Friday, February 29, 2008

Soldier of Fortune

So the wealthy privileged blue-blood Prince Harry eagerly sought adventure and excitement in the battlefields of Afghanistan to prove himself a real soldier , a true gentleman officer of the regiment , and has according to the press reports organised bombing attacks on the Taleban .

How gratifying it is that he is offered a choice and it is not out of economic necessity that he has to risk dying for a cause .

Abdul Malik, aged 17, joined Taliban insurgents in the south after two Taliban supporters gave him a mobile phone. A short while later his dead body was brought to his family. "In our district many young guys join Taliban ranks for pocket money, a mobile phone or other financial incentives," said Safiullah, a resident of Sangeen District in Helmand.

"The government of Afghanistan lacks the funds to provide for its citizens and is unable to create sustainable job opportunities for a large proportion of the population. Therefore, the south is a rapidly growing recruitment ground for the Taliban. Where the government is failing to provide basic services, often the Taliban are filling the gap with more radical alternatives. This means that sought-after trust from the Afghan people is going to the radical militants rather than the elected government," The Senlis Council, a London-based international policy think tank, said in a report in February 2008.

High levels of rural poverty or unemployment are probably helping to drive young people like Malik to join the Taliban. A report by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission on the social and economic rights of Afghans estimated that in some parts of the country the unemployment rate was as high as 60 percent.

A reason why there are so many rural poor is the fact that agriculture, which employs over 60 percent of the estimated 26.6 population, has received only US$300-400 million of the over US$15 billion of international development aid given to Afghanistan since 2002, Oxfam International reported in January.

Edward Girardet, a programme director for the Geneva-based Media21 Global Journalism Network, told IRIN that immediately after the demise of the Taliban regime Afghans had high expectations for a rapid rebuilding of their country and a positive change in their living conditions. However, six years on there is an enormous amount of frustration, "particularly among young Pashtuns who have returned from Pakistan only to find no jobs," he said.

According to Girardet, Oxfam and others, billions in aid to the war-torn country have been misused and/or mismanaged, and have produced only limited results. To defeat Taliban insurgents the US military spends $65,000 a minute in Afghanistan ($35 billion for 2007) .

Aid agencies and some experts doubt an increase in military spending will end the growing violence in Afghanistan: "There are no military solutions to Afghanistan..." Girardet said.

A resident of Kajaki District in Helmand Province put it simply "All we want is a job - to earn some money and support our families."

No-one questions Harry's personal courage or his bravery or his commitment to his chosen martial career , but for those Afghanis like young Abdul Malik , Prince Harry is representative of an economic system where power and wealth dominates and divides and continues to leave youths like Abdul powerless and in poverty .

A country in prison

For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison . Using updated state-by-state data, the report said 2,319,258 adults were held in U.S. prisons or jails at the start of 2008 — one out of every 99.1 adults, and more than any other country in the world. According to the report, the inmate population increased last year in 36 states and the federal prison system. The largest percentage increase — 12 percent — was in Kentucky.

The report said prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a parallel increase in crime or in the nation's overall population. Instead, it said, more people are behind bars mainly because of tough sentencing measures, such as "three-strikes" laws, that result in longer prison stays.

The report said one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure is one in 9 .

50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

"For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn't been a clear and convincing return for public safety," said the Center on the State's Public Safety Performance Project director .

The United States is the world's incarceration leader, far ahead of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S. also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which make up the rest of the Top 10.
"While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free." Eugene Debs

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Some Good News

Ireland, a country that used to export its Catholic clergy around the world, is running out of priests at such a rate that their numbers will have dropped by two thirds in the next 20 years, leaving parishes up and down the land vacant. The decline of Catholic Ireland, for decades the Pope’s favourite bastion of faith in Europe, has been regularly predicted, as the economic successes of the Celtic Tiger brought growing secularisation.

One-hundred and sixty priests died last year but only nine were ordained. Figures for nuns were even more dramatic, with the deaths of 228 nuns and only two taking final vows for service in religious life. The priestly age profile is creating another dilemma because most priests are already close to normal retirement age. The average age of Irish priests is currently 61.

