Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Freedom of Press?

The US Department of Defense released its "Law of War Manual," within which the Pentagon states clearly that journalists may be "unprivileged belligerents," which leaves those reporting on the military in any capacity open to be treated the same as spies - or even terrorists. "Unprivileged belligerent" is a legal term that can be applied to combatants (people who are not soldiers in a state-sanctioned military) in a conflict, who are given even fewer protections than combatants openly participating in war. "Unprivileged" means the suspect is not entitled to the rights afforded to prisoners of war under international law and can instead be held as a criminal suspect in a category that includes suspected spies, saboteurs, and guerrillas. Pentagon spokesman US Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers of the Pentagon's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, stated, "The fact that a person is a journalist does not prevent that person from becoming an unprivileged belligerent."

By reporting on the US military in a way the Pentagon interprets as "dangerous," journalists could be left open to censorship, incarceration or even the death penalty. "Reporting on military operations can be very similar to collecting intelligence or even spying," the Pentagon's manual states. Thus, by its newly crafted logic, the Pentagon is officially requesting that journalists "act openly and with the permission of relevant authorities." According to the manual, it is up to the Pentagon to decide whether or not the actions of a journalist in question are "spying."

Todd Pierce, a retired major in the US Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, wrote "That means journalists can be killed as can any enemy soldier in wartime. 'Subject to detention' means a journalist deemed an unprivileged belligerent will be put into military detention if captured. As with any enemy belligerent, however, if 'capture is not feasible,' they would be killed if possible, by drone perhaps if in a foreign country."

"This broad and poorly defined category gives U.S. military commanders across all services the purported right to at least detain journalists without charge, and without any apparent need to show evidence or bring a suspect to trial," Frank Smyth, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) senior adviser for journalist security wrote.

Chris Chambers, a Georgetown University communications professor stated that the manual actually gives US forces "license to attack" journalists.

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) published an open letter to US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter soon after the manual was published. In the letter, RWB Secretary General Christophe Deloire wrote, "This terminology leaves too much room for interpretation, putting journalists in a dangerous position. Likening journalistic activity to spying is just the kind of ammunition certain repressive countries like Iran, Syria and China would seek out to support their practices of censorship and criminalization of journalists".

Vanessa Gezari, the managing editor at the Columbia Journalism Review, she found it "very threatening." She said, "I believe it contradicts at least the spirit of customary battlefield relationships, if not the letter."

The National Press Photographers Association's general counsel Mickey Osterreicher said of the manual's language, "It's speculative, it's ambiguous, it's arbitrary."

The New York Times released a highly critical editorial addressing the manual, calling the Pentagon's justifications for its proposed treatment of journalists "ludicrous."

The manual conveniently grants itself the right to overlook other human rights treaties by stating that the rules of war supersede human rights treaties. It says: "These apparent conflicts may be resolved by the principle that the law of war is the lex specialis during situations of armed conflict, and, as such, is the controlling body of law with regard to the conduct of hostilities and the protection of war victims."

COP21 Will Fail Even If It Succeeds

In Paris later this year, global leaders will meet to thrash out a deal to reduce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

Janos Pasztor, United Nations assistant secretary general for climate change, said the task in Paris at the COP21 Summit would be to put mechanisms into the deal to encourage countries to ramp up their ambitions over time. Requirements for periodic reviews and fresh pledges are under discussion as a potential part of the agreement.

Greenpeace International executive director, Kumi Naidoo, said, "For the Paris agreement to be effective, according to the best available climate science, it will need to provide a long term vision and a clear trajectory from now through mid-century. All actions for climate by political leaders will be measured by this goal. Government leaders must not play games and offer competing long term directions which will only help the polluters to continue with devastating the planet and ruining the people's homes and lives. More and more cities, communities and companies are making commitments to 100% renewable energy: evidence that the global energy transformation is not only feasible but also an environmental and moral imperative."

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management (MIT Sloan) along with climate analysts with the nonprofit Climate Interactive released the latest findings that the world is still on track to experience "the worst impacts of climate change," according to a new report, as nations' pledges to reduce carbon emissions still fall substantially short of what's needed to keep warming levels beneath the 2°C threshold. Based on the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) put forward in advance of the UN climate talks in Paris this November and December—and assuming countries adhere to the non-binding measures—the planet still faces a global temperature increase of 3.5°C. Should nations continue along their current path, the study predicts that the Earth could see increases up to 4.5°C.

The emissions reductions must be paired with "further action," the groups warn, namely a cohesive plan to switch the global energy system from fossil fuels to a renewable energy supply. Andrew Jones of Climate Interactive added that the current barriers prohibiting such changes "are political and social." 

The SOYMB blog would doubt the honesty of any of the claims made by any of the governments who go to Paris this year. Not only are the pledges not enough, they're meaningless anyhow. Big Business always talks the talk, but never walks the walk. We see that with Volkswagen’s manipulation of their cars pollution data.

The political and social barriers referred to are formidable and it is hard to see how they can be overcome soon enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change which are hard to define but could be unimaginable in scope. There are a number of countries with economies that are basically dependent on the exploitation and sale of fossil fuels. Then there are giant corporate and state-owned fossil fuel companies that are intent on staying in the fossil fuel business. And, there are millions of people employed in the fossil fuel industry and local economies that depend on these people having jobs. Also, there are poorer developing countries that cannot make a transition to renewable energy such as wind and solar without receiving large amounts of money from rich developed countries while politicians in these developed countries are wary of allocating such large sums of money to developing countries. We delude ourselves if we think the ruling elite cares all that much for the little guy.

The science is clear that, to maintain a good chance of avoiding catastrophic levels of warming, the world must keep the vast majority of its remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Governments and corporations will only address the crisis we face with negotiations that propose minor changes and sustain capitalism. They only divert attention away from the economic systems that created the crisis we face. The World Socialist Movement is based on the idea that it is up to the people "to say enough is enough.” and shift power back to our communities. There is no time to waste—our economic system must be transformed," the organizers state. "Through the power of people taking collective action we will build a future based on justice and sustainability and stop the climate crisis.

