Friday, February 28, 2014

Deterring humanity and charity

 An anti-migrant  deterrence campaign is the idea that "pull factors" can be diminished by making destination states look extremely uninviting, through a combination of marketing, or "deterrence propaganda" and policies such as indefinite detention and offshore processing. This deterrence philosophy is becoming an integral part of global migration management, and Australia is leading the way.

Department for Immigration and Border Protection has released a graphic novel aimed at people from Afghanistan convincing them not to travel to Australia by boat to seek asylum. This piece of "deterrence propaganda" depicts a young man in Afghanistan becoming fed up with his gruelling  - but essentially -  safe life as a car mechanic. With thoughts of greener pastures, he decides to make the dangerous journey towards Australia, overland and over sea, only to be intercepted by the intimidating Australian navy and herded to a camp on the small island nation of Nauru. It ends with images of the weeping man thinking wistfully of home, depressed and trapped in detention. The moral of the story is, don't come to Australia, especially by boat.  But what would the moral of the story be if the protagonist was not a slightly overworked mechanic, but a person fleeing torture or death?

Or to quote the slogan that accompanies Australia's wider deterrence campaign: "No way: They will not make Australia home". This add features a crossed out picture of Australia and an image of a boat on a rough sea. Australia's previous Labor government ran similar adds with the slogan "Australia by boat? No advantage".

Just as the graphic novel conveniently ignores potential persecution and violence in Afghanistan, the very logic of deterrence fails to acknowledge that many people attempting to reach Australia by boat are refugees fleeing real and serious human rights violations and endemic insecurity. In circumstances where people are fleeing the threat of torture or death, deterrence is a policy of coaxing people to stay put and face these risks. If we accept this, then the prospect of managing "pull factors" becomes ethically and practically untenable. As noted by Australian human rights lawyer Julian Burnside:
"The problem with a deterrent theory is that a deterrent only works if we make ourselves look nastier than the Taliban or the Rajapaksa government, and I'm not sure that that's something that most Australians want. … The major deterrent for people seeking asylum here by boat is that it's very dangerous. The fact that people can and do die on their way here is one of the reasons that most of the people that get here by boat turn out to be, on assessment, actual refugees."

The need to deter people from travelling to Australia by boat is publicly justified on four key grounds. Firstly, to protect national security: Here, so-called "illegal boats" and the people on them are breaching Australia's borders. The various activities implemented to prevent asylum seekers reaching Australia by boat are combined under the official name Operation Sovereign Borders for example, and are led by the navy.

Secondly, as a matter of fairness: The rationale being that people coming by boat may take the place of someone waiting patiently in a refugee camp, thus qualifying their characterisation as "queue jumpers". This perception has receded from official discourse in recent years, but still plays a role in shaping popular sentiment.

Thirdly, deterrence is presented as a necessary means to undermine the criminal network of people smugglers working in Indonesia and Malaysia who capitalise off desperation by organising unsafe passage to Australia by boat.

And finally, it is justified on humanitarian grounds, whereby the very real tragedy of people dying at sea is invoked to justify any policy that might prevent this from happening.

The first two grounds are clearly dubious. The Australian government merged its onshore and offshore protection visa quotas in 1996, meaning that every onshore protection visa does take the spot of one offshore protection visa: If there is a queue, it has been constructed on a technicality.Even so, the resettlement of refugees from camps overseas is not based on how long an individual has been waiting, but rather an array of factors such as vulnerability and suitability. As for national security, asylum seekers are subjected to rigorous security checks, and the boats themselves are fairly harmless.

The issue of people smugglers and people dying at sea are real however. People smugglers do capitalise off desperation and organise dangerous passage to Australia, in a journey where many lives are put at risk. However, policies that include towing people in life boats to Indonesia, processing and resettling people in Papua New Guinea, and indefinite detention in conditions criticised by Amnesty International as amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and the UNHCR as arbitrary under international law, are at odds with the publicly stated goal of saving lives and fighting crime.

Australia's brash and deterrence-based response to deaths at sea is not unique. After the Lampedusa boat sinking, the EU rapidly responded with deterrence and prevention strategies, leading Human Rights Watch to lament "the overall focus is on preventing people from reaching Europe, rather than on saving lives".

As countless experts have pointed out, the best way to prevent people taking dangerous journeys by sea is to provide viable alternative options for people to seek asylum.

From Al Jazeera

Myanmar's Anti-Rohingya Campaign Continues

Myanmar's president has asked parliament to consider an intermarriage law, spearheaded by an extremist monk that is aimed at "protecting" Buddhists. The proposals include a law "to give protection and rights for ethnic Buddhists when marrying with other religions", as well as a ban on polygamy and legislation to "balance the increasing population".

An anti-Rohingya monk called Wirathu has campaigned for a law to force non-Buddhist men wishing to marry a Buddhist woman to convert and gain permission to wed from her parents, or risk 10 years in jail.
"We have tried continually to have a national protection bill. Now it has started to come true with the president's message. We are so glad," Wirathu told AFP.

In the West we have a  one sided view of Buddhist monks as being entirely peaceful and enlightened, but they have a history of authoritarian dictatorship and repression just like most religions.

The aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres has been ordered to cease operations in Myanmar by the Myanmar regime. MSF said it was deeply concerned about the tens of thousands of people it was treating, particularly for HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB. MSF is one of the biggest providers of healthcare in Rakhine. Since 2004, MSF has treated over 1,240,000 malaria patients in Rakhine state alone. It provides emergency assistance to tens of thousands of Rohingya people displaced by recent violence.

A presidential spokesman alleged to the BBC that Medecins Sans Frontieres was biased in favour of Rakhine's Muslim Rohingya minority. The government says that MSF has prioritised the treatment of the Rohingya community over local Buddhists. MSF said no other medical organisation in the country operated on a similar scale, and that its actions were always "guided by medical ethics and the principles of neutrality and impartiality". The BBC says MSF is one of the few agencies providing treatment for Rohingya who would otherwise be turned away from clinics and hospitals.

 A massacre is alleged to have taken place of Rohingya Muslims near the border with Bangladesh. The UN claimed that as many as 48 people may have died, but the Burmese authorities said there had been no casualties. Then much to the annoyance of the government, MSF confirmed that their medics had treated 22 patients near the site of the alleged attack. It suggested something serious had happened and may have been the final straw for MSF. Presidential spokesman Ye Htut  asserted their actions had clearly demonstrated the MSF bias.

Myanmar has  faced criticism from rights groups over a controversial "two-child policy" in parts of the western state of Rakhine. Minority Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine face a slew of restrictions that have led the United Nations to consider them as one of the world's most persecuted peoples. Two waves of deadly communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine in 2012 left more than 200 mainly Rohingya people dead and around 140,000 displaced.

Yangon (Rangoon) Myanmar's biggest city has become more attractive to investors but the poor are squeezed by rising cost of living. It is the commercial capital of Asia's second-poorest country and the sixth-most expensive city in southeast Asia. Affordable housing is being torn down, replaced by high-rise condominiums and office buildings. Rents have quadrupled in recent years, while local wages remain depressingly low for many. About one-third of children under five are malnourished. Many spend at least half their salary putting food on the table. Forty percent of Yangon's five million people are "poor or extremely poor", according to the United Nations. With such social problems the Myanmar ruling class do what all elites try to do - divert attention by seeking scapegoats to blame. 

Teaching - The Longer School Days

Primary state school teachers in England are working almost 60 hours a week, according to a survey by the Department for Education. Their secondary school counterparts worked almost 56 hours.  Headteachers in secondary schools recorded an average of 63 hours and 20 minutes a week.

Martin Freedman, director of economic strategy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said teachers were now fitting in the equivalent of an extra full day a week by working during evenings and weekends. He added: "These figures expose [education secretary] Michael Gove's claim that this country's educational achievements would be improved if only teachers worked longer as utter rubbish. Exhausted teachers and tired pupils will not help children to achieve the best education outcomes and, at least as far as this survey is concerned, might actually make things worse."

"This survey shows an astonishing increase in the hours that teachers are working on Michael Gove's watch. No one enters the profession expecting a nine to five job, but working in excess of 55 hours a week and during holidays is entirely unacceptable," said Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. "Many teachers feel totally overwhelmed and it is hardly surprising that two in five leave the profession after their first five years in the job, and morale is at an all-time low.”

The union case was strengthened by data obtained by the TUC from the nationwide Labour Force Survey, showing that teachers carried out more unpaid overtime in 2013 than any other profession. The average of 12 hours extra a week was higher than financial directors (11 hours) or lawyers (nine hours).

Taken from here

Migrant Servants Organise

"Women united will never be divided! Migrants united will never be divided!" chant women at a Hong Kong public park.

"With this kind of solidarity, people can be heard," said Eni Lestari, chair of the International Migrant Workers Alliance, as she surveyed the rally. "More and more people are speaking out. But in terms of conditions, it's not getting better."

