Friday, July 31, 2015

We are with our fellow workers

There are attempts by politicians and the media to dehumanise some of the world’s most vulnerable and desperate people, men, women and children who risk their lives to flee poverty, oppression and war in search a better life.

Berakat from Eritrea, where he was discriminated for being Christian but now he is being persecuted for wanting to reach England. “Why are you closing the door?” he asked. “We’re not animals, barbarians.”

Across in Calais Leigh Daynes, executive director of Médicins du Monde explains
“We’re treating a growing number of people who have been injured, many of them seriously, after falling from trucks and from police brutality. Almost all have fled their home countries because of armed conflict, political, religious or racial persecution. Many have endured extremely long, difficult and dangerous journeys.”

Politicians and the media talk of an “immigrant invasion” and the part of feral press has called for British troops to be used in France to guard the Euro-Tunnel. They declare 2,000 migrants had attempted to enter Britain in one night, without making it clear they meant many repeated attempts by the same group of a few hundred migrants. But the original claim was enough to leave the clear impression that Britain was now under nightly siege and the government was powerless to do anything about it.

United Nations’ Peter Sutherland said: “Anybody who thinks that by erecting borders and fences in some way a particular state can be protected from alleged ‘floods’ – which are anything but floods of migrants – is living in cloud cuckoo land.”

In Germany for the first half of this year, 200 attacks on asylum-seekers’ homes have been recorded. The real figure, say analysts, is probably far higher. Many refugees fail to report attacks, largely because they do not want to bring further attention to themselves. The Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban, actively incites peoples fears to compete for popularity with the neo-fascists. “What we have at stake today is Europe, the European way of life, the survival or disappearance of European values and nations, or their transformation beyond recognition … We would like Europe to be preserved for the Europeans. But there is something we would not just like but we want because it only depends on us: we want to preserve a Hungarian Hungary.” He organises xenophobic referendum campaigns and builds walls on his borders – ironically, where the Iron Curtain was lifted.

This not need to be.  German local communities come together gathering food and clothing for refugees , retired teachers offering language lessons for free, and people opening their homes for foreigners to live with them. In Fürstenfeldbruck, a town of 35,000 in Bavaria , that has taken in 1,600 refugees over the past few months, 600 locals have signed up to volunteer their time for everything from teaching refugees German to organising computers and internet access. “We’re working flat out,” said a woman who helps asylum-seekers fill out their application forms. “And we have been for months.”

Professor John Salt of UCL’s Migration Research Unit placessome reason within the immigration issue.

Is the UK full up? "For example, you could say that if we hadn’t built all the golf courses we have in Surrey, then we’d have a lot more space to build housing and therefore be in a better position to manage an increased population….Logic dictates that you cannot keep increasing your population forever. However, when I first began studying this subject in the 1960s, the assumption was that the population would increase to as much as 80 million by the end of the century. All sorts of regional strategies were developed, including plans to create substantial extra capacity in towns like Milton Keynes, Swindon and Northampton. But then the pill was invented and that simply didn’t happen."

Are immigrants taking our jobs? “When something like a quarter of a million Poles entered the UK. However, recorded unemployment rates went down between 2003 and 2005, and recorded vacancy rates actually went up slightly… the data would suggest that they weren’t taking the jobs of Brits…The econometric evidence suggests immigration doesn’t generally impact on the pay or employment rates of existing citizens. People in lower paid jobs are more likely to be affected, but even then the effect, statistically speaking, is relatively small.”

Are most immigrants illegal? There are only two countries that really have any idea how many immigrants have entered illegally, and they are Australia and North Korea. This is because Australia counts everyone in and out, while North Korea has border controls that most people would consider unacceptable. Many of the people who are in the country illegally are people who have entered legally, but stayed beyond the period they had permission for. But the number of people who actually get into Britain illegally must be pretty small, due to the stringent checks that exist at our main points of entry.

Do immigrants claim a disproportionately high amount in welfare and benefits payments? “The studies that have been done do show that immigrants are less likely to claim benefits that native Britons. People who have asylum claims, for example, are not allowed to be employed while their application is being processed, so it is inevitable that they will need more support through welfare payments. But again, that is a relatively small group. On the whole, the story is that migrants are less likely to access benefits payments.”

Do immigrants put too much strain on education and health services?” Services may be under pressure, but you simply cannot generalise….The number of immigrants who work in health and care sectors…have suggested as many as a one in four new nurses are recruited from abroad.”

As Leigh Daynes again pointed out: “These are ordinary people – mothers, fathers, daughters and sons – living in the most horrendous conditions that no one should have to endure. Many are highly educated, including doctors, dentists and engineers, fleeing extreme violence and poverty and simply wanting better lives for themselves, so much so they are prepared to risk their lives for it.”

Wherever capitalism draws invisible lines across the planet and say that any human on one side of the line can have dreams, but any human on the other side of the line, can only live in a nightmare, people will think about crossing that imaginary line.

For those of us in the World Socialist Movement, they are our fellow-workers, fully deserving our sympathy, support, and solidarity. 

“Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement while they entertain such aristocratic notions of their own assumed superiority.” - Eugene Debs 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hunger and Farming

The global population is predicted to be 9.7 billion people by 2050 despite fall in fertility. 

The rush to increase food production has caused catastrophic environmental degradation – we need to make agriculture climate-resilient and more efficient. The World Bank’s view that we need to grow 50% more food by 2050 to feed 9 billion people, while finding ways to reduce carbon emissions from agriculture at the same time, ignores one very simple fact – we already grow enough food for 10 billion people. But a combination of storage losses after harvest, overconsumption and waste mean that some 800 million people in developing countries are malnourished.

Today the environmental toll from this boom is all too evident. 38% of the planet’s cropland is degraded, 11% of the irrigated area is salt contaminated, 90% of the biodiversity of the 20 main staple crops has been lost, nitrogen fertiliser produces 6% of greenhouse gases and its runoff creates 400 marine “dead zones” (areas where oxygen concentration is so low that animal life suffocates), and more than 350,000 people die every year from pesticide toxicity.

Research on planetary boundaries estimates that nitrogen fertiliser use needs to decline by 75% to avoid large-scale environmental impact of this kind. The focus on productivity over efficiency has meant that the amount of energy needed to grow the same quantity of food has increased by between one-quarter and one-third over the last 25 years. Even without climate change, conventional chemical agriculture is driving humanity towards a food-security cliff.

