Friday, January 30, 2009

DYING FOR CAPITALISM



"Suicides among U.S. soldiers rose last year to the highest level in decades, the Army announced Thursday. At least 128 soldiers killed themselves in 2008. But the final count is likely to be considerably higher because 15 more suspicious deaths are still being investigated and could also turn out to be self-inflicted, the Army said. A new training and prevention effort will start next week. And Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a psychiatric consultant to the Army surgeon general, made a plea for more U.S. mental health professionals to sign on to work for the military. "We are hiring and we need your help," she said. The new suicide figure compares with 115 in 2007 and 102 in 2006 and is the highest since record keeping began in 1980."

(Associated Press, 29 January) RD

MORE MARKET NONSENSE


Office workers chat in front of a decoration for the upcoming Year of the Ox
"Stock investors reeling from last year's market mayhem may take some solace from practitioners of the ancient Chinese art of feng shui, who predict a calmer, if subdued, performance in the coming Chinese Year of the Ox. "This year of the Ox is an 'earth' year, when people will take a breather and reflect on what they should do after a turbulent 2008," said Hong Kong feng shui master Raymond Lo. Practitioners of feng shui maintain the universe is made up of five elements -- earth, water, fire, wood and metal -- that define the collective mood in our environment. Earth is the calmest of the elements and this year is a "yin earth" year as well as an Ox year, symbolizing a more feminine energy, says Lo. The Year of the Ox, which starts on January 26, will be the most peaceful year globally since 2000, he says, but stock investors don't need to rush into the market yet. "2009 will be a 'pure earth' year, which means fire will be missing so there will not be a lot of drive to push up the stock market," said Lo. The economic climate will still be tough and though stock markets might rise in the first half of this year, gains could peter out in the second half, Lo said." (Yahoo News, 20 January) RD

EXPORTERS VERSUS IMPORTERS

"A coalition of leading American exporters, including Boeing, Caterpillar and General Electric, is trying to stop a “Buy America” clause being included in President Obama’s $825 billion stimulus package. The American Steel First Act would ensure that only US-made steel was used in $64 billion of federally funded infrastructure projects. The money, earmarked for roads, bridges and waterways, is aimed at kick-starting the economy, but the initiative by steelmakers, which secured support last week in the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, is opposed by American exporters, who fear retaliation by foreign governments. Their concern is given credence by the European Commission and by Eurofer, the association of European steelmakers, which said that it would urge the European Union to challenge the “Buy America” clause at the World Trade Organisation." (Independent, 26 January) RD

Thursday, January 29, 2009

CAPITALISM IN ACTION

Socialists always point out how inefficient capitalism is and how inside a socialist society everyone would work to the best of their ability and take according to their needs. Contrast that with what is happening today. Men and women of the working class throughout the world are being debarred from producing wealth. They are being thrown onto the industrial and commercial scrapheap of capitalism because of the profit motive.
"Up to 51 million jobs worldwide could disappear by the end of this year as a result of the economic slowdown that has turned into a global employment crisis, a United Nations agency said on Wednesday. The International Labour Organization (ILO) said that under its most optimistic scenario, this year would finish with 18 million more unemployed people than at the end of 2007, with a global unemployment rate of 6.1. More realistically, it said 30 million more people could lose their jobs if financial turmoil persists through 2009, pushing up the world's unemployment to 6.5 percent, compared to 6.0 percent in 2008 and 5.7 percent in 2007. In the worst-case economic scenario, the Global Employment Trends report said 51 million more jobs could be lost by the end of this year, creating a 7.1 percent global unemployment rate."
(Reuters, 28 January) RD

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

MORTGAGE MISERY

"One house was repossessed every ten minutes in the third quarter of last year as the rate of seizures almost doubled, the Financial Services Authority said yesterday. The City regulator said that 13,616 homes were repossessed in the three months to September last year, a 92 per cent rise on the third quarter of 2007. There was also a rise in the number of homeowners in arrears, indicating that hundreds of thousands of borrowers could lose their homes. The FSA said that 340,000 borrowers were behind on mortgage repayments, a 10 per cent rise compared with the previous quarter of last year and a 24 per cent rise on the same period in 2007."
(Times, 23 January) RD

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fatten them up for the colonies or war

Following on from a previous post, on Free work versus forced employment, some older readers may remember this exercise in social control.

