Monday, February 29, 2016

GB ltd versus EU plc

Many on the Left are critical of Fortress Europe and its lack of political accountability, but they are also generally positive about the EU and see it as playing a progressive role in national, continental and global politics. This does not mean that all of the Left are sympathetic to the EU. The NO2EU campaign, backed by the RMT union, offered “left-led opposition to the Euro super state” in European Parliament elections. The similarities between this form of anti-EU politics and the anti-EUism of right wing parties such as UKIP is alarming. Indeed the commonalities between far right and left wing positions demonstrate the need for an explicitly anti-national as well as anti-capitalist position.

Many on both the Left and Right of the political spectrum see Europe as a counter-balance to rampant global capitalism. Europe is seen as a blueprint for other societies to follow. Democracy and systems of state social welfare are frequently mentioned by Bernie Sanders. Europe is held up as a better model than the “casino capitalism” of America, for example. The supposedly benevolent, enlightened EU is seen as an example of an alternative, socially responsible form of capitalism.

Across Europe the far right, have moved away from explicitly racist positions are now beginning to develop strong anti-Islam positions which variously criticise Islam or its militant Islamist interpretation, focus on some of the anti-democratic and oppressive features of specific forms of Islam and argue they are incompatible with European ideals. This is a form of exclusionism not explicitly based on racial prejudice but on the perceived failure of Islam to adhere to what are seen to be European characteristics. Rather than being a characteristic of the far right this hostility towards Islam is now becoming a part of the normal political centre-ground. As well as being seen as the site of a more “humane” form of capitalism, Europe is also seen as the beacon of freedom and democracy. This has led many within the right to portray Europe as being in conflict with “Islamo-fascism”. This discourse is making its way into mainstream public debates. It is interesting that support for this comes from both the moderate left and right of the political spectrum.

Both the pro- and anti-EU campaigners recognise that even by current standards the EU is an undemocratic institution. They tap into and appeal to populism by declaring Europe is run by and for the bankers, a regression to conspiracy theories in which mysterious bankers pull the political strings in order to ensure maximum profits. Indeed those on the Left arguing for a Europe of peoples rather than bankers share a similarity with many on the far right who also see Europe as under threat from rampant speculative capital. The leave or stay positions share the same shortcomings: a false perspectives on capitalism and therefore false solutions which will be unsuccessful and exclusionary. Capitalism isn’t a conspiracy run by a cabal of fat cat bankers nor is it the imperialist project of Merkel, Hollande and Cameron. The true secret of society, the real power that drives it, is not that of an elite ruling, but rather the social relationships that we enter into every day. We make capitalism. To exit capitalism does not entail staying or leaving Europe. Support or non-support for the EU is not and cannot be considered an anti-capitalist position. It is important to recognise that the social welfare model that EU supporters applaud was the outcome of the struggles of workers movements. We cannot support the “enlightened” version capitalism of the EU; it must be rejected. The EU is a political structure that is to help manage both capital and populations. The EU is not and can never be an anti-capitalist structure. Our critique is not geographical, about where the borders of our political community should lie, nor is it technical, about the constitutional forms in which the domination of capital over our lives take place. It is a class analysis. Workers must be wary about getting sidetracked into discussing the management of capital.

29th of February

From the Guardian

Your salary is based on the assumption that you work full-time over a 365-day year?
Well, there are 366 days this year. Today, you’re basically working for free.
Our greedy corporate overlords should give us an extra day’s pay. 
Banks don’t usually count 29 February when they work out customer interest. Today, the banks keep back your hard-earned money as profit.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Micro-finance - No Solution

The SOYMB blog has posted several times about the short-comings of micro-finance and the over-inflated claims for it as a solution to world poverty. This article confirms our opinion.

“A comprehensive DFID-funded review of extant data concludes that the microfinance craze has been built on ‘foundations of sand’, for ‘no clear evidence yet exists that microfinance programmes have positive impacts’. Just last year, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of the Poverty Action Lab reported the results of a randomised evaluation of microcredit in Hyderbad, India, concluding that microcredit caused no significant changes in consumption, health, education or women’s empowerment. Such findings deal a devastating blow to the rosy narrative of microcredit, and yet somehow it still manages to survive.

It’s time to stop pretending that microfinance is a meaningful tool for development. When it comes to poverty reduction, we know exactly what needs to happen. Poverty is a political problem, and as such demands a political solution.

The microcredit industry is profoundly unstable, true, but the bigger problem is that microcredit doesn’t actually work when it comes to accomplishing its stated goal of reducing poverty. As David Roodman from the Center for Global Development put it in his recent book, ‘The best estimate of the average impact of microcredit on the poverty of clients is zero.’ "

The Wall Street Candidate

So Hilarity Clinton won South Carolina with a campaign based upon her political experience. She is the ultimate status quo candidate. Hillary has accepted that she can’t really make any significant changes, and she’s not going to waste time trying. She’s ready and willing to preside over the present corrupt system. Hillary Clinton is a good investment for a billionaire. She poses as a progressive and even sometimes as a populist but she is neither. Witness her offense at Sanders referring to her as “a moderate,” a term she readily uses to describe herself when speaking to affluent audiences.

As First Lady she promoted health care reform, without success. She also took a keen interest in foreign policy, as she had since supporting the Vietnam War in college as a Goldwater Girl. She’s always boasted about being “strong” on what she calls “national defense.” She urged her husband Bill to bomb Yugoslavia, in 1995 and 1999 as that country split up. For the first time since World War II a European capital, Belgrade, was bombed—by NATO forces. The results have been disastrous: failed states in Bosnia and Kosovo, more ethnic cleansing, refugees, heroin trafficking.

What about  experience as a U.S. Senator? In her two terms she sponsored 713 pieces of legislation. Three passed, all unanimously. One established a National Historic Site in New York, another renamed a post office, another renamed a highway. More importantly: while in the Senate, Hillary voted for the Iraq War Resolution in October 2002. She defended that vote all the way up to 2014, when she finally called her vote a “mistake.”

As Secretary of State, Hillary supported a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq, even though the Bush administration and the Iraqi government had agreed that all troops would be withdrawn by 2011. Hillary just didn’t want to get out.

When mass protests erupted in Syria in 2011, Hillary advocated arming Syrian opposition forces, to bring down the government by force. But these forces were dominated by al-Qaeda aligned factions. Many arms the U.S. provided are now in the hands of al-Nusra and ISIL. And she wanted to set up a no-fly zone in Syria—more bombing.

As Secretary of State she advocated bombing Libya, claiming falsely that Col. Gadhafy was about to commit genocide. The U.S./NATO bombing, which was supposed to be for humanitarian purposes, became an instrument for regime change and the murder of Gadhafy, sodomized by a knife while jihadis cheered. “We came, we saw, he died.” Libya today is a country in ruins, with two governments, ethnic cleansing, and rule by militias including those loyal to al-Qaeda or ISIL. Hillary bears much responsibility for this.