The numbers of foreign domestic helpers, overwhelmingly female, have soared across the Asia-Pacific region. In 1992, Hong Kong had slightly more than 100,000; now there are three times as many. Malaysia has 125,000; in Thailand, 88,000 were registered in 2010. But the true numbers are thought to be far higher for all three. The Filipino and Indonesian diaspora have been joined by Burmese, Nepalese and Cambodian workers.

 Reports of exploitation by employers and agencies are rife; rights are limited. While Singapore recently introduced a statutory weekly day off, campaigners say it is not being adequately enforced and employers can legally avoid granting it by increasing pay. Migrants in Taiwan have been fighting for the same right, without success.  A 2012 survey of 3,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong, 58% reported verbal abuse, 18% physical and 6% sexual.

Lestari is from Indonesia. She said her first employers did not give her a single day off in four months; paid her only half her promised wages; insisted she eat pork despite her being Muslim; and banned her from talking to people outside the house.

"I didn't know where the consulate was; I didn't know the immigration department; my passport was kept by the agency. I ran away and an NGO helped me to find shelter," she said and she credits Filipino women – who came to Hong Kong earlier – for helping teach later arrivals how to organise. First she learned about her rights; and now she shares her new knowledge with others. Social media ensures that information spreads fast, particularly since domestic workers are dependent on their mobile phones for communication with the outside world. Improved awareness of their rights enables them to challenge unfair treatment.

But "our problem is not simply bad employers, but bad policies", Lestari said. When workers speak out, officials in home and host countries turn a blind eye to problems because of migration's economic benefits. Domestic workers are specifically excluded from legislation allowing foreign nationals to gain permanent residency after living in Hong Kong for seven years. A legal challenge to their exclusion was rejected by the special autonomous region's highest court last year.

Domestic workers' organisations such as the new HK Helpers campaign are seeking to end abuses by agencies who charge fees of as much as HKD$21,000 (£1,620) and confiscate workers' documents. The legal maximum is around HKD$400. They also want maximum working hours legislation and an end to the "two-week rule" – giving workers just a fortnight to leave Hong Kong when their employment ends – and the insistence they live with their employer. Those regulations, say activists, make it harder to leave an abusive situation – especially if helpers have large debts to repay to the agency that placed them.

From here

The Working Class Majority Should Change The World

Education in the Name of Social Transformation - Teaching Workers by MICHAEL D. YATES


Karl Marx’s famous dictum sums up my teaching philosophy: “The philosophers of the world have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” As I came to see it, Marx had uncovered the inner workings of our society, showing both how it functioned and why it had to be transcended if human beings were to gain control over their lives and labor. Disseminating these ideas could help speed the process of human liberation. From a college classroom, I thought that I could not only interpret the world, I could indeed change it.


Thinking is one thing; the trick is bringing thoughts to life. How, actually, does a person be a radical teacher? How, for example, can students be shown the superior insights of Marxian economics in classes that have always been taught from the traditional or neoclassical perspective—taught, in fact, as if the neoclassical theory developed by Adam Smith and his progeny is the gospel truth? My college expected me to teach students the “principles” of economics: that people act selfishly and independently of one another, that this self-centeredness generates socially desirable outcomes. And further, that capitalism, in which we, in fact, do act out of self-interest, is therefore the best possible economic system. Had I refused to do this and taught only Marxian economics, I doubt I could have kept my job.


My students were mostly the children of factory workers, miners, and other laborers, just the young people I wanted to reach and move to action. However, nearly all of them were hostile to radical perspectives, having been taught that such views were un-American. Their animosity was sometimes palpable, especially when I pointed out the many things they did not know about our country’s unsavory relationships with the rest of the world. A retired Marine told me that, after we watched a particularly radical film about U.S. imperialism, he wanted to come down the aisle and strangle me.


My own timidity also made it difficult for me to advocate revolutionary ideas. The neoclassical way of thinking has a strong hold on those who have taken the time to learn it. It is elegant, precise, mathematical. I was half afraid that the neoclassical theory would prove capable of addressing the questions that I believed only radical economics could answer. I gave it a legitimacy it didn’t deserve.


So I proceeded in a cautious manner, focusing at first on what economists call “market failures.” These occur when the egotistic pursuits of the market’s buyers and sellers do not lead to socially desirable results. An example is ecological destruction. In a “free” market, companies have strong incentives to wreak havoc on nature. Because it is often costless for them to pollute, that is what they do, shifting the damage caused by their production onto others, who suffer higher health expenses, foul air, and dirty water. Since the market does not respond to our need for a livable environment, it fails socially, making it necessary for the government to compel the polluters to behave in a publicly responsible way. Discussions of market failures allowed me to show my students that a capitalist economic system has to be regulated by the government if it is to satisfy human needs.


The problem with this tactic was that it led to a liberal and not a radical advocacy. My growing hostility to capitalism demanded more than a liberal critique. My next strategy was to pit the neoclassical and the radical theories directly against one another. I pointed out that economists did not agree on what made capitalist economies tick. I explained the neoclassical theory as objectively as possible. I then used the market failures to develop a criticism of mainstream economics, especially the notion that the government is a neutral entity that acts to regulate the market to the benefit of society as a whole. Once I suggested that the weight of money in politics made this unlikely, it was easy to switch gears and enter into an examination of Marxian economics.


This comparison approach also proved unsatisfactory. The neoclassical theory is difficult for students to learn, so I had to spend too many hours analyzing it, leaving not enough time for the radical model. Therefore, I did two things. I simply stopped teaching the neoclassical mainstays, called micro and macro- economics, freeing me to develop new courses. This was possible because I now had tenure and was the senior teacher in my division. I taught the Political Economy of Latin America, a subject amenable to a radical analysis and one in which there is a large body of literature rooted in the political economy of Marx. I also developed a set of courses in labor relations built on the supposition that there is an inherent conflict between employees and their employers, rooted in the nature of our economic system. In these classes, the only theoretical constructs employed were those of Marx and his modern adherents.


For a decade, teaching radical economic ideas pleased me, but then disillusion set in. In the early 1980s, the steel mills in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where I taught, began to close. Workers were forced to leave the area, and as a result, my working class students disappeared. Teaching kids who were the first in their families to attend college, as I had been, had made my efforts seem worthwhile. I got along well with them, even those who disagreed with me. I managed to radicalize some. Unfortunately, the college began to replace the locals with middle-class teenagers from the Pittsburgh suburbs. They seemed to me like alien beings, so unconcerned with learning that they appeared proud of their ignorance. To make matters worse, the student revolt of the 1960s had generated a counterattack by the leaders of business (who dominate the schools to a degree seldom examined or understood) and government. The humanities and social sciences began to lose ground to career-oriented fields of study; soon, business and technical programs proliferated. These changes, which coincided with the collapse of the post-Second World War economic boom, created understandable fears among young people, who were easily persuaded to view education as an investment in their “human capital,” and major in something practical.


Disinterested students and a reactionary political situation on campuses made me wonder what useful purpose teaching undergraduates served. Perhaps advocating radical ideas in college classrooms was not a radical act. It would not push the society toward greater egalitarianism and more control over the economy by ordinary people. Certainly, creating a new world was the furthest thing from my students’ minds. Nothing I could say would change them very dramatically. Compounding matters was the growing match between a much more conservative ideological climate and the recently hired faculty. Most were too cowed by authority and fearful that dissent would impact their careers negatively to do anything except keep their noses to the grindstone. A few said they would make trouble once they got tenure, but none ever did.


Economic necessity compelled me to continue teaching, but conscience forced me to do more. I had never confined myself solely to the classroom; I had helped the maintenance and custodial workers at my college to form a labor union and tried valiantly to get the faculty to follow suit. However, now the campus was not enough, so in 1980, I began educating working people, in a Labor Studies program at Penn State University. The first classes were held in Johnstown, but eventually, I taught throughout Western Pennsylvania and occasionally in Ohio, with venues in union halls, schools, and motels. Classes were noncredit, typically meeting for three hours on a weekday evening. My students did every kind of work: steelworkers, postal clerks, mail carriers, oil workers, chemical plant laborers, autoworkers, coal miners, secretaries, librarians school teachers, firefighters, nurses, plumbers, operating engineers, bricklayers, carpenters, machinists, glass workers, and many more.


These early forays into worker education soon led to others. Sometime in the late 1990s, I was asked to teach a class in a graduate (Masters) program at the University of Massachusetts, one aimed at union members, mainly officers and staff persons.  Then, in 2001, I left my college teaching job, and Karen and I began an itinerant life, moving around the United States. However, labor education remained a part of my work. Besides the graduate class, I taught in an undergraduate Labor Studies program in Manhattan and online labor courses for a community college and several universities. Today, I only do the MA class, each January for two weeks. I abandoned the online work when it stopped being devoted solely to labor-oriented students or came to be used as a way to exploit cheap labor and get rid of regular classroom faculty.


