Tuesday, September 29, 2009

RECRUITMENT REALITY

"The number of former servicemen in prison or on probation or parole is now more than double the total British deployment in Afghanistan, according to a new survey. An estimated 20,000 veterans are in the criminal justice system, with 8,500 behind bars, almost one in 10 of the prison population. The proportion of those in prison who are veterans has risen by more than 30% in the last five years. The study by the probation officers' union Napo uncovers the hidden cost of recent conflicts. The snapshot survey of 90 probation case histories of convicted veterans shows a majority with chronic alcohol or drug problems, and nearly half suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as a result of their wartime experiences on active service." (Guardian, 24 September) RD

SPARE PARTS FOR SALE

"British victims of the credit crunch are offering to sell their kidneys for £25,000 or more to help pay debts, an investigation by The Sunday Times has revealed. At least a dozen adverts have appeared on the internet offering kidneys for sale from British “donors”. ...Nearly 7,000 people in the UK are waiting for kidney transplants and 300 died last year while on the waiting list." (Sunday Times, 27 September) RD

Monday, September 28, 2009

ALL RIGHT FOR SOME

"What recession? Harvey Nichols department store in Knightsbridge says it has just sold a £15,000 hand-made leather handbag, by US designer Lana Marks. The sale of the multi-coloured alligator leather Positano bag shows that high-end shoppers are still prepared to pay huge sums for a handbag. ...Classic French couture brands such as Lanvin are also enjoying the flight to quality, she said, while classic leather jackets and £1,000-a-pair distressed jeans from Balmain are flying off the shelves." (Observer, 27 September) RD

THE HIDDEN RECESSION


"The biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history lies at anchor east of Singapore. ...Here, on a sleepy stretch of shoreline at the far end of Asia, is surely the biggest and most secretive gathering of ships in maritime history. Their numbers are equivalent to the entire British and American navies combined; their tonnage is far greater. Container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers - all should be steaming fully laden between China, Britain, Europe and the US, stocking camera shops, PC Worlds and Argos depots ahead of the retail pandemonium of 2009. But their water has been stolen. They are a powerful and tangible representation of the hurricanes that have been wrought by the global economic crisis; an iron curtain drawn along the coastline of the southern edge of Malaysia's rural Johor state, 50 miles east of Singapore harbour. ...It is so far off the beaten track that nobody ever really comes close, which is why these ships are here. The world's ship owners and government economists would prefer you not to see this symbol of the depths of the plague still crippling the world's economies."
(Daily Mail, 28 September) RD

Sunday, September 27, 2009

CONTRADICTION

Prince Charles still drives an Aston Martin given to him by the Queen on his 21st birthday
"The Prince of Wales is urging people to give up their cars in favour of walking and public transport to try to reduce carbon emissions. The Prince, who has two Jaguars, two Audis, a Range Rover and still drives an Aston Martin given to him by the Queen on his 21st birthday, said developers had a duty to put public transport and the pedestrian at the heart of their housing schemes." (Daily Telegraph, 21 September) RD

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A MURDEROUS SYSTEM (3)

"As of Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009, at least 4,345 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes nine military civilians killed in action. At least 3,473 military personnel died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers. The AP count is three fewer than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Friday at 10 a.m. EDT. The British military has reported 179 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 21; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, seven; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia and Georgia, three each; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand and Romania, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan and South Korea, one death each." (Associated Press, 20 September) RD

A MURDEROUS SYSTEM (2)


Gulbenis Badurova, 33, in her house with a photograph of her husband Sirazhutdin
Umarov, 32 who was kidnapped, tortured and killed
"It is unreported in Russia and virtually unnoticed by the rest of the world. Yet just five months after the long war in Chechnya was officially declared to be at an end, the northern Caucasus has seen a big upsurge in violence. Five hundred people have been killed so far this year, double last year’s toll. It has become the Kremlin’s most pressing problem after the economic crisis. In Chechnya itself, where security forces commanded by its 32-year-old president, Ramzan Kadyrov, have been accused of numerous atrocities, there have been nearly 90 abductions this year. The targets included Natalia Estemirova, a leading human rights campaigner who was kidnapped and murdered in July." (Sunday Times, 20 September) RD

