Sunday, November 30, 2014

Patriarchal Laws Limit Abortion Choice

Despite strong U.S. support for the right to choose, the past three years have seen dramatic cuts to reproductive health care access, with states passing over 231 laws restricting abortion, according to the Guttmacher institute.
In the face of these cuts, impacted communities have found creative ways to help each other get needed reproductive health care, while at the same time organizing to defend abortion rights on a broad scale.

An article published Thursday in the New York Times describes one such creative grassroots action. Journalist Jackie Calmes tells the story of Lenzi Sheible, who at the age of 20 is the co-founder of Fund Texas Choice, which describes itself as a “non-profit organization funding abortion travel for low-income people in Texas.”
The article explains:
Although longtime groups like Planned Parenthood remain active, and other organizations subsidize poor women’s costs for abortion procedures, Ms. Sheible is filling what she calls a new need in Texas for help with lodging and transportation — bus or plane tickets, gas money, taxi fare.
…In summer 2013, Ms. Sheible, then pregnant with her first child, Cora, started her fund immediately after Texas enacted some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the nation. The laws, both in Texas and in other Republican-dominated states, commonly impose at least a 24-hour wait between a woman’s first clinic visit and an abortion, forcing many out-of-towners to book hotels. They require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and mandate that clinics meet the same costly equipment, building and staffing standards as an ambulatory surgical center. Clinics that cannot comply must close.
Fund Texas Choice helps people who want them to obtain abortions by assisting their travel within Texas or to nearby states.
As directors of Fund Texas Choice, we are passionate about reproductive justice,”  reads the organization’s website. “And although we recognize that abortion is not the only issue that falls within the spectrum of reproductive justice, we believe that easy access to abortion is a vital component of any fight for equality.”
“We also acknowledge that legislation like HB2 affects individuals differently, depending on many factors like race, age, income, disability status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and others,” the statement continues. “Fund Texas Choice works to mitigate these disparities by implementing programs that help people access abortion regardless of their circumstances.”

from here 


Corporate Profits More Important Than People - Again

Early this morning four Burnaby Mountain Caretakers have locked themselves to the Supreme Court entrance in Vancouver. The action was taken to draw attention to the role of the courts in ongoing colonial occupation of Indigenous territory on Burnaby Mountain and across the country.

This court represents colonial law, and it’s the only reason a Texas-based oil company is allowed to drill hundreds of metres into Burnaby Mountain against the wishes of the local First Nations and the municipality. It’s because of this court that RCMP is paid to defend corporate profit at the expense of the community it should be protecting.” Marija Brezev, Burnaby Caretaker
In granting Kinder Morgan’s request for an injunction and enforcement order on November 14th, the courts are once again ignoring aboriginal rights and title and breaching their constitutional duty to obtain consent on unceded Coast Salish territory.
These decisions by the BC Supreme Court continually dispossess indigenous people of the territories they have occupied and governed for thousands of years.
Squamish elder Sut-lut was arrested last Thursday while protecting a traditional totem pole. This morning, Tsleil-Waututh elder Ta’ah George will be arrested, alongside Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, after crossing police lines set by the BC Supreme Court.

We’ve been here for thousands of years, and we’ll be her for many thousands more,” George said this morning. “We’ve been stewards of the land, and when we’re stewards of the land, we make choices for our future generations. That’s for my children and my grandchildren and yours too.

Yesterday, the BC Supreme Court in Terrace granted Imperial Metals–the company responsible for the Mount Polley Mine disaster–a long-term interlocutory injunction and enforcement order, displacing the Klabona Keepers, guardians of the Sacred Headwaters, from their traditional territory. Yet another case in which corporate profits were deemed more important than indigenous land rights.
The caretakers of Burnaby Mountain are taking this action with the hope of shedding light on the institutions responsible for the continued colonization and exploitation of the land and the communities they sustain.
The caretakers stand in solidarity with the First Nations of BC by refusing to recognize the authority of the colonial court.

from here

I'm Not A Racist But - -

In a classic study on race, psychologists staged an experiment with two photographs that produced a surprising result.
They showed people a photograph of two white men fighting, one unarmed and another holding a knife. Then they showed another photograph, this one of a white man with a knife fighting an unarmed African-American man.
When they asked people to identify the man who was armed in the first picture, most people picked the right one. Yet when they were asked the same question about the second photo, most people -- black and white -- incorrectly said the black man had the knife.

Even before the Ferguson grand jury's decision was announced, leaders were calling once again for a "national conversation on race." But here's why such conversations rarely go anywhere: Whites and racial minorities speak a different language when they talk about racism, scholars and psychologists say.
The knife fight experiment hints at the language gap. Some whites confine racism to intentional displays of racial hostility. It's the Ku Klux Klan, racial slurs in public, something "bad" that people do.

But for many racial minorities, that type of racism doesn't matter as much anymore, some scholars say. They talk more about the racism uncovered in the knife fight photos -- it doesn't wear a hood, but it causes unsuspecting people to see the world through a racially biased lens.
It's what one Duke University sociologist calls "racism without racists." Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, who's written a book by that title, says it's a new way of maintaining white domination in places like Ferguson.
"The main problem nowadays is not the folks with the hoods, but the folks dressed in suits," says Bonilla-Silva.
"The more we assume that the problem of racism is limited to the Klan, the birthers, the tea party or to the Republican Party, the less we understand that racial domination is a collective process and we are all in this game."

As people talk about what the grand jury's decision in Ferguson means, Bonilla-Silva and others say it's time for Americans to update their language on racism to reflect what it has become and not what it used to be.

Full article here - well worth a read, whatever your colour.

Detroit Property Taxes - 1 in 7 Residents At Risk Of Eviction

Oren Goldenberg, a 31-year-old filmmaker based in Detroit, could have bought a $500 house at the Wayne County tax auction this fall-- but having to evict a homeowner turned him off.
Goldenberg had been burned before. He had made a previous purchase in the yearly tax foreclosure auction. His coup turned less appealing as he was confronted with the reality of removing the owner and then-occupant from her home. Goldenberg sold the house back to its occupant for the bargain price of $7,000 – twice what he had paid for it, but half what she had owed in property taxes.
Now Goldenberg won’t consider an already-occupied house. “It goes into this long-term narrative of Detroit is vacant and empty and there’s no one here. So when you look at it and you think oh my god, we’re going to develop this area, no one thinks that you might be pushing people out.”

Goldenberg is facing the same dilemma that many young, educated - and mostly white -- gentrifiers are facing as well.
This coming year, 62,000 Detroit properties will be heading to the tax foreclosure auction if their owners fail to come up with money before April 1. The catch? Over half of these properties have someone living them -- usually the previous owner, who paid off the mortgage and whose family may have lived in the house for years.
The result: Young, predominantly white, college educated professionals and creatives may be moving into Detroit lured by tax breaks and incentives, participating in its “renewal” – but tens of thousands of mainly black Detroiters, struggling with bills, are simultaneously – and silently - being shown out the back door.
It’s a dynamic affecting a significant portion of Detroit’s small, poor population. This fall, the Wayne County treasurer is handing out tax foreclosure notices to 62,000 Detroit properties at least three years behind on paying their property taxes. All told, that’s over $709m in overdue taxes and penalties -- a heavy burden for a city in which 38% of residents are living below the poverty line.
Of those properties, 37,000 are classified as occupied. With an average of 2.74 people per household, this means around 100,000 Detroiters are at risk of losing the current roof over their head. That is 1 in 7 Detroit residents, this coming season alone.