Hillary Clinton chose as her Under Secretary of State for Eastern Europe a close aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, the neocon Victoria Nuland, who like Hillary pressed for the expansion of the NATO alliance to surround Russia. Her State Department boasted that the U.S. has invested five billion dollars in an effort to support the so-called “European aspirations of Ukraine.” This was an investment in regime change. It led to the violent overthrow of an elected government in 2014. The point was to install a leader who would not just bring Ukraine into the EU but into NATO and drive the Russians out of the Crimean Peninsula where their fleet has been headquartered for over 200 years. Ukraine hasn’t benefitted from the coup. Neo-fascists who played a decisive role in the coup have been empowered like nowhere else in Europe. Ethnic minorities have come under attack. The economy has collapsed. The country is in a state of civil war.

Hilarity has boasted that the war-criminal Henry Kissinger has praised her, saying she’d run the State Department better than anyone had run it in a long time. Warmongers warm towards Hillary Clinton. She is one of them.

The simplistic gender identity argument for Hillary that she is female and “it’s time to have a woman as president” ignores the terrible impact of the Clintons’ domestic and foreign policies on women (poor and non-white women especially) at home and abroad – from the vicious 1996 welfare “reform” (the elimination of poor families’ prior entitlement to basic federal cash assistance, heartily applauded by First Lady Hillary) to the U.S. wars. There’s also the highly organized identity politics of race, whereby the African-American bourgeois elite rally the vote for corporate and police-state Clinton.

Keep the nationalist flag flying

In this referendum, the solutions proposed by politicians, both pro and anti-EU, will not work to better the conditions of the working class and, if anything, will make matters worse. They want us to validate their actions by putting an X on a piece of paper, thus giving them the power to act on our behalf. However, we know that they will not represent us and will continue to support the rich and the powerful economic institutions of capitalism that are making our lives a misery. The only way that we can resist the attacks is to gain control of our lives and our society. The Socialist Party opposes the top-down approach adopted by the other political parties. We need to promote non-hierarchical forms of organisation and methods of organising. The future organisation of society that we envision will be one of that is bottom-up based on groups which federate with each other and co-ordinate on a world-wide level, independent of any current statist structure whether national or at a European level. This will include all areas of economic and social life such as the production, distribution and consumption of goods and the provision of services such as health, housing and education. We need to take control of our own emancipation from the grasp of authoritarian ideologies such as nationalism, religion and cult of the leader.

In order to achieve this aim of complete political, economic, social and cultural transformation we need to build on and strengthen the global networks of the working class to create a new society, no matter what country they live in. We are all facing similar attacks so we can have a common strategy which can be adapted to local conditions. The European Union is a political reality we have to address. Therefore as workers organised against their national governments and ruling class (as well as uniting internationally), the struggle moves us further towards an ongoing need for europe-wide co-ordination. In some countries in the EU like France and Italy, workers are much stronger than here in the UK. As such I think that those countries in the EU are ones which push for EU-wide legislation on things like workers' rights in order to stop countries with weaker workers – like here – getting an advantage over them.  One has to defeat the idea of 'internationalism' in the sense of inter-*nationalism* because it counters long-run socialist principles of universalism. But the ambiguity of the term has increased by the notion of 'national self-determination', a slogan with undesirable content and decreasing practicality.  Socialists must avoid both defending the European Union and slipping into narrow nationalism. Anti-capitalist politics can't be reduced to a defence of any geographical territory. We believe another world is possible, so let’s start building it right now. 

Stop Trident - End Capitalism

Yesterday thousands marched against the renewal of Trident missile system and heard many politicians voice their opposition to it. The Socialist Party too were in attendance at the demonstration, distributing our leaflets. Our leaflet explained that the problem is not Trident, but war itself born of capitalist rivalries and that "getting rid of Trident makes barely a dent in the global killing machine fuelled by capitalism's wars over our bosses' markets and resources"

If you are opposed to war and all that it represents—as any right thinking person should be—you will advocate policies and take actions which will make war impossible, by removing its causes. That is, you will seek to transform society in the interests of human beings as a whole, without restriction to so-called race, nationality or gender, by establishing socialism in place of capitalism. To do what many on the anti-Trident march do—to object to a particular type of weapon which might be used in wars, whilst implicitly tolerating others—is to accept the inevitability of war, and the social system which underpins it. Campaigning against nuclear weapons is an irrelevance. Nuclear weapons are unlikely to be used in Syria, or Horn of Africa, or any of the other myriad "trouble spots" across the globe. Tens of millions of people have been killed around the globe since the end of World War II, and not a nuclear weapon used.

For sure, we recognize that most on the anti-Trident protest were well motivated: that to use a cliché, "they care" and seek to do something. But actions if they are to be effective require more than refined sensibilities. It is not enough that behaviour is well motivated: if it is to be effective it must be appropriate. The marchers need to learn just what is involved in keeping people free from the tyranny of death by war—whether at the hands of nuclear weapons or more “acceptable” alternatives—and free also from poverty and famine, and poor health and abject lifestyles, and all the other social ills which are celebrated daily by capitalism. If we really care about people we will want to campaign for their enlightenment; for an absence of nuclear weapons and war—in a word, for socialism.

We need to address the root of the problem – the capitalist system itself and vicious competition for profits – and how the problems capitalism creates can only be solved when we abolish the capitalist system itself. While it is important that workers oppose war, we need to recognise in whose interests wars are waged. It's hard to think of a single war that did not have its roots in the need of small elite to make profits. All wars, even small-scale conflicts tend to be fought over resources, outside markets and areas of influence, trade routes or the strategic points.

To end war – and the need to demonstrate against it – capitalism has to be ended. It needs to be replaced by a global system where the resources of the Earth are common to everyone. Competition and conflict between elites over resources must give way to cooperation for the benefit of all the world's inhabitants.

If you lend your support to a political party or organisation that fails to oppose the real nature of capitalist society, how our world is organised for production and how power is distributed, then you are, in effect, supporting a system that breeds wars. What is needed is to go beyond a moral outcry and to attack the system which creates war. Good intentions will not solve the problem of war but there is a revolutionary alternative: destroy capitalism.

Do you want to protest endlessly against each new war as it arises? Or work for a new world of common ownership, democratic control, peace and human welfare? If you are opposed to war, either oppose capitalism in all its forms or settle down to a life of protests...

State Informers

People can use an online form on the DWP website to anonymously report suspects, listing their eye colour, piercings, scars, tattoos and other details they deem relevant. Suspicions can also be logged through the DWP benefit fraud hotline. The government’s constant attempts to paint honest people – like low-paid workers relying on tax credits and universal credit – as ‘skivers’ and benefit ‘cheats’is creating a hostile and accusatory environment.

More than 85% of fraud allegations made by the public over the last five years were false, according to figures obtained by the Observer.