Regular church attendance, which was at 90 per cent at the start of the 1990s, has suffered a collapse

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Religion Rules - or does it ?

Nearly half of American adults leaving the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether, a new survey finds. More than one-quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another religion or no religion at all, the survey found. Factoring in moves from one stream or denomination of Protestantism to another, the number rises to 44 percent.

"The American religious economy is like a marketplace -- very dynamic, very competitive," said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. "Everyone is losing, everyone is gaining. There are net winners and losers, but no one can stand still. Those groups that are losing significant numbers have to recoup them to stay vibrant."

The Roman Catholic Church has lost more members than any faith tradition because of affiliation swapping, the survey found. While nearly one in three Americans were raised Catholic, fewer than one in four say they're Catholic today. That means roughly 10 percent of all Americans are ex-Catholics.
On the Protestant side, changes in affiliation are swelling the ranks of nondenominational churches, while Baptist and Methodist traditions are showing net losses.
Many Americans have vague denominational ties at best. People who call themselves "just a Protestant," in fact, account for nearly 10 percent of all Protestants.Although evangelical churches strive to win new Christian believers from the "unchurched," the survey found most converts to evangelical churches were raised Protestant.
Hindus claimed the highest retention of childhood members, at 84 percent.
The group with the worst retention is one of the fastest growing -- Jehovah's Witnesses. Only 37 percent of those raised in the sect known for door-to-door proselytizing said they remain members.
Among other findings involving smaller religious groups, more than half of American Buddhists surveyed were white, and most Buddhists were converts. It's unclear whether people who called themselves Buddhists did so because they practice yoga or meditation, for instance, or claim affiliation with a Buddhist institution.
More people in the survey pool identified themselves as Buddhist than Muslim, although both populations were small -- less than 1 percent of the total population.
By contrast, Jews accounted for 1.7 percent of the overall population.
The majority of the unaffiliated -- 12 percent of the overall population -- describe their religion as "nothing in particular," and about half of those say faith is at least somewhat important to them.

Atheists or agnostics account for 4 percent of the total population.

The Future is Famine , Part 2

Further to this earlier post

"This is the new face of hunger," Sheeran , the head of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP).said. "There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market. There is vulnerability in urban areas we have not seen before. There are food riots in countries where we have not seen them before."

The United Nations warned yesterday that it no longer has enough money to keep global malnutrition at bay this year in the face of a dramatic upward surge in world commodity prices . the WFP feeds 73 million people in 78 countries, less than a 10th of the total number of the world's undernourished. But with annual food price increases around the world of up to 40% and dramatic hikes in fuel costs, its budget is no longer enough even to maintain current food deliveries. The shortfall is all the more worrying as it comes at a time when populations, many in urban areas, who had thought themselves secure in their food supply are now unable to afford basic foodstuffs. Afghanistan has recently added an extra 2.5 million people to the number it says are at risk of malnutrition.

The increases in the global price of basic foods is being caused by a "perfect storm" of factors: a rise in demand for animal feed from increasingly prosperous populations in India and China, the use of more land and agricultural produce for biofuels, and climate change.
Much of the blame has been put on the transfer of land and grains to the production of biofuel. But its impact has been outweighed by the sharp growth in demand from a new middle class in China and India for meat and other foods, which were previously viewed as luxuries.
"The fundamental cause is high income growth," said Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute. "I estimate this is half the story. The biofuels is another 30%. Then there are weather-induced erratic changes which caused irritation in world food markets. These things have eaten into world levels of grain storage.The lower the reserves, the more nervous the markets become, and the increased volatility is particularly detrimental to the poor who have small assets."
The impact of climate change will amplify that already dangerous volatility. Record flooding in west Africa, a prolonged drought in Australia and unusually severe snowstorms in China have all had an impact on food production.
"The climate change factor is so far small but it is bound to get bigger," Von Braun said. "That is the long-term worry and the markets are trying to internalise it."

