Saturday, April 10, 2021

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh Vs Karl Marx

 


A Duke Distorts Marx (1986)


Book Review from the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

“This, it seems to me, is Marx’s legacy to the world. For love, tolerance and compassion he has substituted hatred, envy and oppression. For honesty and justice he has substituted the interest of the party. Although it is a sad commentary on human nature that so many people are eager to adopt such doctrines of violence and conflict, there is one thing we must all learn from Marx. It is now more important than ever that we learn and understand the guiding principles of our own system, if we are to make it fulfil our ambitions to live in freedom, in harmony, in prosperity and in justice.” (HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, A Question of Balance, p.30).

So ends the Duke of Edinburgh’s published attack on the ideas of Marxism. Before we turn to deal with the distortion, be it intended or ignorant, contained in that attack, it is worth congratulating this titled spokesman for legalised robbery for taking the bother to commit his ideas to print. Too often the nonsensical dogmas of anti-Marxism are offered as casual asides or vague references, so making them harder to answer. Here we have a clear account of why one member of the capitalist class thinks that Marxism is wrong. Let us examine his criticisms.

The Duke—or whoever might have assisted him in composing his attack—has taken the trouble to find out a little about who Marx was and what he wrote. On page 6 we are presented with a concise biographical sketch, deficient more in its omissions than in relation to any false information. The reader is told that Marx “appears to have had an enormous capacity for painstaking work, a vivid and forceful literary style, considerable imagination, and a single-minded devotion to a particular philosophy”. It is stated that Marx held that “the bourgeoisie had . . .  to be destroyed by the abolition of all private property”. This is half right. In fact, both state and private property must be abolished and Marx was advocating the abolition of class relationships, particularly that of wage labour and capital, therefore the bourgeoisie (or capitalist class) will be destroyed as a class personifying capital, but not as individual people. The Duke contends that “capitalism has proved to be a great deal more flexible than (Marx) ever imagined”. There is probably some validity in this.

Having stated those points where the Duke was correct or nearly, so let us list his numerous errors and distortions.

 . . . it becomes apparent that at the heart f the terrorist campaign, or of the liberation army… or of civil unrest, there is a hard core of Marxists. Furthermore it cannot be entirely coincidence that wherever such a state of conflict exists the terrorists, liberators or revolutionaries are almost invariably supported by money, arms or men and women from countries under Marxist regimes. (p.5)

Are we to assume from this that any army or government or individual psychopath who chooses to adopt the label Marxist will be regarded by those attacking Marxism as representatives of Marxist ideas? The Russian dictators and sections of the IRA and various anti-social organisers of civil disorder adopt the Marxist label, but that makes such people no more “Marxists” than is the German Democratic Republic democratic. The linking of a label with an idea is only valid if those being labelled hold the ideas and act on the ideas to which the label refers. The Duke gives no evidence to show that terrorists are carrying out principles to be found in the writings of Marx; not a scrap of evidence is offered to show that “Marxist regimes” are Marxist societies. This is a classical distortion tactic, used by those who find it easier to smear than to prove.

In fact, on page 26 the Duke states that “Marxism has given ambitious politicians an absolutely ideal method of acquiring and keeping absolute power”. Indeed, many capitalist leaders have usurped the rhetoric of Marxism in order to run the system of oppression which genuine Marxists seek to destroy. If the Duke of Edinburgh cares to read the history of British Royalty he will discover that by manipulating the ideas of religion the British monarchy was able to attain absolute power, justified by the doctrine of divine right. If the Duke was informed he would realise that it is necessary to check the credentials of those who pose as Marxist governments and activists, if he is informed, then he is dishonest, for he will know that their credentials are bogus.

“His weakness, if that is the appropriate word for it, seems to have been a hopelessly unrealistic understanding of human nature.”

We must assume from this that the Duke does understand “human nature”. Odd, then, that he at no point attempts to define it. The reason could be that it is a totally nonsensical concept, used too often by people who speak before they think. Marx argued that human behaviour is socially determined and that our ideas and actions are not inherently produced. Rather than asserting that this is “hopelessly unrealistic”, where is the evidence against it? The Duke states that Marx’s “obsession with science and scientific socialism . . . seems to have blinded him to the power, variety and irrational nature of human emotions and talents and to the fact that such qualities of human nature are equally distributed among all people regardless of class or intellect”. (p.7) Does this mean that there are as many slum-dwellers obtaining Oxford degrees as millionaires’ children? Are there as many princes suffering the frustration of the dole queue as sons and daughters of miners? And what is this “irrational nature” which the Duke finds in human emotions? Human thought and feeling is linked to the rational pursuit of survival and comfort, if he has discovered some irrational content beyond this material interpretation, let the Duke spell it out for us rather than making vague and pointless references. Human nature has always been the concept most loved by the defender of the status quo. The slave-owner of old would say that it was human nature for negroes to be owned by white masters. The Duke of Edinburgh invokes the same undefined theory in defence of the modem form of slavery, the wages system.