A Christian Aid briefing paper argues that if we are to reverse this situation in the face of climate change, agriculture needs a transformative change in the way it addresses climate resilience. Small-scale farmers and pastoralists, who manage 60% of agricultural land and produce 50% of the planet’s food, should be central to this agenda. Research to solve their problems should be guided by their priorities, and take place largely on their farms. The kind of support farmers want often includes advice on soil management and testing, reliable climate forecasts, and development of their own seed and livestock breeding processes. The advice they get usually revolves around unaffordable chemical fertilisers and pesticides, while their ability to exchange and sell locally adapted crop seeds is threatened by corporate-inspired legislation promoting crop varieties developed in distant biotech labs. Small-scale women farmers manage up to 90% of staple food production but only 15% of agricultural advisers are women, and only 5% of advice reaches women.

For farmers to invest in resilience, they need secure land tenure, especially when they participate in communal land-tenure systems. Land deals with largely foreign buyers have increased to 55 million hectares. This not only dispossesses farmers but also undermines the confidence that others need to invest in measures to control land erosion, in trees and in other adaptations that pay off over several years.

The "rush to production" was simply about profit - primitive accumulation of capital - it has absolutely nothing to do with feeding dispossessed people who can't pay for it. The rape of land and resources, the driving off the land of subsistence farmers, the domination and control of seeds (deliberated engineered to produce plants that produce infertile seeds), the creation of dependency on insecticides and fertilisers ... and finally the ulitmate insult to hungry people - the deliberate hoarding and destruction of food to keep market prices from falling so that profits are maintained. Nothing has changed since the "Great Irish Famine": when 1 milllion starved while those who owned farms and livestock carried on exporting to markets that could pay for the produce. The reason people in developing countries are malnourished is that they are poor, and don't have enough money to feed themselves properly.

Coal - Keep it in the Hole (2)

Following on from an earlier postthe World Bank said coal was no cure for global poverty on Wednesday, rejecting a main industry argument for building new fossil fuel projects in developing countries. Coal, oil and gas companies have pushed back against efforts to fight climate change by arguing fossil fuels are a cure to “energy poverty”, which is holding back developing countries, arguing instead that the low global prices for coal and oil are a benefit for poor countries. Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest privately held coal company, went so far as to claim that coal would have prevented the spread of the Ebola virus.

In a rebuff to coal, oil and gas companies, Rachel Kyte, the World Bank climate change envoy, said continued use of coal was exacting a heavy cost on some of the world’s poorest countries, in local health impacts as well as climate change, which is imposing even graver consequences on the developing world. 

“In general globally we need to wean ourselves off coal,” Kyte explained . “There is a huge social cost to coal and a huge social cost to fossil fuels … if you want to be able to breathe clean air.” Kyte said that when it came to lifting countries out of poverty, coal was part of the problem – and not part of a broader solution. “Do I think coal is the solution to poverty? There are more than 1 billion people today who have no access to energy,” Kyte said. Hooking them up to a coal-fired grid would not on its own wreck the planet, she went on. But then Kyte added: “If they all had access to coal-fired power tomorrow their respiratory illness rates would go up, etc, etc … We need to extend access to energy to the poor and we need to do it the cleanest way possible because the social costs of coal are uncounted and damaging, just as the global emissions count is damaging as well.”

The fossil fuel industry has launched a global public relations offensive around the notion of “energy poverty”, trying to rebrand the dirtiest of fossil fuels as a poverty cure. Spokesmen for Shell have called efforts to cut use of fossil fuels in developing countries “energy colonialism”.

Fact of the Day

Globally, London is the third most expensive city to live in. London is 36 per cent pricer than Manchester, 38 per cent more than Glasgow, and 40 per cent more than Belfast. London rents were now more than double the national average, and in May is was announced by forecasting group Oxford Economics that it was likely the average home in London would cost £1 million by 2030. A study conducted by Liverpool Economics on behalf of four London borough councils found that the Government's plans to sell off more council homes through an extension of the Right to Buy scheme would drive rent prices up even further. London has the second most expensive public transport in the world, the third most expensive utility costs, and the fifth most expensive theatre tickets.

After London, the most expensive UK city is Aberdeen - which has notoriously high rents and prices due to it being a centre for Britain's oil industry in the North Sea.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Coal - Keep it in the hole

Renewable energy is an easier, quicker and cheaper method than burning coal to help lift people out of poverty through access to power, Oxfam Australia says, intent upon challenging the mining industry's "spin" about coal and poverty. Coal, Oxfam says: "has found a loyal champion in the Australian government." 

Yet coal is ill-suited as a power source for most people living without electricity.

More than one billion people around the world don't have power and 84 per cent of those live in rural areas, the Powering Up Against Poverty report says. It says the cost of extending electricity grids to those rural areas offsets any economic incentive of coal power, making renewable energy a cheaper option. It's also quicker to install local solar panels than build coal plants. In addition to the negative consequences of extreme weather events because of global warming, it says, coal mines kill hundreds of thousands of people as a result of air pollution, and displace poor communities.

Oxfam Australia's climate change policy advisor and report author Dr Simon Bradshaw said contrary to the rhetoric of the coal industry, coal was not suited to meeting the needs of most people in the developing world living without electricity. 

"Four out of five people without electricity live in rural areas that are often not connected to a centralised energy grid, so local, renewable energy solutions offer a much more affordable, practical and healthy solution than coal," he said. "The Australian coal industry, faced with the rapid decline in the value of its assets and an accelerating global transition to renewable energy, has been falsely promoting coal as the main solution for increasing energy access and reducing poverty around the world. But as well as failing to improve energy access for the world's poorest people, burning coal contributes to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year due to air pollution and is the single biggest contributor to climate change, pushing people around the world deeper into poverty."

Dr Bradshaw said Oxfam was seeing the world's poorest people made even more vulnerable through the increasing risk of droughts, floods, hunger and disease due to climate change.  "The argument that 'coal is good for humanity' really doesn't stack up when you consider the facts; such as the major shifts in energy and climate policy in China, India and other major economies; the cost of renewable energy is falling fast; new technologies such as advanced batteries are overcoming any shortfalls renewable energy has had in the past; investors are shifting their focus from coal towards renewables, and the evidence of harm that coal does to communities," he said. "The future can be brighter for both Australia and poorer communities around the world; but only if we wake up to the changing global realities, stand up to vested interests and help to build the renewable energy economies of the future."

Puerto Rico Austerity

In Puerto Rico over 13 percent of people are unemployed, 45 percent of people live below the poverty line.

Hedge fund managers and bondholders are pressing the government of Puerto Rico to drive through a series of punishing austerity measures, including dramatic cuts to public education and workers' rights protections. A group representing $5.2 billion of debt held by 38 investment managers paid three former economists for the International Monetary Fund, who now are employed by the firm Centennial Group International, to devise policy recommendations in response to Governor Alejandro García Padilla's claim last month that Puerto Rico's $72 billion debt is "not payable."

