Friday, March 31, 2023

Socialist Stanza No. 4

The Socialist Way


Meandering and uneven

Appears the onward road,

And few the hopeful travellers

Who have set out abroad


Towards the shared destination,

Beyond those distant hills

That can seem too steep for climbing,

Which commonly instils


Reluctance to take the first steps,

Although most would advance

If they could be persuaded it’s

Not too great a distance.


Maybe tomorrow the journey

Might finally make sense,

Or will the road be untraveled

For generations hence?


D. A.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Economics 101

 Last year, Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England, called on workers to exercise self-restraint over wage demands so as not to cause inflation to get established. Last week he called on businesses to exercise self-restraint on price increases for the same reason.

Neither workers nor businesses are taking any notice. In Tuesday’s Times, it’s Financial Editor, Patrick Hosking, explains why business won’t be any more than workers:

“Surely, when first introduced to an economics textbook, Bailey learnt that firms are not driven by altruism or patriotism but by market forces and profit? They will charge what the market will bear (…) While modern-day corporations have to consider many stakeholders, they still see their primary duty over the long run to maximise profits for the shareholders.”

There you have it.

Explaining what “charge what the market will bear” means, Hoskins adds:

“Until businesses see more capitulation by their customers, the price escalation will go on. Business will stop lifting their prices only if enough customers defect to competitors, trade down to cheaper lines or find near-substitutes. Or stop buying at all. For the poorest households, this has happened already.”

Nice system capitalism, isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The dismal science

 Dr Richard Werner, a Professor of Banking and Finance at the University of Winchester,  claimed some years ago to have found evidence that an individual bank on its own can create money ‘out of nothing’:

More recently, in an article on his blog,  he argues that banks should not be allowed to fail because they create most of the money needed to keep the economy going. He seems to think that banks have two quite different and unrelated functions: to act as a safety deposit box, keeping safe money that people don’t want to use for the time being, and to create new money. Apparently, for him, the two are unconnected.

His blog item doesn’t address the question of why, if individual banks can simply create money ‘out of nothing’, they don’t create some when they are in financial difficulty, to stop them going bankrupt; or, in fact, why they need depositors at all?   Surprisingly,, given what has just happened to Silicon Valley Bank (SVB)
 and Credit Suisse, those like him who argue that a bank doesn’t need depositors (whether individuals, companies, or other financial institutions) to be able to lend money would crawl away and hide in some dark corner. Unfortunately they won’t but will continue to point critics of the effects of the present economic system in the wrong direction.


Monday, March 27, 2023

A free marketeer writes about us

 The Socialist Party is very rarely mentioned in mainstream media, even during elections in which we campaign, leaving us to agree with Oscar Wilde when he stated ‘the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’.   Here's the latest rare exception:

The Socialist Utopia: Why socialism is ‘misunderstood and misrepresented’ – Ivo Vegter

Friday, March 24, 2023

Why not a hundred million?


‘One man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman: two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten men sharing an idea begin to act, a hundred draw attention as fanatics, a thousand and society begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why only a hundred thousand? Why not a hundred million and peace upon the earth? You and I who agree together, it is we who have to answer that question.’

William Morris 

The French are up in arms because French capitalists, through  the auspices of the executive that runs France on behalf of capitalism, wants to prolong the age at which French workers can cease to be wage slaves. Note that even having ceased to be in receipt of a wage or salary, and retired, the vast majority still remain part of the working class. The proletariat cannot be expected not to kick against the pricks when it feels the provocation warrants it. Workers are not beasts of burden but must often feel they are treated as such. The working class produces the whole cake; it should looking to own all of it, not a few crumbs. Do these protests signify a new wave of class consciousness ? Not in the sense that those protesting are calling for the replacement of capitalism by socialism. That requires a majority understanding  of, and desire for, a class free, money free, state free society in place of the present exploitative system which is run to benefit the minority. Alongside ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité,’ the rallying cry should be, Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

‘French authorities struggled on Thursday to suppress the protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform. Over a million demonstrators took to the streets across the country in what some security sources described as an “insurrection” against the government in Paris.

Tens of thousands of workers went on strike and protesters blocked public transportation, schools and oil refineries. Attempting to break up the protests, police used tear gas, water cannons, flash-bangs and batons. Videos making rounds on social media showed heavily armored officers clubbing unarmed demonstrators. 

