Monday, April 23, 2018

Vote for a Change

The Socialist Party’s case that socialism will be established by the conscious democratic political action of a majority of workers using the electoral machinery, which in this country means parliament. Only a democratically elected socialist majority can introduce socialism after the capture of the machinery of government. Should an anti-socialist, undemocratic minority attempt to sabotage or disrupt social organisation and administration, a socialist society would necessarily take such action as was requisite to ensure social harmony. the democratic state has been forced, against its will, to bring into being methods, institutions, and procedures which have left open the road to power for the workers to travel upon when they know what to do and how to do it. In this country the central institution through which power is exercised is Parliament. To merely send working-class nominees there to control it is not sufficient. The purpose must be to accomplish a revolutionary reorganisation of society, a revolution, in its basis, which will put everybody on an equal footing as participants in the production, distribution and consumption of social requirements as well as in control of society itself.

Politicians spread one of the biggest myths which keep people voting for them and it is that it is possible to "run" capitalism. With no steering wheel, no brakes and no happy end in sight, capitalism is never short of prospective aspiring "drivers" who will do and say anything for a chance to sit up front in the drivers seat. They try to persuade us that they can control market forces until the next crisis exposes that lie, whereupon the politician quickly blames foreigners, . Evidence for the chaotic nature of capitalism is not scarce. The Socialist Party's candidates' mission is simple. No promises of "I'll do this and I'll do that for my constituents", no flattery, no sweet talk. If you vote for the Socialist Party you won't get a wage rise or a tax cut. If you vote for us now, it's not because we've conned you into it with policies full of promises and pledges. We proceed with our advocacy and education until the working class have understood the fundamental facts of their position—the facts that because they do not own the means by which they live they are commodities on the market, never bought unless the buyers (the owners of the means of life) can see a profit to themselves in the transaction, always sold when the opportunity offers because in that only can the necessaries of life be obtained. We have to emphasise the fact that no appreciable change is possible in the working-class condition while they remain commodities, and that the only method by which the alteration can be wrought is by the working class taking the means of life out of the hands of those who at present hold them, and whose private ownership is the cause of the trouble.

Our position is that politicians, whatever their intentions, are actually retarding the development of the only organisation of the working class that can enter into effective conflict with the forces of capitalism. By association with capitalist representatives in both political and economic affairs they induce the idea (which capitalism does everything possible to foster) that the hostility does not exist. But until that fact is clearly understood there can be no material improvement in the workers' condition. It is unfortunate, of course, that the workers do not understand. It makes the task of those who are concerned with the overthrow of capitalism, and the emancipation of the working class from wage-slavery, very difficult. The results of their work seem so very slow a-coming. And some of them tire and drop out of the movement, and others curse the stupidity of the working class, while others again weary of the work, endeavour to secure some immediate consolation by pandering to the ignorance they once may have thought to dispel, and so simply increase the difficulties in the way. The point of the battle should be to put an end to the dirty job of running capitalism.

 For so long as capitalist political parties and their agents control the law-making bodies, the armed forces, courts and police, the administrative and tax-gathering departments, local councils, etc, all organisations and actions, whether industrial or political, are strictly limited in their scope because whenever the government decides that a vital capitalist interest is seriously threatened it will use all of its powers to protect capitalist property and privilege. The government's ability to take such action depends on the willingness of the workers in government administration, the armed forces, and police, etc to carry out orders. When the socialist movement becomes much stronger among the working class generally it will increasingly influence the outlook and sympathies of workers in the administration, armed forces, etc and the government's freedom of action will be correspondingly lessened.

The Coal Wars have not ended

Wilma Steele is one of the founders of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum, located in Matewan. The region has a rich history of people banding together and pushing back against the industry, dating back to the West Virginia Mine Wars. The wars, which took place from 1910 to 1922—starting with the first official strike in 1912—involved more than 10,000 miners who went on strike repeatedly over low wages and deadly working conditions. The West Virginia Mine Wars Museum chronicles it all, from the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912-13 (one of the worst conflicts in American labor history) to the 1920 Battle of Matewan and the Battle of Blair Mountain with 10,000 miners on strike in the largest armed uprising of U.S. citizens outside of wartime, and federal troops were called in to break it up. 

