Friday, July 24, 2015

A food revolution

Organic farming abandons the use of agro-chemicals. Research has shown that agriculture is a major catalyst for climate change, second only to industrialisation. Climate change mitigation exponents point to the green revolution era which today is blamed for playing a key part in warming global temperatures. Climate change critics say since that time, human agriculture has supplanted about 70 percent of grasslands, 50 percent of savannas and 45 percent of temperate forests. As such, farming has become the leading cause of deforestation in the tropical regions and one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emission in addition to being a perennial source of non-renewable groundwater mining and general water pollution.

The green revolution refers to a series of research and development and technology transfer initiatives that started soon after the Second World War in 1945, which increased agricultural production worldwide. The initiatives, led by one Norman Borlaung who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, were credited as having saved over a billion people from starvation.

It involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernisation of management techniques, distribution of hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilisers and pesticides to farmers. Though food production increased, agricultural biodiversity and wild biodiversity suffered as it relied on just a few high-yield varieties of each crop, brewing concerns about the susceptibility of a food supply to pathogens that cannot be controlled by agrochemicals, and permanent loss of valuable genetic traits bred into traditional varieties over thousands of years.

That effect is already being felt, with agricultural experts and ecologists warning of the threat from the shrinking number of pollinators as they are under siege from use of pesticides. Pollinators, comprising of mainly birds and insects such as bees and beetles, transfer pollen from one plant to another in order to fertilize them.

To restrain that impact, some have turned to organic farming techniques and, following the discourse today, support for organic farming is regularly part of a bigger social and political mindset -- one that holds the view that natural is best, and that current farming trends are part of a myriad of threats to the health of the earth and its people. This idea seems to have set the organic movement squarely against intensive farming and chemical-based agribusiness proponents. In the academia, the civic world and the media -- arguments rage more fiercely today than ever before.

But a convergence of views is taking shape, which places organic farming well on course to be the future. Already, elements of the organic philosophy are starting to be deployed in mainstream agriculture. Conventional agronomists too are increasingly getting troubled about the long-term sustainability of chemical use and the integrity of the soil. Could it be that both sides of agriculture's great divide now want the same thing? There are however questions about the feasibility of employing pure organic means on a large scale commercial farming. If we can embrace and scale up such initiatives as organic farming and other sustainable environmental management activities, this will lead to building resilience in vulnerable communities and promote sustainable development. Many years ago, crop yield was everything, but now there has been a major recognition of the need to maintain organic materials in soil

The United Nations and the government are encouraging a departure from conventional farming. The concept of ‘food sovereignty’ was coined in South America. Via Campesina or Peasant’s Movement, is largely responsible for making this concept popular. According to this notion, each nation has the complete right to formulate its agricultural policies including food-aid and food-trade. This policy of ‘food sovereignty’ evolved through a rather bitter experience of interventions from the corporate sector and the countries exporting food which eroded local capacity to produce food and failed to engage farmers in their traditional occupation.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Matewan (video clip)

Some drug dealers go to prison. Some get filthy rich.

The Sacklers, are the newest members of Forbes' 2015 List of Richest US Families and are worth $14 billion, making them the 16th richest family in the country.

The Sacklers own 100% of Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company that makes Oxycontin, the opiate analgesic that helped spark a new generation of pain pill and heroin addicts. Oxycontin is time-release pain reliever, originally billed as addiction-proof, has generated the vast majority of Purdue Pharma's $35 billion in sales since it was first introduced in 1995. Purdue is currently generating about $3 billion a year in revenues, again most of it from Oxycontin. Sales of oxycodone jumped from fewer than 10 million prescriptions a year in 1991 to more than 53 million prescriptions in 2012, largely impelled by the introduction of Oxycontin and Purdue Pharma's aggressive marketing campaign for the drug. And while it's difficult to isolate Oxycontin from other opiate analgesics, it has been a big driver in the fourfold increase in prescription opiate sales between 1999 and 2010. Thanks to Purdue's aggressive marketing campaign, and especially to the claim the Oxycontin was not addictive, primary care physicians soon began prescribing it for a wide array of painful symptoms. By 2002, Oxycontin was bringing in $1.5 billion a year.

