Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Quote of the Day

 “There is no outside existential threat to Israel, the only real existential threat is internal division. Internal division…can lead us to civil war.” explained Tamir Pardo, former Mossad chief. The former head of the national Israeli intelligence agency warned that soon Israelis could cross a “certain line in its division and hatred” that could spill over into “a phenomenon like a civil war.”

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Biofuels - False Solution

Biofuels are no better for the environment than petroleum-based fuel, says Joe DeCicco, research professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute. DeCicco authored a new study on the viability of ethanol-producing crops. There is carbon in ethanol, he says, which means that carbon dioxide will still be emitted from the car despite the fuel substitution. Coupled with the emissions from increased crop production to produce the fuel itself, biofuels actually make matters worse, says DeCicco.

“Biofuels are a false solution,” says DeCicco, ”but we need to reduce those emissions.”

There are other options, DeCicco says, such as growing more trees, which pull carbon out of the environment naturally, or electric cars, which do less environmental damage even when adjusted for the effect of power plants. Hydrogen fuel is being explored.

“There’s a lot of energy that goes into growing corn, but then the output that you get isn’t that great,” says Nick Schroeck, Director of the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic and Assistant Clinical Professor at Wayne State University.

Agroecology as the key

The industrialized food system, studies have shown, is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, algal blooms, pesticide pollution, soil erosion and biodiversity loss, to name a few ecological troubles. Add to this a long list of social ills, from escalating rates of obesity to the demise of the family farmer and deadening of rural landscapes and rural economies across much of the U.S.

In 2010, the National Academies of Science updated its seminal 1989 publication “Alternative Agriculture” with a fresh look at the state of food and farming in America. Its expert panel concluded, “Growing awareness of unintended impacts associated with some agricultural production practices has led to heightened societal expectations for improved environmental, community, labor, and animal welfare standards in agriculture.”
Yet that growing awareness and those heightened expectations haven’t led to alternative agricultural systems becoming the norm. Organic farming has made some headway, but many organic growers have been forced to imitate industrial farming: grow bigger, resort to monocultures instead of truly diversified fields, and sell to large supermarkets — forgoing many of the benefits alternative agricultural systems offer, such as natural pest control, pollination from native bees, and a smaller production scale conducive to family farmers and local food economies. How can more wholesome food production methods such as agroecology become conventional instead of alternative? The good news is, agroecology is already beginning to make headway.

Agroecology is already a thriving science. Universities with agroecology departments and training programs, journals dedicated to agroecology research and international societies such as the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecologyshow that agroecology science is increasingly accepted around the world, at least within research communities. Still, a criticism sometimes levied at agroecologists is that their science is more ideological than empirical, more aspirational than applicable.

Agroecologists can bolster the empirical basis of their science. A long-running criticism of agroecological farming is that it cannot possibly “feed the world.” However, research is still only beginning to establish “agroecological yield.” University of California, Berkeley scientists are showing that organic systems can lag behind conventional systems by just 19 percent when it comes to productivity, and just 8 or 9 percent when farmers alternate crops year-to-year or grow several crops together in their fields. In other words, adding more agroecological practices results in yields that are significantly better than “bare-bones” organic. And this is the case even though organic and agroecological research has been systematically underfunded. With further research into agroecology on tap, industrial food supporters will find it harder to refute evidence that agroecology is yield competitive.

Olivier De Schutter, former U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, says that agroecology is an essential part of achieving the right to food globally. Agroecology can enable societies around the world to make rapid progress in meeting the needs of many vulnerable peoples while maintaining the ecological and social foundations of food systems. Many governments are now beginning to introduce anti-poverty programs aimed at those without sufficient food, such as Brazil’s Zero Hunger policy, which connects family farms with schools in some regions.

