Monday, March 31, 2008

Poor America on Stamps

The number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s. The number of recipients, who must have near-poverty incomes to qualify for benefits averaging $100 a month per family member, has fluctuated over the years along with economic conditions, eligibility rules, enlistment drives and natural disasters but recent rises in many states appear to be resulting mainly from the economic slowdown, as well as inflation in prices of basic goods that leave more families feeling pinched , the NYT reports .

“People sign up for food stamps when they lose their jobs, or their wages go down because their hours are cut,” said director of food stamp policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who noted that 14 states saw their rolls reach record numbers by last December.

In Michigan, one in eight residents now receives food stamps. “Our caseload has more than doubled since 2000, and we’re at an all-time record level,” said spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Human Services.

From December 2006 to December 2007, more than 40 states saw recipient numbers rise, and in several — Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota and Rhode Island — the one-year growth was 10 percent or more. In Rhode Island, the number of recipients climbed by 18 percent over the last two years, to more than 84,000 as of February, or about 8.4 percent of the population. New York - one in ten New Yorkers, 1.86 million, now receives food stamps.

The cost of feeding a family of four on a low-income budget has jumped nearly 6 percent since February 2007, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.
"We're just going to see the purchasing power for food stamps continuing to erode, and it doesn't do anything to get commodities up on the shelves in the food banks," said Ellen Vollinger of the Food Research and Action Center
"A lot of the staple items - bread, dairy products in particular - have had a sharp increase (in price)," said Dayna Ballantyne, the Johnson County Crisis Center food bank director. "Across the board, our clients are finding they just aren't able to purchase food like they used to."
The amount of food stamp benefits a family is allowed goes up each fall based on inflation. But that increase is based on an estimate of food costs the previous June, and since last June, food costs have risen 5.2 percent, according to USDA."For our clients that do receive food stamps, the amount of food stamps allocated per household hasn't gone up with the food costs. The food stamps they receive haven't gone as far as they used to," Ballantyne said.

Low-income Oklahomans are harmed more by the nation's declining dollar as food stamps are stretched to cover increasing food prices, the state Human Services Commission was told . "Low-income families paying $4 for a gallon of milk and $2 or $3 for a loaf of bread means those food stamp benefits aren't going as far," Hendrick said. More than one of every three Oklahoma kids received food stamps for at least one month last year. More than 417,600 Oklahomans received food stamps in February , up 21 percent compared with six years ago.

About one in every six West Virginians gets food stamps, the highest level of participation in at least 30 years. 274,487 state residents received food stamps. That's up from 246,890 just five years ago, according to here . But while the number of people on the program has jumped sharply, the federal government has raised the average per-person monthly benefits over that time by just $12 to $85.Meanwhile, the cost of food is expected to jump by up to 4 percent this year,Food costs have been increasing by at least 2.4 percent each year since 2004.Added to that budget strain are record gasoline prices.
Sarah Young, a policy specialist with the Department of Health and Human Resources, says the agency is seeing more of the state's working poor applying for food stamps in order to make ends meet."Even those eligible for lower amounts are coming back onto the program because they have less to spend on food," Young said. "These are historically higher rates. I think even nationwide, we're at our highest rates."
Increased demand on food pantries and soup kitchens seem to indicate that poor families are running out of resources to buy food earlier and earlier each month

New Jersey ranks as the nation's second wealthiest state, but 20 percent of its working families -- the equivalent of 750,000 men, women and children -- don't have enough income to support themselves, according to this report . The number of low-income families in the state has climbed to 200,000, up 16 percent since 2000 .
The report describes as "low income" a family of four that earned less than $39,942 in 2005 . The Economic Policy Institute has calculated the actual cost of living in New Jersey and concluded a family of four requires an income ranging from $49,572 to $57,144 to be self-sufficient
"One in five households may have a livelihood but it is not sufficient to give them a happy and healthy life," The Rev. Bruce Davidson, director of the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry said

In its 2007 Nashville Living Wage Estimate, Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice found a family of two working adults and two children needs to earn a gross minimum of $43,076 to provide for its basic needs. That figure, which amounts to two adults earning about $10.35 an hour, isn't what at least 575,000 of the 1.6 million Tennesseans employed in 2007 were able to find.
As Marxists know "In a marketplace economy, the market sets wages…," said David Penn, director of Middle Tennessee State University's Center for Business and Economic Research.
"One of the most famous phrases in the movement is a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it," said Melissa Snarr, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of ethics and society at Vanderbilt University's divinity school."Really, what we are talking about here is whether we want work to include justice … or for lots of people who work to have to get by with something like food stamps."
Naivity at its best , really . Wages are set to ENSURE you don't have enough so that you return each week to labour once more - the reason it is described as wage-SLAVERY .

Cuba Libre

I was reminded of that famous saying of Anatole France , "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." when i read this item on the BBC website that the Cuban government has lifted a ban on its citizens staying in hotels previously reserved for foreigners . Hotel employees said unofficially that they had been told by officials that Cubans would be allowed to stay in hotels across the island from midnight on Monday .


The new Cuban hotel guests, like the foreign tourists, will have to pay in hard currency when - most Cubans are estimated to earn between 400 non-convertible (Cuban) pesos (eg a factory worker), to about 700 (eg a professional) - the equivalent of between £9 and £15 a month .

So some reform that it going to be - the freedom of the workers to stay at the Ritziest , Savoyest hotels - just as long as you can pay the room rate in dollars or sterling or Swiss francs !!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Price of Rebellion

Recently had an exchange here in Anarkismo and was particularly surprised by one of the responses of a supposedly learned theoretician of this platformist anarchst group .
"An alternate strategy? I would recommend general strikes and other forms of mass actions, the arming of the working people and their allies..." (my emphasis)

I half remembered a Murray Bookchin quote to offer as a riposte and now eventually found it .

From his Anarchism , Marxism and the Future of the Left :-

"...human beings cannot be free - except under very rare conditions , such as during revolutions and for limited periods of time ; even then , they must still leave the barricades and return to work to satisfy their needs and those of their families . They have to eat , if you please....."

Bookchin continued with an example:-

" ...In May 1937 in Barcelona , the workers had to conquer the Stalinist counterrevolution then and there . But they delayed , and after four days they had to leave the streets to obtain food..."

The Price of Life

A Brazilian judge has ordered Rio de Janeiro state and city to start using private hospitals to help cope with a surge in cases of dengue fever.