There are many things I have enjoyed about labor education. The students often have been like the people with whom I grew up; the older students sometimes reminded me of my father and his factory workmates. All of them have had job experience and so understood work better than my college students. When I talk about the labor law or unemployment, they bring interesting personal experiences to the discussions. What I teach has immediate practical relevance to them, and I can use this to get them to understand more complex and abstract economic and political ideas. For example, I once taught collective bargaining to a group of men working in a plant that made air conditioners. They had been forced by their international union to make concessions during the term of their collective bargaining agreement. They videotaped the classes and showed the tapes to co-workers. Then they ran a slate of candidates in their local union elections and won office. Using what they had learned, they successfully negotiated the return of the wages and benefits they had been compelled to concede. One of the new officers went on to get a masters’ degree in labor relations and then taught in the same program in which I had worked. These classes sometimes have been catalysts for the rebuilding of long dormant local labor movements, and they have raised the consciousness of the students.


Although many of my early worker students had not graduated from college and were often rank-and-file union members, they grasped radical ideas more quickly and deeply than did my college pupils. This is because these had a greater usefulness to them, and they perceived the arguments through the lenses of working people’s eyes. Two examples come to mind. In a class in labor economics, we were discussing the differences between the neoclassical and the Keynesian theories of unemployment. After two three-hour classes, one of the students wrote a prize-winning essay on the subject for his local union newspaper. In a class in labor law, we were examining the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution in the context of employee drug testing. At my college, most students took it for granted that employers have the right to randomly drug test employees. They had been so thoroughly indoctrinated that they did not think of the issue in terms of civil liberties. The workers, on the other hand, argued vehemently against drug testing under any circumstances. Most of them said that they would refuse, as a matter of principle, to be tested.


The men and women in the MA program do have college degrees, and they are typically union officers or staff persons. I encourage them to take what they have learned and teach their members. Unions have done a woeful job of educating the rank-and-file, not least because union leaders often fear an educated membership that might turn against them. Here again, there have been successes. Students have organized classes in their union locals; one offered a bilingual course so that Spanish-speaking immigrant laborers could attend, and another prepared labor history sessions for newly-apprenticed carpenters in Manhattan.


All of this is not to say that my worker students have been perfect. Far from it. They have been subjected to the same kind of conservative advocacy from family, media, teachers, and employers to which all of us have been exposed. Racism, sexism, and homophobia have reared their ugly heads. Not all have been happy with my radical views, although there has been a remarkable transformation over the past two decades in the willingness and eagerness with which almost all have entertained—and many have embraced—a radical analysis of capitalism.


Teaching workers has been education as I envisioned it when I first entered the classroom forty-four years ago: students coming to class voluntarily, enthusiastically participated in their learning, and then going out to apply what they have learned to their lives. They appreciate my commitment to teaching; applause and gifts at the end of a course have been common. And I found that these were students from whom I could learn new things as well. My labor education classes have inspired me to write several books, all of which are aimed at the general working public. Through these, I have made contact with working-class groups around the country and have had the opportunity to give talks, conduct seminars, and help in union-organizing campaigns. I often get requests from working people asking for my help in legal or economic matters. Nothing comparable happened in my college classes.


The best thing about teaching workers is that I have not had to abide or feel pressured by the canons of academe. I have not had to worry that my students will not know what is expected of them when they take intermediate-level courses. Each labor class is self-contained, with no prerequisites. I do not have to maintain a false air of objectivity. I do not have to say, for example, that economists disagree about how capitalism works; instead, I can say what I believe, forthrightly, that the neoclassical theory represents the economics of the employing class and that the attempt to make it into something else, a set of universal truths, is propaganda. I can posit a radical explanation of capitalism. This has been invariably well received, even when in 1980s Johnstown, I had to call Marx’s analysis of capitalism the “workers’ theory” to avoid charges of being a communist. The idea that profits arise out of the unpaid “surplus” labor time of workers resonates because it fits with the actual work experiences of the students; it helps them to understand what they are, what forces and persons are responsible for their circumstances, and what they might do to combat them. Similarly, when I begin a discussion of our labor power as a commodity, we soon enough conclude that to our employers we are mere costs of production, to be minimized by whatever means necessary. It is but a short step to have everyone agree that workplaces are war zones and that only collective struggle has any chance of victory. In the worker classrooms, we can openly address such matters, and I can be the radical advocate I think I must be.


In the college classroom, I taught as I did because the college was structured so that a more honest and direct approach was impossible. Academe, by its nature, limits, constrains, absorbs, or punishes direct radicalism. And if it does allow some radical advocacy, the “higher learning” is so far removed from the lives of working people that this is bound to have little social impact. It will not help to move society in an egalitarian and democratic direction. Worker education, on the other hand, offers much greater possibilities, precisely because it is directly connected to the lives of the working class majority, who, in the end, must be the moving force of social transformation.


I don’t know how much longer I will be a labor educator. It is hard, time-consuming, and mentally and physically draining work. Guilt has probably kept me at it these past few years. There is an extraordinary shortage of people trained in economics who could effectively teach the working class. And among those few who could, hardly anyone wants to do so. I have urged radicals to teach workers whenever an opportunity presents itself. My pleas have been met always with a deafening silence. We hear a lot these days of the rise of a new core of young left-wing intellectuals, well educated, attuned to Marx, and alienated from bourgeois society. It is to be hoped that they will not only advocate for radical change in their magazines, blogs, and essays, but will embrace the working class, embed themselves in it and write and act, for workers, with workers, as workers, educating those who toil as they educate themselves. We all do what we can to make a better world. But those with knowledge have a duty to spread the word directly to those without whose struggles no such world will ever come to be. I have tried my best. Maybe now it is time for those younger and more energetic to take my place.


Michael D. Yates is the Editorial Director of Monthly Review Press. He can be reached at He welcomes comments.


From here




United States - Student Indebtedness Passes $1 Trillion Mark

The total student debt in the United States recently passed the $1 trillion mark, so it’s little surprise that it has become one of the chief financial and even political issues for young people. A recent survey found that 79% of 18- to 29-year-olds considered student debt to be a “major or minor problem” and that the concern was consistent across party lines.
A new study authored by New America Foundation senior analyst Ben Miller shows that the average debt load for graduating students has been growing — and quickly. Using data collected from the Department of Education, Miller found a “predictably dire picture” for students who graduated in 2012, the last year that the DOE’s study covered. Here are some of the most important details:

1.There are 800,000 more indebted college graduates than there were eight years ago.
As the number of college graduates has increased, so has the number who are graduating carrying at least some debt. Miller estimates that there were 800,000 more indebted college graduates in 2011–2012 than there were in 2003–2004. The number, he estimates, went from 1.6 million to 2.4 million.

2.The average tab for an indebted college graduate is $29,400. The average annual income for a working adult between 25 and 34 is $37,524.
That figure is the highest ever. And it has increased 20% over four years. Nearly 70% of bachelor’s degree recipients in 2012 had some student debt, also the highest ever.

3.More college students are borrowing, no matter what type of degree they’re getting.
For all types of undergraduate degrees — bachelor’s, associate, and certificates — the percentage of degree recipients borrowing has gone up over the last four and eight years. The biggest jump has been in associate degrees, from only 36.4% of graduates borrowing in 2004 to almost half in 2012.

4.Students who complete degrees at for-profit colleges are way more likely to graduate with more debt than their public school counterparts.
“There is still significant variation depending on the type of school a graduate attended,” Miller writes. The biggest difference is between students going to public institutions and for-profit private ones: “42 percent of students earning an associate degree at a… public college borrow. This is less than half the rate of students seeking similar degrees at private for-profit colleges, where nearly nine in ten students graduate with debt.”
While the average amount of debt is going up for borrowers regardless of what type of college they attend, the average debt for students who get a degree at private or for-profit institutions is growing faster.

5.The most indebted students are more indebted than ever.
While the median borrower’s debt has more than doubled from eight years ago, borrowers in the 90th percentile — those who borrowed more than 90% of graduates that year — have had a $12,000 increase in total debt.
These disparities are even more pronounced among graduates of different types of schools: the 75th percentile debt level for associate degree recipients at public colleges is $8,500. Meanwhile, at for-profit institutions, the median debt level is $20,000. The median debt level for those who have completed associate degree at public schools is $0.

from here, plus links and graphics

Female Students As Commodities

Excess wealth, widespread poverty and inequality are all poisonous to our nation (US). These poisons threaten our economy, our democratic process, academic integrity, our justice system and our culture.

(The full article can be read here but below is the snippet relevant to 'our culture.')

