Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Socialist Standard No. 1322 October 2014

South Korea's Fast-Growing Inequality

Thomas Piketty took the world tour for his blockbuster bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century to South Korea earlier this month. But one local power suit didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet. Center for Free Enterprise chief Hyun Jin-kwon complained just before Piketty’s arrival that the French economist “provokes our natural feelings of envy for other people’s success and contends that we can resolve this envy by raising taxes on a small number of people.

If Piketty’s perspective gains any traction, Hyun Jin-kwon added, “the Korean legend of economic growth will end with our generation.
Some feel that legend may have already ended. South Korea’s bottom 90 percent accounted for 70.8 percent of national income in 1995, but take only 55.1 percent today.

from here

US Inequality By Numbers

Income shares

from here

"Dollars For Docs" - Pharmaceutical Companies' Big Spending

Dollars for Docs now includes 3.4 million payments since 2009, totaling more than $4 billion, of which $2.5 billion was for research. For 2013 alone, there were 1.2 million payments valued at nearly $1.4 billion.
It's not possible to calculate the exact number of physicians represented, because drug companies haven't used unique identification numbers that cross company lines. But it's clear that the figure is in the hundreds of thousands.
Excluding research payments, the drugmaker Pfizer appeared to have interactions with the most health care professionals last year — about 142,600. AstraZeneca came in second with about 111,200. Johnson & Johnson and Forest Labs each had nearly 100,000. There are an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 active doctors in the United States.

Below are the approximate numbers of health professionals who received some payment from each company in 2013, excluding research. We based this on the number of unique names, cities and states per company.
Company Doctors Paid
Johnson & Johnson97,000
Boehringer Ingelheim82,900
Eli Lilly79,000
EMD Serono7,900

Note: Dollars for Docs only includes data for Cephalon from the first six months of 2013.
Source: ProPublica's Dollars for Docs.

Larger companies (as measured by 2013 U.S. drug sales) did not always spend the most on promotional speakers. Some companies in Dollars for Docs do not break out speaking payments (they are not listed here). Johnson & Johnson and Amgen call their speaking categories "non-consulting."
Company U.S. Sales Company Spending on Speaker Fees
Amgen14.8BAstraZeneca16.2BBoehringer Ingelheim7.7BEli Lilly15.3BEMD Serono1.7BForest3.8BGlaxoSmithKline12.8BJohnson & Johnson13.9BMerck16.2BNovartis$19BPfizer17BViiV1BAmgen6MAstraZeneca24.1MBoehringer Ingelheim12.5MEli Lilly14.3MEMD Serono1.7MForest$32.3MGlaxoSmithKline5.4MJohnson & Johnson18.9MMerck11.5MNovartis12.7MPfizer12.6MViiV1.1M
Note: Merck U.S. sales includes both Merck & Co. and Schering Plough.
Source: IMS Health and ProPublica's Dollars for Docs.

Info taken from a lengthy article here 



Sept 2014. Kate and William announce
they’re expecting another baby.

Another Royal sprog to feed,
One more right Charlie twit;
An extra Andy parasite,
Or Edward ‘luvvie’ git.
A Princess Anne-like horsey nag,
A thicko ‘Arry brat; (1)
The Royal spawning processes,
Are always at full chat.

Their stud-like procreative ways,
May seem a little coarse;
But Royal blood oft needs a dash,
From the best Windsor source!
A dynasty, if faced with a
Non-compos mentis heir;
Must take care it has in reserve,
A mediocre spare!

The tribal Windsor family, 
Who reproduce like flies;
Ensure new spongers come along,
Each time an old one dies.
For a dysfunctional old clan,
Genetically inbred;
They might be slow by day but not,
So slow at night in bed.

It’s obvious the Monarchy’s,
A self-breeding machine;
Where loyal workers do their bit,
For the top bee, the Queen!
The way the Royal Family breeds,
We all should make a fuss;
As it won’t be too long before,
There’s more of them than us!

(1) On the 15-09-14, Prince Harry’s 30th birthday,
he will inherit £10m from his mother’s estate.

© Richard Layton

Time to change the world, not change worlds!

We've all heard the warnings about how climate change is wreaking havoc on crop productivity, fisheries, forests, livestock, water resources and soils. We know as well that food and water are the most fundamental necessities for life, and lack of access is the flash-point that ignites civil unrest yet the UN insists on taking its cue from the very corporations who are responsible for degrading the planet, destroying lives and creating the crisis in the first place. With a handful of corporations owning and controlling most of the world's wealth, little can be funded and executed on a large scale without the funding, involvement and decision making of the handful of ultra wealthy. Which means ceding control to those corporate interests and doing their bidding. Money is the power within capitalism and so many “green” initiatives are beholden to corporate puppet masters. By endorsing the activities of the planet's worst climate offenders in agribusiness and industrial agriculture it will undermine the very objectives that environmentalists claim to aim for.

One such partnership was the  UN "Sustainable Energy For All" Initiative (SEFA) which sounds all very nice.  But behind this initiative are the very companies and institutions that have profited from  the highly destructive, climate damaging, livelihood undermining soil, water and diversity destroying, industrial model. Precisely what we need to get away from. Tellingly, the very first step toward establishing that initiative was to consult with an array of the world's worst fossil fuel industries. Using a title like “Sustainable Energy For All”“ leave most people who do not have time to research these initiatives in depth, and are not familiar with the twists and turns of word play, confused and misled. Biofuelwatch worked with others to uncover the green-wash pointing out in their briefing "Sustainable Energy For All or Sustained Profits For a Few" that the initiative was fundamentally flawed - relying on a handpicked set of corporate leaders, including those with deep interests in expansion of fossil fuels and infrastructure for its delivery. The SEFA Initiative provided no criteria whatsoever towards defining what is or is not to be supported. The term "sustainable" could thus be applied to anything, including expansion of gas, oil, nuclear power, mega-dams, industrial bio-fuels.

