Saturday, May 31, 2014

Rankings Of 139 Countries' Working Conditions

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Where are the worst places on the planet to be a worker?

A new report by the International Trade Union Confederation, an umbrella organization of unions around the world, sheds light on the state of workers’ rights across 139 countries. For its 2014 Global Rights Index, the ITUC evaluated 97 different workers’ rights metrics like the ability to join unions, access to legal protections and due process, and freedom from violent conditions. The group ranks each country on a scale of 1 (the best protections) to 5 (the worst protections).

The study found that in at least 35 countries, workers have been arrested or imprisoned “as a tactic to resist demands for democratic rights, decent wages, safer working conditions and secure jobs.” In a minimum of nine countries, murder and disappearance are regularly used to intimidate workers.
Denmark was the only country in the world to achieve a perfect score, meaning that the nation abides by all 97 indicators of workers’ rights.

The U.S., embarrassingly, scored a 4, indicating “systematic violations” and “serious efforts to crush the collective voice of workers.”

“Countries such as Denmark and Uruguay led the way through their strong labour laws, but perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Greece, the United States and Hong Kong, lagged behind,” wrote ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow in a statement about the report. “A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions, or simply join a union at all.”

Here’s a look at the world rankings. Darker shades represent worse protects for workers. A score of 5+ means that active conflicts, like those in Syria or Sudan, block any legal protections for workers.

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 2.10.04 AM
The report.
ITUC Global Rights Index

from here



The Cabal Of The Rich And Powerful - Bilderberg In Copenhagen

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It’s been a week of celebrations for Henry Kissinger. On Tuesday he turned 91, on Wednesday he broke his personal best in the 400m hurdles, and on Thursday in Copenhagen, he’ll be clinking champagne flutes with the secretary general of Nato and the queen of Spain, as they celebrate 60 glorious years of Bilderberg. I just hope George Osborne remembered to pack a party hat.
Thursday is the opening day of the influential three-day summit and it’s also the 60th anniversary of the Bilderberg Group’s first meeting, which took place in Holland on 29 May 1954. So this year’s event is a red-letter occasion, and the official participant list shows that the 2014 conference is a peculiarly high-powered affair.

The chancellor, at his seventh Bilderberg, is spending the next three days deep in conference with the heads of MI6, Nato, the International Monetary Fund, HSBC, Shell, BP and Goldman Sachs International, along with dozens of other chief executives, billionaires and high-ranking politicians from around Europe. This year also includes a visit from the supreme allied commander Europe, and a return of royalty – Queen Sofia of Spain and Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, the daughter of the Bilderberg founder Prince Bernhard.
Back in the 1950s, when Bernhard sent out the invitations, it was to discuss “a number of problems facing western civilization”. These days, the Bilderberg Group prefers to call them “megatrends”. The megatrends on this year’s agenda include: “What next for Europe?”, “Ukraine”, “Intelligence sharing” and “Does privacy exist?”

That’s an exquisite irony: the world’s most secretive conference discussing whether privacy exists. Certainly for some it does. It’s not just birthday bunting that’s gone up in Copenhagen: there’s also a double ring of three-metre (10ft) high security fencing. The hotel is teeming with security: lithe gentlemen in loose slacks and dark glasses, trying not to kill the birthday vibe. Or anyone else.
Already, two reporters have been arrested trying to interview the organisers of the conference in the Marriott hotel bar. It’s easy enough to keep your privacy intact when you’re employing so many people to guard it.

There’s something distinctly chilling about the existence of privacy being debated, in extreme privacy, by people such as the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, and the board member of Facebook Peter Thiel: exactly the people who know how radically transparent the general public has become.
And to have them discussing it with the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, and Keith Alexander, the recently replaced head of the National Security Agency. And with people such as the head of AXA, the insurance and investment conglomerate – Henri de Castries. Perhaps no one is more interested in data collection and public surveillance than the insurance giants. For them, privacy is the enemy. Public transparency is a goldmine.

Back in 2010, Osborne proudly launched “the most radical transparency agenda the country has ever seen”. However, this transparency agenda doesn’t seem to extend to Osborne himself making a public statement about what he has discussed at this meeting. And with whom.
We know, from the agenda and list, that Osborne will be there with the foreign affairs ministers from Spain and Sweden, and the deputy secretary general of the French presidency. And from closer to home, the international development secretary, Justine Greening, and fellow Bilderberg veteran and shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.
We know that he’s scheduled to discuss the situation in Ukraine with extremely interested parties, such as the chief executive of the European arms giant Airbus, Thomas Enders. Not to mention the chief executive and chairman of “the defence & security company” Saab: Håkan Buskhe and Marcus Wallenberg. And billionaire investors including Henry Kravis of KKR, who is “always looking to sharpen” what he calls “the KKR edge”. Helping Kravis sharpen his edge is General David Petraeus, former director of the CIA, now head of the KKR Global Institute – a massive investment operation.

The Bilderberg Group says the conference has no desired outcome. But for private equity giants, and the heads of banks, arms manufacturers and oil companies, there’s always a desired outcome. Try telling the shareholders of Shell that there’s “no desired outcome” of their chairman and chief executive spending three days in conference with politicians and policy makers.
Try telling that to the lobbyists who have been working so hard to push the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal that is being negotiated. Bilderberg is packed to the gills with senior members of powerful lobby groups. Will members of British American Business’s international advisory board, such as Douglas Flint and Peter Sutherland, express BAB’s fervent support of TTIP when discussing “Is the economic recovery sustainable?” Or will they leave their lobbying hats at the door?

MP Michael Meacher describes Bilderberg as “the cabal of the rich and powerful” who are working “to consolidate and extend the grip of the markets”. And they’re doing so “beyond the reach of the media or the public”. That said, every year, the press probes a little further behind the security fencing. Every year the questions for the politicians who attend, but remain silent, get harder.
They can try to laugh it off as a “talking shop” or a glorified knees-up, but these people haven’t come to Bilderberg to drink fizzy wine and pull party poppers. It’s possible that Reid Hoffman, the head of LinkedIn, has turned up for the birthday cake. But I doubt it. This is big business. And big politics. And big lobbying.
Bilderberg is big money, and they know how to spend it. From my spot outside, I’ve just seen three vans full of fish delicacies trundle into the hotel service entrance. I always thought there was something fishy about Bilderberg. Turns out that for tonight at least, it’s the rollmops.

from here

The US Police State

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CEO Wealth

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The Wall Street Journal released its annual compensation survey. The median pay for the CEOs of America's 300 largest publicly traded companies hit $11.4 million in 2013, the Journal reports -- that's up 5.5% from 2012 and roughly 257 times the average worker's pay.

The three highest-paid CEOs -- Oracle's Larry Ellison, CBS' Leslie Moonves and Liberty Global's Michael Fries took home a combined $188 million last year -- or more than the 50 CEOs at the bottom of the list.

And the 30 highest-paid CEOs took home 23% of the total compensation, leaving the other 270 execs to fight over the scraps.

Cheniere Energy, which has already faced criticism for excessive pay packages, this week proposed issuing 30 million shares - currently worth $1.9 billion -- to set aside to pay its executives. If approved, shares dedicated to paying executives would be more than 25% of Cheniere's public shares.

Steve Ballmer, the just retired CEO of technology giant Microsoft, proves that all those years of big stock grants can really come in handy in retirement. Ballmer is offering to pay $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team.

Steve Wynn, CEO of casino operator Wynn Resorts, had bought a 1932 painting, called La Reve, by Picasso. Just as he was about to sell the painting to a collector and hedge fund manager Steven Cohen for $139 million in 2006, Wynn accidentally put his elbow through the painting showing it to friends, inserting a six-inch tear. At the time of the accident, the painting would have been the most expensive painting ever. Wynn spent a reported $85 million repairing the painting. But it seems CEOs can’t even lose money after an accident. The painting later sold to Cohen for $155 million.