This was how workers were treated and how some of the capitalist bosses would still like to treat them, if you will let them get away with it. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/7842517.stm

We don't find any sons and daughters of the ruling class in these schemes ,of course.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

GROWING OLD DISGRACEFULLY

"Miriam Gorman wanted to retire more than a year ago, but steep financial losses in her retirement savings mean the 71-year-old bookkeeper now plans to work on indefinitely.
"I would have preferred to retire at the end of 2007, and then I was thinking at the end of this year, and now maybe it's next year. I really don't know," said Gorman, who's been with an advertising company in Bethesda, Maryland, for 15 years. Across America, older workers are postponing retirement plans, dismayed by huge losses in the value of the investments they had depended on to fund their retirement. The U.S. recession has compounded the problem, with home values too low to provide the nest egg many seniors need and interest rates on safer assets close to zero." (Yahoo News, 17 January) RD

Friday, January 23, 2009

CAPITALISM THE POLLUTER


A female orangutan named Beki eats bananas at Tanjung Puting National Park on
Borneo island, Indonesia
"Hoping to unravel the mysteries of human origin, anthropologist Louis Leakey sent three young women to Africa and Asia to study our closest relatives: It was chimpanzees for Jane Goodall, mountain gorillas for Dian Fossey and the elusive, solitary orangutans for Birute Mary Galdikas. Nearly four decades later, 62-year-old Galdikas, the least famous of his "angels," is the only one still at it. And the red apes she studies in Indonesia are on the verge of extinction because forests are being clear-cut and burned to make way for lucrative palm oil plantations. ..."I try not to get depressed, I try not to get burned out," says the Canadian scientist, pulling a wide-rimmed jungle hat over her shoulder-length gray hair in Tanjung Puting National Park. She gently leans over to pick up a tiny orangutan, orphaned when his mother was caught raiding crops. "But when you get up in the air you start gasping in horror; there's nothing but palm oil in an area that used to be plush rain forest. Elsewhere, there's burned-out land, which now extends even within the borders of the park." The demand for palm oil is rising in the U.S. and Europe because it is touted as a "clean" alternative to fuel. Indonesia is the world's top producer of palm oil, and prices have jumped by almost 70 percent in the last year.But palm oil plantations devastate the forest and create a monoculture on the land, in which orangutans cannot survive. ... Most live in small, scattered populations that cannot take the onslaught on the forests much longer. Trees are being cut at a rate of 300 football fields every hour. And massive land-clearing fires have turned the country into one of the top emitters of carbon." (Yahoo News, 18 January) RD

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thought For Today

• "Too long have the workers of the world waited for some Moses to lead them out of bondage. He has not come – he never will come. I would not lead you out if l could, for if you could be led out – you could be led back again. Make up your minds, there is nothing you cannot do for yourselves."(Eugene Debbs)

OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND


Lindsey Nelson gets ready to head out for the day after sleeping in an area that
falls within the city's inaugural security perimeter
"From the steam grates of Pennsylvania Avenue to the porticoes of the city's grand buildings, homeless Washingtonians who live inside the nation's tightest security zone are being encouraged to decamp during the inauguration for shelters in the city's outer neighbourhoods. The security sweeps will probably begin Monday. Buses will make one-way trips to two of the District's largest shelters, which will remain open round-the-clock, said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6)."Everyone has to be out of the perimeter by then," Wells said." (Washington Post, 15 January) RD

Free work versus forced employment

Why do you go to work? Is it because you enjoy what you do? Did you choose to work at what you do in the way you do? Would you do your job were it not for the money?

A few lucky people can do what they like. These include a certain class of people who have the economic privilege of not needing to work. They can live by exploiting the work of others. This exploitation enables them to live by appropriating rent, interest and profit.

They can do what they like with their lives. They can sleep all day.They can travel. They can spend their time shooting animals for fun or shooting drugs into their bodies. If they wish, they can be philanthropists and "do good" for the poor—who are poor only because the rich are rich.

While the capitalist minority who own and control the means of producing and distributing wealth are free not to have to work, the majority of us are unfree. We are dependent upon working in order to obtain a wage or salary. We sell our mental and physical abilities in a relationship called employment.

Work and employment are not the same. Humans need to work because work is the expenditure of energy and unless we use some of it we rot away.
Even the most parasitical aristocratic layabout occasionally does the odd stroke of work. Looking after a garden or painting pictures or cooking fine food are all work activities, but if you do them freely they are not employment.

To be employed is to work for someone else: to be at their beck and call; to be given money by them in return for producing values for them. Capitalists will only employ workers if there is a prospect of them making a profit out of us. They make their profit by receiving from us more value than the value of our wages or salaries.