Meanwhile, La Via Campesina, a global peasant coalition, is demonstrating the practical, civic and political legitimacy of a new moral moment for agroecology. Formed in 1993 in response to free trade and globalization, LVC has grown into the largest social movement on the planet with an estimated 250 million smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fishers and indigenous peoples in 164 organizations from 73 countries. Agroecology has become an important tenet of the LVC movement, which says, “Agroecology is the answer to how to transform and repair our material reality in a food system and rural world that has been devastated by industrial food production and its so-called Green and Blue Revolutions. We see agroecology as a key form of resistance to an economic system that puts profit before life.”

Most Americans still accept industrial food practices as credible and authoritative, and in doing so consent to the use and existence of such practices. But movements are underway to change that. With a focus on what’s right about agroecology, not just what’s wrong with industrial agriculture, we can turn the alternative into the everyday and the undervalued into the legitimate — and give agroecology the credibility and authority it well deserves.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Veggies for the environment

Germany is home to 83 million people. But that isn't the country's total population: It's also home to about 27 million pigs, 12.6 million cattle, and nearly 40 million egg-producing hens. Their lives are very hard. Many of these animals live their lives densely crammed together in industrial-scale agri-production facilities, under conditions that cause chronic distress to the animals - and would likely cause distress to many a meat- and egg-eater if they knew more about how factory-farmed food animals live out their lives.

The economics of meat, milk and egg production provide incentives for factory farms to grow to enormous sizes, with as many animals packed into as small a space as possible. In addition to causing endless distress to the animals, factory farms also produce a great stink, and they're a source of mountains of excrement that can pollute nearby waters, depending on how they're disposed of.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Filipino Poverty

40% OF Filipinos are “trapped in a vicious cycle” of slipping in and out of poverty whenever they are affected by external shocks, despite the fact that the Philippines has been enjoying a strong, sustained economic growth over the past several years.

A study by the Asian Institute of Management Rizalino S. Navarro Policy Center for Competitiveness explained “At present, the benefits of recent economic successes are yet to be broadly felt, especially among the poor and disenfranchised in society.”

Profits or safety

Socialists have often shown that capitalism causes an immense waste of resources. An article in the shipping industry newspaper Freighting World, illustrates the point. Captain F. L. Cox points out that because airline passengers can buy cheap alcohol, most aeroplanes are priced to carry a much greater weight than is desirable. A Boeing 747, for instance, could have over 500 bottles of spirits in the passenger compartment. Captain Cox points out that this extra weight causes the following problems:

1. Fire hazard. Most spirits would be classified under IATA rules as combustible liquids, some as flammable liquids. Fire would spread more readily after an accident.
2. Deceleration hazard. Violent deceleration can result in bottle missiles flying through the cabin. In one accident, where the aircraft was a total loss, all passengers were safe except for one whose death was thought to have been caused by a flying bottle.
3. Rescue hazard. Broken glass in the cabin is dangerous to both the passengers and rescue personnel after an accident.
4. Security risk. A hijacker has tried to use a broken bottle as a weapon.
5. Passenger comfort. A) congestion of packages in the cabin; B) extra risk of intoxication and disorderly conduct.
6. Fuel wastage. Extra fuel has to be used in carrying duty-free goods. While only a small proportion of the total fuel load, it is still an unnecessary waste. More travellers return with the type of spirit popular in their own homeland: and it was probably manufactured there in the first place. (our emphasis)

So it can clearly be seen that one minor feature of the present insecure system—the urge to buy cheap booze as an advantage of overseas travel—is responsible for serious social difficulties which could be eradicated tomorrow if the workers woke up to the idea of a society without buying and selling.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Red Robot (video)

We don't need money

Even though money has been around for a long time, humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years longer, and it may be a mistake to imagine that modern economics reflects some sort of primordial human nature. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Celtic V Israel

Scottish police urged fans to not bring Palestinian flags, threatening them with arrest. Under Scottish law anyone found guilty of inciting “hatred against a group of persons based on their membership (or presumed membership) of a group,” could be detained. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) forbids political statement displays at football matches. Prior to showdown, fans had been warned that any political protest inside the stadium would result in repercussions from the governing authority, which could lead to fines or even Celtic Park stadium closure. UEFA fined Celtic two years ago when fans waved Palestinian flags at a game against Iceland’s KR Reykjavik. UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Committee took action based on Article 16 (2) (e), which forbids political, ideological and religious messages at sports events.