A growing taste for meat and dairy in newly prosperous parts of the world is one important factor. When it takes 10 kilos of feed to make one of beef, farming animals swallows land that might otherwise be feeding people. But the new middle classes of Beijing and Shanghai will not easily be persuaded that eating meat is a bad idea, especially if the persuasion comes from western countries that are far from vegan. Meanwhile, subsidies to biofuels, particularly in the US, are distorting global farming. The 60m tonnes of American maize being burned each year represents more than twice the UK's entire cereal crop. The world wants cheaper food, and it wants more food - without the environmental consequences. The overriding priority must be ensuring that the hungry are not made even hungrier - but with the capitalist system it will be the drive for profits that takes priority .

The impact has been felt around the world. Food riots have broken out in Morocco, Yemen, Mexico, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal and Uzbekistan. Pakistan has reintroduced rationing for the first time in two decades. Russia has frozen the price of milk, bread, eggs and cooking oil for six months. Thailand is also planning a freeze on food staples. After protests around Indonesia, Jakarta has increased public food subsidies. India has banned the export of rice except the high-quality basmati variety.

"For us, the main concern is for the poorest countries and the net food buyers," said Frederic Mousseau, a humanitarian policy adviser at Oxfam. "For the poorest populations, 50%-80% of income goes on food purchases. We are concerned now about an immediate increase in malnutrition in these countries, and the landless, the farmworkers there, all those who are living on the edge."

1 United States The last time America's grain silos were so empty was in the early seventies, when the Soviet Union bought much of the harvest. Washington is telling the World Food Programme it is facing a 40% increase in food commodity prices compared with last year, and higher fuel bills to transport it, so the US, the biggest single food aid contributor, will radically cut the amount it gives away.
2 Morocco 34 people jailed this month for taking part in riots over food prices.
3 Egypt The world's largest importer of wheat has been hard hit by the global price rises, and most of the increase will be absorbed in increased subsidies. The government has also had to relax the rules on who is eligible for food aid, adding an extra 10.5 million people.
4 Eritrea It could be one of the states hardest hit in Africa because of its reliance on imports. The price rises will hit urban populations not previously thought vulnerable to a lack of food.
5 Zimbabwe With annual inflation of 100,000% and unemployment at 80%, price increases on staples can only worsen the severe food shortages.
6 Yemen Prices of bread and other staples have nearly doubled in the past four months, sparking riots in which at least a dozen people were killed.
7 Russia The government struck a deal with producers last year to freeze the price of milk, eggs, vegetable oil, bread and kefir (a fermented milk drink). The freeze was due to last until the end of January but was extended for another three months.
8 Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has asked the WFP to feed an extra 2.5 million people, who are now in danger of malnutrition as a result of a harsh winter and the effect of high world prices in a country that is heavily dependent on imports.
9 Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf announced this month that Pakistan would be going back to ration cards for the first time since the 1980s, after the sharp increase in the price of staples. These will help the poor (nearly half the population) buy subsidised flour, wheat, sugar, pulses and cooking fat from state-owned outlets.
10 India The government will spend 250bn rupees on food security. India is the world's second biggest wheat producer but bought 5.5m tonnes in 2006, and 1.8m tonnes last year, driving up world prices. It has banned the export of all forms of rice other than luxury basmati.
11 China Unusually severe blizzards have dramatically cut agricultural production and sent prices for food staples soaring. The overall food inflation rate is 18.2%. The cost of pork has increased by more than half. The cost of food was rising fast even before the bad weather moved in, as an increasingly prosperous population began to demand as staples agricultural products previously seen as luxuries. The government has increased taxes and imposed quotas on food exports, while removing duties on food imports.
12 Thailand The government is planning to freeze prices of rice, cooking oil and noodles.
13 Malaysia and the Philippines Malaysia is planning strategic stockpiles of the country's staples. Meanwhile the Philippines has made an unusual plea to Vietnam to guarantee its rice supplies. Imports were previously left to the global market.
14 Indonesia Food price rises have triggered protests and the government has had to increase its food subsidies by over a third to contain public anger.

