Monday, October 31, 2016

Good times for the rich

The harder you work, the more the boss, and their financiers, make. “Shareholders today aren’t providing capital to the corporate sector, they’re extracting it,” says Nick Hanauer an original Amazon investor. Stock buybacks was worth more than $6.9 trillion worth since 2004, according to data compiled by the Academic-Industry Research Network. Between 2003 and 2012, the companies that make up the S&P 500 spent an astounding 54 percent of profits on stock buybacks. Last year alone, U.S. corporations spent about $700 billion, roughly 4 percent of GDP, simply propping up their share prices by repurchasing their own stock. And much of the rest of these profits has been paid to shareholders in the form of dividends. Over the past 40 years, corporate profits’ take of the U.S. economy has doubled — from an average of 6 percent of GDP during America’s post-war economic heyday to more than 12 percent today. Yet despite this extra $1 trillion a year in corporate profits, job growth remains low, wages are flat-lining. The core claim of the trickle-down economics crowd is that high profits are the principal driver of growth. The higher profits are, the more money we have to “create jobs” and invest. So a fair question to ask is, where did this extra trillion dollars of profit go?

Class warfare is poised to reach a new milestone as this year’s combined total of dividends and stock buybacks by 500 of the world’s largest corporations will exceed US$1 trillion. So large is that figure that, for the second year in a row, the companies comprising the S&P 500 Index (a list of many of the world’s biggest corporations) will pay out more money in dividends and stock buybacks than the total of their profits. A research report by Barclays estimates that those payouts by S&P 500 corporations will total about $115 billion more than their combined net income. 2015 also saw buybacks and dividends total more than net income; the last time there was consecutive years in which this happened were 2007 and 2008.

Although dividends, a quarterly payment to holders of stock, are steadily increasing, the increase in stock buybacks has been steeper. The total of these has tripled since 2009 as financiers and industrialists feverishly extract as much wealth as they can. This is part of why the “recovery” since the 2008 economic collapse has been a recovery only for those at the top. This sort of activity helps buoy stock prices.

In short, a buyback is when a corporation buys its own stock from its shareholders at a premium to the current price. Speculators love buybacks because it means extra profits for them. Corporate executives love them because, with fewer shares outstanding following a buyback program, their company’s “earnings per share” figure will rise for the same net income, making them look good in the eyes of Wall Street. Remaining shareholders love buybacks because the profits will now be shared among fewer shareholders. Wall Street and corporate executives both win!

In 2015 General Motors announced a $5 billion stock buyback. The beleaguered car-maker is appeasing grumbling shareholders by making their shares worth more. Buying back stock limits its supply and therefore artificially drives up its value. To make those purchases, GM is reducing its cash reserves from $25 billion to $20 billion. (Recall that you, the taxpayer, helped prop up GM’s cash reserves with a $49.5 billion bailout in 2009.) The stock buyback, combined with higher dividends, is expected to result in $10 billion for shareholders through 2016. It’s a grand time to be holding GM stock. And a bad time to have been behind the wheel of one of the thousands of defective vehicles for which GM is currently under investigation by the Department of Justice.

Times are indeed good for speculators. Not so good for employees — the people who do the actual work — whose pay is stagnant or declining so that those at the top can scoop up still more. They’ll have to suffer through pay freezes, work speed-ups and lay-offs because the money given share-holder and executive pay and financial industry profits has to come from somewhere.

“Quantitative easing” programs resulte in the U.S. Federal Reserve pumping $4.1 trillion into its three rounds of quantitative easing; the Bank of England spent £375 billion; the European Central Bank has spent about €1.34 trillion; and the Bank of Japan has spent ¥220 trillion so far. That’s a total of US$8 trillion or €7.4 trillion. And the last two programs are ongoing. The supposed purpose of quantitative-easing programs is to stimulate the economy by encouraging investment. Under this theory, a reduction in long-term interest rates would encourage businesses to invest because they could borrow cheaply; and push down the value of the currency, thereby boosting exports by making locally made products more competitive. Interest rates on bonds fell because a central bank buying bonds in bulk significantly increases demand for them, enabling bond sellers to offer lower interest rates. Seeking assets with a better potential payoff, speculators buy stock instead, driving up stock prices and inflating a stock-market bubble. Money not used in speculation ends up parked in bank coffers, boosting bank profits, or is borrowed by businesses to buy back more of their stock, another method of driving up stock prices without making any investments. The practical effects of all this is to re-distribute income upward.

Wal-Mart made headlines by announcing it would spend a billion dollars a year raising the wages of its lowest paid employees — a minor tweak to its low-wage business model. Over the past 10 years, according to data compiled from its public filings, Wal-Mart has spent more than $65.4 billion on stock buybacks — about 47 percent of its profits. That’s an average of more than $6.5 billion a year in stock buybacks, enough to give each of its 1.4 million U.S. workers a $4,670-a-year raise. It is also, coincidentally, an amount roughly equivalent to the estimated $6.2 billion Wal-Mart costs U.S. taxpayers every year in food stamps, Medicaid, subsidized housing, and other public assistance to its many impoverished employees. Wal-Mart racked up more than $16 billion in net income for 2015 and seems poised to better that this year. Sam Walton, owns about half of Wal-Mart’s stock and receive a corresponding share of the billions of dollars in dividends the company pays yearly. It also spends billions more buying back stock annually, an indirect help to the Waltons. This is a company notorious for dodging taxes while paying its employees so little they require government assistance, and is the recipient of vast amounts of government hand-outs. The Waltons make tens of thousands times what their ill-paid employees earn. They certainly don’t work tens of thousands harder — or even work at all, as the billions roll in just for being born into the right family.

From here 

Passing it down to the next generation

460 billionaires are set to transfer $2.1 trillion — roughly the equivalent of India’s GDP or about the amount wiped out from panicked world markets after the U.K.’s Brexit vote — to heirs within the next 20 years.