Friday, September 25, 2009

A MURDEROUS SYSTEM


Mexican Army soldiers secure the site were the two Federal Police officers were
murdered, in Ciudad Juarez
"A new spate of violence has pushed the homicide rate in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez to an unprecedented 1,701 murders, breaking the record set just a year earlier in 2008. Officials reported 14 new violent deaths over the weekend in the town, which sits across the border from Texas, pushing the homicide rate past last year's record level of 1,653 murders. In all, 22 people were killed on Saturday night and Sunday in the two Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua, which border the US states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas." (Yahoo News, 20 September)

THE CLASS DIVIDE

The basic tenet of a socialist analysis of capitalism is that it is a class divided society, with the owning class owning all the means of production and the working class forced to work for a wage or a salary because of their non-ownership. The contrast between the lives of workers and capitalists is huge, but a recent example in India shows just how great the contrast can be in one city.
"Mumbai is desperately overcrowded. More than half its 18 million inhabitants live in shantytowns, many, like Mr Prakash, paying significant rents for the privilege. ..."We ask God to help," said Mr Prakash, who earns about 7,500 (£94) rupees a month, "but in this city I don't think good property is within the grasp of ordinary men."
Contrast that pitiful existence shared by about 9 millions of his fellows in Mumbai with that of a capitalist in the same city.
"Look out across the skyline of south Mumbai and it is not hard to pick out the new pad being constructed by Mukesh Ambani, India's richest man - a building said to have been inspired by the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and said to be the world's first $2 billion (£1.2 billion) home. The 27-storey glass tower, named Antilla after the mythical Atlantic island, is said to feature three helipads, nine elevators a cinema, a health club, a crystal-encrusted ballroom, several "safe" rooms, a garden level half way up and 168 car parking spaces. The structure will have about 400,000 sq ft of interior space and will require about 600 servants to run it." (Times, 24 September)
A 27 storey house for him and his wife and three children may seem a bit excessive and we wonder about the 168 car parking spaces, but with that sort of loot to spend no doubt Mr Ambani has a lot of friends visiting him! RD

Thursday, September 24, 2009

HUNGER AMIDST PLENTY

Capitalism is a social system that produces all sorts of contradictions. Tremendous technical advances should mean a better society but inside capitalism it leads to better ways to maim, kill and destroy. Improvements in the production of food should lead to a happier world but it produces exactly the opposite. "The number of hungry people will pass 1 billion this year for the first time, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) said, adding that it is facing a serious budget shortfall." (Yahoo News, 16 September)
While a million human beings suffer starvation producers of food are destroying it to force up prices. "An emergency meeting over the collapse in the price of milk will be held by Europe's agriculture ministers. The crisis talks have been convened by Sweden as farmers in mainland Europe continue their "milk strike", dumping hundreds of thousands of litres of milk on farmland.... In an attempt to end the milk lakes and. butter mountains, the European Commission is unwinding its dairy support system." (Times, 24 September)
Butter mountains and milk lakes while a billion starve - capitalism has certainly outlived its usefulness! RD

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

THIS IS PROGRESS?


Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers march pass Tiananmen Square in
Beijing on early September
"China's military capability has taken a "quantum leap" thanks to a modernisation drive and its weaponry rivals that of Western countries, the nation's defence minister said in an interview Monday. The comments by Liang Guanglie came in an interview published by Xinhua news agency 10 days before China is set to roll out a range of advanced weaponry in a National Day military parade. "Our capabilities in waging defensive combat under modern conditions have taken a quantum leap," Liang was quoted as saying. Liang rattled off a list of achievements in military technology and hardware by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) including military-use satellites, advance aircraft, tanks, artillery and missiles." (Yahoo News, 21 September) RD

JESUS GOES SHOPPING

"The Church of England must shed its middle-class "Marks & Spencers" image and become more akin to Aldi, according to the Bishop of Reading. The Right Rev Stephen Cottrell described his frustration that the established church is regarded as the option for the "suited and booted" only. Jesus, he said, would probably have shopped at Aldi and Asda." (Times, 22 September) RD

GLOBAL WARMING STRIKES


It was like waking up to see that Armageddon is upon us
"Australia's biggest city, Sydney, has been shrouded in red dust blown in by winds from the deserts of the outback. Visibility is so bad that international flights have been diverted and harbour ferry traffic disrupted. Emergency services reported a surge in calls from people suffering breathing problems. Children and the elderly have been told to stay indoors. Sydney's landmarks, including the Opera House, have been obscured, and many residents are wearing masks. Traffic has been bumper-to-bumper on major roads. The dust blanketing eastern parts of New South Wales has been carried by powerful winds that snatched up tons of topsoil from the drought-ravaged west of the state." (BBC News, 23 September) RD