The report urges slashing public programs—particularly education—and privatizing assets and industries including proposals to: "Reduce number of teachers to fit the size of the student population; Reduce subsidy to University of Puerto Rico; Cut excess Medicaid benefits."

Puerto Rico's government has already closed 100 schools in 2015 alone. Puerto Rico's teachers' unions have vigorously opposed attempts to drive through cuts, and in May, thousands of educators and students took to the streets and staged strikes to protest a proposed $166 million cut to the University of Puerto Rico's budget.

The study also recommends "structural reforms" to regulations and worker protections, including calls to: "Amend local labor laws regarding overtime, vacation time, mandatory bonuses, and others;" and changes that would "make welfare benefits consistent with local labor market conditions."

The report calls for taxpayers' money to be put towards "public private partnerships" to construct or operate buildings and ports.

Activist Vijay Prashad recently argued that the government embraces the IMF agenda of privatization and cutbacks: "Garcia Padilla continues to use the word 'sacrifice' in his speeches. The question asked by Puerto Ricans is why such a word is only used against ordinary people and never against the bankers."

From here 

More tips on TTIP

Offering a stark warning of how corporate-friendly trade pacts like the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) put both democracy and the environment at risk, a Canadian company is seeking damages from Romania after being blocked from creating an open-pit gold mine over citizen concerns. Gabriel Resources Ltd. announced that it had filed a request for arbitration with the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes to seek as much as $4 billion of damages.

The corporation's Rosia Montana open-pit gold mine project stalled after a series of protests in cities across Romania in 2013 demanded Gabriel's plan be dropped. Romanian residents and environmental activists have opposed the mine since it was proposed in the 1990s, charging that it would blast off mountaintops, destroy a potential UNESCO World Heritage site, and displace residents from the town of Rosia Montana and nearby villages. In particular, local communities opposed the use of cyanide as part of the extraction process. Such opposition led to widespread street protests in 2013, which in turn pressured the Romanian Parliament to reject a bill introduced by the government that would have paved the way for the mine. Now, Gabriel Resources, which holds an 80 percent stake in the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation, says the country has violated international treaties.

With the vast expansion of the use of Investor-State Dispute Settlement brought about by the TTIP Romanians and other Europeans can only expect more of such cases. TTIP and a few other trade agreements being negotiated at the moment would expand the coverage of investor-state arbitration from around 20% to around 80% of investment flows to and from the U.S. and the EU. The recent case opened by Gabriel Resources against Romania serves as an omen of what Europe's future may look like if citizen power is not restored. Corporations whose operations are resource-extracting (mining, fracking, gas, oil, etc.) look at geological reports and only see dollar$. They lay waste to pristine areas, villages, towns and pollute soil, air, and water that may never be saved, restored or returned. History has shown what wanton ravaging of natural resources does to all flora and fauna; our planet is consumed by the drive to accumulate profits.

Haiti - The "Humanitarian" Occupation

The movie image of Haiti has been centred on “voodoo” and “zombies” but yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the U.S. Occupation of Haiti. On July 28, 1915, U.S. Marines landed on the shores of Haiti, occupying the country for 19 years. Many argue that the U.S. has never stopped occupying Haiti. Some use the word “humanitarian occupation” to describe the current situation, denouncing the loss of sovereignty, as U.N. troops have been patrolling the country for over 11 years. Foreign troops are on the ground, controlling the country; the military regimes operated with complete immunity and impunity. Haitian NGO worker Yvette Desrosiers declared: “the Americans hide their face, they send Brazilians, Argentines… he’s hidden but he’s the one in command!”

During the 1915 U.S. Marines Occupation, a young, ambitious secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt bragged to have personally written the Haitian constitution, easily scuttled through the puppet regime installed by the Marines. This constitution, formally adopted in 1918, opened up land for foreign ownership, and formalized the linguistic exclusion and hegemony of the ruling classes by naming French as only official language. This constitution paved the way for U.S. agribusiness interests such as United Fruit (Chiquita) to buy up tracts of land, and capitalist speculators such as James P. McDonald to build a railroad, asking to own the tract for 13 miles on either side, almost all of Haiti’s arable land. Needless to say this was a boon for foreign investors, and the local merchants who monopolized foreign trade, while expropriating thousands of peasant farmers.

Constitutional changes were also in store during the contemporary occupation. In addition to rejecting the increase in the minimum wage, Bill Clinton and the U.N. are also credited for introducing constitutional reforms. Haiti’s 1987 constitution was the culmination of what Fritz Deshommes called a re-founding of the nation. The popular movements that succeeded in forcing out the Duvalier dictatorship stood fast against the military junta and repression. Passed with over 90 percent of the vote on March 29, 1987, the constitution was based on human rights, guaranteeing both liberal political rights like freedom of press, religion, and assembly as well as social rights such as education and housing. In addition, the constitution elevated Haitian Creole as official language, shared with French. Reeling from 29 years of the Duvalier dictatorship, the public was wary of centralization of power in the executive. The office of Prime Minister, to be ratified by Parliament, was put into place. Power was also shared in the Territorial Collectivities, including 570 communal sections. Despite advances in gender equity and dual citizenship for Haitians living abroad, many of these gains were reversed by the amendments. The amendments to the constitution lay dormant, out of public view. In fact, Parliament voted to dissolve itself to make way for the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), co-chaired by Bill Clinton, in April 2010. Importantly the IHRC was to hand over governance to Parliament and the newly elected president. When Parliament was back in session in 2011, the first task laid out for them was to ratify the amendments to the constitution. President Michel Martelly, a.k.a. “Sweet Micky,” the winner from the second round of a record low voter turnout of 22%, less than half the previous 2006 elections, pushed for the ratification. He was joined by several foreign agencies, apparently keen on naming the Permanent Electoral Council in a top-down, rushed process that gave the current government the advantage. The coverage of this was murky and confused. Like all other laws, it needed to be published in the official journal of the State, Le Moniteur. Following all this discussion, it was not clear what the final version was. Only the French version was published.