According to UBS/PwC Billionaires Report the impending exchange is “the greatest transfer of wealth in history” and points to the fact that it will be the first time this much wealth is handed down to second generations around the world at once.
Asia according to the report  will be the first large transfer of billionaire wealth for most young Asian economies, where it estimates 85% of billionaires are self-made.

UBS and PwC estimate that 40% of the billionaires they track are over 70 and will likely pass on their wealth by 2040. That breaks down to 48% of the U.S. billionaires (representing $1.1 trillion), 50% of Europeans ($600 billion) and 20% of Asian fortunes ($300 billion).

Fact of the Day

1.3 million Indians served in the 1914-18 war. 2.5 million Indian soldiers volunteered to fight in the Second World War. 87,000 died.

Poisoned children

300 million children live in areas with extreme air pollution, data reveals. A global study reveals huge number of children breathing toxic fumes more than six times over safe limits, while 2 billion are affected by air pollution that exceeds guidelines. Children are far more vulnerable to air pollution, which leads to 600,000 child deaths a year globally, according to Unicef. Children are especially at risk, the Unicef report says, because they breathe more rapidly than adults and the cell layer in their lungs is more permeable to pollutant particles. The tiny particles can also cross the blood-brain barrier, which is less resistant in children, permanently harming cognitive development and their future prospects. Even the unborn are affected, as the particles inhaled by pregnant women can cross the placental barrier, injuring fetuses. 

“The magnitude of the danger air pollution poses is enormous,” said Anthony Lake, Unicef’s executive director. “No society can afford to ignore air pollution. We protect our children when we protect the quality of our air. Both are central to our future.”

Prof Jos Lelieveld, at the Max Planck Institute in Mainz, Germany, said: “Air pollution is typically a problem in developing countries, where infants have little resistance due to poor nutrition and where health care is insufficient.”

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “In the UK, we know that children’s health is being put at risk every day by unsafe levels of pollution in many of our towns and cities. At least 3,000 schools are located within illegal levels of pollution. Yet very few of these schools have monitors around them. It’s time for the government to enact a new clean air act to tackle this modern pollution problem and protect all our health.” Unicef recommends minimising children’s exposure by ensuring sources of pollution such as busy roads and factories are not sited near schools and playgrounds

Air pollution is world’s single biggest environmental health risk, according to the WHO, and is getting worse, with levels of toxic air rising 8% in the last five years. Over three million people a year die as a result of outdoor air pollution – six every minute on average – and this is set to double by 2050 as fast growing cities expand. Indoor air pollution, mainly from wood or dung stoves, causes another three million deaths a year.

Of the 300 million exposed to levels of pollution six times over WHO limits, 220 million live in south Asia, where India hosts many of the world’s most polluted cities. Another 70 million children living with very toxic air live in east Asia, mainly in China. But more children are exposed to air pollution levels above the WHO limit in Africa - 520 million - than in east Asia. The air pollution crisis is worst in low and middle income nations, where 98% of cities do not meet WHO guidelines, but over half the cities in rich countries also fail to meet the guidelines. In Europe, 120 million children live in areas where outdoor air pollution exceeds international limits, and 20 million suffer levels over double the limit.

Unicef urges all countries to cut air pollution by reducing fossil fuel burning in power plants and vehicles

Words are important

What is the difference between "socialism" and "communism"? The two terms are interchangeable: both describe the classless, stateless society of free and equal producers projected and advocated by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels who both used the two terms interchangeably. Marx and Engels generally preferred to use the term "socialism" in their writings.

As Engels explained in his 1888 preface to the English translation of The Communist Manifesto:
"When it appeared, we could not have called it a socialist manifesto. Two kinds of people were regarded as socialists in 1847. On the one hand were the followers of the various Utopian systems, especially the Owenites in England and the Fourierists in France, both of which at that time had dwindled to mere sects that were already dying out. On the other hand were the numerous social quacks who, with their various panaceas and every type of patchwork, wanted to do away with social evils without, in the slightest, harming capital and profit. In both cases, they were people outside the labor movement and looked far more for support from the 'educated' classes.

On the other hand, that part of the working class which was convinced of the inadequacy of a mere political revolution and demanded a fundamental transformation of society -- that part at the time called itself communist.... In 1847 socialism signified a bourgeois movement and communism a working-class movement. Socialism, at least on the Continent, was respectable enough for the drawing room; communism was the exact opposite. Since we were already then definitely of the opinion that 'the emancipation of the workers had to be the task of the working class itself,' we could not for one moment be in doubt as to which of the two names to choose. Nor has it ever occurred to us to renounce it since then."

Today, both "socialism" and "communism" have been wrongly associated with false definitions. Thanks to the Labour Party in Britain many people have come to equate "socialism" with any industry or program that is administered by the capitalist political state, be it a nationalised healthcare system or a welfare program. "Communism," meanwhile, has come to be associated with the system of bureaucratic state-capitalism, run by the despotic so-called Communist parties.

Adding to the confusion is the false concept that the Leninist organizations have promoted for many years -- the idea that a post-capitalist society first goes through a lengthy "socialist" stage, before arriving at the classless society of "communism." This is a distortion of Marxism, invented by Lenin in his work, ‘State and Revolution’. Marx did describe a "first phase" and "higher phase" of "communist society" in his Critique of the Gotha Program. But he was not describing a "transitional" stage in which classes and the state would still exist, and a "higher" stage in which they would disappear, and he did not describe the "first phase" as "socialism" and the "higher phase" as "communism." Rather, he was describing a development that would occur after the classless society, based on social ownership and democratic workers' control of the means of production -- a society that could be described as either "socialism" or "communism" -- was fully established. In the "first phase," some measure of labor time would still be needed to govern the exchange and distribution of the workers' product; in the "higher phase," distribution could be conducted according to the principle: "From everyone according to his faculties, to everyone according to his needs."