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

GROWING OLD DISGRACEFULLY

"Almost half of all care homes in Scotland do not meet national standards on eating, drinking and nutrition, leaving vulnerable, elderly residents at risk of weight loss and dehydration, according to a new report. The report, published today by the Care Commission, also found that more than a quarter of care homes did not screen their residents for dehydration. ... Almost a third (29 per cent) did not screen people for malnutrition, while 34 per cent did not screen people for dehydration when they were admitted to a care home." (Times, 18 September) RD

NHS SAVIOUR?

"People should pray every day if they wish to remain healthy, according to the new Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols. In his first pastoral letter to his diocese since he was installed in May, Archbishop Nichols warns that stable, fruitful and healthy lives cannot be achieved without daily prayer." (Times, 18 September) RD

Monday, September 21, 2009

IRONIC?



Some villagers have not seen any benefit from the neighbouring oil
installation.

"Critics of the US invasion six years ago often said its ultimate aim was to control Iraq's vast deposits of oil. So it is ironic, perhaps, that the first foreign oil company to start drilling operations in the country since 2003 should be from America's growing rival, China. A year since it signed a 23-year, $3bn (£1.84bn) deal to exploit the small al-Ahdab field, in Wasit province, south of Baghdad, China's National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has already struck oil. ... Iraq boasts the world's third largest reserves of oil, with many potential fields not even tapped.

(BBC News, 20 September) RD

A BILLION GO HUNGRY

A young Thai boy and other Bangkok, Thailand, residents receive a food handout
outside the Poh Teck Tung


"Food aid is at a 20-year low despite the number of critically hungry people soaring this year to its highest level ever, the United Nations relief agency said Wednesday. The number of hungry people will pass 1 billion this year for the first time, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) said, adding that it is facing a serious budget shortfall." (Yahoo News, 16 September) RD

Saturday, September 19, 2009

FUTURE PROSPECTS?

"One in five of Britain’s young people are now jobless, official figures showed yesterday, as total unemployment reached its highest level for 14 years. In the three months to July, the total of unemployed people aged 16 to 24 rose by nearly 60,000, to 947,000, the biggest jump since 1992. Their jobless rate is now 19.7 per cent. The total UK jobless figure for the three months rose by 210,000 to 2.47 million, the highest total since May 1995. The official unemployment rate is now 7.9 per cent. Those claiming unemployment benefit in August reached 1.61 million, up 24,400 from July and 693,700 ahead of August last year. Of these, 483,200 — nearly one in three — were aged 16 to 24." (Times, 17 September) RD

A BOOM FOR SOME

"India is condemning another generation to brain damage, poor education and early death by failing to meet its targets for tackling the malnutrition that affects almost half of its children, a study backed by the British Government concluded yesterday. The country is an “economic powerhouse but a nutritional weakling”, said the report by the British-based Institute of Development Studies (IDS), which incorporated papers by more than 20 India analysts. It said that despite India’s recent economic boom, at least 46 per cent of children up to the age of 3 still suffer from malnutrition, making the country home to a third of the world’s malnourished children. The UN defines malnutrition as a state in which an individual can no longer maintain natural bodily capacities such as growth, pregnancy, lactation, learning abilities, physical work and resisting and recovering from disease. ... "It's the contrast between India's fantastic economic growth and its persistent malnutrition which is so shocking." Lawrence Haddad, director of the IDS, told The Times. He said that an average of 6,000 children died every day in India; 2,000-3,000 of them from malnutrition." (Times, 17 September) RD

Friday, September 18, 2009

POVERTY IS WORLDWIDE

When reporting poverty in the world the international media often assume that it is a condition that exists only in Africa or Asia but here is an example of its very real existence in the so-called developed world.
"Nearly 60 per cent of Canadians would have trouble paying the bills if their paycheque was delayed by one week, a new poll suggests. The Canadian Payroll Association survey says not only are the majority of Canadians living paycheque-to-paycheque, but they have little ability to put money away for their retirement. The survey, released Monday, said 59 per cent of Canadians would have trouble making ends meet if they missed a paycheque."
(Canadian Press, 14 September)
This paycheque-to-paycheque existence is the norm for most members of the world's working class. RD

