Thursday, August 22, 2019

Screwed by Capitalism

Those born in the 1960s were the last generation in Britain to experience a broad rise in living standards, the first official data on the subject has revealed.

A  report called “Tackling intergenerational unfairness”, government statisticians analysed the incomes of people born between 1920s and 1990s. They found that up until those born in the 1970s, each generation tended to be better-off than people born a decade earlier were at the same age.

“Stagnating income for more recent generations compared with their older counterparts is likely to be influenced by several factors. For instance, over recent years, wages and salaries have fared worse than their historical trends,” the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

In the 10 years since 2004, pay per head fell by on average 0.1 per cent each year, whereas in the preceding decade it rose by 3.9 per cent every year, the ONS noted.

The results are not uniform. For example, people born in the 1990s had a higher household income at the age of 27 than those born in the 1980s did at the same point in their lives, but the reverse was true at the age of 23. But, overall, the figures confirmed the broader trend.

“Pay progression has slowed for younger generations. They are unlikely to enjoy the same generation-on-generation income gains that their predecessors received,” it said.

Child Soldiers

Britain’s army is increasingly relying on 16- and 17-year-olds to fill its ranks, the youngsters accounting for nearly 30% of those enlisted last year, the highest proportion since the start of the decade. Britain is the only NATO member and country in Europe to allow direct enlistment into the army at the age of 16
Recruits are also more likely to come from poorer backgrounds, such as on the edges of cities in the north of England, according to data from the Child Rights International Network (CRIN), which campaigns against recruiting under-18s.
Charlotte Cooper, campaigns coordinator with CRIN, said: “The army is leaning on teenagers from the most deprived backgrounds to fix its recruitment crisis, using them to fill the riskiest roles because it can’t persuade enough adults to enlist.”
Youngsters are not eligible for combat operations until the age of 18, but the period is used for training at the Army Foundation College, in Harrogate. Parental consent is also required, although only in the form of a signature.
The most recent official recruitment figures released show that in the year to the end of March 2019 the army enlisted 1,000 16-year-olds and a further 820 17-year-olds, accounting for 28.8% of recruitment into the ranks. The army also recruited more 16-year-olds than any other age.
The figures make up the highest proportion of youth recruitment since 2010/11, and partly reflects the fact that enlistment of the young is holding up better while overall recruitment is plunging. Last year only 6,320 people were enlisted into the ranks of the British army, the lowest level since modern records began in 1999/2000.
CRIN also said that the army targeted poorer parts of the UK in its youth recruitment, and according to its analysis of enlistment data relating to England, the rate of recruitment of the under-18s is 57% higher in the most deprived fifth of constituencies relative to the most affluent fifth.
The brief for the army recruitment campaigns in 2018 and 2019 specified the target audience as 16- to 24-year-olds from the lower socioeconomic categories of C2DE. The brief for 2017’s This Is Belonging campaign was geared to young people from families with a mean income of £10,000.

Still no happy ending in sight for the Rohingya

Plans to begin return the thousands of Rohingya who fled ethnic cleansing in Rahkine state in 2017 look likely to fail once again, with the refugees refusing to go back to Myanmar voluntarily. 

The announcement of the repatriation plans last week was met with almost universal condemnation from human rights groups, which stressed the conditions in Myanmar were still highly unsafe for the Rohingya. “Repatriations now would be dangerous and reckless,” said Matthew Smith, the chief executive of Fortify Rights.

3,000-plus Rohingya were placed on a list of refugees and approved for repatriation and so far   214 Rohingya families were interviewed in the process.

A Bangladesh refugee relief official who was present during the intention surveys, led by UNHCR, said they did not find a single family willing to return to Myanmar.
“Almost all of the 214 families we interviewed today said they would not return until their key demands are met. Rakhine is still hostile and unsafe for them, they said,” said the official.
A Rohingya camp leader, known as a majhi, said that he had not spoken to any refugees willing to go back under current conditions.
With Myanmar’s refusal to guarantee a pathway to citizenship for the Rohingya, the consensus is that all the refugees remain too fearful to go back.
One refugee on the list of 3,450 approved for return was adamant that he would not be crossing the border . “We cannot return unless there is a guarantee from the Burma government that our citizenship rights would be returned,” he said. “Burma is telling the world that it is trying its best to make the situation for the Rohingya safe so that we can return to our homes. But, the reality is it has done nothing to help us return peacefully.”
The UNHCR has been banned from visiting Rahkine state by the Myanmar government, so cannot verify the conditions the Rohingya would be returned to. There are fears that they would just be placed in newly built transit camps, which have been described as “open-air prisons”, as their Rohingya villages, which were almost all burned to the ground during the violence, have not been rebuilt.