 As immigrants came off the boats in New York, they were offered jobs at the mine, given places to live in their own area of Matewan, and assigned to a shift where they worked according to ethnicity of origin. Cultures were not shared and other languages were not learned, all of which was a tool of the mine owners to avoid unionization—when the miners didn’t know each other, they could resent each other and animosity could grow, which kept them from finding common ground for demanding fair wages and safe conditions. Ultimately, the groups did meet, talk and unionize.  Red bandannas were worn as a simple way to tell who was on their side. One origin of the word “redneck” derives from these bandannas: the term, which is now used with some amount of xenophobia to refer to small-minded people who typically live in rural Southern areas, in this sense is actually a symbol of diversity and working together for a common good.

“Today,” Steele explains “without the unions bringing people together, there is more bigotry. Just how they’ve always wanted it, keeping workers apart instead of fighting together.” 

“The mines used to own people by owning their homes, their stores, their churches, their schools,” Steele says. “Now, they don’t need to, because they own people’s minds. It’s much more psychological.” 

The coal companies donate money to the local schools, she says, so the teachers will endorse the industry. In response to reports of coal-based pollution and sick children, it was the teachers who wrote to the paper to discredit the accusations as liberal propaganda, Steele says, and it wasn’t until a reporter visited Marsh Fork Elementary School and with his finger wiped up a layer of coal dirt to show to the camera that the area finally started to take notice. Today’s workers are paid good wages and when they are fired, it’s blamed on the increasing government regulations that cost King Coal money in upkeep. But the regulations are necessary for the people to live, because they affect their own drinking water and air quality, their own children’s welfare. many miners blame the union and the government for the hard times miners are facing as interest in coal diminishes. From the union perspective, the main reason people are losing their jobs is that the mine owners didn’t want to lose money by keeping up with regulations when they could afford it.

When the victims from the Upper Big Branch explosion in 2010 when 29 miners died as the result of an explosion, were autopsied, it was revealed that 71 percent of them suffered from black lung, the deadly coal dust disease. The industry average is 3.2 percent.

In the neighbouring state of Kentucky a new law will prevent federally-certified radiologists from judging X-rays black lung compensation claims, leaving diagnoses of the disease mostly to physicians who typically work for coal companies. The legislation requires that only pulmonologists — doctors who specialize in the lungs and respiratory system — assess diagnostic black lung X-rays when state black lung claims are filed. Up until now, radiologists, who work in evaluating all types of X-rays and other diagnostic images, had been allowed to diagnose the disease as well. Just six pulmonologists in Kentucky have the federal certification to read black lung X-rays and four of them routinely are hired by coal companies or their insurers.  Those who work for coal companies tend to be conservative in assessing black lung because the coal companies or their insurers pay black lung benefits. The two remaining pulmonologists have generally assessed X-rays on behalf of coal miners but one is semi-retired and his federal certification expires June 1.

"It is curious to me that the legislators feel that the pulmonologist is more qualified to interpret a chest radiograph than a radiologist is," Dr. DePonte said. "This is primarily what radiologists do. It is radiologists who receive all the special training in reading X-rays and other imaging."

Dr. Edward Petsonk, a pulmonologist at West Virginia University with decades of experience and research focused on black lung, points to a 1999 report of pass-fail statistics for physicians taking the NIOSH B reader examination. Two-thirds of the radiologists passed, while the success rate for pulmonologists was 54 percent.

Among the radiologists excluded by the law is Dr. Brandon Crum, who helped expose the biggest clusters ever documented of complicated black lung, the advanced stage of the fatal disease that strikes coal miners. Dr. Crum is the most visible of the excluded radiologists. His clinic in Coal Run Village, Ky., was the focus of a 2016 study by epidemiologists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). They verified 60 cases of complicated black lung that had been diagnosed in a period of about 20 months in 2015 and 2016. NIOSH had previously reported 99 cases nationwide over a five-year period. At the same time, NPR and Ohio Valley ReSource reported nearly 1,000 cases across central Appalachia, prompting NIOSH epidemiologists to declare it the worst epidemic of complicated black lung they'd ever seen. Our ongoing survey of black lung clinics and law offices has the current count of advanced black lung diagnoses at more than 2,200 since 2010.

"Throughout the United States, I know of nowhere where radiologists are taken completely out of the evaluation for potential black lung disease," Dr. Crum said. "That's what we're primarily trained in."

