Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Remember Mayday

From the World Socialist Party of the United States , a Mayday article

Using the “Unskilled Wage Index” the $175 a year factory workers earned in 1886 Chicago would be equivalent of $22,180 today , slightly more than what American Axle Company is offering it’s workers currently on strike.

Today the average work-week in the US is 46 hours and there is an increase in poorer workers working multiple jobs just to get by. This explains which nearly a third of Americans work more than 50 hours a week. Compare this to the legal maximum of 45 hours the British Empire established for Plantation slaves.

Monday, April 28, 2008

can't pay , can't eat

GRAIN , an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge reports on the food price crisis .

Farmers across the world produced a record 2.3 billion tons of grain in 2007, up 4% on the previous year. Since 1961 the world’s cereal output has tripled, while the population has doubled. Stocks are at their lowest level in 30 years, it’s true,but the bottom line is that there is enough food produced in the world to feed the population. The problem is that it doesn’t get to all of those who need it. Less than half of the world’s grain production is directly eaten by people. Most goes into animal feed and, increasingly, biofuels – massive inflexible industrial chains.

The price of wheat has gone up by 130% over the last year. Rice has doubled in price in Asia in the first three months of 2008 alone,and just last week it hit record highs on the Chicago futures market.For most of 2007 the spiralling cost of cooking oil, fruit and vegetables, as well as of dairy and meat, led to a fall in the consumption of these items.The UN World Food Programme estimates that recent price hikes have meant that an additional 100 million people can no longer afford to eat adequately

We have allowed food to be transformed from something that nourishes people and provides them with secure livelihoods into a commodity for speculation and bargaining. The perverse logic of this system has come to a head. Today it is staring us in the face that this system puts the profits of investors before the food needs of people.

With wheat, export bans or restrictions in Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Argentina mean that a third of the global market has now been closed off. The situation with rice is even worse: China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, India and Cambodia have banned or severely restricted exports, leaving just a few sources of export supply, mainly Thailand and the US. Countries like Bangladesh can’t buy the rice they need now because the prices are so high. For years the World Bank and the IMF have told countries that a liberalised market would provide the most efficient system for producing and distributing food, yet today the world’s poorest countries are forced into an intense bidding war against speculators and traders, who are having a field day. Hedge funds and other sources of hot money are pouring billions of dollars into commodities to escape sliding stock markets and the credit crunch, putting food stocks further out of poor people’s reach. According to some estimates, investment funds now control 50–60% of the wheat traded on the world’s biggest commodity markets. One firm calculates that the amount of speculative money in commodities futures – markets where investors do not buy or sell a physical commodity, like rice or wheat, but merely bet on price movements – has ballooned from US$5 billion in 2000 to US$175 billion to 2007.

The truth about who profits and who loses from our global food system has never been more obvious. Take the most basic element of food production: soil. The industrial food system is a chemical-fertiliser junkie. It needs more and more of the stuff just to keep alive, eroding soils and their potential to support crop yields in the process. In the current context of tight food supplies, the small clique of corporations that control the world’s fertiliser market can charge what they want – and that’s exactly what they are doing. Profits at Cargill’s Mosaic Corporation, which controls much of the world’s potash and phosphate supply, more than doubled last year. The world’s largest potash producer, Canada’s Potash Corp, made more than US$1 billion in profit, up more than 70% from 2006. Panicking now about future supplies, governments are becoming desperate to boost their harvests, giving these corporations additional leverage. In April 2008, the joint offshore trading arm for Mosaic and Potash hiked the price of its potash by 40% for buyers from Southeast Asia and by 85% for those from Latin American. India had to pay 130% more than last year, and China 227% more.