“Marx, like many before and since his time, went to considerable lengths to make his selection of facts fit his particular theories.”

These aristocratic liars obviously believe that they have only to assert a view and it will be accepted. If Marx distorted the facts to fit his interpretation of capitalism why has there been no satisfactory effort made to offer other facts which will show Marx’s ideas to be false? Where are the “facts”, to show that poverty is not caused by the system under which the few own and control the means of wealth production and distribution? What “facts” exist to demonstrate that workers are not exploited at the point of production by being paid a wage which is less than the value of what we produce? Where are the “facts” denying that the history of property society is a history of class struggle? Wise men have had over a century since Marx’s death to provide us with “facts” that will not fit in with “his particular theories”. Wise men have yet to disprove Marx’s facts, and the Duke, who is not “wise”, hasn’t done this either.


“Marx believed very strongly that it was impossible to have a satisfactory society where there was such a crude division between those who owned property and capital and those who owned nothing but their wages. Naturally in a purely static situation this would be intolerable, but no human system is static and the freer the system the more quickly the self-correcting mechanism works and the greater the movement between classes is likely to be.”

So the Duke agrees with Marx that the crude division between those who own property and those who are wage slaves is “intolerable”. But the argument he puts is that, given a free society, the poor will be able to correct this situation and be come capitalists. A century after Marx’s death the crude class division still exists. in Britain the richest one per cent of the population own more of the accumulated wealth than the poorest eighty per cent added together. How long do as the Duke think it will take for this “self-correcting mechanism” to move those who are dependent on selling their abilities for wages or salaries to gain entry into the capitalist class? Of course, this will never happen because the capitalist minority can only survive by living parasitically off of the labour of the wealth-creating majority. It is “intolerable” that this division exists but, unlike the Duke, Marxists are not expecting the system to correct the problem.

“There was a utopian belief that every human problem could be solved by scientific analysis and the operation of altruistic human will. All that was necessary was to identify and eradicate the cause of the problem and everything would immediately become all sweetness and light. Marx was convinced that be had achieved all this in his theory of historical materialism.”

Nowhere did Marx ever state such a point of view. it has been invented by the dishonest Duke. It would be “utopian” to assert that “every human problem” can be solved by science but Marx was talking about problems caused by the social system, not those of natural causation. A system which makes wars inevitable can be removed and there will be no more wars. It is a basic principle of science that effects are eradicated by first removing their cause –Marx did not invent such an idea and the Duke cannot disprove it. Marx made no reference to “the operation of altruistic human will”. this is yet another of the Duke’s absurd phrases. In fact, the establishment of socialism depends on material self-interest, not abstract altruism. Socialism will not be “all sweetness and light” and Marx never used such a silly phrase. We can say that it will be an efficient, co-operative, peaceful social system, free from the bitterness and darkness of world capitalism. If the Duke cares to argue with that he will have a debate on his hands; any old fool can knock down a utopian dream which Marx was not indulging in, but not any old fool will be allowed to get away with it.

“One of the features of Marxist analysis is the constant use of group denominations and particularly the references to the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, as if there was no such thing as individual will. What sort of an argument is it to say that because all my colleagues and contemporaries are behaving in a certain way, that is the way that historical materialism has ordained I must believe?”

Needless to say, the Duke does not define this mysterious “individual will”—this man is a master of the undefined concept. My individual will is to live in Buckingham Palace: but which is more influential—my “will” or my class position? All people are either workers or they are capitalists and if they are in the former class they are robbed and they are relatively poor and they have a world to win, if they are in the latter class they are exploiters and they are relatively rich and the world is theirs. There are those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess. As for “individual will”, the Duke can buy mine from me for the price of one of his Rolls Royces. A person’s class position generally determines their ideas: that is why it is not surprising to find the husband of the richest woman in the world opposing Marxism. When members of the boss class start flocking into the Socialist Party we shall take more seriously the claim that historical materialism does not ordain how humans think and behave.

“As Marx’s ideas entailed the confiscation from private capitalists of all means of production, distribution, transport and communication, all these things would have to be centralised in the hands of the State, by which he meant the hands of the proletariat organised as the ruling class.”

Here the Duke asserts that Marx stood for centralised state capitalism. Untrue. The abolition of class monopoly necessitates the removal of the state, which Marx pointed out is merely the executive committee of the exploiting class. Marx argued that with the emancipation of the working class there will be no class left to be exploited and the logical implication of that is that there will be no socialist state. So, when the proletariat (or workers) are organised as the ruling class, which will happen when the state is democratically conquered, that will at the same time be the end of classes, including a ruling class, and the end of the state. The centralised state has nothing to do with socialism, but is a feature of coercive capitalism. A great deal of the Duke’s attack on Marxism rests on the assumption that a centralised state will create an elitist bureaucracy which will become a new ruling class. This is correct. The Duke opposes such a new ruling class, of the type which took over from the Tsars in Russia, because he is a defender of the old ruling class; Marxists oppose state and private capitalism: they are opposed to all ruling classes.