The end is predictable - and swift. If owners fail to work out payment plans or pay their entire tax burden within five months, their homes end up at auctions. The first one comes in September where properties are sold at a starting bid of the total amount of taxes and liens owed. The houses no one buys end up in the second round at a starting bid of $500.
After over a decade of this system, Detroit has completed 125,000 tax foreclosures, according to the city’s own report.

It’s a different kind of housing crisis. Jerry Goldberg, an attorney with Moratorium NOW!, credits Detroit losing one quarter of its population between 2000 and 2010 as a direct result of both tax and mortgage foreclosures.
Marilyn Mullane, the executive director of Michigan Legal Services, which has been working with Detroiters undergoing foreclosure, says the tax and subprime-foreclosure crises in the city are intimately linked.
One of the things linking them: lack of information. Low-income homeowners are eligible for tax exemptions. While many residents would meet the requirements, they must file requests before their taxes are due, neither of which are readily known pieces of information, Mullane says. Owners can buy their homes back with debts cleared at auction for $500 as a solution of last resort.
The payment plans are unrealistic for many Detroiters already desperately behind on their bills.

The flow of information is unequal - asymmetric, in Wall Street terms -- between the often wealthy buyers and the low-income residents who suffer foreclosures. Detroit’s real estate challenges are remaking the city and favoring outsiders.

taken from here

What comes after Ebola: Hunger

Hilal Elver, whose article this post is from,  is a Special Rapporteur on right to food and a research professor in global studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, plus being co-director of the Climate Change Project. She has written a moving appeal for the world to understand that the consequences of the Ebola epidemic is ongoing and will continue. She writes: 
“ Disasters, natural or man-made, can sometimes be an opportunity for a fresh start. The post-Ebola recovery is a good time to rebuild the agricultural systems in these countries based on the principles of social justice, sustainability and environmental responsibility.”

SOYMB is sorry to say that all she is indulging in is simply wishful thinking if she actually believes capitalism will respond as she hopes. We should remember Einstein's definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. There can be only one fresh start and that is the establishment of a world economic system capable of incorporating her well-meaning aspirations and that is socialism.

West Africa is on the brink of a major food crisis as a result of the Ebola outbreak. The world's worst Ebola epidemic has endangered harvests and sent food prices soaring in West Africa. If there is no timely intervention by the international community in the form of a massive humanitarian aid campaign and a comprehensive plan for long-term sustainable development, the post-Ebola food crisis will take an even bigger human toll than the disease did. Indeed, food insecurity is threatening not only the three Ebola-stricken countries, but the entire region. Experts are predicting that over a million people in the region will require food aid to preclude food shortages, spikes in prices, and possible famine. In Senegal and other countries in West Africa, food shortages have worsened after regional trade was disrupted due to border closures and quarantine measures. Border crossing closures and the reduction of trade through seaports have curbed food supplies in the whole region. Most West African states are net cereal importers; trade and transportation disruptions have dramatically increased the price of such imports.   

In addition to subsistence farming, cash crops are also under threat. While disruption of cash crop (cocoa, palm oil, rubber, etc) agriculture is not directly tied to food insecurity, it still harms communities that rely on these crops for their livelihoods. Without the money from a cocoa harvest, for example, many rural farmers in West African countries, like the Ivory Coast, would not be able to afford buying food. Also foreign direct investment is also seriously threatened by the Ebola crisis. This is exacerbating the already high unemployment rates and pushing the region even further towards a major food crisis. A World Bank study shows the economic toll from the Ebola epidemic could reach $32.6bn by the end of 2015.

Restrictions on people's movement and quarantine zones to contain the spread of the Ebola led to panic and subsequent food shortages and price hikes. Farmers were severely affected by this crisis, as many abandoned their farms and harvests fearing contracting the disease. This in turn resulted in major disruptions in food production. In Sierra Leone up to 40 percent of local farms were abandoned in the worst affected areas.

The dire effects of reducing the purchasing power of tens of thousands of already vulnerable households in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. "This means less food on their plates and increased nutritional risks for families already on subsistence diets," Bukar Tijani, Regional Representative for the FAO in Africa, said in a statement.

It is important for the international community to take immediate action that will ensure not only the aversion of famine now, but also the creation of a sustainable system of food production for the future. Delivering food directly to the population by humanitarian agencies is not a sufficient response, and can even be harmful in many cases. The international community cannot delay its action on the looming food crisis. To wait and delay a rapid response may well lead to famine, insecurity and the return of conflict. The consequences of post-Ebola food insecurity could cause much more human suffering and chaos than the disease itself.

Furthermore, it would be a big mistake to push these countries towards agricultural policies that prioritise growth, quantity, and export-oriented cash crops over local production and traditional crops. Instead, a positive approach would encourage ecological agriculture that respects local people's food security and food sovereignty. A sustainable response to the food crisis would include agricultural policies that enable states to become self-sufficient in food and allow farmers to exert significant control over government decision-making in the agricultural sphere.

Robbed by unpaid overtime

It's not news that the pay of middle-income workers has been virtually flat for more than three decades. Since 1979, the productivity of American workers — what they produce in an hour — has increased by 65 percent. Meanwhile, the inflation-adjusted hourly pay of workers in the middle of the earnings distribution — what they can purchase with what they are paid for an hour's work — has gone up just over 6 percent. Much of this productivity increase has been captured by companies that are sitting on large cash cushions while middle-income families struggle to make ends meet. Here's a simple reform proposal: Let's pay workers for every hour they work.

Only salaried workers earning an annual income less than $23,660 ($455 a week) are eligible for overtime pay when their workweek exceeds 40 hours. Employers can ask salaried employees — supervisors, customer service representatives, social workers, counselors, support staff in law firms, insurance sales agents, food service managers — to work well past the 40-hour workweek without having to pay them for their time.

In 1975 by the Ford administration and again 10 years ago during the George W. Bush administration, the presidents asked the Department of Labor to adjust the salary cutoff for overtime pay to take into account the effects of inflation. While the increases in the cutoff were welcome when they occurred, they failed to fully account for the effects of inflation. And the problem has only worsened in the last 10 years. Today, just 11 percent of salaried workers are eligible for overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week, down dramatically from the more than 65 percent of salaried workers who were eligible for such pay in 1975. In March 2014, President Obama, like his Republican predecessors, asked the Department of Labor to update the rules governing overtime pay to take into account the effects of inflation and make sure that salaried employees who lack bargaining power vis-a-vis their employer are paid for the hours they work. If the Department of Labor adjusts the salary cutoff for eligibility for overtime pay to bring it back to its 1975 level adjusted for inflation, salaried workers earning up to $984 a week ($51,168 a year) would have access to overtime pay for hours above 40 in a week. About 6.1 million white collar workers would be eligible to earn time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week. This guarantees that these employees are paid for the extra hours they work, and could provide a meaningful boost to their income.