While big money is being made from fertilisers, it is just a sideline for Cargill. Its biggest profits come from global trading in agricultural commodities, which, together with a few other big traders, it pretty much monopolises. On 14 April 2008, Cargill announced that its profits from commodity trading for the first quarter of 2008 were 86% higher than the same period in 2007. “Demand for food in developing economies and for energy worldwide is boosting demand for agricultural goods, at the same time that investment monies have streamed into commodity markets,” said Greg Page, Cargill’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Prices are setting new highs and markets are extraordinarily volatile. In this environment, Cargill’s team has done an exceptional job measuring and assessing price risk, and managing the large volume of grains, oilseeds and other commodities moving through our supply chains for customers globally.”

Indeed, all of the big grain traders are making record profits. Bunge, another big food trader, saw its profits of the last fiscal quarter of 2007 increase by US$245 million, or 77%, compared with the same period of the previous year. The 2007 profits registered by ADM, the second largest grain trader in the world, rose by 65% to a record US$2.2 billion. Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Foods, a major player in Asia, is forecasting revenue growth of 237% this year.

The world’s big food processors, some of which are commodity traders themselves, are also cashing in. Nestlé’s global sales grew 7% last year. “We saw this coming, so we hedged by forward-buying raw materials”, says François-Xavier Perroud, Nestlé’s spokesman. UK supermarket Tesco reports profits up 12.3% from last year, a record rise. Other major retailers, such as France’s Carrefour and the US’s Wal-Mart, say that food sales are the main factor sustaining their profit increases. Wal-Mart’s Mexican division, Wal-Mex, which handles a third of overall food sales in Mexico, reported an 11% increase in profits for the first quarter of 2008.(At the same time Mexicans are demonstrating in the streets because they can no longer afford to make tortillas)

It seems that nearly every corporate player in the global food chain is making a killing from the food crisis. The seed and agrochemical companies are doing well too. Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, reported a 44% increase in overall profits in 2007. DuPont, the second-largest, said that its 2007 profits from seeds increased by 19%, while Syngenta, the top pesticide manufacturer and third-largest company for seeds, saw profits rise 28% in the first quarter of 2008.

Such record profits have nothing to do with any new value that these corporations are producing and they are not one-off windfalls from a sudden shift in supply and demand. Instead, they are a reflection of the extreme power that these middlemen have accrued through the globalisation of the food system. Intimately involved with the shaping of the trade rules that govern today’s food system and tightly in control of markets and the ever more complex financial systems through which global trade operates, these companies are in perfect position to turn food scarcity into immense profits. People have to eat, whatever the cost.

Friday, April 25, 2008

eat the rich

This blog has reported the food crisis in the past and highlighted the concerns of many - but what is not needed is the hypocrisy of a daughter the King Hussein of Jordan and wife of the Ruler of Dubai to shed crocodile tears for the suffering of the poor and needy .
Nor do we require her to praise the false promises of the war criminal , Henry Kissinger , in her article that the Rupert Murdoch rag the Times feel necessary to publish as some sort of contribution to the debate on the world-wide rise in food prices .

Thursday, April 24, 2008

mediocre talent - rich rewards

"At the heart of many of Wall Street's problems has been a serious misalignment between the interests of managers and shareholders. It's clear a number of investment banks overlooked basic risk controls in their drive to increase profits. This pattern of behaviour has been exacerbated by a remuneration structure which has encouraged some employees to take spectacular short-term risks, confident that if things work out well they will reap huge rewards, and that if they don't they won't be around to pay the price." - said Richard Lambert , director general of the CBI

The bonus culture has turned thousands of relatively mediocre performers in the banking industry into multi-millionaires, while top performers have earned vast sums. The head of Barclays investment banking, Bob Diamond, was paid £36m last year even though Barclays took a £1.6bn hit from the US sub-prime crisis.

1+1=2 , 1+1+1=1 God

Families who don't believe in God are being failed by Scotland's education system, it was claimed

Bob McKay, education officer with the Humanist Society of Scotland said :

"In Scotland, all parents have the right to raise their children in the religion of their choice, and send them to school in the expectation that their faith will be respected - which is as it should be.But no provision of any kind is made for the one in three Scots who have no religious belief. At present, all they can do is ask that their children be withdrawn or excluded from religious activities, which is quite simply inadequate and unfair."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Another immigration myth debunked

There is no evidence that new migrants are jumping the queue for council and housing association homes to the detriment of any other group, including white families, according to new research.