Government statistics show fraudulent claims accounted for 0.7% of total benefit expenditure in the financial year 2012-2013. That amounts to £1.2bn. On the other hand £1.6bn was underpaid to claimants by the DWP. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Workers have no father or motherland

Making Europe secure for the corporations and big banks. The European Union is another layer of power over people. Its main purpose is to serve the needs of corporations and financial institutions and is therefore an obstacle to the emancipation of the working class. The majority of the laws that people are now subjected to come from the EU rather than the individual states. The EU does not need to respect local conditions and instead imposes their own vision for Europe based on the needs of capital. The vast majority of regulations have been to enhance the power of capital over the people. The EU has created fortress Europe, endeavouring to close its borders to the rest of the world, as well as trying to be one of the many self-appointed world’s policemen. That is what the E.U. is all about.

Given the way the problems created for us by the European Union, you might think the answer is to withdraw from the EU. However, the idea that the working class would be better off outside the EU, ruled by their own State, is a dangerous illusion. It is especially dangerous because of the fact that this is the position of the far right parties who are not remotely interested in resisting state power. Instead, their aim would be to install an even more authoritarian regime with even more repression. The retreat behind national borders, a move driven by the xenophobic ideology, will have serious consequences for the spirit of co-operation and solidarity between the working class of Europe. Ordinary people have a history of supporting each other regardless of national origin. This tradition will be undermined as people put what appears to be their self-interest over mutual aid. It may not lead to actual war, but it has already led to a mentality of competition and conflict that will only further undermine the effectiveness that comes from a united European working class. A divided working class will benefit those who have caused the problems we are facing in the first place, such as austerity and repressive measures. Many who support withdrawal from the EU seem to think that we can return to some kind of Golden Age of prosperity. However, this is another illusion; this Golden Age never existed. They forget that their own nation has never been their friend; it has always been the instrument of imposing the interests of a small minority on the majority. All states operate by taking power from the people to give to the capitalist class. It doesn’t matter if the State is a few miles or thousands of miles away; it will still be out of our control, operating in the interests of the ruling class. The political theatre of the EU referendum offers nothing to working people: all we can do is fight for our own material interests against bosses and governments of all nationalities.

A vote for either stay or leave is a vote for capitalism, that really is all there is to it. Capitalism is global. The power of multinational corporations and banks, the major cause of the problems facing us, will not disappear if a country withdraws from the EU. The global processes which are at work, the movement of production and money across borders, motivated by the search for profits will continue. International institutions such as the IMF and World Bank will still have the power to impose austerity and policies that are against the interests of local populations. Human needs will take second place; it doesn’t matter whether the country is within or outside the EU.

The Socialist Party reject both the options presented to us in this referendum: staying in the EU or withdrawal. The EU, like all states big or small, is based on the giving up of power to a minority who use this power in the interests of the corporate and financial elite. The EU represents the unity of this tiny elite against the European working class. We propose both an alternative method of organising society that extends to the whole planet – world socialism.

What is your life really all about? When it’s the alarm clock shocks you out of your bed.  Then you spend hours commuting to and from work where you face drudgery and daily humiliation. You endure the boss, the noise of machines, the glare of computer monitors and you submit to your employer’s need for you to be profitable. When your body gets ruined, when your back and joints ache, your stomach grumbles from stress, you try to remember that your body is not a machine in which it is possible to replace a faulty part by a new one. Our work slowly destroy us. This is the existence of wage-slave. This is the reality that you hide from yourself. The Socialist Party believes that things can change. Let us not place trust in those who claim to speak in our name so that our exploitation is perpetuated. Let’s not surrender our strength to them, because we know by experience that they will sell us to the highest bidder. Only sheep march behind party leaders. Your power is dormant but nevertheless you are the active force that can change the world. Wage slaves of the world why sacrifice themselves to protect the capitalists’ interests. Reform of the EU or exit from the EU is no solution, but only a change of management. To stand up for ourselves, we must organise.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Should I Stay or Should I Go

Enormous publicity has been given recently to the question of whether Britain should remain in the European Union or leave it. But it is all pointless from the point of view of the working class. It may be that some groups of workers would find their position slightly improved being within the EU; some groups might think their position would be slightly better outside it; but the over-riding fact is that we possess no stake in the great wealth-producing agencies of what the papers call “their” country. A referendum is like an assassin giving his or her victim the choice of being strangled or drowned. All the media – the newspapers, television, radio, and so on – are getting intensely excited about the EU question. But like all the other political questions we are told to worry about, all this noise merely reflects disagreements among the owning class. It may be that larger companies think there will be more chances of profit within Europe, resulting from a closer engagement with the markets across Europe. It may be that smaller companies think that their lesser resources won't let them compete if the big conglomerations are cleaning up all the profits – if the bigger predators are doing better, perhaps they will do worse. It will be obvious that all this ferment has nothing to do with the basic position of workers in society. All this furore, the endless discussions will make little difference to the mass of people. If workers would only devote a tenth of the effort to their own interests that they spend debating the interests of the various sections of the master class, then we would have socialism double-quick.

The EU was set up to favour the sectional interests of the a part of the capitalist class who thought that such an arrangement would be in their economic interest, in the same way the campaign to leave the EU is being largely financed by a section of the capitalist class who think that leaving the EU will have an economic benefit to them. The SPGB isn't concerned with the sectional interests of the capitalist class, it is interested in the working class and achieving socialism. The SPGB has since its formation in 1904, held the view that capitalism cannot be reformed in the interests of workers, therefore the only logical position for a socialist party is to opposes reformism, that is to say reforms of the system distract energy and attention away from the work necessary to create a socialist society, i.e. spreading the ideas of socialism.

Cameron's EU deal is not going to make much difference even from a capitalist point of view. It's essentially an institutionalisation of the status quo as regards the relationship between euro and non-euro EU Member States and new EU legislation on child benefits for workers in one EU country whose children live in another (this will apply to migrant workers in Germany, etc as well as in Britain). And it doesn't erect any legal barriers to the free movement of workers, only some measures to make it less attractive to come to Britain (and even this is being countered by the move from tax credits to the so-called "living" wage which won't be affected). So it won't stop immigration if that's what was intended. No wonder the Euro-sceptics don't think much of it. In terms of the working class, the vote won’t bring socialism closer, either way, so as a class we have no specific interest in the vote. As a class we have no interest.

The most profitable corporations think globally all the time. Real change will require global action. Piecemeal interventions have not helped slow or reverse the pace of wealth accumulation by the capitalist class. We’ll never truly change things unless we engage and galvanise new hearts and minds.

