Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Socialism and uneven world development

Pieter Lawrence

Socialism and uneven world development

Source: World Socialist, Summer 1986.

It might be thought that the present uneven development of productive resources throughout the world could be brought into greater balance within capitalism itself. It might be said that as modern productive techniques have been brought into use in one place, there should be no great difficulty in setting these up in other places where they are needed, but under capitalism this question cannot be considered solely as a technical or practical problem. The pace at which productive organisation develops is governed entirely by the operation of capital, and this applies in all parts of the world.
Certainly there is a pressure on productive organisation to develop, but this can only take place within the constraints of the profit system. The economic factors which hold back development include the fact that means of production only come into use as invested capital, therefore capital must be available. This in turn depends upon the market opportunities for invested capital to be operated profitably. Other factors are involved, but without available capital and market capacity, development within capitalism cannot take place.
It was not therefore enough for underdeveloped countries to throw off colonial domination. The ruling elites who replaced colonial power still faced the problem of finding the capital resources for developing their independent states as profitable capitalist enterprises. It is often thought that a state of underdevelopment presents unique economic advantages in that particular opportunities exist for bringing backward economies swiftly into line with the more advanced countries. But their backwardness involves a low market capacity at home, and the ability to take advantage of gaps in the world market tends to rest with the advanced economies which are already the most cost efficient in terms of industrial and manufacturing organisation. It is quite true that multinational corporations can operate their capital in underdeveloped countries, taking advantage of cheaper labour and a timid work force with little experience of trade union organisation. But this does little to realise the class aspirations of the ruling elites who expect to accumulate their own capital from the exploitable populations who are under their direct control. The great concentrations of capital reside in those countries where capital has been accumulated from the exploitation of workers over many generations in an advanced economy.
So the ruling elites in underdeveloped countries have taken out massive loans amounting now to many billions of dollars, but with the deepening world depression and weakening prices of many key export commodities, they now find they face impossible debts. Trade goods such a sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton, zinc, copper, aluminium, rubber and vegetable oils, have slumped in the world markets and this means that development hopes have been buried under mountains of debt. It also means that many underdeveloped countries are so drained of foreign exchange that they cannot import vital supplies of even such things as books and medical supplies. Development projects have been halted.
Even before the famines of Ethiopia and sub-saharan countries, the warning went out that African countries could find themselves overwhelmed by a natural hazard such as drought if this should happen against the background of economic stagnation.
There is no foreseeable prospect that the great disparities of development may be evened out within capitalism.

The development of capitalism as a world system has included the development of communications of every kind. Even in the 19th century, Karl Marx was aware of the importance of communications in overcoming the problems of distance in the organisation of production:
A relatively thinly populated country, with well developed means of communication, has a denser population than a more numerously populated country, with badly developed means of communication (K Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Allen and Unwin, p.346).
This now includes not only transport such as roads, railways, shipping and air travel, but also a world system of electronic communications which provides for instant world-wide contact between all peoples. For this reason it can be said that we now live in a "global village". What this means is that socialism would have no difficulty in organising the world as one productive system directly for human needs.
It is likely, however, that when socialism is established some populations could enjoy greater advantages arising from prior development within capitalism. These populations could benefit from developed industry, manufacture, agriculture, energy supply and systems of transport and distribution. Together with this there would already exist health and education services, a highly developed system of administration including planning departments, local services and an accumulation of statistical information which would be immediately useful in the organisation of society directly for needs.
In many parts of the world these useful facilities may not exist.
One of the first priorities of world socialism would be to rapidly expand food production in line with needs. World action would include assistance with any local agriculture that was poorly developed in relation to local needs. Comparing the present position between Africa and Europe, for every 1,000 hectares of arable land in Europe, there exists 60 available tractors and over 6 combine harvesters. In Africa, for the same land area, there are only two tractors and 0.2 combine harvesters. In South America, where food production could be vastly increased through irrigation schemes, of the 108 million hectares of arable and permanent crop land in use only 5.5 per cent is irrigated. Similarly in Africa only 4 per cent is irrigated.
Another problem which would require urgent world action in socialism is the housing problem. Even in Europe the housing problem is bad enough, with many homeless families and chronic urban blight. Throughout the world, particularly in Asian capitals and such cities as Mexico City, millions of people live in the squalor of shanty towns, with no sewage, supplies of clean water or decent services.
Free from all the constraints of capitalist production, people throughout the world would concentrate their energies on solving these problems, taking the necessary initiatives in their own areas. It is likely, however, that the world centres of developed industry and manufacturing would initially need to supply machinery and equipment, installations, storage facilities and technical know-how to the underdeveloped areas, to assist with such projects as housing development and irrigation schemes for food production. As well as this it is likely that there would be an urgent need to set up education and health services, and infrastructures for transport and communications.