One of the changes included that the President name a Prime Minister and apparently without requiring a full Parliamentary ratification. The new constitution allows for the leaders of both houses to agree. These two individuals had the most stake in the prolongation of their mandate following the deal reached with Martelly. When Prime Minister Lamothe resigned, Martelly named Evans Paul, a.k.a. K. Plim, who had perennially promoted and positioned himself as “mediator.” The terms of the lower house, the Deputies, were set to expire the second Monday of January, which turned out to be January 12, the fifth anniversary of the earthquake. In addition, a third of the Senate’s terms were also set to expire, meaning that this house too would be below quorum. The sticking point in the conflict between Martelly and the opposition was following the electoral law and naming the representatives for the Electoral Council. As Parliament teetered toward collapse, President Martelly’s hand grew stronger, and the international pressure to “negotiate” to avoid a “political crisis” grew. In effect international agencies like the European Union, the U.S., the U.N., and the World Bank were lining up to support Martelly. These actors concerned with “democracy” said nothing when Martelly replaced all but a handful of the country’s mayors. They indicated that if a negotiated solution – Martelly’s position hadn’t changed – was not reached, they would continue to support the government of Haiti even though he would have to rule by decree. This same state of affairs, ruling by decree, was cited by many of these same international agencies in 1999 as the reason they suspended assistance to Haiti.

With a speculated estimated value of $20 billion, this represents a significant wealth. However, given Haiti’s infrastructure, especially after the earthquake, there is insufficient in-country capacity and even technical expertise to evaluate contracts. Significantly, the “exploitation” contracts were granted without Parliamentary approval. However, in February of 2013 Parliament responded, issuing a resolution calling for a moratorium on mining in Haiti, citing the questionable legality of the Conventions as one of their main concerns. Shortly thereafter, the Martelly administration successfully recruited the World Bank to support its effort to restructure its mining laws and obtained support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to manage mining contracts and create a national cadaster. Communities and civil society organizations have organized to promote their interests and defend their rights. At issue was local communities’ participation and approval, given the loss of agricultural land and therefore peasant livelihood, not to mention the significant environmental damage mining causes. The contracts made no provisions for environmental review or protections. Finally, the contracts expropriated the vast majority of the profits out of the country. The campaign succeeded in a parliamentary inquiry and eventually a resolution in December 2012 with these safeguards in effect. Mining activity has been on hold in Haiti as the government rewrites the law.

Without a parliament and President Martelly ruling by decree, allowed for resumption. This – in addition to other development strategies such as high-end tourism that benefit foreign capitalist interests at the expense of local communities – is the main motivation colleagues attribute to the so-called “international community’s” support of the current status. In fact the facilitating exploratory law was on the books in 2005, during the “transition” following Aristide’s ouster. In addition to secrecy, which seems to be the modus operandi of capital advancement, companies openly cited UN’s presence as attracting foreign investment. And so mining activities recommenced, with the World Bank not listening to local concerns, until a journalist unearthed that one of these no-bid contracts went to none other than the brother of the then-Secretary of State, current Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton, this April.

Killing with kindness is a more powerful strategy. With a humanitarian mask, NGO aid has made inroads in almost all corners of the country. While the results of foreign aid are mixed, with most of the benefits accruing to foreign aid workers and local elite groups, a nonstop humanitarian occupation has led to greater complacency, dependency, and division. Explicitly racist and imperialist foreign troops might succeed in pacification and building institutions, but they also tend to trigger a violent, nationalist resistance. Contemporary foreign aid is more far-reaching, and more effective at quelling, buying off, or dividing potential threats to the foreign-imposed order.

Full unabridged article here

Robot Wars

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms. Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. Artificial Intelligence technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is feasible within years, not decades.

autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow. Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. A military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity.

Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.

There has been so far 1850 signatories to an open letter calling for the ban on such weaponry. Stephen Hawkings, Noam Chomsky, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Google DeepMind chief executive Demis Hassabis. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

THE OLD BULL AND BUSH! (weekly poem)


Jeb Bush is seeking to be the third member
of the Bush family to become US President.

Three-Hundred Million citizens,
Throughout the USA;
But just one clan for President,
Who think they have a natural bent,
To run the US Government,
From each Election day.

Appointment to the White House job,
Is honourable and fair;
As all can run for the top post,
Provided they can truly boast,
That they have really got ‘the most’--
i.e. a millionaire.

One’s prospects are assisted if,
One is another Bush;
With brains inside one’s dick not head,
(And voters who are easily led)
Plus all those sponsors with the bread,
To fund the final push.

So if you want a poop for Pres.,
Then vote for good ole Jeb;
Or any other millionaire,
Who’ll sob and say they really care,
Just like the spider in its lair,
Says to flies in its web!

© Richard Layton  

Fact of the Day

Donald Trump is rich. Really, really rich. And you’re not. And there’s a very simple reason.

No, it’s not because he works harder than you. It’s not because he’s smarter, tougher or better informed either. It’s not because he has mastered “the art of the deal.” It’s not because he dreams bigger than you. It’s not because he’s a “winner” and you’re a “loser.” It’s not even that he had a rich daddy, and you didn’t (although that helps a lot).

Donald Trump is rich, and you’re not, because because he uses other people’s money. 

Trump borrowed billions from bankers and used the money to put up buildings like Trump Tower and open casinos like the Taj Mahal. In his books, Trump says that by the early 1990s he owed more than $9 billion. His companies have filed for bankruptcy. Twice. The losers were the lenders had to suffer the losses. He then raised more money from bankers, bondholders and even stockholders along the way. Two more times his companies filed for bankruptcy. Lenders and investors paid the price.

“I have used the bankruptcy laws a few times to make deals better,” Trump said recently “Nothing personal, just business… It’s a very effective & commonly used business tool.”

There you have it in a nut-shell...failing to succeed. 

Quote of the Day

The poor little rich kids syndrome reiterated:

“When you grow up in a wealthy family, it’s much much harder to feel that what you’ve achieved is on your own. And it’s much much harder for people to think that what you’ve achieved is on your own. So my children have a bit of a disadvantage — yes, they have money and they have a good education and so forth — but they have to achieve things on their own. And it’s a much harder thing for them to do that. And so I try to let them succeed on their own. But it’s very difficult for a parent to want to just say to their child, ‘Do what you can and I’m not going to help you.’ Because you want to help your child, but you want the child to be independent and strong enough so they can achieve on their own.” - Billionaire private equity chief David Rubenstein, the co-founder of Carlyle Group, whose net worth is estimated at $2.9 billion. 

All together now ...awwwwwwwwwwww, diddums, the hard-done by wee souls. 

Tell us something we don't know

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says there is a strong link between the weakening of unions and the rise in income share of the top 10 per cent, leading to growing income inequalities. The discussion paper, ‘Inequality and Labour Market Institutions’ by analysts Florence Jaumotte and Carolina Osorio Buitron, says “The decline in unionisation is related to the rise of top income shares and less redistribution, while the erosion of minimum wages is correlated with considerable increases in overall inequality.” 

