeline mileage in the United States, yet the company claimed only 13% of last year's income in the U.S., and paid almost nothing (less than 1/10 of 1%) in current U.S. taxes.

---Pfizer had 40% of last year's sales in the U.S., but claimed losses in the U.S. and $17 billion in profits overseas.

---Bank of America, despite making 84% of its 2011-2013 revenue in the U.S., declared just 31% of its profits in the United States.

---Citigroup had 43% of its 2011-2013 revenue in North America but declared less than 3% of its profits in the United States.

---Apple still does most of its product and research development in the United States. Yet the company moved $30 billion in profits to an Irish subsidiary with no employees, with loopholes in place to avoid establishing residency in any country. The subsidiary files no returns and pays no taxes. Apple CEO Tim Cook said, "We pay all the taxes we owe." 

---Google's business is based on the Internet, the Digital Library Initiative, and the geographical database of the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet the company has gained recognition as one of the world's biggest tax avoiders.

from here

Non-People In France

Benches with wire fences around (down) next to the 'Galerie du Champ-de-mars' shopping mall in Angouleme Photo from AFP,Getty

The local council in the French city of Angouleme has backtracked on a decision to cage public benches to stop homeless people using them.
The fences were put up on Christmas Eve sparking outrage that the move could be so lacking in Yuletide spirit
While many shopkeepers had welcomed the cages, saying homeless people brought down the number of customers, locals had responded in solidarity.
Two teenagers climbed inside the cages and refused to move out. One said: “we were quite outraged , like everybody, I think. And so we said to ourselves: we absolutely have to do something”
The cages have been temporarily removed but the mayor of the right leaning UMP council, Xavier Bonnefont, said no final decision had yet been made.
“We will continue to reflect on this in January with the shopkeepers and the residents of Champs de Mars square, in order to find a satisfactory solution,” he declared.
On social media, the mayor defended the cages saying they hadn’t been aimed just at homeless people but at alcoholics and drug dealers who used the area.
He also said the cages would eventually have been filled with local rocks to form a kind of landscape art installation.

So, cages now to prevent access to benches by homeless, alcoholics and drug dealers. Is this one step better or worse than putting them in cages? Our societies have developed over many years in response to conditions thrust upon them by powerful decision makers. It becomes more and more apparent that now certain sections of that public can be denied even the privilege of being recognised as having the status of humankind. 
Deal with the cause, not the symptoms.

US Spreading ‘Prison Imperialism’

Following on from this earlier post about the US prison system the one below discusses international impacts:

Above photo: Prison in Colombia.

Where else will you hear about US prison imperialism besides from the Alliance for Global Justice? Simply put, there is no other organization that has as thoroughly researched and exposed these programs than AfGJ.
Did you know that the US government has been exporting its style of mass incarceration to at least 25 other countries–what we call “prison imperialism”? 

These efforts began in 2000 with the Program for the Improvement of the Colombian Prison System. Since then, US involvement in foreign prison systems has spread to Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo Bay, Mexico, Honduras and around the world. It is closely related to other efforts to militarize police and international borders. These are replications of US models of crowd suppression, police brutality and racial profiling; border zones transformed into marshal law zones; and mass incarceration.

AfGJ understands implicitly that police brutality and racial profiling in Ferguson is intimately related to CIA torture programs and police repression around the world. We understand that the struggle against militarized borders in the US is just one side of an international struggle. And we can see that spreading mass incarceration around the world serves no one except the free traders and profit warriors and police state repressors. 

Indeed, wherever the US has neoliberal, free trade agreements, it is also building new jails and/or restructuring the entire prison system. These prisons help uphold and maintain the US empire. Prison Imperialism is not about fighting crime–it’s about social control and repression of dissent. In the US, crime rates have gone down since the 1970s, but prison populations have skyrocketed by over 700%. In Mexico, the US funded prisons aren’t about incarcerating big time narco-traffickers. Most the imprisoned are there for “victimless crimes”. In Colombia, US involvement in the prison system was justified as a way to alleviate overcrowding. But today, overcrowding is at an all time high and there has been a big spike in political arrests and reports of torture.