Papuans Protests

The same as all nations but perhaps even more so, Indonesia is an artificial country. The name Indonesia dates from the 18th century when it was employed by an English naturalist to classify the ethnic and geographic area. "Indonesia" was later adopted by nationalists as a word to imagine a unity of people. 

Indonesia is a very ethnically diverse country, with around 300 distinct native ethnic groups and 700 local languages. The country's official language is a variant of Malay.

In 1961-1962 Papua was invaded and annexed by Indonesia. An estimated 30,000 Papuans were killed in the period from Operation Mandala through to 1969. It was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a ballot seen by many as sham.

Indonesia has now deployed more than 1,000 military to the province amid spreading protests.  5,000 people protested in and around the city of Timika. Several thousand protesters, many wearing headbands with a separatist flag, also staged peaceful rallies  in Jayapura, the capital city of Papua province. Hundreds also marched through the streets of Sorong city, and in the town of Fakfak on the western end of the island they hoisted the banned Papuan flag. Videos posted by residents in Fakfak and circulated online show demonstrators chanting “Freedom Papua” and holding banners demanding a referendum for independence. Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds in Fakfak. The unrest was triggered by the detention of dozens of Papuan students in Surabaya city, on the island of Java. 

Police had stormed university dormitories after Papuan students staying there after allegations that they had intentionally damaged the Indonesian flag in the dormitory’s yard. Wider protests followed videos showing police, backed by soldiers, calling the Papuan students “monkeys” and “dogs.”

No Place for Hate

Eastern European pupils in schools in England and Scotland have experienced increased levels of racism and xenophobia since the Brexit vote, with some accusing their teachers of failing to protect them and even joining in, research led by the University of Strathclyde.
77% of pupils surveyed said they had suffered racism, xenophobia or bullying, though such approaches were often disguised as banter. 
Of the pupils, 49% said the attacks had become more frequent since the EU referendum in 2016.
Pupils told researchers they were the target of verbal abuse in the street and on public transport. There were also physical attacks, but the children claimed most of the those happened at school. Some accused teachers of ignoring such incidents, and claimed a number even laughed along and joined in.
Daniela Sime, author of the report, who is presenting the paper at the European Sociological Association conference, said the attacks and the failure by some teachers to intervene were having an impact on pupils’ mental health and sense of belonging to the UK.
"The role of teachers, who were often said to be bystanders and did not intervene, or in some situations became perpetrators themselves, emerged as a profoundly important dimension of young people’s everyday experiences of marginalisation,” she said. “Teachers were, on occasions, not only discriminatory in their practices, by ignoring young people’s presence in class, but also racist in the views openly expressed during lessons or through ignoring incidents of racism they overheard.”  She continued, “Young people said that, in the vast majority of cases, they did not report incidents –because teachers knew and did not act to counter the culture of racism and xenophobia, or because of their belief that teachers would not be interested.”

Challenging "gods"

Superstition dies hard. A religious mentality exists in those who have not yet discovered the fact that we are the gods. Prophets, preachers, gurus and mullahs are the illusory masters who people invent to tower over them. The socialist transformation of society will banish the capitalists from the earth and the gods from the skies—or to be accurate from the minds of men and women, where they have exercised their pernicious fantasies for too long. Those who choose to believe in powers beyond will be free to do so in a socialist society. Indeed, without the state to adopt this or that religious dogma as the official one, religious believers will be freer than they are now.

Atheists have increasingly been coming out of the closet in recent years. But will they embrace the “heresy” of criticising capitalism? Atheism is gaining in popularity. Atheists have exposed the errors and outright stupidity of religious thought and have also pointed out the ill effects of religion on society. It is encouraging that atheists are now confidently voicing their ideas and that their criticism of religion has struck a chord with so many people. Religion does not exist in a vacuum. Atheists does no great favour in letting capitalism off the hook. They view religion as an ugly carbuncle upon what would otherwise be a beautiful and healthy body, and hope to lance this unsightly growth. But the carbuncle of religion is more like the ones that plagued poor Karl Marx, as they will always come back.

Why does religious thought continue to flourish in modern capitalist society? Why does “God”—who has been declared dead on so many occasions—keeps popping up. To answer that question we need to consider the relationship between religion and society. More specifically: What is the usefulness of religion as far as capitalism is concerned, and what aspects of life in capitalist society make religious thought appealing to individuals? In a class-divided society, as capitalism so clearly is, religious thought comes in handy for those in positions of wealth and power. It promises workers—who happen to form the bulk of the population—that we will get some pie in the sky (after we die), as a reward for our suffering here on earth. Religious leaders encourage their working class “flock” to stoically accept their existence as wage slaves, going on about how “the meek shall inherit the earth.” The benefits to the ruling class of inculcating workers with such a masochistic outlook goes without saying. Religion may promise that the filthy rich will be punished—but the court date is in the hereafter, not the here-and-now. 