As a world system organised directly for human needs socialism cannot be conceived in any exclusive regional context. Concern and action for need would be universal. Notwithstanding any particular advantages which may exist in some regions as a result of capitalism having previously developed the forces of production there, in socialism such advantages would be at the disposal of the whole world community. This is what the socialist object spells out when it speaks of common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community. The whole community is simply every person on earth.
Even within capitalism, where individual workers in the developed countries are preoccupied with their own problems of getting by as best they can, they show concern for the needs of other people who live in desperate circumstances. This is indicated by the support given to charities such as Oxfam, War on Want, and the surge of response to the starving of Ethiopia through Live Aid. Voluntary medical workers and agricultural experts are willing to devote part of their lives in assisting with urgent problems. Dockers in Southampton who loaded a grain ship for Ethiopia without wages did so simply to help other people in need. This is the spirit of concern and cooperation that socialism would release. It would be organised in a practical and controlled way on the basis of common ownership, democratic control and production solely for needs.
The administrative machinery for such collective world action already exists. An adapted form of the United Nations Organisation could provide an instrument of organisation working through such bodies as the Food and Agricultural Organisation, the World Health Organisation as well as other existing world bodies. Such bodies could co-ordinate the initiatives of world action in dealing with world problems.
Who can doubt that the existing material resources of humanity could be swiftly mobilised for the work of creating decent living conditions for all people? Without the national divisions which now exist as rival capitalist states, without the insane waste of military and the allocation of resources for the forces of destruction, without the constraints of production for profit which now crush the skills and energies of people and their spirit of cooperation, the world community in socialism could immediately get on with the urgent work that has to be done.
The days of national politics are long since ended as a useful framework of political action. The existing reformist parties offer nothing more than a destructive future within a framework of national divisions. The worst prospect is that they will lead humanity into annihilation in a nuclear holocaust. That is the ultimate logic of world capitalism.

Rule by Tricks (parable)

Originally titled “Rule by Tricks” is from Yu-li-zi by Liu Ji (1311-1375) and is worth reproducing below:
Liu Ji wrote:
In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping monkeys in his service. The people of Chu called him "ju gong" (monkey master).
Each morning, the old man would assemble the monkeys in his courtyard, and order the eldest one to lead the others to the mountains to gather fruits from bushes and trees. It was the rule that each monkey had to give one tenth of his collection to the old man. Those who failed to do so would be ruthlessly flogged. All the monkeys suffered bitterly but dared not complain.
One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: "Did the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?" The others said: "No, they grew naturally." The small monkey further asked: "Can't we take the fruits without the old man's permission?" The others replied: "Yes, we all can." The small monkey continued: "Then, why should we depend on the old man; why must we all serve him?"Before the small monkey was able to finish his statement, all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awakened.
On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the stockade entirely. They also took the fruits the old man had in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never returned. The old man finally died of starvation.
Yu-li-zi says, "Some men in the world rule their people by tricks and not by righteous principles. Aren't they just like the monkey master? They are not aware of their muddleheadedness. As soon as their people become enlightened, their tricks no longer work."

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Tax cuts are for the rich

According to Americans for Tax Fairness, a coalition of organizations which advocates for progressive tax reform, the numbers in their new analysis reveal that the public relations campaign touting the idea that corporations would be sharing "a big slice of their huge Trump tax cuts with their workers through bonuses and wage hikes is mostly hype." Less than ten percent of the nation's wealthiest and most-profitable companies have shared any of the financial benefits they received from a massive corporate tax cut provided by Trump. only 46 of the Fortune 500—just 9 percent overall—have announced any plans to share their tax-cut wealth with workers.