Excess wealth and spreading poverty - inequality - have coarsened our culture. Young women are increasingly making financial agreements with sugar daddies. One firm brokering these arrangements,, boasts of about 800,000 members. In these arrangements, wealthy men pay an average of $3,000 per month for time with the young women. Web sites brokering such arrangements claim that sex is not involved, but one of the young women made the observation that, "A guy is a guy, and guys want sex."
For each wealthy male seeking a match, there are more than 10 women. The arrangements are increasingly tempting to young college women accumulating burdensome student loans. For the number of students registered with, New York University, as of July 2011, ranked first with 498 "sugar babies."


Banking is the Life!

The Occupy movement brought a new saliency to the issue of income inequality. Their key  slogan – “we are the 99%” – dramatically highlighted the sense that a small elite have been  the main winners in the decades leading up to the crisis . Top percentile  workers have substantially increased their share of the income pie - in the 1970s they took  around 6% of total UK income but by the end of the 2000s, this had risen to 15%.

1. A lot of rich people in the UK are bankers.
In 2008 (seemingly the most recent figures), 28% of all top percentile earners in the UK were London bankers. Since then, bankers’ share of the top percentile pay has almost certainly risen.

2. These rich bankers are very rich. They are richer than other rich people. And they are becoming even richer fast.
The average wage of workers in the top percentile of Britons rose from £278k in 2008 to £284k in 2011, an increase of 2.3%,
By comparison, the average wage of bankers in the top percentile rose from £325k in 2008 to £353k in 2011, an increase of 8.6%. Over 75% (1.4 out of 1.8 percentage points) of the increase in the top percentile’s share of the UK wage bill between 2008 and 2011 went just to bankers. This is in spite of them only accounting for one-third of top percentile earners

3. Bonuses are integral to banking riches
Much as the EU has been attempting to curtail bonuses, they remain the source of bankers’ financial supremacy. The entirety of the pay gain for top percentile workers between 2008 and 2011 was due to bonuses, the study found. On average, top percentile workers in finance received 44% of their total compensation in the form of a bonus. Rising bonuses paid to bankers accounted for around  two-thirds of the increase in the national wage bill (“earnings pie”) taken by the top one  percent of workers since 1999. Surprisingly, even after the crisis bankers took at least as large  a share of the earnings pie in 2011 as they did at the peak of the boom in 2007 and saw no  worsening in their employment outcomes relative to other similar workers.

4. You’re no more likely to find yourself unemployed if you work in the financial sector in London than elsewhere
Being a banker is often seen as like being a footballer or rock star: you have a few good years and then you lose your job. However, the LSE study suggests this is not so. It actually found that a finance worker in London was 2.2% more likely to have a job than an employee in any other industry in the UK. Therefore, not only do you earn more in banking, but your pay is rising faster than in other industries and your job is more secure than in other sectors. Maybe it’s not such a bad career after all.

From here

Thai Lies

Thailand, Asean's second largest economy, is one of the most unequal societies in Asia. In 2011, the most recent year for which official figures are available, its Gini coefficient, a widely used measure of inequality, stood at 0.484. This was lower than Hong Kong's 0.537 that year, but higher than the United States' 0.475. The Gini yardstick ranges from zero to one, with higher values meaning more inequality. Singapore's Gini coefficient last year was 0.463.

Chulalongkorn University economist Pasuk Phongpaichit revealed figures that about 100,000 bank accounts, each with more than US$300,000, account for nearly half the value of all bank deposits in the country. Yet these accounted for just 0.5 per cent of the total number of bank accounts. The top 10 per cent of landowners own 61 per cent of total title land, she noted.

Prime Minister Yingluck is worth Bt603 million ($18 million), while Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has assets worth Bt54 million. Protest spokesman Akanat Promphan, a former Democrat legislator, has net assets of Bt101 million and drives a 4.4-million-baht car.  Another protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat and from a wealthy land-owning family in Surat Thani province, is tainted by graft allegations.

It appears that being less a thief in Thailand makes a person more honourable! The campaign slogans appear to be "Vote for me , i’m not as big a criminal as the other guy"

Fact of the Day (2)

Home ownership rates in Britain have slipped to the lowest percentage levels in 25 years. The overall percentage of homeowners has fallen from 71% in 2003 to 65.2% last year, the lowest level since 1987.

The percentage of people who claim housing benefits and want to live in social housing sectors has risen from 59% to 66%.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of the homeless charity Shelter, urged the British government to “get to grips with our housing shortage,” saying figures confirm that the “dream of a stable home is drifting further out of reach.”

Fact of the Day (1)

The Department for Work and Pensions sent letters to a woman demanding she make an effort to find work even though she was in a coma. She was told to attend "intensive job-focused activity" even though she fell into a coma in December last year and the government and its contractor had been informed.

Heartless and callous benefit "reform"

“The Reddest of the Red”

The military base at Kronstadt was located just outside Petrograd and the soldiers and sailors garrisoned there were thought to be loyal supporters of the Bolshevik revolution. The sailors at the Kronstadt naval base had long been a source of radical dissent. Mutinies had taken place during the 1905 Revolution and played an important role in persuading Nicholas II to issue his October Manifesto. The Kronstadt sailors were also active in the overthrow of Tsar in the February Revolution. It took part in the July Days. During the October Revolution the cruiser, Aurora, sailed it up the River Neva and opened fire on the Winter Palace. By 1921 the Kronstadt sailors had become disillusioned with the Bolsheviks.  The sailors saw themselves as loyal to the Soviet cause, if not to the Communist rulers. That bitter winter saw Kronstadt, like most other cities in Russia, hungry and discontented. Anger at material deprivations was compounded by the authoritarian regime the Bolsheviks were building, which seemed to violate the spirit of the revolution that the sailors had helped win. Popular unrest finally grew into strikes, which led to riots, lockouts, arrests.  On 22 January, the Bolsheviks reduced the bread ration by one-third, and even key workers were given a ration of only 1000 calories a day.  Anyone who was not a fervent Bolshevik was being pushed to the end of their patience.   In Moscow on 23 February, 10,000 went on strike; the metal factories and shipyards joined the strike.   On 27 February a poster appeared saying: ‘the workers and peasants need freedom.  They do not want to live by the decrees of the Bolsheviks’.

In 1921, on February 26, delegates from the Kronstadt sailors visited Petrograd to investigate the situation. On February 28, in response to the delegates' report of heavy-handed Bolshevik repression of strikes in Petrograd the crews of the battleships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol held an emergency meeting, which approved a resolution raising 15 demands. On March 1, a general meeting of the garrison was held. The general meeting passed a resolution including the fifteen demands.  On 4th March they issued the following statement:
"Comrade workers, red soldiers and sailors. We stand for the power of the Soviets and not that of the parties. We are for free representation of all who toil. Comrades, you are being misled. At Kronstadt all power is in the hands of the revolutionary sailors, of red soldiers and of workers. It is not in the hands of White Guards, allegedly headed by a General Kozlovsky, as Moscow Radio tells you."

During the revolt, Kronstadt started to re-organise itself from the bottom up. The trade union committees were re-elected and a Council of Trade Unions formed. The Conference of Delegates met regularly to discuss issues relating to the interests of Kronstadt and the struggle against the Bolshevik government (specifically on March 2nd, 4th and 11th). Rank and file Communists left the party in droves, expressing support for the revolt and its aim of "all power to the soviets and not to parties."

The Bolsheviks began its attack on Kronstadt on March 7 with some 60,000 troops.  By March 19, the Bolshevik forces had taken full control of Kronstadt. The day after the surrender of Kronstadt, the Bolsheviks celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Paris Commune.

It was a rude shock to the Bolsheviks when the red sailors of Kronstadt went into open rebellion. Defenders of the Bolshevik policy have claimed that the Kronstadt rebels were not the same sailors as those who had been revolutionary heroes in 1917. In response, Israel Getzler presents detailed evidence that the vast majority of the sailors had been in the Navy since 1917.

Leninist/Trotskyist sympathisers argue that the suppression of the rebellion was essential to defend the "gains of the revolution." What exactly were these gains? Not soviet democracy, freedom of speech, assembly and press, trade union freedom and so on as the Kronstadters were crushed for demanding these. No, apparently the "gains" of the revolution was a Bolshevik government pure and simple. The fact that Lenin and Trotsky were in power is enough for their followers to justify the repression of Kronstadt and subscribe to the notion of a "workers' state" which excludes workers from power. The Bolsheviks supporters argue that the Kronstadt demand for free soviet elections was "counter-revolutionary", "backward", "petty-bourgeois" and so on. How soviet power could mean anything without free elections is never explained. (Trotsky was arguing in the 1930s that the Russian working class was still the ruling class under Stalin -- "So long as the forms of property that have been created by the October Revolution are not overthrown, the proletariat remains the ruling class.") How can the Bolshevik repression be justified in terms of defending workers power when the workers were powerless? How can it be defended in terms of soviet power when the soviets were rubber stamps of the government?