MORE MADNESS

"A Tibetan mastiff called Yangtze River Number Two is believed to have broken the record as the most expensive dog having been sold to a Chinese woman for a reported four million yuan (£350,000). In keeping with its status the dog - 18 months old and 80cm high - arrived at its new owner's home in stupendous style. According to local reports, a motorcade of 30 cars cruised to the airport in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province, to take delivery of Yangtze, and a throng gathered to fete the arrival of the city's new resident." (Times, 11 September) RD

Thursday, September 17, 2009

ETHICS AND CAPITALISM

"The Body Shop, the cosmetics giant that claims to source ingredients from companies that protect local farmers' rights, buys palm oil from an organisation that pushed for the eviction of peasant families to develop a new plantation. Daabon Organics, a Colombian firm that provides the British chain with 90% of all its palm oil, was part of a consortium that asked the courts to remove farmers from a sprawling ranch 320km north of the capital Bogotá with a plan to grow African palm. Police in riot gear evicted the farmers in July. Now solicitors for 123 peasant farmers and their families are appealing against the decision with the backing of a British charity. They say that some locals had lived and worked on the land for more than 10 years and had already applied for the right to own it under Colombian law before the consortium bought it." (Observer, 13 September) RD

SOCIETY AND SELFISHNESS

The Age of Empathy” (written by Franz de Waal) is best seen as a corrective to the idea that all animals—human and otherwise—are selfish and unfeeling to the core. It offers not only plenty of examples to the contrary, but also some hints as to how and why empathy evolved, and how it might be related to self-awareness. In the case of humans, one might think that it is hardly necessary to get the professional opinion of a zoologist on the matter. Don’t we already know that people can be rather good at co-operating, and are not always mercilessly hostile towards their rivals? Yet Mr de Waal does manage to spring some pleasing and intriguing surprises on this score: how many people are aware, for example, that most soldiers are unwilling to fire at the enemy, even in battle?" (Economist, 3 September) RD

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SCRAPPING SHIPS AND WORKERS


Largely untrained workers break the ships apart using hand-tools
"The economic downturn and a subsequent fall in demand for cargo ships has meant that for many ship owners it makes better sense to send an ageing ship to the scrap yard rather than to keep her maintained but idle. But while the recession may have been good news for the owners of the ship-breaking firms, it is very bad news for the environment. The scrapping of ships in South Asia – Bangladesh and Pakistan are also major scrappers – is a rudimentary, almost medieval affair. Ships are allowed to beach on the sands and then armies of men with little or no training pull apart the ships with hand-tools. Toxic substances such as mercury and asbestos are allowed to seep into the environment. One of the attractions to the ship owners of having their vessels dismantled here is that the ship breakers in this part of the world receive little of the regulatory oversight that takes place in Europe or the US. For the ship owners, it means they can dispose of their ships more cheaply, while for the scrappers it means bonanza-time. ....Campaigners point out that the working conditions for the often undocumented migrant labourers from India's poorest states, can be highly dangerous and there are regular reports of injuries and fatalities. Earlier this month, six workers died when a fire broke out at one of the plots. Activists say the impoverished workers have no bargaining power." (Independent, 31 August) RD

POVERTY IN THE USA

"In the recession, the nation’s poverty rate climbed to 13.2 percent last year, up from 12.5 percent in 2007, according to an annual report released Thursday by the Census Bureau. The report also documented a decline in employer-provided health insurance and in coverage for adults. The rise in the poverty rate, to the highest level since 1997, portends even larger increases this year, which has registered far higher unemployment than in 2008, economists said. The bureau said 39.8 million residents last year lived below the poverty line, defined as an income of $22,025 for a family of four." (New York Times, 10 September) RD

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

CAPITALISM'S PRIORITIES

As various pieces of legislation pass through the US governmental machine it is often observed that the process is torturously slow. An example of this tardy procedure has recently been revealed in the proposed Health Bill. No such delay is evidenced when it comes to military budgets.
"With hardly any debate, a powerful Senate committee Thursday approved President Barack Obama's $128 billion request for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the budget year beginning in October. The move came as anxiety is increasing on Capitol Hill over the chances for success in Afghanistan and as Obama weighs whether to send more forces to the country. The war funding was approved as the Appropriations Committee voted unanimously for a $636 billion spending measure funding next year's Pentagon budget." (Huffington Post, 10 September)
The health of the American working class is obviously of less importance than the military needs of the owning class. RD

LAZY WORKERS?

