Saturday, August 31, 2013

The American Dream was a dream

The "too big to fail" motto echoed in the Wall Street crisis in late 2007 as a definitive statement of the ties to the corporate world and their abandonment of small businesses. "Crony capitalism" has been coined to describe this symbiotic relationship.

Since the over $800 billion bailout, the "one percenters" of the uber rich have increased their wealth by 28 percent while the middle class has lost 5 percent of their earning power. There have been an incredible 9 million jobs-plus lost in the past five years of the Obama administration, as well as a whopping 11.5 million unemployed and 4.2 million people who have been out of jobs for six months.

Even the meager number of jobs being created are 93 percent part-time, low-paying positions primarily in fast food and retail marketing. Thirty-six percent of the Millennial generation is still living at home.  The economy is growing at a pathetic 1.4 growth rate (as usual, it will be revised lower next month) and a 7.4 unemployment rate, which is actually hovering at 14-16 percent.
The stock market has gone through the roof, setting an all-time high with the aid of the Federal Reserve increasing the money supply each month by $87 billion. These QE policies 1, 2 and 3 have devaluated our dollar and have kept the stock market revved up for the one-percenters. Additionally, the cheaper dollar has made it easier for international corporations to sell their products overseas. Although it has made foreign items much more expensive at home.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

No War On Syria

For what can war but endless war still breed?
Till truth and right from violence be freed,
And public faith clear’d from the shameful brand
Of public fraud. In vain doth valour bleed
While avarice and rapine share the land.
John Milton

Sunday, August 25, 2013

the Syrian war

We now have Obama and Cameron bellicosely threatening serious repercussions for the Syrian government if it was found to be responsible for the chemical attack against civilians. Strangely they have not expressed any such similar threats against the Syrian rebel force if they were found to be the culprits.  In May Turkish media reported the arrest of Syrian “rebels” in possession of sarin nerve gas. Also in May, UN official Carla Del Ponte reported that there was “strong, concrete” evidence that sarin had been used by the US/UK backed rebels.  Al Qaeda In Iraq, allies of Al Nusra  boasted of possessing chemical weapons and being prepared to use them and have indeed used them.

The evidence so far for the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government is second-hand and comes from a biased source.

Why would Assad invite United Nations chemical weapons inspectors to Syria, then launch a chemical weapons attack against women and children on the very day they arrive, just miles from where they are staying?

Why would Assad use them against women and children against with nothing to gain instead of against the Syrian Free Army troops?

On Aug. 19, in Ghouta, more than 50 local opposition fighters laid down their arms and switched sides. A few prominent local leaders widely associated with the opposition went on Syrian TV. They denounced the jihadists and their crimes against the local population, and stressed that the Assad administration was the real guardian of the people and their interests. The last thing the Assad would do is commit atrocities against the Ghouta area and the local population which had just changed sides so dramatically.  At Khan al Assal the scene of another chemical attack rebels attacked and executed 120 villagers and soldiers there - the motive being possibly to destroy evidence and witnesses and hinder the UN inspection .

Syria’s allies Russia and Iran have expressed their doubts about the governments culpability.

Paula Vanninen, director of Verifin, the Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. “At the moment, I am not totally convinced because the people that are helping them are without any protective clothing and without any respirators. In a real case, they would also be contaminated and would also be having symptoms.”

Steve Johnson, a leading researcher on the effects of hazardous material exposure at England’s Cranfield University who has worked with Britain’s Ministry of Defense on chemical warfare issues, agrees that “from the details we have seen so far, a large number of casualties over a wide area would mean quite a pervasive dispersal. With that level of chemical agent, you would expect to see a lot of contamination on the casualties coming in, and it would affect those treating them who are not properly protected. We are not seeing that here.” He also said “There are, within some of the videos, examples which seem a little hyper-real, and almost as if they’ve been set up. Which is not to say that they are fake but it does cause some concern. Some of the people with foaming, the foam seems to be too white, too pure, and not consistent with the sort of internal injury you might expect to see, which you’d expect to be bloodier or yellower.”

Gwyn Winfield, editor of CBRNe World magazine, which specialises in chemical weapons issues, said the evidence did not suggest that the chemicals used were of the weapons-grade that the Syrian army possesses in its stockpiles. “We’re not seeing reports that doctors and nurses… are becoming fatalities, so that would suggest that the toxicity of it isn’t what we would consider military sarin. It may well be that it is a lower-grade.”

Dan Kaszeta, a former officer of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps and a leading private consultant, pointed out a number of details absent from the footage so far: “None of the people treating the casualties or photographing them are wearing any sort of chemical-warfare protective gear and despite that, none of them seem to be harmed.” This would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons, including the vast majority of nerve gases, since these substances would not evaporate immediately, especially if they were used in sufficient quantities to kill hundreds of people, but rather leave a level of contamination on clothes and bodies which would harm anyone coming in unprotected contact with them in the hours after an attack. In addition, he says that “there are none of the other signs you would expect to see in the aftermath of a chemical attack, such as intermediate levels of casualties, severe visual problems, vomiting and loss of bowel control.”

John Hart, head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said he had not seen the telltale evidence in the eyes of the victims that would be compelling evidence of chemical weapons use.  “Of the videos that I’ve seen for the last few hours, none of them show pinpoint pupils… this would indicate exposure to organophosphorus nerve agents.”

Chemical and biological weapons researcher Jean Pascal Zanders said that the footage appears to show victims of asphyxiation, which is not consistent with the use of mustard gas or the nerve agents VX or sarin: “I’m deliberately not using the term chemical weapons here,” he said, adding that the use of “industrial toxicants” was a more likely explanation.

“MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières Doctors Without Borders]can neither scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms nor establish who is responsible for the attack,” said Dr. Janssens. “However, the reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events—characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers—strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent.