A paper by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) commented, "Some nutrition studies show that the number of food-insecure people in the world would rise by more than 16 million for every percentage increase in the real prices of staple foods, meaning that 1.2 billion people could be chronically hungry by 2025; 600 million more than previously predicted."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Who rules America

An interesting read on Power to the People blog.

"Through open and direct involvement in policy planning, through participation in political campaigns and elections, and through appointments to key decision-making positions in government" the upper class are able to rule America and influence decisions affecting the bottom 80% of the population. This power stems from their great concentration of wealth which is derived from ownership and control of large income producing corporations. As Domhoff states allowing corporate leaders to "invest money where and when they choose; expand, close, or move their factories and offices at a moment's notice; and hire, promote, and fire employees as they see fit. These powers give them a direct influence over the great majority of Americans, who are dependent upon wages and salaries for their incomes. They also give the corporate rich indirect influence over elected and appointed officials, for the growth and stability of a city, state, or the country as a whole can be jeopardized by a lack of business confidence in government."

But ultimately this small elite rule through the passive consent of the exploited majority , since we do not act in our own interests but adopt the interests of our masters as if they were our own and we do not exercise the political power that we do possess , but that we always fail to wield .

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Punishment Park

Punishment Park , a film by Peter Watkins .

Watkins made the film in the California desert over only a three-week period with hand-held cameras and a supposed European “news” crew. He used young antiwar protesters whom he’d met in Los Angeles, depicting themselves being summarily tried by military tribunals and then given a choice between imprisonment or completing a three-day course in one of the government’s concentration camps, called “punishment parks.” In the scenario, they all choose the Punishment Park, where they must complete a grueling course to reach the American flag without being caught by armed police, for whom this is a training exercise. Concentration camps were indeed authorized in case of a state of emergency under the Internal Security (McCarran) Act of 1950 .

After screenings at the Cannes and New York film festivals in 1971, Punishment Park was not picked up for distribution by either the US film industry or television networks. Eventually it ran in a small New York theater for four days before it was closed down. The film fared a little better in Britain

A short video of Peter Watkins describing the making of Punishment Park can be viewed here

Salt of the Earth

Appreciations to Marx and Coca-Cola blogger for posting Salt of the Earth video . Made in 1954 by blacklisted filmmakers .

Not just about a miners strike but also about racism and sexism .

Salt of the Earth is based on a 1950 strike by zinc miners in Silver City, New Mexico. Against a backdrop of social injustice, a riveting family drama is played out by the characters of Ramon and Esperanza Quintero, a Mexican-American miner and his wife. In the course of the strike, Ramon and Esperanza find their roles reversed: an injunction against the male strikers moves the women to take over the picket line, leaving the men to domestic duties. The women evolve from men's subordinates into their allies and equals.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Kerala Class War

Abida says even the frequent strikes in Marxist-land have their silver linings.
“We all love these because it means no one has to do any work and we can all spend time with our families... feasting.”
The fish markets in particular, she points out, are very busy a day before a strike since people are planning their meals.

That is my type of class struggle

Introducing the SPGB

From the new website Socialist TV

Chinese Capitalism expands

China Investment Corporation , the nation's $200 billion sovereign wealth fund, will pick money managers for its overseas equity investments by the end of the month, people involved in the selection process said , according to Bloomberg. China Investment Corp is a state owned investment manager. The firm invests in the public equity and fixed income markets across the globe. The CIC will operate in a completely commercial way despite its governmental backup, the sources stressed, explaining that "it will deal with its forex investment business independently by persisting in the principle of separating government functions from company management" as Asia Times describes it .
"The company's principal purpose is to make profits," said Li Yang, director of the finance research institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. .

Two to three companies will be chosen for each of the four mandated product areas, according to one of the people, who declined to be named because the plan hasn't been made public. CIC hasn't decided if it will disclose a final list, said a press officer at the Beijing-based company, who also asked not to be identified.
China is seeking to diversify its $1.5 trillion in currency reserves to obtain higher returns than U.S. Treasury bonds.

