Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Chicken Jungle

The US now produces 8.84 billion broilers (meat chickens) every year—of which 1.4 billion, or nearly one in six, are produced in Georgia. The number of chickens produced  annually in the United States has increased by more than 1,400 percent since 1950 while the number of farms producing those birds has dropped by 98 percent.

The state's annual broiler flock, roughly equal in number to the human population of China, takes place on just 2,170 farms—meaning that each one produces a mind-numbing 640,000 birds, collectively churning 2 million tons of chicken feces and other waste. Just two companies produce as much as 85 percent of the globe's breeding broilers,

As recently as 1980, a finished broiler weighed in at about 3.8 pounds. Today, the figure is 5.65 pounds—a 33 percent increase in just three decades. Meanwhile, the time it takes to get them to slaughter weight has plunged. A broiler can now go from hatchling to raw material for chicken nuggets in as little as 42 days—representing a growth rate four times as fast as those that prevailed just 50 years ago.

Workers in poultry slaughterhouses large enough to kill 200,000 birds in a single day ranks among the most dangerous of US occupations and official figures may underestimate the hazard. In Georgia, because of the state’s lack of anti-retaliation protections, a worker who  reports her work-related injury in order to seek workers’ compensation benefits like  medical treatment and partial pay for time when she is unable to work may lawfully be fired for filing or pursuing a workers’ compensation claim.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

RIO+20 = 0

Humans have a psychological need to see the world as fair and just. Paradoxically, that's why we sometimes blame the victims.

The failure of the Rio+20 summit provides further proof that the nation-state system is cannot tackle global environmental threats. Rio+20 was clearly not about enabling countries and communities to do a better job of protecting environment and helping families to climb out of poverty. It was about using sustainable development pieties to target development projects create market-based "solutions". Advancing social and environmental justice in ways that Rio+20 sought to do actually meant perpetuating poverty for people in developing countries, and reducing living standards for people in wealthier countries.  Rio+20 was about equalising scarcity – except for ruling elites. The health and welfare, dreams and aspirations of the world's poor and their pursuit of justice and happiness were given only lip service and then brushed aside. The proceedings were controlled by bureaucrats who see humans primarily as consumers and polluters, rather than the creators of th world's wealth and the stewards of it common treasury.

“It’s a demonstration of political impotence, of system paralysis, and it makes me feel pessimistic about the system's ability to deliver," Laurence Tubiana, director of a French think-tank, the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), said.

 Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University "...we cannot rely on the politicians and the diplomats to get this job done.”

“The UN system has lost its way,” crippled by the format determined by the victors of World War II, he argued “For all its warts, it's what we have, and there is no alternative,”  said Steve Sawyer, a former Greenpeace campaigner who is now secretary general of a Brussels clean-energy lobby, the Global Wind Energy Council who then went on rather mystifyingly to hold out a futile hope that "the Chinas, Indias, Brazils, Germanys and Japans will take up some of the slack.”

Workers living in the still relatively wealthy nations now have to prepare for new assaults on their living standards. Impoverished people in poor nations now have to prepare for demands that they abandon their dreams for better lives.That is neither just nor sustainable.

In order to avoid psychological disintegration, humans have a fundamental need to see the world as at least somewhat fair and predictable. You might think that a strong belief in justice would increase our drive to demand better. But, paradoxically, viewing the world as a fair place can often lead us in the opposite direction. It elicits denial of hard-to-face realities and results in the blaming of victims for suffering that has clearly been inflicted on them. The just world hypothesis was developed in the 1960s by social psychologist Melvin Lerner. Fundamentally, it’s based on the idea that believing the world is fair offers a psychological sense of comfort and security. But witnessing extreme suffering or injustice, such as that described by Sandusky’s victims, threatens our feelings of safety and predictability. It upends our entire worldview and forces us to cope with the difficult reality of a confusing, amoral and chaotic universe. Therefore, it becomes easier psychologically to blame the victims. Accepting the truth would otherwise threaten onlookers’ entire psyche, not just their views about a particular event.