The study shows that out of the 10.1 million council and housing association tenants in Britain, 9 million are UK-born and just over 1 million were born outside the country. It adds that only 183,300 - less than 2% - of tenants arrived in Britain in the last five years and most of the 1 million are long-settled migrants who have been here for years and may have become British citizens.
The analysis of housing for new migrants to the UK who have arrived over the last five years, including those from Poland and other east European countries, shows 60% living in private rented accommodation, 18% owner-occupiers and only 11% allocated to social housing.

Most new migrants in the past five years, particularly those from the eight east European countries which joined the EU in 2004, are not eligible for social housing unless they have been resident in the UK and in work for at least 12 months. Any application they make must meet the same criteria of need as UK-born applicants. According to the latest figures for 170,263 lettings in the social housing sector in 2006-07 in England, where the nationality of the named tenant was collected, less than 5% went to foreign nationals and less than 1% went to new migrants from eastern Europe.

A poll of 66 housing managers across Britain, of whom 74% said they believed that migrants had "not very much" or "no" impact on increased demand for housing in the social rented sector, while 66% said they had increased pressure on private rented accommodation.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Business as usual is no longer a viable option,"

Yet another report concerning the growing world-wide food crisis.

A UN World Food Program report says the world produces enough food for every one, yet over 800 million people go hungry. Its authors say food is cheaper and diets are better than 40 years ago, but malnutrition and food insecurity threatens millions nonetheless.
"The unequal distribution of food and conflict over control of the world's dwindling natural resources presents a major political and social challenge to governments," said the report's authors.

Robert Watson, the former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and chief economist at Britain's Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, said the global production of food has increased, "but not every one has benefited." Watson blamed governments and private businesses for paying more attention to growth in production than natural resources or food security.
"Continuing with current trends means the Earth's haves and have-nots splitting further apart," he said. "It would leave us facing a world nobody wants to inhabit. We have to make food more available and nutritious without degrading the land."

I think Watson really means growth of profit margins and growth of investment returns more than peoples needs concern governments and businesses .

Supachai Panitchpakdi , the head of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development said speculators on commodities futures markets were worsening the problem of high food prices, and he hoped the April 20-25 UNCTAD meeting in Ghana would address this.
"I hope that one of our sessions ... would handle this issue, how to look into the activities of commodities futures in a way that the futures market would help solve the food issue, not aggravate it," he said.

How sad it remains that the so - called experts are still totally naive about the motivation of the capitalist class that they see them as a solution and not the real problem

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Homeless and Jobless

Free from wage slavery !!

Free from mortgage bondage !!

I will be online less often and updating this blog and others to which i contribute less frequently.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Food - A few quotes

A new face of hunger is emerging: even where food is available on the shelves, there are now more and more people who simply cannot afford it,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

“Resource scarcity is a long-term problem, and is likely to get worse with climate change - which will see reduced productivity, especially in countries where resources such as land, food, income, are ‘captured’ by an elite, and/or where inequalities are particularly bad,” according to social historian Diana Cammack, with the UK Overseas Development Institute.
The riots are about access to food, she points out, “where the poor have a reduced chance compared to the rich of getting to the food that is in the country … famines are often linked not simply to scarcity but to the cost of food and thus access to it”.

"Governments don't generally worry overmuch for the fate of poor people most affected by dearth - until the protests mount," said John Walton, who teaches sociology at the University of California, and is co-author of Free Trade and Food Riots.