By weakening earnings for middle- and low-income workers by reducing their bargaining power, de-unionisation “necessarily increases the income share of corporate managers’ pay and shareholder returns....Moreover, weaker unions can reduce workers’ influence on corporate decisions that benefit top earners, such as the size and structure of top executive compensation”, it says.

The IMF paper, based on studies in 20 advanced economies from 1982 to 2010, says it found evidence that “the decline in union density — the fraction of union members in the workforce —is strongly associated with the rise of top income shares,” adding that “unions help raise wages, both for members and the community at large and can affect income redistribution through their influence on public policy.

The paper is significant as it comes at a time there is a marked decimation in the power of unions across the world, along with growing contractual and casual labour. In India, 11 trade unions in India, which have given a call for a country-wide strike on September 2, have also listed problems in getting unions registered among their demands. 90 per cent of the Indian workforce is in the unorganised sector and are not unionised.

Poverty Punishes

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” Gandhi

Researchers Mark R. Rank and Thomas A. Hirschl did a long-term study which followed 4,800 households from 1968 to 2011. They followed groups of people from ages 25 to 60 in order to get a sense of how many people will fall into poverty and extreme poverty within their lifetimes. "Rather than an uncommon event," Rank says, "poverty was much more common than many people had assumed once you looked over a long period of time."

“Our results indicate that the occurrence of relative poverty is fairly widespread. Between the ages of 25 and 60, 61.8 percent of the population will experience at least one year of poverty, whereas 42.1 percent will experience extreme poverty. Furthermore, 24.9 percent of the population will encounter five or more years of poverty, and 11.4 percent will experience five or more years of extreme poverty.”

On a campaign stop, Jeb Bush said:
“My aspiration for the country — and I believe we can achieve it — is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, work-force participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows, means that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

According to Bush, we’re having some economic problems — slow economic growth, low worker productivity, and Americans families who aren’t bringing in enough income. According to Bush, the individual behavior of American workers is to blame for these problems. Ultimately, for Bush and others like him, poverty can be explained away by attributing it to the failure of low-income people’s individual work ethic. Bush’s rhetoric may get him the Republican nomination but as an explanation for our economic problems it fails miserably. And it fails precisely because it focuses on the individual behavior of workers, rather than the economic and political institutions within which they find themselves.

In Minneapolis, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) published a report on the challenges workers there face when providing for their families. NOC surveyed more than 500 hourly workers in North Minneapolis about their work schedules, compensation, and benefits like paid sick days. Fifty-one percent of the workers NOC surveyed make $10 an hour or less. “Nearly 40 percent of workers surveyed are working part-time schedules, which is 34 hours or less per week.” People working only part-time and at low wages are struggling to provide for their families. To them, Jeb Bush would say, “work more hours.” But as NOC’s report demonstrates, these vulnerable workers can’t work more hours. It’s not that they don’t want to. In fact, 78 percent of part-time hourly workers and even 58 percent of full-time hourly workers reported that they would prefer to work more hours than they are currently assigned. However, hourly workers have little to no control over their schedules and cannot simply choose to work more hours.

Often, they are scheduled for on-call shifts, meaning they must be available to their employers to work a shift, but they are not guaranteed work that day. The employer may choose to not call them in and the worker then loses that opportunity to gain income from a day’s work. In addition, hourly workers are often sent home early before the end of their scheduled shift. On-call shifts and sending workers home early save the employer money, but have negative effects for the workers who lose income and cannot adequately budget due to unpredictable earnings.

Some might argue that part-time hourly workers should simply get a second job if they want to be able to provide a decent life for themselves and their families. However, NOC’s research demonstrates that most workers are not free to find secondary employment. Many of the workers NOC surveyed are required to have “open availability,” which means they can be scheduled to work at any time, day or night. The challenges workers face due to open availability policies are compounded by schedules that change weekly, or even daily. “Over half (55 percent) of all hourly workers surveyed reported that they receive their schedules a week or less in advance.” Subject to open availability policies and without a set schedule, coordinating a work schedule with a secondary employer is prohibitively difficult. Unpredictable schedules and open availability policies are, then, significant impediments to secondary employment.

In another NOC report NOC’s illustrates the transit challenges that low-income workers face that make secondary employment virtually impossible. In Minnesota, people of color are disproportionately employed in low-income jobs. In addition, low-income people of color are significantly more likely to rely on public transportation to get to and from their places of employment. As NOC’s research demonstrates, workers using public transportation to commute to work pay a significant time penalty for doing so. “Every year, Black and Asian transit users spend the hourly equivalent of about 3.5 weeks of work more than white drivers on their commutes alone. For Latino transit users, it is nearly 4.5 weeks.” As NOC points out the transit penalty has deeply problematic effects on workers from communities of color. “That means that for a month a year more than white drivers, transit commuters of color are unavailable for working, helping children with homework, helping parents get to the doctor, running errands, volunteering in their communities, or participating in their churches.”

NOC’s reports demonstrate important ways in which the individualist rhetoric around poverty in America obscures the causes of poverty among low-income workers. Low-income workers are vulnerable to economic exploitation by their employers. They do not earn a living wage and have little control over the number of hours they work in any given week. Our labor laws and economic policies at all levels — city, state, and national — put the interests of employers over workers. To say to the most vulnerable among us “work harder” is to ignore the structural challenges low-income workers face. It’s an individualistic oversimplification of the problem.

Dr. Donna M. Beegle, author of “See Poverty ... Be The Difference,” tells us: 
“The systemic barriers that people in poverty face often manifest themselves in a deep lack of self esteem and a strongly ingrained sense of despair. Faced with what they perceive as impregnable barriers, people in poverty find no one to blame for their failures but themselves. Even if they verbally blame others, to try to save face, they keep internalizing the poverty.
“The predominance of misconceptions, stereotypes, and punitive structures, combined with the harshness of their daily struggles for survival and the elusiveness of any kind of success, create experiences for people in poverty that often lead them to internalize the blame for their poverty situation. This blame creates internal barriers that lower their self-esteem, extinguish their dreams, and further limit their abilities to succeed. This in turn greatly affects their expectations for the future and impedes their hopes to lead a fulfilling and successful life.

“People who live in poverty in the United States have experiences that teach them they are not as good as other people and that they somehow deserve what has happened to them. Because we do not teach about structural causes of poverty, people in poverty often think of themselves as somehow deficient and less  worthy than others who live in more affluent circumstances (Freire, 1970). Growing up in poverty meant that they were often ostracized for their appearance and shamed into believing that if they were born into poverty they had done something to get there. As a result, a natural reaction of people in poverty is to hide their poverty experiences and develop a tough exterior. Shame and poverty go hand in hand.