The Celtic fans went ahead to display Palestinian flags at the match.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Where We Stand

Where We Stand

1. For a worldwide society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and the consequent abolition of the whole market economy, the wages system, money and the political state, with free access to goods and services according to individual wants.

2. Only within this framework can people live in harmony with each other and the world about them, and have the opportunity to fulfil their human potential, as individuals and as a community.

3. Socialism involves major changes in everyday life—in education, work, the family—as well as in the ownership and control of the means of production; the new, free, non­authoritarian social relationships being formed in the course of the struggle for socialism.

4. Socialism can only be established by the revolutionary transformation of society through the conscious action of the working class, democratically organised in all areas of political, economic and social activity.

5. The working class are all those who have no ownership and no control of the means of production, either directly or indirectly, on a wage or salary, and so includes office, shop and farm workers as well as industrial workers, and their dependents.

6. The working class gains the knowledge, confidence, and democratic organisation necessary to carry out the socialist revolution in the course of their struggle to assert their needs, in every sphere of social activity, against the profit-seeking needs of capital and its functionaries, the ruling class.

7. The task of socialists is to encourage, both by revolutionary propaganda and, where appropriate, active participation, working class struggle, with a view to the emergence of socialist consciousness, the democratic self­organisation of the working class and the militant defence of working class living standards.

8. An organisation of revolutionary socialists must always maintain its independent identity and must not itself put forward any programme of reforms to be implemented by the capitalist state.

9. Anti­racism and anti­sexism must form an important part of socialist propaganda and other activity. A revolutionary socialist alternative must be built to counter the divisive separatist ideologies of black nationalism and radical feminism.

10. Socialists must oppose all governments as representing capitalist and ruling class interests, including those of state capitalist Russia, China, Yugoslavia, Cuba and other such places.

11. Socialists must oppose reformist movements which seek government power to modify capitalism, or which rely on the capitalist state to deal with working class problems.

12. Socialists must oppose the ideology of state capitalism propounded by Bolsheviks (Leninist, Stalinist, Trotskyist, Maoist) and Social­Democrats.

13. Socialists must oppose all imperialism, and also so­called “national liberation” movements as reactionary movements seeking to establish new ruling classes in power and to re­divide the world into different, but equally irrelevant frontiers.

14. Socialists must oppose all wars as conflicts between rival ruling classes over capitalist interests not worth the sacrifice of a single working class life.

15. An organisation of revolutionary socialists must be a fully democratic and free association of people, and must always be on guard against the emergence of forms of organisation and relationships that help perpetuate capitalism.

October/November 1973

Monday, August 08, 2016

The kidney-snatchers

More than 200,000 people in India need a new kidney every year. But only 2 percent to 3 percent of this demand is met, as legal organ donations are rare largely because of ignorance and a cultural reticence.

Commercial trade in organs is illegal in India, and only close relatives are allowed to donate to someone in need. Donations must be approved by a special committee at each hospital, that includes social workers and a state official. The chronic shortage has fuelled a thriving black-market trade of illegal transplants and trafficking in organs as desperately ill people often turn to middlemen, agreeing to pay sums of 1 million rupees ($14,900) or more for a kidney.

Police in Mumbai said they suspect a criminal gang which preys on poor people for their organs is behind a kidney transplant racket at a top hospital, the latest such case in India where a shortage of organs is fuelling a black-market trade. "We are looking into the involvement of a criminal gang that finds poor people and makes false documents for them and takes them to hospitals posing as relatives," a police spokesman said.

A kidney transplant at the Hiranandani Hospital in a suburb of India's financial capital, was stopped last week after the hospital was tipped off that the donor's documents were fake. One hospital employee and six other people have been arrested in connection to the case, which has prompted the police to look into past transplants at the hospital. Last month a hospital in New Delhi said it was duped by traffickers into removing the kidneys of victims believing they were relatives of needy patients.