While SEFA proclaims its charitable intent to deliver energy access to those lacking it, their chief aim appears more directed toward increasing companies' ability to shape and direct public-sector energy policies and to create favorable investment climates. Delivering access to energy for those who lack it may be the Trojan horse for an underlying goal, far more profitable and less charitable. Hence constructing pipelines and grids down the spine of Africa (the goal of the related Africa Clean Energy Corridor Initiative) is likely as anything aimed at delivering electricity to enable the expansion of various energy intensive mining industries as it is to provide poor, rural women with opportunities to charge their cell phones.

SEFA lists among its "accomplishments" Obama's "Power Africa" initiative. In November 2013, a coalition of African groups did not mince words when they wrote: 
“When we read statements from the White House about "new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas," and that "The recent discoveries of oil and gas in sub-Saharan Africa will play a critical role in defining the region's prospects for economic growth and stability, as well as contributing to broader near-term global energy security" - our response is to say, "Leave the oil in the soil; leave the coal in the hole." It is simply impossible to continue to exploit fossil fuels if we want to avoid climate catastrophe.”

Another project listed under commitments is Eni SpA. Eni is one of the world's largest energy companies, largely Italian, which has been developing tar sands and palm oil in Republic of Congo. Never heard of it? Neither have most Congolese, because virtually nothing about Eni's agreements with the Congolese government has been disclosed. Given the track record on both tar sands and palm oil, is it not highly problematic that such projects should be sold to the public as "sustainable development for poverty alleviation?"

There seems to be no end to the nonsense that the business and industry community will offer up under the guise of providing solutions, both inside and outside the UN.  The CEO of Saudi gas company Aramco announced at the private sector luncheon a new "Oil and Gas Climate Initiative," which aims to explore what the industry is willing (voluntarily that is) to do to provide "solutions," including energy access, reduction of flaring and methane emissions, carbon capture and storage, and expansion of natural gas and renewables. It seems highly unlikely, to say the least, that the oil and gas industry is going to solve the climate crisis.

There are also many wishy-washy, nonsense calls by environmental activists ("100 percent renewable energy, now," "Go Vegan: Save the Planet," "electric cars," "biofuels" etc.) but some conclude that our only real chance for addressing the multipronged crises we face is to target the roots of the problem. Many are recognizing that all of the various issues, concerns and struggles that we contend with - from tar sands, to fracking, from nukes and uranium mining to biofuels, from oppression and incarceration to poverty, sexism, racism and a lack of basic rights - all stem from a common root cause namely capitalism. With  everything at stake, we can and must use our power in numbers to put an end to the utterly grotesque system that currently reigns and which has demonstrated that it is willing to go to any lengths - including destroying our only planet - in the name of endless profit-making and accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny few. Only then can real solutions prevail as we figure out new ways to live in a post-capitalist world. We cannot expect solutions to come from those invested in endless growth and who talk of carbon off-sets.

Soon we'll need a new planet

The world populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles fell overall by 52 percent between 1970 and 2010, far faster than previously thought, according to a new study by the World Wildlife Fund. The worst decline was among populations of freshwater species, which fell by 76 percent over the four decades to 2010, while marine and terrestrial numbers both fell by 39 percent. The report measured how close the planet is to nine so-called "planetary boundaries", thresholds of "potentially catastrophic changes to life as we know it". Three such thresholds have already been crossed - biodiversity, carbon dioxide levels and nitrogen pollution from fertilisers. Two more were in danger of being breached - ocean acidification and phosphorus levels in freshwater.

"There is no room for complacency," said WWF International Director General Marco Lambertini, calling for a greater focus on sustainable solutions to the impacts that people are inflicting on nature, particularly through the release of greenhouse gases.

According to the report, Kuwaitis had the biggest ecological footprint, meaning they consume and waste more resources per head than any other nation, followed by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. "If all people on the planet had the footprint of the average resident of Qatar, we would need 4.8 planets. If we lived the lifestyle of a typical resident of the USA, we would need 3.9 planets," the report said.

Austerity Continues

A future Conservative government would freeze benefits paid to people of working age for two years and would come into effect in 2016, if the Tories win the next election. About 10 million households would be affected, roughly half of which are working and would include Job-seeker's Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit, Child Benefit and Employment Support Allowance, paid to those judged capable of work.  The government is also to introduce pre-paid benefit cards  that could only be used for some items in some stores which will act as a "last-stop deterrent" to those living off the state with no intention of working.

Enriching the 1% at everyone else’s expense is what capitalism does.  The main job of the state in capitalist societies — and therefore of those who lead states — is to make capitalism flourish. Within the confines of normal capitalist politics it is therefore inevitable that Osborne and Cameron would preside over a regime in which inequality becomes worse, and in which austerity becomes the order of the day. Increasing inequality is a worldwide phenomenon – afflicting all developed capitalist countries. The labour movement and the welfare state are under attack everywhere; and everywhere people are worse off as a result. Until the basic economic structure is transformed, the underlying causes of the problems affecting us will remain – and so will the problems themselves. The only solution is revolution.  No matter which party is next elected, the most the vast majority can hope for are a few woefully inadequate palliative changes at the margins. Supporters of the Labour Party should realise that the views advanced by Miliband may make them look good compared to the Tories, but pertain to issues about which governments can do very little. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

The World's Inhumanity

Research into migrant deaths in Europe shows 22,000 missing, presumed dead, in past 14 years – more than half the global total. Migrants trying to reach more prosperous countries have died at a rate of eight every day for the past 14 years, the majority of them trying to get to Europe, according to the most comprehensive ever tally of migrant deaths.

Almost 40,000 people have died on migrant routes worldwide, according to estimates by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which added that 22,000 of them perished trying to get to Europe. According to the IOM, the true number of fatalities is likely to be even higher than the figures in its report. An estimated 4,077 died this year alone, suggesting a sharply escalating problem. IOM research records that since 2000, nearly 6,000 more migrant deaths occurred along the US-Mexico border and a further 3,000 deaths from Africa’s Sahara desert and the Indian Ocean. No Australian government agency, law enforcement or migration-focused agency, at the state or federal level, publishes data on border-related deaths.