“Many of the shaming messages come from the interaction of people in poverty with those who are not familiar with their life experiences. Helping professionals, for example, often fail to show the people they serve that they are talented, creative, and worthwhile and that they are just as smart and motivated as middle-class people. They also fail to project the belief that middle-class are not better human beings, but rather they are people who have simply received better opportunities and support. “Another source of these messages is people who tend to blame the characters of people in poverty when something goes wrong, but blame the situation when the same thing happens to them. Attribution theory assumes that people try to determine why people do what they do. A person seeking to understand why another person did something may attribute one or more motives to that person’s behavior.

“Attribution theory explains that people tend to attribute causes for behavior to the situation (or to factors outside themselves) when they understand and empathize with the circumstances of a situation. Alternately, a lack of understanding, typically leads a person to place the cause of the misbehavior on the other person (or to their personality and other internal traits). For example, someone may say, “I got a ticket for speeding, but it was a speed trap.” But when they hear of another person receiving a speeding ticket, they may say, “She is a speeder.” Another example is someone saying, “I was going through a rough time and started drinking too much. I put my family through a lot and needed help.” But when describing another person’s problem with alcohol, that same person might say, “He is an alcoholic and does not really care about his family.”

“Middle-class and wealthy people understand their own circumstances and attribute the causes of their behavior to the situation. However, they tend to attribute the behavior of people in poverty to the personalities of the people rather than the situation. Blaming someone’s personality degrades the person and leaves no hope. It is not helpful since most people see personality as an essential, unchangeable quality. Attributing cause to a situation allows the option of identifying solutions to a problem through changing the situation.”

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bring the walls down

On the US/Mexican border there were a total of 2,268 Border Patrol agents in 1980; by 2012 the Border Patrol had funding for 21,370 agents, nearly 10 times as many as 20 years earlier. The Border Patrol's annual budget was $263 million in 1990; by 2014 it had jumped thirteen-fold to $3.6 billion.

The US had already built 651 miles of fencing as of February 2012 and the estimated cost of the fence's construction and its maintenance over the next 20 years is $6.5 billion.

The government has been imposing criminal sentences on border crossers since 2005; the program, code-named "Operation Streamline," had processed 208,939 people by the end of 2012. While it's hard to estimate the total bill for Streamline, it could be costing us as much as $300 million a year just through the increase it has created in the federal prison population.

Why do some US politicians constantly call for more border enforcement. One obvious reason is it is quite profitable for powerful business interests. In September 2006, for example, the Boeing corporation won a contract worth an estimated $2.5 billion to set up the "Secure Border Initiative Network" (SBInet), a web of new surveillance technology and sensors with real-time communications systems. After spending $1 billion on this "virtual fence," the government scrapped the project in January 2011, saying it "does not meet current standards for viability and cost effectiveness." A growing number of Border Patrol agents and their increasing militarization translates into a higher demand for more guns and other equipment from the "defense” industries. This is especially important as the US military reduces its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. "So as the wars are winding down, we're trying to find more applications for this technology here in the US," a division manager from the Applied Research Associates firm explained to the Huffington Post in April.

Increased border enforcement also means increased incarceration for immigrants and this means more business for the private “for-profit” prison industry. In the decade leading up to 2013, just three of these companies poured out some $45 million in various lobbying efforts. Recipients of funds from the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country's largest private prison company, include such rabidly anti-immigrant Republicans as Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.

Creating anxiety about immigration has political uses as well. As Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey, observed, "Politicians find the symbolic trope of an 'invasion of illegal aliens' too useful to give up." Xenophobic and irrational fears of invasion, violation and disease from foreign and dark-skinned people have historically provided a good tool for distracting the US population from the real failures of the political and economic system. In August 2014, Georgia Republican Phil Gingrey, then a member of the House of Representatives, suggested that Central American minors might be carrying the Ebola virus. Gingrey, formerly a practicing physician, should have  known that no Ebola cases had ever been reported in Latin America. Donald Trump and right-wing columnist Ann Coulter slanders all immigrants as thieves, rapists and murderers, pandering the same part of the national psyche as white racists' fraudulent rape charges against African Americans, the rationalization for thousands of lynchings in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Forgotten are the At least 5,607 people died while attempting to enter the country between 1994 and 2008, many buried in unmarked mass graves. University of California, San Diego professor Wayne Cornelius has noted that the death toll at the border just in the decade from 1993 to 2003 was more than 10 times as high as the number of people killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall in its 28-year history. The deaths have continued even as the rate of border crossings fell: an average of 360 people died this way each year in 2010 and 2011. This is the real border crisis, and we shouldn't ignore an irrational enforcement policy killing hundreds of innocent human beings each year for the supposed crime of wanting to get a job or to reunite with friends and family.

He who pays the piper calls the tune

The Socialist Party holds no party line on a number of environmental issues that are dear to many peoples’ hearts. However, we do propose a society which has democratic structures in place so that decisions can be made by the people for the people based upon the fullest untainted information available. Capitalism, on the other hand, is all about vested interests possessing political power and suppressing access to information.

We previously posted a report about one of the many fracking lobbies endeavouring to influence the American presidential election process. We now post a story that members of U.S. Congress who vote against mandatory labeling for genetically modified (GMO) products receive three times as much funding from the food and agriculture lobbies as their colleagues, according to new reporting from Open Secrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics. Coincidence? We think not. Supporters of the anti-labeling bill which passed the House of Representatives last Thursday collectively received $29.9 million from the agribusiness lobby and food and beverage industry during the 2014 election cycle. At 230 Republicans and 45 Democrats, that averages roughly $108,900 per member to support HR 1599—officially titled the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015. HR1599 was backed by the food industry, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Monsanto Company, which have poured money into defeating GMO labeling initiatives. HR 1599 passed with 275 to 150 votes.

Co-sponsors of the anti-labeling bill "received six-figure dollar amounts from providers of agricultural services and products...during the 2014 election cycle. That put them high among the top 20 recipients of funds from the industry," Open Secrets reports. Among those lawmakers are Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Mike Conaway (R-Texas), and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), most of whom also sit on the House Agriculture Committee. Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), two original sponsors of the legislation, were the top two current House members receiving the most money from the Grocery Manufacturers Association in 2014. The grocery manufacturers — who have spent $4.1 million lobbying on all issues so far this year, almost as much as they spent in all of 2014 — have lobbied on the bill more than any other organization, mentioning the measure on 14 lobbying reports this year. After the Grocery Manufacturers Association, PepsiCo Inc ($2.5 million in overall lobbying this year) and Monsanto Co ($2.6 million) have mentioned the bill most frequently.

Food and environmental activists called for the Senate to vote down HR 1599 when it reaches the chamber. "Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored," Andrew Kimbrell, executivedirector of Center for Food Safety, said.