Gloomy prospect ahead for wages

The TUC is warning that workers will have to wait until 2024 before they make up lost ground and see their pay recover to pre-crisis levels.

TUC research says the real value of the average full-time employee wage fell by £487 in 2014 and has fallen by £2,509 since 2010 – a decline of about £50 a week.

Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said: “What is clear is that it will take a decade for wages to catch up in real terms to where they were before the crash. There are a lot of people who are now dipping into their savings – or, worse, getting into debt, to try to maintain a standard of living.”

According to the government’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, George Osborne’s economic plans mean “a very sharp spending squeeze”, with 60% of the cuts to fall in the next parliament. Osborne’s hopes to cut government spending to levels last seen in the 1930s. O’Grady said. “This is really punishing the poor.”

Prison slavery

Dostoevsky said, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons"

The political journalist Chris Hedges has written a biting criticism of the American prison industry. The US prison-industrial complex, holds 2.3 million prisoners, or 25 percent of the world’s prison population, and from 1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700 percent, makes money by keeping prisons full. He writes “Prisons are a grotesque manifestation of corporate capitalism. Slavery is legal in prisons under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It reads: ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. …, And the massive U.S. prison industry functions like the forced labor camps that have existed in all totalitarian states.”

Other extracts worth quoting are

“Prisons employ and exploit the ideal worker. Prisoners do not receive benefits or pensions. They are not paid overtime. They are forbidden to organize and strike. They must show up on time. They are not paid for sick days or granted vacations. They cannot formally complain about working conditions or safety hazards. If they are disobedient, or attempt to protest their pitiful wages, they lose their jobs and can be sent to isolation cells. The roughly 1 million prisoners who work for corporations and government industries in the American prison system are models for what the corporate state expects us all to become…The wages paid to prisoners for labor inside prisons have remained stagnant and in real terms have declined over the past three decades. In New Jersey a prisoner made $1.20 for eight hours of work—yes, eight hours of work—in 1980 and today makes $1.30 for a day’s labor. Prisoners earn, on average, $28 a month. Those incarcerated in for-profit prisons earn as little as 17 cents an hour. However, items for sale in prison commissaries have risen in price over the past two decades by as much as 100 percent. And new rules in some prisons, including those in New Jersey, prohibit families to send packages to prisoners, forcing prisoners to rely exclusively on prison vendors….
…States, in the name of austerity, have stopped providing prisoners with essential items including shoes, extra blankets and even toilet paper, while starting to charge them for electricity and room and board….
Debt peonage inside prison is as prevalent as it is outside prison…. there is a 10 percent charge imposed by New Jersey on every commissary purchase. Stamps have a 10 percent surcharge. Prisoners must pay the state for a 15-minute deathbed visit to an immediate family member or a 15-minute visit to a funeral home to view the deceased. New Jersey, like most other states, forces a prisoner to reimburse the system for overtime wages paid to the two guards who accompany him or her, plus mileage cost. The charge can be as high as $945.04. It can take years to pay off a visit with a dying father or mother.
Fines, often in the thousands of dollars, are assessed against many prisoners when they are sentenced. There are 22 fines that can be imposed in New Jersey, including the Violent Crime Compensation Assessment (VCCB), the Law Enforcement Officers Training & Equipment Fund (LEOT) and Extradition Costs (EXTRA). The state takes a percentage each month out of prison pay to pay down the fines, a process that can take decades. If a prisoner who is fined $10,000 at sentencing must rely solely on a prison salary he or she will owe about $4,000 after making payments for 25 years. Prisoners can leave prison in debt to the state. And if they cannot continue to make regular payments—difficult because of high unemployment—they are sent back to prison….