 “Our message is blunt: migrants are dying who need not,” said the IOM’s director general, William Lacy Swing. “It is time to do more than count the number of victims. It is time to engage the world to stop this violence against desperate migrants...At a time when one in seven people around the world are migrants, we are seeing an extraordinarily harsh response to migration in the developed world,” said Swing. “Limited opportunities for safe and regular migration drive would-be migrants into the hands of smugglers, feeding an unscrupulous trade that threatens the lives of desperate people. We need to put an end to this cycle. Undocumented migrants are not criminals. They are human beings in need of protection and assistance, and deserving respect,” he added.

From here 

Australia's Inhumanity

Australia will sign a deal with Cambodia to relocate political refugees. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said only those who chose to go to Cambodia would be resettled there but the alternative would be indefinite detention and constant psychological pressure to agree as witnessed in “voluntary” re-settlements of African asylum seekers from Israel.

 Human rights groups say the scheme will not afford refugees sufficient protection and accuse Australia of failing to meet its international obligations by sending refugees to an impoverished nation ill-equipped to handle them.

Refugee Action Coalition said Cambodia was "an extremely poor country with a record of corruption". "It is not even able to look after its own citizens, let alone provide education, housing, jobs or permanent security for refugees...”

 Australia's Green Party senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Australia was treating Cambodia as a "human dumping ground".

Human Rights Watch said Cambodia had failed to protect refugees and asylum-seekers, in some cases returning them to countries where they faced persecution.

 Australia has also chosen to bring back temporary visas for refugees which leave refugees' lives in limbo. The visas mean those found to be refugees can be sent home after the fixed protection period elapses if conditions in their home country are judged to have improved and SOYMB can recall how many times Iraq has been judged secure and safe over recent years.

From here 

European Commission - A Captive But Willing Servant Of A Corporate Agenda

A new report by the campaign/watchdog body Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) reveals  huge conflicts of interests in the Scientific Committees  under DG SANCO, the European Commission's department in charge of consumer issues [1].
These Committees assess the risk to humans and the environment of chemicals found in a huge range of everyday items, from shampoo to baby bottles. Their opinions guide European Commission regulators, who decide which chemicals are safe and at what levels, and which should be banned.

The research found that  two thirds of scientists had at least one, and some many more, conflicts of interest due to their links to industries impacted by assessments . The research focused on assessment procedures involving the Scientific Committees with regard to four substances, including endocrine disrupting parabens and DNA-damaging titanium dioxide - in nano-form. All of the substances are already widely available on the market.
Corporate Europe Observatory's Pascoe Sabido says:
“Judging the potential risk of substances like endocrine-disrupting parabens can have a huge impact on whether we enjoy a healthy life, a healthy environment or even the healthy development of an unborn baby.”
Such chemicals could potentially cause great harm to human health and the environment. However, the assessments of these chemicals by the Scientific Committees can potentially impact the financial fortunes of companies involved in producing and using the substances.
Sabido added: “This means that the independence of the scientists providing the expert advice needs to be above and beyond any suspicion of industry influence – which is not the case.” 

Having gone through the annual declarations of the interests of all 57 members involved in the Scientific Committees' opinions on the four substances examined (parabens, nano titanium-dioxide, nano silver, and mercury dental amalgams),  67 percent of the scientists were found to have links with industries with a direct or indirect interest in the assessed chemicals. The research exposed links to pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, chemical behemoth DuPont and consumer goods heavyweight Unilever.
CEO found that the most common conflict was working in a consultative or advisory role for industry. This means  direct payment to the expert – or in some cases their research institution – for services to those companies whose products were regulated following the Scientific Committee opinions.

Sabido continues:
“A narrow conflict of interest policy and insufficient resources for screening and cross-checking has seriously undermined the independence of the Scientific Committees. To ensure the assessments produced live up to public expectations, DG SANCO needs to seriously examine how its processes and procedures can be reformed. This includes immediate changes, like broadening their definition of a conflict of interest, as well as longer term goals such as increasing the involvement of independent public scientists in risk assessment and ultimately ending all links between industries and the safety assessment of the products they produce.” 

Ordinary Europeans expect officials involved with public sector institutions to uphold the public interest and be independent from commercial influence. They do not expect them to serve and profit from commercial interests at cost to the public's health and safety.
However, from the European Food Safety Agency to the Scientific Committees, what they too often get is  massive conflicts of interest throughout the EU  [2,3]. What they too often get is a European Commission that is beholden to  massive corporate lobbying, not least the financial and biotech sectors  [4,5].
They get an EU that sidelines civil organizations, trade unions, NGOs and the like in favour of powerful corporations who hide behind the notion of ‘free trade' in order to destroy workers' rights, weaken health and safety, get their health-damaging products onto the market, by pass democratic procedures and threaten or intimidate governments with legal action and massive financial payouts courtesy of the taxpayer [6].  
They get  regulators who turn a blind eye  to the deleterious effects of products that pose a serious systemic risk to the public [7] and who give the nod to products based not on independent research but a company's statements or secretive studies taken at face value and then  deliberately keep the public in the dark  [8].      

In essence, what Europeans have had in recent times is a European Commission that is a captive but willing servant of a corporate agenda , a Commission that is essentially “a disgrace to the democratic traditions in Europe” [9].
This recent report by CEO will do little to instill the public's rapidly waning confidence in Brussels. 