Sources in the Japanese Government told The Times that the China Investment Corporation may be considering the purchase of a “sizeable stake” in one of the country's largest oil and gas companies, Inpex. The CIC is also understood to be actively recruiting in Japan to find a domestic fund manager to monitor its investments on the Tokyo stock exchange.
The CIC's plans to invest what could be as much as $10 billion across a range of Tokyo-listed stocks comes as Yoshimi Watanabe, the Japanese Financial Policy Minister, described the attention of the Chinese wealth fund as “most welcome”.

June 2007 CIC takes a $3 billion stake in US private equity firm Blackstone

September 2007 The fund officially launches with initial capital of $200 billion

December 2007 Spends about $100 million on a stake in Hong Kong's China Railway Group

December 2007
Takes a 9.9 per cent stake in Morgan Stanley worth $5 billion

February 2008 Reports suggest that CIC is in talks about investing $4 billion in a JC Flowers vehicle set up to buy ailing financial groups

February 2008 CIC and China Shenhua Group have been in informal talks to buy a 15.85 per cent stake in Australia's Fortescue Metals Group in a deal worth $2 billion, reports suggest

February 2008 Considers the purchase of a “sizeable stake” in Inpex, one of Japan's largest oil and gas companies

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gimme Shelter

Unite warned that a "wave of industrial unrest" was about to hit the voluntary sector. The balloting of housing charity Shelter's 450 workers in England and Scotland for strike action earlier this month suggests this was more than idle speculation. The dispute is over a new employment contract . Management are pressurising staff to accept:

* Abolition of incremental pay
* An extension of the working week which amounts to 3 working weeks per year at no extra pay
* Downgrading of posts throughout Shelter’s housing advice and support services with the same to come in non-service divisions
* Changes to redundancy policy involving a massive reduction in salary protection for redeployed staff.
Staff are now being told they must sign to ‘agree’ a reductionin their terms and conditions. If they refuse to sign, management are threatening to implement the changes without consent by sacking staff and offering re-employment on new contracts with reduced terms and conditions.

"Shelter staff feel betrayed by a senior management team who seem to care little about the services delivered to those who are homeless or badly housed. The cuts will severely undermine Shelter’s ability to retain staff and with them, essential and long standing expertise.Shelter staff, like many in the not-for-profit sector, haveover the years willingly made financial sacrifices to work in this field because it is important to them. We are extremely angry that our senior management team now tell us our pay and conditions are too generous.They earn top-tax bracket salaries and will be materially unaffected by these changes. What’s more, they refuse to deny rumours that they paid themselves anincrease just before announcing cuts to the rest of the organisation. Senior management claim they are only paid the market rate for what they do. And yet they are seeking to drive down the market pay rate for the restof us. Staff are genuinely astonished at this hypocrisy." ( see here )

The pressure to economise on staff terms and conditions stems, at least in part, from the rise of contracts as the dominant means of state funding of the voluntary sector. A diminishing proportion of the sector's work is now financed by grants. Charities, along with public and private sector bodies, must now compete for the right to deliver public services, bidding against each other to secure funding - a system which has been dubbed "contestability". Shelter says that high staff costs and lower than average working hours means that it is at risk of losing out in the contest to win contracts from the Legal Services Commission to provide housing advice.

False Economy, a 2007 report for trade union Unison by academics from Strathclyde and Oxford Brookes universities on the effect of contracting on social care third sector organisations, claimed workers were facing "an intensifying climate of competition". It found downward pressure on pay, the downgrading of many posts, an intensification of work stemming from staff-user ratios and greater administration duties, and even attempts to introduce zero-hour contracts.

Doug Nicholls, national secretary of Unite, says contracting is forcing charities to compete with each other as never before, to the detriment of their employees. He says
"The commissions for the contracts are put out to the market and the lowest common denominator prevails. Pensions are forgotten, pay rises are forgotten, inflation's forgotten, paying for workers according to nationally agreed terms and conditions - all that gets forgotten in the inevitable race to the bottom. That's happening everywhere in the voluntary sector."