Physicians who read chest X-rays for work-related diseases like black lung are known as "B readers" and are certified by NIOSH for both federal and state compensation claims. B readers do not specifically have to be pulmonologists or radiologists, though they can be both. Radiologists, on the other hand, focus entirely on reading multiple types of X-rays and other diagnostic images. The law also bars out-of-state radiologists who are both NIOSH-certified B readers and medically-licensed in Kentucky. That includes Dr. Kathleen DePonte, a radiologist in Norton, Va., who has read more than 100,000 black lung X-rays in the past 30 years.

 Rep. Adam Koenig, a Republican from Erlanger is the primary sponsor of the changes in the law and admitted  he "relied on the expertise of those who understand the issue — the industry, coal companies and attorneys."

"I do believe the coal industry is writing this bill to exclude certain doctors that they don't like," said Phillip Wheeler, an attorney in Pikeville, Ky., who represents coal miners seeking state black lung benefits.

 Evan Smith, an attorney at the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center in Whitesburg said the new state law "keeps Kentucky coal miners from using highly qualified and reliable experts to prove their state black lung claims [and] looks like just another step in the race to the bottom to gut worker protections."


Treasure Island

British corporate vehicles have enabled fraud on a global scale. The former president of Ukraine used British companies to conceal his property, as did his cronies.

 The “Russian laundromat”, a complex money-laundering scheme that moved $21m out of Russia, was run through Scottish limited partnershipsTransparency International UK (TI-UK) last year analysed 52 corruption cases and found they involved 766 British corporate vehicles, which had laundered some £80bn.

 “The human damage inflicted on the victims of these crimes is still being counted,” it said, in its report Hiding In Plain Sight.

Sophisticated financial crime is impossible without corporate vehicles. Carousel fraud, a scam in which traders import goods, sell them to themselves via related companies, before exporting them and claiming back VAT that they never paid, costs the UK £500m to £1bn a year and that is just one category of crime.

 The UK as a whole loses as much as £193bn a year from fraud, while perhaps another £100bn is laundered through the country’s financial system, according to a National Crime Agency (NCA) report from last year.

David Cameron’s government obliged UK companies to declare a person with significant control (PSC – someone who actually owns the shares) and made it free to search Companies House so as to increase public scrutiny. The trouble is that no one at Companies House is checking the accuracy of the information submitted. No matter how transparent something is, the old tech rule applies: garbage in, garbage out.  In January, Global Witness analysed PSC entries and found 4,000 toddlers owning companies, as well as one beneficial owner who was yet to be born.

The price of incorporation in the British Virgin Islands costs 50 times as much as in the UK.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Banks reap more profits

Trump  promised voters that their fiscal plan was a "middle-class tax relief." Most Americans are seeing little benefit, while the big banks are raking in record profits.
According to new analysis by the Associated Press, six big Wall Street banks made an additional $3.59 billion dollars so far this year thanks to the tax law.
Financial Analyst James Shanahan told the AP:“If there was one significant factor quarter for the big banks that I follow, it was taxes."
The tax law was designed mainly to slash taxes for business, dropping the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The bill also cut individual tax rates, but those changes benefit the rich the most the poorest the least. Meanwhile, health insurance costs continue to rise, which can easily wipe out the meager wage increases middle- and low-income people may get from the tax law.

The quacks expose again

Homeopaths claim that “like cures like”. Remedies are prepared by dissolving a substance believed to cause a given affliction in water, then diluting it many times past the point at which any molecules remain in the solution. A droplet of this water is then applied to plain tablets before they are packaged. GP surgeries that recommend homeopathic remedies are more likely to be rated poorly for their prescribing in general, and to prescribe at greater cost to the NHS and potentially less safely, researchers say.

Scientists collected data from NHS Digital, via the Open Prescribing project, to discover which of 7,618 primary care practices in England prescribed homeopathy between December 2016 and May 2017. In total 644 practices, or 8.5 per cent of the total, prescribed the remedies.
 An average rating for each practice was then generated using 36 measures of prescription performance overall, which the researchers said had been “developed [by Open Prescribing] to address issues of cost, safety or efficacy by doctors and pharmacists”.
The authors wrote, “Even infrequent homeopathy prescribing is strongly associated with poor performance on a range of prescribing quality measures, but not with overall patient recommendation or quality outcomes framework score.”
Surgeries, where homeopathy was prescribed, were found to be more likely to prescribe more expensive and more addictive drugs, and fall foul of national guidelines. Dr Goldacre said the group found “higher use of needlessly expensive drugs, higher prescribing of opioids, breaching British National Formulary guidance on safe prescribing of [the arthritis drug] methotrexate etc”.
In 2010, a Commons science and technology committee report found homeopathic remedies performed no better than placebo, and that the principle they were based on was “scientifically implausible”. “People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness,” Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council said in 2015 after reviewing 225 studies of the remedies. There was “no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy is effective in treating health conditions”, the body concluded