By Colin Todhunter (his bold)   from here with links

Oil And Gas Workers Routinely Cheated Of Wages

A ProPublica review of U.S. Department of Labor investigations shows that oil and gas workers – men and women often performing high-risk jobs – are routinely being underpaid, and the companies hiring them often are using accounting techniques to deny workers benefits such as medical leave or unemployment insurance. The DOL investigations have centered on what is known as worker "misclassification," an accounting gambit whereby companies treat full time employees as independent contractors paid hourly wages, and then fail to make good on their obligations. The technique, investigators and experts say, has become ever more common as small companies seek to gain contracts in an intensely competitive market by holding labor costs down.

In the complex, rapidly expanding oil and gas industry, much of the day to day work done on oil rigs and gas wells is sub-contracted out to smaller companies.

For the thousands of workers in the hundreds of different companies, a single standard is supposed to apply: by law, they must be paid more than minimum wage and they must be fairly compensated for any overtime accrued.

In 2012, the DOL began a special enforcement initiative in its Northeast and Southwest regional offices targeting the fracking industry and its supporting industries. As of August this year, the agency has conducted 435 investigations resulting in over $13 million in back wages found due for more than 9,100 workers. ProPublica obtained data for 350 of those cases from the agency. In over a fifth of the investigations, companies in violation paid more than $10,000 in back wages.
One of those companies was Morco Geological Services, a company providing mud logging services for other oil and gas drilling companies. In 2013, the DOL found that Morco was paying some workers $75 daily for working virtually round-the-clock shifts. The company eventually agreed to pay $595,737 in back wages to 121 workers following the DOL's investigation. In another significant case, Hutco, a company providing labor services to the oil and gas industry, ended up paying $1.9 million to 2,267 employees assigned to work in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Dr. David Weil, a former economics professor at Boston University who today heads the DOL's Wage and Hour Division: "Employers are looking for opportunities in a changing business landscape at the employee's expenses to cut corners as much as possible, leaving room for wage and hour violations.
84 percent of workers in the oil, gas and mining industry were employed by contractors in 2012.

Several investigations by the DOL show there are companies wilfully dodging their responsibilities. The violations – accidental or intentional – are being committed by companies large and small, lawyers and labor officials say.
"You would think that some of the larger companies would be better in terms of compliance, what we're seeing is these violations are really rampant in this industry and affect all sizes of companies," said Shanon Carson, a lawyer with Philadelphia-based Berger & Montague, who has represented several oil and gas workers.

The oil and gas industry is hardly the only industry to be afflicted with wage abuses. A recent investigation by McClatchy found that misclassification of workers was especially rampant in the construction industry, where companies flouted labor laws to evade taxes.

Worker rights groups and some lawyers believe there are likely thousands of mistreated workers unaware of protections under wage laws.

taken from longer article here

One of the comments:
" I'm tired of hearing that competition is the reason for lower wages. These companies that flout labor laws are doing it because... they can. And when caught, they pay a small fine -- now just the cost of doing business."

Absolutely! And SOYMB would add the reminder that the bottom line, the imperative for all business in capitalism, is profit is paramount - and the way to put a stop to it is to abolish the wages system along with the capitalist system itself.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

What Federal Minimum Wage Means In Numbers

If you have a job that pays the federal minimum wage, an hour of your work is worth $7.25, before taxes. Here are some numbers to help you understand what it means to be making the federal minimum wage, and why it’s long past time for an increase:


The number of months since the last minimum wage increase, in July 2009.


The number of months between each of the last three minimum wage increases, to $5.85 in July 2007, then to $6.55 in July 2008, and finally to the current $7.25 minimum in July 2009.


The number of states — not including Washington, D.C. — that have raised the minimum wage above the federal rate. The highest state minimum wage is in Washington state, at $9.32 an hour — still below the proposed federal minimum.
minimum wage


The purchasing power the federal minimum wage has lost to inflation since the last time it was raised, according to Pew data from 2013. The left-leaning National Employment Law Project reports that the real value of the minimum wage peaked in 1968, when its $1.60-an-hour rate would have been worth close to $10.50 in today’s economy.


What the minimum wage would have been in 2012 if it had kept up with worker productivity since the late-1940s, according to a study published last year.


The number of hourly workers who were making the federal minimum wage in 2013, according to Pew.
An additional 1.8 million tipped employees, full-time students, disabled workers and others holding jobs exempted from federal minimum wage requirements earned wages of less than $7.25 an hour. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour.


The number of workers who would see an increase in wages if the federal minimum were to be increased to $10.10 over three years. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 88 percent of them are older than 20 and a third are over 40. National Employment Law Project says two-thirds of all low-wage workers were employed by large, highly profitable corporations.


The number of people who would have been lifted out of poverty under the plan to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years, according to a study published late last year.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that around 500,000 jobs may be eliminated if the minimum wage was raised to $10.10, though other estimates have suggested the impact would be significantly smaller.



The weekly take-home pay for a 40-hour-a-week minimum-wage employee, after Social Security and Medicare taxes. That adds up to $13,926.38 per year, or just over $1,150 per month. The commonly cited minimum wage annual salary for a 40-hour-a-week worker is $15,080 — before taxes.


The average monthly apartment rental price in the United States in the second quarter of 2014, according to real estate data firm Reis Inc. This is almost as much as you’d make in a month on a single minimum-wage income, which is one reason why minimum-wage workers typically can’t afford to be the primary breadwinners of their families.


The average price of a one-bedroom rental in Benton County, Iowa, the cheapest U.S. zip code, according to Find The Best. After paying for rent, a single, full-time minimum-wage employee would have less than $750 to spend on everything else for the rest of the month.



The average a household pays for basic gas and electricity per month, according to an analysis of the spending habits of Mint.com users across the nation in 2011. Utility prices have since risen in many places.


The average U.S. price for a gallon of gasoline , as of the last week of September. If a car has a 15-gallon tank, it would cost around $50 to fill up. That’s about a full day’s pay on minimum wage.
On top of gas, drivers must pay for car insurance, which according to a 2011 report came out to a nationwide average of around $800 a year. Premiums have increased in many places since, with estimates of average rates as high $1,500 a year. That would be more than a month’s salary for a minimum-wage earner.