Of course, employers could choose to expand the hours of part-time workers who would prefer longer hours or hire additional workers and avoid paying overtime wages to current employees. While that would not raise the pay of middle-income workers, it would guarantee that these workers were actually paid for every hour they work. And it would increase the time they could spend with their families. It would also boost the earnings of a different group of middle-income workers who currently lack the hours they want or may even be unemployed.

Extreme wealth is not earned. It is primarily taken from others who actually do the productive, earnings-producing work, whether by under-paying workers in proportion to their contribution to revenue generation, putting the interests of investors ahead of the interests of the actual producing workers, or by inheriting it outright.

What's ironic is that "laissez-faire capitalism" cannot exist without a constant, firm, overarching government presence to hold it all together: enforce the rules, protect the illicit winnings of exploiters, guard the former against the exploited, and require that everyone be able to account for every point gained or deducted in the big game (i.e. every dollar taken in or spent/given out) to verify that it was gained or lost in accordance with the government-established rules of capitalism.

The Meat Grinder

In 2013, more than 989.6 million farmed animals were slaughtered for meat in the UK, according to official figures. Of these, 2.6 million were cattle, 10.3 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep, 17.5 million turkeys and nearly 945 million chickens. Based on the percentages of animals that do not make it to slaughter, quoted in the farming trade press, Animal Aid estimates that each year some 250,000 cattle, 750,000 pigs, 750,000 turkeys, 2.5 million sheep, 38 million chickens and 600,000 rabbits, ducks, and geese die before they are slaughtered for human consumption.

In total, Animal Aid estimates around 43 million farmed animals die each year before they can be slaughtered, their deaths caused by disease, exposure, starvation, fires, floods, road crashes and neglect.

Andrew Tyler, Animal Aid’s director suggested that all consumers had an interest in animal welfare.

“Many of the problems outlined in our report result from the commodification of farmed animals. With producers and retailers intent on maximising their profits and reducing their costs”

“Whether people are meat eaters or vegetarians, it will surely be of concern to them that millions of farmed animals perish every year as a result of fires, floods, road collisions, disease and neglect,” Tyler said.

The Organic Milk Cooperative estimates that there are approximately 31,000 unwanted organic bull calves born each year, which are shot on farm. What are the numbers of the calves slaughtered in the ‘conventional’ dairy herd?

Some four million newborn lambs - about one in five of the total - die every year within a few days of birth, mostly from disease, exposure, or malnutrition. (Henderson, Lamb Survival, Farming Press). And about a million adult breeding animals (out of about 15 million) also die in the fields annually. A Ruthin, Denbighshire vet, M.W. Allen, quoted in The Times January 6, 2000, speaks volumes about the modern British sheep industry (the 'small furry creature' referred to at the end of the impassioned statement is the fox).
"There are few more pitiful sights on a night call into the hills in January than a small lamb caught in the headlights, hunched up against sleet in a field with no shelter in sight. I find it perverse that, when every year millions of lamb deaths are due to the mind boggling absurdity of lambing in the worst time of year (December to February), to poor hygiene and overstocking in sheds, and to ewes not producing enough good-quality colostrum because they are in poor condition, so much vitriol should be expended in the direction of this small furry creature [the fox]."

Profit above people, profit above animals, profit above the environment. That’s capitalism, folks.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The High Cost Of Low Price

(Just one more example of how capitalism works for the capitalists and against the workers. The only way to end this seemingly endless treadmill is to abolish the wages system, ie wage slavery, with a global socialist revolution.)

Brave New Films on Nov 26, 2014
The film exposes Wal-Mart’s unscrupulous business practices through interviews with former employees, small business owners, and footage of Walmart executives.

(2:22) – How Walmart Destroys Communities – Whether it’s a family rum hardware store or a small eye glass store, when Walmart opens in small towns like Middlefield, Ohio long established, independently run stores are hurt. The Hunter family open H&H Hardware in 1962. When a new Walmart was build in town, they were driven out of business.

(15:22) – How Walmart Profits from Poverty (And Sticks Taxpayers With The Bill) – Walmart stores are frequently short staffed, not because they can’t find workers but because they want to save on their labor experiences. This comes from the top, the corporate doesn’t budget enough money for payroll. Because Walmart doesn’t pay fair wages, their employers need to go on public assistance programs.

(25:13) How Walmart Rolls Back Worker’s Rights – Walmart is one of the most anti-union companies in America. Store managers keep an eye on employees they suspect are either sympathetic to unions or are active union organizers.

(33:56) – Walmart Cheats Workers – It is estimated that they cheated workers out of $150 million dollars. Walmart would teach managers how to digitally change people’s time cards as not to pay overtime and reduce store experiences.

(44:35) -Subsidies – The subsidies Walmart gets from city governments takes funding away from public schools. When Walmart opened stored in Denver, they got $1.7 million in city subsidies, if the money had gone to the Denver Public Schools system, they wouldn’t had have to shut down three schools. Subsidies also give Walmart an unfair business advantage over small, locally owned stores that offer better pay and benefits for their workers.

(54:46) – Environmental Ruin -In Belmont, North Carolina, a Catawba Riverkeeper noticed that runoff from herbicides and pesticides was flowing into the river and polluting the town’s drinking water. It was only after the local news aired a report on the water contamination that a local manager moved those toxic substance to a better storage site. The company’s main offices were unresponsive.

(1:00:10) – Imports From China – In China, factory workers can live in dorms owned by Walmart – workers pay rent and utilities. If they move out of the dorms, to live in a place not connected to Walmart, they still have to pay rent for the dorms. Workers work in factories with poor ventilation. They are told to lie to inspectors about how many days they work: six, when they really work seven days a week. All of this to make less than $3 a day.

(1:12:33) – Greed – Lee Scott, the CEO of Walmart made $27,207,799 in 2005 when, the average Walmart hourly sales employee made $13,861 annually. The family who owns Walmart, the Waltons, is one of America’s wealthiest family, yet they barely give anything to charity. They are worth $102 billion.

(1:16:10) – No Security – Kidnappings, robberies, and car jackings…80% of crime that occurs at Walmarts in California takes place in the stores’ parking lot, yet most of the stores’ security officers are posted within the store. As early as 1994, Walmart knew that it had issues with its’ parking lot security, but they hid these internal reports. They also knew that adding roving patrols in parking lots greatly reduce crime.

from here with link to film

Own the future or be owned

Americans are routinely taught that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. But few children learn that Eugene Victor Debs devoted his life to freeing workers from wage slavery. Debs, who devoted his life to the emancipation of working men and women had come to believe that devotion to the oppressed must be shown by resistance to the oppressors. This contention that modern society holds two social classes, two conflicting interests, lay at the root of his entire program. Class struggle was high, but class-consciousness was low. Struggles were largely sectional with little solidarity. This was the environment that shaped Debs’ thinking. A lesson Debs learned was that the two main political parties worked against labor and for the employers. Prior to this struggle, Debs had not only been a supporter of the Democratic Party, but had also run (and won) a post as a state representative in Indiana but now  told workers “ I favor wiping out both old parties so they will never come into power again. I have been a Democrat all my life and I am ashamed to admit it.” He later in life again indicted the two-party system: “To turn your back on the corrupt Republican Party and the corrupt Democratic Party—the gold-dust lackeys of the ruling class—counts for something. It counts still join a minority party that has an ideal, that stands for a principle, and fights for a cause.” Debs was introduced to Marx and other socialist writers and found explanations that corroborated his experiences. “The issue is Socialism versus Capitalism. I am for Socialism because I am for humanity,” he wrote.