Australia beefs up its military

Australia has been called America's "deputy sheriff" in the South Pacific. The Australian government announced an increase in military spending, including the biggest expansion to its navy since World War II with 12 new submarines, 12 combat patrol vessels and nine antisubmarine frigates would be added to the current fleet. Australia’s annual defence spending will increase by $26bn over the next decade. Also seven additional P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, 72 F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, and 12 E/A-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. Overall, 5,000 more personnel would be recruited for the Australian military and military spending would be increased to 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2021, in keeping with a pledge that Australia made to the United States as part of its commitment to share defense responsibilities in the Asia-Pacific region. It had promised the Obama administration that it will invest in a stronger military. The Obama administration is likely to be pleased that Turnbull, who recently replaced a more conservative prime minister, Tony Abbott, retained the strong defense posture planned by Abbott, said Michael J. Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington. “Australia’s decision to go for the fifth-generation F-35 fighters and the submarines suggests the government wants a capability to go against the most capable adversary in the region, China,” Mr. Green said, I think Beijing will read between the lines and won’t be happy,” he added. 

Japanese politicians now openly talk about growing defence ties with Australia as a "quasi-alliance". This could see Japan win the bid for Australia's new fleet of 12 submarines, which the white paper said would cost $150 billion to build and maintain over the next 30 years – three times the estimates.

Of course, the Australian government portrays itself as a force for good in the region, but history says otherwise. In the past, Australia was complicit in what John Pilger describes as “Suharto's genocidal conquest” which allowed Australia, the Suharto dictatorship and the international oil companies to divide the spoils of East Timor's oil and gas resources. Researcher Sarah Niner, disclosed "vivid evidence of the lack of empathy and concern for human rights abuses in East Timor" in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs. "The archives reveal that this culture of cover-up is closely tied to the DFA's need to recognise Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor so as to commence negotiations over the petroleum in the East Timor Sea."

Once East Timor won its independence in 1999 with the blood and courage of its ordinary people. The tiny, fragile democracy was immediately subjected to a relentless campaign of bullying by the Australian government which sought to manoeuvre it out of its legal ownership of the sea bed's oil and gas revenue. To get its way, Australia refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the Law of the Sea and unilaterally changed the maritime boundary in its own favour. In 2006, a deal was finally signed, Mafia-style, largely on Australia's terms. Soon afterwards, Prime Minister Mari Alkitiri, a nationalist who had stood up to Canberra, was effectively deposed in what he called an "attempted coup" by "outsiders". The Australian military, which had "peace-keeping" troops in East Timor, had trained his opponents. In the 17 years since East Timor won its independence, the Australian government has taken nearly $5 billion in oil and gas revenue - money that belongs to its impoverished neighbour. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Cameron - cheer-leader for Saudi Arabia

David Cameron has boasted of  the UK government’s role in selling equipment made by defence company BAE Systems to Saudi Arabia, Oman and other countries at almost the same time, the European parliament voted in favour of an EU-wide ban on arms being sold to Saudi Arabia in protest at its heavy aerial bombing of Yemen, which has been condemned by the UN.

Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s arms controls director, said: “The ‘brilliant things’ that David Cameron says BAE sells include massive amounts of weaponry for the Saudi Arabia military, despite Saudi Arabia’s dreadful record in Yemen. “Thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed and injured in devastating and indiscriminate Saudi coalition airstrikes, and there’s strong evidence that further weapons sales to Saudi Arabia are not just ill-advised but actually illegal. Mr Cameron should stop acting as a cheerleader for BAE’s reckless arms sales and stop the flow of weapons to the Saudi war machine pending the outcome of both a UN inquiry into the bloody conflict in Yemen and the UK’s own review of its arms exports to Saudi Arabia.”

Solar Autonomy

Louise Helton, owner of solar installation company in Las Vegas, 1 Sun Solar, explains
"Solar is a political animal. It shouldn't be but it always has been."

In December 2015, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN), appointed by Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, voted to slash net metering credits and raise fixed fees on solar customers by 40 percent, making it prohibitively expensive for most Nevadans to go solar, and also making it uneconomical for the over 17,000 people who had already switched to solar power. Many solar rooftop companies shut down, hundreds of solar workers lost their jobs and homeowners are left with higher energy bills than if they would never have gone solar. The new net metering rate plan was enacted in response to complaints from NV Energy that solar customers were shifting over $16 million in fixed costs annually to non-solar customers. The PUCN sided with NV Energy's numbers, disregarding its own independently commissioned study that showed there are no significant costs to non-solar customers from people installing solar on their houses. The same body refused to protect existing solar rooftop customers’ investments for 20 years under the old rates. The PUCN instead voted a compromise to give solar customers more time to adjust to the new rules, slowing the phase in of new rates from four to 12 years. That decision, for phased implementation, according to solar supporters, does nothing to remedy the irreversible damage already done. People are now paying NV Energy for the privilege of providing them with solar energy.

The power struggle over power in Nevada is not unique. Similar fights are playing out all over the country as regulated monopoly utilities fight for control over who gets to own power generation. It's not just in Nevada, but states like Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas that are pursuing regressive laws and fees on modern energies. This is a blatant power move to keep control in the hands of NV Energy. Solar is booming in the United States, in part because of a precipitous drop in the price of panels and a 30 percent federal solar tax credit, which was extended in December 2015. Currently, as a regulated monopoly, NV Energy is guaranteed a profit by the government. The utility is allowed a 10.5 percent return on equity.

Rooftop solar customers supply power to the grid during peak energy use times and then are credited an equal number of kilowatt-hours if they supply more than they use, hence the net in net metering. There is no 10.5 percent profit in this arrangement for NV Energy. If, however, NV Energy builds a new gas-fired power plant, they will be able to increase customer rates to pay for it and make that profit. Purchasing energy from myriad energy suppliers, which is what rooftop solar customers are, rather than building a new gas-fired power plant, would most likely be cheaper for their customers but they are not guaranteed a profit by the government. It makes sense that Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway purchased NV Energy in 2013 for $5.6 billion. "Owning utilities isn't a way to get rich," Buffett said. "It's a way to stay rich."

The rich are taking from the poor. The fossil fuel industrialists are attacking anything that might bite into their god-given right to profit.

Taken from here

Why punish the victim?

It is simplistic, right-wing logic to turn the victims of social problems into the perpetrators and to seek to inflict punishment even when it won’t fix anything. For many Americans the unemployment problem is that people cross the U.S.-Mexico border without papers and steal jobs from Americans so the solution is a wall and deportations. The end result, they say, will be more jobs for Americans. It is not true.

Mexicans make up a little under half of undocumented immigrants — a number that’s actually declining. More Mexicans are leaving the United States than entering these days. Second, two out of five undocumented immigrants came here legally as visitors and then overstayed their visas. A wall won’t keep them out. Finally, consider the jobs that undocumented workers do: They’re farmworkers, slaughterhouse workers, dishwashers, house cleaners, landscapers, and so on. For each low-wage, exploitative job, there are winners and losers. The loser is often the immigrant doing backbreaking work for below minimum wage and without legally required labor protections. The winners are those who profit: employers, their shareholders, and consumers who buy cheap goods produced by workers paid low wages.