The price of the cheapest monthly pass for the SEPTA public transportation system in Philadelphia, one of the largest U.S. cities without state or local laws raising the minimum wage above the federal standard. A minimum-wage earner who relies on public transportation to get to work in Philadelphia would spend more than $1,000 each year on these passes, from annual pay of around $14,000.


The number of hours a federal minimum wage worker would have to log to match the compensation package offered to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon for fiscal 2014, before taxes.
Walmart, the largest private employer in the U.S., announced this year that it wouldn’t oppose a hike to the federal minimum wage, so long as the proposal didn’t specifically call out the company’s business practices. Walmart’s president noted at the time that only 5,000 of the company’s 1 million or so U.S. hourly employees currently make the federal minimum wage, though many more make less than the $10.10 rate proposed in Congress.

taken from here

25% US Workers Aged 25-54 Unemployed

For most Americans, the best indicator of a healthy economy is having a job. With many Americans entering older age, the number of those not in the labor force is booming. It doesn’t appear to be on the radar of people that the reason the unemployment numbers look the way they do is because a massive number of Americans simply are not counted in the labor force. This ability to ignore a large portion of your population allows the numbers to appear better than they are. But this is for the entire US population.
 If we look at those 25-54 we find that 1 out of 4 is without a job.
This is the prime working years for many Americans. The Great Recession has been a challenge for many working families. The lack of good paying work, weaker benefits, and inflation has dug deep into the pockets of many Americans. When 1 out of 4 Americans in their prime working years is out of work, something else has to give.

Read More

Bums On Welfare

House Speaker John Boehner says that unemployed Americans are pretty clearly malingerers, bums on welfare who have decided that they don't feel like working: "This idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that, you know, 'I really don't have to work; I don't really want to do this. I think I'd rather just sit around.' This is a very sick idea for our country," Mr. Boehner said in comments made after a speech at the American Enterprise Institute this month.
I could point to the overwhelming economic evidence that nothing like this is happening - after all, if what we were seeing was a mass withdrawal of labor supply, we should be seeing wages for those still willing to work taking off. I could also point to zero interest rates and low inflation as evidence that we're living in a demand-constrained economy. I could ask how, exactly, Mr. Boehner believes that increased willingness to work would conjure more jobs into existence.
But what really gets me here is the fact that people like Mr. Boehner are so obviously disconnected from the lived experience of ordinary workers. I mean, I live a pretty rarefied existence, with job security and a nice income and a generally upscale social set - but even so, I know a fair number of people who have spent months or years in desperate search of jobs that still aren't there. How cut off (or oblivious) can someone be who thinks that the problem here is just that these people don't want to work?
When I see stuff like this, I always think of the opening of B. Traven's book The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: "Anyone who is willing to work and is serious about it will certainly find a job. Only you must not go to the man who tells you this, for he has no job to offer and doesn't know anyone who knows of a vacancy. This is exactly the reason why he gives you such generous advice, out of brotherly love, and to demonstrate how little he knows the world."
Return of the Bums on Welfare
It has long seemed to me that the issue of unemployment benefits is where the debate over economic policy in a depression reaches its purest essence. If you're on the right, you believe - you more or less have to believe - that unemployment benefits hurt job creation, because you're "paying people not to work."
To admit that depression conditions are different - that the economy is suffering from an overall lack of demand and that putting money into the pockets of people who are likely to spend it would increase employment - would mean admitting that the free market sometimes fails badly. And, of course, disdain for the unemployed helps a lot if you want to oppose any kind of aid for the unfortunate.
But there's something remarkable about seeing these claims made now - because even if you believe that expanded unemployment benefits were somehow a cause rather than an effect of the economic crisis, those expanded benefits are long gone. They're back down to their level at the height of the "Bush boom" in 2006.
And Josh Bivens, a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute, recently pointed out that the recipiency rate - the percentage of the unemployed receiving any benefits at all - is at a record low. As Mr. Bivens says, the pullback in benefits is one main reason that economic expansion isn't reducing poverty.
So basically the right is railing against the bums on welfare not only when there aren't any bums, but when there isn't any welfare.

Paul Krugman from here

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Obama’s Law: When Western Advocacy Misses The Mark

Obama’s Law is a forthcoming, feature-length documentary that travels between the Congo and America to reveal the danger of the single African story – the African victim in need of a white saviour - that continues to be sold in the West. Ben Radley for Pambazuka News caught up with the film’s director, Seth Chase, to find out more.

BEN RADLEY: Specifically, then, what’s the documentary about?

SETH CHASE: Well, we look closely at the rise and impact of the conflict mineral campaign that was designed in the West, in particular in America, to help end the conflict in the Congo. This campaign promotes the idea that the conflict in the Congo is a bloody resource war, and in so doing draws on lazy African stereotypes about greedy rebels high on dope and opium, raping women to gain access to mineral wealth, while offering a false solution: that Western consumers can help end the conflict by pressuring electronic giants like Apple and Intel to ensure they’re not financing armed groups in the region. But are Western efforts to aid the Congolese and reduce conflict working? And this issue of selling simple stories based on half-truths to mobilise action in the West goes beyond the Congo. It’s universal, and affects all of Africa. So the film, through the issue of conflict minerals in the Congo, also looks at the wider questions. Who benefits from humanitarian aid and advocacy designed to help the world’s poor? And what do the people being ‘rescued’ think about it? These are the kinds of questions our film tries to answer, or at least give one perspective on, by following a particular movement in the West and its impact closely.

BEN RADLEY: Why did you want to make this film?

SETH CHASE: I was drawn to this idea of when good intentions hurt those they they’re meant to help, but that those holding the good intentions continue to keep pushing the agenda anyway. How often is this happening, why, and what are acceptable negative consequences of good intentions? It was not your typical "good guys and bad guys" story. It was something altogether more tragic. It's been a big struggle emotionally, and intellectually mainly because none of us want to tell horror stories. We want to tell dynamic stories and we want to believe that we can make the world better by fighting the good fight. Unfortunately in this case, some bad things happened, it hasn't gotten better, and no-one seems to be held accountable.