Protect our health, stop harassing migrants

Treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted or infectious diseases is provided by the NHS regardless of residency status and clinics. Often run by charities they are still seen as safe spaces by patients.
But even people who have legal residency are aware their status can change and on the heels of the hostile environment a health tourism crackdown means a visit to hospital now requires foreign nationals to undergo residency checks which can result in a hefty bill for those ineligible for care.
This can result in secondary illnesses, such as cancer or respiratory diseases, which are more common in people with HIV, only coming to the NHS when they are already an emergency – at much greater cost to the NHS.
The government’s immigration strategy is a risk to public health as the "hostile environment" it has created makes migrants less likely to get treatment for infectious diseases, experts have warned.
Migrants living here legally are also affected by a raft of policies which work to deter them from seeking early testing or care for complications, the National Aids Trust (NAT) has told The Independent.
“Migration is the major issue for anyone working on HIV and sexual health,” the charity's director of strategy, Yusef Azad said“One cannot underestimate the degree to which the hostile environment creates an atmosphere of fear and suspicion and distance for many migrant communities from health care.” The result of these barriers “is that we fail to diagnose people with infectious diseases early and it spreads to the general population”, he said, adding that with HIV "the key problem is getting people diagnosed". 
In a deal with the Home Office, the NHS has also agreed to hand over patient names and addresses to immigration officials looking to trace immigration offenders – a move charities have warned has already led to the death of one woman too afraid to seek prompt medical help. Stricter requirements on GP surgeries to seek proof of UK residency from new patients have created another barrier to early testing and detection. People diagnosed late are 10 times more likely to die within a year of diagnosis, but late diagnosis also means more chance of other people being infected and their care is far more costly to the NHS. While 42 per cent of all HIV cases are diagnosed late, typically meaning they have already had the disease for three or four years, the NAT said that among heterosexual migrants late diagnoses account for 53 per cent of cases. “Late diagnosis means greater morbidity, greater mortality, further onward transmission and extra costs to the NHS,” Mr Yusef said. “Far from a deterrent policy the government need to have a proactive engagement policy with these groups, not just to improve migrant health but also public health in general. Pushing back on the hostile environment, and promoting good health in these communities in the face of it, becomes even more difficult when the services to do so are being cut."
Dr Richard Ma, a GP in Islington and a research fellow at Imperial College, London, who specialises in sexual health, told The Independent,I agree there is a very pervasive air around migrants, and it’s very disruptive. I think it really can deter people from accessing care and divulging some bits of their history which may be very relevant to their care."

Gaza Killings Still Continue

The United Nations envoy to the Middle East peace process sent an unusually passionate message to Israel on Friday after a 15-year-old boy was killed by Israeli fire during clashes along the Gaza border. 

"It is OUTRAGEOUS to shoot at children! How does the killing of a child in Gaza today help peace? It doesn’t! It fuels anger and breeds more killing," UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov wrote on Twitter. "Children must be protected from violence, not exposed to it, not killed! This tragic incident must be investigated," he added.

Four Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire on Friday, bringing the total over four weeks of protests to 38 while at least 150 wounded by live fire.

Protecting Pensions in Nicaragua

The Daniel Ortega government of Nicaragua introduced new legislation that increased worker pension contributions and reduced overall pension payments by 5% supposedly for medical care. Employees will now have to contribute 7 percent of their salary to social security, up from a current 6.25 percent.

The vice-president Rosario Murillo, wife of Ortega, had the audacity to call protestors against this austerity new pension law "vampires demanding blood".  Protestors complained in various cities that riot police attacked the demonstrators,  firing tear gas and rubber bullets and that the government had been sending in its supporter groups known as "colectivos" to beat them up. Two protestors were shot dead. Protesters held signs saying: “no more repression” and “we are not scared.”