The  entrance to the city hall in Bordeaux, the regional capital of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, was set ablaze at one point. At least one unit of firefighters switched sides and joined the protesters. Multiple eyewitnesses described the situation as “out of control.”

“It’s war in Paris, no time to post, take care of yourself,” tweeted one independent media outlet.

Almost 150 police officers and gendarmes have been injured, Interior Minister Garald Darmanin said on Thursday evening, calling this “absolutely unacceptable” and demanding harsh punishment for the attackers.
Darmanin also told reporters that 172 people were detained for questioning about the “looting and arson” in Paris, and that 190 fires had been set in the French capital, 50 of which were still burning as of 10 pm local time.

The interior minister blamed the “extreme left” and “black bloc” anarchists for the worst of the violence.

The police estimated more than a million protesters were in the streets.

The outpouring of popular discontent was triggered by President Macron’s announcement that the retirement age will be raised from 62 to 64, starting next year. Macron insisted that the change was necessary, otherwise the pension system would go bankrupt within the next several years. 

The Elysee Palace imposed the change without consulting lawmakers, who have been trying to deal with the controversial proposal since January. Protesters responded by calling on Macron to resign. 

Appearing on TV on Wednesday, Macron said his only mistake was “failing to convince people” of the decision’s merits, but insisted he would not back down, even if that meant having to “shoulder unpopularity.”

While there is a constitutionally protected right to protest, Macron said, if the malcontents use violence, “then that is no longer democracy.” 

Though heavily criticized due to the harsh coronavirus lockdowns and mandates, Macron easily won re-election in 2022, eventually defeating Marine Le Pen by a 17-point margin. The runoff election saw the lowest turnout since 1969.’


Dave C

Let them eat cake

Consumer prices in the UK unexpectedly surged in February, driven by soaring food and energy bills, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported on Wednesday.

Annual inflation as measured by the consumer prices index ran to 10.4% last month – exceeding the 9.9% consensus forecast among economists – up from 10.1% in January, placing further pressure on British households.

The ONS attributed the sharp increase to the growing cost of fresh food, non-alcoholic drinks and the rising price of restaurant meals.

“Food and non-alcoholic drink prices rose to their highest rate in over 45 years with particular increases for some salad and vegetable items as high energy costs and bad weather across parts of Europe led to shortages and rationing,” ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said.

Overall inflation for food and non-alcoholic drinks surged to 18%, the highest level since 1977.

The surprise surge in inflation during February followed three consecutive months of slowing price increases, which gave hope that Britain was moving further away from October’s 41-year high of 11.1%.

The data comes ahead of the Bank of England’s announcement on interest rates on Thursday and is likely to add pressure on the regulator’s decision amid an unfolding upheaval in the global banking sector. The UK central bank has been increasing borrowing costs aggressively in an effort to tame inflation.

“Given the market movements of late, this puts the Bank of England in an incredibly difficult position as it may not be enough for [it] to press pause on the rate hikes,” Richard Carter, head of fixed interest research at Quilter Cheviot, told Reuters.

Households in the country continue to struggle with soaring food and energy bills, while workers across a range of sectors have launched mass strike action in recent months amid disputes over pay and conditions.


Dave C

Thursday, March 23, 2023

More Canadians

 Canada had an increase of more than 1 million citizens in 2022, bringing its population to more than 39.5 million. 

The 2.7-percent increase was the highest since 1957 with international migration accounting for nearly 96 percent of the growth.

Statistics Canada said that “high job vacancies and labour shortages” have fuelled the high rate of immigration. It also noted Canada’s ageing population, with one in seven residents between the ages of 55 and 64, providing opportunity to welcome more people.

Immigration fuels record-high population growth in Canada | Migration News | Al Jazeera

Protests in Beirut

 Lebanon is in the fourth year of a deep economic crisis, which experts say has its root in decades of corruption and mismanagement by a political class that has ruled the country since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The crisis has led to school closures and left families unable to afford food and pay for fuel or other basic needs. Government-subsidised electricity, meanwhile, is mostly unavailable.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr said, “There is anger. People believe that the political and business elite do not want to solve the crisis because that will involve economic and structural reforms and fighting corruption. If the elite does that, they lose control over the state and its resource which they have been exploiting for years now.”

Patrick Mardini, director of the Lebanese Institute for Market Studies, said “the main reason behind the currency devaluation is the massive printing of Lebanese pound that is being pumped into the system. He told Al Jazeera that “at the beginning of the crisis, we had around four trillion Lebanese pounds in circulation; today we are at around 70 trillion”.