The unrest at Shelter follows a strike over pay last April at Scottish social care organisation Quarriers. The charity blamed a derisory increase of 1% in its annual income from local authority contracts. Last year, a strike was averted at learning disability charity the Elfrida Society by a last-minute pay offer. The Children's Society is contemplating reducing salaries for nursery and creche workers because of a failure to win local authority contracts . Social care charity Turning Point has already abolished incremental pay increases for staff. Age Concern in Camden have issued redundancy notices .

What the Socialist Standard has said on charities :

" remains clear that much “charitable work” has become a way of engaging in state activities. Competition between charities and volunteers willingness to work cheap probably gives an incentive for that.Charities, as well as being tied up with the state, are substantial property owners in themselves, nearly £1.37 billion of their income comes from trusts (i.e. investments in property and the stock exchange) and a further £530 million comes from trading activities, The Salvation Army, for instance, has a profitable textile recycling business, from all those donated and unusable clothes they get, making £23 million last year. Charity emerges in the minds of capitalists as an alternative to the welfare state, one that has been tried before in the Victorian tradition of giving to the deserving poor. It is a way of checking democratic accountability, and controlling where the money will go in the interests of protecting the very social system that causes the poverty and problems charity is initiated to alleviate. "

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Future is Famine


Global food prices continue to soar to new highs despite a record world harvest last season . Realising the urgency of the situation, the three food agencies of the UN - the FAO, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agriculture development (IFAD) - are organising a High-Level Conference on World Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy from 3 to 5 June 2008 in Rome.

International wheat prices in January 2008 were 83 percent higher than a year earlier.

"Wheat prices are up because it is being used as animal feed instead of maize, stocks of which are running low partly as a result of the increase in demand for making biofuel," said Liliana Balbi, senior economist at the FAO's Commodities and Trade Division .

According to the FAO, climate change and the demand for agricultural commodities for biofuels production required complex trade-offs and economic, social and environmental policy decisions that would have important repercussions on world agricultural production, access to food and the incomes of rural populations.

"We are facing a crisis triggered by several factors: more intense weather events as result of climate change, the global economic crisis, fuel prices and the pressures brought on by biofuel. ..." said Kanayo Nwanze, Vice-President of IFAD.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Jungle re-lived

Just when you thought it safe to eat .

The US Department of Agriculture has ordered the recall of 143 million lb (64.9 million kg) of beef - the largest meat recall in the country's history. An estimated 37 million lbs (16.8 million kg) of the beef recalled on Sunday went to school lunch programmes and other federal nutrition programmes . Some was also supplied to major fast-food chains.

It comes from a company in California, which allowed meat from cattle unable to stand at the time of slaughter to enter the food chain. The recall was ordered after USDA officials said the plant did not consistently order "complete and proper" inspections of cattle which had lost the ability to walk prior to slaughter.
Such "downer" cattle are at greater risk of contamination by E. coli, salmonella or contracting mad cow disease, as they have weaker immune systems and greater contact with faeces than walking cattle. They should either be removed from the food supply, or receive a more thorough inspection following slaughter, officials say.

The meat-packing plant is also being investigated for animal cruelty after an undercover video came to light showing crippled and sick animals being mistreated.
Agriculture Secretary Ed Shafer said he had been "dismayed by the inhumane handling of cattle" that resulted in the violation of food safety regulations at Westland/Hallmark.

Just like The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Friday, February 15, 2008

Food , Glorious Food

Over the last century about 75% of the world's crop varieties have been lost, data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization suggests.

UN researchers say that we now rely on just three crops: wheat, rice and maize. The fact that poorer nations are almost twice as dependent on these cereals as richer nations has led to the question: are we now too reliant on too few crops?

"First of all, I think the environment is going to be more unpredictable," Sayed Azam-Ali, professor of tropical agronomy at the University of Nottingham, UK, tells the Television Trust for the Environment's Earth Report programme. "So we need crops that are going to be safe," he said. "We can't rely on importing and moving crops around the world indefinitely. I think we have to be more reliant on locally sourced food."

The demand for relatively few crops has left experts worried that traditional knowledge of how to harvest millet will die out; something they have called "cultural erosion". Researchers believe the high nutritional value and its resilience means millet offers a more secure future for farmers, rather than growing cash crops and buying cheap rice to eat.