From here 

Fact of the Day

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According to data from Eurostat, four out of ten EU citizens don't have the money to take one week off and spend it anywhere else than at home.

http://www.euractiv.com/sections/social-europe-jobs/40-eu-citizens-cant-afford-vacation-302511

Racism and alcoholism

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The stereotype drunk indian made foolish by firewater still predominates the media and the view that the native peoples have a genetic intolerance to alcohol persists in Canada (and SOYMB will add in Australia, too) but a Manitoba medical expert says studies show a possible predisposition to alcoholism really boils down to social conditions such as poverty. There is no scientific evidence that supports a genetic predisposition for alcohol intolerance in the aboriginal population, said Kettner, an associate professor at the University of Manitoba's faculty of medicine and the province’s former chief public health officer.

Some of the mor “scientific" suggest that aboriginal people are missing an enzyme which makes them genetically predisposed to alcohol addiction.

"There will always be theories and research that will try and explain some of this in the way of genetics, as was the case in Germany in the '30s and the case in the U.S. comparing Negro brains and white brains," Kettner said. Kettner points out that there have been studies examining differences in alcohol tolerance for different ethnic groups, taking into account cultural, geographic and racial factors. But when it comes to possible predisposition for alcoholism, "what those really boil down to, in almost all scientific analysis, is the social circumstances and social conditions — whether experiences with family, community or at a larger level, in society," he said.

He added "There are many indigenous populations around the world that have been colonized and oppressed by settlers where we have seen the same patterns of poverty, of poor housing, disenfranchisement. There is increasing evidence that these are the factors that lead to poor individual health, poor social health, poor community health, and these are what we need to focus our attention on.

Kettner continued  there are also studies that show high rates of alcohol-related diseases and injuries in some communities, both urban and rural, where there is a large aboriginal population. But he noted that "those trends are there with other populations, including Caucasian populations, in similar circumstances of disadvantage, or poverty or inter-generational experience."

For Kettner, the persistence of the genetic stereotype is evidence that there is still much work to do in combating racism. From a public health perspective, he said, it is an indication that there are educational, social and political issues that need to be addressed.

“Maybe we should turn the question around,” Kettner concluded. “I know it might sound facetious, but maybe we should be doing genetic analysis on people who continue to perpetuate stereotypical and racist myths.”

Taken from here

Friday, May 30, 2014

World Cup 2014 - Defining Terrorism, Security and Social Tension

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As the World Cup nears, the Brazilian press has reported that the American company Academi, formerly Blackwater, carried out training of Brazilian military personnel and federal police in April.

The training is a facet of the military cooperation agreement between Brazil and the United States signed in 2010 during the second term of the Lula de Silva administration in preparation for containing terrorist acts during this year’s World Cup. Academi is a private security company based in the United States, and has used mercenary soldiers in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


When the agreement was signed, the Brazilian government maintained that the accord would permit the “strengthening of dialogue and opening of new cooperation prospects on a balanced and mutually beneficial basis.” According to the Brazilian government, it was attempting to “perfect already existing and future cooperation in areas such as high-level delegation visits, technical contacts, institutional meetings, student exchanges, training of personnel, visits by ocean vessels, and sporting and cultural events.”

The minister of defense at the time, Nelson Jobim, declared the agreement “very general” and a sort of “giant umbrella” beneath which “many possibilities will open in terms of future negotiations”, but did not give details in terms of what those negotiations would be or what they would mean.


Although the terms of the agreement regarding its activities are generic, the concept of security promoted by the United States and the services offered by Academi are more concrete. “It is a logic of commercialization, of privatization, and a move toward the use of third-party security,” affirms Esther Solano Gallego, professor of International Relations at the Federal University of Sao Paulo.

The industry that capitalized on the concept of “terrorism” has increased the use of “security” as a market platform. Within the framework of the “security” initiatives of the United States government, Academi offers on its official website everything from assistance to foreign militaries, to training in the fight against transnational terrorism and the interception of weapons of mass destruction.


The concept of “security” that guides U.S. military doctrine has influenced and continues to influence the signing of international agreements within the framework of the “war on terror,” where the enemy is found within the general public, an enemy that must be attacked using every possible means. “The concept of ‘enemy’ and ‘terrorism’ as a basis for security is a type of security with a large ideological component,” states Gallego.

In a country without a history of terrorist incidents, Gallego considers the potential terrorist threat at the World Cup minimal. The risk of instability during the event is a different matter. “Possible demonstrations are being organized by some groups of the Brazilian populace to protest and confront police,” Gallego explains.


An internal enemy
The enemy indicated by the media, governments, and the police are social movements. Even an anti-terrorism bill currently being debated in the Brazilian Congress defines these groups as “enemies,” using actions like those of Black Bloc as justification for the law.
“We cannot understand Black Bloc as a terrorist phenomenon. This category is not applicable. The problem is that a social and political neurosis has been created as a result of the actions of Black Bloc in the streets. There was no serious debate about what was happening and these bills appeared (like the anti-terrorism legislation) without internal coherence, as a political play, that does nothing more than create more serious problems and raise the climate of social tension,” emphasizes the professor.


Sovereignty?

Academi’s actions are often carried out without information about what is happening. “The training of the Brazilian police surprised us because nothing had been communicated with respect to the intervention of this mercenary company. This is one of the principle problems–the lack of information surrounding Academi’s actions, which makes supervision, demand for respect of the law, and social accountability very difficult.”

Professor Gallego asks, ”Until what point is it legitimate to delegate control over security and violent assignments to a mercenary company over which the citizens have no control?”

“In the case of Academi it is even more controversial and polemic because the company has accumulated lawsuits and, furthermore, is a foreign company that is exporting a security model to Brazil that the Brazilian people have not chosen. In some ways it is an interference in the sovereignty of the citizenry,” she adds, noting that Brazilian citizens were not consulted about the initiative.

In the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, the Brazilian government’s security secretary for mega-events affirms that “there was no prior indication that there would be third-party instructors,” which is to say, the contracting of the services of Academi.


Freedom of movement

Jobim, Brazil’s ex-minister of defense, explained at the time of the signing of the agreement that such an accord did not imply the authorization of the use of military bases or the right to unlimited movement of U.S. personnel inside Brazil. However, on the eve of the World Cup, Complementary Law 276/02 is making its way through Brazil’s Congress. It is an executive law that would allow the nation’s president to delegate to the minister of defense and the heads of the armed forces the ability to grant permits and would allow for the temporary presence of foreign forces in Brazil, without authorization by Congress. On April 23, the bill was approved in a House session by a vote of 270 to 1.

In accordance with the legislation, foreign forces would be allowed in to participate in improvement programs, officially or unofficially, and even for scientific and technological purposes, to attend to supply situations, to provide repairs or support, and for search and rescue missions. Now the bill is awaiting approval by the Senate.


Security for the world

Academi offers a concept of global security, defined on its website as, “Your trusted partner in global security. Effective security proven to change the world.”
This company is considered the largest private army in the world. Since its founding under the name Blackwater, and just after September 11, it obtained private security contracts with the George W. Bush administration that amounted to over one hundred million dollars, according to Jeremy Scahill in his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Two years after its creation, the company, which was responsible for the killing of seventeen civilians in Iraq, changed its name to Xe Services in an attempt to clean up its reputation. After 2010 the company was sold to a group of private investors, and the name was changed once again, this time to Academi.