"Not only are few big corporations sharing any portion of their tax-cut bounty," the group stated, "but the amounts going to workers pale when compared to how much the companies are getting in tax cuts and to how much they’re returning to shareholders through stock buybacks and dividends (where those figures are available).

Among Fortune 100 corporations:
  • Only 18 (18%) of them appear on the ATR list for having given some benefit to employees due to their tax cuts.
  • Only 13 (13%) of them are on the list for one-time bonuses and just 6 (6%) are on the list for wage increases.
  • Nine (9%) are on the list for other types of benefits being provided to employees.
Among Fortune 500 corporations:
  • Only 46 (9%) of them appear on the ATR list for having given some benefit to employees, customers, or charitable organizations due to their tax cuts.
  • Only 29 (5.8%) of them are on the ATR list for one-time bonuses and just 17 (3.4%) are on the list for wage increases.
  • 26 (5.2%) are on the ATR list for other types of benefits being provided to employees or for charitable contributions or consumer benefits, such as lower electricity rates.
"The idea that tax cuts for corporations and millionaires will trickle down to workers has been debunked over and over," said ATF executive director Frank Clemente. "Even many CEOs have acknowledged that the benefits will flow to shareholders, not to employees. "

Saying it as it is and paying the price

The Turkish government detained all the senior members of the country's biggest medial association on Tuesday, following a statement from the group criticizing Turkey's military offensive against Kurdish fighters in Syria.  The Turkish Health Ministry also launched a lawsuit for the removal of 11 executive council members of the TTB. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the TTB "terrorist lovers"
"War is a man-made public health problem," read the statement from the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), which represents 80 percent of the country's doctors. "No to war, peace right now."
The TTB members will join 311 journalists and activists who have been arrested on terror charges for speaking out against the war.

The network at work

Unpaid internships, combined with rising living costs, are shutting less-advantaged youngsters out of many careers, a social mobility study by the Sutton Trust says. The report also expresses concern over the lack of transparency around internships, with many not publicly advertised and sourced through informal networks inaccessible to underprivileged young people. Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "This practice locks out young people without connections."
40% of 70,000 internships undertaken annually are unpaid - but young workers need a minimum of £1,019 per month to live in London and £827 in Manchester. The study estimates that an intern wanting to fulfil a six-month internship in London would need a budget of £6,114 in London for living costs. A counterpart in Manchester would require £4,965. It says 10,000 young people take up an unpaid internship a few months after graduating, with 20% of these in an unpaid capacity.
Under current UK law, an intern who carries out work which is of value to their employer, and is given set hours and responsibilities, is likely to qualify as an employee and therefore be entitled to the minimum wage. The report says that these rules actually make the majority of current unpaid internships illegal - but employment law is not being properly enforced. No prosecutions have ever been made in relation to interns and the minimum wage.
The Trust warns the lack of any financial recompense from many internships threatens to push "many less advantaged people out of careers", particularly as internships are increasingly seen as a "requirement" before a first job in top professions. Examples of unpaid internships advertised online this month include a major fashion designer wanting someone for up to three months in the lead-up to London Fashion Week, and an MP offering to pay a researcher his or her expenses but nothing more, the study found.

UKIP--ANOTHER B’LEADER?! (Part One) [weekly poem]


22/1/18. UKIP Leader, Henry Bolton, overwhelmingly lost a  vote
of confidence from his party’s National Executive Committee but
refused to step down. A Members Meeting is expected very soon.

They're getting short of leaders at,
That weirdo UKIP sect;
They've lost a lot quite recently, (1)
With few left to elect.
Should Nigel be recalled again,
For this the umpteenth time?
Or should they seek another twerp,
To front their pantomime?

There can't be many left to fill,
Big Brother's vital role;
The one where they cock-up then drop,
Themselves into a hole.
It's not as if their N.E.C.,
Is talented all round;
They're equally as dumb as all,
The knobheads on the ground.