"One in four of people of retirement age cannot afford to leave their jobs and will have to continue working indefinitely, researchers have found.
"Falling house prices, shrinking pension pots and the need to support financially dependent children have created a perfect storm for retirement plans," said Simon Lough, chief executive of Heartwood Wealth Management, which commissioned the independent research of almost 2,000 people aged 55 and over. "Since we conducted this research last year, baby boomers have found themselves forced to stay in semi-retirement for even longer as many simply can't afford to stop working." The number of older employees has risen by 97,000 in the past year. There are now 1.33 million workers above retirement age in the UK. The survey demonstrates the bleak choice facing 11.5 million pensioners in the economic downturn: despite having saved throughout their working lives for a comfortable retirement, many have to carry on working or try to make do with a drastically reduced income." (Observer, 13 September) RD

Monday, September 14, 2009

A TEN MILLION POUND VIEW

The newspapers are full of stories of unemployed workers suffering the indignity of their homes being re-possessed. Everyday we hear of the crashing property market and the resultant misery suffered by hard working families. The story is completely different for members of the capitalist class of course.
"At £10m it must be the most expensive sea view in Britain. A Russian multi-millionaire liked a plot of land on the coast at Sandbanks in Dorset so much that he was happy to pay £5m for it. The plot was already occupied by a substantial house, but he did not much like it so is paying the same again to have it knocked down and replaced with something better. The purchase last September by Maxim Demin, 39, a petrochemicals trader, shows that at the top end of the property market lavish spending has survived the slowdown." (Sunday Times, 13 September)

There is nothing unique about the property market. In every market - housing, education, medical treatment, holidays and entertainment - "lavish spending has survived the slowdown".
RD

CENSORSHIP IN THE USA

"Creation, starring Paul Bettany, details Darwin's "struggle between faith and reason" as he wrote On The Origin of Species. It depicts him as a man who loses faith in God following the death of his beloved 10-year-old daughter, Annie. The film was chosen to open the Toronto Film Festival and has its British premiere on Sunday. It has been sold in almost every territory around the world, from Australia to Scandinavia. However, US distributors have resolutely passed on a film which will prove hugely divisive in a country where, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February, only 39 per cent of Americans believe in the theory of evolution."
(Daily Telegraph, 11 September) RD

Saturday, September 12, 2009

THE RISE OF THE BNP


Admission FREE


All Welcome

Introduction

The recent rise of the BNP as exemplified by them gaining local council seats and now returning two European Members of Parliament in this year's election makes it necessary for us to have a look at this organisation and what it stands for. Towards that end we intend to deal with this introduction to the subject in three parts.

Overviews

1. The past of far right organisations

All during the 20th century there has been a far right element in British politics. Inside the Conservative Party we have had such organisations as the League of Empire Loyalists. They saw the threat of a diminishment of the British Empire as the great evil to be fought against. With the advent of the Russian revolution in 1917 and the rise of the Labour party to replace the Liberal party, this element became more and more evident. It was during the Thirties however that the far right became a more potent force in British politics. The rise of the NAZI party in Germany and Mussolini in Italy were a great stimulus to far right ideas in the UK. Mosley and his fascists supporters were supported during the 1930s by such establishment institutions as the Daily Mail.

2. The causes behind the BNP rise.

The most obvious reason has been put down to immigration. Indeed when Enoch Powell made his infamous "rivers of blood" speech his sole reason for proposed action was immigration. It is worth noting that his greatest support was not from re-tired colonels regretting the demise of the British Empire but from London dock workers. This I think gives us a clue to their present rise. One of the most important reasons for the rise of the SNP was the failures of the Labour Party, and likewise a powerful ingredient to the rise of the BNP. While a core element of the support of the BNP is nationalism and racism it is the loss of support for the Labour party that has been a large factor in their growth. The growth of unemployment has also led to the "British jobs for British people" nonsense.