In 2010, Academi signed contracts with the Obama administration worth 250 million dollars for operations in Afghanistan and work for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), not counting without the hundreds of contracts established with banks and diplomats, principally from the U.S.

It has been thirteen years since 9/11 and it seems that the war on terror has no end. It has, however, generated huge profits for private companies like Academi that sell private security, and for the United States’ war industry. During the decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, defense expenditures and profits skyrocketed; in 2010 alone the annual U.S. defense budget doubled, and industry profits have quadrupled. Indeed, security has become a market in itself, and only those who can pay have access to it.

Written by Santiago Navarro F. and Renata Bessi   
from here

The end of racism?

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British Future, the think tank which commissioned the poll, said findings suggested support for hardline right-wing groups such as the British National Party (BNP) and the English Defence League (EDL) would fade over time.

A YouGov survey discovered that nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of young adults who will be able next May to vote for the first time at a general election were comfortable with Britain being more ethnically diverse than 20 years ago. First-time voters – people aged between 17 and 21 – were also much more positive about the potential benefits for Britain from immigration. When asked to rate the impact of immigration, 31 per cent gave it a very positive score of between eight and 10, twice as many as those who scored it negatively at between zero and two (16 per cent).

Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, said: “Young people have grown up in modern, diverse Britain, and they are comfortable with what they see. Angry men with far-right views who want to kick out their friends and neighbours hold no appeal to them. Fascism, as a political force, is a thing of the past.”

The findings were at odds with data this week from NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey which concluded that racial intolerance had started rising again after years of decline.

We Shall Rise Again

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The Merthyr Rising Festival will be held on 31 May 2014, a date which marked the beginnings in 1831 of the Merthyr Rising. The Festival will be centred at Merthyr’s Soar Arts Centre with events also being held throughout the day in Merthyr’s new Dic Penderyn Square, named for Richard Lewis – the 23 year old martyr of the 1831 Merthyr Rising. There will also be fringe events happening in pubs throughout the town centre, as well as events in the Cyfarthfa Castle Museum, former home of the Crawshay Ironmaster family, whom much of the anger of the 1831 Merthyr Rising was directed. Amongst the artists appearing at the Festival will be Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals/Neon Neon), Kizzy Crawford, Jon Owen, Delyth McLean and Boyd Clack – and lots more speakers, musicians, writers and speakers are confirming each day.

At the beginning of the 19th century Merthyr Tydfil was a sleepy village on the edge of high moorland. By 1830 it had quadrupled in size to become the largest town in Wales, its population mainly workers and their families in the iron and coal industries. It was the centre for a newly formed working class, described by contemporary Tory newspapers as "revolutionary forgemen, Jacobin moulders, democratic colliers and demagogic furnacemen"

The 1831 Rising was one of the earliest organised actions of industrial workers in 19th Century Britain and set against the background of the 1829 depression in the iron industry which was to last for three years and was sparked by anger against low pay, debt and appalling working conditions in the iron works and mines of the Welsh Valley town. It has been described by one historian as "the most ferocious and bloody event in the history of industrialised Britain."

Throughout May 1831 the coal miners and others who worked for William Crawshay took to the streets of Merthyr Tydfil, calling for reform, protesting against the lowering of their wages and general unemployment. Gradually the protest spread to nearby industrial towns and villages and by the end of May the whole area was in rebellion, and for the first time in the world the red flag of revolution was flown, banners capped with a symbolic loaf and literally dyed in blood ( calf's blood to create a symbol of common suffering and of equality of humankind.)

After storming Merthyr town, the rebels sacked the Debtor's Court (the Court of Requests) which was responsible for a widespread confiscation of property and where the goods that had been collected.  Rising prices had caused severe hardship for many of the working people of the area and, in order to survive, many people were forced into debt. Often they were unable to pay off their debts and their creditors would then turn to the Court of Requests which had been set up in 1809 to allow the bailiffs to seize the property of debtors. As a result the Court was hated by many people who saw it as the reason for their losing their property. Account books containing debtors' details were also destroyed.

Among the shouts were cries of Caws a bara (cheese and bread) and I lawr â'r Brenin (down with the king). On 1 June 1831, the protesters marched to local mines and persuaded the men to stop working and join their protest. In the meantime, the British government in London had ordered in the army to restore order. Since the crowd was now too large to be dispersed, the soldiers were ordered to protect essential buildings and people.

On 2 June, while local employers and magistrates were holding a meeting with the High Sheriff of Glamorgan at the Castle Inn, a group led by Lewsyn yr Heliwr (also known as Lewis Lewis) marched there to demand a reduction in the price of bread and an increase in their wages. The demands were rejected, and after being advised to return to their homes, attacked the inn. Engaged by the soldiers, after the rebels seized some of their weapons, the troops were commanded to open fire.  In the resulting panic and mass confusion, over two dozen workers were killed and hundreds wounded, but the soldiers lost 16 men and were compelled to withdraw to Penydarren House, and abandon the town to the rebels. For four days, magistrates and ironmasters were under siege in the Castle Hotel, and the protesters effectively controlled Merthyr. Strikes started in Northern Monmouthshire, Neath and Swansea Valleys.

 On the Sunday 6th, 450 troops marched to the mass meeting at Waun above Dowlais with levelled weapons, the meeting dispersed and the uprising were effectively over. By 7 June the authorities had regained control of the town through force. The rising at Merthyr caused great alarm to the British Government, who feared that the Colliers Union was behind it. The setting up of lodges of the Union at Merthyr immediately afterward seemed to support this view. Twenty-six people were arrested and put on trial for taking part in the revolt. Several were sentenced to terms of imprisonment, others sentenced to penal transportation to Australia, and two were sentenced to death by hanging – Lewsyn yr Heliwr (also known as Lewis Lewis) for robbery and Dic Penderyn (also known as Richard Lewis) for stabbing a soldier in the leg with a seized bayonet. Lewsyn yr Heliwr had his sentence downgraded to a life sentence and penal transportation to Australia.

The people of Merthyr Tydfil were convinced that Dic Penderyn, a 23-year-old miner, was not responsible for the stabbing, and 11,000 signed a petition demanding his release. The government refused, and Penderyn was hanged at Cardiff market on August 13, 1831. On the night before the execution, the unhappy convict was urged to make a confession of his guilt, but he positively denied that he had been in any way connected. He continued firm in this declaration up to the time of his death. Forty years later, leuan Parker of Cwmafan, a Welshman living in the United States confessed to the charge and also a witness for the prosecution, James Abbott, who had testified at Penderyn's trial, admitted that he had lied under oath, under the orders of Lord Melbourne, in order to secure a conviction.

It's generally accepted that the Merthyr Rising of 1831 was in many ways part of the general British struggle for political reform, which would be the basis of a later much stronger Chartist Movement and also part of the struggle to establish Trade Unionism.   Merthyr Tudful was in a ferment of discontent and disturbance culminating in a great Reform Rally at Twyn y Waun on 30 May 1831. School textbooks tend to concentrate on Peterloo and the Tolpuddle Martyrs while evens such as the Merthyr Uprising is air-brushed out of the pages of history.

Time line of key events          
1st June - Workers march on Merthyr
2nd June - The town is seized by workers, the Riot Act is read and troops sent for
3rd June - “The Battle of Castle Inn”. 26 “rioters” killed
4th June - Troops arrive from Brecon but one column is ambushed and disarmed by workers
5th June - Gwent workers rise and march to support Merthyr workers
6th June - Great workers' gathering at Twyn y Waun, troops arrive and level guns
7th June - Troops regain control of Merthyr, mass arrests and imprisonment follow

See here for more information


Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Saves and the Save-Nots

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The richest 20% of the population in Britain will have, on average, the spare sum of £18,680 to put into their savings this year, while the poorest 20% will spend £1,910 more than they earn, latest figures suggest.
The Post Office said saving was still being driven by the wealthiest people while lower earners were suffering a debt crisis. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which undertook the analysis, this trend has been happening for the past 12 years.