The world we want must begin with actually defining what sort of world we want. We can't rely only on the bureaucracies of governments to address the problems facing our planet. We must start doing it ourselves.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

no shortage of money

A crisis is caused by capitalists choosing not to buy, that is, not to invest profits because they judge they won't make any profits or not enough. The current crisis of capitalism is that there is "surplus liquidity". In other words, the rich have so much wealth they have exhausted places to store it. If it is not invested its value depreciates. And they won't invest unless it produces a return. This is why we see record amounts being spent on gold or on art (ironically mostly on art that depicts the pain and isolation of capitalist society). While workers are having their jobs and wages cut and governments are enforcing austerity, companies have never held so much cash. As one author reports: "Globally, companies are sitting on more than $5 trillion." This is a classic case of "over-production".

According to a report from a group of University of Massachusetts economists $3.6 trillion in cash is being hoarded by companies. The Federal Reserve reveal banks are sitting on $1.6 trillion in reserves -- about 80 times the $20 billion they held in 2007. While, non-financial companies are keeping their profits liquid, rather than plowing them back into investments, to the tune of about $2 trillion. Together, that amounts to almost a quarter of the U.S. gross domestic product and if move it into productive investments instead, the report estimates that about 19 million jobs would be created in the next three years, lowering the unemployment rate to under 5 percent.

Corporations in America are underinvesting relative to its availability of funds, according to a report by TD Economics titled, "Milking America's Cash Cow: The Case for Stronger Investment Growth," According to the report, corporate profits make up 10% of GDP, nearly double its pre-recession average, while the ratio of current assets to short term liabilities—a common measure of liquidity—has risen to levels not seen since the 1950s. Corporate profits and liquidity as a share of gross domestic product are at record highs, yet the share of these profits going towards investment is lower than ever. Liquid assets as a share of the economy have grown almost 50% since the recession. The ratio of current assets to short term liabilities – a common measure of liquidity – has risen to levels not seen in over 60 years. Surplus cash levels have continued to grow, and treasurers are less satisfied with the returns they are able to obtain on their cash balances.

Capitalists - especially the mega-corporations that have come to dominate the world's economies - are simply too good at what they do. They squeeze more production and profit out of their workforces every year, and capital piles up faster than they can invest it profitably. Production outstrips demand, and companies find themselves directing their excess wealth into ever-more elaborate mechanisms of sales and marketing aimed at stimulating demand domestically and internationally; into increasingly sophisticated technology to support the marketing effort; into state ventures (primarily the military-industrial complex); or, increasingly in recent years, into the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors, which of course are sources of the increasingly catastrophic bubbles that have made this such an interesting century so far.

Politicians often talk about jobs as if they are businesses' gift to society. In the real economy, employers need workforces and require it to be as malleable as possible. Intensifying employee productivity, outsourcing jobs, and automation for human power are all reliable ways to increase profitability. The result has been long strides in output. That has provided businesses huge payroll savings and boosted profits, but at the cost of accelerating overproduction, stagnation, and unemployment.

Shorter work weeks, slower production, lower consumption, smaller ecological footprints, and a stable climate, can become a reality - but only after a radical economic transformation.