Lenin described Marx's two "phases" as "the scientific difference between socialism and communism." Subsequently, in the ideology of the Leninists and Trotskyist, "socialism" became associated with bureaucratic state-capitalism, and "communism" with the classless society that somehow would arrive some day in the far-off distant future. But these false and confusing definitions of "socialism" and "communism" have no basis in Marx's writings. Naturally, the capitalist class and its leading propagandists in the United States have been all too happy to seize upon any and all of the false definitions of "socialism" and "communism" in order to confuse the working class and discredit both words in workers' minds. Standing against such misinformation, the Socialist Party have an established history of fighting to uphold the correct Marxist meaning of socialism or communism. In defending and advocating Marx's and Engels' conception of the future classless society, though, we have focused on winning over workers by using the term that Marx and Engels preferred in their later years -- socialism.

The fact that Marx and Engels championed universal suffrage, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and a free press; the fact that their conception of socialism was a class-free society administered by "associations of free and equal producers"; the fact that they hailed the workers' participatory democracy of the Paris Commune as a harbinger of socialism -- such inconvenient truths are simply ignored by the capitalist propaganda machine in its tireless efforts to steer workers away from socialism. 

Personal Finance News

Millions of British households face financial disaster if their incomes dry up. More than 6.5 million households are in debt, or face the prospect of falling into debt within a month, should they lose their jobs, according to new research from The Equality Trust. The richest 10 per cent of households have almost £50,000 set aside in savings, while the poorest 10 per cent have an average of just £100.

More than 40 per cent of working households have too little saved to pay even a month’s worth of household bills, let alone cover one-off bills such as the typical £540 cost of a replacement boiler.

“Over a third of households owe more in debt that they have saved, and millions more face falling into trouble in the event of a financial shock they cannot avoid," Dr Wanda Wyporska, executive director of The Equality Trust, has warned. "Many households are barely clinging on, with high costs, low incomes, and reduced government support. We only need to look around to see that the scale of economic inequality in this country has reached dangerous levels." Dr Wyporska added. "This is not just a financial issue, we know that inequality means that our trust in others is lower, as well as worse levels of physical and mental health for us all. It even holds back our economy.

Many UK households will start the cold weather period already owing £100m in electricity and gas bills. 900,000 homeowners owe their gas and electricity supplier money in unpaid energy bills. Households that are behind on their bills – around 5 per cent of the UK population, according to, owe an average of more than £120 each, despite these bills typically relating to the summer period of relatively low energy costs. With the majority of homes expected to turn up the heating, switch on lights earlier, use the tumble dryer more and other energy-using action the debt to energy providers is set to increase. Despite this, barely one in ten of those struggling to make up the arrears has contacted their supplier to discuss the problem, the price comparison site estimates, with almost a fifth saying they ignore the debt, hoping it will sort itself out over time. Others report being pressurised by their supplier to pay up and a fifth of consumers said their supplier was unsympathetic to their circumstances.

According to data from Halifax, house prices have risen on average 551 per cent - a monthly increase of £905 - in the surrounding towns since the M25 motorway opened in 1986. At Junction 23, Barnet is the Hertfordshire town that has seen the biggest hikes, with a huge increase of 674 per cent taking house prices from an average of £70,000 to £540,000 in the past 30 years. Prices in the leafy north London town, which also sits across travel Zones 5 and 6, have risen by £135,000 in the last five-years alone.

Prices in neighbouring St Albans have risen almost as quickly - from £67,000 to £502,000 - representing growth of 647 per cent. Ricksmansworth, which has average house prices of £552,000. In contrast, when the motorway opened 30 years ago, Leatherhead in Surrey held top position with average house prices of £88,000.

House prices along the M25 have grown faster than the UK average, however haven't kept up with the pace of growth throughout inner London.

The "rigged" election

 Early voting began in Polk County, Iowa’s most populous county, on 29 September. Clinton and Trump are locked in a tight race in Iowa, which in past elections has proved to be a key swing state. The first fraudulent vote has been cast in the US “rigged” election.

Terri Lynn Rote, a Trump supporter, was arrested by Des Moines police after she cast an early ballot at the Polk County Election Office, and then voted again at a second location in Des Moines.

Her Facebook page contains posts describing Ms Clinton as “Satan”, as well as derogatory comments about black people and Muslims.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


A "high-net worth individual" (HNWI) is an individual who have at least $1 million invested in income-generating assets like corporate shares, government bonds and real estate. In the latest World Wealth Report by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management, there were 14.6 million high net-worth individuals. this means that they constitute a mere 0.2 percent of humanity, (or 0.7 percent of adults.) The vast majority -- 90 percent -- have income-generating assets between USD $1 and 5 million, while mid-tier millionaires with $5-30 million constitute only 9 percent of the HNWI population. This leaves a mere 1 percent of the 0.2 percent with $30 million and above invested income-generating assets.

Bill Gates, whose net worth is $90 billion at the time of writing. It may be surprising to some readers to find out that Gates only owns 3 percent of the shares in Microsoft. The rest of his wealth stems from additional income from Canadian National Rail, Deere & Co., Fomento Economico Mexicano, Republic Services Inc., and Ecolab Inc., just to name a few. Gates does not physically work in any one of these companies, yet he receives returns through ownership. Whether he is actively involved in investment decisions does not really matter. He can so easily employ some person to do this.

The more income and wealth you have, the greater is your ability to command human beings and natural resources. The goal of investing is never to lose money but to make more of it. Hedge-fund manager David Tepper made $3.5 billion in 2013. The median income in the United States was about $55,000 that same year. So with these two numbers, we can provide a ratio: 1 : 63,636.  What this means is that every time our ordinary worker makes another dollar, Tepper will make another $63,636.