The environmental movement is at least 45 years old in the US – the first Earth Day was in 1970. In that time, tens of billions of dollars have been spent on environmental groups and issues. The Nature Conservancy alone holds assets worth over $20b. Since then, half the terrestrial species on the planet that were around then are now gone forever – extinct. The World Wildlife Fund have an annual budget of over $100 million. Yet things have been on an increasingly downward spiral all along and every bio-shere on the planet is currently under pressure. Lots of money raised and spent and little to show for it. By any measurement, it’s devastating failure. Germany does not get all its energy from solar as some contest. Germany has not reduced coal use, much less phased out coal. In fact, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and France have increased their coal burning by over 16% from 2009 - 2013.

California’s Governor Jerry Brown explains “We are talking about extinction. We are talking about climate regimes that have not been seen for tens of millions of years. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way.”

Quote of the Day

"Why is it easier to find the money to destroy people and planet than it is to protect them?” - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

THE BREAKTHROUGH (weekly poem)

From the March 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard


I once asked a Labour man,
"Are you a Socialist? Answer me if you can".
"I'm a Labour man", he answered.
"So it's obvious I am".
"There's nowt obvious it", says I,
And he looked at me strangely before he said,
"Are you quite alright, mate,
Or are you goin' funny in the head?"
"No", says I simply, saddened by his manner,
Reflecting that all Labour men
Say they wave the Socialist banner.
But you ask 'em what Socialism is
And they haven't got a clue.
They think it's Nationalisation
Or some other pathetic view.
I say, "Do you think it's a world system
That has no need for money?"
And he looks at me again in that same old way
As though he thinks I really have gone funny.
"Well that's Socialism", I say.
"No buying, no selling, no spending, no pay.
There'll be no need, you see,
Everything's readily available,
Everything's free".
"What about work? he says.
"Who's goin' do it for nowt?"
"That's no problem", says I.
"That's not hard to figure out.
You'll work cos you want work
Not cos of what they pay ya.
If you had a choice of doin' summat
           or nowt all day,
I'm sure you'd choose summat, what say ya?"
"Mm, reckon so," he says. "You might have summat after all."
"There's no reckon about it," says I, "it's a fact
Or my name ain't Paul".
"Well, when's this free world going to come about, then?
Tell me how long we've got?"
"As soon as folk like you come and join us
Instead of listening to that Labour rot".
He nodded reflectively,
As though he'd just seen the light,
And I knew in my heart
He was going to say what was right.
"Are you a Labour man?" I asked again.
"Or cab you now see clearly through the mist?"
"Nay, lad," he replied smilingly,
            I'm no Labour man.
I'm a Socialist."

Paul Breeze

Redcar's Redundancies

The Community Union and Teesside MPs Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley have written a joint letter to Win Viriyaprapaikit, SSI Group CEO: 
“When you acquired the business in 2011 you inherited an incredibly committed, loyal and highly skilled workforce that is second to none. A workforce that has worked in partnership with you and which has continued to set new standards and break all production records in the face of extreme adversity.”

In other words: they've worked themselves out of a job and produced more steel than the market can bear, and there are newer and better blast furnaces out there. It’s worth noting this is probably an effect of the Chinese slow down, and the knock on fall in commodities prices.  Worldwide problems need worldwide solutions, not government protection.

Moth-balling Redcar’s furnace down won't destroy Teesside, steel isn't what it was. But it is serious enough. Perhaps, half a million live on Teesside, gives a working population of about150,000 (roughly a third of the total) 1,700 jobs to go, immediately, with supply chain and knock on jobs pretty certain.  That's 1.13% of the workforce going in one blow.

At least there is some sort of organising taking place. SSI steel-workers, their families and friends have held rallies  to call on the Prime Minister to save the local steel industry. A 'Save Our Steel' campaign has begun. People will march and protest and they'll shout, but there is little leverage to use. Still, the furnace has been closed and restarted once before. It could happen again. The Tory government could absorb the debts and make it more attractive business proposition for private industry to purchase.  Don't hold out too much hope, however. Nor would the political threat to expropriate have much credence in it, as some supporters of  future Labour government would have us believe.

The Government reached an agreement which provided cash to pay SSI workers. It is believed HMRC  released around £4m by bringing forward tax payments following talks with the firm’s Thai parent company. The money allowed SSI to meet its monthly wage bill. It must be nice being a capitalist, and getting the state to pay your workers (obviously, that's profits robbed from other capitalists, but we’re not going to begrudge the workers who need that money). Although some supply chain firms have been laying off workers without pay. The state will have to bear the cost of redundancies if SSI are fundamentally broke (and then also the costs of clean-up if SSI walk away permanently).

North Koreans For Sale

Parties like the New Communist Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) claim that there's something socialist about North Korea. We have always challenged that idea. 

 Pyonyang regime “leases” 50,000 people throughout the world for a very low price to both private and public enterprises, according to information revealed by the Database on Human Rights Violations in North Korea (NKDB). North Koreans seconded to work all over the world are often labourers, but their slave-like conditions apply equally to doctors, computer programmers and military personnel. The North Korean workers’ contracts with foreign enterprises systematically go through the Pyongyang regime’s intermediaries, explained Yeo-sang Yoon, director of the NKDB.

Many are in Russia (20,000) and China (19,000) – in other words countries where labour legislation is weak and conditions are difficult. There are 2,000 North Koreans in Mongolia, 1,800 in Qatar and 300 in Malaysia. Even more shocking is the fact that one host country to 800 workers is Poland, an EU member. Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), points out that this is not the first time Poland has been criticised for practices of this kind. As early as 2006, Gazeta Wyborcza reported that North Korean workers were being employed at the Gdansk naval shipyards.
“The authorities then announced that they had stopped hiring North Korean workers, but a few years later there was a new case, also revealed by Gazeta Wyborcza, about a Polish-North Korean association that brought in young people as “trainees”. They worked in the orchards, among other things. Apparently quite a few enterprises have taken up this practice again while the Polish government turns a blind eye,” says Fautré. He notes that other EU countries have also been singled out by his organisation, notably the Netherlands, where a restaurant in Amsterdam employed North Korean staff in dubious conditions.