Mardini said the situation was compounded by a lack of confidence and trust in the Central Bank and the whole banking system, as a whole.

Lebanese take to streets as anger over economic meltdown grows | News | Al Jazeera

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Feuding over High Seas Law

 The ink is barely dry on the new treaty to protect the high seas and already there are complaints that the treaty is being broached.

Michael Lodge, a British lawyer and the head of the UN-affiliated body responsible for governing mining in the high seas, has been criticised by diplomats who claim he has been pushing them to accelerate the start of deep-sea mining.

A German diplomat said Lodge – the secretary-general of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) – has a duty of neutrality and has overstepped his role in resisting measures put forward by some council members that could slow down approval of the first mining proposals. Franziska Brantner, Germany’s minister for economic affairs and climate action, said: “It is not the task of the secretariat to interfere in the decision making. In the past, you have actively taken a stand against positions and decision-making proposals from individual delegations.” Brantner added that the German government “is seriously concerned about this approach”.

The criticism of Lodge comes at a crucial juncture as the body is expected to receive an application for commercial seabed mining later this year. The authority, which is meeting in Jamaica this week, is still writing regulations that would govern the process.

 Gina Guillén Grillo, Costa Rica’s representative to the seabed authority, said: “Member states should drive the International Seabed Authority. Decisions must come from them & must not be pushed by those who have only administrative duties. Mining the seabed cannot be rushed [because] of the economic interests of a few.”

The row is a measure of growing tensions over who controls the agency, amid pressure from some UN nations to slow down ocean mining, while others want it to go ahead. Germany and Costa Rica are among the increasing number of countries – including France, Spain, Chile, New Zealand and several Pacific nations – that have recently said they do not believe there is enough available data to evaluate the impact of mining on marine life. They have called for a “precautionary pause” or a ban on mining in the high seas.

Duncan Currie, an international legal adviser to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and an official observer at the 8 March meeting, told the Guardian: “This is not just a row between diplomats. It is very significant. The executive organ is the council. It is not for the administrative body to be telling the council what decisions they should be making.”

 The Metals Company, a Canadian mining startup, has said it intends to request approval this year to start mining as soon as 2024.

The small Pacific island country of Nauru is one of three states sponsoring The Metals Company, along with the Kingdom of Tonga and the Republic of Kiribati. In 2021, Nauru triggered a two-year rule that obliges the ISA to finalise and adopt regulations for commercial mining by July 2023. According to the Republic of Nauru, if the ISA has not finalised regulations within the time frame, and a mining application has been submitted, then the authority should “nonetheless consider and provisionally approve” it, allowing for extraction to go ahead. However, some authority members believe the agency is under no obligation to approve an application from The Metals Company and Nauru until the regulations are complete.

A spokesperson for the ISA told the Guardian: “The role of the secretariat is not to pass judgment on the position of member states, but to facilitate negotiations and ensure that discussions are informed by the best available science and in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1994 agreement. The secretariat carries out this mission carefully, deliberately and to the best of its abilities.”

The spokesperson added: “The regulations will only be approved should ISA’s members reach a consensus on its content. In the meantime, only exploration activities will be permitted.”

Row erupts over deep-sea mining as world races to finalise vital regulations | Environment | The Guardian

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime …
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen1893 - 1918

(The old lie- Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.)

UK warmongers up ante.

 Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned London against the planned delivery of depleted uranium (DU) armor-piercing tank rounds to Ukraine, saying the weapons will be treated by Moscow as containing “nuclear components.”

Putin commented on British plans to include DU munitions in a forthcoming delivery of Challenger 2 main battle tanks as he spoke alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping following talks in Moscow on Tuesday.

“I would like to note that if this happens, then Russia will be forced to react accordingly, bearing in mind that the collective West has already started to use weapons with a nuclear component,” he stated.

A similar warning was issued by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu on the sidelines of the Russia-China talks, who said the move would bring the world yet another step closer to a nuclear disaster.

“Another step has been taken, and there are fewer and fewer left,” Shoigu told reporters.

The looming delivery was announced on Monday by Annabel Goldie, the UK minister of state at the Ministry of Defence, as she responded to a written inquiry on the matter. She confirmed the plans to deliver DU rounds to Kiev, lauding them as a highly effective weapon.