The poorest 40% of the population have spent more than they have earned over this period, in contrast to the top 40% of earners who had money to save every year. Even during the financial crisis of 2007-2008 those in the highest income brackets had enough disposable income to increase the amount they saved annually. By contrast, the rise of payday lenders in Britain's "Wonga economy" symbolised the squeeze on living standards faced by ordinary families.

Despite the economy's "green shoots" the poorest 20% would continue to spend more than they earned, though the researchers forecast that the figure would fall to £1,053 by 2018, based on average incomes and spending patterns. Shelter found that 44% of working families with children under 18 could be one month's salary away from losing their homes if they became unemployed because they had little or no savings. Meanwhile Citizens Advice said it had noted a 16% rise in social housing rent arrears last year, and a big jump in repossession warnings.

The research suggests the gulf between the wealthiest and poorest will continue to grow. This May figures from the Office for National Statistics showed Britain's richest 1% had accumulated as much wealth as the poorest 55% of the population.

From here

Selling Marx

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For sale at the International Antiquarian Book Fair at Olympia was 49 small manuscript pages, scribbled in ink and written in 1845, mostly in French, this item was a fragment of Karl Marx’s notes for his forthcoming book, Capital. The price? £2 million.

Or how about a letter - a single sheet of two brief paragraphs from the same author, for £110,000?

Hat-tip to Rene Gimpel in his letter to Weekly Worker  

GM Crops - Where Lies The Power?

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A new GM law being discussed in Brussels this week could grant biotech companies, like Monsanto and Syngenta, unprecedented power over decisions on whether to ban genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe, according to Friends of the Earth Europe.
stop the crop
















The new law is being promoted as a way to give governments more sovereignty over decisions on whether to ban GM crops. However, the current proposals give biotech companies the legal right to decide whether a ban should be allowed. If companies refuse, governments are forced to fall back on vague, non-scientific legal grounds upon which to ban GM crops, opening the door to legal challenges.

Adrian Bebb, food campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe said: “It is an affront to democracy that companies like Monsanto will be given legal status in any decision to ban their products. Governments must be able to ban unwanted and risky GM crops without needing the permission of the companies who profit from them.”
“For more than 15 years national governments have fought against new GM crops and strongly defended their rights to ban them. This proposal is a poisoned chalice that fails to give member states the solid legal grounds to ban genetically modified crops.”

Friends of the Earth Europe are calling for national governments to be given genuine powers to keep their fields GM-free and to protect consumer choice. As a minimum, the proposal that national governments must first request permission for a ban from the biotech company should be rejected, and the legal basis for banning GM crops strengthened.

from here


Farming: Profits First, Food A Secondary Consideration

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Sowing strong: Global agricultural earnings are set to jump in the next decade. Source

































INVESTORS are poised to pour even more money into Australian farming lured by the promise of high returns. The trickle of institutional funds will become a flood if the nation’s network of family farms can get their finances on a more professional footing, one expert said.

An international finance conference was told global agricultural earnings were set to jump in the next decade, beating the traditional safe haven of equities and bonds. Finance expert Margaux Beauchamp said agriculture would outperform bonds and equities by up to 8 per cent over the next 10 years.
Mrs Beauchamp, the corporate finance executive director for investment bank BDO, said the earnings forecast was for US agriculture, but Australia was not far behind.
“We just have to get our own house in order, promote a higher level of professionalism in the farming industry,” she said.

Mrs Beauchamp was one of 600 delegates to attend this month’s Global AgInvesting Conference in New York.
US farmland is forecast to deliver returns averaging 11 per cent, with bonds and equities at 3 and 5 per cent respectively.
Banker ANZ has recently forecast that Australian agriculture needs $1 trillion of investment for production growth and farm turnover between now and 2050.

The Victorian Government is aiming to double the state’s food and fibre production by 2030. Queensland wants to double its production by 2040.
A report by Cambridge Associates LLC showed the growth in value of agriculture assets in recent decades has matched or exceeded other asset classes.

Ms Beauchamp said the challenge was for Australia’s agriculture sector to perform as strongly as the US sector. While appetite is growing among institutions for agriculture sector investment, Ms Beauchamp said work was still needed for the sector to realise its full potential.
“Conference presenters were clear in their view that the institutional ‘herd’ would eventually find agricultural investment and this is something BDO in Australia’s food and agribusiness team hopes will occur in the Australian sector over the next decade,” she said.


from here


Corporate Stranglehold Of World's Farmland A Risk To Food Security

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Corporate stranglehold of farmland a risk to world food security, study says 

Small farmers are being squeezed out as mega-farms and plantations gobble up their land by John Vidal The world's food supplies are at risk because farmland is becoming rapidly concentrated in the hands of wealthy elites and corporations, a study has found. 
Small farmers, the UN says, grow 70% of the world's food but a new analysis of government data suggests the land which they control is shrinking every year as mega-farms and plantations squeeze them onto less than 25% of the world's available farmland, says international land-use group Grain. These mega-farms are less productive in terms of amount of food they produce per area of land, the report argues. 
"Small farms have less than a quarter of the world's agricultural land – or less than 20% excluding China and India. Such farms are getting smaller all the time, and if this trend persists they might not be able to continue to feed the world," says the report which draws on government statistics and calls for a stop on land grabbing by corporations. 

The report suggests that the single most important factor in the drive to push small farmers onto ever smaller parcels of land is the worldwide expansion of industrial commodity crop farms. "The powerful demands of food and energy industries are shifting farmland and water away from direct local food production to the production of commodities for industrial processing," it says. 

The land area occupied by just four crops – soybean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane – has quadrupled over the past 50 years. Over 140 million hectares of fields and forests have been taken over by these plantations since the 1960s – roughly the same area as all the farmland in the EU. "What we found was shocking," said Henk Hobbelink of Grain. "If small farmers continue to lose the very basis of their existence, the world will lose its capacity to feed itself. We need to urgently put land back in the hands of small farmers and make the struggle for agrarian reform central to the fight for better food systems." 

Big farms have been getting bigger nearly everywhere with rising numbers of small and medium-sized farmers going out of business in the past 20 years, say the authors. Belgium, Finland, France, Germany and Norway in western Europe have each lost about 70% of their farms since the 1970s while Bulgaria, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia each lost over 40% of their farms from 2003 to 2010. Poland alone lost almost 1m farmers between 2005 and 2010. 
"Within the EU as a whole, over 6m farms disappeared between 2003 and 2010, bringing the total number of farms down to almost the same level as in 2000, before the inclusion of 12 new member states with their 8.7m new farmers," says the report , released with international peasant organisation Via Campesina. 

But the concentration of land ownership is seen on every continent. Argentina lost more than one-third of its farms in the two decades from 1988 to 2008. Between 1997 to 2007, Chile lost 15% of its farms with the biggest farms doubling their average size, from 7,000 to 14,000 ha per farm. The United States has lost 30% of its farms in the last 50 years. Here, the number of very small farms has almost tripled, while the number of very large farms has more than quintupled. In addition most farms have been getting smaller over time due to factors such as population pressure and lack of access to land. In India, the average farm size roughly halved from 1971 to 2006. In China, the average area of land cultivated per household fell by 25% between 1985 and 2000. In Africa, average farm size is also falling.