Without this surplus value they would not employ us - which is why millions of able-bodied and skilled people who want to find jobs are unemployed; there is no prospect of a profit in making them work. There is no point in asking the capitalists to give everyone employment regardless of profit. That would not be in their interests and we should not expect them to invest in us unless they can exploit us.

So, the majority works not by choice but in an unfree relationship of employment. We are wage or salary slaves. We are employed not for the good of our health but so that capitalists can live in luxury without working. Employment is a form of institutionalised exploitation - or legalised robbery.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dreaming of a super cycle

On 19 November 2007 the Times published a special supplement on “Minerals and Mining”. One optimistic article “Boom time for world-wide mining” raised the prospect that world mining was entering a “super cycle” and that “we are now in the early stage of a prolonged upward shift in prices, fuelled by the industrialisation of China and India”.

Industrialisation involves not just the building of new factories but also the uprooting of people from the countryside and their move to urban industrial centres to work. One expert spoke of “the movement of anything from around 10 million to 20 million people per year into an urban setting” in China, so increasing the demand for new houses, roads, administrative buildings and the other features of an urban infrastructure.

Copper is used extensively in the construction industry, for electric wiring and the like. Recent years have seen a boom in the price of copper and the other base metals, zinc (used for galvanising steel and batteries) and nickel (also used in steelmaking), attributed largely to the increased pace of industrialisation in China since 2003. The optimists believe that their “super cycle” will be the third in the last 150 years, “the previous two occurring around the end of the 19th century as the US became a major economic power and the second being the post war expansion of the Japanese and European economies after 1945”.

Three days later, the headlines of the Times business section read: “Fears of recession in US spook commodity markets” and “The wheels are coming off the supercycle”:

A metals analyst, Nick Moore gave his opinion:

“’The supercycle has a flat tyre,’ Mr Moore said, referring to a theory promoted by some analysts and mining groups which suggested that extraordinary demand from China and India would sustain continued long-term growth and prevent the traditional boom and bust cycle of the mining industry. ‘China is not the tooth fairy that can absorb all the ore’”.

Of course since, as on all markets, speculators operate on the commodities market, too much store should not be set on short-term changes there. But the state of the US economy is relevant since China is not industrializing on its own: the motor is exports. If, due to a recession in the US, these fall off so will China’s demand for copper and zinc and the mining industry will suffer from “overcapacity”. Hence the comment of the Times Business Editor, James Harding, that “in the longer term, there is concern that the industry has retained its tendency towards oversupply, adding production capacity and removing the squeeze that props up prices”.

In other words, the classic scenario under capitalism. When the market for some product is expanding, all the firms supplying it assume that this will continue and invest in new productive capacity; when all this comes on stream it is found that supply exceeds demand and boom turns to bust and slump. The mining industry has traditionally been prone to this because of the longer time needed to explore for, find and extract minerals than to build a factory. The last time the world mining industry went through a slump was in the 1990s:

“At that time, with lower demand and lower prices, and in the midst of technological change, metals were, as TulpulĂ© [chief economist at Rio Tinto] puts it ‘passĂ©’. This of course led to a lack of investment in plant, a fall off in exploration, and a declining growth on the supply side” (Times, 19 November 2007).

As long as capitalism lasts, this zigzagging between boom and slump will always be the course of economic activity.

Socialist Standard Rock and Roll ?

A comrade in the USA has come across this:

http://www.causeur.fr/swinging-gauchistes,1691

Here's a translation:
"The Socialist Standard is the oldest extreme-left journal in
England -- and no doubt on the planet: it has been published without
interruption since 1904.
As can be seen its latest edition is particularly devoted to the new
occupant of the White House and predicts, rightly, that there's not
much new to be expected from Barack Obama. Up to there, nothing
amazing, but it's the words to say it (Meet the New Boss, Same as
the Old Boss) which have enchanted the rockolgues of Causeur, who
all instantly jumped for joy in recognising the words of the
fabulous "Won't Get Fooled Again" of The Who,of which Basile de Koch
has already said all the good that should be thought of it. It will
thus be deduced that like their popular and reference newspapers,
the English are better equipped than us in anti-capitalist
papers. For example this week the front page of Rouge says "Halt to
the Massacre of the Palestinian People". Politically you think of it
what you want, but one thing is certain: as a title it's not very
rock and roll."

Still a bit 1960 and 1970ish I suppose.

Adam

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

GOD'S WILL?