Mixing minor crops, such as millet, into the major farming system could be the future for food, locally and globally.

schadenfreude 2

A former MSP who gave evidence on behalf of Tommy Sheridan during his defamation case against the News of the World has been charged with perjury. Lothian and Borders Police confirmed that Rosemary Byrne, 59, was arrested, charged and released on Tuesday. Ms Byrne is co-convenor of Solidarity, the socialist party formed by Tommy Sheridan after he left the SSP.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


From the Socialist Unity blog

Ahmed Hussain , RESPECT councillor, former ally of George Galloway and member of the Socialist Workers Party has dramatically defected to the Tories
A former Labour supporter was one of MP George Galloway's '12 Bengali tigers' elected as a Respect councillor in 2006, and has voted against Conservative motions at the Town Hall since. He was one of four councillors to split from Galloway's Respect faction in October and remained a prominent member of the MP's bitter enemies, the SWP. Soon after that split, he instigated exploratory talks with the Lib Dems about forming a coalition with the Respect rebels.

Food , not so glorious Food

From the radical news service Democracy Now , Michael Pollan , professor of science and environmental journalism at UC Berkeley, argues that what most Americans are consuming today is not food but “edible food-like substances.”

MICHAEL POLLAN: Yeah, it’s a literary scientific experience now going shopping in the supermarket, because basically the food has gotten more complex. It’s—for the food industry—see, to understand the economics of the food industry, you can’t really make money selling things like, oh, oatmeal, you know, plain rolled oats. And if you go to the store, you can buy a pound of oats, organic oats, for seventy-nine cents. There’s no money in that, because it doesn’t have any brand identification. It’s a commodity, and the prices of commodity are constantly falling over time.

So you make money by processing it, adding value to it. So you take those oats, and you turn them into Cheerios, and then you can charge four bucks for that seventy-nine cents—and actually even less than that, a few pennies of oats. And then after a few years, Cheerios become a commodity. You know, everyone’s ripping off your little circles. And so, you have to move to the next thing, which are like cereal bars. And now there’s cereal straws, you know, that your kids are supposed to suck milk through, and then they eat the straw. It’s made out of the cereal material. It’s extruded.

So, you see, every level of further complication gives you some intellectual property, a product no one else has, and the ability to charge a whole lot more for these very cheap raw ingredients. And as you make the food more complicated, you need all these chemicals to make it last, to make it taste good, to make—and because, you know, food really isn’t designed to last a year on the shelf in a supermarket. And so, it takes a lot of chemistry to make that happen...

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Mercenary Army

Britain has almost as many overseas volunteers serving in its armed forces as the French Foreign Legion, The Herald revealed.

The number of soldiers from Commonwealth and other countries who enlisted in the UK's Army, Navy and RAF rose by 790 last year to 7240. By comparison, the famous Legion Etrangere has 7600 men in its ranks.If the 3000 Gurkhas were included, Britain's foreign legion would outnumber that of France and Spain, which deliberately recruit foreigners for military service.

They include 2030 Fijians, 600 Zimbabweans and 460 from the tiny Caribbean island state of St Vincent and the Grenadines. There are also 880 from South Africa, 140 from Kenya and 170 from Australian and New Zealand. Another 80 are from Canada. Almost one in 10 of the soldiers in the Royal Regiment of Scotland is Fijian. The number of Caribbean volunteers has shot up, with the St Vincent contingent rising from 280 in 2006 to 460 last year. South African volunteers rose from 720 to 880, while Trindad and Tobago's contribution to British numbers increased by almost one-third from 70 to just over 100.

High unemployment at home, almost 25% in most Caribbean islands, and political or social unrest appear to be the main driving forces behind the enlistments. Zimbabwe, now in economic and political meltdown, produced a 20% rise.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Buy Buy Buy

Supermarkets and the market .

Retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste each year.

