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Of GM food crops, Bt cotton and an honest committee in India

The Lok Sabha (the 15th Lok Sabha) of the Parliament of India has released the report of the Committee on Agriculture (2011-2012) on ‘Cultivation Of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Prospects And Effects’.

Cover of the report. Click for the full report (pdf, 6.35 MB)

The report stands as a comprehensive indictment of the genetically modified food crops industry and its attempts to wrest control of India’s foodgrain and commercial crops production. The Committee sought views and suggestions on the subject from the various stakeholders and 467 memoranda, most of them signed by several stakeholders were received. In all, the Committee received documents running into 14,826 pages. The Committee also extensively interacted with various stakeholders including state governments, farmers organisations, NGOs, and also with farmers and their families during study visits during this period. Altogether, 50 individuals and organisations gave oral evidence before the Committee. Verbatim records of the proceedings of the oral evidence runs into 863 pages.

This small extract is from pages 24 to 29 of the 532-page Committee report:

GM crops are released in environment only after stringent evaluation of food/biosafety protocols/issues. To have a holistic and comprehensive view on the pros and cons of application of bio-technology on agricultural sector the Committee took on record IAASTD Report as it is an authentic research document prepared after painstaking effort of four years by 400 scientists from all over the world. India is a signatory to this Report which has been extensively quoted in a subsequent Chapter of the present Report of the Committee. Amongst various recommendations germane to all spheres of agriculture and allied activities and sectors, the following recommendations on bio-technology caught the attention of the Committee in all context of their present examination:

Conventional biotechnologies, such as breeding techniques, tissue culture, cultivation practices and fermentation are readily accepted and used. Between 1950 and 1980, prior to the development GMOs, modern varieties of wheat may have increased yields up to 33% even in the absence of fertilizer. Even modern biotechnologies used in containment have been widely adopted. For example, the industrial enzyme market reached US$1.5 billion in 2000. Biotechnologies in general have made profound contributions that continue to be relevant to both big and small farmers and are fundamental to capturing any advances derived from modern biotechnologies and related nanotechnologies. For example, plant breeding is fundamental to developing locally adapted plants whether or not they are GMOs. These biotechnologies continue to be widely practiced by farmers because they were developed at the local level of understanding and are supported by local research.

Much more controversial is the application of modern biotechnology outside containment, such as the use of GM crops. The controversy over modern biotechnology outside of containment includes technical, social, legal, cultural and economic arguments. The three most discussed issues on biotechnology in the IAASTD concerned:

o Lingering doubts about the adequacy of efficacy and safety testing, or regulatory frameworks for testing GMOs;
o Suitability of GMOs for addressing the needs of most farmers while not harming others, at least within some existing IPR and liability frameworks;
o Ability of modern biotechnology to make significant contributions to the resilience of small and subsistence agricultural systems.

The pool of evidence of the sustainability and productivity of GMOs in different settings is relatively anecdotal, and the findings from different contexts are variable, allowing proponents and critics to hold entrenched positions about their present and potential value. Some regions report increases in some crops and positive financial returns have been reported for GM cotton in studies including South Africa, Argentina, China, India and Mexico. In contrast, the US and Argentina may have slight yield declines in soybeans, and also for maize in the US. Studies on GMOs have also shown the potential for decreased insecticide use, while others show increasing herbicide use. It is unclear whether detected benefits will extend to most agroecosystems or be sustained in the long term as resistances develop to herbicides and insecticides.

Biotechnology in general, and modern biotechnology in particular, creates both costs and benefits, depending on how it is incorporated into societies and ecosystems and whether there is the will to fairly share benefits as well as costs. For example, the use of modern plant varieties has raised grain yields in most parts of the world, but sometimes at the expense of reducing biodiversity or access to traditional foods. Neither costs nor benefits are currently perceived to be equally shared, with the poor tending to receive more of the costs than the benefits.