So my amateur conclusion is that it was elements within the SFA who deployed home-made chemical weapons to discredit Assad and justify US/UK intervention. Hague required little convincing to apportion blame without waiting for any evidence. The press and media have performed their role admirably of not raising questions and uncritically accepting and relaying  US/UK propaganda while challenging Syrian government explanations. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

RIP Narendra Dabholkar

Narendra Dabholkar, the Indian anti-superstition activist, who was campaigning for a law to ban black magic, has been shot dead in the city of Pune. 

Dabholkar and his committee (Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti) was particularly well-known for openly criticising some of India's so-called "godmen", the self-styled Hindu ascetics who claim to perform miracles and are revered by many. He also campaigned against animal sacrifices used in certain rituals.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The 50s - never had it so good?

There is no doubt that many Americans have been suffering from the effects of high unemployment and stagnant wages in recent years but time tends to cloud the mind about the past. Some reminiscence‎ about capitalism’s good ol’ years of the 1950s.

For African-American students in the 1950s the vast majority attended inferior segregated schools and could look forward to menial jobs traditionally reserved for blacks if they could find jobs at all. Only about one in five would even graduate from high school and less than one in twenty would graduate from college. And in the southern states, where the large majority of African-Americans lived, segregation backed by intimidation and, when necessary, violence, was still horrifyingly omnipresent. Very few black people could vote, eat in the same restaurants or stay in the same hotels as white people.

1959 was certainly not producing a decent standard of living for all Americans. Unemployment had come down from its recession peak of 7.5 percent in the summer of 1958, but the percentage of Americans living in poverty, about 22 percent, was about a third higher than at any point during or since the Great Recession of 2007-2009. In the 50s, unlike today, it was seniors who experienced the highest rate of poverty of any age group. In 1959, over a third of America’s seniors lived in poverty, many because many had to face high medical bills without any health insurance coverage. Medicare would not come into existence for several years, meaning that many of them had to turn to their grown children for financial support.

For white women half of them were as likely as white men to graduate from college. If they managed to matriculate, the careers open to women were generally limited to traditional female occupations such as nursing and teaching, which paid far less than those reserved for men. Female doctors, lawyers, college professors and business executives were almost unheard of.Teen birth rates reached record levels in the fifties, peaking at 96.3 per thousand women in 1957 and falling only slightly to 90.4 in 1959  (teen birth rate was 34.3 per thousand in 2010, the lowest on record.)

 It goes without saying that gays and lesbians in the fifties faced almost incomprehensible hostility. Not only were homosexual relationships illegal then, but LGBT Americans who came out of the closet, or were forced out, risked of losing their jobs and being blacklisted for future employment.

Some jobs were extremely dangerous, as evidenced by high rates of accidents and serious health complications. Lax or nonexistent government regulations certainly contributed to those high rates of death, disease and injury. Coal mining alone was responsible for an average of 451 fatalities per year during the 1950s although even that number was down sharply from earlier decades. Thanks in part to much stricter federal regulations, fatalities from coal mining fell to an average of 35 per year between 2006 and 2010. Comparable reductions were seen in other types of mining as well.

Even when those factories and mines weren’t killing or injuring their workers during the fifties, they were frequently spewing pollution into the country’s air and waterways. Before the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of major environmental laws in the 1970s, America’s rivers and lakes along with the air Americans breathed were far more polluted than they are now. Port Clinton is located on Lake Erie, which had nearly become a toxic waste dump by the 1960s due to a massive influx of raw sewage and factory effluents from polluted rivers.

Tobacco companies in those days were still vigorously denying any health risks from their products. Cigarette labels carried no health warnings. Doctors and well-known athletes could be seen promoting smoking on television, in newspapers and on billboards. Over half of adult men and about a third of adult women were smokers in the 1950s and the rate of smoking among women was going up rapidly. Today, with tobacco advertising sharply restricted and health warnings prominently displayed by law tobacco products, barely a fifth of men and less than a fifth of women are smokers.

 1950s automobiles were poorly designed in terms of ensuring passengers survived crashes and, of course, almost none of them came equipped with seat belts of any kind.

Let’s not forget the omnipresent risk of global nuclear annihilation. Families were encouraged to build fallout shelters to protect themselves in the event of a Soviet attack and millions of schoolchildren  regularly participated in air raid drills that bizarrely involved hiding under their desks.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Life as we know it

Once upon a time...

Eugene Debs’ The Appeal to Reason sold more than a million copies a week in the years before the First World War. At its peak in 1912, the radical, if still reformist, Socialist Party of the USA organised 118,000 individual members, published no less than 323 different publications with a combined readership of over two million, polled 900,000 votes in that year’s Presidential election, and elected 1,200 office holders in 340 cities, including 79 mayors in 24 states. Morris Hillquit ran for Mayor of New York on an anti-war platform in August 1918, called for a negotiated peace, and polled 146,000 votes. Victor Berger was elected and re-elected to Congress.

 Socialist opposition to the USA’s entry into the war in 1917 brought a torrent of repression. A total of 2,100 people were arrested and indicted for opposing the war, and over 1,000 convicted, with over 100 of them receiving prison terms of 10 years or more. Debs, the 64 year old party leader, was sentenced in 1918 to 10 years in jail, and was not released until 1921, long after the war was over. 17 COs were sentenced to death, 142 to life in prison, and 345 to prison terms that averaged 16 years.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

The Gravy Train

Royal Mail  chief executive Moya Greene received a 33% pay rise last year taking her income to almost £1.5m.

The CWU's Dave Ward said: " Front-line workers are being squeezed everywhere with inflation and living costs overtaking the value of their pay. But those in the ivory towers of board level continue to award themselves eye-watering sums of cash."