“Of all Marx’s ideas the most explosive was his choice of one particular class or group of citizens within a society—distinguished only by their relative wealth and occupations—to be held responsible for everything that is unsatisfactory in that society.”

Once again the Duke demonstrates his failure to grasp –or his ability to distort –Marxism. It is not a Marxist contention that the capitalists as individuals are the cause of the problems of the working class. It is not a question of individual will. The whole point of Marx’s writings is that the capitalist system demands that capitalists must act in certain ways if they are not to descend into the working class –a miserable fate, as we are sure the Duke will agree. The point of Marxism is not to blame this group or that class, but to expose the system and to show that it can never be run in the interest of the wealth producers, even if all the bosses were jolly decent chaps.

“…(Marxists) whole ideology is based on the idea that any degree of force, subversion, terrorism, persecution and dishonesty is justified in achieving and maintaining the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

This is rich, coming from a defender of British capitalism. The very tactics listed have all been used by the Duke’s own class in order to preserve the dictatorship of King Capital. In no way did Marx ever advocate or defend these methods. It was Karl Marx who stated that “The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class themselves”, the same principle has been advocated by The Socialist Party, the only Marxist party in Britain, since 1904. We seek to establish a free and democratic society and we are the first to point out that this will never be brought about by any of the tactics used by our class enemies, such as those listed above. We seek to establish a society of mutual co-operation, not a dictatorship—a society which will be classless. We have congratulated our class enemy on having the openness to commit his ideas to paper, it is a pity that we are not able to offer similar congratulations on his honesty, intelligence and clarity, all of which are far too undignified to enter the mind of this pompous Royal distorter.

Steve Coleman

Ageism

 Globally, ageism affects billions of people.

The 'Global Report on Ageism' was  released  by WHO, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and the UN Population Fund. 

The Global Report on Ageism offers a clear and widely supported definition of ageism as the stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination directed towards people on the basis of their age. The report highlights that ageism can be institutional, interpersonal, or even self-directed. 

In the COVID-19 pandemic the vulnerability of older people has been highlighted. Not only has the pandemic taken the lives of many older people, it has also exposed ageism in different settings—eg, discrimination in access to health care, inadequate protection of older people in care homes and of young people's mental health, and stereotypical media portrayals that pit generations against each other.

Ageism impacts all aspects of older people's health. For instance, it shortens their lifespan, worsens their physical and mental health, hinders recovery from disability, and accelerates cognitive decline. Ageism also exacerbates social isolation and loneliness and reduces access to employment, education, and health care, all of which impact health.

At least one in two people hold ageist attitudes against older adults, with rates much higher in lower-income countries. In Europe, the only region for which data about ageism are available for all age groups, one in three people have experienced ageism, with rates highest among 15–24 year olds.

Ageism: a social determinant of health that has come of age - The Lancet

Militarize Health

 The American right-wing are content to boost spending to its armed forces and to militarize its civilian police forces to turn it into a paramilitary. This article on CommonDreams suggests America now militarizes its healthcare services. 

The US Department of Veterans Affairs is a most generously government-funded institution providing free medical care to ex-service personnel.

The VA operates thousands of healthcare facilities in rich and poor places, including 170 VA Medical Centers and 1,074 outpatient sites.  It is national, integrated, non-profit, and relatively effective. In just three months, they've distributed over 3 million doses to over 2 million veterans plus their partners, their caregivers,  VA employees, and various other federal workers.

The VA's not-for-profit. Private shareholders play no role in the Veterans Affairs system. While the private sector, and even many nonprofit hospitals and healthcare systems, have fired or furloughed staff because the procedures they make their money off of weren’t taking place during the pandemic, the VA has been accepting non-veteran patients and delivering PPE to all sorts of public health programs. They’ve sent VA  staff to 49 states and territories and vaccinated people all over the country, including rural vets in Montana and homeless vets in Dallas.

Along with Medicare and Medicaid, Veteran health services is the basis for a future American free Medicare For All

No-one is Illegal

 


It never fails to surprise this blog how history is so easily forgotten when it is convenient to do so. 

Even the liberal media describe the situation at America's southern border as a crisis implying that a nation with the wealth and resources that the USA possesses would struggle to solve it. 

131,000 Vietnamese refugees in the U.S. in 1975 (and, by the way, 90,000 also entered Australia.) Since 1975, it has accepted more than 3 million refugees from various parts of the world, while more than 430,000  asylum seekers have been granted lawful permanent residence since 1990. Vibrant refugee communities can be found in almost every city, integrated and assimilated. 