For weeks, hospitals in Rio have been struggling to cope with the latest outbreak of dengue, a disease which is spread by one type of mosquito and which in extreme cases can be fatal. This had meant patients, including old people and children, passing through indescribable agony and embarrassment as they waited hours for treatment, as well as running the risk of losing their lives.

At least 54 people have died across Rio state since the start of the year while the number of people infected is now said to have passed 43,000. Brazil's Health Minister has acknowledged that incomplete information means the death toll and the number of cases reported are almost certainly much higher.

The judge accused the authorities of neglect and indifference to sufferers of the mosquito-borne fever. They had failed to act to prevent and contain the epidemic, she said. Judge Patricia Cogliatti de Carvalho has now ruled that the state and city have to send patients with dengue to private hospitals and clinics when demand exceeds the capacity of public hospitals.
The state would then have to pay for the treatment within 20 days.

In her ruling, the judge spoke of the "neglect and indifference" shown by the authorities in relation to dengue.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

John Keracher - The Proletarian

A very interesting read about the Anerican Scot socialist John Keracher at the World Socialist blog , Well worth a perusal .

"There were two Kerachers - the pre-Russian Revolution one and the post-Russian Revolution one. Beyond question, the pre-Russian Revolution Keracher was a Marxist. This cannot be said unqualifiedly of his post-Russian Revolution position....The post-Russian Revolution Keracher was a Leninist-Marxist, caught in the dilemma of two "socialisms" - Marxian socialism as a system of society, and Leninist "socialism" as a transitional dictatorship of the proletariat. Yet, when the chips were down, Keracher’s Marxist background interfered with any blind conformity to Soviet dogma....Keracher was not only an organizer and propagandist for socialism, he was a pamphleteer in the tradition of Tom Paine. His clarion call to the working class was to get rid of the bedlam of outworn capitalism and to replace it with the sanity of socialism. His pamphlets attempt to disseminate socialist knowledge and understanding essential ingredients of the socialist revolution."

Our differences with Keracher on whether parliament or soviets offer the best syatyegy for socialism can be read here and here .

His major works can be archived at .

Barack , Race and Class in America

For those of us following the American campaign to the White House and find most commentaries dull, repetitive sound-bites about the personal attributes of the various contenders , such as here ( the unoriginal expose that politicians lie and exaggerate ) , Marx and Coca Cola blog discusses Obama Barack contribution to the debate on class and race in America .

"As long as the working class anger is directed at other races, and not at the capitalist system "[In Barack's words ] a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many." will continue.... There seems to be a movement in thought towards a politics of class. Instead of looking at a world split up between races or genders or civilizations or whatever we need to look at a world divided between those who control the wealth and those that labor to create it. Only if we can unite for our economic interest can we have real change we can believe in."

Green card soldiers - citizens in death

A 100 foreign-born members of the U.S. military earned American citizenship by dying in Iraq. As the war continues, more and more immigrants are becoming citizens in death — and more and more families are grappling with deeply conflicting feelings about exactly what the honor means. (From this article )

Jose Gutierrez , a young ambitious immigrant from Guatemala who dreamed of becoming an architect. In death, the young Marine was showered with honors his family could only have dreamed of in life. His sister was flown in from Guatemala for his memorial service, where a Roman Catholic cardinal presided and top military officials saluted his flag-draped coffin. And yet, his foster mother agonized as she accompanied his body back for burial in Guatemala City: Why did Jose have to die for America in order to truly belong?

As Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who oversaw Gutierrez's service, put it .
"There is something terribly wrong with our immigration policies if it takes death on the battlefield in order to earn citizenship," Mahony wrote to President Bush in April 2003. He urged the president to grant immediate citizenship to all immigrants who sign up for military service in wartime."They should not have to wait until they are brought home in a casket,"

Cpl. Juan Alcantara, a native of the Dominican Republic, was killed Aug. 6, 2007. Buried by a cardinal and eulogized by a congressman .
"What use is a piece of paper?" cried Fredelinda Pena , his sister ."He can't take the oath from a coffin," she sobbed.

Smuggled across the Mexican border in his mother's arms when he was 2 months old, Jose Garibay was just 21 when he died in Nasiriyah. The Costa Mesa police department made him an honorary police officer, something he had hoped one day to become. America made him a citizen. His mother, Simona Garibay, couldn't conceal her bewilderment and pain. It seemed, she said in interviews after the funeral, that more value was being placed on her son's death than on his life.

"Immigrants are lured into service and then used as political pawns or cannon fodder," said Dan Kesselbrenner, executive director of the National Immigration Project, a program of the National Lawyers Guild. "It is sad thing to see people so desperate to get status in this country that they are prepared to die for it."

Nearly 37,000 soldiers have been naturalized. And 109 who lost their lives have been granted posthumous citizenship.The right to become an American is not automatic for those who die in combat. Families must formally apply for citizenship within two years of the soldier's death, and not all choose to do so.
"What good would it do?" Saveria Romeo says of her son, Army Staff Sgt. Vincenzo Romeo, who was born in Calabria, died in Iraq "It won't bring back my son."

Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez Del Solar was 20 when he was killed by a bomb . His father has become an outspoken peace activist who travels the country organizing anti-war marches, giving speeches and working with counter-recruitment groups to dissuade young Latinos from joining the U.S. military.

Afghan mess

Some $10billion (£5bn) in aid promised to Afghanistan has still to be delivered, aid organisation Oxfam has said and of the money that is , 40% goes back to donor countries in "corporate profits and consultant salaries," . Most full-time expatriate consultants working for private companies in Afghanistan cost 250,000 to 500,000 dollars a year . This is some 200 times the average annual salary of an Afghan civil servant, who is paid less than £500.
Five American companies are named as having scooped the lion's share of their country's cash . The five US companies said in the report to swallow almost half of USAID's Afghanistan budget are KBR, the Louis Berger Group, Bearing Point, Chemonics International and Dyncorp International.
The report asserts "Vast sums of aid are lost in corporate profits of contractors and sub-contractors, which can be as high as 50 per cent on a single contract. A vast amount of aid is absorbed by high salaries, with generous allowances, and other costs of expatriates working for consulting firms and contractors." It also says the Afghan government has no idea where more than £1 billion of the aid money has been spent. A stretch of road between Kabul city centre and the airport that cost £1.2 million a kilometre – at least four times the average local cost.