socialism matters

No one claims famine currently exist in the UK (although malnutrition does and was reckoned in 2009 to affect around 3 million people, particularly elderly people). But capitalism is not confined to these small islands off the European mainland. It's a global phenomenon, and is deeply implicated in the many famines that constantly DO arise in many parts of the world. That England has no famines simply reflects the fact that it is a relatively wealthy first world country that is able to import a significant portion of its food. Many third world countries, for a variety of reasons, have precarious food supplies, which in certain circumstances such as drought or war, may not reach sizeable sections of their populations.
Prior to the advent of capitalism, populations relied upon local harvests, and when these failed, there wasn't the wherewithal and/or infrastructure to import supplies from other areas. Hence people suffered - barring, of course, the "upper classes", which were able to ruthlessly sequestrate their own supplies. With trade and a concomitant improvement of transport modes and links, the importation of supplies from outside became increasingly possible as an option to mitigate shortfalls.
 Trade involves exchange, and if you don't have what it takes to obtain what it is you want, then, you have to do without. This is what apologists for capitalism signally fail to take into account. They confuse need with `demand'. They confuse the fact that whilst we might all be legally entitled to purchase something, we are NOT equally endowed with the means to proceed with this purchase. This simple truism has devastating implications when it comes to food.
Take Niger, which even now is in the throes of a devastating famine threatening the lives of millions of people. Capitalism has always been marked by extremes in rich and poor. Niger, the second poorest country in the world, is no exception, with markets in some parts of the country still full of produce. Yet a few minutes drive from these is the face of Niger which the world has seen -- starving people under canvas tents with aid workers trying their best to help them. The reason is simple -- poverty. People cannot afford to buy the goods in the market and so they go hungry. This, the bleak reality of Niger's famine, is noticeably absent from almost all of the media reports. There the hunger is seen as a natural disaster, not a man-made one. This is unsurprising, given the role of capitalism has played in this (and other) famines. It cuts to the heart of claims that the capitalist market can solve the problems of the world's poor. Thus Niger is yet another example of the underlying, but ignored, reality of famines in the world. It is not a lack of food (there is more than enough to feed the world). The problem is an economic system which ignores need in favour of money. Food, like any commodity, will go where the money is while the weakest go to the wall. This aspect of the market has been around for as long as capitalism has been. If people's only resource that they legitimately possess, i.e. their labour-power, becomes unsaleable in the market then they have no command over food. Once this happens, the market will make things worse, not better, as supply seeks demand elsewhere.'
And during the halcyon days of British capitalism, in the 1840s, you had Ireland, a country which at the time was capable of producing enough food for 18 million people, being stricken by the potato famine but nevertheless continuing to export vast quantities of pork, beef, and grain. Likewise, Ethiopia during its great famine of 1984, exported linseed cake, cottonseed cake, and rapeseed meal to European livestock producers. Far from helping the situation, `trade' made matters worse.
It is incumbent upon advocates of capitalism  to explain, why in a world easily capable of feeding every man, woman and child, one billion go hungry, why food gluts' are destroyed amidst starvation, why wars happen, why technology isn't liberated from private ownership to ensure the welfare of all. With the money system, this is precisely the problem. Hence the need to abolish the system itself.
`SocialistMatters' website

Monday, June 11, 2012

land-grab arabs

Saudi Arabia and others have oil but not enough water or farmland. So they're buying land from poorer nations. The Tabuk plain in the northwest of the country, close to Jordan, gets an average of just 2 inches of rain a year. Yet it is a prairie of wheat fields. Fortunes are being made here. The biggest farm — covering nearly 90,000 acres, or eight Manhattans — is run by the Tabuk Agricultural Development Company (TADCO). Its irrigation pumps extract up to a million acre-feet of water each year from beneath the sands. By the 1990s, with $85 billion invested, Saudi Arabia was one of the world’s largest wheat exporters. The wheat crop was vastly subsidized. Money was no object. The government paid its farmers five times the international price for wheat — not just for the wheat the nation wanted, but for any wheat the farmers cared to produce. Riyadh charged nothing for the water pumped from beneath the desert, and virtually nothing for the fuel needed to pump it. This deluge of largesse generated full granaries but staggering inefficiency, not least in the use of water. Every ton of wheat required between 3,000 and 6,000 tons of water — three to six times the global average.

Near the capital, Riyadhis the world’s largest dairy farm. At the heart of the Al Safi farm are six giant sheds, where 30,000 Holstein cows from Europe produce around 42 million gallons of milk a year, sold under the Danone brand. To keep their udders productive, the cows are cooled by a constantly circulating mist of water. Surrounding the sheds are 7,400 acres of fields, where dozens of movable irrigation units called central pivots, each up to a third of a mile long, irrigate alfalfa, sorghum, and hay destined for the cows’ feedlots. This too takes prodigious amounts of water, pumped from more than a mile below the sand. Not far away, Almarai, a food conglomerate also owned by the Saudi royal family, has five dairy farms with 36,000 cows.

The desert farms are magnificent monuments to unsustainable agriculture. The Saudis thought they had water to waste.  In the late 1970s, when pumping started, the sandstone rocks contained around 400 million acre-feet of water, enough to fill Lake Erie. The water had percolated underground during the last ice age, when Arabia was wet. So it was not being replaced. It was fossil water — and like Saudi oil, once it is gone it will be gone for good. And that time is now coming. In recent years, the Saudis have been pumping up the underground reserves of water at a rate of 16 million acre-feet a year. Hydrologists estimate that only a fifth of the reserve remains, and it could be gone before the decade is out. The emptying of water reserves is making food production at home impossible.