How can the developing and undeveloped nations cope with their genuine refugee problems?

 Lebanon is a tiny country facing a massive economic crisis, but one of every five people is a refugee —  which is the equivalent of the United States taking in 66 million. 

Globally, more than 80 million people, including 34 million children, have been forced from their homes because of war, violence, economic collapse, or climate disasters. Among these, 26 million are refugees, forced out of their country. Another 4 million are seeking asylum.

More than two-thirds of refugees come from just five countries — Afghanistan, Syria, Myanmar, Venezuela, and South Sudan — none of which are in Central America.

 These refugees have mostly sought safety in nearby countries. Millions of Syrians fled to Turkey. Venezuelans poured into Colombia. Afghans escaped war in Pakistan, and South Sudanese in Uganda. Myanmar’s Rohingya fled to Bangladesh.

The USA likes to believe it is a nation where the government remains subject to the law.  The United States signed the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, committing itself under international law to protect refugees. According to the United Nations refugee agency, the Convention’s “core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.”

That means that a desperate Honduran family showing up at the U.S. border seeking refuge from violence, hurricanes, or extreme poverty cannot legally be either returned to Honduras or sent to “wait in Mexico” for a U.S. court date.

It is not only an international obligation that America signed up to but it is also U.S. domestic law too — specifically the Refugee Act of 1980 applying a quarantine regulation, Title 42, to unlawfully deport migrants even without any medical checks. The 1944 Public Health Service Act does not supersede other laws, nor allow for selective application based on immigration status.

Neither law lets governments avoid their obligations because of the pandemic using — in fact, the Refugee Act describes specific U.S. obligations to provide medical care to potential refugees. Today that should mean providing vaccines and testing, ensuring social distancing and masks, and avoiding the super-spreader environment of crowded detention facilities.

The real crisis is the hunger, violence, and climate catastrophes forcing people to leave their homes in the first place.

Adapted from here

Opinion | Poor Nation's of the Earth Host Millions of Refugees as US Refuses to Host Just a Few Thousand (commondreams.org)



The Pain of being Palestinian

 Palestinians are suffering from hunger, poverty, conflict and the global pandemic.

Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, explained, “People are struggling in their daily lives to make ends meet. People are struggling daily to ensure one meal for their family. No one should be made to feel so desperate.”

Gwyn Lewis, Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank, highlighted the grave socio-economic issues Palestinians are facing.

“With the pandemic, we’ve seen quite a dramatic impact on the economy — 40 percent households on the West Bank kept seeing their income decline by more than half [and] unemployment increased in the camps, by as high as 23 percent. In Gaza, unemployment has hit 49 percent which is very, very dramatic.”

Biden has restored a higher than $200 million aid package to Palestine that former president Donald Trump had revoked.

Khaled Elgindy, a Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute (MEI), said he doesn’t believe the funding will do enough, that the aid is “rather modest and is unlikely to have a significant impact on the Palestinian economy.”

Yara M. Asi, a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Central Florida, pointed out,  “I hope the lesson learned from this is that occupation is not sustainable. Israel cannot choose to exercise both maximum control over Palestinian life while assuming no responsibility for it, and limiting the ability of the Palestinian Authority to handle it themselves.”


Palestinians are Suffering from Hunger, Poverty, Conflict & a Global Pandemic | Inter Press Service (ipsnews.net)

Sad News


 Amazon has defeated activists hoping to establish the company's first unionised warehouse in the US.

Workers at the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted 1,798 to 738 against the effort.

"Amazon has left no stone unturned in its efforts to gaslight its own employees," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), which organised the effort. "We won't let Amazon's lies, deception and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote."


It accused Amazon of interfering with the right of employees to vote in a "free and fair election", including by lying to staff about the implications of the vote in mandatory meetings and pushing the postal service to install a mailbox on company grounds in an effort to monitor the vote.

Rebecca Givan, professor of labour studies at Rutgers University, said she was not surprised by Amazon's win, given the outsize power employers have to fight union efforts under current US law.

"Employers have a huge advantage in these situations," she said. "They have almost unlimited money and almost unlimited access to the workers to bombard them with messages of anxiety and uncertainty and we see the result of that here."


Amazon defeats historic Alabama union effort - BBC News

Party Political Activity: May Elections


The Socialist Party is standing 4 candidates in this year’s local and regional elections.

1. We are contesting the Cardiff Central constituency in the elections to the Welsh Assembly (or Senedd, as it now called). This is the same constituency we contested in the 2019 General Election. 