The Scotsman says "The consultants' six-figure salaries are in shocking contrast to the millions of Afghans who live in extreme poverty. About half of the 27 million population are thought to live on 50p a day, and one in five children dies before his or her fifth birthday."

"Western countries are failing to deliver" is the clear message of the Oxfam report

Seems that the only thing that the USA/UK Alliance can deliver is bombs , and thats never very accurate , either .

USAid official confirmed that since 2001 it had only spent two-thirds of the money it pledged - a shortfall of $8.5billion . And the official said only 6% of the overall budget was spent through the Afghan government "to ensure US taxpayers' money could be accounted for" - implying a lack of trust in the Afghan government .

So just who are we fighting for ?

Over the same period the European commission and Germany distributed less than two-thirds of their respective $1.7bn and $1.2bn commitments while the World Bank distributed just over half of the $1.6bn it committed.

The Oxfam report points out that while the US military spends $100 million a day, the average amount of aid spent by all donors combined has been just $7 million a day since 2001. Canadian army gunners in Afghanistan are now cleared to fire the Excalibur GPS-guided artillery shells at Taliban militants - at the cost of $150,000 a round (Ordinary high-explosive rounds cost up to $2,000 apiece.) The funds going towards reconstruction are, meanwhile, just "a fraction" of military expenditure, with 25 billion dollars spent on security-related assistance, such as building the Afghan security force, since 2001

So much for the humanitarian side of the intervention that has been often lauded by the invaders .

Just 13 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces are categorised by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime as "poppy free" ( The country supplies more than 90 per cent of the world's opium, the raw ingredient of heroin) , and of those who aren't in the opium trade "...although they have lost a profitable crop, for now another alternative is bridging the gap....In the autumn vast forests of marijuana plants scatter the landscape.."

Monday, March 24, 2008

The rich get wealthier and healthier

New government research has found “large and growing” disparities in life expectancy for richer and poorer Americans, paralleling the growth of income inequality in the last two decades.

While life expectancy for the nation as a whole has increased, the researchers said, yet affluent people have experienced greater gains, and this, in turn, has caused a widening gap.

“the growing inequalities in life expectancy” mirrored trends in infant mortality and in death from heart disease and certain cancers.The gaps have been increasing despite efforts by the federal government to reduce them.

Dr. Singh , a demographer at the Dept. of Health and Human Services , said last week that federal officials had found “widening socioeconomic inequalities in life expectancy” at birth and at every age level.

In 1980-82 people in the most affluent group could expect to live 2.8 years longer than people in the most deprived group (75.8 versus 73 years). By 1998-2000, the difference in life expectancy had increased to 4.5 years (79.2 versus 74.7 years), and it continues to grow .

In 2000 men in the most deprived counties had 10 years’ shorter life expectancy than women in the most affluent counties (71.5 years versus 81.3 years). The difference between poor black men and affluent white women was more than 14 years (66.9 years vs. 81.1 years).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

sermon from the mount

Britain's richest men and women must curb their greed and begin sharing their wealth to save their souls, one of the Church of England’s senior bishops has warned.

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, singled out high-earning City traders such as hedge fund managers as the kind of people who must swap their desire to “make a quick buck” for a commitment to “share their wealth generously”.

He said the crisis gripping the world’s money markets was “almost certainly” due to amoral forces pursuing their own wealth-creating agenda and warned that without action the less wealthy might suffer disproportionately from the fallout.

“From possessiveness we need to move to gratitude for what we have, from ‘cutting corners’ to make a quick buck to that integrity for which business in this country was celebrated, and from mere accumulation of wealth to a generosity of spirit. When that happens, hedge fund managers and directors of companies can, indeed, go into the kingdom of heaven ahead of the chief priests and elders.”

He expressed fears that the gulf between the rich and poor, which he describes as already “one of the great disparities of our age”, could be widened further by the recent plunge in stock market prices and the collapse of two banks.

“Even in a market of amoral forces, we should never forget that we are moral agents and responsible for our actions . The current turmoil in the markets is almost certainly the result of such forces but those with power need to ensure that the poor are not disproportionately affected.”

"What is required is a change of heart, of disposition, of attitude,” the Bishop of Rochester writes in his Easter message .

Nope . What is required is a political and social revolution , not pious words of a sky-pilot

Saturday, March 22, 2008

18000 Americans killed by insurance companies

The United States is the only major industrialised nation without universal health insurance writes Karen Davis, President of the Commonwealth Fund. The number of uninsured people has increased from 40 million in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2005.

Gaps in coverage lead to inequalities in access to care, poor quality care, lost economic productivity, and avoidable deaths. The Institute of Medicine estimates that 18,000 lives are lost annually as a consequence of gaps in coverage.

The problem is getting worse, not diminishing, she warns. The fragmented, uncoordinated healthcare system is plagued by high administrative costs and missed opportunities to control chronic conditions and prevent life threatening conditions.

If the US hopes to achieve a high performance health system that is value for money, it will have to tackle the perplexing problems of access, quality, and cost, and overcome considerable political and economic obstacles, as well as institutional resistance to change, she concludes.

Water War

Previously reported here that water resources will be the focus of future wars i now read in the Independent that the world faces a future of "water wars", unless action is taken to prevent international water shortages and sanitation issues escalating into conflicts, according to Gareth Thomas, the International Development minister.

"If we do not act, the reality is that water supplies may become the subject of international conflict in the years ahead," said Mr Thomas.

His department warned that two-thirds of the world's population will live in water-stressed countries by 2025. Each year 443 million school days are lost globally to diarrhoea and 1.8 million children die unnecessarily from these diseases. A coalition of charities has appealed for a global effort to bring running water to the developing world and supply sanitation to a further 2.6 billion people. It said international action was needed to prevent competition for water destabilising communities and escalating into conflicts.

"Already well over 1 billion people suffer from water shortages and 30 countries get more than a third of their water from outside their borders. With climate change, those figures are likely to grow, increasing the possibility of disputes." said a British national security report

A senior climate adviser at Greenpeace said the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, most of south Asia and western South America were at risk of water shortages if global warming continues.
"There is no doubt that climate change is going to be potentially the biggest source of water stress. If average global temperatures go more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels you are looking at 2 to 3 billion people potentially suffering water shortages. It's a pretty serious business."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Greed makes us unhappy

Scientists have proved that such acts of philanthropy can be a short-cut to achieving happiness. Psychologists found how people spend their money is at least as important as how much of it they earn in the first place. The greatest joys of all, they discovered, can be attained by giving money away, either to someone they know or to charity.