Of course none of these members are,
A racist—oh dear no!
It's only when a Freudian slip,
Compels the boss to go.
And then caught with their trousers down,
Off goes another chump;
Who's talked themselves into that hole--
The one inside their rump!

(1) UKIP Leaders since 1993:
Alan Sked 1993--1997
Craig MacKinlay 1997 (acting leader)
Michael Holmes 1997--2000
Jeffrey Titford 2000--2002
Roger Knapman 2002--2006
Nigel Farage 2006--2009
Lord Pearson 2009--2010
Jeffrey Titford 2010 (acting leader)
Nigel Farage 2010--2016
Diane James 2016
Nigel Farage 2016 (acting leader)
Paul Nuttall 2016--2017
Steve Crowther 2017 (acting leader)
Henry Bolton 2017 ???!!!

© Richard Layton

Record Year for Share-holders

"CITY shareholders hungry for more after pocketing a record £94.4bn in payouts last year will be left with little more than a "hangover" in 2018, a study has found." announced the Daily Telegraph (January 29, 2018 )
"Link Asset Services showed that the headline level of dividend payouts grew by 10.5 per cent to £94.4 billion last year. Taking out special payments, underlying dividends rose by 10.4 per cent to £87.7 billion, the fastest underlying growth rate since 2012." echoed the Times (January 29, 2018)

Monday, January 29, 2018

Australia seeks more profit from war

Australia has said it plans to become one of the world's top 10 defence industry exporters within a decade.
The nation currently sells about A$2bn (£1.15bn; $1.6bn) in defence equipment each year, making it the 20th largest arms exporter. Manufacturers would now be offered government-backed loans to stimulate the industry, a A$3.8bn loan scheme to help Australian companies sell defence equipment overseas. The government will also establish separate agencies to better co-ordinate and promote industry exports.
Aid groups said the move would not help global efforts to build peace. Amnesty International, Oxfam Australia and Save the Children have all criticised the plan.
"We should not be getting into the game of marketing weapons which kill, maim, and bring great sorrow and destruction to communities around the world," Marc Purcell, chief executive of Australian Council for International Development, protested.

Tim Costello, the World Vision Australia chief advocate, attacked the plan, saying the government had cut humanitarian aid which saved lives while simultaneously discussing the merits of becoming a major weapons manufacturer and exporter.
“The government says this is an export and investment opportunity, but we would be exporting death and profiting from bloodshed,” Costello said, “There is only one purpose in making a weapon and that is to kill someone with it. Do we really want that to be what people think of when they see the brand ‘made in Australia’?...When the Australian government looks for a new manufacturing and export opportunity, the best they can do is weapons?” he said. “Millions of people across the world are running from violence and our answer to that is to produce more weapons. Whatever money we make from this dirty business will be blood money.”

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Neglected and Ignored

It’s feared that the death toll from a measles outbreak in the remote Indonesian province of Papua is much higher than previously reported.  Official figures say 68 children have now died - but church leaders say the real number could be in the hundreds. Children in the remote province are also suffering from malnutrition, and there has been an outbreak of chickenpox as well.
Ignored by health workers and government officials, many of the children were never immunised or given basic healthcare. And this is happening near the world's largest gold mine operated by the American company Freeport, Indonesia's largest taxpayer.
The Asmat tribe was hardest hit. The tribe's settlements in the south of Papua are far away from the nearest town and many Asmat people were forced to bury their children without seeing a doctor. Those who had canoes rowed to the nearest health post, but were sent away by health workers who seemed to lack commitment and the skills to help.
"We want doctors to come here and we want the government in Jakarta to send them because the provincial government has never visited us," Beorme told us. Aloysius Beorme lost his one-year-old son because he had no money to rent a boat.
Since Papua has been given wide-ranging autonomy, the area has been flooded with money, but much of it has allegedly disappeared into the pockets of local leaders and government officials. Efforts to bring economic progress to the region mainly benefited newcomers from other parts of Indonesia who started their small businesses, selling instant food that is now killing Papuan children. The Asmat traditionally live from sago palms. Before instant food had entered their villages the seminomadic tribe would spend months in the forest to make sago and find enough food to live. But instant noodles and energy drinks have become a much less time-consuming alternative for the Asmat who do not know much about nutrition. In Asatat, we saw children eating uncooked noodles and a baby drinking instant coffee.
A proposal by Indonesia President Joko Widodo to relocate the 100,000 Asmat people living in the area to a town near medical services was immediately rejected. Many believe this could be the end of the Asmat, who won't be able to survive living away from the forest and facing competition from newcomers. What the Asmat do need is to be able to strengthen their traditions that have benefited them for centuries and get real government care to prevent this tragedy from happening again.