There are 11 candidates. Apart from the usual gang of five in Wales (Labour, Tory, Libdems, Greens and Plaid Cymru)

The others besides us are: 

Reform Party (ex-Brexit Party), Gwlad (a more extreme nationalist party), “Propel: Wales Needs Champions” (another nationalist party, breakaway from Plaid Cymru as too leftwing), Freedom Alliance (an anti-lockdown party campaigning for “no lockdowns, no curfews”), and the Abolish The Welsh Assembly Party. 

Our candidate is Brian Johnson.

Some 43,000 election addresses will be distributed free by Royal Mail.

2. We are contesting two wards in Folkestone in the Kent County Council elections.


(a) Folkestone East, where we are up against Tory, Labour, LibDems and the sitting councillor for the “Foundation Party” (a UKIP remnant). 

Our candidate is Max Hess.


(b) Folkestone West, where our opponents are Tory, Labour, LibDems, Reform (ex-Brexit Party) and an independent. 

Our candidate is Andy Thomas.

We are also standing in a Folkestone Town Council by-election in Central ward. Here it is us versus Tory, Labour, LibDem and two independents. 

Our candidate is Max Hess.

The total electorate is 26,500 but there is no free postal distribution. Our leaflets will be done for some commercially and by Party members.



Friday, April 09, 2021

Myanmar Military's Businesses

 Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC).  Both were established in the 1990s when the country was ruled by a previous iron-fisted military junta.  They are run by both active and retired military personnel, operating in the shadows without any independent oversight.

 The Tatmadaw, as Myanmar's army is called, has built a vast business empire. Business interests span gem production and mining, oil and gas extraction, banking, tourism and telecommunications. Dozens of companies across diverse sectors of the economy are owned by the two holdings, many others are affiliated with MEHL and MEC. 

2019 UN Fact-Finding Mission identified more than 100 businesses fully owned by MEHL or MEC, noting that it was certain that it had not been successful in identifying all subsidiaries. The authors concluded that "MEHL and MEC and their subsidiaries generate revenue that dwarfs that of any civilian-owned company."

The two holdings do not openly declare their revenue, making it impossible to gauge the extent of their revenues. 

As the country carefully transitioned to democracy in 2010, the Tatmadaw and high-ranking military officials further built and consolidated vast business empires through the acquisition of capital, land and assets. In numerous cases, analysts say, state assets were sold to favored companies, including those controlled by high-ranking officers and their families.

The children and spouses of many military leaders own and run numerous personal economic ventures. In some cases, they were awarded lucrative contracts and joint ventures with MEHL, MEC, and their subsidiaries. 

Many of the Tatmadaw's business interests are domestic — and so potentially less impacted by any international sanction.  Those that rely on exports, namely the country's natural resources, including oil, gas and gems, are to a great extent traded with its Asian neighbors. And they have, so far, shown little appetite to sever ties with Myanmar. International sanctions had been imposed on the Burmese military junta for many years and  such measures have failed to rein in the regime.

In Myanmar, military matters are a lucrative family affair | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 09.04.2021

Poor Americans Suffer Most

 


Low-income Americans bore the brunt of job losses when the pandemic arrived. Now they’re getting hit hardest by price increases as the economy recovers. An analysis by Bloomberg Economics found that the richest Americans are experiencing the lowest level of inflation.

The headline consumer inflation rate in the U.S. remains subdued, at 1.7% – but it masks large differences in what people actually buy. Some of the biggest price hikes of recent months, for example, have come in gasoline. A gallon of regular is up 75 cents since late last year –- adding more than $60 a month to the budget of someone who fills up with 20 gallons a week. Food-price inflation is running at more than double the headline rate, and staples like household cleaning products have also climbed.

These  tend to hurt low-income people most because groceries or gas take up a bigger share of their monthly shopping basket than is the case for wealthier households, and they’re items that can’t easily be deferred or substituted. On average, higher-income households spend a smaller fraction of their budgets on food, medical care, and rent, all categories that have seen faster inflation than the headline in recent years, and 2020 in particular.

The richest 10% of households captured 70% of wealth created in 2020, according to the Federal Reserve, while the bottom half got just 4%. A January study by Opportunity Insights, a Harvard research project, found that the recession was essentially over for those making at least $60,000 a year, while employment among the lowest-paid – who earn less than half that amount – was still almost 30% below pre-pandemic levels.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week to 744,000, signalling that many employers are still cutting jobs even as more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, consumers gain confidence and the government distributes aid throughout the economy. The US still has 8.4 million fewer jobs than it had in February 2020. The percentage of businesses that remained closed last week rose from the beginning of March — from 38 percent to 45 percent for bars; from 35 percent to 46 percent for beauty shops; and from 30 percent to 38 percent for restaurants.