The Committee note with great appreciation the fantastic achievements of India’s farmers and agriculture scientists leading to an almost five times growth in food grains production in the country during last six decades or so. From a paltry 50 million tonnes in 1950 the Country has produced a record 241 million tonnes in 2010-11. In spite of this spectacular achievement that has ensured the food security of the nation, things continue to be bleak on several fronts. Agriculture sector?s contribution to GDP has slid down from 50% in 1950 to a mere 13% now, though the sector continues to provide employment and subsistence to almost 70% of the workforce. The lot of the farmer has worsened with increasing indebtedness, high input costs, far less than remunerative prices for his produce, yield plateau, worsening soil health, continued neglect of the agriculture sector and the farmer by the Government, dependence on rain gods in 60% of cultivated area, even after six and a half decades of Country’s independence, to cite a few. All these factors and many more have aggravated the situation to such an extent that today a most severe agrarian crisis in the history is staring at us. The condition of the farming-Community in the absence of pro-farmer/pro-agriculture policies has become so pitiable that it now sounds unbelievable that the slogan Jai Jawan – Jai Kisan was coined in India.

There is, therefore, a pressing need for policies and strategies in agriculture and allied sectors which not only ensure food security of the nation, but are sustainable and have in built deliverable components for the growth and prosperity of the farming community. It is also imperative that while devising such policies and strategies the Government does not lose track of the fact that 70% of our farmers are small and marginal ones. As the second most populous Country in the world, with a growing economy ushering in its wake newer dietary habits and nutrition norms, a shrinking cultivable area, a predominantly rainfed agriculture, the task is indeed enormous.

In the considered opinion of the Committee biotechnology holds a lot of promise in fructification of the above-cited goals. Several of conventional bio-technologies viz. plant breeding techniques, tissue-culture, cultivation practices, fermentation, etc. have significantly contributed in making agriculture what it is today. The Committee note that for some years now transgenics or genetical engineering is being put forward as the appropriate technology for taking care of several ills besetting the agriculture sector and the farming community. It is also stated that this technology is environment friendly and, therefore, sustainable. Affordability is another parameter on which policy makers and farming communities world over are being convinced to go for this nascent technology.

The Committee further note that in India, transgenics in agriculture were introduced exactly a decade back with the commercial cultivation of Bt. Cotton which is a commercial crop. With the introduction of Bt. Cotton, farmers have taken to cotton cultivation in a big way. Accordingly, the area under cotton cultivation in the Country has gone up from 24000 ha in 2002 to 8.4 million ha at present. Apart from production, productivity has also increased with the cultivation of the transgenic cotton. The Committee also take note of the claim of the Government that input costs have also gone down due to cultivation of transgenic cotton as it requires less pesticides, etc.

Notwithstanding the claims of the Government, the policy makers and some other stakeholders about the various advantages of transgenics in agriculture sector, the Committee also take note of the various concerns voiced in the International Assessment of Agriculture, Science and Technology for Development Report commissioned by the United Nations about some of the shortcomings and negative aspects of use of transgenics/genetical engineering in the agriculture and allied sectors. The technical, social, legal, economic, cultural and performance related controversies surrounding transgenics in agriculture, as pointed out in IAASTD report, should not be completely overlooked, moreso, when India is a signatory to it.

The apprehensions expressed in the report about the sustainability and productivity of GMOs in different settings; the doubts about detected benefits of GMOs extending to most agro-eco systems or sustaining in long term; the conclusion that neither costs nor benefits are currently perceived to be equally shared, with the poor tending to receive more of the costs than benefits all point towards a need for a revisit to the decision of the Government to go for transgenics in agriculture sector. This is all the more necessary in the light of Prime Minister’s exhortion on 3 March, 2010 at the Indian Science Congress about full utilisation of modern biotechnology for ensuring food security but without compromising a bit on safety and regulatory aspects. The present examination of the Committee, as the succeeding chapters will bear out, is an objective assessment of the pros and cons of introduction of genetical modification/transgenics in our food crops which happened to be not only the mainstay of our agriculture sector but also the bedrock of our food security.