Breaking their promises

 BT Group has been hatching plans for wriggling out of old promises to staff on a defined benefit pension scheme – which pay out to employees based on (a) years of service and (b) career-average earnings and/or final salary. These are extremely nice pensions to have but having persuaded people to join businesses on the back of these pledges, companies now argue that they are unaffordable.
Pensions are wages deferred and if employers don’t deliver on the pay packets previously promised to staff, it’s conceptually no different from cutting somebody’s salary.
 During the 1990s the trustees running the BT pension scheme believed it to be so well-funded that the company stopped making contributions.
When an employer tries to renege on promises to pay a certain retirement income, strangely, however, the bosses always seem to be on slightly different deals and suffer much less pain.
Earlier this month, the high court rejected BT’s latest proposal to change its defined benefit pension payouts, after the company tried to link increases to the consumer price index of inflation, rather than the retail price index, which tends to be higher.

The Indian Precariat

But a new report  by the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that 77% of Indian workers will be engaged in vulnerable employment by 2019.
This is in keeping with what labour experts in India have been cautioning against for years now — the alarming increase in the turn towards vulnerable forms of employment.
In fact, there is a rise the world over in vulnerable employment, as noted by the ILO report. Globally, around 1.4 billion workers are estimated to be in vulnerable employment in 2017, with an additional 17 million expected to join per year in 2018 and 2019.
‘Vulnerable employment’ is characterised by meagre earnings (below minimum wage), difficult and insecure working conditions (for example, workers are made to work long and taxing shifts; they can be hired and fired without notice at any point), unsafe work environments, and complete violation of labour laws.
The workers at the Bawana factory, for example, were being paid a paltry Rs 150-200 per day for a 10-hour work shift, without any other benefit or social security, while all labour laws and safety norms were obviously being violated.
However, the ILO report—titled World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018—defines ‘vulnerable employment’ narrowly as the sum of own-account workers [self-employed without paid employees, usually a one-person enterprise] and contributing family workers. 
But most labour experts and economists in India define ‘vulnerable employment’ as encompassing contractual workers in the organised sector as well as workers in the unorganised sector.
The ILO report says that whatever progress was achieved in the past in reducing vulnerable employment had essentially stalled since 2012.

The World Socialist Movement

This blog sometimes comes across thinkers who may not hold identical positions to ourselves but reflect much of our own thinking. Lea Ypi writing on the London School of Economics website brings to attention some much-needed focus.

"...Capitalism is capitalism as much as it used to be. It is transnational as much now as in the past. And it is in crisis, a crisis of production but importantly also of values, and arguably one of the worse in its history. One does not need to wonder whether any of this is still true: the capitalists have been telling us for quite some time. But anticapitalism can’t even find a name for itself. And international coordination seems to be nobody’s priority..."

"...British workers cannot save themselves if German workers are doomed. And if German workers win at the expense of Greek ones, all remain losers and the crisis is only postponed. Neither loss will turn into a gain, however many fences and walls one builds around one’s borders. Capitalism has no borders and neither should labour. Capitalists are united and so should anticapitalists be. The left needs to rediscover its cosmopolitan roots and build a new International..."
"...socialist parties around Europe seem resolved to continue competing for national attention. That can only be a limited first step. They should call for shared rallies, shared days of strike, a shared constituency. They should construct the same electoral programme and build shared electoral platforms. They should call together for Europe-wide taxation and ultimately much more. They should challenge capitalism as a system and challenge it internationally..."
 "...The world has to be made by those skeptical of capitalism. They have to coordinate, mobilise, and fight internationally. Now, as in earlier times, capitalism gives us a name for that fight and the means to conduct it. It gives us instant messaging and social networking, the tools which make rebuilding a world of international solidarity easier than ever before. But capitalism will not give us the will to fight it. It cannot make a shared world for us..."
The core of Lea Ypi's criticism of those we consider fake socialist parties is why we emphasise our anti-nationalism and why we concentrate on promoting world socialism. We may not have yet achieved our goal of transforming the World Socialist Movement into a new International but we have set the right course towards it.