The pursuit of happiness is seen as a fundamental human right and it is often linked with wealth, yet studies have shown that the richest countries do not always have the happiest people. Provided there is enough money for basic needs, there appears to be little evidence to suggest that greater wealth makes people any happier.

Professor Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver said :-

"Indeed, although real incomes have surged dramatically in recent decades, happiness levels have remained largely flat within developed countries across time. One of the most intriguing explanations for this counter-intuitive finding is that people often pour their increased wealth into pursuits that provide little in the way of lasting happiness, such as purchasing costly consumer goods."

"Ironically, the potential for money to increase happiness may be subverted by the kinds of choices that thinking about money promotes," she said. "The mere thought of having money makes people less likely to help acquaintances, to donate to charity, or to chose to spend time with others, precisely the kinds of behaviour strongly associated with happiness."

While they conclude that the research can be applied by governments to promote investment , surely the research conclusions should lead us to question the actual continuance of the money economy , an exchange economy instead of the gift economy .

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Revenge of the Labour Theory of Value

If the world is lucky, the bubble won't burst, it'll just deflate. But nobody's been feeling lucky for quite some time. Capitalism has made pessimists of us all.

Bubble Trouble

The hangover

The intoxicating US housing boom has come to an end. Now the economic hangover has arrived. What is likely, at the very least, is a prolonged crisis of the credit system. And as credit greases the wheels of capitalism this is no laughing matter for the capitalist class.

The Federal Reserve has been doing its best to ease the pain—the pain for the investment banks, that is. Barkeep Ben Bernanke announced on March 11 that the Fed intends to generously fund the banks “rehab,” loaning them the incredible sum of 200 billion dollars in return for the tainted “mortgage-backed securities” as collateral. This is very much like a doctor who prescribes a little hair of the dog to an alcoholic as a “cure.” At best, such bailouts will probably only buy a bit of time.

And not very much time at that—judging from the string of collapses in recent weeks. On March 7, the investment fund Carlyle Group Corp. announced that it was unable to meet $37 million in margin calls from its lenders and a few days later it was reported that the 85-year-old investment bank Bear Stearns, which suffered huge hedge fund losses, is being bought out in a fire sale by JPMorgan Chase, which is working in tandem with the Fed.

Far from calming the financial waters, the actions of the Fed have drawn attention to the severity of the crisis and also accelerated the decline of the dollar. It is also doubtful that the Fed will have anywhere near the financial assets needed to bailout more than a selected few of the mass casualties that the crisis will claim.

Somehow the system as a whole—the once inebriated economic body and its battered financial organs—will have to expel the vast quantities of toxic loans that are clogging it up. When other countries face this dilemma, the US has always been the first to prescribe a bit of shock therapy, making use of capitalism’s natural function of regurgitation. For some reason or another, though, the US policy makers are sentimental when it comes to their own venerable financial institutions.

The US government hasn’t lifted a finger to assist the massive number of workers who face foreclosure, while acting quickly to pump money into the accounts of those who have made a good living picking the pockets of those workers. The direct impact of the crisis involving “subprime loans” (once more accurately referred to as “predatory loans”) has already lead to hundreds of thousands of foreclosures, with the overall number of foreclosures up 79% in 2007 alone. Clearly, the US policy makers have every intention of shifting as much of the pain from the crisis onto the working class as is economically and politically possible.

Empty wealth

One benefit to workers from the crisis, however, is that it rips great holes in some of the smug arguments that economists and politicians have tried to pass off as “common sense” (and which seemed plausible enough during the long speculative boom in the US that basically stretches all the way from the mid-1990s until recent months). For instance, it is becoming increasingly self-evident that the prices of many “commodities” lack any real basis and are thus “fictitious” prices to a large extent.

There is an important distinction, in other words, between the products of labor, which are the basis of any society and happen to take the form of commodities in a capitalist society, and the wide variety of things that have a price and thus take the commodity-form but are not the product of labor and thus lack intrinsic value. When capitalism is humming along, no one is very concerned with whether a commodity has intrinsic value or not, so long as it can be sold on the market. Thus, “mortgage-backed securities”—to take one example—were as good as gold for many years.

Now that the housing bubble has collapsed, however, such securities are being shunned, as it is clear that a great number of borrowers will be unable to meet their mortgage payments. The “value” ( = price ) of this commodity has plummeted, wiping out a vast amount of wealth that existed on paper, leaving behind a hard lump of debt.

It is hardly surprising that people flock to gold during a crisis. That behavior is not motivated by a human love of shiny metal objects. Rather, gold has served as the “general equivalent” or money historically precisely because gold has intrinsic value as a product of labor and that value exists in a form that is inherently more durable and divisible than most other products of labor.
In short, a crisis reveals the crucial distinction between commodities in the fundamental sense (as the capitalistic form of products of labor) and commodities in the purely formal sense (as anything with a price). Call it the revenge of the labor theory of value.

There is some irony in the collapse of the housing bubble revealing the distinction between intrinsic value and mere price. Because one of the initial attractions of the housing market to investors, after their dizzying experience with stock-market gambling, was that it appeared to be terra firma. After a vast amount of paper wealth was wiped out of 401k plans and mutual funds circa 2000, it seemed that real-estate was a secure investment in tangible asset.
But to describe a house as having intrinsic value turns out to only be a half-truth. Sure, the house itself has intrinsic value, like any other commodity in the fundamental sense just described, according to the socially necessary labor expended to produce it. In other words, the house’s value (as a structure) stems from the value of the building materials used and the amount of labor expended to assemble them.

However, in addition to the house itself, the price of the land upon which it is built represents a large part of the overall price—and the bulk of the price in the case of large urban areas. And that land has no intrinsic economic value, apart from whatever labor was necessary to clear trees or previous buildings out of the way so that construction could commence. In this sense, real-estate prices are a reflection—more than anything else—of the purchasing ability of the prospective buyers. So it is no surprise that those prices rose rapidly along with the increasing abundance of cheap credit.

Buyers in each particular housing market tried to convince themselves why the price of their own house would never fall (whether because of the desirability of their neighborhood, the solid construction of the house itself, the strong local economy, or some other reason), but in fact there is no intrinsic value around which the price must gravitate—meaning that there is no limit for a price to greatly rise or fall.