Middlemen scout villages and small towns for potential donors, who they sometimes lure with false promises of a job in the city. Many people who give up a kidney are poor and illiterate, and get only a fraction of the money with the middleman pocketing the rest. Other cases in recent years have involved foreigners coming to India for illegal transplants, and men being trafficked from Nepal to be donors.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Only profits not planet or people

Since 1980, the wealthiest Americans have seen their incomes quadruple, while those of the others have flat-lined. As a result, the United States has higher levels of mental illness, infant mortality, divorce, obesity, violence, incarceration, and substance abuse than all other countries north of the equator. “In more unequal societies,” Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett wrote, “people are five times as likely to be imprisoned, six times as likely to be clinically obese, and murder rates may be many times higher.” Consider these two statistics: the United States makes up 5 percent of the world’s population, but consume 25 percent of its resources and we incarcerate 25 percent of its prison population.

Large corporations shell out $6 billion annually to employ 35,000 D.C. lobbyists to protect their wealth. Such game rigging has bred cynicism and pessimism among the body politic, and as a result, the US has the lowest voter turnout of the world’s 40 industrial democracies. The 1% pours more money and accrues more power. According to the National Opinion Research Center, levels of trust in the United States have fallen from 60 percent in 1960 to less than 40 percent in 2004.

Buying and Selling Life

Hundreds of cancer physicians recently took to the pages of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings to angrily protest the fact that with the cost of cancer medicines now averaging over $100,000, one in five of their patients can't afford to fill their prescriptions. The physicians are not the only ones who are angry. A Kaiser Health Tracking poll last year showed that 72 percent of Americans felt that drug prices were unreasonable, and even more believe drug companies put profits before people.

Prostate cancer is the third most common form of cancer in the US, affecting nearly 3 million men and causing over 26,000 deaths annually. Xtandi is used to treat what is known as castration-resistant prostate cancer, a relapse of the disease that is both more deadly and more treatment-resistant than early stages of the cancer.

All of which has been very good news for patent owners Astellas Pharma and Xtandi's co-developer, the biopharmaceutical company Medivation. Global sales of the drug in 2015 were $1.87 billion. The US market accounts for the majority of Xtandi revenues, with Medicare alone paying $633 million in 2015, at a rate of over $100,000 per Xtandi patient per year. Thanks to price increases and an aging population, those sales numbers have climbed steadily upward, and there is every reason to believe the trend will continue. The discovery of Xtandi was conducted at UCLA, which earlier this year sold its rights to the drug for over a half-billion dollars, the largest technology transfer deal in University of California history. Astellas and Medivation hold the monopoly patent on Xtandi until at least 2027.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Reforming Capitalism

Proportionally speaking, Americans living in poverty pay more for basic necessities. On energy bills, the poorest 20 percent of Americans spend more than seven times the share of their income than do the wealthiest. Dividing American incomes into three, households in the bottom third spend twice the portion of their incomes on transportation than the top third. High housing costs are hurting everyone—but they’re hurting poor Americans the most. The more you spend, the less you save, and the harder it is to climb up rungs on the economic ladder. Jobs and job-training programs are often heralded as the answer to poverty—but so long as the costs of living continue to rise faster than wages, better-paying work won’t break this vicious cycle.

According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based urban policy think-tank, major U.S. cities could cut their poverty levels by 25 percent in large part by reducing household transportation costs, energy and water bills, and food expenditures. Focused job-creation is also necessary, and called for. But as the report makes clear, jobs alone can’t get to that magic number without measures aimed at keeping more cash in the pockets of the poor.

To take one example, in Philadelphia, reducing poverty by 25 percent would mean 100,000 people stepping above the poverty line. To bridge that gap, Philadelphia would have to get a rough total of $476 million into the pockets of those citizens through expense reductions and income increases. The plan would have to respond to demographics, too: Philadelphians who live in female-headed households and who don’t work are most likely to live in poverty.