Americans pay a lower share of disposable income for food than any other nation on earth. One reason for that is the exploitation of undocumented labor on farms and in slaughterhouses. In fact, when Georgia and Alabama enacted strict anti-immigrant measures a few years ago, farmers in both states ended up with crops rotting in their fields because there was no one to harvest them. Georgia turned to prison labor to fill the labor gap left by immigrants. In other words, when undocumented labor was out of the picture, legal U.S. residents were unwilling to voluntarily take the farm jobs that were left vacant. Not for the working conditions and the wages being offered.

Undocumented immigrants are simply pawns in a larger system. We all are. Like everyone else, they’re looking for jobs so they can raise their families and improve their lives. Why do they come illegally? For one thing, immigration laws are fundamentally unrealistic. For Mexicans, coming to the United States legally can mean waiting for upwards of 20 years.

Who safe-guards the public?

Robert Califf has been approved by the Senate as the next FDA commissioner reinforcing the impression of those who say the pharmaceutical industry and Wall Street profiteers make money at the expense of public health.

Califf, chancellor of clinical and translational research at Duke University until recently, received money from 23 drug companies including the giants like Johnson & Johnson, Lilly, Merck, Schering Plough and GSK according to a disclosure statement on the website of Duke Clinical Research Institute. Not merely receiving research funds, Califf also served as a high level Pharma officer, say press reports. Medscape, the medical website, discloses that Califf “served as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for Genentech.” Portola Pharmaceuticals says Califf served on its board of directors until leaving for the FDA. Califf also lists financial links to Gambro, Regeneron, Gilead, AstraZeneca, Roche and other companies and equity positions in four medical companies. Gilead is the maker of the $1000-a-pill hepatitis C drug.

He is known for defending Vioxx which is reported to have caused at least 50,000 heart attacks and events before its withdrawal. (Merck is said to have known about Vioxx’ cardio effects but marketed the blockbuster drug anyway.) Califf was instrumental in the Duke drug trial of the blood thinner Xarelto and a cheerleader of the drug despite medical experts’ objections to its approval and 379 subsequent deaths. Xarelto's serious and foreseeable risks were back in the news this week. Duke, where Califf directed clinical research, is still recovering from a major research fraud scandal that resulted in terminated grants, retracted papers and a "60 Minutes" special.

Califf is a Big Pharma cheerleader, “Many of us consult with the pharmaceutical industry, which I think is a very good thing.” Califf's confirmation amounts to a handover of the FDA to Big Pharma. He has been groomed and promoted because of his willingness to promote the interests of his benefactors in the drug industry and their investors on Wall Street. He is a Trojan Horse.

Nor is this an isolated case of Big Business entering and controlling government policy.
 USDA head Roger Beachy, a former director at Monsanto,
FDA food safety czar Michael Taylor, one-time vice president for public policy at Monsanto,
Commissioner of the USDA Tom Vilsack who created the Governors' Biotechnology Partnership. Under President Obama, 10 new GM crops have been approved for 'safe consumption.'

From here 

Why the Afghan War?

There has been war in Afghanistan for the last 14 years and a lot has been written about the who, what, where and when, but little to answer the most important question - why? The story that the media promoted continuously after September 11, 2001 was that Afghanistan was just a worthless pile of rocks that had no economic value; therefore, the goal of the war must be to deprive terrorists of a base and, as a bonus, to spread democracy, protect women, and rebuild the country. But in 2010 they began to report on "newly discovered mineral deposits…so big that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world." But the story of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was hardly new.  

Since the 1960s, it was reported by the Minerals Yearbook of the US Geological Survey that Afghanistan is rich in natural gas, copper, iron ore, gold, silver, and precious gems. Afghanistan has chromite that hardens steel. It has barite that is used in oil well "drilling fluid." The 1963 entry on Afghanistan in the Minerals Yearbook says "known natural gas reserves are substantial and have potential significance." The 1982 entry reports about the Hajigak iron ore deposit that "a 1977 independent survey concluded that the deposit was large enough and of a sufficient grade to support a major iron and steel industry." The Minerals Yearbook came in 1992 reported  "The country's rich reserves of natural gas, estimated at 2,000 billion cubic meters..." The Yearbook also reported "copper ore from a reserve estimated at 360 MMT (Million metric tons)" and that "rich reserves of iron ore were estimated at 1,700 MMT." In November 2001 Ishaq Nadiri, a professor of economics at New York University, wrote that Afghanistan "...once exported natural gas to the Soviet Union. It has large reserves of copper and high-grade iron ore." In a December 2001, John F. Shroder, Jr., a professor of geology at the University of Nebraska, said that he had studied the natural resources of Afghanistan for decades and that it had "what may be the world's largest copper deposit and the third-largest deposit of high-grade iron ore, in addition to reserves of gas, oil, coal, precious stones." Professor Shroder said that several American companies had called him "to find out more about the prospects for post-war mining and hydrocarbon acquisition."

 This news might lead a careful reader to question the motives in Afghanistan yet the media consistently reported that Afghanistan had no economic value aside from pistachios, pomegranates, goats, and sheep. On December 13th, the leaders of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the vice-president of India met in Turkmenistan where a table with four buttons was set up so each country’s leader could press a button, simultaneously initiating the construction of the TAPI natural gas pipeline. TAPI is the acronym for the four countries involved in the pipeline construction. This event was big news in south Asia and was covered by all the major newspapers in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It should have been big news in the US and the West too, but the media ignored the story.  A US State Department spokesman told the Press Trust of India that "The United States congratulates Turkmenistan and its partners on the recent ground-breaking for the construction of the natural gas pipeline to Afghanistan..." Yet, the US media decided that this was news that US citizens did not need to know. Many peace advocates have suspected from the beginning that this natural gas pipeline is one of the ways that the coalition of the greedy expected to profit from this war. Aside from the TAPI pipeline there are many opportunities for the coalition of greedy corporations to make a killing, so to speak. Selling weapons to both sides, opium smuggling, and overcharging for shoddy construction and useless consulting fees are just a few examples, but stealing minerals may be the driving force that makes the war continue.

As with Iraq, the war in Afghanistan has been an unmitigated disaster in its stated goals: to promote democracy, the rule of the law, human rights. Afghanistan, year after year, has slipped down the Transparency International corruption index until it is now tied for second most corrupt nation on earth. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction shows that over 99% of spending in Afghanistan has gone to military spending or supporting a corrupt government. Less than 1% has gone tor food, clothing, and shelter for some of the poorest people on earth, the Afghans, now suffering through their 38th year of war. What better way to steal the mineral wealth of Afghanistan than to create a weakened government and a starving people? Now if its unstated goals was to feed the greed of Big Corporations, apparently it has been a success.

Poverty forces pensioners into life of crime

Scores of old age pensioners in Cumbria have been convicted for committing crimes over the past 12 months, according to police figures. Theft was the number-one offence committed. The spate of crimes committed by people in this age bracket could be a direct result of being plunged into poverty, according the UK’s largest charity for older people.