BEN RADLEY: The film revolves a lot around mining, in particular artisanal or informal mining, which is practiced widely in the Congo. What does this world look like, close up?

SETH CHASE: The mine sites I explored in Congo were really horrible in every way you could imagine. Some were just tunnels with no support at all, you could only crawl through long portions. No safety measures. Miners had no protection, often barefoot, torn clothes. There's very few mines with enough space for you to get comfortable. Low quality head lamps, or two people sharing a head lamp. I'm no stranger to the region, I've seen some difficult situations, but I would be filming in these mines, watching these guys hammering away, and I was constantly relieved by the thought that I could get out of this mine shaft in about 30 minutes and go back to the surface and get out of there. I just was so thankful that my life was much more fortunate. I didn't have to be digging in these horrible mine shafts in order to survive. Never mind that there are about 500 thousand Congolese who live this life every day, I was simply glad that I wasn't one of them. For some reason, we as human beings accept that there are just millions of people who are going to be exploited and a few people that are going to be rich and that's the way it is and most of us are okay with that. My hope is that one day, we’ll mature, and treat each other equally, but I don't see that happening with the current structures that we all live in. The mines in eastern Congo will always be the best experience I have for realizing that the world we live in is simply unjust at its core. To work in these mines is to know difficulty and exposure to constant risk. At the same time, and this is where it gets complicated, this kind of mining pays better than the limited other subsistence jobs available in the region, so it's one of the better economic options for anyone who can endure the work, which is why – despite the catastrophic working conditions – it remains so popular.

BEN RADLEY: What’s wrong with trying to regulate the region’s informal mining, if some or most of it is known to be funding armed groups?

SETH CHASE: I'm not sure that there's anything wrong in regard to regulating informal mining in the region. It's more that there isn't the infrastructure and required systems in place to be able to do it, at this point in time. There also seems to be a lack of willingness to finance it. So nobody wants to pay for the sector to be regulated, and there aren't systems and infrastructure in place to allow for regulation that conforms to the requirements of due diligence in mineral supply chains. More than that, if you think regulating the mining sector will solve the rebel group problem, it won't. Mining isn't the causal issue. I don't know anyone living or working in eastern Congo who believes for one second you can end the conflict in the DRC through regulating informal mining. That notion came from outside, and it sounds like an interesting theory if you know nothing about the DRC. But for those who know a bit about eastern Congo, that concept is a strange fiction.

BEN RADLEY: The film is critical of aid and advocacy organisations whose good intentions often lead to adverse and negative consequences. How can this be improved?

SETH CHASE: I see how our film can be seen to be critiquing NGO's or advocacy groups. But if that's the take away for the viewer, I'd say I didn't succeed in my job. I see this film as capturing a story that happened in the DRC, a story that represents Western-led aid and development in general. A story of culture clash and misinformation, and broken systems, and how it all effects people. The events that our film follows happened in the DRC. Real people suffered because of Western activism intending to help them. In America a message has to be simple to push policy, but in Congo nothing is simple. That's a problem. Advocacy groups went for a shortcut, and it failed. Humans want to do good, but results are harmful; fair enough. But the broken political and economic systems endure, we continue to try and force positive change through these broken systems across cultures. It's like trying to build a house with all the wrong tools. At best it's inefficient and non-effective and at worst it's destructive and even deadly. I’m not sure how it can be improved, within the existing structures we have available to us.

BEN RADLEY: What do you hope people will takeaway from watching your film?

Well, what I’m trying to make is a documentary about the stories sold when Western humanitarians seek to change the world, and in particular to ‘help’ Africa and Africans. What kind of stories they are, who gets to control what goes into them, and ultimately, who benefits from them. Because this storytelling needs to change. Africa and Africans are writing their own stories every single day, but, in America at least, we’re not really listening. We’re still assuming we know best. One of the Congolese women we interviewed for this film probably put it best, when she said to us that in the Congo, people are educated, and know what to do with their lives. It’s time that outsiders let the Congolese drive their own process of development, rather than persist with external interventions that will never stick, and too often provide simple, technical solutions to complex, political problems. I’d like the film to reach people in my own country with this message. If I can achieve that, no matter how modest the reach, I’ll be happy.

from here

Workers Of The World - 7

Los Angeles Hotel Workers

The Los Angeles City Council passed one of the highest minimum wage requirements in the country this week, which will apply to employees at big hotels around the city.
In a 12-3 vote on Wednesday, council members backed an ordinance establishing a minimum hourly wage of $15.37 for workers at Los Angeles hotels with at least 125 guest rooms. If passed in a final vote next week, the ordinance would go into effect in July for hotels with more than 300 rooms. Those with at least 125 but fewer than 300 would have to comply by July 2016. Analyses suggest the measure, which was backed by organized labor, neighborhood coalitions, and the ACLU of Southern California, would affect anywhere from 5,000 to 13,000 low-income workers.

They deserve better, organizers said, because while the thriving hotel industry has benefited from tax breaks and high tourist demand, low-paid employees still need to work two jobs just to make ends meet.
"The hospitality industry is one of the few industries that came out of the recession and has been seeing record profit,” Raise LA Coalition’s Rachel Torres told CBS-LA. "But unfortunately, hotel workers have been living below poverty."

In 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the leisure and hospitality industry had the highest percentage—19 percent—of workers earning hourly wages at or below the federal minimum wage, $7.25. The California minimum wage is currently set at $9 an hour.

Opponents of the measure said it was a job killer or would discourage development. "Today a whole bunch of people in the hotel industry lost their jobs; they just don't know it yet," said Ruben Gonzalez, senior vice president with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, in the LA Times.