Rising prices are hitting low-income US households the hardest | Business and Economy News | Al Jazeera

US jobless claims rise to 744,000 as layoffs continue | Business and Economy News | Al Jazeera

Masters V. Wage-Slaves

A janitor who sanitizes and sterilizes rooms in the emergency department at Research Medical Center in Kansas City in Missouri who contracted Covid-19 on the job last year was named Employee of the Month and given a $6 cafeteria voucher upon his return to work, while the CEO of the firm that owns the hospital saw his total compensation package grow to $30.4 million.

"It made me sit back

and say, 'This place doesn't care for me,'" said Brown, a member of the Service Employees International Union who makes $13.77 an hour after nearly four years at the hospital.

Even in the year of Covid-19, 2020, the company,  HCA Healthcare, generated $51.5 billion in revenue, its shares are up by 14% this year.

 HCA's chief executive, Samuel N. Hazen, received last year to $30.4 million, a 13% rise from 2019. The total worth of his compensation package equaled 556 times the compensation received by the median employee at HCA—$54,651. Because Brown, the emergency department worker, makes even less than the median, Hazen got roughly 1,000 times Brown's pay. Brown says he lives with his sister because he doesn't earn enough from his job at Research Medical to pay for his own apartment. He said he hasn't had a raise in two years.

When it comes to the CEO-to-median-worker pay ratio, HCA is not even the worst offender at 556-to-1. 

C. Douglas McMillon, Walmart's CEO, was paid $22 million in 2019, 983 times more than the median worker. Acuity Brands, an industrial technology company, paid its CEO, Neil M. Ashe, $21 million last year, or 2,316 times the median employee's pay. Lawrence Culp of General Electric got $73.2 million last year, the lion's share of it in stock awards that vest when performance and service requirements are met. The value of the package put Culp at 1,357 times the median GE worker. Starbucks, the ubiquitous coffee shop chain, paid its CEO, Kevin Johnson, $14.7 million last year. That was 1,211 times the pay of its median employee, the company's filings noted.

While Hospital Janitor Got a $6 Cafeteria Voucher, Its CEO Took Home $30 Million | Common Dreams News

Pandemic? It Means Profit


 Though the pandemic hit the world economy hard in many places, this did not apply to the richest of the rich.

 A new billionaire created every 17 hours

According to Forbes, at least 40 people became billionaires because they worked with some product related to COVID-19. 

Build Back Our Unions


 The erosion of union membership has cost the median U.S. worker $3,250 per year between 1979 and 2017, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute.

The report estimates that the percentage of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements fell from 27% in 1979 to just 11.6% in 2019, a drop that had a direct impact on the wages of unionized workers and "spillover" consequences for non-unionized workers, who benefit from strong union density.

Lawrence Mishel, the lead author of the new report, estimates that "for the 'typical' or median worker, declining unionization translates to a loss of $1.56 per hour worked, the equivalent of $3,250 for a full-time, full-year worker." 

Mishel also finds that declining union membership explains just over 33% of the growth of the wage gap between high- and middle-wage earners over the nearly four-decade period between 1979 and 2017.

"Why has collective bargaining eroded?" Mishel asks. "The primary reason was a concerted corporate attack on unions, starting in the 1970s, that exploited weaknesses in our labor laws to suppress the ability of workers to choose collective bargaining and organize."

"This collapse of organizing was due to increased employer aggressiveness and use of both legal and illegal tactics," Mishel notes, "including captive-audience meetings (meetings delivering anti-union messages that employees must attend or else be disciplined or fired), threats of shutdowns or relocation, firing of union organizers, use of a rapidly expanded group of anti-union consultants, and process delays."

In a statement, Mishel argued that "the decline of unions wasn't inevitable—it was a deliberate policy choice made on behalf of wealthy interests and corporations, and it can be reversed." One answer, Mishel said, is final passage of the PRO Act (pdf), a proposed revamp of U.S. labor laws that would significantly strengthen workers' collective bargaining rights and crack down on union-busting.

"Rebuilding collective bargaining is a necessary component of any policy agenda to reestablish robust wage growth for the vast majority of workers in the United States," said Mishel. "Collective bargaining not only benefits union workers, but nonunion workers as well by raising wage standards across industries."

Decades-Long Corporate Assault on Unions Has Cost Typical Worker $3,250 a Year: Report | Common Dreams News



Is being anti-war, imperialist?

 


An essay by Diana Johnstone reflects much of the analysis of this blog in the early days of Syria's "Arab Spring". It is well worth quoting the author's observations.

"No promising event has more fully failed to keep its promise than the optimistically named Arab Spring.  Ten years ago, massive protest demonstrations that began in Tunisia and moved quickly to Egypt were hailed as the harbinger of democracy overtaking the Middle East in one great swoop of history.

It didn’t go that way. The result has been demoralization in Tunisia, enforced military rule in Egypt, the destruction of Libya as a viable nation, endless war and famine in Yemen, Syria in ruins, and not a scratch on the most autocratic nations in the region, starting with Saudi Arabia and Qatar..."