An interviewee recalls the conditions he experienced for three years “in a Middle Eastern country” that he refuses to identify, working in the construction industry. “We worked up to 16 hours a day for a salary of US$150, from which housing costs and charges were deducted. In reality we received US$80 at best. There was no medical insurance, and if we fell ill that was also deducted from our pay.”
The men were billeted seven to a room only ten metres square and infested with cockroaches and rats, with no heating or air conditioning.

What that means in practical terms is that 90 per cent of the workers’ pay is deducted by the government. That's worse than the government here deducts from prisoners allowed out to work outside during the day before the end of their sentence. The Prisoners' Earnings Act 1996 only allow “the prison Governor to take a deduction of 40% from an offender's weekly/monthly earnings over £20.”

But then workers in North Korea are treated more or less like prisoners. Workers are strongly advised against, or simply forbidden from, communicating with the outside world, and the regime sends its agents to constantly watch their every move. Their passports and visas are also confiscated. Another interviewee said that a bank account had been opened in his name, yet he had never been told about it and never had access to it.

So, what has happened is North Korea have nationalised the workforce, and used them to get foreign currency from trade. How dare the New Communist Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain (M-L) accept North Korean subsidies to maintain their organisations. They are profiting from the sweat and toil of the state-slaves.

The Need for Food

Food is essential to life. Why are we so inefficient at getting it from farm to table? Food too expensive to be purchased will rot in the warehouse. Food too unprofitable to harvest will be lost in the field. There is no shortage of food in the world. There is a shortage of people with money to buy it. Food is priced to maximise the return on effort of everyone in the production chain from the farmer to the grocer. Food isn't being wasted, it is being kept off the market. This is capitalism at work.

In India around 10.6 million tonnes of food production to be lost due to illegal pesticides according to a Federation of Indian Chamber ofCommerce and Industry (Ficci) study. This is almost 4% of the entire production. The study points out that counterfeit pesticides are growing and were 30% of the total market in volume terms and 25% in value terms in 2013. It further warns that the problem is growing at 20% annually and if not challenged, almost 40% of all pesticides sold in 2019 will be spurious.

Among primary reasons cited for the proliferation of illegal pesticides is price, which can be almost 30-40% lower than the average market price of an authentic product. Also, for manufacturers and sellers, profit margins on illegal products is around 25-30% as compared to 3-5% for branded products.

Irreversible damage to environment by use of unmonitored toxic elements can render large patches of land useless for cultivation, it said chances of ground and surface water contamination impacting millions of people is also high.

The impact of food waste on hunger, climate change, natural resources and food security is enormous. More than 1 billion metric tons of food is lost or wasted each year, never making it from the farm to fork. To put that into perspective, imagine 1.3 billion healthy Indian elephants standing on top of each other in one pile. That's the size of the mountain of food going to waste each year — and all of it perfectly good food. Meanwhile, more than 800 million people are chronically hungry — a population equivalent to the United States and European Union combined. Food waste also has a devastating impact on the environment, from the water wasted to grow the food we never eat to greenhouse gas emissions. If you look at food waste as an environmental problem you'll find that the energy we put into growing this food that nobody ever eats contributes 3.3 billion metric tons of annual carbon dioxide every year. That's including fuel for tractors used for planting and harvest, electricity for water pumps in the field, the power for processing and packaging facilities and more. Viewed another way, if food waste were a country by itself, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the United States. Estimates from the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization in 2014 found a total of 28% of agricultural lands around the world produce food that is lost or wasted. This loss is equivalent to 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon.

6 billion pound of "ugly" produce is estimated to be rejected annually because they are deemed non-marketable on the supermarket shelves.

India produces 28 percent of the world's bananas yet represents just 0.3 percent of all internationally traded bananas. With an improved “cold chain” (the network of refrigerated trucks and storage facilities), the number of bananas exported could grow from 4,000 to 190,000 containers, providing an additional 95,000 jobs and benefiting as many as 34,600 smallholder farms. That would make quite an impact on India's farmers and economy. The folks picking the food in the field see the smallest return yet they put in most physical effort.

It doesn't make sense to grow more — and throw more away — to try to feed more people.


The misery of a poor old age

The idea that everyone should work longer since everyone is living longer is one used to justify policy proposals such as cutting Social Security benefits. But that idea is a misleading oversimplification. In America, those who live the longest get to enjoy years of relaxation, but those with the shortest life expectancies tend to work into their final years.

The existence of a growing gap in longevity between the rich and the poor is clearer than ever: Between 1930 and 1960, men at the top of the economic ladder saw an eight-year increase in life expectancy, while men at the bottom saw virtually no change. That’s just one finding from the National Academy of Science, which has documented how the growing inequality of wealth and income in the U.S. has been accompanied by, and perhaps is actually causing, an increasing gap in life expectancy between the wealthy and the working class.

For men born in 1930 who lived in the bottom 20 percent of income distribution, life expectancy at age 50 was 76.6 years; for those born in 1960, it was mostly unchanged at 76.1. For men who lived in the top 20 percent of the income distribution, it was a different story: Their respective life expectancy numbers jumped from 81.7 to 88.8.

This gap is not just about overall longevity—it’s about the quality of life the elderly will have at the end of their days. The Retirement Equity Lab at The New School has pointed out that the growing class and racial gaps have dire implications for retirement policies. A cut to Social Security benefits—which raising the retirement age, an oft-suggested proposal, essentially is—would induce people without means to work in old age. This would produce an unseemly form of inequality: The people who live the longest will be able to retire, and the people who have to work longer will be the same people who are losing at longevity. The poorer will work and the richer will play in old age, a class divide we’ve already seen in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Picketty's Capital in the 21st Century summarizes it for you; the higher up in the wealth scale someone is, the less likely their income is derived from their labor and the more it is derived from their investments (stocks, bonds, etc.). Those at the top of the wealth scale receive practically all of their income from their investments and little if any from their labor, so they usually aren't really working through their lives in the first place.

The Tax Haven Scam

Tax havens are by design secretive. The entire point of their existence is to conceal the wealth hidden within them. The economist Gabriel Zucman’s book, “The Hidden Wealth of Nations,” documents money hiding out in tax havens. He estimates that 8% of the world’s financial wealth – some $7.6 trillion – is hidden in places like Switzerland, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Singapore, and Luxembourg. That is more wealth than is owned by the poorer half of the world’s 7.4 billion people.