The apologists for the Bolsheviks claim that the country was too exhausted and the working class was decimated. In such circumstances, it is argued, objective conditions meant that soviet democracy was impossible and so the Bolsheviks had to maintain their dictatorship at all costs to defend what was left of the revolution. However,  the Kronstadt rebels fully knew that construction would take time and were arguing that the only means of rebuilding the country was via the participation of what of left of the working class and peasantry in free class organisations like freely elected soviets and unions.  Surely the first step to re-build the economy would have to be the re-introduction of workers' democracy and power for only this would give allow expression to the creative powers of the masses and interest them in the reconstruction of the country. Continuing party dictatorship would never do it. The pro-Bolsheviks fail to mention the power and privileges of the bureaucracy at the time. Officials got the best food, housing and so on. The lack of effective control or influence from below ensured that corruption was widespread.

The Kronstadt raised economic and political demands in 1921 just as they had four years earlier when they overthrew the Tsar. Kronstadt became the symbol of the bankruptcy of the Revolution. Many socialists all over the world lost faith in the Bolshevik revolution, which they now saw as a repressive regime. Lenin  introduced the New Economic Policy.  How should the New Economic Policy be evaluated except in the same fashion if one uses the the Bolshevik logic but to denounce the NEP as “counterrevolutionary” as well.

Kronstadt was a popular uprising from below by the same sailors, soldiers and workers that made the 1917 October revolution. The Bolshevik repression of the revolt can be justified in terms of defending the state power of the Bolsheviks but it cannot be defended in terms of socialist theory. Indeed, it indicates that Bolshevism is a flawed political theory which cannot create a socialist society but only a state capitalist regime based on party dictatorship. The Bolsheviks insist it was necessary to crush Kronstadt to "save” the revolution and preserve the “revolutionary” regime but we feel entitled to ask what was there left to save and preserve?

The Kronstadt called for the revolution to be placed back into the hands of the workers who it had originally claimed to represent. The Kronstadt Rebellion destroyed the myth that in the Bolshevik state, power lay in the hands of the workers. The rebellion threatened Bolshevik rule - a threat that was even stronger than any that of armies of Denikin or Wrangel. For this reason the Bolshevik leaders were forced to destroy the Kronstadt Rebellion without hesitation.

 Despite the existence of the Putilov Works, the oil facilities in the Caucasus, the coal mines in the Donetz region, and the textile factories in Moscow, agriculture was the essential economic base of Russian society. The remnants of serfdom had by no means disappeared. The relations of production were feudal and the political superstructure corresponded: nobles and clergy were the ruling classes that - with the help of the army, the police, and the bureaucracy - exercised their power in the gigantic empire of large landholdings. The Russian Revolution of the twentieth century confronted the economic task of abolishing feudalism. In Western Europe the capitalist class was the bearer of social progress but in Russia they were weak and allied with tsarism so the bourgeois revolution had to be accomplished without the bourgeoisie. Lenin recognized  this peculiarity of the Russian Revolution.  He wrote:
“The Marxists are thoroughly convinced about the bourgeois character of the Russian Revolution. What does that mean? That means that those democratic transformations of the political order and those socio-economic transformations, that are necessary for Russia alone, do not amount to the burial of capitalism, nor the burial of the rule of the bourgeoisie; rather they for the first time prepare the ground for a broad and rapid development of capitalism ..."
In another passage he wrote:
 “The victory of the bourgeois revolution in Russia is impossible as a bourgeois victory. That seems paradoxical. But so it is. The majority peasant population, the strength and consciousness of the proletariat that is already organized in the Socialist Party - all these circumstances lend a unique character to our bourgeois revolution. This uniqueness however does not eliminate the bourgeois character of the revolution”.

What happened was the following: capitalism (which had hardly developed) was not toppled. Wage labour remained, which Marx, as it is well known, insisted is predicated on capital, as conversely capital is predicated on wage labour. The Russian workers did not obtain control over the means of production; that control fell rather to the Party (or the state). The Russian workers accordingly remained producers of surplus value  that was expropriated not by a class of private capitalists, but by the state, or by the Party elements in control of the state. Nothing changed  the position of the Russian worker who remained an object of exploitation, a wage slave. The workers councils ((soviets)  that were formed by Russian workers were stripped of their power as quickly as possible by the Bolshevik government and already in the early summer of 1918 were a complete insignificance. The factory committees had been liquidated in January 1918. The workers expropriated the means of production on their own initiative, until, that is, the decree of workers' control that was issued on the 14th of November 1917, only one week after the Bolshevik seizure of power, put the brakes on these activities. After May 1918, “nationalizations” could only be undertaken by the central economic council. Shortly before, in April 1918, the individual responsibility of company managers had been reintroduced; they no longer had to justify their decisions to the workers. Bolshevik political rule developed not into an instrument of emancipation, but into an instrument of suppression. Marx commented on the French 1848 revolution as follows:
 “In France the petit bourgeois does what normally would have to be done by the industrial bourgeoisie, the worker does, what normally would be the duty of the petit bourgeois. And the task of the worker, who resolves that? This obligation is not discharged in France; it is merely proclaimed in France”.
In Russia, this obligation continued to be proclaimed. However, with the Kronstadt uprising, the revolutionary process had come to an end. Kronstadt was the revolutionary moment where the pendulum swings of the revolution swung the furthest to the left.  Kronstadt forced the Bolshevik Party to show its true colours as an institution that was openly hostile to workers and whose single purpose was the establishment of state capitalism. With the defeat of the rebellion, the path to that purpose had been cleared.

Adapted from here and from here

Some Trotskyists online have been countering criticism by citing an anthology of archive sources introduced by Yuri Shchetinov called the Kronstadt Tragedy. They claim this supports the argument that the Kronstadt was indeed a counter-revolutionary plot. This extremely hard to find book has had a very limited print run  and is available only in Russian but the anarchist history researcher Alexander Skirda has had access and finds nothing of merit to call for an re-evaluation of the events. Some of of the archive "revelations" are simply Cheka confessions (most likely extracted through torture). Lets apply some commonsense. If there existed a smoking-gun implicating the Kronstadt with the Whites and the Bolsheviks possessed this evidence,  isn't it a strange that it wasn't until the fall of the Soviet Union such information became known and they withheld the details in all their earlier denunciations.

It's also important to understand the context in which the two collections of documents relating to the Kronstadt Revolt have been published. The debate about Kronstadt in post-Soviet Russia in the 1990's was not between Lenininists and anarchists. It was between Leninists and liberals. This plays into the hands of the Leninists because both sides agree that the revolt had to do with restoration of capitalism.

During the late Soviet period, the official expert on the Kronstadt Revolt was the historian Sergei Semanov, who published several books on the subject. Typically, the title of his 1973 book was The liquidation of the anti-Soviet Kronstadt mutiny of 1921. But in his last book on the subject, published in 2003, Semanov apologized for calling the revolt a "mutiny". He wrote that now "the time has arrived to be objective" and he advised the reader that his "judgments on the events of Kronstadt are very different from those of the 1970s" because "times have changed and the author as well". The villain in this book is no longer White generals, but Lenin. That there may have been contact between White emigre groups and people involved in the Kronstadt revolt would hardly be surprising nor necessarily damning. The strikes and unrest in Petrograd at the time - which inspired Kronstadt to rise - had the same roots and surely needed no White influence. It's unsurprising that Leninists should think that if they can discredit one or two leaders then they have discredited a whole social movement.
From here

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Inequality in the News

Germany’s 1%  own an average 800,000 euros ($1.1 million) per person, while roughly a fifth of the German population had not amassed any private capital at all. All in all, the average German adult owned 29,000 euros.
Data collected in 2007 and  figures from 2012 show the gap between the rich and the poor had widened further.

Meanwhile in Africa  high economic growth rates usually expressed in GDP in a number of African countries mask widening inequality between a wealthy minority that is growing richer and the poor who, in many cases, are becoming poorer, a new report said.  Between 1986 and 2010, the share of total income earned by the richest 10 percent increased by 75 percent in Nigeria and 50 percent in Ghana, and income inequality in Zambia hit its highest level since records began. Much of the wealth produced by the elite in the countries studied escapes offshore to tax havens where it cannot be taxed, the report said. Countries that are rich in natural resources are particularly vulnerable because the natural resource sector is “known to be rife with tax-dodging techniques,” it added. In Kenya only 100 HNWI (high net worth individuals) are registered with the tax authority even though the country has 142 Kenyan shilling billionaires, whose net worth exceeds $30 million each

Jake Rosenfeld, associate professor of sociology at the University of Washington, recently published a book addressing wage inequality in the working class. The declining number of organized labor unions is leading to growing inequality among America’s workers, says Jake Rosenfeld, in “What Unions No Longer Do.”