For Philadelphia, the biggest-ticket poverty-reduction item is expanding transportation access, with goals to reduce the need for workers at every income tier to drive alone, and to open up jobs previously too hard to get to. Relying on the CNT’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index, the CNT estimates that if Philadelphia grew the number of jobs accessible by a 30-minute transit ride by 12 percent, that could translate into roughly 4,700 newly accessible jobs for people living in poverty. That could chip away at about a third of that $476 million target. According to the agenda, the city could accomplish this by increasing transit service, or with softer options such as rideshare and employer shuttles, like Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus’ GO BMNC program.

Philadelphians would also feel cost savings by leaving their cars at home. “A 20 percent decrease in auto travel could save a low-income household [an average] $490 per year in Philadelphia,” says Jen McGraw, a sustainability specialist with the CNT. “Multiplied across 40,000 households, that could be $20 million a year in expense reductions for low-income households.”

That number (and this is a little unclear in the agenda) shows up in the third-biggest-ticket item on the agenda: household-expense reduction. “A city cannot just give every resident more money”—universal basic income is still a long way away in the U.S.—“but it can help them cut down on bills and save,” the report reads. For Philadelphia, according to the CNT’s analysis, stronger efficiency education and rebate programs could save low-income residents 20 percent on energy and water bills, which could add up to $180 per month. In addition to transportation, telecom, and even food savings through increased self-sufficiency programs, that could bring down the poverty gap by another $85 million.

Most of the other strategies that CNT calls for fall under the category of good old-fashioned job creation, with a careful focus on sectors that could benefit the city in multiple ways, such as green infrastructure, resource efficiency, childcare entrepreneurship, and waste-recycling solutions. Notice that all of these areas of productivity focus on providing more cost-effective basic services, which could then indirectly cut down monthly bills for individuals. But it is striking that, largely as a result of direct cuts to expenses, nearly a quarter of Philadelphia’s $476 million target could be met.

And that’s without really touching the issue of housing, the top cost faced by most poor Americans.

The only omission to this cure, and it is the elephant in the room, employers will accordingly cut wages, as they always have done when the cost of living drops. 

Monday, August 01, 2016

Olympic Records Broken

Just days before the August 5 opening of Rio Olympics, protesters in Angra dos Reis, a coastal town about 100 miles south of Rio de Janeiro, blocked an Olympic procession, seizing and extinguishing the Olympic torch before being driven back by police firing teargas and rubber bullets. Protesters carried banners reading: “Workers of Angra dos Reis will not pay for the crisis” and “Torch of shame.” The protest is emblematic of the conditions of extreme economic and political crisis, as well as rising social unrest, that are wracking Brazil as it prepares to host the first Olympic Games ever held in Latin America. Angra dos Reis is a coastal gateway to expensive resorts and beach mansions of the wealthy from Brazil and around the world. It is also the site of a Petrobras oil refinery and nuclear power plant. The majority of its residents are working class and poor, living in precarious housing on hillsides that have seen repeated disastrous mudslides. The hostility to the Olympic Games, however, is not unique to this one town.

Brazil’s official unemployment rate for the second quarter of 2016 rose to 11.3 percent, a 38.7 percent increase compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile, average wages have also fallen sharply, down 4.2 percent since last year. Growing working class anger over these conditions may impinge on the Olympics themselves. Rio de Janeiro public transport workers have threatened to go on strike on the eve of the games if their demand for a nearly 10 percent wage hike is not met.

Rio de Janeiro has been turned into an armed camp in advance of the Oympic Games, with 88,000 armed troops, military police and other security personnel deployed in its streets. In the run-up to the games, the government has announced a series of “terror” arrests of individuals charged with links to foreign terrorist organizations. The substance of these allegations appears flimsy in the extreme, in some cases consisting of nothing more than having visited a web site. This phony anti-terror campaign has provided the Temer government the opportunity to implement a recently passed draconian anti-terror law.