…The three top for-profit prison corporations spent an estimated $45 million over a recent 10-year period for lobbying that is keeping the prison business flush. The resource center In the Public Interest documented in its report “Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and ‘Low-Crime Taxes’ Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations” that private prison companies often sign state contracts that guarantee prison occupancy rates of 90 percent. If states fail to meet the quota they have to pay the corporations for the empty beds…

…Corporations have privatized most of the prison functions once handled by governments. They run prison commissaries and, since the prisoners have nowhere else to shop, often jack up prices by as much as 100 percent. Corporations have taken over the phone systems and charge exorbitant fees to prisoners and their families. They grossly overcharge for money transfers from families to prisoners. And these corporations, some of the nation’s largest, pay little more than a dollar a day to prison laborers who work in for-profit prison industries. Food and merchandise vendors, construction companies, laundry services, uniforms companies, prison equipment vendors, cafeteria services, manufacturers of pepper spray, body armor and the array of medieval instruments used for the physical control of prisoners, and a host of other contractors feed like jackals off prisons. Prisons, in America, are a hugely profitable business….for-profit companies presently control about 18 percent of federal prisoners and 6.7 percent of all state prisoners. Private prisons account for nearly all newly built prisons. And nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are shipped to for-profit prisons…

…Whole industries now rely almost exclusively on prison labor. Federal prisoners, who are among the highest paid in the U.S. system, making as much as $1.25 an hour, produce the military’s helmets, uniforms, pants, shirts, ammunition belts, ID tags and tents. Prisoners work, often through subcontractors, for major corporations such as Chevron, Bank of America, IBM, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Starbucks, Nintendo, Victoria’s Secret, J.C. Penney, Sears, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Eddie Bauer, Wendy’s, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Fruit of the Loom, Motorola, Caterpillar, Sara Lee, Quaker Oats, Mary Kay, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Dell, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin and Target. Prisoners in some states run dairy farms, staff call centers, take hotel reservations or work in slaughterhouses. And prisoners are used to carry out public services such as collecting highway trash in states such as Ohio…”

Monday, December 29, 2014

Farming Must Adapt To A Changing World

“Don’t blame population growth: We have enough resources for everyone if we choose to distribute things better. We already grow enough food for over 10 billion people, we just waste 30%, and feed large chunks to our cars, power stations and livestock.” Duncan Williamson, food policy manager, WWF UK

How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on peoples’ well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of the economy; food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change and economic inequality. Every year two million people die from unsafe food and water around the world. Food safety experts warn these deaths may be caused by human design, and nowhere is this trend more prevalent than in China.


A world without police

An interesting article by Peter Gelderloos about the recent police shootings and brutality in America which provides a refreshing viewpoint that many socialists share and worth quoting extracts from.

“We don’t want better police. We don’t want to fix the police. On the contrary, we understand that the police work quite well; they simply do not work for us and they never have. We want to get rid of the police entirely, and we want to live in a world where police are not necessary…
…The police are not an instrument fit to protect a society; on the contrary they are an instrument fit to protect an elite, parasitical class from society….
….We can’t get rid of police brutality without getting rid of the police, and we can’t get rid of the police without getting rid of an entire system based on exploitation, oppression, and hierarchy. There is no easy, band-aid solution to this problem, and bandying them about only perpetuates the problem….
…If we assert that it is not permitted to speak of a world without police, this is only true if we understand the police as one function in an interlocking system of domination, and the abolition of the police means the abolition of that entire system….
…We need more people who are talking about a world without prisons….
…Fighting back against the police, especially shooting back at them, as was happening in Ferguson, is not a safe activity. Change is never safe. And if we can successfully overcome the police to create a liberated zone, the State will eventually send in the military….It is understandable that many people would not want to face the extreme risks involved with uprooting the oppressions that grip our society. There is nothing wrong with being afraid, so long as you have the courage to admit it….”

The essay concludes:
“In the streets, we need to learn how to seize space, to make sure that those who fight back are never isolated, to make collective responses possible so no one has to react in an individual, suicidal way again, and to build a struggle that has room for young and old, for the peaceful and the bellicose, for those who know how to fight and those who know how to heal. It will be a long process, and in the meantime, there is a great need to speak loud and clear about a world without police, so everyone will know there is another way, beyond the false alternatives of obedience or ineffectual reform.”

The Price of Children

One in 10 UK families see one earner's wages used solely to cover childcare and commuting costs, research has suggested. 43% of parents with children aged up to five said they used childcare to enable them to go back to work.