Marc Cohen, research fellow at the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). “Governments have tended to provide them [urban residents] with subsidies to prevent them from becoming discontent.” Subsidies are not a sustainable solution, according to Cohen. “A case in point is the urban population in Egypt, which has enjoyed subsidies for many decades. Should subsidies be removed, things can get very violent - but subsidies are increasingly unaffordable.”
Matein Khalid, an analyst, wrote in the Dubai-based newspaper, Khaleej Times, that bread has been subsidised by the rulers of Egypt since Pharaonic times. “… food price surges are more of a threat to regime stability than Dr Zawahiri’s Al Qaeda terrorists. Bread queues turn violent, a recurrent theme in Egyptian history …”

Now we read of clashes breaking out between police and protesters in the Nile Delta textile town of Mahalla el-Kubra for the second straight day on Monday and the protesters set fire to several shops .Clashes started on Sunday when the day shift ended at a giant textile mill where the workers had planned to go on strike for higher wages and protest against high prices.

In Haiti deaths of four people in two days of rioting last week over rising food prices.

In addition to Haiti and Egypt, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Indonesia, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal have also experienced unrest in recent weeks related to soaring food and fuel prices.

Some 20 countries -- including Russia, Kazakhstan, and China -- have introduced price controls on staple items such as bread, milk, and cooking oil, while many countries have introduced export curbs.

"There has never been an acute shortage of food in India, not even during the infamous famine in Bengal in 1943 in which more than 1.5 million people are estimated to have died of starvation. The problem then - and now - is entitlement or access to food at affordable prices. " explains Paranjoy Guha Thakurta Indian economy analyst

Thailand's Untouchables

Hat -tip to P B for this story

A Mercedes-Benz was pulled up alongside a city bus, and a young man was having an angry exchange with the bus driver, whom he accused of scraping against his car. The passengers started shouting at the man, who got back into his car and appeared to be about to leave. But instead he accelerated forwards onto the pavement and into the crowd of passengers, crushing several of them under his vehicle. One woman later died, and several other passengers were seriously injured.

The police charged the young man, Kanpitak Pachimsawas, with murder.
But the case very quickly turned into one about class differences, about the perceived arrogance of Thailand's rich, towards the poor . Kanpitak, it turned out, was the 20-year-old son of a former Miss Thailand beauty queen and a wealthy businessman. He was also the nephew of a powerful police officer.

The bus driver reported that his father had arrived at the scene and threatened to use his police connections against the passengers.
"He thinks he has money and a big family name, so he can do things like this to poor people," the bus conductor told reporters at the scene.

Kanpitak's father was unrepentant. Speaking on a TV chat show two days later, he showed more concern for his son than his victims. Responding to the bus conductor's comments he said:
"They are uneducated. That's how they are. They think they are abused, that rich people are bad, that the police are bad. Lower class people have a bad attitude towards police officers and rich people. They hate us and curse us."

Suddenly we were witnessing something you do not see much in Thailand - open class conflict.

Kanpitak Pachimsawas was released on bail and, amazingly, even allowed to continue driving.
On his first day in court he was apparently overcome by nerves and said he was unable to answer any questions. The judge adjourned the case until November. He may never go to prison.

Suchira Insawan, the daughter of the woman he killed , says "Many parts of the Thai bureaucratic system favour rich people. If you are not one of them, you will always be left at the back of the queue."

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Price of a Garden Makeover

Stone imports to Britain which have increased 10-fold over the past decade. Escalating consumer demand is thought to be driven by the proliferation of gardening makeover programmes.

Nepal is among the world's poorest and least-developed countries with almost one-third of its population living below the poverty line. According to the United Nations' development index, the nation ranks 138th out of 177 countries. Life expectancy in this landlocked nation is 59.8 years for males and 59.5 for females. Nearly half of the population - 44% - are children, and in Nepalese culture child labour is the norm. Indeed, many children feel a level of responsibility in helping their families financially and are proud to earn an income. Child labour is fundamental to the economy. In Nepal, an estimated three million children aged between five and 14 years old are employed. The children work in quarries, brick kilns, factories, laundries, coal mines and restaurants, to name just a few of the 80 or so areas of industry that break the law. Despite the ratification of 18 international conventions by the Nepalese government to help protect the rights of the child - including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, numerous International Labour Organisation directives and a Children's Act enacted in 1992 - the violations continue.