Of course, people interested in getting high off opiates quickly figured out that they could just crush the pill to overcome its time-release mechanism, snort the powder, and get as high—or higher—than they could with heroin. Purdue knew people would crush and snort the pills, but said they didn't, while their own tests indicated as much and how much more addictive snorting was. Then they kept that formulation on the market for several more years until there was an epidemic of addiction, Then they changed the formula. They didn't actually stop making the old formula pills, they just made less of them, so those old pills were (and are) worth much more on the black market. But that's the holy grail of prescription addiction, how hooked can we get them without using a needle Overdoses, accidental deaths, and addiction followed. Purdue has been punished for its misbehavior—it was forced to pay $635 million in fines after pleading guilty to false marketing charges brought by the Justice Department, and is facing a possible $1 billion payout in a false marketing suit brought by the state of Kentucky, one of the hardest hit by "hillbilly heroin." But even numbers like those are chump change when you're sitting on a $14 billion fortune.

The Sacklers, whose product has killed thousands and addicted tens or hundreds of thousands more, get to join the list of the country's wealthiest families.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Work (video)

Part 1 

Part 2

Facts of the Day

WITH less than 5% of the world’s population, the United States holds roughly a quarter of its prisoners: more than 2.3m people, including 1.6m in state and federal prisons and over 700,000 in local jails and immigration pens. Per head, the incarceration rate in the land of the free has risen seven-fold since the 1970s, and is now five times Britain’s, nine times Germany’s and 14 times Japan’s. At any one time, one American adult in 35 is in prison, on parole or on probation. A third of African-American men can expect to be locked up at some point, and one in nine black children has a parent behind bars.

US states with larger prison populations have no less crime than states with smaller ones. 

Many prisoners now are old: the number over the age of 50 has more than tripled since 1994. Many of these people are no longer dangerous, but locking up the elderly—and treating their ailments—costs taxpayers a fortune, typically $68,000 per inmate each year. 

The longer prisoners are inside, the harder it is for them to reintegrate into society. And mass incarceration has contributed to the breakdown of working-class families, especially black ones. Among African-Americans aged 25-54, there are only 83 free men for every 100 women, which is one reason why so many black mothers raise children alone. Men behind bars cannot support their offspring, and when they are released, many states make it preposterously hard for them to find jobs.

Some 49,000 Americans are serving life without the possibility of ever being released. (In England and Wales the number is just 55.) Such harshness is unnecessary. A 50-year sentence does not deter five times as much as a ten-year sentence (though it does cost over five times as much).

Drug offenders are around 20% of the prison population

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Yemen Tragedy

Twenty million people in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, are at risk from hunger or thirst. That’s 80 percent of the country’s population, which according to UN agencies badly needs emergency supplies of food and water, along with fuel and medicine. The cause isn’t an earthquake or a tsunami. The main reason for all this suffering is months of merciless bombardment and blockade led by the richest Arab countries—Saudi Arabia and its neighboring petro-princedoms—and backed by the United States. The countries bombing Yemen are targeting a rebel group they claim is a proxy for Iran. In fact, the conflict in Yemen is rooted in internal disputes.

In 2011, a nationwide uprising akin to those in Tunisia and Egypt deposed the country’s autocratic leader, ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih. There was no democratic election before his successor, the Saudi- and US-backed ‘Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, took over—he ran unopposed. And there was no relief from the terrible poverty, unemploymentand government corruption that brought about the popular revolt. A reformist movement and militia called the Houthis—which had launched a handful of rebellions against Salih in the past—took advantage of widespread discontent to conquer the capital, Sanaa. Hadi fled into exile, and the Saudis started bombing shortly thereafter. Local militias in central and southern Yemen have resisted the Houthis and army units still loyal to Salih, who is now allied with his former foes. Meanwhile, a local franchise of al-Qaeda is fighting everybody.