Another central (but often ignored) fact which a crisis helps shed some light on is the origin of profit. During a speculative bubble, when mutual funds or housing prices are steadily rising, profit seems to arise magically from the very act of investment. No one is too bothered to ponder how this feat of alchemy is achieved. When the bubble eventually bursts, it may dawn on some that the actual creation of profit—rather than the mere transfer of money from one wallet to another—involves more than simply letting go of funds and then waiting for an even bigger sum to return in boomerang-like fashion.

And if the person bothers to investigate the matter further, it would become clear that profit is generated in the production process. It is there that surplus-value is generated as the difference between the value of the labor-power the workers sell to capitalists in return for their wages and the value those workers add to the commodities produced through their actual labor. In contrast, much of the profit that appeared to be created during the boom was in fact an expression of the expansion of debt.

The housing boom, like the stock market boom that preceded it, was praised as a way for workers to move up the social ladder, and it seemed that there was enough profit to go around to swell the ranks of the capitalist class. From today’s perspective, however, we see that workers are left in a worse situation than ever following the speculative boom, facing foreclosures and wiped out retirement funds. The only upward mobility in the end was for the money itself, which was coaxed out of the pockets of workers to pad the salaries of the much heralded “financial wizards.”

Granted, in any speculative bubble the expansion of consumption also leads to an increase in productive activity, but it is certainly not the case that the enormous gains made through speculation reflect or correspond to an expansion in surplus-value created via production -value. Rather, the increase in the “value” ( = price ) of real-estate, stocks, or whatever the mania is centered on is fed by the speculation itself. Prices go up as more money is thrown at the object of speculation, and with those rising prices even more money is invested. But there is nothing to sustain the high prices once the speculative demand dries up. This is quite different from an increase of investment in productive activity that results in products containing surplus-value that are sold to realize a profit.

A comparison to eating, rather than the earlier hangover analogy, may highlight the distinction between mere speculation and investment in production. Simply put, speculation is not all that different from a person who consumes a large amount of food without performing any physical activity whatsoever. The result, unless the person enjoys a remarkable metabolism, is weight gain.

During the housing boom, the economy swallowed a tremendous amount of credit that for the most part was not directed towards productive activity, and this inevitably led to a flabby result. The speculative feast was good fun for those who partook of it, but now the heavy debt burden is making it hard for the capitalist economy to function, with the credit crisis also hindering investment in productive activities.

But it is not as if a “muscle-bound” capitalism is a lovely state of affairs either. As mentioned earlier, the surplus-value that arises from productive activity is nothing more than unpaid labor extracted from the working class. So there is no profit without exploitation.

A “fundamentally strong” capitalism (as it is called by those critical of finance capital but enamored by capitalism itself) may conjure up an image of a healthy organism, but really it is more appropriate to picture a young Arnold Schwarzenegger prancing around the stage of a Mr. Universe contest clad only in his over-inflated muscles and surreal suntan. It is not true health or strength, just the appearance of it. And just as Arnie worked out incessantly in the pursuit of muscles for their own sake, without any concern for their actual use, the productive activity under capitalism is only a means of building bigger and bigger profits, rather than being primarily a way to produce material wealth to meet the needs of society’s members in accordance with their collective and democratic will. There are all sorts of side-effects from the mad pursuit of profit, both in the short- and long-term, similar to how Mr. Schwarzenegger’s steroid-fueled body-building in his younger years resulted in open-heart surgery by the time his muscles had sagged with age.

Workers cannot be indifferent to a crisis, no matter how much we are disgusted by the predictable pendulum swing between “boom” and “bust” (and the sudden mood swings it causes among our capitalist rulers), because our lives are directly influenced by today’s financial turbulence. But at the same time, we have no interest whatsoever in thinking up ways to put capitalism “back on track” or make it “healthy” again. Even when the system is in tip-top shape it works directly counter to the interests of workers.

The crisis will not miraculously or mechanically turn every worker into a socialist, as some pseudo-Marxists fervently hope, but it does at least create a situation where socialists may find workers more willing to consider an alternative to capitalism. It is up to us, as socialists, to present that alternative in a convincing way based on our understanding of the essential nature and limitations of the capitalist system.


Also see an earlier Socialist Standard articles:

The Far East Asian Bubble

Booms and Slumps - The Theory

Religion - A Health Warning

On Good Friday dozens of very devout Catholics in the Philippines re-enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is something that has become a huge tourist attraction .

Health officials in the Philippines have issued a warning to people taking part in Easter crucifixion rituals. They have urged them to get tetanus vaccinations before they flagellate themselves and are nailed to crosses, and to practise good hygiene.

The health department has strongly advised penitents to check the condition of the whips they plan to use to lash their backs . They want people to have what they call "well-maintained" whips. In the hot and dusty atmosphere, officials warn, using unhygienic whips to make deep cuts in the body could lead to tetanus and other infections.

They advise that the nails used to fix people to crosses must be properly disinfected first.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Grannies against the war

Grannies holding a knit-in to protest the war in Iraq clashed in a shouting match with pro-war activists in Times Square on Wednesday.
About 30 member of the Granny Peace Brigade, some sitting in rocking chairs and wheelchairs, were knitting stump socks for veteran amputees and baby clothes for Iraqi families at the Times Square military recruiting station .

Granny groups in 20 cities were holding similar protests at recruitment centers and veteran hospitals.

"It is the beginning of the sixth year of the war. We are trying to draw attention to the uselessness, the horror of the war, and the fact that we wise old babes know that it is a terrible thing," said Joan Wile, one of the founders of the group."We want other people to realize it and take action as we have done," the 76-year-old explained. Wile said the grannies, who ranged in age from 60 to 93 years old, are concerned about polls that show the economy is upper most in the minds of Americans, not the conflict in Iraq. "That upsets us very much because for us the war is number one and has been and you cant solve the problems of the economy as long as billions of dollars are being poured down the Iraq drain," Wile said.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Thought i provide some links to those very much misrepresented Mensheviks .

First , of course , is Martov's The State and the Socialist Revolution .

A short Socialist Standard biography of him here . "Socialism, he argued, could only be achieved by a politically conscious working class. It is the experience of workers under capitalism which drives them to understand the need for Socialism and this process is enhanced by the degree of democracy which they have won for themselves. Dictatorial power wielded by a vanguard minority, no matter how sincere its intentions, can never act as a substitute. That way the workers remain a subject class and the dictators, having acquired a taste for power, consolidate their own rule.This then is Martov’s value to Socialist theory."