In 2008, the Saudi government announced it would end wheat subsidies, with the aim of phasing out all production by 2016. Instead, it would import wheat. The enormous cowsheds would be kept but their water needs reduced by feeding the animals on foreign fodder. Just as the Saudis abandoned their goal of food self-sufficiency came the first world food-price spike and the Saudis key grain suppliers started banning exports to protect their home consumers. Finding it impossible to feed itself, and losing faith in global markets to provide future food, unwilling to be reliant on the vagaries of the international food markets, Saudi Arabia came up with another plan: Buy up farmland in foreign countries. A sign of the power of Saudi land grabbers can be seen by how the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s director general, the Senegalese diplomat Jacques Diouf who was on record a couple of years before as condemning international land grabbing as “neo-colonialism.” awarding the king, Saudi Arabia’s land-grabber-in-chief, his organization’s Agricola Medal “in recognition of his support for improving world food security.” It was an ignominious retreat for the world’s top food official.

Prince Sultan Al Kabeer, proceeded to buy a 48-year lease to grow wheat on 22,000 irrigated acres on the banks of the Nile, north of Khartoum in Sudan. Saudi Arabia is the world’s second-largest importer of rice. Securing rice supplies had become a key concern of the Saudis, since India and Pakistan cut rice exports in 2008. The majority of its land grabs have been to grow rice. TADCO boss Mohammed al-Rajhi signed up local chiefs in the Philippine island of the mainly Muslim island of Mindanao for a scheme to plant rice, pineapples, bananas, and corn on up to 190,000 acres of communally owned land . The national government was in favor, and so too was the leader of the liberation movement, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Far from opposing foreign land grabs, he backed the deal “because it is coming from our Muslim brothers.”

The Bin Laden Group led a consortium to grow rice on more than a million acres in the Indonesian province of Papua, that is presently on hold. At one swoop, it gave the Saudis a third of the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate, a $5 billion megaproject being developed by the Indonesian government. The Bin Laden Group is also behind a scheme to grow rice in Africa. The other main backer is Sheikh Saleh Kamel, a veteran Saudi billionaire who runs a satellite TV group. The AgroGlobe project aims to produce 7 million tons of rice a year within seven years on 1.7 million acres of irrigated land in the West African Muslim states of Mali, Senegal, Sudan, Mauritania, and Niger, as well as in northern Nigeria.

The Senegalese government is keen. “We are offering Saudi Arabia 400,000 hectares of farmland,” a senior official said in late 2010. Most of the land is on the banks of the River Senegal, which will provide the water for irrigation in an arid land. Contracts say that 70 percent of the rice would be destined for Saudi mouths, and only 30 percent for locals. So this is a water grab as well as a land grab. The government says existing rice farmers there “have no problems with these lease deals.” But traditional farmers do object, and local cattle herders will lose vital dry-season pastures near the river.

One assessment at the end of 2009 found that Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states were responsible for a third of the land purchased, leased, or under offer to foreigners by poorer countries. The Kuwaiti government has followed the Saudis in doing deals to grow rice in Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines, Burma, Laos and Cambodia. The United Arab Emirates' private equity company, Dubai-based Abraaj Capital, said in 2008 that it had acquired 800,000 acres of “barren” farmland to grow rice and wheat in the Pakistani provinces of Punjab, Sindh, and Baluchistan. Others securing land in the Punjab, Pakistan’s breadbasket, included the Emirates Investment Group, a private group in Sharjah, and Abu Dhabi-based Al Qudra Holding. If even a fraction of this goes ahead, the implications could be grim for small Pakistani farmers, most of whom are sharecropping tenants of feudal families with vast landholdings who dominate Pakistani politics as well as the military. They will lose control of their plots of land and will probably not even find regular work as laborers on the new mechanized farms. UAE officials also said its companies had acquired 700,000 acres of Sudan, paying virtually nothing, on condition only that they invest.