3. How to deal with this organisation.

The left wing political parties have no doubts about the actions to take. Do not allow them a platform. Break up their meetings. Use violence against their demonstrations. In fact in the past when the SPGB attempted to have a public debate with the far right it was broken up by left wingers. "No platform for fascists" is their oft repeated mantra. We take the opposite view. Only by debate can their stupid ideas be exposed. The present upsurge is probably only a temporary movement but the SPGB should nevertheless analyse why it is happening and be prepared to deal with their growth.



WAR THREATENS ONCE AGAIN




Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, left, says goodbye to Russian Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin after a meeting near Moscow on Thursday.


While we have a capitalist system there will always be war and threats of war, this is the latest,

of course they are for peaceful purposes.

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez said Friday that his country is buying Russian missiles with a range of 186 miles as part of a series of arms deals with Moscow.
Chavez, who on Friday returned from a ten day-tour of Africa, Asia and Europe that included a visit to Russia, is also negotiating the purchase of 100 T-72 and T-90 tanks from Moscow. "We signed some military agreements with Russia. Well, soon some little rockets are going to be arriving," he said during a speech to supporters from a balcony at Venezuela's presidential palace. (msnbc 12th September 09)

Friday, September 11, 2009

BUSINESS AS USUAL

"The world will suffer another financial crisis, former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan has told the BBC.
"The crisis will happen again but it will be different," he told BBC Two's The Love of Money series. He added that he had predicted the crash would come as a reaction to a long period of prosperity. But while it may take time and be a difficult process, the global economy would eventually "get through it", Mr Greenspan added.
"They [financial crises] are all different, but they have one fundamental source," he said. "That is the unquenchable capability of human beings when confronted with long periods of prosperity to presume that it will continue." (BBC News, 9 September) RD

MARKET MADNESS

"Christophe Voivenel is a dairy farmer, and the son of dairy farmers, in one of the finest dairy regions in the world. At some point in the next few days, he will commit an act of sacrilege. He will rise, as usual, at 6am to milk his 60 cows and then throw away the warm, white liquid which is his family's life's blood. "You have to understand how hard that will be," he said. "It is like an artist destroying his own painting or a craftsman smashing one of his own creations." Mr Voivenel, 43, a farmer near Vire in lower Normandy, is about to go on strike. Tens of thousands of dairy farmers in 14 European countries, including some in Britain, are preparing to join the first ever pan-European "milk strike": an attempt to push up the farm-gate price of milk, which has almost halved in the last 18 months." (Independent, 29 August) RD

Thursday, September 10, 2009

CAPITALISM IN ACTION

"Changing weather patterns have decimated crops in several of the world's poorest countries this year, leaving millions in need of food aid and humanitarian workers warning about the dangerous effects of climate change. Farmers in Nepal have been able to produce only half their usual crop, said an Oxfam International report released last week. Livestock are dying of malnutrition in Yemen, according to the humanitarian news service IRIN. And the Red Cross is bracing for the effects of heavy rains across 16 West and Central African nations. All three are the result of extended atypical weather events -- drought, rain, or untimely combinations of both -- in places where subsistence farmers have long depended on predictability. In Nepal, more than 3 million people -- about 10 percent of the population -- will need food aid this year, said Oxfam." (Yahoo News, 2 September) RD

HUMANS ARE SOCIAL BEINGS


Hurricane Katrina: A disabled woman is rescued in Pascagoula, Miss., Aug. 29,
2005



"But ask any New Yorker about, say, the blackout of 2003, and you’re likely to get not a shudder of horror but wistful reminiscences about people spontaneously directing traffic when the signals went dark. As Rebecca Solnit documents in “A Paradise Built in Hell,” a landmark work that gives an impassioned challenge to the social meaning of disasters, this same sort of positive feeling has emerged in far more precarious circumstances, from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Hurricane Katrina. Disasters, for Solnit, do not merely put us in view of apocalypse, but provide glimpses of utopia. They do not merely destroy, but create. “Disasters are extraordinarily generative,” she writes. As the prevailing order — which she elliptically characterizes as advanced global capitalism, full of anomie and isolation — collapses, another order takes shape: “In its place appears a reversion to improvised, collaborative, cooperative and local society.” (New York Times, 1 September) RD

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Reading Notes

The industrial epoch alone has built up every spot between these old houses to win a covering for the masses whom it has conjured hither from the agricultural districts and from Ireland; the industrial epoch alone enables the owners of these cattle sheds to rent them for high prices to human beings, to plunder the poverty of the workers, to undermine the health of thousands, in order that they alone, the owners, may grow rich.In the industrial epoch alone has it become possible that the worker scarcely freed from feudal servitude could be used as mere material, a mere chattel; that he must let himself be.
"The Condition of the WorkingClass in England", p.87).