"The majority of elderly people are on a fixed income yet rent and bills and other outgoings continue to rise…They live in destitution and then end up in A&E,” said Hugh Tomlinson, deputy chief officer of Age UK South Lakeland. Mr Tomlinson said the number of elderly people seeking welfare advice and being directed to food banks had spiked in the past 18 months. “People are desperate," he added.

The Abyss

The dominant section of the capitalist class in Britain want to stay in the EU, but they have a political problem. Their representatives, in the Tory Party committed themselves to holding a referendum on the question. This was unwise, from their point of view, as this is to delegate a decision of vital interest to them to a population of workers that is largely uninformed on the issue and whose heads have been filled over the years with patriotic nonsense for other purposes. It is by no means certain that they will win the referendum, though they probably will if they put the media organs they control into top gear. Cameron and others are now presently warning workers that leaving the European Union is a "leap into the dark" with unknowable consequences. Martin Temple, the chairman of the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, warned to leave the European Union would amount to a step into an “abyss of uncertainty and risk.”

The main argument put forward by the anti-EU section of the capitalist class is that it involves a loss of "our" sovereignty. It may well involve a loss of their sovereignty but the rest of us have no "sovereignty" to lose. Certainly, we have the vote and we can use it to elect politicians to Westminister. But neither Parliament nor the government can control the way the economy works. They can try but if they go against the profit logic of the system they just make things worse. The most they can successfully do is go along with this logic. They emphasise Parliament's "constitutional right" to control the economy, completely ignoring the fact that experience has shown this to be a purely paper right. The capitalist economy works according to certain economic laws which no government or legislative body can over-ride. So the argument about sovereignty is not really about what the constitution may or may not say. It's about the effective power that a capitalist state can exercise within the capitalist economy.

Capitalism has always existed within a framework of competing states, none of which is strong enough to impose its will on all the others. States, as weapons in the hands of rival groups of capitalists, intervene to further the interests of the capitalists that control them. They do this by using state power to set up protected markets, raw materials sources, trade routes and investment outlets. In normal times their weapons are tariffs, taxes, quotas, export rebates and other economic measures. The extent to which a capitalist state can distort the world market in favour of its capitalists depends both on its industrial muscle. In the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism might is right. Over the years capitalism has become more and more international, more and more globalised. This has tended to reduce the margin of manoeuvre open to states, i.e. has reduced their "sovereignty". The sovereignty argument is really an argument within the capitalist class as to whether they should give up some of the might of their state to be able to benefit from the greater might of a larger grouping. In the capitalist world, just as much as for workers bargaining over wages, "unity is strength". The less stupid capitalists are circumspect. They realise that Britain can't really go it alone, but has to be associated with some larger grouping.

As socialists, we don't take sides in this inter-capitalist argument. We don't support one section of the capitalist class or the other, and we don't have any illusions about the "sovereign power" of Parliament to pass reformist legislation that can make capitalism work in the interest of the exploited class of wage and salary earners. Capitalism just cannot be reformed to work in this way; so transferring some of the powers of the House of Commons to a European Parliament in Strasbourg makes no difference. Whether or not the British capitalist class stay in the EU is not a working-class issue. Let the capitalist class and their parties and supporters settle the matter for themselves. In the meantime we continue to campaign for the establishment of a world society without frontiers where the resources of the Earth are the common heritage of humanity and are used to produce the things we need to live and to enjoy life for us to take directly.

Can we trust the pharmaceutical industry?

Yet another tale of Big Pharma’s failings because it is in the business for making profits and dividends for its investors. The number of elderly patients being admitted to hospital due to adverse drug reactions is ‘one in three’.

Pharmaceutical companies are causing biased information to be given to doctors about the efficacy of drugs, causing an epidemic of misinformed practitioners that is “costing hundreds of thousands of lives” across the world, it has been claimed by Dr Aseem Malhotra, an NHS cardiologist and a trustee of the King’s Fund health think tank. Dr Malhotra is one of a number of senior physicians, including the Queen’s former doctor Sir Richard Thompson, calling for the Public Accounts Committee to launch an independent enquiry into the efficacy and safety of medicines. There is “a systemic lack of transparency in the information being given to doctors to prescribe medication, in terms of the benefits of drugs being grossly exaggerated and their side effects under reported in studies”. Last year the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges launched a campaign to stop doctors from ‘over-treating’ patients amid growing evidence patients are being over-diagnosed and treated for a number of conditions, such as prostate cancer, high blood pressure and asthma.

Dr Malhotra said the prevalence of pharmaceutical companies, which are “profit making businesses” being able to fund studies and drug trials causes biased information to be recorded and reported on in medical journals. This is in turn “creating an epidemic of misinformed doctors,” he said, stressing that the heart of the issue is “corporate interest trumping patient interest”.

It is this lack of transparency that harms patients through the adverse side effects of drugs, Dr Malhotra said, citing an FDA report that found adverse events from prescribed medications caused 123,000 deaths in the USA in 2014 and 800,000 serious patient outcomes, which include hospitalisation or potentially causing disability. The FDA report also states that the number of adverse events from prescribed medications have tripled in the past 10 years in America, he said.

In the UK, the elderly are at particular risk of adverse drug reactions, Dr Malhotra said. Side effects of prescription drugs on the over 75s, particularly if they are on more than one set of medications, can make them dizzy and fall over which can cause a hip fracture and develop into further problems. The number of over 75s being admitted to hospital due to adverse drug reactions is one in three, and a quarter of these patients will die as a result of these injuries, he claimed.
Two million Brits have become addicted to prescription drugs.

Peter Gotze, professor of research design at the University of Copenhagen, has evidence to suggest that prescribed drugs are the third biggest killer behind heart disease and cancer, with particular concern placed on the effects of psychotropic drugs used to treat dementia, among others illnesses.

“Institutions such as universities, medical journals and doctors collude wittingly or unwittingly with the medical industry for financial gain,” Dr Malhotra said. “We need a cultural shift towards de-prescribing – and full access to the raw data from clinical trials for independent scrutiny, as this will encourage pharma sponsored research to be conducted at a higher ethical level,” he said, adding that until then “I personally regard all industry sponsored studies as marketing until proven otherwise”.

America's Inequality

According to a 2014 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the wealthiest 1% of U.S. households own about 42% of the country's wealth. On the other side, the share of wealth owned by the bottom 40% of U.S. households amounts to just 0.3%. When it comes to income – the stats are the same. The top 1% of U.S. households earn as much annual income as the lowest-earning 40%.

America's four wealthiest families own as much as the bottom 40% - that’s 128 million people whose combined net worth is matched by the wealth of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and the Koch Brothers.

The Weapon traders

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Big Pharma Again...

Sovaldi and the related pill Harvoni cost Medicare and Medicaid more than $5 billion in 2014.

After an 18-month investigation into the high cost of Gilead's hepatitis C drug Sovaldi—initially listed at $84,000 for a course of treatment or $1,000 per pill—the Senate Finance Committee said the prices did not reflect the cost of research and development and that Gilead cared about "revenue" not "affordability and accessibility."