“Alongside our granting of a squadron of Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, we will be providing ammunition including armor-piercing rounds which contain depleted uranium. Such rounds are highly effective in defeating modern tanks and armored vehicles,” Goldie said.

The DU munitions have long been the subject of international controversy, with critics of their use highlighting the toxicity and radioactivity of the material. Depleted uranium is used to make the hardened cores of armor-piercing rounds, excelling in this role due its high density. The round’s core evaporates on impact, turning into aerosol and contaminating the environment with uranium.

The UN has already expressed alarm over the UK plans. Farhan Haq, a spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told a media briefing that the international body had long voiced concerns about the consequences of DU use, as well as about those who supply such weaponry. 

These munitions were actively used by NATO during the First Gulf War, as well as during the bloc’s aggression against former Yugoslavia, both in the form of tank and aircraft artillery shells. The use of the munitions was acknowledged by NATO in a 2000 report, with the US-led bloc revealing that it had used some 10 metric tons of the material in Yugoslavia – and 300 metric tons in Iraq.

The report acknowledged that the material poses a threat due to its toxicity in an “aerosol form,” but insisted the DU was not “particularly highly radioactive.”


Dave C

American warmongers up ante.

The US Department of Defence announced on Monday that it will send Ukraine another $350 million worth of military aid. The further supplies come as Ukraine reportedly gears up for a spring offensive, despite suffering heavy losses in Donbass.

The package is the 34th tranche of military aid doled out to Ukraine by the US since August 2021. It includes ammunition for Kiev’s US-provided HIMARS rocket artillery systems, 155mm artillery rounds, high-speed anti-radiation missiles (HARMs), riverine patrol boats, and other anti-tank and mortar systems.

Amid reports of dwindling stockpiles at home, the Pentagon no longer discloses how much of each ammunition type its arms packages include. These figures have been omitted from every such statement since the beginning of January, but a comparison of the supplemental fact sheets released with each package suggests that the US has sent Ukraine at least 500,000 155mm shells since the beginning of March 

These NATO-standard shells are in desperate demand, with Ukrainian Defence Minister Aleksey Reznikov claiming earlier this month that his forces need 594,000 per month to fire their Western-provided guns at full capacity. Aside from those provided by the US, Reznikov has asked the EU to provide 250,000 shells per month. 

At a meeting on Monday, however, 18 EU countries committed to providing just a million of these shells within a year, a figure that falls well short of Kiev’s demands.

Media reports have warned  or months that the effort to arm Ukraine has depleted military inventories in the US and Europe. With Kiev reportedly ignoring Western advice and refusing to surrender the encircled city of Artyomovsk (called Bakhmut in Ukraine), US and EU officials are now concerned that its forces may lack the ammunition for a springtime offensive against Russia, the New York Times reported last week.

The US has given Ukraine more than $32.5 billion in military aid since last February, out of more than $110 billion allocated by the administration of US President Joe Biden for military and economic assistance to Kiev. Russia has repeatedly warned that such military outlays will not change the outcome of the conflict but make Western nations de-facto participants in the hostilities.

Four Republican congressmen have entreated US President Joe Biden to send cluster munitions, a controversial weapon banned in 110 countries, to Ukraine, dismissing concerns about escalating the conflict as misplaced in a letter to the White House on Tuesday.

The Biden administration shouldn’t hesitate to send cluster munitions – specifically dual purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM) – because of “vague concerns about the reaction of allies and partners and unfounded fears of ‘escalation’,” Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) wrote in their letter. After all, they said, other countries have already sent such weapons without triggering Russian retaliation.

Acknowledging the weapons’ horrific effects, the signatories argued that while Ukrainian leaders are “aware of the risks to non-combatants,” the “existential threat posed by Russia’s invasion and daily acts of barbarity” is more important. Additionally, they claimed, “d,” US DPICM are equipped with “technologically advanced measures” that limit collateral damage.

A 2008 UN treaty banned cluster munitions in 110 countries, including three-quarters of NATO member nations. It has been signed by another 13 countries, though neither Russia, Ukraine, nor the US are on that list. Ukraine is the only country where the deadly devices are currently in use, and both sides have been accused of deploying them in the conflict.

Aside from one attack in Yemen in 2009, the US has not used cluster munitions since it invaded Iraq in 2003 and has not produced any since 2016. Central Command has admitted the hundreds of smaller bombs they contain are often left unexploded across the strike area, posing risks similar to landmines to anyone – especially children – who encounter the odd-looking little “petal mines.”