The Family and Childcare Trust has calculated that the cost of childcare in the UK was £11,700 for an average family with one child in full-time nursery and one child in an afterschool club. The Aviva survey of 2,000 parents with children aged up to five suggested the median average wage left by the lower earner's family was £243 a month. This was after the cost of childcare, commuting, work-wear and work-related equipment.

"Our findings paint a picture of a nation of parents struggling to keep their heads, and careers, above water in the face of rising childcare costs," said Louise Colley, protection director at Aviva.

Ireland's new invisible poor

According to data on Material Deprivation published by the European Commission, Ireland comes in at number three on the list of most deprived countries in the EU-15 – just after Greece and Italy. This means that one million people, or 28 percent of the Irish population, struggle to provide themselves with heat, shelter, food and bills. 600,000 people are living in food poverty. Food banks are popping up everywhere.

Valerie Cummins in a small corner of Dublin's run down north inner city works for Crosscare, a social support agency in Dublin that set up Ireland's first community food banks. She said  "Right now, demand is so high we can't keep up. People are dropping in all the time asking for emergency parcels to get them through the next few days. I've been working with Crosscare for 25 years and I have never seen things so bad. People are more desperate than ever."

Rose Sinclair-Doyle and mum of two from Tallaght, south Dublin recently started to use the new community food bank to feed her family. "People never think it could happen to them," she said. "I've been living under austerity for years, but it was only when my daughter moved back home with her two kids that the money just couldn't stretch to feed us all. I'm ashamed going in, but I need food," she said. "It's not an easy thing to do, but after I split from my partner I was left alone with the mortgage repayments. I don't get fuel allowance, so I have to think about heating my house, paying for electricity... it's so hard. " Rose added: "When I lived alone, I was able to stock up. Things were tight, but I could manage. I would always have that point where there'd be a bill I couldn't pay, but I got by until I was suddenly responsible for putting food on the table for four people. Then I had to get help. It just takes one thing to push you to the breadline, and that's where we are in Ireland right now."

Rose isn't alone. Students, the unemployed, people on low incomes and those who racked up massive debt during the economic boom are now starting to depend on Ireland's new community food banks to feed their families.

Brian Leech from the Anti Austerity Alliance in Tallaght, south Dublin told me the community food banks are drawing in Ireland's "new poor" who cannot manage from pay-cheque to pay-cheque explained  "Initially it was just people on benefits or low income who ran out of money at the end of the month. Now that's trickled down to middle income earners who are totally lost," he said. "The banks threw money at people during the boom, and now people are trying to pay it all back and feed their families. No one wants food banks, but people have to eat and the government isn't helping hungry people." Brian Leech feels that, in accepting help, we cannot overlook the root causes of poverty. "People need better lives, more income equality and jobs. The food banks are very important now, but we should all want a better future. We can't lose sight of the issues that are forcing people to go to food banks and forcing their very existence."

Valerie Cummins also referred to "new poor". "A man came in here last week. He drove up in a white van, was well dressed and well spoken," she said. "I could tell he was embarrassed, so I brought him into the office. He said he works full time but after bills that day he was left with €15 to feed his family for the week. He said his wife would die of shame if she knew he went to a food bank. Even though it's against policy, I put together an emergency parcel that will last him three days. I might never see him again – he's part of Ireland's new invisible poor, eking it out week to week. We shouldn't live in a world with food banks, but what can you do when people in here are hungry?"

Some Effects Of Green Neo-Colonialism

The Afro-Brazilian Quilombola people were forced from their land in Brazil in order to make way for eucalyptus plantations, which produce toilet paper destined for Western markets. But they are resisting by replanting native trees and food crops, and working for a post-eucalyptus reality.

The principal use for the cellulose found in eucalyptus plants in Brazil is disposable paper products, such as toilet paper and paper towels - products most in demand in first-world markets. Yet these types of paper products generate social and environmental impacts in places in Brazil where many communities have never even had access to them.