Keeping Planned Obsolescence

The European Commission is preparing to abandon a plan to force manufacturers to make some home appliances use less energy and last longer before breaking down.

Environmentalists say this is a misguided. Europeans will end up with less-efficient and less-durable consumer goods.

Jack Hunter from the campaign group EEB says, "It's making toasters and kettles and hairdryers better and cheaper to run, so they don't break after half a year - all of this without raising the price or affecting jobs. Very simply, it's quality control."

Servitude and slavery

A U.N. report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers many of whom lack formal employment. In fact, worldwide, most workers are now without formal employment arrangements. Women, because they make up the majority of the world's agricultural and domestic workers, are especially burdened by the lack of labor protections. According to the report, an estimated 60.7 percent of the world's workers "labor in the informal economy, where employment relationships are not legally regulated or socially protected." In some countries this workforce rises to 90 percent. The report also notes that while such employment has always existed, the rise of global supply chains has "exponentially expanded its growth." As a result, some 1.5 billion people or 46 percent of the world's workers, now experience what the report calls "precarious employment." More than 70 percent of people in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa work this way. This workforce includes self-employed, contract and part-time workers, and day laborers -- and often those working in special economic zones where, as the report describes, "worker protections are sharply reduced or eliminated in order to attract foreign investment."

The world's growing migrant population, "have become a major low-wage workforce that is excluded from opportunities to bargain collectively for improved wages and working conditions," notes Roger-Mark De Souza, director of population, environmental security and resilience at the Wilson Center. He explains that these workers are now woven into the fabric of world economics -- sending to their home countries an estimated $580 billion in 2014.

Oxfam America regional director Minor Sinclair points out that the economy's structure is changing "in a way that disadvantages even more workers," Sinclair explains. Whether through layers of subcontractors that ultimately employ factory workers in Bangladesh, U.S. meat processing workers or college graduates working the "gig economy," the report reflects the fact that "increasingly, people don't have employers that are responsible for workers' rights," says Sinclair. And this makes it "harder for workers to advocate for (these rights) and protections." The impacts of this situation are, of course, most acute at the low-wage end of the employment spectrum, a workforce that often includes immigrant workers. In the United States, as elsewhere, farmworkers and food processing workers are especially vulnerable and lacking in protected labor rights, as are domestic workers.

The report says that in the United States, immigrant workers "who attempt to exercise their rights are often blacklisted by employers, who use the threat of denied future work opportunities to silence workers." Sinclair also says the impact and rise of right-to-work laws across the United States, which are now in place in 26 states. "Basic labor rights, the right to unionize and right to strike, are severely compromised by right-to-work laws," he says. The report describes what's happened to workers in states in the U.S. South where these laws are in place -- and how corporations have taken advantage of the lack of unionization.

But there was a small victory in the UK

Uber loses the right to classify UK drivers as self-employed. The Uber ruling could force a rethink of the gig economy business model, where companies use apps and the internet to match customers with workers. The firms do not employ the workers, but take commission from their earnings, and many have become huge global enterprises. Uber now operates around the world, with the company valued at more than £50bn. Uber argued that it was a technology firm not a transport business and that its drivers were independent self-employed contractors who could choose where and when they worked. The judges were scathing about Uber’s arguments, however, accusing the firm of “resorting in its documentation to fictions, twisted language and even brand new terminology”

Landmark employment tribunal ruling states firm must also pay drivers national living wage and holiday pay with huge implications for gig economy. Experts said other firms with large self-employed workforces could now face scrutiny of their working practices and the UK’s biggest union, Unite, announced it was setting up a new unit to pursue cases of bogus self-employment. Research by Citizens Advice has suggested that as many as 460,000 people could be falsely classified as self-employed, costing up to £314m a year in lost tax and employer national insurance contributions.

We stand with Standing Rock

Standing Rock is part of an ongoing struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) as indigenous people, defend their water, their communities and their lives. They have faced paramilitary police and armoured vehicles. They have been attacked by clubs, tear gas, mace, pepper spray, bean-bag baton rounds, and flash-bang percussion grenades and water-cannon. Previously private security guards had set attack-dogs upon protesters. Military-clad police have been training  and aiming their assault rifles upon peaceful demonstrators. Hundreds have now been arrested.

Peter Kraska, professor and author of ‘Militarizing the American Criminal Justice System: The Changing Roles of the Armed Forces and Police’ explains: 
“We have romantic notions of the relationships between government and the private sector and tend to think the old days of police supporting owners of capital—the railroad companies instead of the workers—are from a bygone era. Situations like these show that corporations and energy interests are exercising a monopoly on violence to continue the fossil fuel industry unabated.”

Steven Salaita, professor and author of the forthcoming book ‘Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine’ put it this way: “The current buildup of tremendous force at Standing Rock should be understood as a military invasion of a sovereign nation on behalf of a foreign oil company."

The state of North Dakota is applying the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) to request extra police assistance from neighboring states, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Indiana and Nebraska. The EMAC program is supposed to be used for disaster relief efforts in other states. Lt. Bob Kroll, the head of the Minneapolis Police Officer’s Federation refers to protesters as "terrorists."

Australia's Migrant 'Slavery'

In Australia at any time about 1 million people on temporary residence visas with rights to work.

The Australian government’s fair work ombudsman says it has uncovered “persistent” underpayment of Korean workers in Australia. Korean students and workers are lured to Australia with promises of sun and fun, good, well-paying jobs, a chance to study or a working holiday. Instead, they find themselves housed in overcrowded hovels, indentured to labour in construction, late-night cleaning, or restaurants, under brutal conditions and for as little as $9 an hour. In many cases, workers have no contract, and no idea for whom they are ultimately working. In others, workers have their passports seized so they cannot leave.