The fake panacea of reformism was something Debs understood: “Every hint at public ownership is now called Socialism, without reference to the fact that there can be no Socialism, and that public ownership means practically nothing, so long as the capitalist class is in control of the national government. Government ownership of public utilities means nothing for labor under capitalist ownership of government.” Debs’ vision was a society organized for workers: “The end of class struggle and class rule, of master and slave, of ignorance and vice, of poverty and shame, of cruelty and crime—the birth of freedom, the dawn of brotherhood, the beginning of MAN” In the class war he was clear about which side to be on: Debs was clear about which war he was prepared to fight: “I am not a capitalist soldier; I am a proletarian revolutionist…. I am opposed to every war but one; I am for that war with heart and soul, and this the world-wide war of the social revolution.”


Curing poverty by charity

One in six people around the world continues to survive on $1 or less a day.

'The greatest cause of poverty is hover-population,' remarked Harlow.
'Yes,' said old Joe Philpot. 'If a boss wants two men, twenty goes after the job: ther's too many people and not enough work.'
'Over-population!' cried Owen, 'when there's thousands of acres of uncultivated land in England without a house or human being to be seen. Is over-population the cause of poverty in France? Is over-population the cause of poverty in Ireland? Within the last fifty years the population of Ireland has been reduced by more than half. Four millions of people have been exterminated by famine or got rid of by emigration, but they haven't got rid of poverty. P'raps you think that half the people in this country ought to be exterminated as well.'
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

When it comes to poverty, too many have their fingers in the dyke instead of working to redirect the river. Spending money to alleviate the symptoms of poverty neglects the attack upon the cause. Poverty is too big a problem for philanthropy to have much effect.

Feeding America estimates that 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households in 2013. A sixth of the U.S. population faces hunger. All charitable giving for human services was $41.5 billion last year, which works out to $891 for each American living officially below the poverty line. That's not a lot of money, especially when you consider how many other people living above the poverty line are struggling. In Silicon Valley's biggest county, for instance, it was estimated that one third of households earned less than the Self-Sufficiency Standard in 2010, which measures basic expenses for food, housing, transportation, child care and other necessities. Even as tens of millions of Americans endure ongoing hardship in an economy that simply doesn't work for them, many won't engage this problem at a systemic level and instead opt for Band-Aid strategies that themselves fall short. 

Many rich people, along with the foundations they endow, don't care all that much about helping poor people in the United States—as opposed to funding the arts or building up their alma maters. 

There are no capitalist “saviors.”

As with his healthcare reform, the devil is in the detail of Obama’s immigration reform. What Obama did was to order the implementation of a vicious program to criminalize immigrants in order to jail or deport them at will and to spend countless additional billions to militarize the border to keep them out. All sections of the ruling class understand well that cheap labor with zero benefits is a prized commodity. Obama’s supposed three-year reprieve from government deportation is little more than existing policy, in which immigration officials, in collusion with corporate America, selectively determine who will be deported and who are still urgently required to service corporate interests. This unofficial selective persecution and deportation policy serves capitalism well. Lower wages, if wages are paid at all via employer pre-planned deportations arranged before pay day, to immigrants always exercise a downward pressure on the wages of all U.S. workers, including and especially union members. The wage differential also serves capitalism’s need to divide workers by race and legal status, with the ruling class ever placing the blame for unemployment not on its failing system but rather on immigrants who “illegally” take the jobs of “Americans.”

The price to be extracted by Obama’s “promise” to refrain for three years from deporting undocumented immigrant parents of children born in the U.S. is a requirement that all such immigrants officially register their names, addresses, employment records, wages, salaries, and other data with the government, thus subjecting them to immediate persecution or deportation if they don’t pass Obama’s muster. Those with previous felony convictions or perhaps lesser “infractions” of America’s racist system of “law and order” remain subject to immediate deportation.

Obama’s order supposedly offers those who qualify the chance to remain in the U.S. temporarily for three years, as long as they pass background checks and pay back taxes—to be determined, no doubt, by tax collectors who will have the final word. Not a single immigrant will be offered a “path to citizenship” nor will any be eligible for federal benefits or mandated health-care coverage.Obama failed to mention that these same immigrants have often had state and federal taxes deducted from their salaries or wages by merciless employers while simultaneously being denied benefits supposedly mandated to all taxpayers! Obama’s order will demand the extortion of back taxes but there will be no retroactive back payment to immigrants for their exclusion from the benefits of paying these taxes. Obama’s program is worse; it will now demand that back taxes be deducted from those who register to comply, while all benefits will still be denied.

Government-promoted nationalism is routinely employed to scapegoat the most oppressed and exploited. Obama’s spokespersons took great care to stress that the new plan was both temporary and subject to cancellation at any time by any president. “Deferred action [that is, postponing deportation punishment] is not a pathway to citizenship. It is not legal status. It simply says that for three years, you are not a law enforcement priority, and [we] are not going to go after you,” said one senior official. “It is temporary and it is revocable.”

The unity of the working class in defense of full rights for immigrants is a prerequisite to winning real victories for all workers. Obama’s fake decree was nothing less than a ruling-class effort to set the stage for the next round of electoral debate, in which the “lesser evil” will be once again counterposed to the so-called greater evil. There are no capitalist “saviors.”

Friday, November 28, 2014

California, Agricultural Hub: How Long Will The Water Last?

It’s bone dry in California, and it’s likely to remain that way for a long, long time thanks to our warming climate. The melting ice in the Arctic is manipulating the jet stream off the coast, pushing winter storms out of California. By many accounts the California water crisis is in its infancy and we are only beginning to witness the many changes the state will face as a result.
Aside from the lack of water’s many impacts – a changing environment, dead lawns, empty swimming pools – California’s agricultural industry may well experience the largest and most immediate blow. Last February, the federal government announced they were cutting off all irrigation to California’s Central Valley farmers for the rest of 2014. It wasn’t news they wanted to hear.
Yet, it had to happen. In fact, it should have happened long ago. Despite the perception that Californians, especially those in Los Angeles, are the state’s real water wasters, truth is agriculture accounts for over 80% of California’s total water consumption. The future of the state’s big ag is grim. It’s a reality the entire country will have to face.