"...As the prospect of such social revolution in the West has faded, Western revolutionaries have turned to hailing any movement against existing non-Western states as revolutionary, progressive, if not socialist, then at least “democratic.”..."

"...Franco-Lebanese academic Gilbert Achcar led the drive to gather over 300 supporting signatories from numerous countries.   The gist of the message was to condemn American and other Western independent anti-war writers for failing to support the Syrian revolution that never happened.    

Because indeed, the democratic Syrian revolution with which those exiles identify did not happen. Demonstrations and repression do not make a revolution.  Those triggering events in early 2011 were rapidly hijacked by armed rebels supported by a range of outside powers aspiring to use the disorder to break Syria into pieces — a long-term policy aim of Israel which does not meet with opposition from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey… or their friends in Washington.  The Arab nationalist regime in Syria had been on their hit-list for decades...They accuse the anti-war writers of supporting Assad and “dehumanizing” the Syrian people by ignoring themselves, individuals who have opposed the Assad regime in the past and suffered for it."

But after such a promising start, the author and ourselves soon part ways. 

She chides critics of Assad's regime in exile feel abused by “self-styled anti-imperialist” writers, that many of the opposition figures are encouraged by the National Endowment for Democracy and such pro-Western Syrians use their victim status to attack opposition to U.S. foreign policy. 

Indeed, she presents very much the same argument presented by the Bolsheviks when they found themselves the target of criticism. The accusations were from "White Russians" and the anarchist resistance such as by Makhno and the rising of the Kronstadt were counter-revolutionary.

Her conclusion is very much the basic, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," almost identical to the position she is critiquing,  but merely from the other side. 

The World Socialist Movement holds what is a very honourable principle - A plague upon both your houses. 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

'Let the people feed themselves'


 World food prices rose for the 10th consecutive month in March, hitting their highest level since June 2014, led by jumps in vegetable oils, meat and dairy indices, the United Nations food agency according to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s food price index, which measures monthly changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar.

Seed laws criminalizing farmers for using diverse crops that stand a better chance of adapting to climate change are threatening food security, say food sovereignty activists want to reclaim the right to plant. For thousands of years of human agriculture seeds were freely exchanged and shared, grown and resown by farmers, and it prevented it from being easily commodified. 

"Seeds are ultimately what feed us and the animals we eat," Jack Kloppenburg, a rural sociologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said. "Control over seeds is, in many ways, control over the food supply. The question of who produces new plant varieties is absolutely critical for the future of all of us." 

All that changed in the 1990s when laws were introduced to protect new bioengineered crops. Today, four corporations — Bayer, Corteva, ChemChina and Limagrain — control more than 50% of the world's seeds. These staggering monopolies dominate the global food supply.  Switching to standardized seeds changes whole agricultural systems. The big four agribusinesses also produce fertilizers and pesticides that farmers must buy to ensure their yield. Adopting these systems dictates the way fields are laid out, what other species can survive and the nutrient composition of the soil.  

Not only are the channels through which seeds can be exchanged and distributed narrowing: Seeds themselves are becoming less diverse. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 75% of the world's crop varieties disappeared between 1900 and 2000.  

A huge wealth of locally adapted crops is being replaced by standardized varieties. And experts warn that could have grave consequences for food security — especially as the planet heats up.

Major producers of genetically modified and bioengineered seeds, like Bayer and Corteva, strictly limit how farmers can use the varieties they sell. Usually, buyers must sign agreements that prohibit them from saving seeds from their crops to exchange or resow the following year.   Most countries only allow patents — exclusive ownership rights that were not originally created with living organisms in mind — on genetically modified seeds. But other plant varieties can also be strictly controlled by another type of intellectual property legislation called Plant Variety Protection.

The World Trade Organization requires member states — virtually all the world's nations — to have some form of legislation protecting plant varieties. More and more of them are fulfilling this requirement by signing up to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), which places limits on the production, sale and exchange of seeds. There is no legal obligation to join the UPOV. But countries including the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Japan, as well as the member states of the European Union, are among the nations using bilateral and regional trade agreements to pressure countries in the Global South, such as Zimbabwe and India, to join. 

"It means, then, that they're able to control the way in which that variety is commercialized, and they can get a return on the investment they make — because it takes anything up to 10 or 15 years to develop a new variety," said Peter Button, vice secretary general of UPOV.  

But to meet UPOV criteria, commercial seeds must be genetically distinct, uniform and stable. Most ordinary seeds are none of these things.  The varieties that ordinary farmers develop, and those handed down through generations, are genetically diverse and continually evolving. Unable to meet these criteria, farmers not only lack intellectual property rights to the plant varieties they breed themselves: In many countries their varieties can't be certified as seeds at all.  In addition to Plant Variety Protection, seed marketing laws in many countries forbid the sale — and often, even the sharing — of seeds that haven't been certified to meet standards such as a high commercial yield under industrial farming conditions.   Often, the only legal option is to buy seeds from corporate agribusinesses. And that means more and more of the world's food relies on less and less genetic diversity. 