About 32,000 children work in Nepal's stone quarries, some as young as five years old. Dawn to dusk can be a typical working day and according to the charity Concern-Nepal, nearly 70% of children work 10-hour days or more. Most are paid by the quantity of gravel crushed into a doko (basket). The figure varies but the children earn on average about 25p per day, about one quarter of an adult wage.

Concern-Nepal's Kathmandu office the charity's director Bijaya Sainju explains that children's duties include excavating stone, loading trucks for transport and crushing boulders into gravel. "They inhale dust with every breath and repetitive hammering is jarring to bones and muscles. Bonded labour is common so some children don't even get paid as they are employed to pay off family debts," he says. Related medical problems including serious respiratory complaints, backache, visual defects and joint and muscle pain.
Most are not even afforded minimal protective gear and there is a high risk of accidents that can cause permanent injuries or even death. Sainju says that children have been swept away quarrying beside rivers while others have died falling from cliffs.
Out of 600 quarry children interviewed by Concern-Nepal, 94% had witnessed workplace accidents. More than half had injured their hands with hammers, while 18% had hurt themselves falling while carrying loads of stones. First aid treatment, says Sainju, is non-existent, likewise the provision of medical insurance. Not one single child interviewee had received medical attention from a doctor, nor do most seek hospital treatment when injuries occur because of the high costs involved. For Dalit children, the "lowest of the low" in Nepal's caste system and people referred to as the "Untouchables", life is even harder as they suffer harassment from both employers and fellow workers. Many are also sexually abused. "Some 34% of quarry children are Dalits and because of the social stigma many will not report abuse in fear of retribution," Sainju explains.

Shortly before Christmas one of the UK's leading stone importers warned that children as young as five are routinely being used to quarry stone for the booming British patio and landscaping market. Marshalls PLC, which has a factory in Falkirk and is one of Britain's biggest building materials companies, said that large sections of the gardening and construction industry were turning a blind eye to the use of child labour in quarries in order to maximise profits. "We want the industry to face facts and we want consumers to start asking questions. If you want to re-do the patio, then stop and ask yourself where that stone is coming from," said Marshalls' director Chris Harrop. Similar types of labour abuse were uncovered during an audit by Marshalls. According to Marshalls, only about one-third of the 200,000 tons of patio stone coming into the UK from India each year was sourced ethically, with the rest often being produced in atrocious conditions. "We were appalled by the child labour problem in Rajasthan. You could see people on site without hard hats, no boots. Suppliers didn't keep employment records.There were no first aid facilities. It was an utter mess," says Rory Kendrick, the director in charge of Marshalls' stone importing operation.

India's quarry industry employs up to 100,000 children and supplies almost three-quarters of the imported stone used in British patios and garden features. Indian sandstone from Rajasthan is among the most popular, since it most closely matches the yellow York stone that was traditionally mined in England's Pennines, but has now been all but exhausted through demand.
As in Nepal, international treaties and domestic laws prohibit child labour but are rarely enforced.

Report from the Sunday Herald

Friday, April 04, 2008

Rice prices rises

I have previous linked to stories of the food crisis that is engulfing the world here and also at the African blog Socialist Banner , but as it is indeed a world wide phenonomen . India is restricting the export of rice .

But in Bangladesh the rising prices are now effecting those of the "middle classes" .

It is reported , Government-run outlets selling subsidised rice and other basic commodities are now being besieged by members of the middle class as food prices continue to rise.
In Dhaka people are queing up for hours a day in the midday sun to buy 5kg of rice per head under the government’s Open Market Sale scheme - established whenever a potential food crisis is perceived. The authorities have opened over 2,500 such outlets nationwide, with an additional 3,800 set to open in the coming days. Other food essentials, including pulses, flour, oil, onions and sugar are also rising after remaining relatively stable for the last two weeks, increasing by nearly 50 percent in the last six months, with the prices of chickens, eggs and fish also going up.