To estimate the amount of hidden money, Mr. Zucman begins with a simple trick. If you add up all the financial liabilities and all the assets in the world, they ought to balance. One person’s liability ought to be another’s asset. (Or one company’s, one country’s, etc.) But if you add up all the world’s reported liabilities, the figure is about $6 trillion higher than the reported assets—a sum that’s been growing. The likeliest explanation: around $6 trillion in assets are being hidden. Zucman finds a rapidly growing share of U.S. equities are being managed offshore. Zucman also finds that the international profits of U.S. corporations are increasingly showing up in tax havens.

There is good reason to believe his figures are a near enough estimate. Switzerland’s central bank reports that foreigners hold $2.4 trillion in Swiss banks alone. And while Switzerland may be the world’s oldest tax haven, it is not the most advantageous place to deposit one’s money.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The EU fails the powerless and vulnerable

The EU was now further away from its agreed 2020 targets on reducing poverty and social exclusion than it was when the targets were set five years ago. Six million more people are in poverty than at the beginning of the EU 2020 Strategy and it is short of its target in cutting the numbers in poverty by 25 million. Poverty levels fell in 21 EU states in 2012 but the numbers of poor have still risen. The working poor, those who have a job but still live in poverty, represent one-third of working-age adults who are at risk of poverty in the EU.

Ireland is among the four worst EU countries for increased rates of poverty or social exclusion, according to a study looking at developments in all 28 member states. It joined Greece, Hungary and Cyprus in having the most deteriorated rates between 2008 and 2013, according to the study “Europe: A Union for the Powerless as well as the Powerful?”

The research claimed the EU had demonstrated a “profound failure of policy” to protect millions of powerless and vulnerable people. The report from Social Justice Ireland found an EU-wide failure to deal with poverty and social exclusion in the past five years.

Research and policy analyst Michelle Murphy, said there was no integrated EU strategy that “consistently and comprehensively promotes economic recovery while also protecting EU citizens especially those who are vulnerable and powerless”. She said it might lead to a healthy balance sheet “but the lack of social inclusion and social cohesion has hugely negative impacts on millions of people in the EU”.

Director of Social Justice Ireland Dr Seán Healy said that during the crisis years the EU focused on fiscal consolidation and economic recovery as well as on protecting the euro and the banks. “At the same time it has failed to address the social consequences of the austerity approach which is being used to resolve the problems caused by the crash.”

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Makes you wonder

In 2008, Bolivian President Evo Morales kicked out the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Since then, Bolivia, a traditional coca-growing region, “has … managed to reduce coca leaf cultivation, especially over the past five years, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The total production of dried coca leaf fell 11 percent from 2013 to 2014, and has fallen by an average of nearly 10 percent each year since 2011.”

Bolivia now has the “lowest coca crop in the region”, according to a non-profit NGO focusing on coca-growing, while US allies that still cooperate with the DEA Colombia and Peru have the highest. “Colombia … according to the United Nations, has seen a significant increase in coca cultivation over the past year…”

Morales said he “could mention many countries in the world where there is this drug problem and how it has grown with U.S. presence,” referring to places like US-occupied Afghanistan, where opium cultivation has risen dramatically over the past several years.

Cheating IS the System

In this world the profit motive is considered the holy of holies. In the infamous words of the movie character Gordon Gekko: “Greed is good.”

“There’s no doubt — I’m a capitalist, I’m trying to create a big drug company, a successful drug company, a profitable drug company,” asserted Martin Shkreli, the former hedge fund manager and founder of Turing Pharmaceuticals.

Shkreli justified a 5000% price rise on a 60 year old drug as being altruistic because he would finance more research with the money he extorted from the sick vulnerable patients-cum-customers.

 Pharmaceutical companies have profit margins similar to those of the banking sector. Pharmaceutical companies never seem to mention that much more of their spending actually goes towards marketing than research.

According to a peer-reviewed study reported by the medical journal The BMJ, for every $1 spent on basic research, $19 goes toward promotion and marketing.
In 2013, one of the biggest drug companies, Johnson & Johnson, spent $17.5 billion on sales and marketing compared to $8.2 billion on R&D overall.
Furthermore, while the price of drug development by the pharmaceutical companies has been estimated to be in the billions, a study from 2011 found that a great deal of funding comes from the government and private universities – 84% of basic research, in fact.

Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for polio in 1955, and said to a journalist, who asked about a patent: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” which expresses the socialist principle of from each according to ability, to each according to need.

We have actually been treated to two examples of what Karl Marx once called ‘Capitalism red in tooth and claw” the other being Volkswagen’s admission that it cheated on emission tests hid their cars higher rate of pollution. If a corporation can so easily bend the regulations, what does it say to those who hope that with the upcoming COP21 agreement countries will honestly self-monitor their own carbon emissions and comply with limits. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Our enemy’s enemy is not our friend

Maryam Namazie fled Iran with her family in 1980. She is now a prominent secularist. She has been barred from speaking by the student union’s at a Warwick University event due to fears her speech would “incite hatred” against Muslim students. Maryam Namazie had been booked by the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists (WASH) group which was notified that Ms Namazie’s speech had been cancelled.

“They’re basically labelling me a racist and an extremist for speaking out against Islam and Islamism,” she said. “If people like me who fled an Islamist regime can’t speak out about my opposition to the far-right Islamic movement, if I can’t criticise Islam… that leaves very [few] options for me as a dissenter because the only thing I have is my freedom of expression. If anyone is inciting hatred, it’s the Islamists who are threatening people like me just for deciding we want to be atheist, just because we don’t want to toe the line.” She added, “To try to censor me, does a double disservice to those people who are dissenting by denying people like me the only opportunity we have to speak.” 

The decision to cancel the talk has been met with criticism from physicist Professor Brian Cox and physician and science writer Dr Ben Goldacre, who said they will no longer visit the university to give lectures as a result of the ban. Students in higher education should expect to be able to cope with having their views challenged, Cox said. "We can't allow over-sensitive students to wrap themselves in intellectual cotton wool." 