The Socialist Party presents an analysis that differs sharply from the religious worldview (and from the views of those who mechanically apply theories of natural science to explain human behaviour under capitalism). Instead of viewing present-day society (capitalism) as unfathomable chaos or an eternal state of affairs linked to our human nature, socialists arrive at an understanding of its fundamental nature as a system driven by the need to generate profit through the exploitation of labour. It is this essence of the social system that accounts, above all, for the selfish or “sinful” behaviour that is so rampant within it. This understanding of capitalism does not exempt socialists from the difficulties of living under it, needless to say, but it does reveal the “method to the madness” — just as science has demystified nature. And this understanding is also a great source of hope. It shows us that we can solve many of the problems we face by moving beyond capitalism — towards a new, cooperative form of society.

In such a socialist society, where class divisions have dissolved and our lives are no longer at the mercy of the market, religion will have lost its basis in reality and its seductive powers will quickly fade away. Conversely, as long as its social foundation remains intact, religion will continue to exist — no matter how many times it has been refuted. Atheists who only fight against religion — turning a blind eye to the hell of capitalism — thus ironically end up prolonging the life of their bĂȘte noire. At all costs keep the gaze of the people fixed upon the sky, the ideal world where they cannot see how they are robbed and oppressed; do not let them investigate the material world, where they would soon find the way to material salvation. Such is the useful role of all religion to every ruling class.

It has long been acknowledged by Christian theologians, and by anyone else who cares to study the evidence, that the Bible does not give a coherent account of the life and sayings of Jesus. There are just too many contradictions and inconsistencies within and between the various books which make up the New Testament. Not only that, many of the historical and geographical references involving Jesus are not confirmed by modern scholarship. To the Socialist Party the question whether there existed an historical Jesus of the Gospels is hardly a burning question. Whether the Christ legends has any historical credence or not does not affect the antagonism between religion, as such, and scientific knowledge.

There is nothing inherently improbable in the collection of ancient myths round an historical personage and the attribution to him of the magic commonly believed in at the time. The Socialist Party, however, unlike scholarly professors, do not consider the work concluded when a belief has been traced to a myth. This myth clamours for explanation.

At the birth of Christianity men not only longed for a new structure of society, for peace, justice, and happiness on earth, but they trembled at the expectation of the early occurrence of world-wide catastrophe which would put a terrible end to all existence. Seldom in the history of mankind has the need for religion been so strongly felt as in the last century before and the first century after Christ.

The Pauline religion was only one form of the many syncretising efforts to satisfy humanity’s need of redemption by a fusion of religious conceptions derived from different sources. Christ is derived from a cult god of the Jewish sects, and etymological variations of the name Jesus are shown to be but older words for the Messiah, the mediator, the god of healing, and the redeemer; each with distinct characteristics. It is truly all things to all men.

Socialism is the application of science to the relations between men and women. Socialism, as the science of society, is an essential part of a scientific view of all phenomena regarded as an interdependent whole; and such a monistic view of the universe, with each part in inseparable causal relation to the rest, can leave no nook or cranny for God. The consistent socialist, therefore, cannot be a religious believer. The natural history of religion is a deeply interesting subject, for the association of certain phases of religion with certain political interests is by no means accidental.

As a belief, religion is a manifestation of man’s ignorance of nature’s working, and of the mastery which the uncomprehended natural and social forces have over mankind. As rites and ceremonies it is a legacy of the relatively changeless forms of ancient society, and of the supreme importance of mysterious and venerable custom to the existence of the primitive community. By the inertia of the mind religion tends to live on through newer conditions in so far as it serves some interest. So the successive modifications of religion have been the reflexes of changed conditions and interests, although it has ever been attempted to pour the new wine into old bottles.

This evolution of religion, if such it may be called, is curious in that it is an evolution into thin air. Religious change has usually been more remarkable in what was abandoned than in what was added or retained; and religion from being inextricably bound up with the whole social life of a people, becomes a more and more insignificant reflex of the remaining dark corners of that life.

In primitive societies the non-observance of the ancient, sacred, and mysterious customs meant the break up of social life. What was old was tried, venerated and holy; what was new meant disorder and strife. The innovator was slain. In modern society the methods of producing the means of life are no longer invariable and upon ancient model and precedent, but are in the process of great and continued change. What is old is now often synonymous with antiquated, outworn and useless; what is new is hailed as advance and improvement, and novelty is always in demand. The inventor is less frequently slain. Following lamely after this change the old religious forms crumble slowly and tardily away in spite of the frantic efforts of the priestly interest at restoration or readaptation.