We have just the thing to cure you...

Following on from our previous article on the pharmaceutical business practices we read in thisarticle of further deceit. 

Pharmaceutical corporations have created expensive drugs that treat such rare conditions as being sleepy during the day – that may mean you have narcolepsy says Jazz Pharmaceuticals which its drug Xyrem treats for $35,000 per year.  If you have frequent diarrhea, gas and bloating, it might not be because of your bad diet and eating habits but because you may have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency says AbbVie to sell the drug Creon. Your sore back may not be from your exertions at work but from a disease called ankylosing spondylitis, says AbbVie, a condition that can be treated with its biologic drug Humira for as much as $20,000 a year. (Injectable “biologic” drugs are a new drug industry push because they are so expensive and less susceptible to generic competition than pills.)

Drug companies say they charge those outrageous prices as recouping their research and development costs but admit that their drugs are priced on “value”—what they are “worth” for the patient’s health. Needless to say such valuations come pretty close to the definition of extortion—offers you “can’t refuse.”

Why does the same hepatitis C drug that costs $84,000 a year in the US cost $900 a year in Egypt asked Forbes staff writer Avik Roy. Since most hepatitis C patients in the US are uninsured, underinsured or imprisoned, taxpayers pick up the bill through Medicaid, the VA and prison systems writes Roy.

Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals who made the statin Lipitor the best selling drug in the world before it went off patent are rolling out a cholesterol lowering drug which could be embraced by the millions. The list price of Praluent, an injectable biologic, is over $14,600 a year.  Like Gilead, Sanofi and Regeneron say the price reflects what it is worth in potential benefits to patients and savings to the health care system—e.g. what they can get.

The rise and fall of the Labour Party

Where did the Labour Party come from – and where is it now headed?

The rise of industrial factory production in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to the displacement of agricultural workers into industrial labour in the enlarging towns. There was already a clearly divided society between the majority of the people – the farm workers, labourers, servants and peripherals (soldiers, minor traders and so on) – and the gentry (the owners of the land, property etc) who were an upper ruling class apart and the owners and instigators of the new industrialisation.

The working conditions in the factories, mines, mills and the like were dire, long and harsh, often dangerous. The vote was limited to the gentry and the monarchy (Magna Carta).  Protests by the workers at the harshness – a form of industrial slavery – were repressed by ‘law and order’ armed forces.

The accumulation of money, not just the ownership, soon became a dominant feature of the upper ruling class – the acquisition of capital was a spur to production with the growing science and technology creating more productive labour workers.

One machine could do 700 hours of manual labour – and so the divide between labour and capital ownership become more evident and eventually led to the development of trade unionism, aspiring for unity and fairness, and for social reform.

By the late nineteenth and early twentieth century this was spreading across the industrialised countries of Europe and the concept of a different society evolved – one of more equality and common ownership of the means of production.  Several elements came together and the term ‘Socialism’ was born.  A loose socialist federation of workers, trade unionists and progressive intellectuals  with the same socialist aspiration.

The Labour Party was born from the trade unions with the support of intellectual activists such as the Fabian Society, democrats and others to win the united support of the workers with ‘practical’ reforms as an inevitable steam-roller progress to a better world.  Similar political movements also arose such as the Communists.

One party however, was formed in 1904 which stood clearly and solely for the democratic understanding and support of the majority of the people for the fundamental change from class ownership to the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution – anything less would be a diversion leading to the continuation of capitalism. That party was the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Over the twentieth century the Labour Party and other reformists thrived, with much popular support for reforms culminating, perhaps, in the apogee of the sweeping election victory of 1945 and the rise of the Communists in Russia. It was a poisoned chalice. Besotted with their triumph, they were consumed with the power of running a capitalist state. Their last vestiges of socialist aspiration had died.

We still have capitalism with all its fearful flaws and inequalities, and socialist society is still seen as a fanciful irrelevancy.

Now the Labour Party is entirely consumed and thinks of nothing but the best way to get elected to run capitalism, just as do the Conservatives, Liberals, UKIP and all the rest. They are essentially indistinguishable and sterile, looking for leaders to hopefully sort out our lives for us. They shake their heads at socialism as unpractical utopianism while they recruit and train ‘heroes’ to kill other ‘heroes’ in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan to acquire ‘their’ oil etc. They end up with billionaires and food banks.  The halcyon days of trade unionism, the ’left’ wing, the formation of the capitalist NHS with the disillusionment of the early ‘socialists’ such as Aneurin Bevan are now effete.  Reduced to the discussion of capitalist power through the pathetic smog of Cameron v.  Miliband (or whoever takes over from him - can you tell the difference?)

No wonder people want to escape to triviality - Downton, Emmerdale, etc. But think about it. Take your life from their hands to the better world of true civilisation of humanity – before it’s too late!

Unemployment isn't an illness

The British Medical Journal has published a study that impacts upon our understanding of the State’s role in medicalising unemployment. It is well worth quoting extracts from it

Eligibility for social security benefits in many advanced economies is dependent on unemployed and underemployed people carrying out an expanding range of job search, training and work preparation activities, as well as mandatory unpaid labour (workfare). Increasingly, these activities include interventions intended to modify attitudes, beliefs and personality. We now have a situation being implemented where there is the use of psychology in the delivery of workfare functions to erase the experience and effects of social and economic inequalities, to construct a psychological ideal that links unemployment to psychological deficit, and so to authorise the extension of state—and state-contracted—surveillance to psychological characteristics.