Her argument is that any principled point of view must oppose all forms of fascism, including Islamic fascism, and instead side with the countless people, including Muslims, who are fighting and challenging Islamism here in Europe as well as the Middle East, North Africa and the world. She argues that regressive Islamists are given authority as ‘community leaders’ not because they actually represent the ‘Muslim Community’ but because of their access to the state, political power and their links with the political Islamic movement. Since it is those in power that determine the dominant culture, this point of view sees Islamist values and sensibilities as that of ‘authentic Muslims’. “In fact, ‘Muslims’ or those labelled as such include secularists, ex-Muslims, atheists, free thinkers, women’s rights activists, LGBT campaigners and socialists.”

Namazie is critical of the Stop the War Coalition, Respect Party, Unite Against Fascism and individuals such as Ken Livingstone and George Galloway and their agenda and methods. This section of the Left uses accusations of racism and Islamophobia and a conflation of Muslim with Islamist in order to defend Islamism and Islam rather than out of any real concern for prejudice against Muslims or their rights, particularly since Muslims or those labelled as such are the first victims of Islamism and on the frontlines of resisting it. This pro-Islamist Left deems any criticism of Islam or Islamism as racism or Islamophobia. However, criticising a religion, ideology or political movement – far-Right or otherwise – has nothing to do with racism. In fact, Islamophobia is a political term used to scaremonger people into silence.

Namazie writes: 
“In responding to those opposing its alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain (which is understood to be a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood), the StWC’s leadership Andrew Murray and Lindsey German have written:
‘Anyone remotely acquainted with the British trade union movement will be aware that neither sexism nor homophobia are uncommon in its ranks. […] woman can be subjected to more crude sexist behaviour than they might be likely to encounter within the Muslim Association of Britain. No one would suggest that an anti-war movement should have no truck with trade unionism until its ranks are 100 percent cleansed of such behaviour. Yet this is good enough as a stick to beat Muslims. Such attitudes indicate a form of racism, a desire to hold their organisations at arm’s length for the flaws which are, in some measure, tolerable in ours.’
The comparison is absurd. The difference of course is that the ethos of the trade union is not anti-woman, its ethos does not say that apostates should be killed or as the head of the MAB said recently at a debate with One Law for All that women should be stoned to death. StWC’s alliance with the MAB is akin to aligning with the EDL and then saying that racism exists in the ranks of the trade unions too so why single out the English!?”

Namazie continues:
“Fundamentally, this Left’s support of Islamism comes down to its affinity with Islamism, which it sees as a force of resistance against imperialism. If racism was its real concern, it wouldn’t support the blatantly racist notion of different and lesser standards and rights for those deemed ‘different’.
This Left is part of an anti-colonial movement whose perspectives coincide with that of the ruling classes in the so-called Third World. It is on the side of the ‘colonies’ no matter what goes on there. And their understanding of the ‘colonies’ is Eurocentric, patronising and even racist. To them the people in these countries (and the ‘Muslim minority in the West’) are one and the same with the Islamists they are struggling against. This is why StWC manhandles and expels anti-Iranian regime activists from its demonstrations and rejects resolutions that simultaneously opposes a war on Iran and the regime’s attacks on the working class and population at large. It sees Islamism as a force for resistance whilst it is nothing more than a regressive force for repression. But an enemy’s enemy is not necessarily an ally.”

Further Reading:

Recommended Reading

The Socialist Party is perhaps the only political party that refuses membership to anyone subscribing to religious ideas. We are a Marxist materialist party. 

Razor Wire Makers Ban Its Use against Refugees

Razor-wire, unlike slightly barbed wire, is designed to rip and cling onto human clothing and flesh. It is commonly referred to in Hungary as ‘Nato wire’.

Mutanox, a Berlin-based fence company, was approached by representatives of Viktor Orban’s Hungarian government for razor-wire to complete a fence aimed at keeping refugees out of the company. But owner Talat Değer refused to sell, despite knowing it would cost him roughly half a million Euro. His products, used mainly by security firms and some branches of the German government, are “not a bad thing if it prevents crime or stops criminals committing further offences. But the refugees are anything but criminals. They're harmless people who are running for their lives," he added.  “Hungary is misusing the Nato wire. Mr Orban takes it in his strike[stride] that people could hurt or even die from it,”

Another German firm, which declined to be identified, told Sputnik news it had also refused to make any deliveries to Hungary. “Children, caught in the wire, is a disgrace,” the CEO told reporters.

Canada's Inequality

What Recovery?

It’s true that the wealthiest 10% of Americans have finally seen their household incomes rise above the levels last seen in 2007. It’s also true that median incomes have “recovered” from the worst of the 2008 disaster. Median earners were -8.1% worse off in 2011, and now they are only -6.5% worse off according to most recent data for 2014 released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week.

However, when we look at the lowest 10% of income earners, the situation is much more precarious. In 2011, the bottom 10% of households were -9.0% worse off in terms of income than they were pre-crisis. Since then, it hasn’t gotten any better: they now are making -11.6% less income than they were in 2007.

Possibly even more concerning is the fact that the amount of Americans living below the poverty line has soared since 2007. There are now 9.4 million more people that can claim to be a part of this unfortunate group, and the total contingent living below the poverty line now makes up 14.8% of all Americans. This is also an increase from the 12.5% figure from before the Great Recession.

Quote of the Day

“The problem is that austerity is being used as a narrative to conduct class war," former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis said on BBC’s Question Time "To be talking about reducing the state further when effectively what you are doing is reducing taxes like inheritance tax and at the same time you are cutting benefits—that is class war,"

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Economic Calculation Argument and von Mises -- Public Meeting - London

The Socialist case against Mises

'The Economic Calculation Argument: Baron von Mises's case against socialism'' 

Sunday, 27 September - 3:00pm

Venue: The Socialist Party's premises, 
52 Clapham High Street, 
London SW4 7UNA talk by Adam Buick

The God Mammon and the destruction of culture

Tapping Afghanistan's estimated $1 trillion mineral resources is a top priority for President Ashraf Ghani.

We all saw in 2001 the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan destroy the huge Buddhist statues carved from a cliff. We all saw ISIS destroy the ancient temple of Palmyra in Syria in the name of Allah and their interpretation of Islam. But where is the condemnation of those who worship the God Mammon when it comes to the Buddhist ruins at Mes Aynak which are now under threat from a copper mine. 