Right to strike in Australia threatened again

In December, a record percentage of Australians aged between 15 and 64 were employed, and the month had the most number of people working full-time for the past five years. But while such figures would previously lead to wages and household income growth, workers are still waiting, though. Despite the improved profitability of companies in 2017 and the strong rise in employment, the evidence is that low wage growth will continue. Companies know the current industrial relations system is in their favour, and they are more than happy with the current level of low wage growth.

In the recently released Australian Industry Group 2018 Business Prospects report, rather than bemoaning the poor growth in wages, Australian CEOs actually championed it.

The Fair Work Commission suspended the proposed 24-hour strike scheduled for Monday by Sydney and NSW train drivers because it was “threatening to endanger the welfare of part of the population” and would “cause significant damage to the Australian economy or an important part of it.”

The apparent ease with which employers can have industrial action suspended further curtails the right to strike.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary, Sally McManus, said on Thursday, it means “the basic right to strike in Australia is very nearly dead”.

Employees can strike only:
  • With other employees of the same employer for an agreement to cover that enterprise
  • During a bargaining period after the expiry of an old agreement
  • For rights that can be put into an agreement, not other legal or policy measures even when they directly affect workers
  • For their own rights, not in sympathy with other workers through secondary boycotts
  • In isolation, not through pattern bargaining to achieve common agreements across multiple employers or supply chains.

Barbuda and Communal Land

 Barbuda islanders say that government plans to overturn a centuries-old system of communal land ownership will destroy their unique way of life and erase their cultural identity.
Under the existing system, Barbudans govern all land communally with no private ownership.
Residents can identify parcels for residential, commercial or agricultural use which are then approved by the Barbuda Council and can be passed on to their heirs. Public meetings have traditionally been held to gauge consensus on various issues.
Many fear the changes will open the floodgates to wealthy foreign investors and transform the pristine isle into a tourism hotspot.
"As soon as the land is sold, it is lost to us," says secondary school principal John Mussington. "Our traditional lifestyles of farming and hunting, which require large amounts of land and have been our economy for hundreds of years, will be completely disenfranchised. Our resources will be removed with one stroke of a pen."
 British QC Leslie Thomas, argues that the government has contravened laws which state that communal ownership can be repealed only with the consent of the majority of the Barbudan people.
"You can't seek consent without consultation," Mr Thomas tells the BBC, adding that campaigners were prepared to fight all the way to London's Privy Council, the country's final court of appeal.
The draft bill would limit freehold titles to 10,000 sq ft (0.23 acre) per person with sale prices to be determined by government. Mr Mussington says that even if every Barbudan bought the 10,000 sq ft allotted to each resident, that would only amount to less than one square mile in total out of the island's 62-square-mile territory. He fears what the government will do with the remaining 61 square miles of land which under the new law it will be free to dispose of as it sees fit.
Local resident Goldie Harris says, "We were never notified, we never received a copy of the changes to the land act; they just rammed it down our throats," he alleges. "This island is paradise for us but the government sees it as a money-maker for high rollers. I agree Barbuda needs development, but on a limited basis. Our children will never be able to afford land here," he adds.
Thomas Thomas, another resident, fears the close-knit community, where neighbours are considered family and doors are left unlocked, will change.
"I want my grandkids to have the same privileges we had, to acquire land freely and do what they want to do," says farmer Shiraz Hopkins. "If my son wants another piece of land it will be priced way too high for him," he says about the plans.
 Kelly Burton says. "And on top of everything, this bill seeks to erase our heritage."