Former leftist guerrilla leader has been president since 2007 and critics accuse him of trying to set up a dynastic dictatorship embracing the free market and privatisation.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said, “These thuggish attacks on people who were demonstrating peacefully and journalists who were covering the protest left at least one person in hospital and several others badly injured. This represents a blatant and disturbing attempt to curtail their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The Nicaraguan authorities must guarantee that people are able to freely express themselves without fear of repression. The State must put an immediate end to all acts of aggression against the public and the press and launch a timely, impartial and independent investigation to bring to justice all of those responsible for these sinister attacks.”

Friday, April 20, 2018

The future is going backwards

The World Bank is proposing lower minimum wages and greater hiring and firing powers for employers as part of a wide-ranging deregulation of labour markets deemed necessary to prepare countries for the changing nature of work.
A working draft of the bank’s flagship World Development Report – which will urge policy action from governments when it comes out in the autumn – says less “burdensome” regulations are needed so that firms can hire workers at lower cost. The WDR draft says: “High minimum wages, undue restrictions on hiring and firing, strict contract forms, all make workers more expensive vis-à-vis technology.”  The draft for the 2019 WDR says that if workers are expensive to dismiss, fewer will be hired. “Burdensome regulations also make it more expensive for firms to rearrange their workforce to accommodate changing technologies.” The draft says “Rapid changes to the nature of work put a premium on flexibility for firms to adjust their workforce, but also for those workers who benefit from more dynamic labor markets” .
Peter Bakvis, Washington representative for the International Trade Union Confederation, said the proposals were harmful, retrograde and out of synch with the shared-prosperity agenda put forward by the bank’s president Jim Yong Kim. Bakvis said the draft “puts forward a policy programme of extensive labour market deregulation, including lower minimum wages, flexible dismissal procedures and UK-style zero-hours contracts. The resulting decline of workers’ incomes would be compensated in part by a basic level of social insurance to be financed largely by regressive consumption taxes.”
He added that the WDR’s vision of the future world of work would see firms relieved of the burden of contributing to social security, have the flexibility to pay wages as low as they wanted, and to fire at will. Unions would have a diminished role in new arrangements for “expanding workers’ voices”. The paper “almost completely ignores workers’ rights, asymmetric power in the labour market and phenomena such as declining labour share in national income,” Bakvis said.
The International Labour Organisation has also expressed alarm at the proposals, which include the right for employers to opt out of paying minimum wages if they introduce profit-sharing schemes for their workers.
The paper says that labour regulations “protect the few who hold formal jobs while leaving out most workers” and the sort of social protection schemes that began with the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the late 19th century were not appropriate because they covered only a third of developing country populations.
Bakvis said the draft did not “examine options for incentivising the formalisation of work, despite the considerable efforts the ILO has made toward that goal and the real progress that has taken place in some developing countries to deliver the benefits of formalisation: legal protection of workers’ rights, including their right to safe workplaces, and access to social security.
“Instead, the WDR takes informality as an inevitable state and, worse, implies that it should even be promoted. Nor does it examine how the undermining of labour market institutions through deliberate corporate strategies such as outsourcing and disguised working relations [for example, classifying Uber drivers as independent contractors] can be countered by providing legal protections for these categories of workers.
“Workers in the platform economy who have engaged in campaigns for recognition of their rights have encountered fierce resistance from their companies.”
Bakvis added that the report insinuated support for companies such as Uber by agreeing that their workers were not employees but were “emerging as a separate labour category”.

Working and in debt

NHS staff, council officials and gig economy workers are among the most regular applicants for payday loans, which charge interest of up to 1,325% per year, industry data has revealed.

In Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, city council workers were among the most frequent applicants for the ultra-high interest debt last month, according to figures from a loan comparison website.
In Leicester, workers for the courier company DPD applied for the most loans after people in the NHS. The most common reason given for requesting the loans was “to pay bills”. 
Around 300,000 people a month take out the high-cost short-term credit. At the end of 2016, 1.6 million people had payday loan debt, with the average loan just over £300. Around one in eight of the debtors was in arrears, according to the Financial Conduct Authority.
After NHS staff, supermarket workers for Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s applied for the most loans in March, followed by staff at McDonalds, the supermarket Morrisons and Royal Mail. Next came the British Army – which has already banned payday loan adverts from military bases and publications – Amazon and workers for the outsourcing giant Capita.
NHS workers’ representatives said it showed “a terrible state of affairs”.
“No one should be so desperate for money that they have no option but to go cap in hand to unscrupulous lenders,” said Unison head of health, Sara Gorton. “It shows how much harm years of government pay restraint has caused.”
Sarah-Jayne Clifton, director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said the figures showed how “austerity, low wages, and insecure work are driving people to take on high cost debt from rip-off lenders just to put food on the table”