In 2008, the Texas attorney general's office charged Risperdal maker Janssen (Johnson & Johnson's psychiatric drug unit) with defrauding the state of millions "with [its] sophisticated and fraudulent marketing scheme," to "secure a spot for the drug, Risperdal, on the state's Medicaid preferred drug list and on controversial medical protocols that determine which drugs are given to adults and children in state custody." The Texas attorney general's office charged Janssen with bribing Texas' mental health officials with trips, perks and kickbacks. Janssen also paid drug company-funded front groups, disguised to look like patients, to "give state mental health officials and lawmakers the perception that the drug had widespread support," reported Bloomberg. Many alleged patient groups agitating for approval of expensive new drugs or fighting so-called "barriers" to treatment and mental illness "stigma" are actually slick drug company marketing creations. Many are entrenched in schools and on college campuses to capture "psychiatric patients" at an early age, often ensuring decades of sales. In Texas, a Medicaid "decision tree" called the Texas Medical Algorithm Project was instituted that mandates doctors prescribe the newest and most expensive psychiatric drugs first. The program was funded, not surprisingly, by the Johnson & Johnson-linked Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs spent $717 million on 5 million prescriptions of Risperdal to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq only to discover after nine years that the drug worked no better than a placebo, reported the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2011.

According to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, the drug industry spent $272,000 in campaign donations per member of Congress last year. He reports that there are more drug company lobbyists than members of Congress.

Of course, Big Pharma aren't the only corporations that is ripping the people off big time. It is simply that Big Pharma is just more disgusting because it directly impacts a person’s health, in addition to their wallet. They are creating a nation of prescription drug addicts by making normal human behaviors a disease or a syndrome. Big Ag is another behemoth entity gambling with people’s health to make a profit. 

Hurun Global Rich List 2016

It has been a good year for Manufacturing, Pharma, Investments and Tech.  It has been a bad year for Energy and Real Estate.
Bill Gates, 60, retains the Number 1 spot with a fortune of US$80bn. Gates becomes the first person alive today to have created a US$100bn fortune, having given away more than US$20bn to date. In January, he bought a new home near Seattle, a 6,000 sq metre property, for US$150 million.
Warren Buffett, 85, saw his wealth decrease by US$8bn or 11%, US$2.2bn of which was a donation to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Buffett has recently been buying into oil refiner Phillips 66. Interestingly, 99 percent of his wealth was earned after his 50th birthday.
Amancio Ortega79, is back in the top 3 this year. Inditex, the mother ship of Zara, closed January with its share price close to historic highs. Daughter Sandra Ortega Mera also makes the list with US$5.5bn, inherited from her mother.
Jeff Bezos, 52, shot into the Top 10 for the first time with a US$24bn or 83% increase in wealth to fourth spot with US$53bn on the back of a surge in Amazon shares.  Together with Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla fame (US$8.8bn, up 38% to 134thplace), Bezos has been making headlines for his space project: at the end of last year Bezos successfully launched and returned a booster and capsule from a suborbital flight.  Bezos in 2013 purchased the Washington Post.
Carlos Slim Helu, 76, dropped out of Top 3 after losing 40% or US$33bn of his fortune, mainly on the back of big drops in America Movil and Mineras Fresco. The Mexican billionaire has built a museum in Mexico City to house his US$100 million collection of art.
Larry Ellison, 71, with US$47bn, saw his wealth drop by 15%, on the back of a reduction in Oracle’s stock price. Ellison has donated US$4m to the presidential campaign of Marco Rubio.
Mark Zuckerberg, at 31, the youngest member of the Top 10, has had a good year, seeing his wealth rise US$3bn to US$47bn.  Zuckerberg made world headlines in December when he announced that he would donate 99% of his Facebook stock to a charity set up with wife Priscilla Chan.
Charles, 80, and David Koch, 75, retain their Top 10 spots on the back of a combined US$16bn increase in their wealth. Charles Koch is an important donor to the Republican presidential campaign.
With a net worth of US$37bn, Michael Bloomberg, 73, shot into the top 10 for the first time on the back of a rise in sales at his media group.  Bloomberg is reported to be toying with the idea of running for President as an independent. He has donated US$1bn to John Hopkins University.

A spectre is haunting Europe

When people start talking about the importance of preserving national independence it's a clear sign of a lack of socialist consciousness. They may call it maintaining local democracy but what's meant is maintaining local capitalism. The national capitalism of those who seek to leave the EU is hardly credible: its “protectionist” programmes would only push capitalism into recession, since the world’s economies are now too interconnected for such a “national” solution to be viable. In short, national capitalism has no solution.

The problem for the EU is that there is no longer unanimity among what may be termed the European capitalist class as to how the Union should develop and what are the appropriate rules for possible structures for it. The referendum debate is a manifestation of this and illustration of how the governing ideas in society are those of the capitalist elite. One section of the capitalist class, controlling large multi-national enterprises that are involved in international manufacture and  services are extremely concerned about global competition from the USA or China, etc. and view European unity as beneficial.  Against that there is another rival section to the capitalist class. These generally operate smaller businesses acting in predominately national markets or trading almost exclusively with individual countries outside Europe such as the USA. To them other capitalists within Europe are as much a threat as those outside the EU.

Contrary to what some groups believe, the capitalist class is not an eternally cohesive, Machiavellian cabal perfectly capable of imposing its will and interest on wider society. It is riven by differences as each capitalist strives to pursue their own economic interest and seize as much a share of the surplus value produced by social production as they are able, by every means at their disposal: legal, political, economic or criminal. The means by which each capitalist secures their share of surplus value determines their economic interest, and each capitalist will do everything within their considerable power to secure and enhance that interest. The EU represents an enormous share of UK trade, and much more than any other single region can lay claim to. The City of London financial centre is a big factor in the service sector and many of its exports and imports are a product of international financial transactions, the shuffling of electronic claims to riches from one side of the world to the other, and trading in currencies. A great many of these London firms, then, will be dependent on being able to extract economic rent from exploiting the restrictions on capital investment caused by currency blocs, whether from pounds to dollars or pounds to Euros. They thus not only have an interest in trading with economic partners other than the EU, but also retaining the pound to protect their income from transaction costs. It is this combination of interests which leads to economic nationalism being prioritised over joining a trading currency zone.

The referendum is taking place in an environment of public apathy and cynicism towards politicians. Interest in the political process by workers is generally at a low ebb and this disillusion can only be reinforced by “debates” such as have occurred on this issue. Real meaningful change to peoples' lives can only take place when the root causes of the problems facing humanity are considered on a worldwide scale. The working class has no interest in this passing show of inter-capitalist squabbling over the EU, except to note the spectacle and prepare for the day when there are no more nations to squabble over so-called sovereignty.

We are kept apart so that we may be separately fleeced of the fruits of our labour. We are made to hate one another because it is the key to capitalist domination which enslaves us both. We are deceived and blinded that we may not see how nationalism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars us all.