Welfare reforms have led to increased emphasis on the conditionality of social security payments and the ‘activation’ of their recipients, avowedly to avert or correct ethical and psychological ‘dependency’ and other forms of debility, depression and etiolated work ethic, which are widely thought to be both symptom and cause of unemployment. Failure to meet conditions placed on eligibility for benefits is punished directly by benefit sanctions (the part or total cessation of social security payments for a given period of time), as well as indirectly by compulsory ‘support’ in the form of workfare, ‘skills training’, psychological referral or psychometric testing. The conditions are diverse in kind as well as wide-ranging: from age and residence criteria, or restrictions on numbers of (paid) hours worked per week, to possession of certain levels of qualifications and the capacity to demonstrate positive opinions on employment. The expansion of conditionality in this way is linked to the continually increasing rate at which Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) and Employment and Support Allowance claimants are sanctioned (the three months to September 2013 saw JSA claimants sanctioned at a rate of 6% of claimants per month, the highest since the introduction of JSA in 1996). Failure to participate in a training or employment scheme is the most frequently occurring ‘failure’ that results in a sanction. These mandatory interventions designed to ‘shift attitudes and beliefs’ have become an important element of ‘activating’ the unemployed, and are the focus of this paper. Although payments by the state to people without jobs have been tied to desirable patterns of behaviour since their first institution, the unemployment policies of reformed welfare states now aim at more complete and intimate behaviour change through coercive mechanisms of greater scope
Workfare means the ‘work-for-your-benefits’ schemes in which unemployed people are forced to work for a charity, business, social enterprise, public service or government agency in order to continue to be eligible for benefits. We also include the range of skills-building and motivational workshops that are presented alongside such schemes—as part of a range of activities that unemployed people are obliged to undertake—and schemes that are composed of training courses in tandem with unpaid work (Skills Conditionality is an example of the former; Traineeships and Sector-Based Work Academies of the latter). The participation of unemployed people in schemes with training elements is secured by the same means as work placement schemes: through the threat—tacit or explicit, indirect or direct—of sanctions. Workfare is central to normalisation of the idea that harsh sanctions should be used to underwrite certain obligations of citizenship, and to singling out as the paramount obligation the enforcement of work, with no regard to the specific character of that work or to a person's other responsibilities. Workfare furthers the separation of work and livelihood and normalises the idea that certain groups of people are not entitled to payment for their labour and that lengthy periods of unpaid labour (eg, internships or ‘volunteering’) are a precondition for employment. In this way, it undermines the security, pay and conditions of all workers and non-workers. Moreover, it demands that people assent to the idea that paid work as it is currently organised is the only route to both personal fulfilment and public value and obscures the economic reality of a dual labour market that produces and relies upon the stratification of work and the escalating inequalities in income and quality of working life.

Psycho-compulsion, defined as the imposition of psychological explanations for unemployment, together with mandatory activities intended to modify beliefs, attitude, disposition or personality, has become a more and more central feature of activating the unemployed and hence of people’s experience of unemployment. There has been little debate about the recruitment of psychology—and, by implication, psychologists—into monitoring, modifying and punishing people who claim social security benefits or research into the impact of mandatory positive affect on an expanding range of ‘unproductive’ or failing citizens: those who are out of work, not working enough, not earning enough and/or failing to seek work with sufficient application. A number of reports produced for the Cabinet Office under both the previous Labour government and the current Coalition have drawn centrally upon psychology and behavioural economics for the legitimation and direction of behaviour change policy or ‘instrumental behaviourism’. Psychology allied to behavioural economics allows the sector to consolidate its self-conception as an industry in its own right that sets its own standards and regulates itself. In this setting, psychology (and ‘therapy discourse’ more generally) coproduces and validates the core mythologies of neoliberalism, while simultaneously undermining and eroding alternative discourses—of solidarity, collectivity and interdependence. It functions not only to reinforce the view that achieving the status of (paid) working citizen is ‘the pinnacle of human experience’ but also to construct a very specific definition of the attitudes, beliefs and attributes that constitute ‘employability’: the ‘right kind of subject’; the ‘right kind of affect’. The roll-call of valued characteristics familiar from positive psychology, the wellbeing industry and public health—‘confidence, optimism, self-efficacy, aspiration’—are imposed in and through programmes of mandatory training and job preparation. They also feature centrally in the way in which people receiving benefits frame their own experiences. The duties of citizenship are expanded to include enforced rational self-governance so that liberal subjects’ capabilities, inclinations and desires are in accord with values and expectations that are identified as already given by a civil society centred on the labour market. These kinds of policies, seeking to model in unemployed people the imperatives of the market, are carried out by means of the market, through those who are paid to ‘activate’ claimants and those who benefit from their unpaid labour.

The imposition of psychological explanations for unemployment functions to erase the economic realities of the labour market and authorises the extension of state-sanctioned surveillance to psychological characteristics. Compulsory positive affect and psychological authority are being applied in workfare in order to (1) identify ostensible psychological barriers to gaining employment and to inculcate attributes and attitudes said to increase employability; (2) punish people for non-compliance (through conditionality and benefit sanctions) and (3) legitimise workfare and other coercive labour market measures. The consistent failure of workfare interventions to achieve their stated aim of improving work outcomes—both in the UK and internationally—has resulted in a much greater focus on psychological or ‘soft outcomes’, said to ‘move people closer to work’. ‘Soft outcomes’ disarticulate work and wages by treating a job as something that may be gained by possessing the right attitude to work (an attitude for which one must labour) and work as something to be valued because it evinces and activates the right attitude in the (potential) employee—rather than because it allows one to purchase a living. At the same time, the means by which soft outcomes are regulated (sanctions: for failures in attitude and in compliance with the actions demanded by active labour market measures) link together more closely than ever a person's failure to manifest the right attitude and their inability to afford to purchase a living. Efforts to achieve these ‘soft outcomes’ are evident in the course content of mandatory training programmes run by major workfare contractors like A4e and Ingeus and are increasingly apparent in the personal testimonies of claimants.

In a scheme recently announced, claimants will undergo interviews to assess whether they have a ‘psychological resistance’ to work, along with attitude profiling to judge whether they are ‘bewildered, despondent or determined’.Those deemed ‘less mentally fit’ will be subject to more intensive coaching, while those who are ‘optimistic’—such as graduates or those who have recently been made redundant—can be placed on less rigorous regimes. This classification system will be used to recruit to a new scheme obliging those who are long-term unemployed to spend 35 hours a week at a job centre. Jobcentres and the premises of welfare-to-work contractors are not neutral settings for interventions or decisions about the relative degree of unemployed people's material hardship, ‘willingness to work’, ‘readiness’ for work or ‘resistance’ to work: they are intensely anxiety-inducing and intimidating locations that bear witness to marked imbalances of power.

The participation of psychology and psychologists in the delivery of coercive goals in welfare reform clearly raises ethical questions. here is no evidence that work programme psycho-interventions increase the likelihood of gaining paid work that lasts any length of time. In perpetuating notions of psychological failure, they shift attention away from the social patterning of unemployment and from wider trends: market failure, precarity, the rise of in-work poverty, the cost of living crisis and the scale of income inequalities. They contribute centrally to the reification of paid work and the concomitant devaluing and discounting of all other activities, contributions, values and commitments. Above all, psychology is implicated in what amounts to a ‘substitution of outcomes’, where the modification of psychological attributes stands in for delivering actual improvements in household income or increasing the availability of real paid work.

Psychological fundamentalism—also evident in the burgeoning well-being industry—together with the rise of psychological conditionality, has a very direct impact on the lives of people claiming welfare benefits. This impact has barely been documented and highlights the need for deeper research scrutiny and more pressing questions about relationships between psychology and the medical humanities.