A CHILLING PROSPECT

"Iran has until late September to respond to the latest international proposal aimed at stopping the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapon. Under the proposal, Iran would suspend its uranium enrichment program in exchange for a U.N. Security Council commitment to forgo a fourth round of economic and diplomatic sanctions. But if diplomacy fails, the world should be prepared for an Israeli attack on Iran's suspected nuclear weapons facilities. As Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently acknowledged: "The window between a strike on Iran and their getting nuclear weapons is a pretty narrow window." If Israel attempts such a high-risk and destabilizing strike against Iran, President Obama will probably learn of the operation from CNN rather than the CIA. History shows that although Washington seeks influence over Israel's military operations, Israel would rather explain later than ask for approval in advance of launching preventive or pre-emptive attacks. Those hoping that the Obama administration will be able to pressure Israel to stand down from attacking Iran as diplomatic efforts drag on are mistaken." (Los Angles Times, 30 August) RD

THE FAILURE OF CHARITY


Women and children gather at a food distribution centre in Ethiopia's Oromiya
region
"The spectre of famine has returned to the Horn of Africa nearly a quarter of a century after the world's pop stars gathered to banish it at Live Aid, raising £150m for relief efforts in 1985. Millions of impoverished Ethiopians face the threat of malnutrition and possibly starvation this winter in what is shaping up to be the country's worst food crisis for decades. Estimates of the number of people who need emergency food aid have risen steadily this year from 4.9 million in January to 5.3 million in May and 6.2 million in June. Another 7.5 million are getting aid in return for work on community projects, as part of the National Productive Safety Net Program for people whose food supplies are chronically insecure, bringing the total being fed to 13.7 million." (Independent, 30 August) RD

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Food for Thought

On the environmental front, Peter Gorrie (Toronto Star, 22/08/09) wrote,
"Lobbyists hired by the American coal industry sent forged letters, purporting to be from non-profit groups opposed to the US climate-change plan, to members of Congress. The oil industry is organizing 20 'public rallies' supplying props, speakers, and busloads of placard-carrying company employees – their chants well rehearsed – to mimic grass roots opposition to the Clean Energy and Security Act."
Would we expect anything different form a profit driven system? Meanwhile, in China, the world's new leader in greenhouse gas emissions, there is a push to become the world leader in electric power, not, say manufacturers, to save the planet but to make money and conserve oil. Seventy per cent of China's energy comes from coal and with another 5 billion tons in the ground, we can expect China to continue to be number one. John Ayers

Monday, September 07, 2009

Food for Thought

Despite the cheerleaders, read Economists' use of number crunching to show that the recession is over, other numbers show the opposite.Toronto’s jobless rate rose to 11.5% from 8.5% one year ago, and welfare cases rose 12 000 to 87 450 over the same period. For the 18-24 age group, unemployment is up to 20%, leaving many students to face more debt to be paid off after graduation. Great system!
- Then there are the effects of capitalism. The Brighton Independent reported that 19%, or 1 000 soldiers and police serving in Afghanistan have been discharged for psychological strain, a jump of 50% over the last year.
- Imagine this – you buy a condominium in Florida for $430 000 forRetirement. Then the market crashes and all other buyers walk away. You are left as the sole tenant in a 32 -storey building! Of course, there are plenty of homeless people who could fill it up, but they don’t count without the cash. Only in capitalism could you encounter something this stupid!
John Ayers

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Early Death: Greater Returns!

After the mortgage business imploded last year, Wall Street investment banks began searching for another big idea to make money. They think they may have found one.
The bankers plan to buy “life settlements,” life insurance policies that ill and elderly people sell for cash — $400,000 for a $1 million policy, say, depending on the life expectancy of the insured person. Then they plan to “securitize” these policies, in Wall Street jargon, by packaging hundreds or thousands together into bonds. They will then resell those bonds to investors, like big pension funds, who will receive the payouts when people with the insurance die. The earlier the policyholder dies, the bigger the return — though if people live longer than expected, investors could get poor returns or even lose money. (New York Times September 6th)
It's your patriotic duty. no doubt.