Prof Allan Fels, the head of the government’s newly established migrant workers taskforce, told the Guardian that exploitation of migrant workers in Australia was “systemic … in that it is deeply embedded in the practices of some businesses”.

The nascent Korean Workers Union aims to protect Korean migrant workers from the systemic abuse he says has exploited, and continues to exploit, thousands, and to inform new workers of their rights.

Joe Haln, Korean Workers Union, explains, “Agents are closely connected with the exploiters themselves, and everything is organised, right from the beginning. When people arrive at the airport there is somebody there to take them and put them in a van and take them to accommodation. It is accommodation, but it is like a slave camp. They are put in a room, seven or eight people to a room, to sleep, and then they are woken up very early in the morning and driven to the building site, they don’t even know where they are, they don’t know who they are working for, and they are made to start working. These are like forced labour camps, it is like slave labour, these people aren’t free at all.” Haln said migrant workers have had their passports taken from them. They are not given employment contracts, and there is no agreement on conditions or rates of pay. The face exorbitant deductions from the money that they are paid for rent, food, or other expenses. He says workers are often kept in bleak conditions, crowded into already-overfull houses, especially in the Sydney suburbs of Strathfield and Lidcombe. Animals should not be kept like this, let alone people. This is a cruelty, this is a brutality.”

Many of the Korean workers in Australia are employed on construction sites, building residential apartments or office blocks, or by cleaning companies who have contracts to clean city offices overnight. Others take jobs in restaurants across the city. For many of those in construction, they work in jobs they are not properly trained for, and without protective equipment. Should they be injured, or seek to complain, they find themselves in a labyrinthine maze of contractors and subcontractors, a chain to which there is no apparent end. “There is no paperwork, no contract,” Haln said. “People don’t even know who they are working for, so they don’t know who to complain to. Nobody takes any responsibility.”

Others, particularly students studying in Australia, find jobs through the Korean local media, where jobs are advertised in Korean without any reference to award rates, or conditions. Some openly advertise pay rates as low as $12 an hour. The national minimum wage in Australia is $17.70 an hour. Student visa-holders in Australia are restricted to working 40 hours a fortnight during term - but are often compelled by employers to work far beyond that quota, and often at massively depressed rates of pay. Students find themselves compromised and, essentially, trapped: if they complain, or refuse to keep working, they are dismissed instantly, and they are unable to take their case to authorities because they know they are in breach of their visa conditions, and risk having their right to stay in Australia cancelled altogether. “Sometimes the employer says, ‘I will report you to immigration and you will be deported.’ There is nothing these people can do. They are very afraid,” Haln said.

We work like slaves, always ‘quick, quick, quick’. And we have no time to eat lunch, or dinner, or go to the toilet” - Esther Kim, chef

Friday, October 28, 2016

Labour's Shame

According to the UN World Food Programme, 14 million Yemenis are going hungry, half of them now tipping into outright starvation, an outcome long predicted by aid agencies. Much of Yemen lies in ruins. Schools, hospitals, homes and other civilian infrastructure have been bombed repeatedly by the Saudi coalition.  The UN places it in the same category of severity as the crisis in Syria.

The UK government has approved £3.3bn of arms exports (including bombs and missiles) to Saudi Arabia since the intervention began, a huge rise on the equivalent preceding period. Calls to suspend those arms sales have been made by the UN secretary general, Save the Children, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. When the intervention began, then foreign secretary Philip Hammond pledged to “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat”, including “spare parts, maintenance, technical advice, resupply” and “logistical support”. The reality is that the Saudi Air Force, roughly half UK-supplied and half US-supplied jets, could barely function without this ongoing assistance from Washington and London.

About 100 Labour MPs failed to support a motion moved by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry to withdraw support for the Saudi-led campaign. Presenting the motion in the Commons, Thornberry was subjected to a series of interruptions from Labour MPs. Indeed, Thornberry received more vocal support in the chamber from the SNP than from her own supposed parliamentary colleagues.

Labour MP John Woodcock, for instance, claimed that British support is “precisely focused on training Saudis” to improve their targeting, so as to “create fewer civilian casualties”, parroting the official government line.

The idea that the Saudis’ “widespread and systematic” attacks as stated by the UN on civilian targets are just a series of well-meaning errors is one that lacks credibility. And if decades of training provided by the British to the Saudi pilots hasn’t prevented these supposed errors by now, it seems rather unlikely that it will in the near future.

American life expectancy reduces

Life expectancy for Americans aged 25 to 85 is getting shorter, according to a new study. For 65-year-old males and females, expected lifespan has fallen by six months compared to projections in 2015, the studyfound.

The Society of Actuaries (SOA) released its latest annual mortality improvement scale for pension plans earlier this month. The scale is crafted using Social Security Administration data from 2012 to 2014 on mortality of Americans of all ages, and is used by pension plans to "help accurately measure pension obligations," said Dale Hall, SOA's managing director of research.

For example, in 2015, the average 65-year-old American male was expected to live to 86.2, while the average female of the same age was expected to live to 88.2. New projections by the SOA posit that life expectancy for 65-year-old males is more like 85.8, and 87.8 for females of the same age. SOA's calculations are made with an assumption that Americans' longevity will continue to improve. And while the average millennial that reaches age 65 is expected to live a few more years than the average baby boomer, life expectancy is getting shorter for younger Americans as well, the study found.  Life expectancy for female Americans ages 25 to 55 went down by 0.6 years – same as males ages 45 to 65 – while males in the 25-55 age bracket were down by 0.7 years. Americans ages 75 and 85 also saw decreases in life expectancy projections, but less so than younger age groups.

In June, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 2015 marked the first time in ten years that the American death rate had increased. Unlike trends for other age, racial, and ethnic groups in America, the death rate for middle-aged white Americans is rising, according to a Princeton study released in November 2015. Furthermore, the suicide rate in the US spiked by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the federal government.