Saturday, January 27, 2018

More Risks Revealed in Air Pollution

The risk of death for people with mental and behavioural disorders rises sharply on days when air pollution reaches toxic peaks, a major study in Hong Kong has found.
Researchers analysed a decade of death statistics and revealed a strong link, with the mortality risk rising 16% on the first day of haze and 27% on the second day compared to normal days. If the haze was accompanied by high ozone pollution, the risk of death increased by 79%. The new research tallies with other recent work that has found links between short-term increases in air pollution and suicides.
The Hong Kong research, published in the journal Environment International, is the first to analyse the link of haze days and risk of death. Haze days are those on which pollutants gather in the air and cut visibility, usually dry days with low winds. In the study period from 2007 to 2014, there were 111 haze days when particle pollution was on average twice as high.
The scientists examined more than 284,000 deaths, including those among people with mental and behavioural disorders including depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and dementia.
“Although a hazy day generally has 2.9% higher risk [of death] than a day without haze, a very intense adverse effect is found on the mortality associated with mental and behaviour disorders,” the researchers reported. “A combined influence of haze, extreme weather/air quality and urban environment can result in extremely high mortality.”
“Haze days are very likely to trigger an acute depression response in people. This has been shown in surveys in 2013 in Indonesia, where there was a big disaster of haze from forest fires.”
Laboratory studies on mice show that small particles of air pollution can reach the brain and affect mental development. A study published in 2016 found toxic nanoparticles from air pollution in human brains in “abundant” quantities.
A series of other studies published since 2015 have also suggested links between suicides and air pollution. In Salt Lake City, Utah, US, increases in suicides correlated with higher particulates and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in some seasons, while in South Korea ozone was also implicated.
In Tokyo, Japan, scientists found elevated suicide risk among under-30s was linked to NO2 and in Guangzhou, China, sulphur dioxide also showed a correlation. 
Prof Jonathan Grigg, at Queen Mary University of London in the UK and not part of the research team, said: “The association between poor air quality and mortality due to mental and behavioural disorders reported in this study is very disturbing.”
ophie Neuburg, at the public health charity Medact, said: “The new report’s findings of an increase in mortality associated with mental and behavioural disorders on high-pollution days is extremely worrying. This is a sign that air pollution may be even more dangerous for human health than we currently understand.” She said the UK’s air is illegally polluted in most urban areas and that current policies to deal with it are “inadequate”.

Never Again

A letter signed by nearly every major Jewish group has been sent to a US Senate panel calling for immediate action to protect Rohingya Muslims.
 Every major Jewish religious stream was represented by the 24 signatories, urging new sanctions against Myanmar (also known as Burma), which has been accused of ethnically cleansing Rohingya Muslims. Among those signing were Reform, Conservative and Orthodox bodies, as well as major civil rights groups. 
"We cannot remain silent as Jews, for whom the words 'never again' require us to act, nor as global citizens, in the face of senseless acts of brutality."
Earlier,  more than 300 rabbis from across the United States have signed a petition calling on the Israeli government to stop selling weapons to Myanmar, which is committing what the UN have called an "ethnic cleansing" of the country's Rohingya Muslim minority group.  50 Israeli rabbis, as well as different human rights organizations in Israel, have made similar pleas to the Israeli government. 
It also states that "our commitment to 'never again' compels us to take action to protect today's victims of ethnic cleansing."

Military Barbarism

Brutality in war is like a contagious disease, it spreads and infects previously healthy-minded individuals. This article by the military historian, Max Hastings reviews a book by Howard Jones that gives a full account of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War by American marines.

Hastings brings to us some home-truths that many would like to avoid facing.

 "...the unique selling-point of soldiers, even if tarted up in fancy-dress uniforms and bearskins, is that they are trained killers..."

‘The only thing they told us about the Vietcong was they were gooks,’ army private Reg Edwards said. ‘They were to be killed. Nobody sits around and gives you their historical and cultural background. They’re the enemy. Kill, kill, kill.’ 

Phil Caputo, one of the first Marines to land in Vietnam in 1965, wrote in his ' A Rumour of War',"Before you leave here, sir, you’re going to learn that one of the most brutal things in the world is your average 19-year-old American boy."