While the White House initially balked at Kiev’s request for DPICMs in December, it stopped short of a hard “no,” and the issue is reportedly still under consideration if the US runs out of available ammunition to ship overseas. 

In April, 27 members of Congress denounced Russia’s alleged use of cluster munitions, calling them “barbaric and indiscriminate weapons” and urging Biden to join the UN convention. The current policy, they said, was “wholly unacceptable given what we know about the immediate and long-term damage done to societies on which they are deployed.”

While the Republican Party’s 2022 campaign platform stressed curtailing the Biden administration’s blank check to Kiev, the Pentagon announced another $350 million in weapons just this week, to be drawn from the US’ own stockpiles.


Dave C

Poland: Dire state of economy diversion tactics?

 Retail sales in Poland slumped for a second straight month in February, at the fastest pace since 2020 as inflation continued to squeeze spending power, Statistics Poland reported on Tuesday.

Last month, sales in the sector dropped by 5% year-on-year, far more than an expected 1.4% decline, the figures showed. On a monthly basis, retail saw a 3.6% decline from January.

“Retail sales of goods, with calculations based on data from stores with at least 10 employees, decreased by 5% in February. At the same time, in January this fall was 0.3%,” the report said.

Economists attribute the weak turnover to persisting pressure on households’ real disposable incomes and purchasing power, caused by spiraling inflation.

Sales of furniture and household appliances slid 10.3% in February, while retail sales of other durable goods contracted by 12.3%.

Purchases of food in Poland fell for a second month in a row, losing 4.6% in February compared to the same period last year. The data also showed a 26.2% annual decline in fuel sales.

Poland’s inflation is at its highest since 1996. Consumer prices rose 18.4% year-on-year in February, up from the 16.6% the previous month, according to the latest data from Statistics Poland.

Annual inflation in Poland accelerated in February to the highest level since 1996, data released by the national statistics service GUS showed on Wednesday.

Consumer prices rose 18.4% year-on-year in February, up from the 16.6% recorded in the previous month.

Economists are predicting that the latest surge will mark the peak of the current cycle, but Polish consumers say they are struggling to pay household bills and buy basic groceries, with price growth at its steepest in more than a quarter of a century.

The figures show that the February reading surpassed the previous high of 17.9% recorded in October 2022, with food prices, transport and energy costs rising fastest last month.

Prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages saw the most significant annual increase in February of up to 27%, compared to 26.6% in January. Housing-related rates jumped 22.7% while the cost of heating fuel, water and central heating increased, the report said.

The Polish economy slowed in 2022 amid soaring inflation and a plunge in consumer spending brought on by the conflict in neighboring Ukraine and the impact of sanctions on Russia.

Poland may end up “joining” the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine should the latter fail to protect its “independence,” the Polish ambassador to France, Jan Emeryk Rosciszewski, has said. The senior diplomat made the remarks on Saturday while speaking live to the broadcaster LCI. 

Rosciszewski squarely blamed the hostilities, which have been ongoing for over a year already, on Moscow, stating that it was “not NATO, not Poland, not France and not Slovakia” that was ramping up international tensions, but Russia. According to the diplomat, the situation now is “either Ukraine will successfully defend its independence, or we will be forced, in any case, to join this conflict.”  

“Otherwise, our principal values, which are the basis of our civilization and our culture, will be in fundamental danger, so we will have no choice,” Rosciszewski stated.

The hawkish statement promptly made headlines in international media, prompting the Polish mission in France to elaborate further on the remarks made by its head. According to a message released by the embassy on Sunday, Rosciszewski’s comments were not actually an admission that Warsaw was ready to go to war with Russia, but merely a “warning” and a pledge to continue supporting Kiev.

“Listening carefully to the entire conversation allows us to understand that there was no announcement of Poland’s direct involvement in the conflict, but only a warning against the consequences of Ukraine's defeat – the possibility of Russia attacking or dragging into the war more Central European countries –  the Baltic states and Poland,” the statement reads. The embassy also condemned the purportedly “sensational” reporting on the bombshell interview, suggesting that some unidentified media outlets may have acted in “ill will.”

The remarks received a poor reception in Moscow, with a top Russian senator, Alexey Pushkov, warning Warsaw of the potential consequences and questioning its presumed resolve to fight Russia on its own.