“Average American workers who are trying to gain a foothold in a fast changing economy are really struggling,” Rosenfeld said. “Part of that struggle is that there’s no organized presence to help them as there once was in the form of a labor union.”
According to Rosenfeld, during the 1970s, one out of every three private sector workers was part of a labor union. Today, about one in every 20 workers is part of a labor union. Rosenfeld said he believes the lack of organization and unification among the working class that used to occur through labor unions is increasing racial inequality, lowering wages, and making integration more difficult for immigrants.

“Labor unions were an integral part of the working community,” Rosenfeld said. “They raised wages for millions of workers who might have only had a high school degree and delivered key benefits in terms of retirement packages.”

George Lovell, professor of political science at the University of Washington said there’s a dramatic concentration of wealth at the top of the economic scale that is connected to the lack of union political presence lobbying against this concentration of wealth. Unions used to be a powerful economic force that helped maintain wages for union workers and many other workers. With a lesser union presence, there is a growing inequality of wages among the working class.

China's Rising Workers

China’s workers have emerged over the last few years as a strong, unified and increasingly active collective force. Workers have time and again demonstrated the will and the ability to stand up to abusive and arrogant managements and to demand better pay and working conditions. However, workers are still hampered by the lack of an effective trade union that can maintain solidarity, bargain directly with managements and protect labour leaders from reprisals.  As a result, workers are turning to labour rights groups that can advise and support their collective actions while, at the same time, demanding more of the official trade union and putting pressure on it to change.

 China Labour Bulletin recorded 1,171 strikes and worker protests from mid-2011 until the end of 2013. The police intervened in about 20 percent of the protests recorded by CLB and occasionally conflicts erupted, leading to beatings and arrests.  About 40 percent of the industril action were in manufacturing industries particularly hard hit by the global economic downturn and the decline in China’s economic growth during this period. Factory workers staged protests when they were cheated out of their wages and overtime payments, when their bonuses and benefits were cut back and when the boss refused to pay the social insurance premiums mandated by law. Workers also went out strike to demand higher pay, equal pay for equal work, and proper employment contracts.

Transport workers staged strikes over high costs, cumbersome regulations and unfair competition; teachers protested at wage arrears, low pay and attempts by the government to introduce a performance-based salary system in schools, and sanitation workers, some of the poorest-paid in China, staged numerous strikes and protests in Guangzhou and eventually won a long-overdue raise.

Despite China's seemingly miraculous economic boom, in many ways, its emergent labor struggles are strikingly similar to those experienced by workers in more developed economies: weak-to-zero collective bargaining rights, a lack of social and health protections, the poverty and instability facing interregional migrant labor, global economic volatility and consequent job insecurity. And of course, that’s all in a fractious atmosphere of breakneck national growth rates, greater economic ambitions among the working class and soaring inequality. The rising militancy (and even class consciousness) across the industrial workforce is being facilitated by the expansion of digital communications networks—as more workers begin to enjoy the tech gadgets they’ve been producing for rich countries all these years

Without a free media or independent unions, it’s hard to tell how unified China’s workers are or can be, but CLB describes bread-and-butter struggles at various multinational factories, as well as public sector workforces such as teachers battling wage arrears and sanitation workers denied social insurance.  Workers are lacking direct channels for airing grievances. Although China is technically home to the world’s largest union organization, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the many spontaneous strikes and protests of recent years reveal that the state-run labor bureaucracy, while not completely an arm of the government, has largely been ineffective in responding to workers' intensifying needs and demands.
CLB found that in their pursuit of “better pay and conditions,” workers are bypassing traditional trade union organizing entirely in favor of organizing actions themselves. One worker told the local press, “We don’t want a union chairman who is partial towards the employer. We want to elect a chairman who can speak up for us.”

The report notes, “One of the most intractable obstacles to the development of the workers’ movement in China thus far has been the inability of workers to maintain the solidarity and momentum created by isolated victories in the workplace.” Ultimately, the reclaiming of the union from state and corporate power depends on how workers’ raised consciousness evolves into more systemic mass action and internal union reforms. But it looks like China’s capitalist miracle has opened the potential for its working masses to create the century’s labor miracle as well.

Taken from here

A 50-page report by the CLB is available for download here

New Zealand Child Poverty Under-counted

The number of Kiwi kids in poverty jumped by 60,000 in the recent global recession - twice as much as previously reported.
Revised figures show that children in homes with under 60 per cent of the median income after housing costs, usually cited as New Zealand's poverty line, leapt from 240,000 in 2007 to 300,000 in 2010, the highest since 2001.
The number has dropped back since then to 285,000, but this is still 20,000 more than the previously reported figure of 265,000. As a proportion of all Kiwi children, the revised figures show that children in homes below the poverty line increased from 22 per cent in 2007 to 28 per cent in 2010, and have dropped back only slightly to 27 per cent - not 25 per cent as reported previously.

Fact of the Day

Pakistanis have come to depend on drugs made in India and smuggled into Pakistan. Patients as well as doctors say these are cheap and effective. The two countries do not have a trade agreement on drugs. Doctors in rural areas prescribe them to people who cannot afford the pharmaceutical products of western multinational companies or do not find local brands effective.

 Local medicines are extremely expensive compared to Indian ones. For instance, famotidine, a locally made drug used for stomach-related illnesses, is available for 200 to 500 Pakistani rupees (1.90 to 4.70 dollars) while the same preparation from India is sold at 30 to 50 rupees (30 to 45 cents)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Canada's rich get richer

A new report on Canadian finances shows the rich have nearly doubled their net wealth over the span of 13 years while the poor have gotten poorer.

Statistics Canada’s survey of financial security, conducted between September and November 2012, revealed the poorest 20 per cent of Canadians have seen their median net worth remain unchanged since 2005, and decline since 1999. In 2012, the poorest one-fifth of Canadian families had a median net worth of just $1,100, the same as in 2005, and down 15.4 per cent from $1,300 in 1999.

The richest 20 per cent of Canadians have seen their median net worth increase to $1,380,000. That wealthiest 20 per cent also held 67.4 per cent of the national net worth, the report showed, down slightly from 68.6 per cent in 1999. Houses remain the largest asset for Canadian families, accounting for one-third of the total value of assets, the report said, followed by pensions.

Canadians in the top three wealthiest brackets saw median net worth gains of over 40 per cent since 2005, and a whopping 80 per cent since 1999. Family units with a median net worth of $245,000 and over in 2012 are part of that group.

US Tax Avoidance

Eighteen American multinationals — companies such as Nike, Microsoft and Apple — have used tax havens abroad to avoid what Citizens for Tax Justice estimates as $92 billion in federal taxes. CTJ also found 235 companies reported last year over $1.3 trillion stashed abroad to avoid paying the taxes that domestic companies must pay. This  is not illegal. It is known as “deferral,” the tax laws allow companies to forego paying taxes on money earned (or reported as earned abroad) until the company brings the money back to the United States.

Through transfer pricing, multinationals can easily game the system to report their profits in low tax countries abroad, even while the bulk of their sales are in the U.S. This, in part, is how General Electric can make millions in profits and pay nothing in taxes. A Senate hearing showed how Apple used Ireland as its favorite tax haven, developing what Sen. Carl Levin called “the Holy Grail of tax avoidance,” creating “offshore tax entities … while claiming to be a tax resident nowhere.”

As companies park more and more cash abroad, they then pay lobbying and campaign contributions to persuade Congress to give them a tax break if they bring the money home in what they call “a tax repatriation holiday.” The companies argue that they’ll invest in jobs here in the U.S., but can’t afford to pay the taxes due (the same taxes that domestic small businesses can’t avoid). So let them bring the dough back at a nominal tax rate and they’ll reinvest millions in America.  Each time the Congress provides this kind of tax holiday or amnesty, it gives the corporations an even greater incentive to stash their cash abroad. And more and more corporations hire accountants to figure out how to report their profits abroad, even if earned in the U.S.

The last time the Congress did  this, even the jobs argument turned out to be false, as General Electric’s CEO Jeff Immelt admits. The companies bringing the dough back actually laid off workers in the ensuing years. They used the money to buy back stock (raising the value of their stock options), or to buy other companies, often merging and purging workers or just to pay down debt.

With the trillions of dollars sitting abroad, the game is afoot again. “Bipartisan” bills have been introduced in the House and the Senate to let corporations bring bucks back home at a zero percent tax rate, if they agree to use some of the money to purchase bonds issued by a newly created federal infrastructure bank. They get to bring $6 back tax-free for every $1 they invest in infrastructure bonds. Instead of taxing multinationals as it does small businesses, the federal government will borrow money from them and pay them interest on it.
From here 

Meantime a Senate subcommittee investigation accused Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse of using elaborate “cloak-and-dagger” methods to hide the accounts of 22,000 wealthy American citizens with a total of up to $12 billion in assets from U.S. authorities so they could avoid paying taxes. The bipartisan probe also sharply criticized the Justice Department for being lax in using subpoenas and other legal tools to pressure the bank to reveal most of the names of account holders, which have been withheld as part of a long Swiss tradition of bank secrecy.