Comparable to Pompeii and Machu Picchu, these sprawling ruins feature hundreds of life-size or larger Buddha statues, dozens of temples, hidden caverns and thousands of priceless artifacts like birch-bark manuscripts, gold and copper coins, jewelry and intricate hand painted murals. But buried below the ancient ruins is a lode of copper ore that extends two and a half miles across and runs a mile or more into the Baba Wali mountain, which dominates the site. It ranks as one of the world’s largest untapped deposits, containing an estimated 12.5 million tons of copper, worth an estimated $100 billion .

Over the past seven years a team of Afghan and international archaeologists, supported by up to 650 laborers, has uncovered thousands of Buddhist statues, manuscripts, coins, and holy monuments. Entire monasteries and fortifications have come to light, dating back as far as the third century A.D. Mes Aynak’s archaeological potential has been known for decades. Only 10 percent of Mes Aynak has been excavated, though, and some believe future discoveries at the site have the potential to redefine the history of Afghanistan and the history of Buddhism itself. Puzzling out the full meaning of Mes Aynak will require even more decades—and a new generation of archaeologists such as Masoud Muradi. He’s proud that he and his colleagues represent different ethnicities and work easily together—no small matter in a country riven in the 1990s by a horrific civil war among mujahideen groups divided along ethnic lines. “We have 5,000 years of history, and for Afghanistan’s new generation, it’s very important to know about it,” he says, “Otherwise we are just famous for terrorism and [opium] poppy production.” 

Who knows what still lays hidden, buried under a mountain of sand and earth? At the heart of the Silk Road, Mes Aynak was a melting pot of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures where travellers and Buddhists on pilgrimages could trade their wares, exchange cultural perspectives and even worship together at the same location.

In 2007 the Beijing-based China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), leading a state-backed consortium, won rights to extract the copper here on a 30-year lease. (China is ravenous for copper: It now consumes half the world’s supply.) The company made a bid worth more than three billion dollars and promised to provide infrastructure for this isolated, underdeveloped district, including roads, a railway, and a 400-megawatt electricity plant. Afghan officials estimated that the mine would provide a $1.2 billion infusion into the country’s fragile economy, dependent since 2002 on foreign assistance and now facing a seven-billion-dollar annual deficit. When the Chinese deal became public, Afghan cultural heritage advocates demanded that the place’s ancient treasures be excavated and recorded properly before they were lost to an open-pit mine.

Of course, there are other concerns to worry about. “When copper production starts, it will require seven million liters [1.85 million gallons] in one eight-hour shift,” says Javed Noorani, who authored the Integrity Watch report. “The area is already water deficient.”

For the time being the development of the copper mine is stalled. Taliban insurgents have tightened control over the area around Aynak, and after threats, rocket attacks and the risk of land mines, MCC withdrew its Chinese workers from the heavily guarded copper camp last year. And along with many other ores, copper prices have fallen (40 percent since 2011). Plus the Afghan government are trying to extract a much better deal. During a visit to, Beijing asked Ghani to slash the top royalty rate on the mine to about 10 percent from 19.5 percent. China's demands, details of which have not been previously reported, could amount to $114 million in lost revenue for the Afghan government per year at today's prices once the mine is producing at its initial capacity of 197,000 tonnes annually. MCC forecasts the mine could eventually produce up to 343,000 tonnes of copper a year, indirectly creating tens of thousands of jobs. With few alternatives and keen to draw in more Chinese investment, Ghani is unlikely to scrap the deal.

The military option

The Special Operations forces (SOF), are America’s most elite troops—Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, among others.

This year, U.S. Special Operations forces have already deployed to 135 nations, according to Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command (SOCOM).  That’s roughly 70% of the countries on the planet. SOCOM will not name the 135 countries in which America’s most elite forces were deployed this year, let alone disclose the nature of those operations. Every day, in fact, America’s most elite troops are carrying out missions in 80 to 90 nations, practicing night raids or sometimes conducting them for real, engaging in sniper training or sometimes actually gunning down enemies from afar. As part of a global engagement strategy of endless hush-hush operations conducted on every continent but Antarctica, they have now eclipsed the number and range of special ops missions undertaken at the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Special Operations Command’s funding, for example, has more than tripled from about $3 billion in 2001 to nearly $10 billion in 2014 “constant dollars,” according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  And this doesn’t include funding from the various service branches, which SOCOM estimates at around another $8 billion annually, or other undisclosed sums that the GAO was unable to track.  The average number of Special Operations forces deployed overseas has nearly tripled during these same years, while SOCOM more than doubled its personnel from about 33,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 now.

Each day, according to SOCOM commander General Joseph Votel, approximately 11,000 special operators are deployed or stationed outside the United States with many more on standby, ready to respond in the event of an overseas crisis. “I think we are increasing our focus on Eastern Europe at this time,” he added. “At the same time we continue to provide some level of support on South America for Colombia and the other interests that we have down there. And then of course we’re engaged out in the Pacific with a lot of our partners, reassuring them and working those relationships and maintaining our presence out there.”

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fact of the Day - homelessness

Nearly 100,000 children in England are living in temporary accommodation after being made homeless, new government figures show.

At the end of June, 66,980 individuals or families were registered as having no home of their own - an increase of 12% from the same date last year. Almost a third of them had lost a home in the private rented sector.

Hiding safety data and the TTIP

The SOYMB blog has raised the issue of TTIP and the many doubts over it. The latest concern is the cover-up on car safety.

The motor industry has been accused of withholding a report that reveals US cars are substantially less safe than European vehicles - for fear that the findings would hamper the drive to harmonise safety standards as part of the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal. The major study was commissioned by the car industry to show that existing EU and US safety standards were broadly similar. But the research actually established that American models are much less safe when it comes to front-side collisions, a common cause of accidents that often result in serious injuries. The European Transport Safety Council (ETSC), the independent organisation that advises the European Commission and the European Parliament on road safety, said the research was an important warning that vehicle safety standards cannot be included in TTIP at this stage. It called for a halt to proceedings so further analysis could be carried out. The council’s executive director Antonio Avenoso said:
 “This study shows that EU and US trade negotiators would potentially be putting lives in danger by allowing vehicles approved in the US to be sold today in Europe and vice-versa. What’s needed is an open and transparent process for getting both sides up to the highest level of safety across all vehicles. Clearly without much more research and analysis, including vehicle safety standards in the TTIP agreement would be irresponsible.”