“A very presumptuous statement by the Polish ambassador in Paris. For the first time, an official representative of Poland said what its leaders have long had on their minds. However, all the ‘courage’ of the Poles is based on the support of the United States. Is Warsaw sure that Washington is ready to fight?” Pushkov said in a Telegram post.

Poland has been among the most active supporters of Kiev in the hostilities against Russia, sending in assorted military hardware, including tanks and artillery pieces, to prop up Ukraine. Apart from that, Polish mercenaries have been directly involved in the conflict in significant numbers, according to Moscow. Warsaw has also announced a major military buildup of its own, seeking to greatly expand the ranks of its armed forces and procure large amounts of modern military hardware from overseas.

RT 3/23

Dave C.

Socialist Stanza No. 3

Mars Attack


Mars looks down from the heavens on

Yet another war set in train,

Fought face to face and by proxy

Across and for the Ukraine.


While presidents and their minions

Make claim against counter claim.

Though broadcasting their differences,

They are all really the same.


Not one of them prepares accounts

Of ordinary lives lost,

As long as their stock is rising,

It’s an acceptable cost.


The present main protagonist

Is, of course, evil or mad.

Such is the accusation made

By the bombers of Baghdad.


D. A.

Capitalism Taking Advantage Shock

 Thousands of shopping basket essentials have risen sharply in price, with some products doubling in just one year, it has been revealed.

The figures come from an analysis of more than 25,000 products and make clear that budget items, which many have turned to during the cost of living crisis, are rising fastest.

New research from Which? shows the annual inflation rate for popular food and drink in February was 16.5 per cent across eight big supermarkets.

On average, budget range prices are up by a higher 22.9 per cent with own-brand up 19.7 per cent, premium supermarket lines by 13.8 per cent and big brands by 13.3 per cent.

The increases are adding hundreds of pounds to annual food bills and are way ahead of rises in salaries, pensions and benefits. 

Earlier this month, Bank of England policymaker Catherine Mann warned 'greedflation' might take its toll on ordinary people if companies use the cost of living to justify large price hikes.

Project Fear

 Nearly 200,000 people, including more than 40,000 children, could be locked up or forced into destitution if the government’s controversial illegal migration bill becomes law, according to new analysis by the Refugee Council.

The charity has used government data and the numbers of asylum seekers the Home Office said it hopes to deport from the UK, to project how many people are likely to either be forcibly removed or left in limbo in the first three years of the new legislation if it becomes law, at a cost to the taxpayer of around £9bn. 

Under the new rules, people seeking asylum can be detained for 28 days without the right to access a lawyer or apply for bail. Terrorism suspects can only be detained for 14 days.

‘Draconian’ migration bill could leave tens of thousands destitute or locked up | Refugees | The Guardian

The Water Crisis

 The number of people lacking access to safe drinking water in cities around the world will double by 2050, research has found, amid warnings of an imminent water crisis that is likely to “spiral out of control”.

Nearly 1 billion people in cities around the world face water scarcity today and the number is likely to reach between 1.7 billion and 2.4 billion within the next three decades, according to the UN World Water Development Report, published on Tuesday ahead of a vital UN summit. 

Urban water demand is predicted to increase by 80% by 2050. Water shortages are also becoming a more frequent occurrence in rural areas, the report found. Currently, between 2 billion and 3 billion people experience water shortages for at least a month a year.

Audrey Azoulay, director general of Unesco, the UN agency that produced the report, said governments must cooperate over water. “There is an urgent need to establish strong international mechanisms to prevent the global water crisis from spiralling out of control. Water is our common future, and it is essential to act together to share it equitably and manage it sustainably,”

About 2 billion people globally do not have safe drinking water, while 3.6 billion lack access to safely managed sanitation. Water use has been growing globally by about 1% a year for the last 40 years and this will continue. About a 10th of the global population lives in countries with high water stress.

Number of city dwellers lacking safe water to double by 2050 | Water | The Guardian

What's New?


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new synthesis report. 195 governments commissioned it and the summary was agreed line by line. It is accepted fact by nations worldwide, and a shared basis for future action.

The report’s conclusions are terrifying and wearily familiar.

Every region is experiencing “widespread adverse impacts”. 

Almost half the world’s population is “highly vulnerable” to climate change impacts. Expected repercussions will escalate rapidly. 

It concludes that there is a “rapidly closing window of opportunity” to secure a livable future.

The message is the same: immediate and deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors.

Will it happen?