The Yemenis caught in this crossfire were already thirsty and hungry before the war—unlike their Saudi neighbors, they don’t have a lucrative oil supply. Now, with Yemen’s borders closed, its airports shut down and Arab navies enforcing an embargo at sea, the situation is breathtaking in its desperation. Saudi Arabia and its friends, including the United States, support Hadi. Yet they have no discernible plan for winning beyond reducing Yemen to rubble and besieging civilians in the hope of securing the Houthis’ surrender.

The United States has announced a full suspension of aid to Yemen for a year, undercutting its occasional murmurs of humanitarian concern.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Jimmy Reid Speech

Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society. In some intellectual circles it is treated almost as a new phenomenon. It has, however, been with us for years. What I believe is true is that today it is more widespread, more pervasive than ever before. Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It's the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies. 

Many may not have rationalised it. May not even understand, may not be able to articulate it. But they feel it. It therefore conditions and colours their social attitudes. Alienation expresses itself in different ways in different people. It is to be found in what our courts often describe as the criminal antisocial behaviour of a section of the community. It is expressed by those young people who want to opt out of society, by drop-outs, the so-called maladjusted, those who seek to escape permanently from the reality of society through intoxicants and narcotics. Of course, it would be wrong to say it was the sole reason for these things. But it is a much greater factor in all of them than is generally recognised. 

Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially de-humanises some people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human beings, self-centred and grasping. The irony is, they are often considered normal and well-adjusted. It is my sincere contention that anyone who can be totally adjusted to our society is in greater need of psychiatric analysis and treatment than anyone else. They remind me of the character in the novel, Catch 22, the father of Major Major. He was a farmer in the American Mid-West. He hated suggestions for things like medi-care, social services, unemployment benefits or civil rights. He was, however, an enthusiast for the agricultural policies that paid farmers for not bringing their fields under cultivation. From the money he got for not growing alfalfa he bought more land in order not to grow alfalfa. He became rich. Pilgrims came from all over the state to sit at his feet and learn how to be a successful non-grower of alfalfa. His philosophy was simple. The poor didn't work hard enough and so they were poor. He believed that the good Lord gave him two strong hands to grab as much as he could for himself. He is a comic figure. But think – have you not met his like here in Britain? Here in Scotland? I have. 

It is easy and tempting to hate such people. However, it is wrong. They are as much products of society, and of a consequence of that society, human alienation, as the poor drop-out. They are losers. They have lost the essential elements of our common humanity. Man is a social being. Real fulfilment for any person lies in service to his fellow men and women. The big challenge to our civilisation is not Oz, a magazine I haven't seen, let alone read. Nor is it permissiveness, although I agree our society is too permissive. Any society which, for example, permits over one million people to be unemployed is far too permissive for my liking. Nor is it moral laxity in the narrow sense that this word is generally employed – although in a sense here we come nearer to the problem. It does involve morality, ethics, and our concept of human values. The challenge we face is that of rooting out anything and everything that distorts and devalues human relations. 

Let me give two examples from contemporary experience to illustrate the point. 

Recently on television I saw an advert. The scene is a banquet. A gentleman is on his feet proposing a toast. His speech is full of phrases like "this full-bodied specimen". Sitting beside him is a young, buxom woman. The image she projects is not pompous but foolish. She is visibly preening herself, believing that she is the object of the bloke's eulogy. Then he concludes – "and now I give...", then a brand name of what used to be described as Empire sherry. Then the laughter. Derisive and cruel laughter. The real point, of course, is this. In this charade, the viewers were obviously expected to identify not with the victim but with her tormentors. 

The other illustration is the widespread, implicit acceptance of the concept and term "the rat race". The picture it conjures up is one where we are scurrying around scrambling for position, trampling on others, back-stabbing, all in pursuit of personal success. Even genuinely intended, friendly advice can sometimes take the form of someone saying to you, "Listen, you look after number one." Or as they say in London, "Bang the bell, Jack, I'm on the bus." 

To the students [of Glasgow University] I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts, and before you know where you are, you're a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?" 