Changing climatic conditions mean farmers' carefully attuned agricultural systems are thrown out of whack. Particular crops need particular conditions, and as temperatures and rainfall shift, so, too, do the areas in which a plant can thrive. By planting a range of different crops, each with its own genetic diversity and potential for change, the plants themselves can adapt, and if one crop fails, farmers don't necessarily lose their whole harvest. The more uniform our genetic pool is, the more vulnerable we are to all sorts of environmental stresses, and we know that with climate change there will be more of these stresses.  

Critics say imposing uniform rules on a global scale ultimately means forcing the industrial farming that dominates Europe and the US onto parts of the world where food is still largely produced by smaller-scale, more sustainable farms. 

"We're looking at this as neocolonialism destroying our livelihoods and our environment," said Mariam Mayet, director of the African Center for Biodiversity in South Africa. Mayet is calling for exceptions to seed legislation to allow farmers the autonomy to preserve the Indigenous agriculture that is "the bedrock to ensure ecological integrity, sustainability of nature, biodiversity, landscapes and ecosystems."

Around the world, food sovereignty movements such as the transnational La Via Campesina, the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture in India, the Third World Network in Southeast Asia and Let's Liberate Diversity! in Europe, are advocating for seed networks that allow farmers and communities to bypass the corporate agribusiness giants and manage seeds on their own terms.  

 The Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) drawing inspiration from open-source software — computer code available for anyone to use, distribute, and modify, as long as users allow others the same freedoms — open-source seed varieties are freely available and widely exchanged.  The OSSI model isn't perfect: Because the seeds it distributes are not legally protected, they're vulnerable to appropriation by commercial interests. But he believes that as a way of sharing for the common good, it's a concept that could be adapted to local needs.  

Industrialized agriculture — which maximizes yield at the expense of biodiversity and ecology — is often justified by the argument that we have to feed the world. 

For Jack  Kloppenburg, this is the wrong way to look at things. "People need to feed themselves — they need to be allowed to feed themselves," he says. 

Seed monopolies: Who controls the world′s food supply? | Global Ideas | DW | 08.04.2021



We see no ICC

The International Criminal Court (ICC)  was set up in 2002 to try humanity’s worst crimes where local courts were unwilling or unable to step in.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said there was a “reasonable basis” to believe crimes were committed by both sides – by the Israeli military, Hamas – which has controlled Gaza since 2007 – and other Palestinian armed groups. Bensouda has said her probe will cover the situation since 2014 in the besieged Gaza Strip, the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. ICC prosecutors, who named groups on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides as possible perpetrators,  giving them a month to inform the court if they were conducting their own investigations of the alleged crimes and want an ICC inquiry deferred while that is continuing.

Hamas has welcomed the ICC probe and argued that its attacks on Israel were justified acts of “resistance”.

The Palestinian Authority also voiced its willingness to cooperate with the ICC.

“We sent the response to the ICC,” said Omar Awadallah, a senior official in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry. “Full cooperation with the ICC will continue from the State of Palestine, as a member state of the court, to achieve justice for the victims of the Palestinian people and hold Israel accountable for its crimes,” Awadallah said.

Israel will not recognise the authority of the tribunal. Israel would not cooperate with the inquiry.  The ICC “has no powers to initiate an investigation against Israel.” Israel would not directly engage with the ICC. 

Netanyahu accused the court of “hypocrisy” for targeting Israeli troops who “fight with high moral conduct against terrorists”.

Israel to tell ICC it does not recognise court’s authority | ICC News | Al Jazeera

Pharma Philanthropy

 Revealing item in The Times about (unfortunately behind a pay-wall) AstraZeneca’s supposed philanthropy in selling its vaccine at cost price;

The vaccine is being sold on a non-profit basis during the pandemic but the business is entitled to royalty and milestone payments, which could become lucrative if the virus remains active in the population over the long term.

Which no doubt is what they are banking on.

Socialist Sonnet No. 28


Unlocking

Shops are due to reopen, unlocking

Lockdown begins. Things will be different now,

The world become a better place somehow,

Expectations rising. But the shocking

Truth…it’ll be back to business as usual:

The EU squabbling over vaccine sales,

Brexiteers gloating as export trade fails,

While the latest crime and policing bill

Seeks to silence protests before they begin.

Through the pandemic so much has been lost

And it’s the pressed people that’ll bear the cost,

As global warming keeps rolling on in.


No virus can ever bring change to pass,

Such is the charge laid on the working class.

D. A.