For socialists, therefore, the struggle against religion cannot be separated from the struggle for socialism. We fight religious superstition wherever it is an obstacle to socialism, but we are opposed to religion only insofar as it is an obstacle to socialism. To abolish religion is not to end exploitation. The workers have, above all, to dislodge the exploiting class from power, and all else is secondary to this. Not that it is sought to belittle the specifically anti-religious fight, for many a socialist has received from the actively materialist propaganda of the secularists the spark that brightened later into an illuminating, scientific light upon society and led him to socialism. The supreme aim of the workers, however, must be their emancipation from wage-slavery, and the fight against superstition is but one phase of this great fight. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Bitter Leaves

"With a long history of denying the health risks of smoking and second-hand smoke, obscuring the truth about tobacco and deceiving smokers, the tobacco industry has evolved into an inordinately lucrative business,” the afterword to the book 'Bitter Leaves' reads.

“Smoking tobacco is the most well-known cause of lung cancer and other diseases such as heart disease, stroke and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). The supply side of the tobacco industry is also the cause of a slew of other reparations including extreme poverty, dependency and diseases of tobacco farmers; child labour; deforestation. The tobacco industry has a strong hand of control throughout the tobacco cycle from seed to sale, but the devastation it causes is ultimately borne by governments, tobacco workers, users and their families, creating a seemingly endless cycle of poverty, destruction and death.”

Each year, nearly 6 trillion cigarettes are smoked around the globe.

The global economic cost of smoking is $1.85bn – equivalent in magnitude to 1.8% of the world’s annual gross domestic product.

In Italy, 7% of the funds spent on the healthcare system are used for treatments linked to smoking.

According to the UN’s International Labour Organization, about 1.3 million children work in tobacco fields, with the number increasing in certain countries like India and Zimbabwe. 

A recent study estimates more than 1.7 million children work in India’s bidi rolling industry.

 In the US, teenagers are permitted to work on tobacco farms, and in the summer they can work up to seven days a week, twelve to thirteen hours per day, earning about $8 per hour. Handling tobacco leaves causes the trans-dermic absorption of high doses of nicotine, equivalent to smoking up to 36 cigarettes. The resulting poisoning is called green tobacco sickness. Children, with their smaller body mass, have lower intoxication thresholds.

More than 30% of Indonesian children start smoking before the age of 10, often propelled by lax tobacco control policies, aggressive marketing strategies and low cigarette costs. Indonesia has the highest rate of underage smokers in the world.

More than 165 million people smoke in Indonesia, accounting for more than one third of the population.

With the production of 235bn cigarettes per year, Honghe Tobacco Company, part of the Honyun Honghe Group, represents the world’s fourth-largest producer – after Philip Morris International, BAT and Japan Tobacco – in terms of production volume and annual revenue.  In the Yuxi factory, more than 135bn cigarettes are produced per year, covering 12% of China’s total production. 

China is the largest producer of cigarettes in the world and sells about 2.5 trillion a year. State-owned China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC) controls 97% of the Chinese cigarette market.

 In the US, the tobacco crop is worth $1.5bn yearly, yet more than half of the tobacco content of cigarettes made in the United States comes from foreign countries. If a pack of cigarettes costs $5, farmers get about 5c.

Educating Rita and Ricky

Disadvantaged pupils are almost twice as likely to fail GCSE maths as their wealthier classmates, according to research that lays bare the attainment gap between rich and poor. The analysis shows students from poorer backgrounds in England lagging far behind their wealthier peers in key subjects at GCSE.

 Russell Hobby, the chief executive of the education charity Teach First, which carried out the research, said: A child’s postcode should never determine how well they do at school, yet today we’ve found huge disparities based on just that. Low attainment at GCSE is a real cause for concern as it can shut doors to future success and holds young people back from meeting their aspirations.”

Two in five pupils (38%) from the poorest one-third of postcodes fail GCSE maths, nearly twice as many as those from the richest third (20%), according to the analysis.

Children from deprived backgrounds are also less likely to be awarded top grades. Just 13% of the poorest pupils attain either a 7, 8 or 9 – the top three grades under the reformed GCSEs – in maths, compared with 26% of their more advantaged peers.

In English it is 11%, compared with 22% of wealthy students, and in French 15% of poorer pupils get top grades, compared with 27% of those from the most advantaged backgrounds.

In geography, 50% of disadvantaged children fail to get a level 4 – a standard pass – compared with 27% of the richest pupils.
As with maths, 38% of the poorest pupils fail to pass GCSE English, compared with 22% of the richest. Almost half (46%) of the poorest pupils fail history, compared with 27% of the wealthiest, while 16% of the poorest get the top grades, compared with 31% of the richest.

The findings, based on the government’s underlying key stage 4 results data for 2018, also show that 41% of young people from the poorest communities fail to pass French, compared with 26% of their wealthier peers.
Similarly, pupils from wealthier backgrounds are almost twice as likely to get top grades, with 27% of them getting either a 7,8 or 9, compared with 15% of the poorest.