Profit is the sole criterion used by the establishment to evaluate economic activity. From the rat race to lame ducks. The vocabulary in vogue is a give-away. It's more reminiscent of a human menagerie than human society. The power structures that have inevitably emerged from this approach threaten and undermine our hard-won democratic rights. The whole process is towards the centralisation and concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands. The facts are there for all who want to see. Giant monopoly companies and consortia dominate almost every branch of our economy. The men who wield effective control within these giants exercise a power over their fellow men which is frightening and is a negation of democracy. 

Government by the people for the people becomes meaningless unless it includes major economic decision-making by the people for the people. This is not simply an economic matter. In essence it is an ethical and moral question, for whoever takes the important economic decisions in society ipso facto determines the social priorities of that society. 

From the Olympian heights of an executive suite, in an atmosphere where your success is judged by the extent to which you can maximise profits, the overwhelming tendency must be to see people as units of production, as indices in your accountants' books. To appreciate fully the inhumanity of this situation, you have to see the hurt and despair in the eyes of a man suddenly told he is redundant, without provision made for suitable alternative employment, with the prospect in the West of Scotland, if he is in his late forties or fifties, of spending the rest of his life in the Labour Exchange. Someone, somewhere has decided he is unwanted, unneeded, and is to be thrown on the industrial scrap heap. From the very depth of my being, I challenge the right of any man or any group of men, in business or in government, to tell a fellow human being that he or she is expendable. 

The concentration of power in the economic field is matched by the centralisation of decision-making in the political institutions of society. The power of Parliament has undoubtedly been eroded over past decades, with more and more authority being invested in the Executive. The power of local authorities has been and is being systematically undermined. The only justification I can see for local government is as a counter- balance to the centralised character of national government. 

Local government is to be restructured. What an opportunity, one would think, for de-centralising as much power as possible back to the local communities. Instead, the proposals are for centralising local government. It's once again a blue-print for bureaucracy, not democracy. If these proposals are implemented, in a few years when asked "Where do you come from?" I can reply: "The Western Region." It even sounds like a hospital board. 

It stretches from Oban to Girvan and eastwards to include most of the Glasgow conurbation. As in other matters, I must ask the politicians who favour these proposals – where and how in your calculations did you quantify the value of a community? Of community life? Of a sense of belonging? Of the feeling of identification? These are rhetorical questions. I know the answer. Such human considerations do not feature in their thought processes. 

Everything that is proposed from the establishment seems almost calculated to minimise the role of the people, to miniaturise man. I can understand how attractive this prospect must be to those at the top. Those of us who refuse to be pawns in their power game can be picked up by their bureaucratic tweezers and dropped in a filing cabinet under "M" for malcontent or maladjusted. When you think of some of the high flats around us, it can hardly be an accident that they are as near as one could get to an architectural representation of a filing cabinet. 

If modern technology requires greater and larger productive units, let's make our wealth-producing resources and potential subject to public control and to social accountability. Let's gear our society to social need, not personal greed. Given such creative re-orientation of society, there is no doubt in my mind that in a few years we could eradicate in our country the scourge of poverty, the underprivileged, slums, and insecurity. 

Even this is not enough. To measure social progress purely by material advance is not enough. Our aim must be the enrichment of the whole quality of life. It requires a social and cultural, or if you wish, a spiritual transformation of our country. A necessary part of this must be the restructuring of the institutions of government and, where necessary, the evolution of additional structures so as to involve the people in the decision-making processes of our society. The so-called experts will tell you that this would be cumbersome or marginally inefficient. I am prepared to sacrifice a margin of efficiency for the value of the people's participation. Anyway, in the longer term, I reject this argument. 

To unleash the latent potential of our people requires that we give them responsibility. The untapped resources of the North Sea are as nothing compared to the untapped resources of our people. I am convinced that the great mass of our people go through life without even a glimmer of what they could have contributed to their fellow human beings. This is a personal tragedy. It's a social crime. The flowering of each individual's personality and talents is the pre-condition for everyone's development. 

In this context education has a vital role to play. If automation and technology is accompanied as it must be with a full employment, then the leisure time available to man will be enormously increased. If that is so, then our whole concept of education must change. The whole object must be to equip and educate people for life, not solely for work or a profession. The creative use of leisure, in communion with and in service to our fellow human beings, can and must become an important element in self-fulfilment. 