But in the face of conflicting positions, the low-paid worker's plight was more compelling to lawmakers.
"I am not naïve to the fact that there will be trade offs, including the possibility of some job loss," said Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who backed the wage hike measure. "However, this will help lift many out of poverty. My heart voted with the hotel workers, most of them women, who are struggling to balance a job and family just to afford to pay rent. At the end of the day, between the intellect and the heart, the heart wins out."

SOYMB supports action which benefits workers' conditions. This particular action will benefit a few thousand workers in Los Angeles and good luck to them. But how will those whose jobs are lost as a consequence look back to what was fought for and declared won? How will it be for those waiting until 2016 for the increase and what will it be worth then? What about all those working in hotels with less than 125 guest rooms? Overall these 'baby step' reforms (as I've heard them called) are just part of the ongoing pattern of employer/employee relationship. If we have empathy with these particular workers don't we have similar empathy for all workers? Socialism looks beyond reforms of any kind to a revolution of all the workers of the world in which the wages system itself will finally be abolished.

Haiti Under Occupation - Forgotten By The World, Again

“From the beginning of our century until now, Haiti and its inhabitants under one aspect or another, have, for various reasons, been very much in the thoughts of the American people. While slavery existed amongst us, her example was a sharp thorn in our side and a source of alarm and terror…. Her very name was pronounced with a shudder.”
– Frederick Douglass, World’s Columbian Exposition, January 2, 1893
We are no longer living in the 19th century with the specter of Haiti’s successful struggle for its freedom haunting the consciousness of slave masters across the Americas. Yet the military occupation of this country since 2004 by way of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is sending a clear message that the Haitians’ tentative step toward exercising control over the destiny in the 1990s and the early years of the new century is still “a source of alarm and terror” to imperial overlords such a Canada, France, and the United States.
The MINUSTAH occupation army has a combined force of 7,408 soldiers and police personnel as of July 31, 2014. This armed entity has served as the muscle behind the schemes of the local elite and foreign interests in preventing the disenfranchised urban and rural laboring classes from seeking to capture the levers of national political, economic, and social power.

A number of observers have documented the oppressive actions of MINUSTAH in its ten-year occupation of Haiti: involvement in the sexual exploitation and abuse of girls and women; repression of Jean-Bertrand Aristides’ supporters; the general abuses of living under occupation; introduction of cholera that has killed over 8,500 Haitians and infected more than 700,000 people;  the suspicious death of a teenager; and the compelling reasons for an end to the occupation.
The current mandate of MINUSTAH ends on October 15, 2014, and it is up for renewal at the anti-democratic UN’s Security Council. Therefore, we need to be nimble and swift in putting together initiatives demanding an immediate withdrawal of the UN’s army of occupation.

Haiti is a symbol of the Revolutionary Afrikan Tradition that is committed to an assertive anti-imperialist politics. The present occupation of this country by MINUSTAH/United Nations is an attempt to prevent the Haitians from building on their history of militant self-determination.
The laboring classes in Haiti have furnished the world with one of the most compelling and dramatic moments in revolution-making in the annals of history. They are the first and only people to have successfully overthrown a system of enslavement through armed struggle.
They defeated the armies of France, Britain, and Spain, which were among the strongest military powers during that period. Haiti lit the fire of freedom in the hearts and minds of enslaved Afrikans and colonized peoples across the Americas.

The people of Haiti weren’t comfortable in just being role models for people who sought their emancipation by all available means.
They gave guns, ammunition, ships, and personnel to Simon Bolivar and his fledgling, resource-challenged campaign to liberate Latin America from Spanish colonialism. The Haitians in their humanistic and solidaristic commitment to Afrikan liberation extracted a promise from Bolivar to end the enslavement of Afrikans in all liberated territories under his control or influence.

Ending the military occupation of Haiti is a popular demand of the laboring classes in Haiti as evidenced through numerous demonstrations. Further, a survey of Haitians in August 2012 by students from Columbia University found that 65 per cent of respondents wanted an end to the occupation.  Recent polls on Haitians’ attitude toward MINUSTAH revealed that 89 per cent of them have called for the withdrawal of the UN’s occupation force.

The progressive forces among the people of Latin America have taken a transgressive stance to MINUSTAH’s military presence. The popular resistance of Haitians to the occupation has inspired a campaign by anti-imperialist forces in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean that is mobilizing for the termination of the occupation. It is also calling for the payment of reparations to Haitians for the harm and violence caused to them by MINUSTAH forces over the last ten years.

Amilcar Cabral, at the 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Cuba, stated that action and not mere words would stop imperialism in its tracks:
“We are not going to use this platform to rail against imperialism. An African saying very common in our country says: “When your house is burning, it’s no use beating the tom-toms.” On a Tricontinental level, this means that we are not going to eliminate imperialism by shouting insults against it. For us, the best or worst shout against imperialism, whatever its form, is to take up arms and fight. This is what we are doing, and this is what we will go on doing until all foreign domination of our African homelands has been totally eliminated.”

extracted from here

The Terrorists R Us

“The Terrorists R Us.” The Islamic State “Big Lie”

By Prof Michel Chossudovsky
Global Research, September 25, 2014
Url of this article: here

Under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council, with president Obama chairing the Council session, the United States has called upon the international community to adopt strong measures, at national and international levels, to curtail the recruitment of Islamic State fighters.

What is not mentioned in the media reports is that the heads of State and heads of government who have endorsed America’s campaign against the Islamic State, advised by their respective intelligence services, are fully aware that US intelligence is the architect of the Islamic State and related Al Qaeda entities. Countries are either coerced into supporting the US sponsored resolution or they are complicit in the US terror agenda.


Friday, September 26, 2014

This Is Capitalism: Lies, Obfuscation, Manipulation And Double Standards

Below is just part of an article with a perspective which is markedly different from the one we are fed repetitively in 'the west', the 'developed world' - so much so that most people don't even notice how they are being manipulated by the clever, oh-so-sincere-sounding PR machine. The whole article is recommended.)