The motor vehicle sector will probably the biggest beneficiary: harmonisation of auto regulations across the Atlantic could bring over €18 billion per year for the European Union and the United States economies, a study by the US think-tank Petersen Institute of International Economics revealed this year.

The industry wanted to use the findings to help TTIP negotiations aimed at harmonising vehicle safety standards on both sides of the Atlantic. Under current rules cars sold globally, such as the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf, must still be re-engineered multiple times - at considerable expense to manufacturers - to satisfy crash-test standards around the world. The lobby groups pre-empted the results saying “our standards may differ in some modest ways, but the ones that we’re looking at harmonizing are essentially equivalent”. The report’s findings, however, pointed to substantial differences in performance. Co-author András Bálint, Traffic Safety Analyst at Chalmers, told the Independent: “The results of our study indicate that there is currently a risk difference with respect to the risk of injury given a crash between EU specification cars and US models.
“Therefore, based on these results, immediate recognition of US vehicles in the EU could potentially result in a greater number of fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic. The potential impact is difficult to quantify because it depends on a number of other parameters.”

The findings were never submitted – or publicly announced – by the industry bodies that funded the study which have now been quietly posted on the University of Michigan’s website. Safety campaigners have said the research showed that trade negotiators would potentially be putting lives in danger by allowing vehicles approved in the US to be sold in Europe.  Independent experts from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and the SAFER transportation research centre at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, carried out the study. They are two of the leading traffic safety research centres in the world. Experts in France and at the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory were also involved.

Bad Air in India

India is now home to 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. India has the highest rate of death from respiratory disease in the world, according to the World Health Organisation. The rate was 159 per 100,000 in 2012, about 10 times that of Italy, five times that of the UK and twice that of China.

According to India’s National Health Profile 2015, there were almost 3.5m reported cases of acute respiratory infection (ARI) last year, a 140,000 increase on the previous year and a 30% increase since 2010. The number of ARI cases has risen steadily in India over the last 15 years, even when population growth is taken into account. In 2001, less than 2,000 cases per 100,000 people had an ARI. In 2012 the number was 2,600 per 100,000, statistics show.

The rise has occurred despite steady improvements in medical care and nutrition, as well as a shift away from using wood as fuel in rural areas. Together this has mitigated many factors long blamed for the high levels of respiratory diseases in India. Doctors are blaming the increasing severity of the problem on unprecedented decline in air quality across India.

One study found that half of Delhi’s 4.4 million schoolchildren would never recover full lung capacity. Campaigners point out that the focus on Delhi has distracted from problems elsewhere. Mumbai has pollution levels which, though lower than in Delhi, exceed safe limits set by the Indian government many times. Those limits are significantly higher than those set by international experts and western governments. In Ahmedabad, in the west, levels of PM2.5s peaked at eight times the WHO limit for a 24-hour average. In Lucknow, in the north, levels reached seven times the limit. Levels of CO2, nitrogen dioxide and ozone in less known cities have also regularly exceeded WHO guidelines by huge margins.

This summer, some reports suggested that Chennai experience worse pollution than anywhere else in India. Though the data has been challenged, it is clear that the levels of hazardous gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ozone, as well as of deadly fine particulates, in the southern city have consistently breached the WHO’s maximum safe limit. “Some reports are alarmist but in general, for sure, parts of Chennai are definitely worse than Delhi,” said Shweta Narayan, an activist. The worst affected areas of Chennai, which has a population of around 4 million people, lie on its northern rim, where petrochemical works, car factories and coal-burning power stations exist close to residential areas. In July, levels of deadly PM2.5 particulates in the Manali neighbourhood were four times the WHO safe limit. These particulates lodge in the lungs and allow heavy metals to enter the bloodstream.

Pollution expert Raja worked for five years at the Californian Air Resources Board. The air in the US state, once infamous for its smoggy cities, is now cleaner than in decades, even though problems remain. “They have done an enormous amount … but it took 40 years. Here [in India] air pollution is probably going to be very severe for a couple of decades before it gets any better,” he said.

The World Socialist Party (India): 257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East), Kolkata – 700086,
Tel: 2425-0208,
E-mail: wspindia@hotmail.com, wsp_india@yahoo.com

Facebook: The World Socialist Party (India)_Discussion Forum

Maori "Socialism"

Four out of five Maori believe the New Zealand Government is not doing enough to combat poverty in the community.

Around 17 percent of New Zealand's population, or 622,000 people, are assessed to be in poverty with Maori and Pacific Islanders considered to be some of the highest risk groups. 82 percent of Maori surveyed believe the government is not adequately addressing the issue. It compares with 51 percent of non-Maori.

Maori tend to have more "leftist" beliefs than Labour voting non-Maori with the majority of responses believing that many live in need because society is unfair. Auckland University's Professor Robert MacCulloch said other studies had found that people in poorer countries tended to share the same values as Maori people on issues such as believing that success came more from "luck and connections" than from "hard work". He said those beliefs were often understandable because of colonial histories that created very unfair societies in which power was held by a foreign elite.

 Maori are also 9 percent more likely to give the environment priority over economic growth compared with non-Maori New Zealanders.
"This suggests that being indigenous has an effect on values around the environment," Dr. MacCulloch said.

Maori enterprises are built on a "stakeholder" model, where profits are shared with all members of an iwi rather than a few shareholders and are no longer become focused on the singular goal of raising shareholder returns."

The three authors Professor Robert MacCulloch, Dr Arthur Grimes and Fraser McKay have used the World Values Surveys of 1998, 2004 and 2011 to show that Maori have are much more collectivist and non-materialistic and have stronger kinship ties than other New Zealanders.

New Website
New E-mail

Re-defining world poverty

The World Bank is to change its global poverty line, raising its measure by a half to about $1.90 per day in a move likely to swell the statistical ranks of the world's poor by tens of millions. The move from $1.25 would be the biggest revision since the World Bank introduced its $1 a day yardstick of global poverty in 1990.