Mantashe’s ‘Swedes and Irish’ jibe stirs up history

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According to the ANC secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, those responsible for “the anarchy that is happening in the platinum industry” are the “Swedes and Irish”. It was a comment that left many commentators dumbstruck.Citizens of Sweden and Ireland seemed a rather strange choice as scapegoats to take the place of the former “counter-revolutionaries” of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union Amcu. But Amcu, certainly over the past week or two, no longer fits the scapegoat bill: the ANC has stated that earlier pro-National Union of Mineworkers NUM and anti-Amcu comments by prominent ANC figures had been “resolved”; Amcu and NUM were now regarded equally.But why the use of “Swedes and Irish”? Some commentators saw in this parallels with the apartheid government’s claims of “foreign agitators” and “white communists” being behind the mass uprisings against their regime.However, the consensus view was probably summed up by mining analyst Peter Major. He felt that Mantashe was indulging in pre-election “politicking” and should “quit trying to manufacture people from outside the country” to explain the complex problems in the industry.

The problems are indeed complex and Mantashe’s remarks probably do belong, on one level, to the category of opportunistic politicking and spin.

But there is also a history involved and, especially for many members of the SACP, he conjured up a spectre from South Africa’s trade union past – and this at a time when political rivalry and fears about the 2014 election are growing.

Mantashe’s comments also seem to be part of the desire by the ANC-led alliance to try not only to mend bridges with Amcu, but to ensure that this now major player on the union front does not end up either forming or supporting a rival left-wing workers’ party. This is a particular concern of the SACP, which is formally acknowledged by Cosatu as “the [only] workers’ party”.

But as with most political spin, there is also an element of fact amid the fiction. So Mantashe did not have to manufacture people: a few individuals, related in some way to the platinum belt, do exist to provide a veneer of credibility to his claims.

He noted that “it is a Swedish citizen who is at the centre of the anarchy”. This was a clear reference to Liv Shange, a member of the small Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), which has been quite active helping to organise workers on the platinum belt.

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A slight, blonde woman, she made it onto television screens and newspaper pages when, megaphone in hand, she addressed hundreds of striking miners.

Her gender and complexion made her more newsworthy than other socialists who were – and remain – more active among miners, especially in the platinum sector. Mametlwe Sebei and Elias Juba, who are both more prominent in the Rustenburg area, have attracted little media attention. But, like Shange, they are members of the DSM, which was, until 1996, the Marxist Workers’ Tendency (MWT) inside the ANC.

The three are also members of the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp), launched earlier this year. The general secretary of Wasp is a former SA Municipal Workers’ Union and ANC organiser, Weizman Hamilton.

There was also an Irish connection at the Wasp launch in the form of Joe Higgins, a Socialist Party member of the Irish parliament who has long had connections with South Africa and with the local union movement. The presence of Higgins and the involvement of long-time activists such as Hamilton gave Wasp a degree of credibility as a potential political contender: history seemed to be repeating itself.

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For some 30 years, the MWT was a thorn in the side of the ANC and formed part of a challenge to the dominance of the SACP over the main labour movement. The challenge came in the demand for an independent workers’ party.

An often forgotten fact is that the SACP initially opposed the formation of Cosatu, insisting instead that the self-exiled SA Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu) was “the only true representative of South African workers”. However, reality quickly overcame ideological certainty; Cosatu was recognised and Sactu dissolved. But the battle about an independent workers’ party subsided only after 1993.

“Now I think there is something of the ghost of the past coming to haunt them,” said Shange, speaking from her family home in northern Sweden, where she is holidaying with her 14-year-old step-daughter and her own son and daughter, aged five and eight. She is booked to return to South Africa on July 14, but has been told by the South African embassy that she lacks “the proper papers”.

A former Socialist Justice Party councillor in her home town, Shange is married to a South African and has lived in the country for the past 10 years.

“I had a spousal visa that was in the passport I lost when I was mugged in 2010,” she said. Attempts to get the visa re-issued proved fruitless because “they couldn’t find my file”. She suspects she may now be a victim of political persecution, but feels that the loss of the file could just as easily be a matter of bureaucratic bungling.

Yesterday she was still trying to gain permission from the South African embassy in Stockholm to return to South Africa. “The children have to start school on July 15,” she said, adding that it was “ridiculous that any single individual or group can be responsible” for events in the mining sector.