Monday, March 20, 2023

Stagnating Wages

 Fifteen years of wage stagnation has left British workers £11,000 worse off per year, ]  after 15 years of “almost completely unprecedented” wage stagnation.  The figures come from the Resolution Foundation think tank. 

The Resolution Foundation calculated that had wages continued to grow as they were before the financial crash of 2008, the average worker would make £11,000 more per year than they do now, taking rising prices into account.

It also found typical UK household incomes have fallen further behind those in Germany. In 2008, the gap was over £500 a year, now it is £4,000.

UK wages failing to keep up with costs - Resolution Foundation - BBC News

Up with this we will not put?

 Real wages in the UK will not return to their 2008 level until 2026 despite an easing of inflation, the Resolution Foundation, an independent think tank, reported this week in its analysis of the new budget.

According to the report, the country is on track for a “disastrous decade” of stagnant incomes and high taxes, with cuts to public services.

The publication highlighted that real wages fell at an annual rate of 3.9% in January, noting that the bigger picture for wages is “one of long-term pay stagnation.” 

The decrease in household disposable incomes this year and next are the worst in a century, the think tank stressed.

“Britain’s economy remains stuck in a deep funk – with people supported into work but getting poorer, and paying more tax but seeing public services cut,” it wrote.

The UK is forecast to have gone through “the biggest energy and inflation shock since the 1970s, while avoiding a recession, with unemployment peaking at just 4.4%,” Resolution Foundation added.

According to the study, taxes as a share of GDP are expected to hit 37.7% by the end of the forecast period, representing a 70-year-high and a 4.7% increase since 2019-2020.

The freeze on income tax thresholds since 2022-23 means that typical households will be worse off by £1,110 ($1,337) by 2027-28 when the freeze ends, it noted.

Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, stated that “Jeremy Hunt’s first budget was a much bigger affair than many expected, combining improvements to the dire economic and fiscal outlook with a significant policy package aimed at boosting longer-term growth in general, and the size of the workforce in particular.

“But stepping back, the UK’s underlying challenges remain largely unchanged. We are investing too little and growing too slowly. Our citizens’ living standards are stagnant. We ask them to pay higher taxes, while cutting public services,” he concluded.

RT 19/3/23

Dave C

Rising prices in Spain

 Spaniards are facing surging prices for tomatoes and pork amid burgeoning demand for the products from abroad and geopolitical tensions, the Financial Times reported this week, citing the billionaire owner of Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona.

According to the businessman, who is ranked as Spain’s fourth-richest person, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has heavily weighed on tomato prices as it resulted in sharp surge in prices for natural gas, forcing farmers to shut down production of vegetables in greenhouses in Northern Europe due to high heating costs.

As a result, buyers flocked to Spain’s solar-powered growers, pushing up prices from €1.39 per kilogram in January 2021 to €2.05 today.

“The cost has gone up by a whopping 66 cents. We’ve raised prices by 50%,” Roig said, as quoted by the newspaper.

“So we had two options: either buy tomatoes or leave customers without tomatoes. And we believed it was more important to have tomatoes at €2.05 than to not have tomatoes.”

According to Roig, the price of pork, vital for making Iberian ham, has skyrocketed due to soaring demand from China, for which Spain is a major supplier.

“There are one billion Chinese people,” the businessman said. “How much did they ask for?     don’t know. What I do know is that pork cost €1.05 [per kilogram in January 2021] and now it costs €1.96.”

Earlier this week, the country's national institute of statistics (INE) reported that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food stood at 16.6% in February, marking the highest level since 1994. This is despite the IVA (Spain's sales tax) reductions adopted during the previous month.

RT 19\3\23

Dave C.

The Indignity of Old Age

 Across the U.S., hundreds of thousands of nursing home residents are locked in a wretched bind: Driven into poverty, forced to hand over all income and left to live on a stipend as low as $30 a month. In a long-term care system that subjects some of society’s frailest to daily indignities, Medicaid’s personal needs allowance, as the stipend is called, is among the most ubiquitous, yet least known.

Nearly two-thirds of American nursing home residents have their care paid for by Medicaid and, in exchange, all Social Security, pension and other income they would receive is instead rerouted to go toward their bill. The personal needs allowance is meant to pay for anything not provided by the home, from a phone to clothes and shoes to a birthday present for a grandchild.  Congress hasn’t raised the allowance in decades. Medicaid was created in 1965 as part of the Great Society programs of Lyndon B. Johnson. A 1972 amendment established the personal needs allowance, set at a minimum of $25 monthly. Unlike other benefits like Social Security, cost-of-living increases were not built into personal needs allowance rules. Had it been linked to inflation, it would be about $180 today. But Congress has raised the minimum rate only once, to $30, in 1987. It has remained there ever since.