Universities must be in the forefront of development, must meet social needs and not lag behind them. It is my earnest desire that this great University of Glasgow should be in the vanguard, initiating changes and setting the example for others to follow. Part of our educational process must be the involvement of all sections of the university on the governing bodies. The case for student representation is unanswerable. It is inevitable. 

My conclusion is to re-affirm what I hope and certainly intend to be the spirit permeating this address. It's an affirmation of faith in humanity. All that is good in man's heritage involves recognition of our common humanity, an unashamed acknowledgement that man is good by nature. Burns expressed it in a poem that technically was not his best, yet captured the spirit. In "Why should we idly waste our prime...": 

"The golden age, we'll then revive, each man shall be a brother, 

In harmony we all shall live and till the earth together, 

In virtue trained, enlightened youth shall move each fellow creature, 

And time shall surely prove the truth that man is good by nature." 

It's my belief that all the factors to make a practical reality of such a world are maturing now. I would like to think that our generation took mankind some way along the road towards this goal. It's a goal worth fighting for. 


Saturday, July 04, 2015

Wage slaves or serfs

Saddam Hussein was building up its chemical weapons arsenal with the help of a British firm, Margaret Thatcher’s government decided not to oppose it. In the 1980s Iraq, which was engaged in a brutal war against neighboring Iran, was seeking to boost its manufacture of chemical weapons. It succeeded, and numerous attacks resulted in estimated 50,000 Iranian deaths during the war and extra 50,000 deaths from prolonged effects of the weapons. In 1983, the British government learned about Saddam’s effort to produce mustard gas, but chose not to hamper it, partially because a British firm was involved. The company, Weir Pumps, supplied a number of pumps to an Indian contractor, which built a chemical plant in Iraqi Samarra. The plant was used to produce mustard gas. In 1985, the Thatcher government provided insurance guarantees to a British subsidiary of a German firm, which built a chemical plant in Fallujah. The UK government suspected that the plant would be used to produce mustard gas.

The Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and precursors, did not come into force until 1997. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 did ban the use of chemical weapons in international conflicts with possible reservation for responding to a chemical attack with chemical weapons.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Marx's Song (music video)

Blair's riches

 Tony Blair's fortune now stands at three times the amount he has previously claimed, at some £60 million - which includes 10 homes. Blair, who earns as much as £200,000 for a single speaking engagement, has previously insisted he is worth less than £20 million.

The former prime minister, his wife Cherie and older children Euan, Nicky and Kathryn, now control a property empire covering some 10 homes across England and worth in excess of £25 million. 
Mr and Mrs Blair jointly hold title deeds to a £7.5 million Grade II listed townhouse close to Hyde Park, the £1.7 million mews house behind it, and an £8 million Grade I-listed 17th century manor house, formerly owned by Sir John Gielgud, near Aylesbury, Bucks. Cherie and Euan, 31, own the £4.4 million Georgian townhouse in Marylebone, West London, where he lives with wife Suzanne. Mrs Blair and her son also own 24 rented flats spread across properties in Stockport and Manchester, and purchased under the name Oldbury Residential Limited. Aspiring football agent Nicky, 30, owns a £1.8 million four-storey townhouse in Marylebone, West London, while Kathryn's name appears on the deeds to £1.2 million mews house which backs onto Euan's home. Since 2008 the family may also have made gross profits of £1.6 million after selling three more London properties and former Sedgefield MP Mr Blair's constituency home in County Durham. The figure helps offset Mr and Mrs Blair's far larger mortgages with Lloyds Bank and JP Morgan, for whom Mr Blair works as a £2 million per year adviser.
His profit-making and philanthropic affairs are administered by Tony Blair Associates (TBA) under the auspices of The Office of Tony Blair. Established in 2009, TBA is the trading name for two principal companies, Windrush Ventures Limited (WVL), incorporated in 2007, and Firerush Ventures Limited (FVL), created in 2007.  WVL is the channel for Mr Blair's governmental advisory work, while FVL administers the funding of his work advising companies and sovereign wealth funds. WVL alone is valued at more than £17 million.