California, with its 80,500 farms, is the top agricultural state in the country in terms of total dollars in cash receipts – over $40 billion annually. That’s over 11% of the US total. California is easily the agricultural hub of the West, with most of its produce sold in surrounding states. But as California dries up, so too will its agricultural output, the impact of which will most certainly be felt.
Flooding the desert to produce crops, which is essentially what has happened in the Central Valley for the past seventy-five years, is unsustainable. Big agriculture in California has long relied on subsidies in the form of inexpensive irrigation, thanks in no small part to the Central Valley Project, which produced the world’s largest water storage and irrigation transport network. Farmers in the Central Valley have banded together time and again to sue the Federal government in attempts to fend off environmental restrictions on their water usage. Thus far they’ve succeeded in keeping their water prices extremely low. For example, farming operations in the Imperial Irrigation District pay a mere $20 per acre-foot. It can cost ten times that much in some California cities. Earlier this month voters in California supported Prop 1, a slickly marketed ballot measure that will ensure more dams are built in the state to keep the water flowing to Central Valley farmers. The idea is to make it rain, not water, but cash.

California produces 86% percent of all lemons grown in the US, 99% of artichokes, 87% of plums, 44% of asparagus, 66% of carrots, and 50% of bell peppers. And that’s just the beginning. California farms grow nearly 90% of all cauliflower, 88% of strawberries, 84% of peaches and 94% of broccoli. The state controls the market on leafy greens, 90% of lettuce is grown here and over 80% of spinach. To top it off California also grows 90% of all avocados. As for nuts, California produces those too, over 1.8 billion pounds of almonds a year. That’s 82% of the world’s total almond production. Of those, nearly 70% are sold overseas. How much water does the almond industry consume? Almost 10% of all water in the state. It’s just one more cash crop largely dependent on access to cheap water.
That’s right. If you’ve purchased any fresh fruit, nuts or vegetables recently there’s nearly a 50% chance it was grown in the state of California. What does all of this tell us? Especially if we don’t live in California? It tells us we better start thinking about eating produce that is grown locally because purchasing fruit and vegetables from California will slowly (perhaps not too slowly) become more scarce and far more expensive in the years ahead. Cheap irrigation in California, with climate change as the culprit, will be forced to come to an end no matter how many more dams are built.

It simply has to happen. The water is no longer going to be there to sustain California’s multi-billion dollar ag industry. This is not to say the economic fallout won’t be felt. Agriculture employs one million people in the state, and its reaches are substantial. From trucking to packaging to marketing, there is no question that farming in California has created many jobs. However, like so many other sectors, it’s come largely at the expense of the environment. Rivers have evaporated, salmon have gone extinct, and entire populations of indigenous peoples have lost their water rights. Some have called it progress, others have called it a travesty. But no matter what side of the fence you are on, the fact remains that water in California is no longer plentiful and likely will never be again no matter how much groundwater farmers pump to keep their crops alive while irrigation canals dry up.

from here

Immigration: Facts and Phobias

Usually, nationalists are concerned about the plight of their fellow citizens living abroad. One might think this would be particularly the case in the UK, given the large number of British citizens living abroad. While much of the debate about the UK’s EU membership focuses upon the 2.3 million citizens of other EU countries living in the UK, a nearly identical number of UK citizens live in other EU Member States. There has been surprisingly little discussion about what would happen to them.  In principle, according to the EU’s Returns Directive, British citizens who did not, or no longer, had a right to stay in the EU would have to be expelled from the territory, by force if they did not go voluntarily. To facilitate their departure, they could be detained for up to six months, or up to 18 months if there were complications with their removal. Various other restrictive EU laws would also apply to UK citizens in the EU. So there would be sanctions against employers of irregular British migrants, as well as prosecution of those friends or family who assisted with their unauthorised stay. Those UK citizens who were long-term residents in a Member State (legal residence for more than five years) could apply for long-term resident status under EU law. But as compared to obtaining permanent residence status as an EU citizen, there are more conditions attached to obtaining such status, and fewer benefits. For instance, according to EU immigration law, a long-term resident of a Member State can move to another Member State, but this is subject to much stricter rules than those applying to EU citizens. Also, British citizens would often be subject to ‘integration’ rules, such a requirement to speak the language of the host country, before getting such status. For British pensioners living in the EU, the EU rules which guarantee the receipt (and upgrading) of their British pensions would no longer apply. For those with holiday homes on the Costas there's also a substantial point regards the property laws, which in a number of states distinguish between EU nationals and others. So all those houses in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy could all of sudden be a bit different investment that people thought of.

There is few estimates on the financial cost that would be concurred by welfare agencies and social services by the mass return of those expelled ex-pats being offered up by nationalists if the very likely tit-for-tat immigration policies were adopted.  

Is immigration a problem? According to the media and certain political groups it is. In fact, in most of the rich countries of the world there are lobbies and parties that oppose immigration on various grounds, in some cases going to great lengths to curtail it. No sooner had the Berlin Wall fallen than the European Union was erecting another one between the EU and Africa and Asia, building Fortress Europe to keep people out. Anti-immigration, pro-nationalist parties encourage the notion that foreigners are coming in to take advantage of generous government hand-outs in their respective countries meanwhile ruining the lives of the native population. This, they claim, can and must be stopped. They are being successful in mobilising their supporters electorally. It is an inescapable fact, that has to be admitted, that many are increasingly resentful of immigration and of the European Union’s rules that make it unavoidable. Disillusioned people all over want fewer foreigners and are at war over the free movement of labour. Not just in the UK but elsewhere in Europe the same complaint is raised; local workers protest that they cannot compete with foreigners willing to accept low wages. But as in the UK the reality is just as skewed and fails to reflect the truth. The Ministry of Social Affairs show that most east European immigrants take jobs that no Dutch worker would accept, such as picking vegetables in greenhouses. They pay more in taxes than they claim in benefits. France too are also joining the anti-migrants charade, with laws curbing migrant workers rights, particularly legislation aimed against the Roma.

Go back a generation and we find in the anti-immigration argument strong echoes of male-dominated labour movement opposition to women’s entry into the workforce. Exactly the same arguments were used against young workers, condemning them to exceptional long low-paid apprenticeships.

What is obscured by all this are certain facts. Immigration is increasing on a global scale, and it is fueled by the demands of capital. The fact that problems arise in countries of destination is no surprise. Whenever people with different languages, customs and histories arrive in large numbers in another country there will be misunderstandings, conflicts, even violence. But the fact that they are there is because their labor is required by employers in that country. In the fastest-growing economies of the word, such as China and India, workers frequently migrate internally over vastly greater distances than is required in a move from one small corner of Europe to another that also has the implication of cultural and language barriers.  Imagine if in the United States of America moving from the Eastern Sea-board to the West Coast in search of employment was banned? 

People might bemoan the loss of their traditions and blame foreigners for eroding them. But they are  overlooking the penetration of the city centres by real estate speculators and rural beauty spots exploited by tourist industry over-development Nor do they express outrage by the Americanisation of culture that contains more consumer decadence with its McDonalds or Starbucks than anybody coming from Bulgaria or Romania. There is far greater damage caused to tradition and culture by financial speculation and capitalist globalisation than by migrant groups insulating themselves in their little own communities. History shows that language and religion are not insurmountable obstacles to social integration. The conflicts fought between protestants and catholics were, in most of Britain, long and bloody (Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland are still dealing with this) but for most part, whether a person is a Church of England, Welsh chapel or Church of Rome is an irrelevance.