The Misery of the UK Poor

Hundreds of thousands of the poorest families in Britain are going without basic necessities, according to two separate surveys.
Citizens Advice said as many as 140,000 households are going without power, as they cannot afford to top up their prepayment meters.
And the Living Wage Foundation - which campaigns for fair pay - said many of the poorest parents are skipping meals.
The survey conducted by Citizens Advice suggests that most households which cannot afford to put money in the meter contain either children or someone with a long-term health condition. Some people are left in cold houses, or without hot water.
"It is unacceptable that so many vulnerable households are being left without heat and light," said Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice.
A separate survey for the Living Wage Foundation suggests a third of working parents on low incomes have regularly gone without meals, because of a lack of money. Around a half of those families have also fallen behind with household bills.
"These findings reveal the desperate choices low paid families have to make, and show why it's so important that more employers take a stand by paying the real Living Wage, based on what they need to live, not just the government minimum," said Tess Lanning, director of the Living Wage Foundation.

Capitalists expect to be centeniarians

UBS wealth management polled 5,000 high-net worth individuals (HNWIs), defined as having at least $1m in investable assets, across 10 countries including Germany, the UK, US and Taiwan, and found that 53% expect to live to the age of 100. 

The UBS report, entitled The Century Club, concluded: “The idea of living a century was once confined to science fiction. But no longer. For the world’s wealthy, living a 100-year life is not an outcome they consider a mere possibility. It’s one they expect.”

Numerous studies have provided evidence that wealth inequality is linked to health inequality. Last year, data compiled by the Department of Health showed that in the UK the gap between rich and poor in relation to “healthy life expectancy” – defined as a life free of disease or disability – had widened to almost 20 years.
A University of Washington study in the US in 2017 came to a similar conclusionon a “life expectancy gap” between affluent and poorer areas of at least 20 years.
 Three-quarters of Germany’s wealthy elite anticipate reaching 100 while less than a third of HNWIs in the US believe they will live that long. In Switzerland, Mexico and Italy the figure is more than two-thirds. In the UK, nearly a third (32%) expect to reach the age of 100.

Macron's New France

Owen Jones writes in the Guardian that Macron is far more popular internationally than in France, where dissatisfaction with his presidency has surged to 58% less than a year after his election. French scepticism towards Macron contrasts sharply with his own lack of self-doubt. He refused to be questioned by journalists because his “complex thought processes” were ill-suited for such a setting.

Macron is a pound-shop Margaret Thatcher, redistributing wealth to those with too much of it, while assaulting workers’ rights and France’s hard-won social model. His tax changes have gifted the hundred wealthiest households more than half a million euros a year: the top 1% captured 44% of his new tax breaks. For the less affluent, it’s a different story. This former investment banker has slashed housing benefit, and hiked taxes on pensioners – in a country where the average monthly pension is just €1,300 (£1,100). His policies have shifted the workplace balance of power from workers to bosses. French students are staging occupations and protests against more selective entry requirements for universities, derided as an attack on free universal education and France’s social model.

Another pillar of his agenda is privatisation, including of France’s airports and part of the national energy utility. His confrontation with rail workers is seen as an attempt to lay the foundations for a catastrophic British-style privatisation of the railway industry. EU-mandated deregulation will mean foreign companies can soon compete with the state rail company SNCF, and Macron is transforming it from a state enterprise into a limited company; exactly what happened with the formerly state-owned France Télécom.

A man who courted left-leaning voters by promising a humane policy towards migrants and refugees now has them firmly in his sights. The number of days a person without papers can be imprisoned in a detention centre is to be doubled; the consideration time period for asylum has been halved, meaning fewer refugees will be accepted. Charities warn that refugees fleeing war will be deported. Macron’s interior minister, Gérard Collomb, claims that communities are “breaking up because they are overwhelmed by the inflow of asylum seekers”. No wonder the far-right Front National has described his policies as a “political victory”.