The energy expended in producing and transporting this wasted food is enormous. And discarded food ends up in landfill where it produces copious amounts of methane. Difficult as it may be to believe, the food waste of the developing world is a contributor to climate change. The food and supermarket industries need to reform their practices. They should cease using spurious "best before" dates that are designed to encourage people to waste edible food. They should also refrain from flooding their stores with "two-for-one" offers that encourage people to buy far more food than they actually need.

A separate study by Imperial College for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, found that supermarkets preferred to throw away food that was approaching its sell-by date rather than mark it down in price. "The cost of staff time is greater than the money made on the reduced items," the research found, citing a supermarket executive who said it cost the chain £11 million a year in labour and lost margins to slash prices.

The Government quango, The Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap), estimates that some 6.7 million tonnes of food ends up in British bins each year, despite the fact that half of it is perfectly edible. We are paying £8 billion a year for food that we do not eat. Most waste arose because people had "over-shopped" as a result of not planning; because they failed to keep their fridge cold enough, allowing food to go off; or because food had passed its "best by" date. Fresh fruit and vegetables top the list of most wasted food categories in the UK, outranking bread and bakery products, fresh meat, fish and dairy. For every three bags of food we take home, one will be discarded and end up as landfill. Over Christmas alone, around 230,000 tonnes of food worth about £275m that could have been eaten was thrown away.

Saving the energy needed to produce, package, transport and deliver this food would reduce the generation of carbon dioxide by 15 million tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking one in five cars off the road.


Use-by: This is the key date in terms of safety – never eat products after this date and observe storage instructions. Check if the food can be frozen if you need to eat it at a later date. "Use by" dates are usually found on chilled products such as cooked meats, soft cheeses and dairy-based desserts.

Best before: "Best before" dates are usually on longer shelf life foods such as frozen, tinned or dried goods, and refer to quality rather than safety. So it's best to use your judgment. It should be safe to eat food after the "best before" date, but food may no longer be at its best. Eggs are an exception, never eat them after the "best before" date.

Display until/Sell by: These often appear near or next to the "best before" or "use by" date. They are used by some shops to help with stock control and are instructions for shop staff, not shoppers.
Waste not , Want not .

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Spying and Surveillance

Innocently walking down a street in Glasgow, Cardiff or London will mean a person's face is picked up by one or several of the UK's 4.2 million CCTV cameras , one for every 13 people. It is estimated that, on a normal day, someone's image will be captured more than 300 times.

Then, there are all the speed cameras on the roads, the proposed expansion of the DNA database, and the planned introduction of biometric ID cards.

Richard Thomas, UK Information Commissioner, warned that Britain could "sleepwalk into a surveillance society".

Nick Clegg, LibDem leader angrily challenged Gordon Brown for creating a "surveillance state" and making the UK the "most spied upon on the planet". He referred to 1000 surveillance requests a day, one million "innocent people" on the government's DNA database and the "scandalous" fingerprinting of pupils in some 5000 schools.

The Surveillance Studies Network's 2006 report observed: "Most profoundly, all of today's surveillance processes and practices bespeak a world where we know we're not really trusted".

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Doom and Gloom

"What We’re In For: Projected Economic Impacts of the Next Recession," by John Schmitt and Dean Baker paints a grim economic picture in the event that the United States falls into a recession this year. The report projects the likely effects of a recession in 2008 based on the experience of the last three recessions --the severe recession of the early 1980s, and the mild-to-moderate recessions of the early 1990s and the early 2000s.

Even a mild recession in 2008 would add 3.2 million workers to national unemployment by 2010, according to a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. A severe recession, the group estimates, could make 5.8 million more workers unemployed by 2011. Along with a sharp rise in unemployment, a recession in 2008 would eventually result in 4.7 to 10.4 million more men, women, and children living in poverty, at least 4.2 million people losing health-insurance coverage, and a drop in the inflation-adjusted median family income of between $2,000 and $3,700 per year. The estimated effects would extend as far as 2010 or 2011, depending on the severity of the downturn.

“For financial markets and employers recessions are fairly short-term events,” noted Schmitt. “For labor markets and workers, though, recessions have historically been long and painful.”

Even once financial markets begin to recover, workers will suffer the ill effects of a recession for at least the next 3 to 4 years.