“Yet after years of investigations, negotiations and jawboning, the United States has names for just 238 of those 22,000 Credit Suisse customers,” said Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Credit Suisse employees took dozens of trips to the U.S. to meet customers and personally recruit new ones at golf tournaments and other bank-sponsored events, avoiding paper trails while telling U.S. officials the visits were simply for tourism. The Justice Department said  it is investigating 14 Swiss financial institutions for activities related to offshore tax evasion.

Like forefather, like son

According to a new book, The Son Also Rises, by academic Gregory Clark there is a myth about social mobility.  Contrary to brighter estimates, which suggest that past prosperity or poverty can be erased in three to four generations, Clark reckons it takes 10 to 15.  Our chances of getting on in life are largely down to what our family did 300 years ago.

Our parents' salary accounts for a mere 10 per cent variation in a person's status, whereas our long-term lineage accounts for a variance of between 50 and 60 per cent. What that means, in effect, is that if your family were shopkeepers 200 years ago, the likelihood is you may be, too.

Clark suggests that mobility in feudal England was not vastly different to today. Upwardly mobile artisans working in the 12th century took eight generations to be absorbed into the educated elite of the 16th century. Despite the introduction of inheritance tax and rapid industrialisation, the 21st-century descendant of the 1 per centers of mid-Victorian England are likely to be three times as wealthy as the average man or woman on the bus.

"Social mobility rates are similar across societies that vary dramatically in their institutions and income levels. Cradle-to-grave socialist Sweden and dog-eat-dog, free-to-lose America have similar rates. Communist China and capitalist Taiwan have similar rates. Homogenous Japan and the ethnically fractured US also have similar rates," he says. "Only extreme, drastic and unacceptable state interventions have any hope of increasing social mobility." Not even the Communist Revolution in China in 1949 managed to have a lasting, pervasive effect on mobility, according to his study.

From here

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Floodgate Part 1 - Poem

Part 1 of 3. The Farage Barrage!

(UKIP have expelled Councillor David  
Silvester of Henley-on-Thames for claiming
that recent flooding was caused by the
Government’s Marriage (Same Sex) Act!)

It’s clear that fire and brimstone’s out,
And flooding is now in;
To chastise our unchastity,
And all unnatural sin!
God’s wrath has smitten Cameron,
And his limp-wristed law;
And caused much inundation on,
The countryside and shore!

Thus in His Arc-like punishment,
God breached the water dykes;
So gays and wicked dykes were smote,
Throughout His flooding strikes!
Although it’s a queer justice, that,
Allows gays on high ground; 
Avoid the flooding whilst some straights,
On lower ground were drowned!

Silvester’s God moves in strange ways, (1)
His wonders to perform;
Such miracles thus tend to lie,
Outside the social norm.
This God-forsaken twisted love,
Is clearly Henley sent;
And seems a kind of justice, that
In retrospect seems bent.

If Cameron et al have sinned,
Would it not be more fair;
To punish them but leave alone,
The innocents out there?
But simple-minded thinking tends,
To stem from the more dense;
And most religious oddities,
Aren’t known for common sense!

(1) David Silvester claimed that Cameron
had acted “arrogantly against the Gospel”.

© Richard Layton

Science for Sale

 SOYMB has on occasion revealed that science is often corrupted by commercial concerns. This interview on Democracy Now offers an example where profitability of a product over-rode the safety issue.

Syngenta is one of the largest agri-businesses in the world which is based in Basel, sells more than fourteen billion dollars’ worth of seeds and pesticides a year and funds research at some four hundred academic institutions around the world. There is now real concern that biotech companies were “buying up universities” and that industry funding compromises the objectivity of their research.

Atrazine is the second most widely used herbicide in the U.S., where sales are estimated at about three hundred million dollars a year. Introduced in 1958, it is cheap to produce and controls a broad range of weeds. (Glyphosate, which is produced by Monsanto, is the most popular herbicide.) A study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that without atrazine the national corn yield would fall by six per cent, creating an annual loss of nearly two billion dollars. But the herbicide degrades slowly in soil and often washes into streams and lakes, where it doesn’t readily dissolve. Atrazine is one of the most common contaminants of drinking water; an estimated thirty million Americans are exposed to trace amounts of the chemical. In 1994, the E.P.A., expressing concerns about atrazine’s health effects, announced that it would start a scientific review. Syngenta assembled a panel of scientists and professors, through a consulting firm called EcoRisk, to study the herbicide. Tyrone Hayes joined the group.

Tyrone Hayes, a University of California scientist who discovered that a popular herbicide may have harmful effects on the endocrine system. Tyrone Hayes was first hired in 1997 by a company that later became agribusiness giant Syngenta. They asked him to study their product, atrazine, a pesticide that is applied to more than half the corn crops in the United States and widely used on golf courses and Christmas tree farms. But after Hayes found results that the manufacturer did not expect, that atrazine causes sexual abnormalities in frogs and could cause the same problems for humans, Syngenta refused to allow him to publish his work.

 The New Yorker magazine used court documents from a class action lawsuit against Syngenta to show how it sought to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from banning the profitable chemical, which is already banned by the European Union. The European Union generally takes a precautionary approach to environmental risks, choosing restraint in the face of uncertainty. In the U.S., lingering scientific questions justify delays in regulatory decisions. Since the mid-seventies, the E.P.A. has issued regulations restricting the use of only five industrial chemicals out of more than eighty thousand in the environment. Industries have a greater role in the American regulatory process—they may sue regulators if there are errors in the scientific record—and cost-benefit analyses are integral to decisions: a monetary value is assigned to disease, impairments, and shortened lives and weighed against the benefits of keeping a chemical in use. Lisa Heinzerling, the senior climate-policy counsel at the E.P.A. in 2009 and the associate administrator of the office of policy in 2009 and 2010, said that cost-benefit models appear “objective and neutral, a way to free ourselves from the chaos of politics.” But the complex algorithms “quietly condone a tremendous amount of risk.”

The company’s public relations team drafted a list of four goals. Reporter Rachel Aviv writes, quote, "The first was 'discredit Hayes.'  Syngenta’s communications manager, Sherry Ford, who referred to Hayes by his initials, wrote that the company could 'prevent citing of TH data by revealing him as noncredible.' He was a frequent topic of conversation at company meetings. Syngenta looked for ways to 'exploit Hayes' faults/problems.’ 'If TH involved in scandal, enviros will drop him,' Ford wrote." In 2005, Ford made a long list of methods for discrediting him: “have his work audited by 3rd party,” “ask journals to retract,” “set trap to entice him to sue,” “investigate funding,” “investigate wife.” The P.R. team suggested that the company “purchase ‘Tyrone Hayes’ as a search word on the internet, so that any time someone searches for Tyrone’s material, the first thing they see is our material.” The proposal was later expanded to include the phrases “amphibian hayes,” “atrazine frogs,” and “frog feminization.”

Steven Milloy, a freelance science columnist who runs a nonprofit organization to which Syngenta has given tens of thousands of dollars, wrote an article for Fox News titled “Freaky-Frog Fraud,” which picked apart Hayes’s paper in Nature, saying that there wasn’t a clear relationship between the concentration of atrazine and the effect on the frog. Milloy characterized Hayes as a “junk scientist” and dismissed his “lame” conclusions as “just another of Hayes’ tricks.” An organization called the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness petitioned the E.P.A. to ignore Hayes’s findings. “Hayes has killed and continues to kill thousands of frogs in unvalidated tests that have no proven value,” the petition said. The center argued that Hayes’s studies violated the Data Quality Act, passed in 2000, which requires that regulatory decisions rely on studies that meet high standards for “quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity.” The center is run by an industry lobbyist and consultant for Syngenta, Jim Tozzi.

Don Coursey, an economist at the Harris School of Public Policy, at the University of Chicago, five hundred dollars an hour to study how a ban on the herbicide would affect the economy. Coursey  announced that there was one “basic takeaway point: a ban on atrazine at the national level will have a devastating, devastating effect upon the U.S. corn economy.”

Fussy critiques of scientific experiments have become integral to what is known as the “sound science” campaign, an effort by interest groups and industries to slow the pace of regulation. David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, wrote, in his book “Doubt Is Their Product” (2008), that corporations have developed sophisticated strategies for “manufacturing and magnifying uncertainty.” In the eighties and nineties, the tobacco industry fended off regulations by drawing attention to questions about the science of secondhand smoke. Many companies have adopted this tactic. “Industry has learned that debating the science is much easier and more effective than debating the policy,” Michaels wrote. “In field after field, year after year, conclusions that might support regulation are always disputed. Animal data are deemed not relevant, human data not representative, and exposure data not reliable.”