A 1940 Socialist Standard review of "State and the Socialist Revolution" here .

And here is an article by Adam Buick on the role of soviets in Russia and Martov's viewpoint

There is an online download of a talk by Steve Coleman on the ideas of Martov that can be found here

Historical analysis of the Menshevik role in post - October Russia can be read here - The Menshevik's Political Comeback Spring 1918 by Vladimir Brovkin

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Cities of the Future

"At the same time as demand for food increases, the amount of land we have available to grow food on is reducing. An area twice the size of Scotland's entire agricultural area has been swallowed up by Chinese towns and cities in the last 10 years.'' John Scott, a Scottish Conservative MSP said .

As well as being rural, the profile of the new hungry poor is also urban, which is new . "We are feeding communities of people we didn't expect to feed," United Nations World Food Programme's Greg Barrow explains.

The Observer carries an article on the new cities

We have more big cities now than at any time in our history. In 1900, only 16 had a population of one million; now it's more than 400. In 1950, they were predominantly a Western phenomenon, with the developed world accounting for 60 per cent of the urban population. Now, 70 per cent of city dwellers are from the developing world. In China in 1970, one in five people lived in cities. In 30 years, that number has risen to two in five. The fastest-growing cities are all well outside the comfort zone of the Western world. Lagos, the fastest growing of them all [Lagos has grown from 300,000 people in 1950 to 10 million today] , is adding 58 people every hour; Mumbai is growing by 42 every hour. A score of cities including Los Angeles, Shanghai and Mexico City, which were still tiny in the 19th century, have all passed the once unimaginable 18 million mark. That puts them well ahead of all but eight of the 27 nations of the European Union. This is a dizzying rate of transformation and it's still accelerating. In 1900, 10 per cent of the world's population lived in cities; by 2050, it is going to be 75 per cent. Shanghai had just 121 buildings over eight storeys high in 1980. Twenty years later, it was 3,500, and just five years after that it was a staggering 10,000.

Half of the 12 million people in Mumbai live in illegal shacks, 200,000 of them on the pavement. Every day, at least two people are killed falling off overcrowded suburban trains. In Mexico City, fewer than four workers in 10 have formal jobs, public transport is largely in the form of mafia-controlled minibuses, and taxis. London's murder rate is 2.1 for every 100,000 inhabitants. In Johannesburg, it is nine times that figure and you are eight times as likely to be killed in a car crash there.

In the last 20 years, the percentage of people with manufacturing jobs in New York has fallen from 20 per cent to just 4 per cent. In London's central seven boroughs, more than 70 per cent of births last year were to mothers not born in Britain. In 1992, 38 per cent of newcomers to London were foreign-born. Five years later, it was 40 per cent and in 2001 it was 56 per cent. By the official definition, London has getting on for eight million people, but in practical terms, it's a city of 18 million, straggling most of the way from Ipswich to Bournemouth in an unforgiving tide of business parks and designer outlets, gated housing and logistics depots. There might be fields between them, but they are linked in a single transport system and a single economy. The other big conurbations - from Birmingham to Manchester and Glasgow, names for cities that spread far beyond the bounds of political city limits - can be understood in the same way.

The Choice
Johannesburg, with its horrifying levels of violent crime, has seen the affluent quit the city centre for fortified enclaves on its boundaries. As a result, South Africa is leading the world in developing new security techniques for gated housing, built appropriately enough in the style of Tuscan hill towns. Private security is also a divisive a topic in north London where I live where the clatter of police helicopters has become routine.

William Morris dreamt of a London abandoned by its population in favour of communal country life, leaving behind a dung heap in Parliament Square and empty streets enlivened by fluttering, worthless banknotes.

City builders have always had to be pathological optimists, if not out-and-out fantasists. They belong to a tradition that connects the map-makers who parcel up packages of swamp land to sell to gullible purchasers, and the show-apartment builders who sell off-plan to investors in Shanghai, who are banking on a rising market, making them a paper profit before they have even had to make good on their deposits...The cities that work best are those that keep their options open, that allow the possibility of change. The ones that are stuck, overwhelmed by rigid, state-owned social housing, or by economic systems that offer the poor no way out of the slums are in trouble...A city that has been trapped by too much gentrification, or too many shopping malls, will have trouble generating the spark that is essential to making a city that works...The pattern of the Victorian terraces of London has proved to be remarkably adaptable. A four-storey house 18ft wide can be used for almost anything and it supports a population dense enough for pedestrian life on the pavement that makes cafes and small shops flourish; a system-built tower block marooned in Tarmac is not so adaptable. Similarly, giant out-of-town sheds, the predominant form of so many new cities now, are not designed for flexible use or even for the long term. They are built with a maximum of 20 years of life in mind and then trashed. Successful cities are the ones that allow people to be what they want; unsuccessful ones try to force them to be what others want them to be. A city of freeways like Houston or Los Angeles forces people to be car drivers or else traps them in poverty. A successful city has a public transport system that is easy to use; an unsuccessful city tries to ban cars...

...A successful city has room for more than the obvious ideas about city life, because, in the end, a city is about the unexpected, it's about a life shared with strangers and open to new ideas. An unsuccessful city has closed its mind to the future...


The future is famine , part 3

The daunting prospect of the pending food crisis has been blogged here and here before and todays Sunday Herald carries it as a special report .

The World Bank points out that global food prices have risen by 75% since 2000, while wheat prices have increased by 200%. The cost of other staples such as rice and soya bean have also hit record highs, while corn is at its most expensive in 12 years. The increasing cost of grains is also pushing up the price of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. And there is every likelihood prices will continue their relentless rise, according to expert predictions by the UN and developed countries.