One in three Americans is obese, the CDC said in September 2015. The agency also found that one in three children and teens in America eat fast food daily. Meanwhile, the maternal mortality rate in the US is on par with nations such as Palestine and Libya, according to a study released earlier this month.

German Inequality

When it comes to the distribution of wealth, Germany is near the top of the inequality scale, behind only Austria in the euro zone. 

The top 10% of German households own about 60% of the country’s wealth, whereas the bottom 20% own nothing, or are in debt

Poor Finns

Poverty is relative. We are often lectured on the wealth of the Scandinavians but it must be viewed in context.

440,000 Finns, equivalent to 8 per cent of the population, do not earn enough to maintain a reasonable level of consumption, according to the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

The housing expenses of home owners living alone are estimated at 156 euros a month, while those of tenants living alone are estimated at 388–540 euros a month, depending on their place of residence. Couples, meanwhile, need 1,126 euros a month to cover their reasonable living expenses and an additional 550–730 euros to cover their monthly rental costs, the report indicates.

A household is deemed to be at risk of poverty if its disposable income per consumption unit is below 60 per cent of the national median income.

Roughly 12.5 per cent of households, equivalent to 674,000 people, are currently at risk of poverty in Finland, according to the definition.

“The difference is attributable primarily to the fact that the minimum budget-based poverty threshold takes into account the lower housing expenses of home owners,” explains THL. “The minimum budget-based poverty threshold is 1,077–1,234 euros a month for tenants living alone, depending on their place of residence, and 837 euros a month for home owners living alone.”

Nearly one-fifth, or 19 per cent, of single parents did not earn enough to maintain a reasonable level of consumption.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A USA Living Wage

According to new research from People’s Action Institute, which calculates the national living wage at $17.28. A living wage is the pay a person needs to cover basic needs like food, housing, utilities and clothing, along with some savings to handle emergencies.

In some states, the living wage is much higher. New Jersey, Maryland, and New York have a living wage greater than $20 per hour for a single adult. In Hawaii and Washington, D.C., that figure hits almost $22 per hour. No state has a living wage for a single adult lower than $14.50 an hour.

The grim milestone for the Mediterranean graveyard

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported that 2016 is the deadliest year ever for migrants trying to reach Europe. The agency said Wednesday that at least 3,800 migrants—many of them fleeing war in their home countries—have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea this year, despite a significant drop in attempted crossings compared to 2015.

From one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiraled to one in 88," says UNHCR spokesman, William Spindler. Since the European Union-Turkey deal in March to close down pathways to Greece, the Libya to Italy route across the central Mediterranean has become the main route. One per every 47 migrants or refugees attempting the voyage between Libya and Italy are dying.

The rise in deaths are due to factors including bad weather, "a more perilous route," the use of "lower-quality vessels," and smugglers' changing tactics. Smuggling has become a big business and it's being done almost on an industrial scale. So now they send several boats at the same time and that puts rescue services in difficulty because they need to rescue several thousand people on several hundred boats. When you have so many people at sea on boats that are barely seaworthy, then the dangers obviously increase.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said Wednesday that 25 migrant men and women had been found dead at the bottom of a rubber boat in the Mediterranean. It rescued 107 people from the same vessel and saved an additional 139 people aboard a nearby rubber raft.

"This is a tragedy, but we can't say that today is an exceptional day at sea," said Stefano Argenziano, MSF manager of migration operations. "The past weeks have been horrific, with our rescue teams and other boats involved in almost continuous rescues and far too many men, women, and children dying." He explained, "Sea rescue operations are becoming a race through a maritime graveyard and our rescue teams are overwhelmed by a policy-made crisis where we feel powerless to stop the loss of life."

Germany - the war machine

Germany's arms exports have increased - including to Saudi Arabia. The oil-rich kingdom is waging war in Yemen. For the past year and a half the richest country in the Arab world has been bombing the poorest country. By supplying it with weapons Germany, too, is a warring party.

Saudi Arabia is now the third-largest buyer of German weapons. And more than 90 percent of the consignments consisted of equipment for the air force: fighter jet parts, helicopters, planes, equipment for aerial refueling.

Germany may be a minor player in the world of arm sales yet its exports to Saudi Arabia in the first six months alone amounted to more than four billion euros. 

Workers of the World Unite

The claims that immigrants take jobs became harder to sustain as the level of the overseas migrant population reached record highs in Britain at the same time as a record high level of employment overall and a record high for employment of UK-born workers. Even so, the most recent Tory party conference tried to revive the racist claims, with lists of foreign workers, removing overseas doctors from the NHS and prioritising immigration controls over economic prosperity. Some of these have already fallen apart while they would all be deeply damaging to the UK economy, as well as fanning the flames of racism.

The false claim that immigration drives down wages has long been exposed as relying on the 'lump of labour fallacy' . The long history of capitalism, in general, is that more and more workers across the globe are brought into production. That is still happening to this day. At the same time, for the overwhelming majority of those workers, their material conditions have risen enormously over the same period. The growth of the workforce has been matched by the growth in the work available. This is because of the growth of the productive capacity of the global economy, in which workers fight for a share. 

Instead, the attack has switched to the alleged impact of immigration on wages. As the discussion of this issue is so loaded with emotion and confusion in a country like Britain, it is important to set out some clear points of reference.

Objectively, there is no difference between a worker who travels ten miles, hundreds of miles or thousands of miles for work. There is, of course, no difference in terms of their skin colour, religion, gender, sexuality or nationality. Wages in any city or town are not more or less affected by the immigration of a worker from the next county than from a different continent.