The UN has said that 836 million people live in extreme poverty and about one in five people in developing regions live on less than $1.25 per day, the current World Bank yardstick. Although it is difficult to predict exactly how many more people will be defined as poor, when researchers at the bank earlier this year tested a notional poverty line of $1.92 it led to a surge of 148m. 

Most of the difference came in East Asia where the ranks of those falling below the poverty line almost doubled from 157m at the old $1.25/day measure to 293m. In Latin America the result was an increase of 8m, or more than 25 per cent in the number of poor to 37m, while in South Asia the ranks of the poor grew by 7m to 407m. Under that line sub-Saharan Africa remained steady at some 416m.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


September 18 was the fourth anniversary of Occupy Wall St.

So, what's changed in four years?

Since approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day, that means about 1.2 million have died in the past four years.

Some 2,660 children are born into poverty each day in the USA. Over the course of four years, that adds up to roughly 3.8 million.

At a global level the United Nations estimates 29,158 children under the age of five die each day from preventable causes. Four years equals 42 million died from preventable causes since the first “mic check” echoed across Zuccotti Park.

324 tons of mercury were emitted into the atmosphere for global electric power generation; roughly 5 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, storm water, and industrial waste were discharged into U.S. waters; and the Mississippi River carried 6 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico (creating a dead zone the size of New Jersey).

Some 292 million acres of rain forest have been destroyed; 19 billion tons of toxic chemicals and 2 trillion tons of pesticides have been released across the globe; and at least a quarter-million plant and animal species have gone extinct.

And, since 800 trillion microbeads of plastic enter waste waters every single day - do the math yourself.

Let’s not forget over-fishing, deforestation, desertification, ocean acidification, melting glaciers, mountaintop mining, tar sands extraction, factory farming, off-shore drilling, topsoil erosion...  

None of our social media or sign waving and petition signing and drum banging got us any closer to the root causes and certainly nowhere near to creating sustainable social change.

 Just how so many Occupiers are now actively campaigning for a Democratic presidential candidate?

Cancer patients denied drugs due price

No doubt many have read of the recent price gouging by a pharmaceutical company. Couldn’t happen here, we believe. http://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2015/09/another-drug-company-rip-off.html

Patients in the UK have been told the NHS will not pay for two such drugs because they are not cost-effective and they have been dropped from the list reimbursed by the government’s special cancer drugs fund.

The price of lapatinib (brand name Tyverb), for breast cancer, was set at $36,000 (£24,000) per patient per year in the UK but costs $17,724 in Thailand. Dasatinib (Sprycel), for leukaemia, was priced at $33,739 in the UK but at $15,423 in Brazil.

The researchers also ask why the UK is not succeeding in obtaining better discounts from drugs the NHS does use. Even some other high-income countries manage to barter the manufacturers down to lower prices than in the UK. Imatinib (Gleevec) – for leukaemia and some other cancers – costs $31,867 in the UK but $28,675 in France and just $8,370 in Russia. Sorafenib (Nexavar), for liver cancer, costs $57,232 in the UK but $49,715 in Spain and $44,543 in France.

“If these cancer drugs could be introduced to the UK at these lower prices, they would be affordable and patients could benefit from them. For example dasatinib, used to treat leukaemia, is being sold in Brazil at less than half the UK price, and the cost price of production is 99% lower than the UK price.” Too many people assumed that the high price of new medicines was non-negotiable. “What doesn’t seem to come out is that the price is a flexible concept and prices can come down.

Generic production of the drugs in India, where the patents at the time did not apply, brought prices down from $10,000 per patient per year to just $100. Generic versions of the class of cancer drugs known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) could bring the prices down to $126-212 for imatinib, $236 for erlotinib, $1,387 for sorafenib, $4,022 for lapatinib and $334 for dasatinib. “Mass production of generic antiretrovirals has saved millions of lives for people with HIV/Aids. There is the potential to repeat this medical success story for the treatment of cancer,” Hill and colleagues say.

“The pharmaceutical companies who developed these drugs are making vast profits every year, and so could afford to sell their drugs more cheaply…The majority of spending from pharmaceutical companies is on advertising and marketing, not on R&D as they claim. So the normal justification that high drug prices are required to sustain high R&D costs is hard to defend,” said Dr Andrew Hill from Leicester University.

The Hard-Line Buddhists of Myanmar

Supporters from the ultra-nationalist Ma Ba Tha group formed a convoy of trucks and buses that snaked through the main city of Yangon on September 14 to welcome the introduction of four Race and Religion Protection Laws, which the group drafted itself. "If necessary we must erect a fence with our bones," boomed a song from a truck-mounted speaker. Ma Ba Tha's senior monks have been accused of stoking anti-Muslim violence with sermons preaching that Buddhism, the majority religion, is under threat from Islam.

Human Rights Watch has said the bills, the last of which was signed into law late last month, place "unlawful" restrictions on people wishing to change religions, and could be used to force mothers to wait three years between each birth. The laws also outlaw extra-marital affairs and place restrictions on marriages between non-Buddhist men and Buddhist women.

A joint statement by Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists warned earlier this year that another of the four laws, the Population Control and Healthcare Bill, could lead to authorities carrying out forced abortions and sterilisation. The law aims to control populations in certain areas with "birth spacing", though the wording is unclear on whether this would be compulsory. It has nonetheless raised fears for Rohingya Muslim couples in northeastern Rakhine state, who have in the past been barred from having more than two children.

The celebrations show Ma Ba Tha "asserting themselves and their newfound clout", said Khin Zaw Win of the Tampadipa Institute, a think-tank based in Yangon. Hard-line Buddhist groups have taken advantage of “liberalization” to gain more and more influence in the country's politics.A joint statement from nine embassies in Myanmar, including the US and Japan, warned against "religion being used as a tool of division and conflict during the campaign season".

Muslim candidates have been largely excluded from the upcoming election, in what also appears to be an attempt to assuage hardliners. The opposition National League for Democracy, widely expected to win the poll, failed to field a single Muslim candidate. Myanmar's election commission has rejected dozens of Muslims on citizenship grounds. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were disenfranchised earlier this year when the government withdrew the temporary citizenship cards that allowed them to vote.

Military Encirclement