Macron is presented as an oasis of moderation, a bulwark against the extremes. But there is nothing moderate about slashing taxes on the wealthy, attacking workers’ rights or demonising refugees. He represents an essential ingredient in the revival of French fascism.

Hustings in Southwark

We have received one invitation to a hustings in Southwark and know of two others.

The invitation is from:

 The Southwark Pensioners Action Group from 10am to noon on Monday 23 April in the Crypt at St. Peter's Church, Liverpool Grove, Walworth, SE17 2HH.

The other two are:

Saturday 14 April 3pm to 5pm at Christ Church Peckham, 676-680 Old Kent Road, SE15 1JF on Planning & Regeneration, organised by Southwark Planning Network.

Wednesday 18 April 7pm to 9pm at Bells Gardens Community Centre, 19 Buller Close, SE15 6UJ on Housing, organised by the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations.

European Figures for Refugees (graphs)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The waste of waste

American households toss out 150,000 tons of food each day — roughly a pound of food per person per day.

The volume of discarded food wastes what is equivalent to the yearly use of 30 million acres of land, alongside the use of 780 million pounds of pesticide, and 4.2 trillion gallons of water. The rotting food also emits methane as it disintegrates in landfills, adding to the atmosphere’s stock of greenhouse gases.

Lisa Jahns, a nutritionist at the USDA, told the Guardian, “Consumers aren’t connecting the dots, they don’t see the cost when they throw food in the trash.”

Wishing to happy returns to Israel's 70th birthday

 Stalin was crucial to the establishment of the state of Israel. On Stalin's instructions, Czechoslovakia provided arms and training that enabled the fledgling Zionist armed forces in Palestine to win the war of independence in 1947-48. Stalin's motive was to undermine the position of Britain in the Middle East. For some years the Israeli government continued to rely on Soviet military and diplomatic support, while keeping silent about the persecution of Soviet Jews, then at its height. (For more on this episode, see Arnold Krammer, The Forgotten Friendship: Israel and the Soviet Bloc, 1947-53, University of Illinois, 1974.)
In 1953 the Israeli-Soviet alliance finally broke down. Israel switched to the other side of the Cold War, obtaining aid first from France and then from the US. Alliance with "the West" also entailed maintaining good relations with anti-semitic regimes, notably in Latin America. Consider Argentina: a disproportionate number of Jews were among those killed, imprisoned and tortured by the military junta that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983. Given the "anti-democratic, anti-semitic and Nazi tendencies" of the Argentine officer corps, we may assume that they were persecuted not merely as political opponents but also as Jews. Meanwhile a stream of Israeli generals passed through Buenos Aires, selling the junta arms. (See and; also Jacobo Timmerman's book Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.)
 Israel is now a powerful, militaristic capitalist state and a nuclear power. It might have been hoped that the Jews' terrible history would have encouraged them to something more hopeful.

Poor Education

The gap between disadvantaged pupils in England – children eligible for free school meals – and their peers is equivalent to one whole maths GCSE grade.

England would have to double the number of disadvantaged pupils achieving top GCSE grades in maths to match some of the best countries in the world, a new report has found.  The country is in the bottom half of developed nations for the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers in maths, analysis from thinktank Education Policy Institute (EPI)and UCL Institute of Education (IOE) academics has revealed.
Just one in 10 disadvantaged pupils in England achieve the top GCSE grades in maths, while nearly twice as many disadvantaged pupils in Singapore achieve these top grades. 
The report concludes that the countries that achieve both high academic performance and equity between pupils from different backgrounds tend to avoid selection by ability, streaming and setting – and they have a significant focus on attracting and retaining high-quality teachers.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “This report confirms that the government’s education reform programme has failed some of our most disadvantaged learners. This should be a national scandal and education ministers should be ashamed of their record." She added: “The government’s inability to confront the harmful practice of ability grouping, coupled with its desire to further expand selective schools, will exacerbate the challenges highlighted in this report and further entrench educational disadvantage.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “We have to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students, and the greatest barrier in doing so is teacher shortages, which are particularly acute in schools with high levels of disadvantage because these schools often face the greatest recruitment challenges. It cannot be a coincidence that maths outcomes for disadvantaged pupils are the most concerning finding in this report given that teacher shortages are very severe in this subject.” He added: “The government must do more to ensure they have the vital resources of teachers and funding – both of which are in desperately short supply.”