Yet the idea that wages are driven down by immigration, that the price of labour (wages) is determined by the increased supply of labour from migration is closely related to the lump of labour fallacy. They both depend on the notion there is a fixed amount of work or fixed amount of wages, and that in both cases these are adversely affected by increasing the supply of labour through immigration. For the lump of labour, now read the 'pool of wages'. These are false notions.

It is in the interests of capitalists to foster the idea that someone else is to blame. This partly accounts for the tenacity of these false ideas. It also explains why far right and fascist groupings are tolerated or even promoted by big business, sometimes even funded by them. If the labour movement pays the slightest lip service to these lies it does itself a great injury. It disarms itself in the class struggle by agreeing that it is foreign workers, not rapacious bosses who have driven down wages, increased rents and increased prices.  

The chart shows, the output per worker in these advanced economies rose more than three times as fast as the rise in real wages, which were close to stagnation.

 The workers in the advanced industrialised countries were not being undercut by workers in the 'Third World'. They were being robbed even more by their employers in the advanced countries.

Another extinction is coming

The world faces the first mass extinction of animal life since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago, according to the most comprehensive survey of wildlife ever carried out. By 2020, the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and other vertebrate species are on course to have fallen by more than two-thirds over a period of just 50 years, the Living Planet report found. The current rate of extinction is about 100 times faster than is considered normal – greater than during some of the previous five mass extinctions in the Earth’s history.

The Living Planet report, produced by conservation charity WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), analysed data for 3,706 species in what was described as the most comprehensive study of the state of wildlife globally. They found that between 1970 and 2012, the average decline in population was 58 per cent. And at the current rate this figure will hit 67 per cent by 2020, the year by which the world has pledged to halt the loss of wildlife.

Dr Mike Barrett, director of science and policy at WWF-UK, said: “For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife. We ignore the decline of other species at our peril – for they are the barometer that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us. Humanity’s misuse of natural resources is threatening habitats, pushing irreplaceable species to the brink and threatening the stability of our climate.” Dr Barrett stressed the situation was far from hopeless. “We know how to stop this. It requires governments, businesses and citizens to rethink how we produce, consume, measure success and value the natural environment.”

Wages down

Experts warn inflation caused by Brexit will keep real wages low. Wages for average UK workers are less than they were 12 years ago, even after taking inflation into account, official figures revealed. The gender pay gap also remains stubbornly high.

The median full-time worker is now paid £539 per week (£28,028 a year), less than the £555 per week they earned in 2004. Despite a 1.9 per cent salary increase this year, annual average earnigs are still around £1,600 less than their 2009 peak.

Irish police to strike

The Irish gardaí will strike for the first time in their history when they take industrial action in pursuit of faster restoration of pay cuts suffered during the financial crisis. It has already embarked on a campaign of industrial action after lodging a claim for a 16.5pc pay rise. 

A union representing airport police in Dublin, Cork and Shannon said they will resist any attempt to get them to carry out Garda duties when gardaí fail to report for duty for four days next month. A second union representing hundreds of Garda civilian staff said it has also instructed them not to provide cover. Justice Minister had made it clear there were no plans for the Army to be involved. 

Aid is business

The International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, suggested that aid spending should not “exclude the whole areas of trade and trade opportunities”. Her suggestion that we should use money allocated to fighting global poverty and inequality to secure trade deal is wrong – particularly when these deals chiefly benefit big business. Aid is being used to heavily promote the interests of multinational companies in Africa, rather than fighting poverty and inequality

When Patel took charge of the Department for International Development (DFID), she said DFID should be axed to form a new Department for International Trade and Development. That never happened but there is effectively an informal merger with the new Department for International Trade as they plan “joint missions” overseas to look for “economic opportunities” for British businesses. The wheels of new corporate-led trade UK deals will be greased with money from the aid budget. The rich see “aid” only in terms of how it can create economic opportunities, serve the “national interest”, and benefit them. These trade deals benefit multinational corporations and investors by stripping a country and its people of the power to protect its own industries and services.

Free trade agreements are bad for most people in the poorer countries. They harm producers by driving down prices of goods and removing protective tariffs. Regulations on environment, health and safety are often weakened or cut, meaning a race to the bottom for all. Moreover, privatisation is often at the core of these deals, meaning big businesses move in to run schools, water or health services at a profit. And the deals are rarely actually “free”. Rich countries inevitably maintain protection of their own exports, while the competitors in poor countries are forced to agree to open their markets. The drive to produce at the lowest cost is paramount for those pushing these trade deals and is pushed at the expense of workers, land and water resources. Thus free trade agreements pull poor countries deeper into poverty. Aid budgets should only be used for genuine poverty reduction initiatives, such as support for small-scale farming, improving education or healthcare rather than boosting the profits of big business.

Due to a global network of tax havens, tax evasion, corruption and money laundering an estimated $3 trillion of revenue is lost every year.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Malcolm X Speaks

“It isn’t a president who can help or hurt; it is the system. And this system is not only ruling us in America, it is ruling the world. Nowadays, when a man is running for president of the United States, he is not running for president of the United States alone; he has to be acceptable to other areas of the world where American influence rules.

If Johnson had been running all by himself, he would not have been acceptable to anyone. The only thing that made him acceptable to the world was that the shrewd capitalists, the shrewd imperialists, knew that the only way people would run toward the fox would be if you showed them a wolf. So they created a ghastly alternative. And it had the whole world — including people who call themselves Marxists — hoping that Johnson would beat Goldwater.

I have to say this: Those who claim to be enemies of the system were on their hands and knees waiting for Johnson to get elected — because he is supposed to be a man of peace. And at that moment he had troops invading the Congo and South Vietnam!”

Malcolm described how potent a weapon the ballot could be, if it was exercised with care:
“A ballot is like a bullet. You don't throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket”

“It's time now for you and me to become more politically mature and realize what the ballot is for; what we're supposed to get when we cast a ballot; and that if we don't cast a ballot, it's going to end up in a situation where we're going to have to cast a bullet. It's either a ballot or a bullet.”