The World Bank predicts global demand for food will double by 2030. This is partly because the world's population is expected to grow by three billion by 2050, but that is only one of many interlocking causes.The rise in global temperatures caused by pollution is also beginning to disrupt food production in many countries. According to the UN, an area of fertile soil the size of Ukraine is lost every year because of drought, deforestation and climate instability. Last year Australia experienced its worst drought for over a century, and saw its wheat crop shrink by 60%. China's grain harvest has also fallen by 10% over the past seven years.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that, over the next 100 years, a one-metre rise in sea levels would flood almost a third of the world's crop-growing land.
A recent analysis by the Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, also pinned blame for the global food crunch'' on the accelerating demand for allegedly green biofuels and the world's growing appetite for meat.
Meat is a very inefficient way of utilising land to produce food, delivering far fewer calories, acre for acre, than grain. But the amount of meat eaten by the average Chinese consumer has increased from 20 kilograms a year in 1985 to over 50 kilograms today. The demand for meat from across all developing countries has doubled since 1980.
Another key driver is the soaring cost of oil, which last week topped $105 a barrel for the first time. As well as increasing transport costs, oil makes crop fertilisers more expensive.
According to the World Bank, fertiliser prices have risen 150% in the past five years. This has had a major impact on food prices, as the cost of fertiliser contributes over a quarter of the overall cost of grain production in the US, which is responsible for 40% of world grain exports.

If prices keep rising, more and more people around the globe will be unable to afford the food they need to stay alive, and without help they will become desperate. More food riots will flare up, governments will totter and millions could die , the Sunday Herald forecasts . All very biblical in its prognosis yet it is possible for the UK, and the world, to feed itself, argues Robin Maynard from the Soil Association, but it will require big changes. He invokes the wartime spirit but he fails to understand the capitalist market system .

From the United Nations World Food Programme Greg Barrow explains it very clearly :

" There is food available in the markets and shops - it's just that these people can't afford to buy it. This is the new face of hunger.''

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Bjork bonkers

CHINA is to tighten its control over foreign singers and other performers after the Icelandic singer Björk shouted "Tibet! Tibet!" at a concert in Shanghai. see here

Without condoning the abuse of human rights in Tibet by the Chinese State i do find it rather amusing that certain media stars such as Bjork with her sloganising can promote a romantic myth .

Perhaps a brief reading of Tibet's history could correct their view through rose-tinted glasses .

Try "Tibet – from feudal theocracy to a market economy"

And perhaps to reveal the darker side to the present Dalai Lama , maybe try "Repression—in exile" .

Drug Dealing

Reckitt, the Hull-based drug and cleaning products company, plotted under the codename “Project Eric” to block rivals from selling cheaper generic copies of Gaviscon. Reckitt Benckiser faces a series of investigations by competition and health regulators over an alleged secret plan to maintain a monopoly in the supply of Gaviscon, the lucrative heartburn medicine. E-mails between executives discuss how to “drag out as long as possible” the process of other companies being allowed to manufacture generic versions, and their intention to create “a further barrier to competitors” and “restrict entry for new competitors”.

Before a rival company can create a generic drug, the British National Formulary must give it an official title. Reckitt tried to claim Gaviscon was unique and such a title could not be issued. It objected in 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2006.The drug company also successfully lobbied the British Pharmacopoeia Commission (BPC), part of the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency, that for health and safety reasons, a detailed quality specification known as a monograph was needed.

One Reckitt executive wrote: “Should we not drag it out as long as possible . . . £9 million of business is at stake”. The e-mails talk of “a clever idea” - to make a near-identical product with a different name. “There must be something we can dig out of the cupboard!” one executive wrote.

Reckitt tried to persuade doctors to prescribe the new Gaviscon Advance. In 2005 the industry’s watchdog found it guilty of unethical behaviour.

The news comes shortly after the European Commission began an inquiry into whether pharmaceutical companies were employing illegal tactics to delay generic versions.In January, it raided the offices of some of the world’s largest drug companies, including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Astrazeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co and Sanofi-Aventis. In 2005 AstraZeneca, the Anglo-Swedish drug manufacturer, was fined €60 million for trying to delay rival versions of its ulcer drug, Losec, thereby keeping prices artificially high.

If only....

Finnish MPs will consider granting working adults annual "love leave" and introducing lessons to teach schoolchildren how to "be human", in an effort to improve the nation's emotional quality of life....

"Next week we are making history talking about love in the parliament," Mr Tabermann added. He said research had shown that Finns wanted more time with loved ones rather than higher wages. "It is not humbug. It is not a sex leave, but in a much wider sense gives people a chance to maintain their relationships," he said. He hopes to reduce the number of divorces and the high incidence of depression and to stop bullying in schools and at work. Mr Tabermann said his proposal for teaching children how to "be human" at school stemmed from a bullying problem and that a quarter of pupils suffered from depression.

The week-long "relationship leave" would be given to all employees each year, enabling Finns to spend time with loved ones, see relatives and visit the sick.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Sheriff of Asia

John Pilger , the hard-hitting journalist , has written a biting article on Australia .

That Australia runs its own empire is unmentionable; yet it stretches from the Aboriginal slums of Sydney to the ancient hinterlands of the continent and across the Arafura Sea and the South Pacific...Like the conquest of the Native Americans, the decimation of Aboriginal Australia laid the foundation of Australia’s empire. The land was taken and many of its people were removed and impoverished or wiped out...This is the only developed nation on a United Nations “shame list” of countries that have not eradicated trachoma, an entirely preventable disease that blinds Aboriginal children. Sri Lanka has beaten the disease, but not rich Australia...

... The Northern Territory is where Aboriginal people have had comprehensive land rights longer than anywhere else, granted almost by accident 30 years ago. The Howard government set about clawing them back. The territory contains extraordinary mineral wealth, including huge deposits of uranium on Aboriginal land. The number of companies licensed to explore for uranium has doubled to 80. Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of the American giant Halliburton, built the railway from Adelaide to Darwin, which runs adjacent to Olympic Dam, the world’s largest low-grade uranium mine. Last year, the Howard government appropriated Aboriginal land near Tennant Creek, where it intends to store the radioactive waste. “The land-grab of Aboriginal tribal land has nothing to do with child sexual abuse,” says the internationally acclaimed Australian scientist and actvist Helen Caldicott, “but all to do with open slather uranium mining and converting the Northern Territory to a global nuclear dump.” ...