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 report depicts a one-sided picture of a malnourished ‘developing’ world, leaving out gross nutritional problems and hunger in ‘developed’ countries. Worse, this report advocates neo-liberal solutions that serve the interests of agri-business rather than critical small-holder farmers. In its State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 report (SOFI 2014), which has just been released, the 'world' according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) excludes North America, Europe (not just western Europe but the entire 28-country Eurozone), and countries that are members of the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 34 countries).

So, at the outset, we learn from the FAO that when it says 'world' together with 'food insecurity', it means the world minus all these countries. We must ask the first question to the three who have together signed the foreword - José Graziano da Silva (director-general of the FAO), Kanayo F. Nwanze (President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD) and Ertharin Cousin (executive director of the World Food Programme, WFP). Why is the FAO's 'world' the so-called 'low income' and 'developing' countries of Asia, Africa and South America? Is the FAO together with IFAD and WFP claiming that food insecurity exists only here and not in the European Union, in the USA and in the richer countries of the OECD? And if so, what value at all does such a document have?

The 'State of Food Insecurity in the World' series is one of the FAO flagship publications. This year's edition is the 15th in a series which began in 1999, and which the FAO has described as raising "awareness about global hunger issues, discusses underlying causes of hunger and malnutrition and monitors progress towards hunger reduction targets established at the 1996 World Food Summit and the Millennium Summit".

[Much edited out here for reasons of space]

The 'State of Food Insecurity in the World' must be seen for what it is - a blunt weapon in the hands of the multinational food and agri-business consortia whose products are responsible for globally widespread mis-nourishment, for deforestation, for the deliberate dismantling of public sector and socially vital food procurement and distribution programmes, for the grabbing of land, for the globally widespread alteration of diets and the disastrous shrinking of grain and vegetal biodiversity in diets. And because this latest trick by an FAO – which now seems inseparably wedded to the balance-sheets of the food and agri-business multinationals - is a cudgel and not an uplifting essay, the 2014 edition includes seven case studies not one of which is from the European Union or North America.

They are instead from Bolivia, Brazil, Haiti, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malawi and Yemen and chosen for they "highlight some of the ways that countries tackle hunger and how external events may influence their capacity to deliver on achieving food security and nutrition objectives". Yet we know that in the USA just over one in six persons survives under an official poverty line, one in five of American households with children is food insecure and more than one in four black American households is food insecure.

Consider: "In 2013, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (20%), especially households with children headed by single women (34%) or single men (23%), Black non-Hispanic households (26%) and Hispanic households (24%)." This is what Feeding America, a hunger relief charity has said, quite starkly. We know also that Britain, the seventh richest country in the world, is deeply unequal, with Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty reporting that "millions of families across the UK are living below the breadline", with Oxfam having estimated that the number of free meals given to people in food poverty in 2013-14 by the three main food aid providers went up by 54% compared with 2012-13.

Nor is Germany, the so-called economic motor of Europe, different. The book 'Who owns Germany? The real power holders and the fairy tale of national wealth' (by Jens Berger, a fifth edition of which has been published this year) shows that the upper tenth of 1% of German households has about as much money as the bottom 85%, that the wealth of the 80,000 richest Germans is 16 times greater than the wealth of the poorest 40 million, and that the lowest 20% of Germany's population have no assets at all.

The factors that singly and together contribute to deep and lasting food insecurity are clear to see in the 'developed' world, and the populations (households and families) thus affected are in numbers very much larger than the countries singled out in SOFI 2014 with case studies: Bolivia has 11.02 million in 2014, Haiti 10.60 million, Madagascar 24.23 million, Malawi 17.30 million, Yemen 25.53 million. The USA has 50 million under its official poverty line, a number greater than the populations of all these countries, but SOFI 2014 ignores their hunger and their mis-nourishment and their undernourishment.

If SOFI 2014 is a slim pamphlet (but weighty in the cunning hands of food free-marketeers) the methodologies it relies on are portrayed as being broad and deep. "All available data on each dimension of food security have been compiled and on changes in these dimensions over time analysed," the report has said. Our final question therefore is: why has the claimed reduction in the number of undernourished not been balanced by the carefully documented growth in the number of obese and overweight populations in the world?

For all the saddening reasons pertaining to the rise in the number of poor households in the 'developed' countries, the incidence of obesity in their populations is directly attributable to the inability of those households to buy healthy food and subsist on a nutritious diet that is locally produced. Instead, what passes for social security - whose provision is considered a mandatory enabling provision elsewhere by the FAO - in the USA, Britain and a number of countries in Europe will allow households to purchase only the cereal-heavy, calorie-dense and fully processed products that the chemical food industry supplies.

[more edited out for space]

The FAO has evolved a definition for food security that must reasonably include every ill effect of mismanaged and misdirected nutrition, but the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 reports one side and not the other. The mismanagement of nutrition - referenced often in FAO statements that bemoan undernourishment while enough per capita food supplies exist - is called hunger and the FAO labours to connect this with 'access'. The misdirection of nutrition - as primary crop staples are industrially re-converted into low-cost formulations such as the ready-to-eat noodles and 'enriched' biscuits that are the mania amongst the labour in Asia and Africa, for that is all they can afford - just as often is seen in overweight working age populations, fed every day on cheap cereals reconstituted with palm oil, sugars and spiced flavourings.

The health effects of both food insecurities, especially for low-income households, demand a response from country governments that goes far beyond the industry-friendly prescriptions of the FAO, IFAD and WFP, biased as they now visibly are towards the finance-and-technology suite of 'solutions' so readily provided by the welter of international foundations and their transnational food industry funders. For national and sub-national governments which take seriously their responsibilities towards cultivators and food consumers, the State of Food Insecurity reports may be treated as advertisements for food globalisation, full of false promise and dubious claims.

 Rahul Goswami from here