Doug Ramsey said that during his own terrible seven-year jungle imprisonment by the Vietcong ‘my worst moment was when I was taken into a hamlet that the Americans had just worked over’ – and utterly destroyed. ‘The hamlet chief said: “Here is your American aid.”’

"The British army for years sustained a legend that it achieved success in its colonial ‘brushfire wars’ through the efforts of kindly Tommies in winning hearts and minds...British soldiers, in fact, displayed frequent brutality, often condoned by their officers. In all of Britain’s counterinsurgency campaigns, especially in Kenya, substantial numbers of unlawful killings of civilians took place"

"Consider the recent case of a Royal Marine sergeant convicted of killing a wounded prisoner, recorded on his helmet camera. His sentence was commuted following an outcry. It was almost certainly wrong to convict him of murder, rather than of manslaughter, but I remain troubled by the reflection that, if his defence of extreme stress had been offered by a Taliban fighter who had killed a wounded British prisoner, it seems questionable whether it would have been found acceptable."

"In a typical two-week search-and-destroy operation in August 1967, codenamed Operation Benton, soldiers of Task Force Oregon destroyed the homes of more than ten thousand Vietnamese. In an area just six miles by 13, US forces dropped 282 tons of bombs and 116 tons of napalm. Fixed-wing aircraft fired more than a thousand rockets, 132,820 rounds of 20mm cannon ammunition and 119,350 7.62mm rounds, while artillery fired 8488 rounds. Around 640 refugees were evacuated to government camps. Commanders declared an enemy body count of 397, but it is unlikely that anything like that number were communists bearing arms."

Of the murderous events of My Lai itself,  "...far from representing a momentary homicidal impulse by one man or a small group of men, the killings proved to have continued over several hours, and at least forty of C Company’s 105 men participated. None made any attempt to stop others killing villagers, or gang-raping women before murdering them. ‘I just lost all sense of direction, of purpose,’ one soldier, Varnado Simpson, said later. ‘I just started killing in any kind of way I could kill. I didn’t know I had it in me.’ One of the first of those he shot was a child; after that, he said, ‘My whole mind just went.’

On 14 March a patrol of C Company had triggered a booby trap that killed two men, tore the legs off two more and injured another two. Soldiers angry at the casualties saw a woman working in the fields. Private Greg Olsen wrote to his father describing what happened: They shot and wounded her. Then they kicked her to death and emptied their magazines in her head. They slugged every little kid they came across. Why in God’s name does this have to happen? These are all seemingly normal guys; some were friends of mine. For a while they were like wild animals. It was murder, and I’m ashamed of myself for not trying to do anything about it. This isn’t the first time, Dad. I’ve seen it many times before."
My Lai there was an institutionalised cover-up. 
The task force’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Barker, dismissed reports of an atrocity‘It was tragic that we killed these women and children,’ he said, ‘but it was in a combat situation’ brushing aside the implausibility of the 1/20th Infantry’s initial claims to have killed 128 enemy combatants while not recovering a single weapon. 
23rd Division staff officer Major Colin Powell, later the US secretary of state, produced a memorandum for the adjutant-general which was an uncompromising whitewash: ‘Although there may be isolated cases of mistreatment of civilians and POWs this by no means reflects the general attitude throughout the division. In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between Americal soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent.
Hastings points out "The My Lai massacre has come to symbolise all that was worst about the US armed forces’ conduct of the war. The lieutenant stretched the truth when he asserted that he was ‘just following orders’, but he could legitimately assert that the killings reflected a culture of casual murder, a racial contempt for Vietnamese, which infected many US units and their commanders...the institutionalised cover-up and the surge of public support for those who carried out the offences, make even uglier reading than the narrative
of the original massacre. The apologists for C Company, and indeed for the US army, tried to make a case that, while it may not have been entirely acceptable to murder Vietnamese peasants, it was understandable and excusable."
Hastings article concludes with the observation, "We need to keep reading about My Lai for the same reason we must continue to struggle to understand the men who carried out the Holocaust: only by acknowledging how low men can sink in wars..."