...In 1975, Australia’s then ambassador in Jakarta, Richard Woolcott, who had been tipped off about the coming Indonesian invasion of then Portuguese East Timor, secretly recommended to Canberra that Australia turn a blind eye to it, noting that the seabed riches “could be much more readily negotiated with Indonesia . . . than with [an independent] Timor”. Gareth Evans, later foreign minister, described a prize worth “zillions of dollars”. He ensured that Australia distinguish itself as one of the few countries to recognise General Suharto’s bloody occupation, in which 200,000 East Timorese lost their lives.When eventually, in 1999, East Timor won its independence, the Howard government set out to manoeuvre the East Timorese out of their proper share of the oil and gas revenue by unilaterally changing the maritime boundary and withdrawing from World Court jurisdiction in maritime disputes...Alkatiri demonstrated that he was a nationalist who believed East Timor’s resource wealth should be the property of the state, so that the nation did not fall into debt to the World Bank. He also believed that women should have equal opportunity, and that health care and education should be universal. “I am against rich men feasting behind closed doors,” he said.... When a group of disgruntled soldiers rebelled against Alkatiri’s government in 2006, Australia readily accepted an “invitation” to send troops to East Timor. “Australia,” wrote Paul Kelly in Murdoch’s Australian, “is operating as a regional power or a potential hegemon that shapes security and political outcomes. This language is unpalatable to many. Yet it is the reality. It is new, experimental territory for Australia.”... From Canberra, Prime Minister Rudd announced the despatch of more Australian “peacemakers”. In the same week, the World Food Programme disclosed that the children of resource-rich East Timor were slowly starving, with more than 42 per cent of under-fives seriously underweight – a statistic which corresponds to that of Aboriginal children in “failed” communities that also occupy an abundant natural resource.

Full article here


Thursday, March 06, 2008

A waste of good food

The Independent on Sunday reported that Britain is throwing away half of all the food produced on farms.

About 20 million tons of food is thrown out each year: equivalent to half of the food import needs for the whole of Africa. Some 16 million tons of this is wasted in homes, shops, restaurants, hotels and food manufacturing. Much of the rest is thought to be destroyed between the farm field and the shop shelf.

Japan pledged more than 300 million yen in food aid for Burundi, in Africa, where malnutrition runs at 44 per cent. The food thrown away in the UK last year would meet the equivalent of Burundi's shortages more than 40 times over.
The United Nation's World Food Programme has admitted it might have to ration food aid in response to rocketing global food prices that have soared by more than 75 per cent since their lows of 2000, jumping by more than a fifth last year alone, prompting riots in some countries.

The chief executive of FareShare, the national food charity, said:

"Unfortunately, we live in a world where many people do not have access to food in general, and good-quality food specifically, while at the same time millions of tons of perfectly fine food are being disposed of. In the UK alone, the extent of food poverty is staggering, as millions of people with low or no income find it harder to access affordable, nutritious food."

Estimates that the world's population will rise by 30 per cent over the next 50 years to around 8.5 billion have raised the spectre of a global food shortage too big for farmers to meet, Lord Haskins , a former government adviser on rural affairs and chairman of Northern Foods , said:

"If consumers ate a bit less and wasted a bit less you'd help to solve the problem. If the world was vegetarian then you'd solve the problem completely."

One-third of wheat grown globally is fed to livestock reared to end up on the dinner table.

More importantly though was the comment from a food policy professor at City University , Tim Lang , who said:

"Waste is a fundamental part of the food economy and it will be hard to get rid of. I do not see how simply appealing to morals will do it."

It is the economics of capitalism that places the need for profit before the needs of people .

Who has the wealth ?

Warren Buffett, head of the Berkshire Hathaway corporation, has landed the top spot in Forbes' magazine 2008 list of World Billionaires and is now the richest man in the world , surpassing Bill Gates reports The Herald .

Buffett has amassed a personal fortune of $62billion (£31 billion).

Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim Helu who is said to have a fortune of $60billion (£30bn) was named the world's second richest man .

Gates, whose wealth is estimated at $58billion (£29bn), has slipped into third place on the list .

For the first time, there are more than 1000 billionaires on the Forbes list, rising from 946 in 2007 to 1125 this year.

Together, those on the 2008 super-rich list have a combined net worth of $4.4 trillion (£2.2trillion) - the same amount as the projected US government's healthcare bill in a decade's time.

The list also carries entries of 50 billionaires who are aged under 40, including 23-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of social networking site Facebook, who is valued at $1.5bn.

Billionaires listed in Forbes come from 54 countries and the top 10 includes four Indians who have made their fortunes through steel and real estate.

The average age of a billionaire on the Forbes list has dropped to 61, thanks in part to the growth of wealth in Russia, where the average age of a billionaire is 46.
There are 35 British billionaires, although 49 billionaires actually live in the UK and 36 of those call London their primary residence.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Mothers Day Massacre

Up to one million pregnant women worldwide die each year from largely avoidable causes, a Commons international development committee report said .

It warned that for every woman who dies in childbirth in the UK, up to 1,000 die in the poorest countries. For each woman who dies, 30 further women will become disabled, injured or ill owing to pregnancy .

Better access to family planning services alone would cut maternal death and disability by at least 20%, the MPs said.

The report warned that it looked unlikely that the millennium development goal of cutting the number of maternal deaths by 75% by 2015 would be met.

The MPs said there had been little progress in reducing deaths in the last 20 years.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

indian tears

From GulfNews

If you want to assess a country's progress you should pick up the poorest from among the people and see how far he has gone up the ladder said Mahatma Gandhi.

If Gandhi's criterion is applied, India is rich but unequal. Billionaires compete well with their counterparts in America. Millionaires in India are cheaper by the dozen. Yet the common man has made little progress.

Two reports emanating from official circles say that nearly 70 per cent of people live in dire, dismal conditions. The latest national Sample Survey says that the people in the countryside live on a daily earning of 8 Rupees to 12 Rupees . The amount has lessened by half from the time the report was published early last year. It is quite a steep fall in some 12 months.

This is apart from the suicide that farmers are committing all over India, including rich Maharashtra and Punjab. The figure is one every half hour. (In 2006, the number of suicides was 7,006). The villagers cannot clear the compound-interest debt because they have got enmeshed in the cash crop economy that cannot take the market's vagaries.

The Central Vigilance Commission is looking into the import of 2.3 million tonnes of wheat at a far higher cost than was warranted. After testing the quality of the wheat, it was found to everybody's horror that the imported wheat failed all quality tests. As for the government, it would prefer importing rotten foodgrain to buying from the Indian farmers the same wheat at a remunerative price which in any case is less than one fourth of the world price.

Gandhi had promised that there would be no tear on anybody's cheek in independent India.
Sixty years later, tears of helplessness and hunger do not stop trickling from the eyes of a large majority of Indians.