The only effective way to reduce immigration in Britain is to lower living standards, reduce real pay and increase poverty. This has now been shown to be the Cameron’s immigration policy and do not be fooled that it will only apply to incoming migrant workers. Simply look at the vast numbers of benefit claimants sanctioned for declining low-paying or even no-pay employment. Anti-immigrant rhetoric is employed only as a means of preparing the way for attacks against the entire working class. If the government really wanted to limit migration from Romania and Bulgaria it could do more to train UK nationals. It should also be remembered this government abolished the Migration Impacts Fund, a grant of £50 million paid for out of visa fees (not from general taxation), which channelled money to local authorities to pay for additional local costs incurred as a result of immigration. 

Cameron has very little to say about the global movement of capital. This has always and everywhere led to a destabilisation of local economies and social life such as when Nestlés came into African villages and convinced mothers that breast feeding is dangerous and that, therefore, they’d be better off nursing their children on a Nestlés formula baby-milk product. When the IMF or World Bank demands that, in return for capital investment, a country privatise its education, transportation and communications Cameron stays silent. Today a grasping oligarchy decide all aspects of social, economic and political life: the dictatorship of capital. The price is being paid by every European worker, as every government imposes savage cuts in jobs, wages, and essential social services.

Ultimately, the immigration controversy is a snare and a delusion designed to subvert unified opposition to the effects of capitalism. To garner votes, politicians are willing to create an atmosphere of fear than one of mutual respect and solidarity. Let us halt this new spectre haunting Europe: the spectre of xenophobia. 

Our aim in the Socialist Party is nothing less than the establishment of world socialism. We oppose every form of anti-immigrant chauvinism, racism and nationalism, including the advocacy of separatism in Scotland, Catalonia, Belgium, Northern Italy and Northern Ireland, that only sows further divisions between workers at a time when united struggle against the common enemy, capitalism, is essential. The scapegoating of immigrants is especially grotesque when we consider the tens of thousands who have died since 1990 to reach European shores and once on European soil are then denied basic human rights, and interned in detention camps. Public concerns about immigration are, but they stem from concerns about jobs and pay and living conditions, problems caused by capitalism, not immigrants and which can only be effectively addressed by socialism.

'Massive Organised Fiscal Fraud' Charge Against HSBC Private Bank

A Belgian investigating judge has charged a Swiss private banking branch of HSBC with massive organized fiscal fraud, money laundering and forming a criminal organization to the benefit of over 1,000 wealthy clients that cost the Belgian authorities “hundreds of millions of euros.” The prosecutor’s office said Monday the accusations against HSBC Private Bank NV/SA are based on its involvement over the years with “wealthy clients, specifically from the Antwerp diamond industry.” It said the justice ministry is also looking into possible money laundering. In August, HSBC Holdings PLC said it knew inquiries were ongoing and that the penalties “could be significant.” On Monday, it said it had been notified of the formal investigation by the Belgian judge.

from here

How Water Privatisation Affects The Public

In Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, set in our near future, corporations own countries.
These multinational corporations have grown so large as a result of globalization that they have sufficient economic power to take over or strongly manipulate national governments, initially only relatively small third-world governments, but later, larger developed governments too, effectively running whole countries. In Robinson's future history, the metanational corporations become similar to nation-states in some respects, while continually attempting to take over competitors in order to become the sole controller of the interplanetary market.
The newly released report on water privatization Troubled Waters: Misleading Industry PR and the Case for Public Water, Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU) suggests that we are closer to that reality than we realize.
The report identifies worldwide deceptive practices used by the water privatization industry. For example, it has become common in the United States that, when public infrastructure is privatized, for the public "partner" to receive a large up-front payment in exchange for a multi-generation contract that effectively makes the private contractor the owner of the asset.
Part of what makes water privatization attractive is the promise to provide modern innovations as part of the deal. In fact, this study finds that the true innovation is not technology but, rather, the up-front payment made to the public.

Cash-strapped governments are thrilled to get what seems to be so much money that it can solve all their financial needs. However, they do not understand how such a long contract will play out and find it hard to resist signing the contract. It is for just that reason that France outlawed up-front payments as part of privatization two decades ago – it distorts decision-making.
The US not only permits up-front payments, they are standard in American infrastructure privatization contracts. It is not surprising that would be the case, given the view that government can do nothing right while the private sector is always efficient. What most people do not understand is that the privatization industry owes no obligation to the public. Rather, private corporations' obligation is owed only to shareholders, and that obligation is to maximize profits for its shareholders.

The report finds that private water corporations meet their duty to maximize profits to their shareholders by "a) weakening their greatest competitor, the public water sector, b) opening up the water market and creating business opportunities for themselves, and c) removing as many obstacles as possible to the profitability of their operations."

The one thing that imposes accountability on a private company is vigorous market competition with many sellers and buyers. Infrastructure privatization seems to take on the role of a public entity, but because it is a monopoly, it has no competition and no market accountability. There is also no public sector accountability, such as open meetings acts, freedom of information acts, or other forms of oversight, because privatization means the asset is private.
The study finds, "The reality is private contracts and commercial law shield private water corporations from nearly all risks, meaning they have no incentive to behave efficiently . . [and have a] track record of raising rates and failing to invest adequately in water systems." In fact, the private water industry lobbies aggressively to amend recently enacted water legislation to extend public water funding to subsidize the private sector.

The report describes how water privatization imposes a second cost on the public – it degrades democracy. The author provides many examples of ways in which the "private water industry's political interference threatens the democratic governance and sustainable management of public water systems."
In some cases, contractors have stolen money that was required by law to be returned to the public. In other cases, private water companies have been willing to harm the public opposing issuing boil-water notices when water becomes contaminated. After all, a private company's duty is to maximize shareholder profits, while it has no duty to the public.

This well documented report reads like a crime novel. For example, "In East Cleveland, Ohio, a consultant bribed the former mayor's office in order to secure a no-bid contract for CH2M HILL to run the city's water system. The contract eventually paid out $3.9 million to the corporation for services that the city had been providing for less than half of that amount. The former mayor and the consultant have been convicted of racketeering, and the city sued the corporation for $14 million for breach of contract."

from here plus a short interview with Katherine Sawyer, Organizer, Think Outside the Bottle & Public Water Works!

Wot Recovery?

Last year, according to the Social Security Administrationfigures, 50 percent of all American workers made less than $28,031, and 39 percent of all American workers made less than $20,000.  If you worked a full-time job at $10 an hour all year long with two weeks off, you would make $20,000.  So the fact that 39 percent of all workers made less than that amount is rather telling. The “average” yearly wage in America last year was just $43,041.  But after accounting for inflation, that was actually worse than the year before, down $79 from the previous year when measured in 2013 dollars and $508 below the 2007 level.  Bear in mind that “average pay” is statistically skewed by the millionaires and billionaires at the top end of the spectrum. Median pay means that 50 percent of American workers made less than that number, and 50 percent of American workers made more than that number, $28,031.