But the most dramatic dealing has been from the tiny island state of Qatar. It is super-rich, even by Gulf standards. Nobody knows quite where the state’s wealth ends and the emir’s wealth begins. For now, they amount to the same thing. In 2011, it was the world’s largest investor in overseas real estate. Much of that was spent in cities. In London alone, it spent billions buying the upscale department store Harrods and the vacated U.S. embassy in Grosvenor Square, while redeveloping the billion-dollar Chelsea Barracks site and building Europe’s tallest tower, the “shard of glass” near London Bridge. It also owns almost half of the Canary Wharf financial district.But the most dramatic dealing has been from the tiny island state of Qatar. The emir’s vehicle for farm grabs is a company called Hassad Food. It is the agricultural arm of the Qatar Investment Authority and thus effectively the property of the emir. It has done deals for land in Vietnam, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Senegal, Kenya, Argentina, Ukraine and Turkey. It has set up partnerships with cattle ranches in Tajikistan and bought 370,000 acres of sheep ranches across three states of Australia. In Brazil, it is developing a 25-million-ton-a-year sugar scheme and a poultry project that will supply most of Qatar’s chicken and eggs. Hassad says it has secured 250,000 acres in the Philippines to grow rice.

Indonesia’s agriculture minister Suswono went wooing Gulf states in 2010, offering 19 million acres of “sleeping land” for agribusiness investment. The veteran chief minister of Sarawak, the Borneo province of Malaysia, was looking for Gulf investment in his “Halal hub,” 190,000 acres of former rainforest. He got a promise of a billion dollars from Perigon Advisory, an investment fund based in Bahrain.

In 2010, Gulf money was paying for Sudan to bring in Egyptians to revamp its large but dilapidated Gezira irrigation project — originally built by the British in the 1920s. Gezira grows cotton, sorghum, wheat, and groundnuts across 2.5 million acres of rich alluvial soil close to where the Blue and White Niles join. Weeks later, Khartoum and Islamabad were in discussions about shipping in Pakistanis to work the new farms.

The Pharos Financial Group, a Dubai-based hedge fund, is paying up to $100 million for Bruce Rastetter, an American pig farmer to start transforming part of Tanzania into a replica of the American Midwest. The plan is to take a 99-year lease on three huge refugee camps in southwest Tanzania that have housed refugees from the brutal conflicts in central Africa, including the Rwanda massacres of 1994. By late 2011, the Tanzanian government had emptied the first camp, the 60,000-acre Lugufu camp, which had been home to 100,000 people. Rastetter’s, Agrisol, would soon be growing corn and soy and raising poultry, initially for sale within Tanzania. Pharos promises worker training, community development funds, and a system to buy produce from outgrowers, but the heart of the scheme will be a vast expanse of commercialized, high-tech agriculture — Iowa in Tanzania.

While the Western media concentrated on the politics of reform, many on the streets were protesting as much about bread prices as corruption. They were waving baguettes as they marched into Cairo’s Tahrir Squar. In Yemen, they turned on their leaders brandishing chapatis. Saudi Arabia increased food subsidies twice. Kuwait promised fourteen months of free food rations. Bahrain simply handed out cash as the people rioted against the ruling Al Khalifa royal family. The politics of food is now a serious issue for the princes of petroleum. And land-grabbing right now seems like their only salvation.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Syria - all hope not yet lost

The peaceful demonstrations that marked the beginning of the Syrian uprising in February 2011 seem to have faded into a distant past. As in other countries, the uprising in Syria began with peaceful demonstrations for democratic reform. Even Syrian state television now admits that the revolution began with legitimate, non-violent demands for much-needed reforms. But the struggle devolved into a violence that has now brought the country to the brink of a full-blown civil war. The tactics of nonviolence can be a frustrating path for those who seek freedom. But, nevertheless, popular, peaceful protests have the best chance of winning.

While most Syrians desire a complete return to the peaceful revolution that began over a year ago, the regime seems quite content with an armed opposition. The Syrian military can contain a low-level insurgency, while a full return to large-scale protests on the streets presents a more difficult challenge. For some months the regime largely left these activists alone as the military attacked the armed resistance in their strongholds but the regime has re-focused on the peaceful demonstrators. Scores of the most popular non-violent movements were rounded up, driving them underground again. Similarly, opponents of armed struggler and foreign intervention find themselves increasingly charged with collaboration with the mukhabarat, Syria's internal intelligence services.