According to economist Helder Gomes, a member of the Alert Against the Green Desert Network, in the 1960s, international markets were under pressure due to increased demand for pulp and paper and the difficulty of widening production in countries where eucalyptus had traditionally been produced. 
 "In the 1960s, studies done by the FAO [UN Food and Agriculture Organization] indicated the difficulty of expanding production in producing countries, due to the availability of land in central countries, the long period of maturation and the pressure from social movements against the rise in contaminating emissions and against the expansion of monocultures."
This forced international bodies, such as the FAO itself, Gomes said, to begin subsidizing the expansion of forestry programs in countries like Brazil, where there were favorable ecological conditions for the rapid growth of forests, available land, an abundance of cheap labor, and government policies that would benefit and support the industry.

"There were monoculture plantations in unlikely places, near springs and in zones where aquifers are replenished. The forests along the riverbank were cut down; the path of the water was cut off; lakes were filled in with dirt - and the biodiversity of the Atlantic forests was decimated with insecticides and herbicides."

"The World Trade Organization, the World Bank and governments that promote this system, which only a few multinational corporations benefit from, are causing an economic genocide and destroying traditional agriculture, and this means the destruction of entire towns and communities."


"Of the 40 indigenous communities that existed during the first years of this industry, only six remained."


"What we are doing here is what our ancestors did. They fled from conditions of slavery and created conditions for life in isolated places. They opened clearings and produced from the earth."


"Perhaps in 100 years, a Quilombola individual will look at the eucalyptus plantation and say that it is a forest, because he won't have the reference of what a native forest is. The cellulose company knows that if this memory is broken, there will be no more problems with resistance."


 According to Sebastiao Pinheiro, agronomist and professor at the Rio Grande do Sul University, eucalyptus plantations do not generate employment; they actually destroy the source of employment for thousands of families. "The green deserts do not create jobs. Four hundred hectares of eucalyptus would be required to create one job. In family or small-scale agriculture, 10 people are required for one hectare. The World Trade Organization, the World Bank and governments that promote this system, which only a few multinational corporations benefit from, are causing an economic genocide and destroying traditional agriculture, and this means the destruction of entire towns and communities."

more here with photos


Corporate Rights Trump Free Speech

Black Lives Matter Protest at the Mall of America, December 20.   Black Lives Matter Protest at the Mall of America, December 20. (Photo: Nicholas Upton)

Minnesotans protesting police violence and institutional racism could face "staggering" fees and criminal charges for a protest at Mall of America, with the City of Bloomington announcing plans to force organizers to pay for the mall's lost revenue during the exercise of their free speech rights, highlighting important questions about free speech in an era of privatized public spaces.

"Youth leaders of color [are] under attack," Black Lives Matter-Minnesota said in a statement. "It’s clear that the Bloomington City government, at the behest of one of the largest centers of commerce in the country, hopes to set a precedent that will stifle dissent and instill fear into young people of color and allies who refuse to watch their brothers and sisters get gunned down in the streets with no consequences."

Around 3,000 people flooded the mall on Saturday, December 20, to sing carols and chants following police killings of unarmed African-American men like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Dontre Hamilton. The protests were peaceful, and some mall workers stepped outside of their businesses and raised their hands in support. Police closed around 80 stores during the two-and-a-half hour protests, and locked down several mall entrances.
Days after the action, Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson announced that she will not only seek criminal trespass and unlawful assembly charges against the protesters, but will also seek to have them pay for the mall's lost revenue and overtime for police officers--a cost that she says will be "staggering."

Can the Mall of America prohibit the exercise of free speech and assembly on its premises? And can it pick-and-choose who it allows to assemble? Last year, for example, the Mall allowed around 7,000 people to gather in the same rotunda to honor a young white man who died of cancer.
The First Amendment protects against government suppression of speech, but not private responses to the exercise of free speech and expression. And the Mall of America is considered private property, despite receiving hundreds of millions in public subsidies since it was built, including an additional $250 million approved last year.

For decades, courts have struggled with how to protect free speech in public forums that have grown increasingly privatized.