A Coalition against coal

Around the world, more than 2,400 coal power plants are now under construction or being planned, experts say. Two-thirds of those are in China and India - both countries already struggling with growing deaths from air pollution. Building even a third of those plants would push the world past the international goal agreed in Paris last December to hold world temperature increase to "well under" 2 degrees Celsius.

A coalition of development experts which includes the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and Oxfam International, have published a new paper disputing the claims that cheap, dirty coal is somehow a solution to extreme global poverty. The paper, Beyond Coal: scaling up clean energy to fight global poverty (pdf), makes the case that in developing nations, coal has been given "too much credit for the reduction of extreme poverty." In fact, they argue coal is one of the major forces driving climate change, which they say is "the greatest long-term threat to eradicating poverty." They say the widespread use of coal has had a detrimental impact on poor populations while at the same time contributing the most carbon emissions of any fuel source, hastening dangerous climate change.

"The immediate human health impacts of coal in the developing world are staggering, particularly for poor people who are the least equipped to deal with the  economic burdens of illness, a premature death in the  household, or degraded water and land resources," the paper notes. Further, climate change threatens "to undermine the productivity of both marine and terrestrial food production systems, the main source of income for roughly 2.7 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and China."

The paper continues, "burning coal is also a major driver of the greatest long-term threat to eradicating  poverty: climate change." The report cites a 2015 study by ODI which found that by 2050, climate change impacts could draw an estimated 720 million people into extreme poverty. "This is about the same number lifted out of extreme poverty in the last two decades and would thus cancel out much of the progress made in poverty eradication to date."

In contrast, safe, renewable energy sources are "abundant, increasingly reliable, and now cost-competitive with coal," the report states. Further, "It can also be more flexibly deployed and offers greater employment potential. It improves energy security and [...] can deliver energy services to the poorest."

"There are myths that we're trying to pull up the ladder and deny developing countries the chance to develop the way we did," Sarah Wykes, report co-author and the lead analyst on climate change and energy issues for Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD), explained. "But you don't need these kinds of dirty fuels anymore for economic development. There are much better clean alternatives." 

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has warned if Asia goes ahead its planned coal plants, "I think we are finished. ... That would spell disaster for our planet." The coal industry is a powerful and established lobbying group, she said.

The coal industry has fought back against criticism, arguing that coal is the cheapest and most reliable way to bring power to millions without it, claiming "clean coal" technology offers emissions 25 to 40 percent lower than traditional coal plants.

The Right-Wing Mobilises

The far-right People's Party - Our Slovakia (LSNS) said it would continue to patrol trains, adding that it is looking at expanding its operations in others parts of the country. They target the Roma community, Europe's poorest and largest minority. Slovakia has a population of 5.4 million, with Roma accounting for some 300,000 of that figure.

"People in eastern Slovakia are being terrorized by asocial parasites," said lawmaker Milan Mazurek, who is in charge of the patrols. LSNS entered parliament for the first time this year, riding on a wave of anti-migration sentiment in the Eastern European nation.

Religious Delusions

Religious people are more likely to have a poorer understanding of the world and are more likely to believe objects like rocks and paper have human qualities, scientists say. Religious beliefs were linked with a weaker ability to understand physical and biological phenomenon such as volcanoes, flowers, rocks and wind without giving them human qualities.  Believers were more likely to think that inanimate objects such as metal, oil, clothes and paper can think and feel, and agree with statements such as "Stones sense the cold".        

Researchers at the University of Helsinki compared believers in God or the paranormal to people with autism after finding they tend to struggle to understand the realities of the world around us. Marjaana Lindeman and Annika Svedholm-Häkkinen, who completed the study, said:
“The more the participants believed in religious or other paranormal phenomena, the lower their intuitive physics skills, mechanical and mental rotation abilities, school grades in mathematics and physics, and knowledge about physical and biological phenomena were… and the more they regarded inanimate targets as mental phenomena”. Researchers said their findings suggest people’s lack of understanding about the physical world means they apply their own, human characteristics to the whole universe, “resulting in belief in demons, gods, and other supernatural phenomena”. 

This confusion between mental and physical qualities “has also been recognised mainly among ancient people and small children”, they added. The scientists compared religious believers to people with autism, saying both struggle to distinguish between the mental and the physical, although autistic people are at the opposite end of the spectrum because they often see the world as entirely physical and struggle to understand the mental state of others.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016



The Fancy Bears Hack Team have shown that many top sports people
have been diagnosed with asthma - conveniently allowing them to take
performance-enhancing drugs under the ‘Therapeutic Use Exemptions’.

For athletes at the top today,
It helps if one takes drugs,
Although the dangers are well-known,
And most would say they’re mugs;
But craving fame, the risks are met,
With unresponsive shrugs.

Of course the beastly Russians are,
Quite active in this sphere,
By concentrating on the ‘Reds’,
We hope this public smear;
Will kid folk that we’re straight and that,
It never happens here!

All our sports folk are squeaky clean,
And free from ‘drug disease’,
It’s mere coincidence they’ve got,
An apt, ‘asthmatic wheeze’;
Cured only by ‘Performance Drugs’--
A wheeze inclined to please!

Exemptions to take all such drugs,
Are given by the score,
And Britain’s up there with the rest, (1)
In signing more and more;
As these exceptions are allowed,
By ‘anti-doping law’!

Today in money-grubbing sport,
The dollar is the king,
And sports associations love,
The glamour and the bling;
And drug hypocrisy all helps,
To make their cash tills ring.

(1) Fancy Bears are believed to have ‘Therapeutic Use Exemptions’
(TUEs) data on forty-four British athletes and sports people.

© Richard Layton