-39 percent of American workers made less than $20,000 last year.
-52 percent of American workers made less than $30,000 last year.
-63 percent of American workers made less than $40,000 last year.
-72 percent of American workers made less than $50,000 last year.

It has been estimated that it takes approximately $50,000 a year to support a middle class lifestyle for a family of four, and so the fact that 72 percent of all workers make less than that amount shows how difficult it is for families that try to get by with just a single breadwinner. In many homes in America today, both parents are working multiple jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet. Pay-checks are stagnant while the cost of living continues to rise. Flat or declining average pay is a major reason so many Americans feel that the recession has never ended

The jobs that are being added to the economy pay a lot less than the jobs lost in the last recession.  In fact, it has been estimated that the jobs that have been created since the last recession pay an average of 23 percent less than the jobs that were lost.

One group of Americans that did see their incomes actually increase last year. Those making over 50 million dollars had their pay increase by an average of $12.8 million in 2013.

A picture tells a story

Climate changes

The Royal Society have published a report, which contains maps that demonstrate the impact of worldwide climate and demographic changes on exposure of people to extreme weather. "The risks from climate change can be underestimated if no account is taken of people's exposure and vulnerability: global average climate change metrics fail to highlight that the most extreme changes occur where people live - on land," the report explains  

"We are not resilient to the extremes of weather that we experience now, and many people are already extremely vulnerable," says Prof. Georgina Mace, chair of the working group for the report. "National governments have a responsibility to do everything in their ability to protect their people from the devastation caused by extreme weather events."

People in countries with a low Human Development Index comprise 11% of those exposed to hazards but account for 53% of disaster mortality. Regarding risks to people from floods, droughts and heatwaves, the report notes that people living in East, West and Central Africa - as well as India and South-East Asia - are particularly vulnerable as increasing population numbers in these areas will be exposed to extreme weather events.

The researchers say climate change could increase the number of heatwave exposure events they experience by three times by the year 2100. the combination of climate and population changes could lead to more than 10 times the number of annual heatwave exposure events suffered by this part of the population, the researchers say.

Another finding from the report indicates that changes in temperature and humidity could cause significant reductions in the ability to work outside in Africa, Asia, and parts of North, South and Central America. And this could also affect Western countries, as global food production would be impacted as a result.

Unite and fight

The term "internationalism" has been subjected to the confusing influences of a usage supporting the efforts of nations, usually in the name of peace and freedom, to band together to improve their position in the ferocious struggles of capitalism. In this article we use the word to mean a world approaching and arriving at socialism — a world without nations. As socialists, we are internationalists, opposing the idea that the rulers and ruled within a nation have any interests in common.

The socialist working-class movement has always been recognised as an internationalist one. Why is internationalism such a vital part of the socialist movement? Perhaps most important among the answers is that working-class internationalism is a powerful antidote for some of capitalism's most vicious and virulent ideologies, including racism, nationalism and chauvinism of all kinds. A clear view of the communality of interests of oppressed classes throughout the world provides a powerful bulwark against the bellicose, chauvinist propaganda which issues daily from ruling-class sources. Recognition of the interest all exploited peoples have in ending the systems of class rule which dominate the world is a large step toward exposing and withdrawing support from the nationalist aims of their respective ruling classes.

The call for international proletarian unity was not simply a call for the working class of one country to support the activities of another, but also had to do with the fact that the employers and governments in its everyday economic relations, play one working class against another. The problem of importing foreign labour to undermine the struggles of workers was a key issue in the development of the International itself. Thus, the 1866 Instructions for Delegates of the Provisional General Council of the International drafted by Marx established as one of its main objectives: “to counter the intrigues of capitalists always ready, in cases of strikes and lockouts, to misuse the foreign workman as a tool against the native workman.” The working-class struggle could not be actively promoted, Marx insisted, if confined by national walls when faced with a capitalist system that expanded globally.

Yet, for all of his calls for international solidarity, Marx also stressed that it could only be built on the basis of national, working-class organisation rooted in the material conditions of exploitation in given national contexts, and aimed at the state apparatuses of various nations. If a working-class movement was to be organised, it therefore had to be initially national in form, aimed at its own national state and its own “immediate arena” of struggle. At the same time Marx insisted that these national struggles had to be organised—as were the capitalist’s own “free trade” efforts—into an international movement, representing the international activities of the working class.

Today, we witness Cameron depriving a section of our fellow workers of the protections and benefits that our forefathers had struggled and fought for. We have UKIP intent upon extending the definition of immigrant to include the Royal Family, Winston Churchill, Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage’s own family. Labour’s response, as usual, is to adopt the latest anti-immigrant rhetoric and also pledged support for some of the Tory proposals. When left nationalists claim immigration is a capitalist ploy to drive down wages it is voiced simply as a populists vote-catching trick.  Labour has accepted the argument that immigration is a threat to jobs and services, and follows the Tories in insisting that migrants should be forced to do more to “integrate” in order that, in shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper’s words, “our communities are not divided. Yet the real cultural divide exists at a class level, at Oxbridge, at Ascot and at the Henley Regatta, just a few examples of class division that show for ordinary people the privileged few live parallel lives to everyone else. We aren’t even privy to it except for the occasional gossip in the society pages of the right-wing press.

The rise in anti-immigrant views has been encouraged and fostered by the actions and words of the mainstream parties. Immigrants are being blamed for a general lowering of incomes and for “stealing” jobs that otherwise would have gone to local folk. Nationalists also blame immigrants for a host of other problems such as unaffordable housing or poorly-performing schools or over-crowded doctor waiting rooms. Many anti-immigrant positions, after all, are based on falsehoods underlying popular misconceptions and those who are really culpable escape blame and responsibility.

Suppose we have 100 people producing 100 things. What will happen to unemployment if we add 100 people to this community? Will the new people be unemployed? Of course not, the 100 new individuals produce and consume. The new entrants will allow the community to produce and consume much more than 200 things because of gains from the specialisation of labour. The addition of 100 people allowed a general increase in the standard of living of all the individuals in the community.

Where are those jobs? Outsourced by the corporations to sweat-shop nations of the world. Where is the better standard of living? Cut by the government’s austerity programme to subsidise those employers who re-locate jobs abroad. What about misconception is that immigrants are responsible for unaffordable housing? Where is the council house building projects. Scarce urban land are offered planning permission to those builders on condition that a small percentage are available to rent below the market value….20% or so which still makes them unaffordable. Don’t spend money on schools or the NHS and of course we will experience the fall-out of cut-backs. Theresa May displayed disdain for the facts when she claimed that for every additional 100 immigrants, 23 British workers would not be employed. In March this year it emerged that May had ignored advice not to rely on the Migration Advisory Committee study on which she based her claim and that she had then suppressed a government report which, based on a comprehensive overview of research since 2003, concluded that the effect of immigration on “indigenous” jobs was negligible. And we have our own eyes as evidence when we see the number of ‘Polish delis’ springing up in our streets, all requiring wholesalers, warehouse workers, delivery drivers and shop assistants.