In many communities, town squares and downtown business districts have largely been replaced by privately-owned shopping malls, particularly in suburban areas. In Bloomington, Minnesota, for example, there is no public space that offers the same level of visibility as a protest at the Mall of America--which is why protesters chose the location on December 20. 
Even traditional public spaces like parks are increasingly owned by private entities, most famously in New York's Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street was born, and where Occupiers faced eviction after the park's owners changed the rules.
Mall of America's status as a public space under the Minnesota state constitution was challenged in the 1990s by anti-fur activists who wanted to protest outside Macy's. A Minnesota trial court initially found that, thanks to the Mall's substantial public subsidies, the Mall of America was "born of a union with government" and could only impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on protest.
The Minnesota Supreme Court, though, reversed the lower court in 1998 and declared that the state constitution's protection of free speech "does not apply to a privately owned shopping center such as the Mall of America, although developed in part with public financing."

 In recent years, the First Amendment has undergone a revolution in the U.S. Supreme Court--in cases like Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, and McCutcheon--but largely in favor of expanding the "free speech rights" of corporations and the wealthy few, rather than protecting what Justice Hugo Black described in 1945 as "the poorly financed causes of little people." When average Americans raise their voices in protest, they can still be muffled by corporate interests.

from here

Are you better off?

Are you better off than you were forty years ago?

Real per capita GDP was $25,427 in 1974 (in 2009 U.S. dollars) and now it is almost double that at $49,810. If per capita GDP nearly doubled surely that would mean that everyone’s income had nearly doubled. That’s not what happened.

Instead, those at the top of the income distribution have vastly more income than 40 years ago while those at the bottom have less. The real income of a household at the 20th percentile (above 20% of all households in the income ranking) has scarcely budged since 1974—it was $20,000 and change then and is a bit over $20,000 now.
For those below the 20th percentile, real income has fallen. The entire bottom 80% of households ranked by income now gets only 49% of the national pie, down from 57% in 1974. That means that the top 20% has gone from 43% to 51% of total income.
 Even within the top 20%, the distribution skews upward. Most of the income gains of the top 20% are concentrated in the top 5%; most of the gains of the top 5% are concentrated in the top 1%; most of the gains in the top 1% are concentrated in the top 0.1%.

More people are working, but the share of national income that goes to ordinary workers is smaller. The labor force participation rate passed 61% in 1974 and peaked at 67% in the late 1990s. Labor force participation has drifted back downward somewhat since then through a combination of baby boomer retirement and discouraged workers giving up on the labor force since the crisis that began in 2007, but it remains at 63%, still higher than in 1974. That means that even while more of us are participating in market work, the market is concentrating its rewards in a shrinking cabal of increasingly powerful hands.

One category of income—wages and salaries earned in return for work—is labor income. The other categories—profit, dividends, rent, interest—are all forms of income that result from owning (and extracted according to the Marxists from the workers surplus labor.) For many decades, the labor share of national income held fairly steady, but beginning in the mid-1970s it started falling.Economist James Heintz found that the share of the national income earned as private-business-sector wages (excluding executive compensation) fell from 58% in 1970 to 50% in 2010; the share that went to non-supervisory workers fell from 45% to 31%. Even as hourly pay for a broad swath of people in the middle—between the 20th and 80th percentiles—has just about kept pace with inflation. Rising costs of higher education and housing have consigned many to a near-permanent state of debt peonage. College tuitions have risen more than three times as fast as inflation since 1974. The total volume of outstanding student debt has passed $1 trillion—greater than even the volume of outstanding credit card debt. Housing, too, has become more unaffordable. Within recent decades, however, home prices have risen faster than median incomes and deceptive lending practices trapped many home-buyers in unaffordable mortgages. For those who were lucky, and bought and sold at the right times, the housing bubble was a windfall. For many more, the home has become a millstone of debt and the threat of foreclose has rendered shelter uncertain.