 The authors say land reform is urgently needed if enough food is to be grown to feed everyone. 
"What we see happening in many countries ... is a kind of reverse agrarian reform, whether it's through corporate land grabbing in Africa, the recent agribusiness-driven coup d'état in Paraguay, the massive expansion of soybean plantations in Latin America, the opening up of Burma to foreign investors, or the extension of the European Union and its agricultural model eastward," says Hobbelink. "In all of these processes, control over land is being usurped from small producers and their families, with elites and corporate powers pushing people onto smaller and smaller land holdings, or off the land entirely into camps or cities," he said. 
The takeover of small farmers' land is now accelerating, says the report with nearly 60% of this land use change occurring in the past 20 years. 

The report estimates that 90% of all farms worldwide are "small", holding on average 2.2 hectares. The report also found that small farmers are often twice as productive as large farms and are more environmentally sustainable. "Although big farms generally consume more resources, control the best lands, receive most of the irrigation water and infrastructure ... they have lower technical efficiency and therefore lower overall productivity."
 Much of this has to do with low levels of employment used on big farms in order to maximise return on investment. 
"Our data [suggests] that if all farms in Kenya had the current productivity of the country's small farms, Kenya's agricultural production would double. In Central America and Ukraine, it would almost triple. In Hungary and Tajikistan it would increase by 30%. In Russia, it would be increased by a factor of six," the report says. "Beyond strict productivity measurements, small farms also are much better at producing and utilising biodiversity, maintaining landscapes, contributing to local economies, providing work opportunities and promoting social cohesion, not to mention their real and potential contribution to reversing the climate crisis." 
 The most productive farmers in the world are possibly found in Botswana, the report argues, where 93% of the farmers have small patches of land but together they grow all the country's groundnuts, 99% of its maize, 90% of the millet, 73% of beans and 25% of the sorghum on just 8% of the farmland. 




Fat Profits

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The food, beverage, and chain restaurant industries say they’re on the side of health, but their actions show otherwise. Overweight people make up almost a third of the world's population or two billion, according to a study in the medical journal The Lancet. Worldwide, the prevalence of obese and overweight adults had grown by 28 percent over the three decades, and by nearly 50 percent among children. Since 1980, obesity has soared in all countries, especially among children. A survey of 188 nations compiled by US health researchers  concludes that no country has turned the tide on obesity since 1980. More than half of those persons rated as overweight or obese live in 10 countries, topped by the United States.

Excess body weight had also led to 3.4 million deaths worldwide in 2010, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study.

The food and beverage industry spends approximately $2 billion per year marketing to children. The fast food industry spends more than $5 million every day marketing unhealthy foods to children. Kids watch an average of over ten food-related ads every day (nearly 4,000/year) Nearly all (98 percent) of food advertisements viewed by children are for products that are high in fat, sugar or sodium. Most (79 percent) are low in fiber. A study conducted by Prevention Institute in 2007, found that over half of the most aggressively marketed children's foods advertising fruit on the packaging actually contain no fruit ingredients whatsoever. A 2011 review found that “company pledges to reduce food marketing of unhealthy products have failed to protect children aged under 12 years for all types of marketing practices promoting such foods”.

Pepsi and Coke say they are removing sugar drinks from schools and giving parents better information...So why are they suing health departments trying to give families more information about sodas? The American Beverage Industry (ABA) has begun a series of legal attacks against several health departments over efforts to educate communities about limiting consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Food companies like Kraft and Campbell's say they are removing salt from their products in support of customer's health...Yet they put the salt right back in when profits start to waver with Campbell's adding salt back to its soups to increase sales.

Food companies say they are developing new package labels because they want to help customers make more healthful choices...So why are they using the front of packaging to deceive and confuse customers into believing their junk food products are healthy? 84% of "better for you" products studied didn't meet basic nutritional standards.

Kellogg's says they will only market healthy cereals to kids...But further investigation shows most cereals marketed to children are still junk.

Beverage companies agreed to stop promoting their products in commercials during kid's television shows. Coca-Cola and Pepsi agreed to stop marketing to children under 12 worldwide...Instead, they place Cokes on prime-time shows like American Idol where the average child views four Coke appearances every week. Beverage companies use product placement during kids' favorite shows to get around regulation.

Fast food companies say they want to offer more nutritious options for children...So why are they working behind the scenes to prohibit laws aimed at improving public health? Fast food companies convincing state legislature's to pass laws which would prohibit local governments from passing laws aimed at improving public health (such as happy meal toy bans and trans fat regulations)

The food and beverage industry says they want to be part of the solution by only marketing healthful foods to kids...So why are they conducting bogus studies, and pre-empting government regulation with their own weaker standards to assure that they can still market unhealthful products? Industry conducted a study to show that if the government's proposed voluntary guidelines on food marketing to children were implemented there would be a loss of 74,000 jobs and $28 million in revenue.

A study looked at the front-of-package labeling on fifty-eight "Better-for-You" children's products. The nutritional content was compared against nutritional criteria derived from the US Dietary Guidelines and the National Academies of Science. In spite of the claims on the labels, study findings reveal:

More than half (57%) of the study products qualified as high sugar; 95% of products contained added sugar
More than half (53%) were low in fiber.
More than half (53%) of products did not contain any fruits or vegetables; of the fruits and vegetables found, half came from just 2 ingredients - tomatoes and corn.
24% of prepared foods were high in saturated fats.
More than 1/3 (36%) of prepared foods & meals were high in sodium
21% contained artificial coloring.-additives with potentially harmful health impacts, while offering no benefits whatsoever

 Klim McPherson of Oxford University said "Politicians can no longer hide behind ignorance and confusion," but he is under the naive impression that government are not subject to the corporations interests.

In 1977, in the US, the McGovern Report warned about an impending obesity epidemic and suggested revised USDA guidelines to recommend people eat less foods high in fat and sugar. The egg, sugar and other Big Food industries, seeing a risk to profits, demanded that guidelines not say "eat less" of the offending foods but rather eat more "low-fat" foods.  A capitulation to the food industry.

In 2006, the United Nation's World Health Organization (WHO) released similar food recommendations and then Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tommy G. Thompson actually flew to Geneva to inform WHO that if the guidelines stood, the US would withdraw its WHO financial support. Another food industry victory.

In 2010, the food and beverage industry spent over $40 billion lobbying Congress against  regulation including those that would decrease the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids, and potential soda taxes.

Big Food continues to peddle pathology with impunity, spending millions targeting children with junk food advertisements and even co-opting "respected" scientific bodies. Professor Ian McDonald, chair of the UK's Scientific Advisory Committee on nutrition, who has admitted to receiving substantial amounts in research funding from Coca-Cola and Mars, declared that his board will ignore the new guidance from the WHO on sugar limits.

Our definition of healthful food should not be limited to the nutrients that a food contains but recognize that healthful food comes from a food system where food is produced, processed, transported, and marketed in ways that are environmentally sound, sustainable and just. The current industrial food system, with its heavy reliance on fossil fuels, pesticides and fertilizers, antibiotics, and intensive farming practices fails to meet this standard. It pollutes the air, water, and soil, harms farm animals, and endangers the health of those who work to feed us.

While the destructive food system impacts everyone, it effects more than others. Small and mid-size farmers are struggling to survive in the face of large-scale industrial agriculture-farming families are more likely to live in poverty. In cruel irony, many farm workers do not earn enough wages to put healthful food on their own families'  tables. Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are hit hard too; in these communities unhealthful, highly processed foods are heavily promoted, ubiquitous, and cheap, while healthful, wholesome food is often inaccessible.

Many large food and beverage manufacturers distract the public from the dangers of the food system by deceptively marketing products as "green" or "natural" and by using misleading health claims that allow highly processed foods to masquerade as healthful. In reality, the health-giving properties of food come from whole and minimally processed foods - mostly from plants - that contain a wide variety of naturally occurring nutrients. Wholesome food should be freely available and accessible to everyone.