Syngenta’s public-relations team wrote editorials about the benefits of atrazine and about the flimsy science of its critics, and then sent them to “third-party allies,” who agreed to “byline” the articles, which appeared in the Washington Times, the Rochester Post-Bulletin, the Des Moines Register, and the St. Cloud Times. When a few articles in the “op-ed pipeline” sounded too aggressive, a Syngenta consultant warned that “some of the language of these pieces is suggestive of their source, which suggestion should be avoided at all costs.” Syngenta hired a communications consultancy, the White House Writers Group, which has represented more than sixty Fortune 500 companies.  The firm held “elite dinners with Washington influentials” and tried to “prompt members of Congress” to challenge the scientific rationale for an upcoming E.P.A. review of atrazine. In a memo describing its strategy, the White House Writers Group wrote that, “regarding science, it is important to keep in mind that the major players in Washington do not understand science.”

Syngenta use a company called Innovative Science Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in “product defense” and strategies that “give you the power to put your best data forward.”

The E.P.A. found that all seventeen atrazine studies, including Hayes’s, suffered from methodological flaws—contamination of controls, variability in measurement end points, poor animal husbandry—and asked Syngenta to fund a comprehensive experiment that would produce more definitive results. Darcy Kelley, a member of the E.P.A.’s scientific advisory panel and a biology professor at Columbia, said that, at the time, “I did not think the E.P.A. made the right decision.” The studies by Syngenta scientists had flaws that “really cast into doubt their ability to carry out their experiments. They couldn’t replicate effects that are as easy as falling off a log.” She thought that Hayes’s experiments were more respectable, but she wasn’t persuaded by Hayes’s explanation of the biological mechanism causing the deformities.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What was the process within the company? As you raised your findings, what was their immediate reaction to what you had come across?

TYRONE HAYES: Well, initially they seemed sort of supportive. You know, we designed more studies. We designed more analysis. And they encouraged me to do more analysis. But as the further analysis just supported the original finding, they became less interested in moving forward very quickly, and eventually they moved to asking me to manipulate data or to misrepresent data, and ultimately they told me I could not publish or could not talk about the data outside of their closed panel...Well, eventually, what happened was the Environmental Protection Agency insisted that the manufacturer release me from the confidentiality contract. And we published our findings in pretty high-ranking journals, such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. We published some work in Nature. We published work in Environmental Health Perspectives, which is a journal sponsored by the National Institutes of Health...Before we published the findings and before the EPA became involved, the company tried to purchase the data. They tried to give me a new contract so that they would then control the data and the experiments. They actually tried to get me to come and visit the company to get control of those data. And when I refused, I invited them to the university, I offered to share data, but they wanted to purchase the data. And then they actually—as mentioned in the New Yorker article, they actually hired scientists to try to refute the data or to pick apart the data, and eventually they hired scientists to do experiments that they claim refuted our data.

And then that escalated to the company actually—Tim Pastoor, in particular, and others from the company—coming to presentations that—or lectures that I was giving, to make handouts or to stand up and refute the data, and eventually even led to things like threats of violence. Tim Pastoor, for example, before I would give a talk, would literally threaten, whisper in my ear that he could have me lynched, or he would—quote, said he would "send some of his good ol’ boys to show me what it’s like to be gay," or at one point he threatened my wife and my daughter with sexual violence. He would whisper things like, "Your wife’s at home alone right now. How do you know I haven’t sent somebody there to take care of her? Isn’t your daughter there?" So, eventually, it really slipped into some, you know, pretty scary tactics.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: ...When The New York Times ran a critical story about the herbicide as part of its toxic water series in 2009, she referred to its reporting as, quote, "all the news that’s fit to scare." This is a clip of Whelan from an interview on MSNBC.

ELIZABETH WHELAN: I very much disagree with the New York Times story, which is really raising concerns about a totally bogus risk. Atrazine has been used for more than 50 years. It’s very, very tightly regulated. Even the Environmental Protection Agency, which is not known for soft-pedaling about environmental chemicals, even they say it’s safe.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, it turns out that Syngenta has been a long-term financial supporter of Whelan’s organization, the American Council on Science and Health, paying them at least $100,000. Your comments on her remarks?

TYRONE HAYES: Well, again, they’re paid remarks. And one of the most disheartening things in this whole process is that many of my critics—you know, it’s one to be academic, if you come and say, "Well, we interpreted the data this way, and we want to argue about this point," but these people really didn’t even have an opinion. These opinions were written by the manufacturer, and they were paid to put their names on them, to endorse the opinions of the manufacturer. So, you know, that’s one of the most disheartening things, that they were really just personalities for sale.

And many of the things that she’s saying there is just not true. There are—any independent study, from any scientist that’s not funded by Syngenta, has found similar problems with atrazine, not just my work on frogs. But I’ve just published a paper with 22 scientists from around the world, from 12 different countries, who have shown that atrazine causes sexual problems in mammals, that atrazine causes sexual problems in birds, amphibians, fish. So it’s not just my work in amphibians.

And also, with regards to the EPA, one of the scientific advisory panel members on the EPA that was supposed to review atrazine turns out is paid and works for Syngenta. So the whole process was tainted. And, in fact, the EPA ignored the scientific advisory panel’s opinion and actually decided to keep atrazine on the market and not to do any more studies, when that clearly wasn’t the recommendation of the scientific advisory panel.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, what’s happening with atrazine today? Where does it stand?

TYRONE HAYES: It’s still on the market. We’re still studying it. A number of studies are still coming out from around the world. One recent study has shown that male babies that are exposed in utero to atrazine, their genitals don’t develop properly. Their penis doesn’t develop properly, or they get microphallus. There are studies showing that sperm count goes down when you’re exposed to atrazine. And this is not just laboratory animals or animals in the wild; this is also humans. We use the same hormones that animals do for our reproduction. And it’s a big threat to environmental health and public health..."

Keith Solomon, a professor emeritus at the University of Guelph, Ontario, who has received funding from Syngenta and served on the EcoRisk panel, noted that academics who refuse industry money are not immune from biases; they’re under pressure to produce papers, in order to get tenure and promotions.

Michelle Boone, a professor of aquatic ecology at Miami University, who served on the E.P.A.’s scientific advisory panel, said, “We all follow the Tyrone Hayes drama, and some people will say, ‘He should just do the science.’ But the science doesn’t speak for itself. Industry has unlimited resources and bully power. Tyrone is the only one calling them out on what they’re doing.”

The E.P.A. determined that atrazine does not affect the sexual development of frogs. There were seventy-five published studies on the subject, but the E.P.A. excluded the majority of them from consideration, because they did not meet the requirements for quality that the agency had set in 2003. The conclusion was based largely on a set of studies funded by Syngenta and led by Werner Kloas, a professor of endocrinology at Humboldt University, in Berlin. One of the co-authors was Alan Hosmer, a Syngenta scientist whose job, according to a 2004 performance evaluation, included “atrazine defence” and “influencing EPA.”  Two of the independent experts who had served on the E.P.A.’s scientific advisory panel, along with fifteen other scientists, wrote a paper (not yet published) complaining that the agency had repeatedly ignored the panel’s recommendations and that it placed “human health and the environment at the mercy of industry.” “The EPA works with industry to set up the methodology for such studies with the outcome often that industry is the only institution that can afford to conduct the research,” they wrote. The Kloas study was the most comprehensive of its kind: its researchers had been scrutinized by an outside auditor, and their raw data turned over to the E.P.A. But the scientists wrote that one set of studies on a single species was “not a sufficient edifice on which to build a regulary assessment.” They added “the single best predictor of whether or not the herbicide atrazine had a significant effect in a study was the funding source.”

Jason Rohr, an ecologist at the University of South Florida, who served on an E.P.A. panel, criticized the “lucrative ‘science for hire’ industry, where scientists are employed to dispute data.” He wrote that a Syngenta-funded review of the atrazine literature had arguably misrepresented more than fifty studies and made a hundred and forty-four inaccurate or misleading statements, of which “96.5% appeared to be beneficial for Syngenta.” Rohr, who has conducted several experiments involving atrazine, said that, at conferences, “I regularly get peppered with questions from Syngenta cronies trying to discount my research. They try to poke holes in the research rather than appreciate the adverse effects of the chemicals.” He said, “I have colleagues whom I’ve tried to recruit, and they’ve told me that they’re not willing to delve into this sort of research, because they don’t want the headache of having to defend their credibility.”

Deborah Cory-Slechta, a former member of the E.P.A.’s science advisory board, said that she, too, felt that Syngenta was trying to undermine her work. A professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Cory-Slechta studies how the herbicide paraquat may contribute to diseases of the nervous system. “The folks from Syngenta used to follow me to my talks and tell me I wasn’t using ‘human-relevant doses,’ ” she said. “They would go up to my students and try to intimidate them. There was this sustained campaign to make it look like my science wasn’t legitimate.”

In 2012,  Syngenta agreed to pay a $105 million to reimburse more than a thousand water systems for the cost of filtering atrazine from drinking water, but the company denies all wrongdoing.