CHAMPAGNE SOCIALISTS!

In the past when Southern Californian fruit growers were faced with a glut and falling prices they let the fruit rot on the trees. When castigated for this apparent madness they pointed out the quite logical capitalist argument that they would have to pay pickers wages for fruit they couldn't sell. When again they were taken to task for this argument they were offered by some charitable organisations the prospect of them supplying free labour and they would distribute to the needy. Again the fruit growers had an answer to that.
"Every year charitable organisations buy at cut-rate prices our unsold surplus. Giving it away would even spoil that source of income for us."
The fruitgrowers may have appeared heartless but from an economic standpoint letting the fruit rot seemed the logical action. A similar solution is being followed today by French wine producers.
"Hopes of a glut of cheap champagne are set to be dashed when vineyards meet next week to agree on a big cut in production to prop up prices. With sales falling, producers may be ordered to leave up to half their grapes to wither on the vine in an attempt to squeeze the market." (Times, 29 August)
Capitalism is a crazy system, obviously inside socialism we would deal with the problem by drinking more champagne! RD

HARD TIMES

"The wealth of Russia's richest children, offspring of the super-rich oligarchs, has been shrunk by the credit crunch. Only 54 children now stand to inherit at least $1 billion each, compared with 112 before the crisis. The money the "mini-garchs" could inherit has also shrunk, from a collective $450 billion in 2008 to $107 billion, according to a league compiled by Finans magazine. Top of the list is Yusuf Alekperov, 19, only child of Vagit Alekperov, president of Lukoil, who is worth an estimated $7.6 billion. The children of Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea FC, fill the next five places , with $2.7 billion each." (Times, 1 September) RD

Food for Thought

How capitalism works 3

The same author ( Davie Oliver ) describes how the banking industry isWinning the battle against being regulated after receiving billions in handouts (Toronto Star, 09/08/09) ,

"You would think after global financiers triggered the current, unprecedented world-wide recession and credit crisis, they might embrace inevitable reforms that their reckless conduct made necessary. The US government pumped life sustaining cash into 20 banks but their powerful lobbying groups are resisting any legislation to curtail their activities, they jacked up credit card interest to 27% and more, have hastily foreclosed on borrowers, heedless of Washington’s plea to do the opposite, they have set aside billions for employee bonuses and they still lend a high 35 times their capital reserves.

'Olive did manage to come up with,' But, as profit maximizing institutions, their imperative is to focus even harder on making money."

Doesn't this describe every enterprise in capitalism? John Ayers

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Food for Thought

How capitalism works 2
Those who hoped for a better system of organizing capitalism,more social justice etc after the governments of the world bailed out the'bad boys' of the system, are going to be sorely disappointed according toDavid Olive Toronto Star (The Era of Big Government already in retreat).He posits that the greedy are flexing their muscles again and ready tostep back into their natural position of command. He cites the town hallmeetings across America where mention of 'Obamacare', a pale version ofuniversal health care is greeted with Nazi salutes and Sieg Heil!Organised of course by those big boys who want to continue raking in themoney at the expense of a system based on human need. Unfortunately, Olive doesn’t mention that this is just the norm in capitalism. John Ayers

Friday, September 04, 2009

Food for Thought

How capitalism Works 1
The Toronto Star (22/08/09) recently revealed that the pharmaceutical industry is involved in a scam to give academic credence to its advertising claims. Common in the US, it has now arrived in Canada. Mcgill University (Montreal) professor Barbara Sherwin lent her name to an article extolling the virtues of estrogen that was, in fact,ghost written by the company itself. Any underhand method of promoting commodities and making money is, apparently, acceptable, and any scientist can be bought. John Ayers

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A MODEST SORT

Away back in the bad old days we had ruthless dictators with over-bearing ideas of their own importance but today's leaders are much more modest fellows. In the past we had people like the despot Stalin who regularly polled over 100% at "elections", nowadays in "democratic" Belarussia we have more self-effacing creatures at the helm of state. "The Belrussian strongman, Alexander Lukashenko, admitted that he rigged the 2006 election because, he said, his popularity was so vast that the true margin of victory was unbelievable and had to be cut from 93 to 80 per cent." (Times, 28 August) RD

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