From here, and here


Fortress Europe

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Since February, the Greek authorities have taken another step towards harsher treatment of irregular immigrants by announcing a policy of indefinite detention until repatriation. It will be implemented even in cases where repatriation is not feasible. The Legal Council of the Greek State considers this extension to be not ‘detention’ but a restrictive measure for the benefit of immigrants who otherwise, if released, could be exposed to situations of danger!

Detention has been denounced as ineffective and inhumane by various international organisations and local NGOs. Doctors without Borders called the measure an “appalling sign of the country’s harsh treatment of migrants”. In a new report published last month regarding living conditions in detention camps in Greece, the organisation warned that “prolonged and systematic detention is leading to devastating consequences on the health and dignity of migrants and asylum seekers in Greece.”

Danai Angeli, a researcher with Greek ELIAMEP think-tank that runs ‘MIDAS’, an immigration control policy cost-effectiveness research project concluded “The practice of systematic detention would have been impossible without the support of European funds. Without these resources, the focus in Greece would possibly shift to alternative solutions that would take much more into account a cost-effectiveness approach and detention would have never acquired the status of a political priority.”

Dr. Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, a migration expert at the Centre for Advanced Migration Studies explained ”Despite public statements condemning the humanitarian catastrophe at the EU’s external borders, the union has in fact never ceased its support for more and harsher border controls in the south-eastern European borderlands. ” Despite the obvious cost in human suffering, the policy of en mass detentions is not only the prominent choice in the EU but appears to coincide with an agenda of militarisation and privatisation of border and irregular immigrant controls.

In December last year, the European Commission announced the launching of EUROSUR, a major project that will allow constant surveillance of the Mediterranean. Although it has been introduced by the EC as ‘a new tool to save immigrants’ lives’, it has been criticised by organisations and MEPs,  as an instrument “to serve the battle against illegal immigration”.

“EUROSUR is a prime example of what we can call regulatory capture, that is, processes of lobbyism and multi-level governance, where actors like private security and military companies, and of course the European Commission itself, are able to transform the border control policies of individual nation-states without having to engage directly with their national parliaments,” Pedersen said. In April this year, the Greek Ministry of Maritime Affairs quietly initiated a tender to rent surveillance services for its naval borders at the Aegean sea with 75 percent of the cost covered from European funds. Privatisation of security services in three of the biggest detention centres in the country has also been planned, attracting major players from the private sector like G4S, the world’s largest private security firm, which has come under criticism for the treatment of detainees. The costs, estimated to about 14 million euro annually, will also be covered mostly from European funds.

Meanwhile at the western end of the Mediterranean desperate African migrants have stormed the barbed-wire border fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla with many managing to get across. The Moroccan government said 1,500 immigrants rushed through the fence at five different points. At least 500 people made it across the border, shouting with joy.

 In addition to number of recent fatalities, On Wednesday authorities in Tangiers said the bodies of two migrants were pulled from the water and eight migrants rescued after their boat sank the previous night. A woman remained missing.

 Many thousands of Africans try to make the journey to Europe each year as illegal migrants - risking people smugglers, deserts, sea crossings and the possibility of being sent home, all for the dream of a better life. Northern Kingdom of Morocco is one of the main departure points to cross into Ceuta and Melilla or cross the straits to Spain. Once detained they can be expelled, repatriated or sent to mainland Spain.

The sad thing is, life in Europe is a very different reality to the one they imagine. It's no longer the land of milk and honey. It's not the paradise they think it is. Welfare cuts are taking place. There aren't as many jobs for them to take up.  And with the success of the anti-immigration parties throughout Europe, the situation can only get worse for them.

The say "nothing, not even the strongest army, can stop a hungry crowd". The answer lies in changing the living conditions of  these people and that will need a different economic and social system.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Homeless Workers Movement Protests In Sao Paulo

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Around 20,000 people marched today in Sao Paulo in an action organized by the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) called “Cup Without People, I’m In the Streets Again.” Many different groups joined them, and made it clear that  people are upset at the billions of dollars given to FIFA, construction companies, and the real estate market, while the people of Brazil are left with no homes or hospitals.


“Imagine how many houses you could build with the money for that bridge?” shouted William Boulos of MTST, from the top of a car, which occupies the sound cable-stayed bridge.
Demonstrators showed up in these large numbers despite heavy rainfall, and also despite potential conflicts with fans of a local football team, the Corinthians. Apparently, the organizers spoke to each other and found common ground, avoiding any possible issues. In fact, the entire event had no issues, largely because the police did not provoke the crowds.
 
 
The specific demands of  MTST, linked to housing and urban reform, are as follows: 
1. Public control of the readjustment of urban rents, establishing the inflationary index as the ceiling of readjustments. This measure is essential to combat real estate speculation which affects the poorest workers.
2. For a federal policy to prevent forced evictions, with the formation of a Monitoring Committee, linked to the Special Secretariat of Human Rights.
3. Changes in the program “My House My Life,” strengthening the sport entities and with rules that encourage better location and better quality operations.
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2014 is the year they celebrate 50th year of the military coup of 1964. With struggle we reattained democracy but a lot of dictatorial remains are alive in our country.
The police violence,  especially against black people and the poor, is one of the darkest sign of that time. Now the attack on the right to protest, with new laws and the police, remind us of the sad history of our dictatorship.
The brazilian people have rights to manifest for their rights. Women and men, of all ages, that work so much can’t be afraid of go out to the streets during the cup.
They cannot stop to scream, for “Gol” or house, health and good education in the same country they were born.
Mainly when it’s about a Cup that threw people aside. Evictions, Real estate speculation, repression and abusive public spending – those were the legacy of the Cup for the people.
We will be in streets demanding the rights denied to us always. And we expect that, because of that, the “Cup of cups” doesn’t turn into “cup of troops.
Urban Resistance – National Front of Movements
The following movements and organizations supported the call for the act: MPL, Comitê Popular da Copa, Se não Tiver Direitos Não vai ter Copa, Frente Nacional de Lutas Campo e Cidade, Coletivo Juntos, Fórum Popular de Saúde, Coletivo Construção, Coletivo Domínio Público, Rede Emancipa, Conafer, Nós da sul.
 
 
 

Wall Street Banks Take Charge Of The World's Water

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A disturbing trend in the water sector is accelerating worldwide. The new “water barons” — the Wall Street banks and elitist multibillionaires — are buying up water all over the world at unprecedented pace.

Familiar mega-banks and investing powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, UBS, Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, Macquarie Bank, Barclays Bank, the Blackstone Group, Allianz, and HSBC Bank, among others, are consolidating their control over water. Wealthy tycoons such as T. Boone Pickens, former President George H.W. Bush and his family, Hong Kong’s Li Ka-shing, Philippines’ Manuel V. Pangilinan and other Filipino billionaires, and others are also buying thousands of acres of land with aquifers, lakes, water rights, water utilities, and shares in water engineering and technology companies all over the world.

The second disturbing trend is that while the new water barons are buying up water all over the world, governments are moving fast to limit citizens’ ability to become water self-sufficient (as evidenced by the well-publicized Gary Harrington’s case in Oregon, in which the state criminalized the collection of rainwater in three ponds located on his private land, by convicting him on nine counts and sentencing him for 30 days in jail). Let’s put this criminalization in perspective:
Billionaire T. Boone Pickens owned more water rights than any other individuals in America, with rights over enough of the Ogallala Aquifer to drain approximately 200,000 acre-feet (or 65 billion gallons of water) a year. But ordinary citizen Gary Harrington cannot collect rainwater runoff on 170 acres of his private land.