“Middle class people can neither stand in the long queues to buy cheap rice and pulses, nor have the money to buy those from the market. We are the sufferers of the present price hikes,” Mansur Ali, a senior clerk in a government office “I am the lone earner in my family. My two children are very young and my wife is pregnant with the third. She needs extra nutrition, but I can’t even buy food for the family,” he said." No one in my family has ever stood in an OMS queue. These are meant for the poor,” said Ali, whose 10-year-old son waited for four hours in such a queue to buy rice.

Earning just under US$100 a month, Ali now supplements his income by providing private tutoring in the evenings, earning another $7.5 a month to cope. However, that too may not be enough. According to the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies , purchasing power declined by around four percent due to higher inflation in 2007, propelled by 16 percent food inflation in December alone - and this in a country where about 40 percent of families at or just below the poverty line of $1 a day are already spending around 70 percent of their income on food

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

War is Business

The USA - international treaties - we don't need to abide by them

The USA again ignores international treaties and international law

Mexico, which has no death penalty, sued the United States in the world court in 2003. Mexico and other opponents of capital punishment have sought to use the world court to fight for foreigners facing execution in the U.S. The international court ruled in 2004 that the convictions of Medellin and 50 other Mexicans on death row around the United States violated the 1963 Vienna Convention, which provides that people arrested abroad be given access to their home country's consular officials. The International Court of Justice, also known as the world court, said the Mexican prisoners should have new court hearings to determine whether the violation affected their cases. That treaty requires that foreign nationals arrested in a signatory country be allowed to meet with a consular official from their home country. It's a tool treasured by diplomats, American and otherwise, worldwide.There is no dispute that the Mexicans on Death Row were't notified of their treaty rights when arrested . The US has since withdrawn from the part of the Vienna Convention that gives the ICJ the final say if foreign citizens say they were illegally denied access to diplomatic representation when arrested abroad.

But the Supreme Court that Texas could ignore the international court's ruling in favor of granting new hearings. The Bush administration claimed a memo signed by Bush had the force of federal law on the state, ordering it to set aside Medellin's conviction. In the opinion released today, it's clear the majority of the court didn't buy that. Moreover, the court seems to suggest that the United States' international treaty obligations don't obligate the country to do very much.The six-justice majority held that the treaties involved were not "self-executing," meaning they required an act of Congress to implement its obligations and give them the force of federal law.

Mexico's foreign relations department said it presented an official letter to the State Department on Monday asking the U.S. to obey the world court's ruling.
"Mexican authorities lament that the Supreme Court's decision has had a negative effect on the cases of seven other Mexicans sentenced to death in Texas," the department said in a statement. "Mexico seeks to guarantee the rights of its citizens on death row ... with the goal of achieving the review and reconsideration of their sentences."

Despite plain language in the U.S. Constitution, which reads, "All Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby." The treaty, which had been signed by the president but not ratified by Congress, did not overrule state law . Chief Justice John Roberts, in telling the president he could not over-rule state courts and order that cases be revisited decided that international treaties are binding only if the treaty clearly says they are or if legislation is passed making them binding. Roberts echoed isolationist sentiments , saying the high court's decision "protects our judiciary from interference by foreign courts."

"Having given its word, the United States should keep its word," Donovan said the lawyer who argued the case on behalf of Medeillin .
Justices Breyer , Ginsberg , and Soutar agree. The court had misread the supremacy clause of the Constitution, which says properly ratified treaties "shall be the supreme law of the land" and that the treaties at issue did not need to be implemented by congressional legislation. "As a result, the nation may well break its word even though the president seeks to live up to that word and Congress has done nothing to suggest the contrary," Breyer wrote.

Just how would America react if the shoe was on the other foot ?