"Each day seems to bring new additions to the grim catalogue of atrocities: assaults against civilians; brutal human rights violations; mass arrests; and execution-style killings of whole families,"
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly. For the moment, the efforts of the United Nations have not been able to establish good-faith negotiations or even a permanent ceasefire.

Active since the dawn of the Syrian uprising, the Syrian Non-Violence Movement has endeavoured to engage a silent majority in actions of resistance and civil disobedience to mark their contempt for the regime. "We need support, but not in arms," Omar al Assil, an activist in the Syrian nonviolence movement, explained. "Weapons do not help anyone," he added. "Our weapon is civil disobedience."

"The violence is drastically escalating and the sectarian strife has become unavoidable with the mounting numbers of explosions, torture, and massacres in many areas in the country,"
Jasmin Roman, a Syrian youth activist related. "The hyperinflation, rising unemployment, scarcity and skyrocketing prices of essential food and non-food items are exhausting the Syrians and exacerbating their struggle to afford their daily basic needs," Roman said.

The non-violent movements that gathered momentum early on have become increasingly sidelined by the Free Syrian Army. The Syrian regime's bloody crackdown on dissent pushed many Syrian protesters to raise angry calls earlier this year for an armed uprising, for foreign military intervention to stop the killing. The FSA began as a collection of soldiers who refused to fire on peacefully protesting civilians, who then left the army and began to form militias aimed at protecting these demonstrators. Soon, this purely defensive function gave way to small raids and ambushes of government troops, thereby fuelling the regime's claims that protestors are not peaceful, and that they cannot be dealt with peacefully. The armed opposition helped Mr. Assad gain the upper hand by justifying the government's battle against so-called terrorists.

 The escalating violence has prompted the return of 81-year-old Islamic scholar and activist Sheik Jawdat Said to the region. He is little known in the West, but remains an influential teacher, according to activists in Damascus. He renounces all recourse to violence in the Syrian movement, including that of the FSA. "We need to get rid of armies. Soldiers are rifles used by others," is his concise answer to a question about the growing popularity of the armed wing of the uprising.

 According to Amr Azm, a Syrian-born professor of Middle East history at Shawnee State University in Ohio, Said influenced the "peace wing" in Syria. "He's important because he's the last of what is holding that line together," Azm told IPS. "Everyone else has moved to the military wing. "Peaceful protests are still an integral part of the movement," he said. But "'Long Live the Free Syrian Army,' is what people are chanting in a nonviolent protest."

Some people say we can't expect the revolution to adhere to its original principles after the indiscriminate violence and the spilt blood. Not only should we expect it, we should demand it. If we have learnt anything we should know what is wrong will never be right; a lie cannot be fabricated into fact; an unjust crime cannot be repackaged as a just act. No number of martyrs, not 10,000, not even a million, changes those principles. To betray them is to betray the ones who sacrificed their lives for Syria. To betray them is to admit we are nothing but traitors to ourselves.

Without a firm commitment to civil disobedience, the largely Sunni protesters may not be able to gain the support of Syria’s minorities. Assad's ruthless crackdown was designed to force people to take up arms, which in turn allowed him to warn Syrian minorities to stick with him and endorse his iron fist. Syria is a country composed of many minorities— Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, Armenians and others—and those minorities are terribly afraid of massacres that might take place if the conflict escalates. He seeks to turn the protests into a sectarian, violent cause. What Assad seems to fear most are nonviolent protesters. Their stand for a secular, democratic Syria could entice the minorities, such as Kurds and Christians, to support them. Peaceful resistance does not mean no resistance. It does not mean non-action. It involves direct action, like general strikes, which is capable of paralyzing the country.

A Libya-style NATO intervention (as some seem to desire) in bringing about a truly peaceful, free Syria by a  military solution, for all practical purposes, does not exist - at least not without destroying the nation. It is a choice between non-violence or non-existence. As Louay Hussein, an intellectual leader of nonviolent tactics and a founder of the group Building the Syrian State, said last year, “If we enter the cycle of violence we will not find a democratic solution but the division of the country.” The members of Building the Syrian State say they are seeking a "third way" that isn't asking for foreign help or seeking to bring down President Assad by fighting.