It’s a strange New World Order in which multibillionaires and elitist banks can own aquifers and lakes, but ordinary citizens cannot even collect rainwater and snow runoff in their own backyards and private lands.
“Water is the oil of the 21st century.” Andrew Liveris, CEO of DOW Chemical Company (quoted in The Economist magazine, August 21, 2008)
Jo-Shing Yang

Read the the whole, detailed article here



End Young Adult Unemployment: Think Socialism

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The elections in Europe may go unnoticed by the U.S. media but the underlying current speaks very loudly. Europeans are very angry. We see this through gains being taken on by far more extreme groups. There are many reasons for this voting trend but one glaring one is young adult unemployment and underemployment. In the European Union, 12 countries now face an unemployment rate of 20 percent or higher for those 25 and younger. Little relief has come to this group. Many are with a college education but no employment market to practice what they have learned. The recipe of course is one where discontent grows and we saw this with the latest voting results. You also see a similar trend in the U.S. where a historically high number of young adults are living at home late into adulthood. This is partly due to the low wage employment market they are entering but also, the incredibly high levels of student debt many students exit college with. While global stock markets seem to have recovered, young adult unemployment is mired in problems.


Young and looking for work

People have a hard time understanding that work is more than a paycheck. For many people it gives them a sense of contributing to society and also a feeling of providing for their family. During the Great Depression, you had some that worked for reduced wages or promises of payment at a later date simply to avoid the crushing blow of being without work. Today, we face similar actions being taken by young adults working for reduced wages and benefits as they enter the low wage workforce. Many take on near illegal non-paid internships just to gain experience to build up their resumes.
One of the big issues at hand is the race to the bottom when it comes to wages. This is one of the many reasons why Europe is mired in problems especially with young adult unemployment.
 Let us take a look at the unemployment rates across Europe:

europe young unemployment
Source: EuroStat


















12 countries in Europe have an unemployment rate of 20 percent or higher for those 25 years of age and younger. Some of the notable standouts:
-Spain:                  53.6%
-Greece:              58.3% (last reading)
-Italy:                    42.3%
-Portugal:            35%
-France:              23.6%
This is extremely problematic. Many countries have layer upon layer of bureaucracy and cronyism and this has created a massive problem on a global scale for these countries. Unfortunately these countries cannot compete with the low wage employment trend that is overtaking the globe.

While the stock market has been on a one way ticket up, young adult unemployment has followed a similar trajectory, for the worse:
youth unemployment 2013

















Having your youth facing a prospect of a gloomy future when it comes to work results in extreme voting as you recently saw.

Young and not working in the U.S.

The U.S. is not immune to this. We have a shift with young adults and their working habits:
young americans













This is an interesting trend. In the 1990s we had 65 percent of those 16 to 24 either working or actively looking for work. Today it is down to 55 percent, a multi-generation low. Now we can attribute this to people going to college but many are simply going to college to avoid looking for work. More troubling is the fact that many are being lured into back breaking levels of debt that are causing irreparable damage even before they have a diploma in hand.

Nearly half of young adults in the U.S. are either underemployed or unemployed. Underemployed signifies that people are working in a job that does not require a college degree. Will this high unemployment rate in young adults result in more dramatic voting as it did in 2008? Many feel disenfranchised because it appears that more of the same had resulted with that vote. The wealth disparity grows as the standard of living slowly gets chipped away for the middle class. Student debt since then has ballooned as well outpacing any reasonable rate of inflation.
Having the young in your society unemployed or underemployed at these levels rarely results in anything positive.

from here

Prospects for the majority are poor and getting worse. This is how capitalism works - profits for a small minority and servitude for the vast majority. It doesn't have to be like this, however. When enough of us recognise the good sense behind 'from each according to ability to each according to need' and get on with the job of building socialism then there will be enough 'work' for everyone to be able to make their contribution and consequently be in a position to satisfy their needs without being made to feel they are a burden on society.
JS

 

 

The Family Business

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A very interesting article on the Dissident Voice website by Andrew Gavin Marshall

“Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking.” Don Corleone in The Godfather

 A 2012 poll of 1,000 wealthy Americans by the Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights Survey revealed that 58% of respondents felt more financially secure in 2012 than they did the previous year. In 2013, U.S. Trust, the private banking arm of Bank of America, released a survey of 711 individuals with more than $3 million in investable assets, of whom 88% reported that they were more financially secure today than they were before the financial crisis in 2007. Further, the main goal for the super-rich in 2013 was reported to be “asset appreciation” as opposed to “extreme caution”, as the survey reported for 2012. The number of wealthy people in the world with more than $1 million in investable assets had increased by 9.2% over 2012, reaching a new record of 12 million individuals, and the assets by the rich increased by roughly 10%, reaching a combined total of roughly $46.2 trillion. With this growth in extreme wealth, the wealth management business is itself becoming a major growth industry. The world’s big banks want to get more of this investable wealth. For example, Goldman Sachs has boosted its private wealth management services.

The managing director and chief investment officer of Goldman Sachs’ private wealth management arm, Mossavar-Rahmani, told Barron’s in 2012: “This is the time to be a long-term investor… There are very few market participants in today’s environment who can truly be long-term investors. Who can really afford to be a long-term investor? The ultra-high-end client is the only one we could think of, because they generally have more money than their spending needs.” In addition, he noted, “their assets are multigenerational,” and, what’s more, “they are not accountable to anyone.”

In 2010, Forbes noted that the richest of the richest 400 Americans were members of prominent corporate and financial dynasties, with six of the top ten wealthiest Americans being heirs to prominent fortunes, as opposed to being ‘self-made’ billionaires. What’s more, since the financial crisis began in 2007 and 2008, the fortunes of these dynasties had only increased in value.Roughly a third of the Fortune 500 companies (that is, many of the world’s largest multinational corporations) are, in fact, “family businesses,” frequently run by family members, and often outperforming the “professionally managed” firms “by a surprisingly large margin,” noted the New York Times. In the United States – the beacon of the ‘self-made’ millionaire – a huge percentage of the most successful companies are owned by family dynasties, and most of the richest individuals are heirs to these family dynasties. The picture that begins to emerge better reflects that of an aristocracy, rather than a democracy. It undermines the notion that America is a meritocracy (where people ‘rise through the ranks’ of society based upon merit instead of money, access or family lineage).

Dynastic trusts allow super-rich families “to provide their heirs with money and property largely free from taxes and immune to the claims of creditors,” not only providing for children, but “for generations in perpetuity – truly creating an American aristocracy.” In laws that predate the formation of the United States as an independent nation, such family trusts were only able to limit the term of the existing trust to roughly 90 years, after which the property and wealth which was consolidated into the trust would be owned directly by the family members. However, in changes that were implemented through Congress in the mid-1980s and in state legislatures across the U.S. in the 1990s, the rules were amended – with the pressure of the banking lobby – to allow family trusts to exist “forever,” a quiet coup for the existing and emerging aristocratic American class. The modern dynasty trust was officially sanctioned as a legal entity – a type of private family company – that would be responsible for handling the collective wealth – in money, property, land, art, equities (stocks), bonds (debt), etc. – of the entire family, for generation after generation. The focus is on long-term planning to maintain, protect and increase the wealth of the dynasty, and to hold it ‘in trust’ against the inevitable in-fighting that accompanies dynastic succession and generational differences. This would prevent – in theory – one generation or patriarch from mishandling and squandering the entire family fortune.

The legal structure of a family trust differs greatly from public corporations in that their focus is not on maximizing short-term quarterly profits for shareholders, but in maintaining multi-generational wealth and prestige. Family trusts are increasingly used to manage the wealth of the world’s super-rich dynasties, alongside private banking institutions and other wealth management and consulting firms. There is an entire industry dedicated to the management of money, wealth and investments for the super-rich, and it is focused largely – and increasingly – on family dynasties.