When Marla Carter visits her mother-in-law at a nursing home in Owensboro, Kentucky, the scene feels more 19th-century poorhouse than modern-day America. With just a $40 allowance, residents are dressed in ill-fitting hand-me-downs or hospital gowns that drape open. Some have no socks or shoes. Basic supplies run low. Many don’t even have a pen to write with.

“That’s what was so surprising to us,” Carter says, “the poverty.”

In nursing homes, impoverished live final days on pennies | AP News

The Real People Traffickers

 Private firms are making increased profits as the government pays millions of pounds a day to put up asylum seekers in the UK.

BBC News has been told 395 hotels are being used to house asylum seekers, as arrivals to the UK rose last year.

Three large firms have contracts to run the hotels.

One, Serco, provides some 109 hotels in England mostly in the Midlands, East and North West. Serco, which also provides other services on behalf of the government, references "growth" in its immigration work in its 2022 annual report.

Another firm, Mears Group is running 80 hotels in north-east England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, increased its annual revenue by 22% in 2021. The company's annual report said the increase was "largely driven" by its work finding hotel accommodation for asylum seekers.

Calder Conferences, received £20.6m in 2021 to book hotels. That figure increased to £97m in 2022. Calder's annual accounts for the year ending February 2022 shows turnover increased from £5.98m to £23.66m. The firm's pre-tax profits trebled, from £2.1m to £6.3m. Calder's director, Debbie Hoban, saw her annual remuneration increase from £230,000 to £2.2m.

Private firms profiting from asylum hotels, BBC learns - BBC News

Saturday, March 18, 2023

US mothers dying in childbirth

 The United States remains one of the most dangerous wealthy nations for a woman to give birth. Compared to other countries, the maternal mortality rate was twice as high in the US than in the UK, Germany and France; and three times higher than in Spain, Italy, Japan and several other countries,

Maternal mortality rose by 40% at the height of the pandemic, according to new data released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2021, 33 women died out of every 100,000 live births in the US, up from 23.8 in 2020. It has consistently increased in the US since at least 2000. Yet the average maternal mortality rate among the 37 other countries accounted for in the data has declined over the same time period. The high cost of healthcare, coupled with glaring disparities across racial and socio-economic backgrounds, have kept the mortality rate in the US stubbornly high for years,

That rate was more than double for black women, who were nearly three times more likely to die than white women. Black Americans are disproportionately at the axis of all three points - they have the highest rates of obesity or being overweight in the US, and have a 20% higher chance of having hypertension. Yet the rate of uninsured black Americans remains two-thirds higher than white Americans. Black Americans in particular are often employed in low-income jobs that offer little-to-no health insurance coverage and minimal time off for maternity leave.

 Joan Costa-i-Font, a professor of health economics at the London School of Economics, explained, the maternal mortality rate spike in the US in 2021 was the result of a "perfect storm" of events between a deadly pandemic, racial inequality, comparatively low health insurance coverage, and high health insurance costs.

"The insurance design is to be blamed for the excessive barriers that women [in the US] face when pregnant. It's basically a system that is not giving care to the ones most at need It provides great care to the wealthy but low income care is below standards...Lower income people in the US find themselves with higher needs, more disease, and less coverage," Costa-i-Font said.

Experts say the vast majority of maternal deaths happen shortly after giving birth, when many women are forced to return to work and are unable to continue with post-partum care.

Dr Rochanda Mitchell, a Howard University physician who specialises in maternal-foetal medicine and high-risk pregnancies, said, "During the pregnancy everybody is there, celebrating the pregnancy." 

She added.,"But if most of our mothers are dying after delivery - then we need help after delivery." Dr Mitchell explained that until there is a vast overhaul of how the health care system in the US functions, the situation is unlikely to improve.

But without the systems in place to support employees of low-income jobs, many mothers are forced to ignore early signs of health concerns.

Some mothers, even those with health insurance, can be discouraged from seeing a doctor post-partum because of the potentially high cost and may wait until the most dire circumstances, she said, which in many cases can be too late.

Why US mothers are more likely to die in childbirth - BBC News