With perseverance of the Syrian people will eventually prevail but to ensure this outcome, they must go beyond the  political and ethnic differences that the Assad regime is so keen to exploit against them. More importantly,  is that they do so without resorting to the same violence that characterizes the Syrian government. The use of violence will represent a failure of the revolution and a victory for Bashar Assad. Public attention has been captured by activists who are attempting to recapture the peaceful mantle of the early protest movement. These hold the potential to mobilize a broader-based movement against the regime. Non-violence, like any other goal, must be nurtured by a hope in a better tomorrow. We must move forward and never let our hope for peace and justice die.

And they are supposed to be the good guys!!

The chief correspondent of Channel 4 News, Alex Thomson,  allege  the Free Syrian Army deliberately guided himdself and his Channel 4 News colleagues into what he described as a "free-fire zone" in "no-mans land"with the deliberate purpose of getting them killed by the Syrian government army.

"I'm quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus."
and he added. "In a war where they slit the throats of toddlers back to the spine, what's the big deal in sending a van full of journalists into the killing zone? It was nothing personal."

Thursday, June 07, 2012

chinese crackers

China has the second largest GDP in the world now. But in per capita terms, its is 95th in world rankings. The per capita GDP is still around $4000 to $5000 (depending on how you calculate and what population figures you use).

For the past 11 years China has not released an important index of the economy called the Gini coefficient which gives a measure of inequality. If the Gini is 0 there is perfect equality, if it is 1 there is complete inequality. Usually the measure is around 0.3 in developing countries. Nordic countries have lowest Gini coefficient of 0.2, meaning their societies have the least inequality.

In 2000, China's Gini was officially reported at 0.412, already on the higher side. According to World Bank estimates, it is steadily increasing and stood at 0.47 in 2009. According to state run China Daily, the richest 10% of China's population earns 23 times more than the poorest 10%. In 1988, this rich poor gap was 7 times. The number of millionaires in China grew to 1.4 million last year, up 16% year-onyear, according to a report by US based think tank Boston Consulting Group. On the other hand, average income in rural areas is just 5919 yuan or about $888 per year. Even in urban areas, migrants workers tend to get two thirds the wage of an urban registered worker. Migrant workers also worked longer hours and got less social security benefits.

Physical evidence of vast inequality is obvious in China's cities. Malls, skyscrapers, luxury brands (China is now the world's second largest luxury brand market, after Japan), protected mansions and limousines are everywhere but you don't have to go out of the way to find beggars at traffic lights or outside tourist hotspots. In cities, people can be seen selling cigarettes or small novelties on pavements, or collecting plastic bottles from garbage bins in airports and department stores.

 "If low-income families cannot afford a decent standard of living, rich families will not enjoy any sense of security. That is a problem for the world, not just China," Yang Yiyong, director of the Social Development Research Institute said.

The government are planning a package of measures to address growing inequality, according to media reports in China. The guideline is "for the government to give up a little tax revenue, for companies to give up a little profit and for rich people to give up a little interest."

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

industrial farming

Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers Union, proposes farms that would breed thousands of animals. At the heart of Kendall's defence of super farms is his belief that bigger farms are more profitable (or less loss-making) so can afford better equipment, more space and experts able "to protect the environment and animals".

Presently, UK farms are dwarfed by the mega farms of other countries. In the US, farms with 10,000 pigs are not uncommon and Saudi Arabia has a super dairy with a herd of 37,000. A typical UK unit holds 100 to 150 head of cattle or pigs.

Critics who claim they will create mass herds in conditions where injuries will go unnoticed, disease will spread quickly and the environment will struggle to cope with the slurry and pollution. Last year, there was a move to house 8,000 dairy cows at Nocton, Lincolnshire. This application from Nocton Dairies was withdrawn because of official concerns about water pollution and the animal welfare protests.  There are plans for a farm for 2,500 sows and their piglets at Foston, Derbyshire, and another for 1,000 cows in Powys, Wales.

The UK is about 62% self-sufficient in the food it could produce overall and 40% self-sufficient with regard to pork