A German "Miracle"

Germany has that economic power-house reputation yet poverty remains high in Germany among single parents, the jobless and elderly, say social welfare groups. Low-skill workers have become disconnected from economic success.

2013 data from the federal statistics office, showing that more than half or nearly 52 percent of net assets in Germany were owned by just ten percent of the population. In a glaring contrast, half of Germany's population of 81 million owns only just over one percent of assets.

Germany's "Paritätische" federation, representing 10,000 social welfare groups, warned that nearly one in six of Germany's residents remained at risk of being trapped in relative poverty. The term used across the EU refers to anyone, child or adult, who lives on less than 60 percent of the medium income as measured statistically. In Germany, that threshold is 917 euros ($1,015) per month for a single person and 1,192 euros ($1,310) for a single parent with a child under six.

15.4% of the population nationwide was stuck below the poverty line. Relative poverty had climbed to a record 20% in North Rhine-Westphalia's Ruhr District, once the engine of German heavy industry.

Despite record employment, poverty had not declined, said Dorothee Spannagel, a social expert who analyzed poverty trends for the trade union-affiliated Hans-Böckler Foundation. She told the German news agency DPA that the gap in Germany between poor and rich continued to widen. Spannegel said the so-called low wage sector involving menial jobs had become disconnected from overall economic gains. In addition, there had been a surge in individuals earning from their capital investments. Spannagel explained that an individual's chance of making it ahead had diminished and the risk of falling into poverty had grown. In the 1980s, the risk of falling from the middle income milieu into poverty had been around 12 percent, she said. Since 2005, the risk had risen to 16 percent.

TTIPing off the Oil companies

The European Union’s trade commissioner, Karel de Gucht, told the multinational oil company ExxonMobil that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) ‘free trade’ pact being negotiated with the US would help remove obstacles to fossil fuel development in Africa and South America, documents obtained by the Guardian reveal. He told the firm that TTIP could address its concerns about regulations in developing countries that restrict the company’s activities.

According to minutes of the October meeting, the hour-long conversation focused on shale gas; “geopolitical aspects”; EU plans to label tar sands as high-polluting; and a possible reconversion of ExxonMobil’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal in the US to export crude to Europe. This would be “costly and may take two-three years,” the minutes said. Heavily redacted records show that two officials from Exxon’s US and EU regions were present in the room with de Gucht, the then-trade commissioner, Claes Bengtsson, his cabinet member, and two other unidentified individuals. The commission was keen to point out the advantages that a TTIP deal could offer ExxonMobil, with respect to countries not party to the trade deal.

“TTIP is perhaps more relevant as setting a precedent vis-a-vis third countries than governing trade and investment bilaterally,” the paper says. “We think that this third country element is in the interest of the energy sector, and especially globally active companies like Shell or Exxonmobil. After all, companies like Shell or Exxonmobil face the same trade barriers when doing business in Africa, in Russia or in South America.” The commission was in effect saying that once the trade deal was in place, other countries outside it would be progressively forced to adopt the same measures, making it easier for companies such as ExxonMobil to expand into their markets. At the time that the brief was written, several countries in the “global south” were tightening regulations on fossil fuel companies for the first time in a decade, despite ExxonMobil’s ambitions to open up shale gas fracking wells in North Africa, Asia and South America. The briefing paper said that the TTIP talks were a unique chance to write a new rule-book for global trade that “could serve as a model for subsequent negotiations involving third countries”.

John Hilary, the executive director of the campaign group War on Want, accused the commission of overstepping its mandate in the talks. “It is tantamount to corruption that the European commission should be prepared to work hand in glove with such vested interests in crafting deals that will have a profound effect on our environment. The commission’s clear priority is establishing a template for all future deals,” Hilary said. “It is critical because it means that no countries will be able to tighten the regulatory regime on fossil fuel companies operating on their territories.”

Dr Valérie Marcel, associate energy fellow at Chatham House, said that in late 2013, fossil fuel firms had been increasingly fearful that the long-term investment climate was changing. “There was a growing trend of producing countries wanting to capture maximum windfalls from petroleum projects,” she said. “They were imposing windfall taxes or threatening to change contractual terms, so they [the oil companies] probably wanted to put political pressure on those governments.”

Steve Kretzmann, the director of the campaign group Oil Change International, described the commission’s behaviour as a “scandalous” attempt to liberalise the global crude market that went beyond shale gas and shale oil. “I see it as standard setting because it would allow the EU to place greater diplomatic and political pressure on those [developing] countries to lower all their trade barriers,” he said. “If the US is not doing this protective policy anymore you shouldn’t either.”

'William Morris: Revolutionary Socialist or Utopian Dreamer?'

Saturday, 27 February from 1pm.
The Red Shed,
18 Vicarage St South,
Wakefield WF1 1QX

A speaker from the Socialist Party will be among those contributing to a forum on William Morris, hosted by Wakefield Socialist History Group.

Here's the line-up for this event:
Brian Else (Wakefield Green Party)
Bill Martin (SPGB)
Colin Waugh (Independent Working Class Education Network)

Admission is free. There is also a free light buffet and an excellent bar with real ale.

Useful reading:
Art, Labour & Socialism by William Morris

Wee Matt on William Morris 

A man can't help the class he is born into. William Morris betrayed his class and sided with the working class. If you are a worker, do you make common cause with your fellow worker to get rid of capitalism, (revolution) as Morris did, or do you slavishly support reforms as most workers still do, despite the evidence capitalism cannot be reformed?

Even the Left would not have been of the 'Left' as Morris would have understood it.  He well understood that the revolution would only be made by the workers 'themselves' and tried to assist in developing understanding for a society where buying and selling would be seen as quaint behaviour from the annals of historical capitalist development. He also understood that the new society would be a post-capitalist one, using the technology thrown up by intensive capitalist development, to produce a superabundance of wealth in the new society, with common rather than elite, ownership and with free access to the common wealth, rather than a rationed access via the wages system as at present. He knew that all wealth flowed from labour and should return to labour with the abolition of private property and the wages system. He is a political giant compared to the leftist pygmies.

There can't be politics as we know it when we reach socialism. As there are no vested interests competing for the means and instruments of creating and distributing wealth. This doesn't mean there won’t be competing ideas and arguments but the interests are common so the heat is out of it. We won't know for sure until we get there but a world without buying and selling, without waged slavery ,without war, without government over people but rather an administration by the people over things will certainly have us relating differently to one another. This is essentially what Morris was exploring and speculating about.

We need to get out of the present capitalist schooled, 'combative', 'competitive', mindset, to get what Morris was driving at in his abstractions. Until the workers arm themselves with the knowledge of their common class interest, to remove the parasite class from their ownership of the means and instruments for creating and distributing wealth and establish common ownership, without social classes or elites, then capitalism will continue in its present decadent phase, from crisis to crisis, even to war, just as feudalism did.