Workers on short-term contracts and the self-employed, whose income is also unpredictable, add up to 30% of the U.S. workforce with uncertain, episodic income. The mid-1970s poverty rate had fallen to 11%, but the reduction was not sustained. Since then, the poverty rate has fluctuated between 11% and 15% with no consistent long-term trend. Today, we are in a high poverty phase: somewhere in the neighborhood of 15% of the population is living in poverty during any given month. While most spells of poverty last well under a year (6.6 months is the median), a large minority of the population cycles in and out of poverty. From January 2009 to December 2011, 31.6% of the population spent at least two consecutive months below the poverty line.

Families can fall into poverty for a number of reasons. Loss of employment, certainly, is a major cause. Health problems are a trigger for economic distress. Medical bills are the number-one cause of personal bankruptcy; even those who have health insurance may be unable to pay for their medical care. Insecurity is our constant companion.

The inequities of the labor market have divided us into two categories—the overworked and the underemployed. For those with consistent employment, the work is often too much work. Even as output per worker hour rises—meaning that, as a society we could increase our material standard of living while holding leisure time steady, or hold our material standard of living steady while increasing leisure time, we have instead increased average work hours per year. Hours of paid labor per employee were about the same in 2000 as in 1973, but since more people were in the paid labor force, the average number of hours per working age person rose from 1,217 to 1,396, equivalent to a full extra month of forty-hour workweeks. One consequence is that we have a leisure shortage. Chronic sleep deprivation has become the norm. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, Americans’ average amount of sleep fell by 20% over the course of the 20th century. Meanwhile, the unemployed and underemployed have hours on their hands that they either spend job hunting, in the endless sequence of bureaucratic tasks necessary to access the meager benefits available through the threadbare social safety net, or idle, their unclaimed hours more a burden than a gift. The supposed benefit of unemployment—leisure time to mitigate the loss of income—is not in evidence in the subjective well-being of the unemployed, who are more likely to suffer depression and family stress.

Sociologist Arlie Hochschild was already noting in her research during the 1980s that dual- income households were giving up leisure or letting the standards of housework and at-home caregiving slip—often a mix of both. When a stay-at-home mother goes out to work for pay and reduces her hours of home production, the household’s increase in cash income gets added to GDP but the household’s loss of unpaid labor time is not subtracted. Or, if she hires a housecleaning service and a babysitter, the wages earned by the mother, the housecleaner, and the babysitter all get added to GDP, but the work done by the housecleaner and babysitter are substituting for unpaid work that was already being done. Correcting for the loss of home production that has accompanied the rise in female participation in the paid labor force requires us to revise downward the increase in output over the period 1959-2004—the largest hit came between 1959 and 1972 with the withdrawal of about 500 hours of household labor per year, a reduction of almost 20%.

The probability that a person who starts out in the bottom income quintile will make it into the top quintile has stayed remarkably constant since the mid twentieth century. A child born in the bottom quintile in 1971 had an 8.4% chance of making it to the top quintile; for a child born in 1986, the probability is 9.0%. Despite the national mythology of the American Dream, mobility is lower in the United States than in other comparably developed economies. The war on drugs and other “get tough on crime” policies really mean the mass incarceration of black men. “Welfare reform” withdrew much of whatever limited support there was for the intense labor—mostly women’s—of raising children with minimal cash resources.

The insecurity of the average family today is one of gigantic proportions as they witness before their own eyes the systematic destruction of all hopes for a better life by policies designed only to enrich a few at the expense of the many. Unable to understand this process and in the absence of organised resistance many have resigned themselves to their fate or sought refuge in the false but comfortable world of religion or right-wing ideology. The sheer scale of global finance conjures up an awe among many human beings that was once upon a time reserved only for the giant forces of Nature. And in a world where money mysteriously appears in some lives and disappears from others it is difficult not to become superstitious. It is not accidental therefore that bankers and speculators are often dubbed as 'wizards' by the media and  have become the new high priests of our societies and their profession described as voodoo economics. Go through the classifieds section of any newspaper and you will find outfits peddling everything from astrology, numerology, feng shui, magic crystals side by side with get-rich-quick finance companies, stock brokers, real estate agents, investment consultants, wheelers and dealers of every description. New Age religions join the spiritual world with the commercial world  in the business of marketing and selling God.