In economic terms, the ruling class benefits from the removal of restrictions on immigration as it enables businesses to recruit workers from a global workforce. In political terms, however, especially during times of economic crisis, the ruling class benefits from being able to divide workers against one another in order to deflect anger at the base of society away from the system. Turning “indigenous” workers against immigrants is one key tool that enables them to do this. With governments committed to unpopular austerity measures it is politics rather than economics that is driving its agenda on immigration at the moment.

The propaganda argument is that immigration is creating unsustainable pressure on public services and jobs. This is the reasoning preventing migrants from draining ‘precious resources’ away from the welfare state by insisting that they can only come here if they can fend for themselves. This argument, however, bears no relation to economic reality. The evidence is that such immigrants do not “burden” the welfare state but, on the contrary, make a net positive contribution through taxation.

The employers benefit when workers accuse each other of causing low wages and governments are not held to account for policies that increase misery. Pinning this on foreigners is simply another way in which the capitalists and politicians , helped by their obedient media encourage workers to turn against each other rather than against the system that breeds poverty and joblessness. Unity between British and foreign workers is the only guarantee that employers can be forced to maintain decent wages for all.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Valuable Resources - Trade Comes Before Local Populations

As the world's population soars past 7 billion, farmland and freshwater are becoming increasingly valuable resources.
Critics worry that the trade has spurred a rise in 'land grabbing'
And, in response, a growing number of companies and investors — Wall Street traders, Chinese state corporations, Gulf sheiks — have been buying up farmland abroad. The trade has been booming since 2007, when a spike in grain prices got everyone fretting about shortages. The purchases help countries like China and Saudi Arabia secure food supplies and conserve water domestically. But critics worry that the trade has also spurred a rise in "land grabs" — when sellers in countries like Ethiopia or Cambodia forcibly acquire the farmland from locals in the first place.
So how big is the trade? A new study in Environmental Research Letters finds that at least 126 countries are now involved in purchasing or selling global farmland. The most active buyers are investors in the United States, China, Britain, Germany, India, and the Netherlands. They're typically seeking out land in South America, Africa, and Asia — particularly Brazil, Ethiopia, Philippines, Sudan, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Tanzania. The trading map looks like this:

The top 20 countries in the global land trade network, ordered by the largest number of trading partners. (Seaquist et al, 2014)

It all adds up: In 2013, a separate study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences estimated that between 0.7 percent and 1.75 percent of the world's agricultural land was now being transferred to foreign investors from local landholders. That's an area bigger than Germany and France combined.

Why are people buying farmland abroad?

The PNAS study found that foreign investors frequently buy tracts of land that have ample supplies of freshwater, through either local rainfall or underground aquifers. Water has become especially valuable given that supplies are increasingly under strain in countries like China, India, and the United States.

 read more here

EU Market Mechanisms - Don't Let The Mice Guard The Cheese

Attila Szocs is Romania correspondent for Arc2020, a platform for civil society and non-governmental organisations interested in good food, farming and rural policies for Europe. He is also campaign coordinator on land grabbing with EcoRuralis in Romania.

Finally, it appears, the phenomenon of land grabbing is officially on the European table. On 20th of January, 2014 – UN Year of Family Farming - the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), decided to draw up an own-initiative opinion on land grabbing in the EU.
After consulting a range of public, private and civil society actors, and conducting a fact-finding mission in Romania, it organised a public hearing on 4 November in Brussels, to discuss the preliminary draft opinion Land grabbing – a wake-up call for Europe and an imminent threat to family farming.

Let's note the milestone here – the hearing was not just about land concentration and ever growing farm sizes, but about land grabbing, where a finite fundamental resource – land - is captured and controlled by corporate interest with strong repercussions over the development and perpetuation of local farming communities and indeed whole countries.
The EU is currently witnessing a massive land grab, which has a direct impact on 25 million of its citizens, mainly small-scale farmers, changing the way lands are being managed and how food is being produced. The rush for land especially hit new member states like Romania and Bulgaria, but also other Eastern European countries, concentrating millions of hectares of farmland in the hands of a few multinationals, banks and private investment funds.
As the EESC fact finding mission concluded, Romania is an example of a “perfect storm”. In its transitional economy, access and control over strategic resources floated from a communist regime towards local oligarchs, and then to corporate businesses.

I joined the EESC delegation on their visits to public authorities, industry representatives and large farming enterprises. They were astonished by the scale of land grab in Romania (several millions of hectares controlled by multinational companies), the dimension of some super-sized farms (Romania currently holding the largest crop farm in the EU – almost 70,000 ha), the ignorance on display with regard to EU regulations, and, concurrently, the excellent contacts with the Romanian Ministry for Agriculture.
Although the rhetoric favors family farming, the government is in reality pushing on with the development of agro-industry. In its program, it clearly states its wishes to move towards very large scale, export-oriented agriculture and authorities must take “measures for merging and reducing the number of agricultural exploitations”. Furthermore, Common Agriculture Policie’s (CAP) Rural Development Funds are earmarked to overstimulate selling or long term leasing of lands owned by smallholders.

Looking at the distribution of income and wealth disparities (“Gini” coefficient) through the poverty and land ownership prism, one can observe a well defined overlay between acute poverty and large land ownership. In 2012, the poverty and social exclusion rate of Romania reached to 42% of its population (the EU average being 25%), a figure that is rising continuously, placing Romania amongst the poorest countries in the EU. The poorest regions of Romania are the North-East, South-East and South-West, areas especially affected by strong agricultural land consolidations and land grabbing: it may seem hard to believe in the 21st century EU, but grown men can end up working 12 hours a day as farm labourers on mega-farms in Romania for a loaf of bread.
A legitimate question arises: Can EU market mechanisms be a basis for developing social policies?
CAP subsidies haven’t helped much. In Romania, 50% of the direct payments went to just 1% of the farms, while many Eastern European states show similar statistics.

Moratoriums on land sales failed to deliver. As lands owned by new member states were too attractive, loopholes were quickly found. Either taking over existing portfolios, or registering new companies, millions of hectares were acquired or leased in Eastern European member states by foreign investment funds over the last 7 years. As of 2014, these mechanisms have ended, so 2014 is both the year of family farms and of the free movement of capital into Eastern EU agricultural land.
Still, given the underdevelopment of the Eastern European countryside, coupled with the low prices of lands and the perception of wide-spread corruption, an option for new member states would be to extend and better define their moratoriums. This process would challenge the EU accession treaty, but also challenge the agribusiness sector, which is the biggest beneficiary of the weak and ill-defined policies.
The EESC brings similar recommendations: while keeping the focus on fair access to land and resources, the Committee calls on the European Authorities to discuss whether the free movement of capital into land acquisitions should be unrestricted. In the EESC view “the member states must be given more opportunities to regulate and limit their respective markets for agricultural land.”
While this last suggestion is promising, let's not forget that the tools to prevent land grabbing in Eastern Europe will be put in the hands of the same politicians who are promoting it. Like an old Balkan saying says: Let's not let the mice guard the cheese.

from here