One of the world’s most famous family trusts – the “family office” – is that of Rockefeller & Co., now known as Rockefeller Financial. It was founded in 1882 by the oil baron industrialist John D. Rockefeller as the ‘family office’ to manage the Rockefeller family’s investments and wealth. Roughly a century after it was founded, in the 1980s, Rockefeller & Co. began selling its ‘expertise’ to other rich families, and by the year 2008, the trust had roughly $28 billion under management for multiple clients. The typical clients for Rockefeller & Co. are families with more than $30 million in investments, and the group charges new clients a minimum annual fee of $100,000. When the CEO of Rockefeller & Co., James S. McDonald, shot himself, the family looked for and found a successor in the former Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs for the Bush administration, Rueben Jeffery III, a former partner at Goldman Sachs. Jeffery was responsible for handling the family’s wealth throughout the global financial crisis, and by 2012, the assets under management by Rockefeller Financial had grown to $35 billion.  In 2012 Rueben Jeffery III managed the sale of the 37% stake in the Rockefeller enterprise to RIT Capital Partners, the investment arm of the London Rothschild family, one of the world’s most famous financial dynasties.

The Rothschild family, with various banks and investment entities spread out across multiple European nations and family branches, was making a concerted effort to begin the process of “merging its French and British assets into a single entity,” aiming to secure “long-term control” over the family’s “international banking empire,” reported the Financial Times. The main goal of the merger was “to cement once and for all the family’s grip on the business,” giving the family a 57 percent share in the voting rights, thus protecting the merged entity from hostile takeovers. Thus, as the Rothschild banking dynasty was seeking to consolidate its own family interests across Europe, they were simultaneously looking to expand into the U.S. through the Rockefellers.

A top official at HSBC Private Bank was quoted as saying: “Very wealthy families are becoming more and more globalized. It’s not just the fact that they are acquiring assets – like real estate – in several jurisdictions, but family members are scattered around the globe and need to be able to transact in those countries.” In effect, we are witnessing the era of the globalization of family dynasties. Carol Pepper, a former financial adviser and portfolio manager at Rockefeller & Co. who established her own consulting firm – Pepper International – in 2001, specializing in advising families with more than $100 million in net worth In a 2013 interview explained that with the globalization of higher education – where the super-rich from around the world send their children to the same prominent academic institutions – as well as with the emergence of associations designed to bring wealthy families together, “the 19th century is coming back,” referring to the era of Robber Baron industrialists and co-operation between the major industrial and financial fortunes of the era. Pepper explained she was witnessing “a lot more exchange of ideas among wealthy families from different countries than there ever was before,” with such families increasingly investing in and with each other, noting that “inter-family transactions” had increased by 60% in the previous two years. The globalization of family dynasties and the ‘return’ to the 19th century is an institutional phenomenon, facilitated by elite universities, business and family associations, international organizations, conferences and other organizations. Thus, regardless of geographic location, the world’s wealthiest families tend to send their children to one of a list of relatively few elite universities, such as Wharton, Harvard or the London School of Economics. At these and similar schools, noted Carol Pepper, the future heirs of family fortunes attain “both the know-how and the contacts for forging overseas collaborations between family businesses.”

Instead of relying on banks as intermediaries between markets, rich families with more than $47 million to invest are pooling their wealth into the multi-family offices (MFOs). The Financial Times explained that such wealthy families were “crying out for something financial institutions have singularly failed to provide: a one-stop shop to manage both their business and personal interests.” Further, as banks have been coming under increased scrutiny since the financial crisis, “there is still a clandestine nature to the family-office world that will continue to attract clients.” Explaining this, the Financial Times appropriately quoted advice by the character Don Corleone from The Godfather, when he told his son: “Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking.” The Wall Street Journal noted, family offices “are private firms that manage just about everything for the wealthiest families: tax planning, investment management, estate planning, philanthropy, art and wine collections – even the family vacation compound.” As such, regardless of where many family fortunes are made, the family office has come to represent the central institution of modern dynasties. And the growth of multi-family offices has been astounding, with the number increasing by 33% between 2008 and 2013, with more than 4,000 in the United States alone, the country with the highest number of wealthy families and individuals, including 5,000 households that have more than $100 million in assets.

In a world of immense inequality, with the super-rich controlling more wealth than the rest of humanity combinedthe world’s super-rich families compete and cooperate for control not simply over nations, but entire regions and the world as a whole. As dynasties seek perpetuation, most people on this planet are concerned with survival.

Protecting Pesticide Profits

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The health commission of the European Union (DG SANCO), is responsible for protecting public health. Yet it is seeking a legal technicality that effectively allowed pesticides which would have been banned to be exempt from the ban.

 Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are those that alter hormonal regulation at very low doses to cause effects on behavior, reproduction, and gender, as well as cancer and birth defects.  Swedish environment minister Lena Ek commented:
“In some places in Sweden we see double sexed fish. We have scientific reports on how this affects fertility of young boys and girls, and other serious effects.”

In 2009, under the European Union’s then-new chemical REACH legislation, a continent-wide ban on endocrine disrupting pesticides was agreed.  EDCs are the subject of a large body of independent academic research showing that certain synthetic chemicals are already causing developmental disabilities and cancer among humans and wildlife through non-traditional (i.e. hormonal) toxicological routes. This evidence is why the ban was instigated. Because of the strength of the evidence and the low doses involved, any rigorous and effective rules to protect the public are likely to result in widespread bans and restrictions on commonly used industrial, agricultural, and household chemicals. This is one reason why EU commissioners are under strong industry pressure.

Instead of providing the needed safety guidance, DG SANCO appears to be drafting a procedural “escape route” around the endocrine disrupting ban. This legal maneuvering is being done behind closed doors and with the collaboration of some EU member states and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA, an independent EU agency created to assess food risks for the Commission). Only Sweden is opposing this escape route, which they consider to be an abandonment of the original democratic mandate. Sweden is now going to sue the EU due to mounting evidence that harmful impacts of endocrine disruption are already being felt. While missing their mandated December deadline for providing safety rules, DG SANCO and EFSA chose to perform an economic impact assessment of potential regulations instead. Now this economic impact assessment is itself 9 months late. Sweden and others have interpreted these delays as stalling a collectively agreed action.

Pesticides Action Network of Europe (PAN Europe) explains “By unilaterally changing the rules, DG SANCO is sidelining the EU Parliament and choosing economic interests over their own mission to protect people and the environment.”

Science Director of The Bioscience Resource Project, Allison Wilson, concluded:
“The public will be astounded and appalled to find that the institutions tasked with protecting them are secretly working against them.”

Sadly, SOYMB and the World Socialist Movement would not be astounded or appalled for we understand that capitalism and its representatives act in the interests of industry profits. This example is unfortunately just one case among many where peoples' health and safety takes second place to a corporate income returns.  

From the Truth Out website

Capital Gains

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The Bank of England’s Governor Mark Carney said “Returns in a globalised world are amplifying the rewards of the superstar and, though few of them would be inclined to admit it, the lucky. Now is the time to be famous or fortunate,”

The head of an average large public company earned a record $10.5m (£6.2m) in 2013, up nearly  9 per cent on 2012 and the fourth annual year of rises since the Great Recession. Chief executives now earn about 257 times the average salary – up from 181 times in 2009, the figures showed.

International Monetary Fund’s managing director Christine Lagarde  “The industry still prizes short-term profit over long-term prudence, today’s bonus over tomorrow’s relationship.” She argued that rising income inequality was casting a “dark shadow” across the global economy.