A general view of the Reborn in Christ church, center, after its roof collapsed
Sunday evening.
"Police and rescuers picked through a latticework of bent steel Monday after the roof at one of Brazil's largest evangelical churches collapsed between services, killing at least nine people. Nearly 100 people were injured, but the toll could have been much worse because the roof caved in less than an hour after a Sunday service at the Reborn in Christ church attracted thousands of young worshippers — and minutes before another service for adults."
(Yahoo News, 19 January) RD

Monday, January 19, 2009

CAPITALISM IN ACTION

" ...Limerick, Ireland's third city where on the Raheen Industrial Estate in the southern suburbs, the computer giant Dell has a large manufacturing plant employing 3,000 people. On Thursday 8 January, those employees discovered that 1,900 of them would be made redundant over the next twelve months. Dell is switching manufacture from Limerick to Poland, where wages are about two-thirds lower than in Ireland. According to the Irish Times, local business leaders estimate that the knock-on effects on companies that rely on Dell for work could see `in the region of 7,000 to 10,000` further jobs at risk, threatening to send the local economy `into meltdown`"
(Observer, 18 January) RD

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A WASTEFUL SOCIETY

Capitalism is a very wasteful society that spends millions of potentially useful labour time and ingenuity in protecting private property. All over the world men and women spent their time in organisations like armies and police forces. Here is a small example of the stupidity of a private property society, in this case the border between Mexico and the USA. "18,000 - the number of Border Patrol agents assigned to it in 2008 (up from 4,000 in 1993) 705,000 - the number of people caught trying to cross it illegally in 2007/2008, down from 1.6 million in 2000. That's the equivalent to 2,000 people a day. 1,954 - the number of people who died crossing it between 1998 and 2004, mainly of exposure, drowning or car crashes." (Times, 16 January) RD

A STRANGE CENSORSHIP

"A Christian bus driver in Southampton has refused to take to the road in a vehicle emblazoned with an advertisement for a new campaign promoting atheism. Ron Heather, 62, told managers at First Bus that his beliefs would not permit him to drive a bus carrying the message: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." (Guardian, 16 January)
It is good to see bus drivers with principles but we wonder how his previous colleagues drove a bus that said "Guinness is good for you" or even earlier "Craven A for your throats sake" and of course more recently "It is a man's life in the army". Is it OK to advertise a well known cause of disease of the liver or one that induces cancer of the lungs and even one that instructs you how to kill people, but never to doubt Christian fairy tales? A really strange sort of censorship. RD

Saturday, January 17, 2009

RECYCLING FAILED IDEAS


"President-elect Obama proposes an unparalleled test of Keynes' decades-old idea: that deficit spending on a grand-enough scale can inspire the confidence to right a sinking economy. Reporting from Washington -- In a measure of how quickly its options are shrinking, the United States is about to embrace an economic theory that was widely thought for most of the last generation to have been discredited: the idea that great bursts of deficit-funded government expenditure can jolt an economy back to growth."
(Los Angeles Times, 11 January) RD

US ILLITERACY

"About 14 percent of U.S. adults won't be reading this article. Well, okay, most people won't read it, given all the words that are published these days to help us understand and navigate the increasingly complex world. But about 1 in 7 can't read it. They're illiterate. Statistics released by the U.S. Education Department this week show that some 32 million U.S. adults lack basic prose literacy skill. That means they can't read a newspaper or the instruction on a bottle of pills." (livescience.com, 10 January) RD

Friday, January 16, 2009

ETERNALLY STINGY

In every large town in the USA you will find a monument to the war dead of the various struggles for markets and sources of raw materials. It seems that the owning class are truly grateful to the working class dead - but not too grateful.
"An "eternal" flame at Bullhead City's new veterans memorial park that only lasted until city officials received a $961 gas bill has been re-lit following complaints by veterans groups. The Medal of Honor Memorial at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Park alongside the Colorado River was lit on Veterans Day in November. When the bill arrived in late December, city officials were stunned. "It caught us by surprise," City Manager Tim Ernster said Thursday. "What we decided to do for the time being is to turn the flame on ... for special events, for Veterans Day, Fourth of July, Memorial Day — those types of activities." The flame was extinguished on Monday. The Mohave Valley Daily News published a story Friday quoting city officials and disgruntled veterans who had worked to pay for and build the memorial before turning it over to the city. The flame was back on by midmorning Friday following a meeting of city officials. "What happened was really a miscommunication," city spokesman Steve Johnson said. "The issue came up one day and it was never intended to be shut off." Johnson said the flame is impressive, but city parks officials are looking at ways to put a smaller burner in place and only use the larger one at special events. "We're looking at alternatives, because $1,000 a month in these economic times is certainly a consideration," Johnson said." (Yahoo News, 10 January) RD