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa concurs: “Workers organise as workers irrespective of religious and political affiliations or whatever,” he says. Amcu, he insists, is politically non-aligned.

“Politics is for politicians [although] we know our opponents would like to associate us with particular political structures to calm their guilty consciences.”

So while religious and political evangelism continues, among unionists as well as in wider society, Amcu will remain “apolitical”. “This is our position and we shall not be persuaded otherwise.”

via Mantashe’s ‘Swedes and Irish’ jibe stirs up history – Opinion | IOL Business |

Mandela in ‘serious but stable condition’ – Africa – Al Jazeera English

Former South African president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela is in a “serious but stable” conditon in hospital with a lung infection, a statement from the presidency has said.

Friday’s statement said Mandela, 94, who was discharged from hospital in April after receiving treatment for a lung infection, had suffered the same illness in the past few days.

“This morning at about 1.30am his condition deteriorated and he was transferred to a Pretoria hospital. He remains in a serious but stable condition,” the statement said.

It added that the Nobel laureate was receiving expert medical care and doctors were doing “everything possible to make him better and comfortable”.

President Jacob Zuma, on behalf of government and the nation, wished Madiba, Mandela’s clan name, a speedy recovery and requested the media and the public respect the privacy of the former president and his family.

Mandela, revered at home and abroad for leading the struggle against white minority rule, has been in and out of hospital for lung infection and other health problems.

Last year, he was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital for what officials initially described as tests but what turned out to be an acute respiratory infection.

In March and April, global figures such as US President Barack Obama sent him get-well messages and South Africans included Mandela in their Easter prayers.

Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 and served only one term in office, was jailed on Roben Island for 27 years for resisiting white minority rule.

via Mandela in ‘serious but stable condition’ – Africa – Al Jazeera English.

Monsanto – the Most Hated Corporation On Earth?


What does it take to be the most hated corporation on earth? How many global corporations have had an entire day of global protest declared to draw attention to their nastiness? Well, the worlds leading producer of genetically modified seed, Monsanto, has just managed this feat, with millions having participated in over 450 actions across 52 countries on the 25th of May. It is worth examining how and why Monsanto has become so uniformly hated around the planet.

It is difficult to assume the bottom slot amongst a panoply of corporate villains that pollute and destroy the environment, exploit the poor, corrupt governments, lie about their products, sue their customers and do their best to avoid taxation by every legal and other means possible.

Monsanto regularly takes the honours as the most abhorred corporation, in amongst some noxious competitors. In 2012 Monsanto won the “Greenwash Award” for misinforming the public about its environmental credentials. It won the worst company of 2011 award. In 2009 it won the Angry Mermaid Award during the run-up to the failed Copenhagen climate change talks for misleadingly claiming its GM crops reduced CO2 emissions.

This long list of negative awards should be incredibly damaging to the company. However the investor community embraces rogue corporations and Monsanto’s shareholders have been richly rewarded for its bad behaviour. Were Monsanto an individual and not a corporation it would certainly have been sentenced to jail, probably indefinitely, for repeatedly breaking laws around the world. Yet corporations manage to evade responsibility for the sort of behaviour you or I cannot.

None of this is new. In 2002 Monsanto was found guilty of not only contaminating the town and surrounds of Anniston, Alabama with carcinogenic polychlorinated bi-phenyls (PCBs), but of covering up this pollution for decades. Beside being ordered to pay a paltry $800 000 settlement, it was found guilty of the crime of “outrage.” Outrage is legally defined as conduct “so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society.” It really is difficult to beat that.

Monsanto not only opposed the Anniston case, it attempted to avoid prosecution through its sale of its chemical business to Solutia, insisting it was the problem of the new owner. It took exactly the same tack with its pollution of its ‘home town’ of Sauget, which originally was incorporated under the name of Monsanto in 1926.

In the US Monsanto is linked to nearly 100 superfund sites, two in Sauget alone, where its historical pollution is being remediated, mainly through taxpayer funds. It has managed to avoid similar responsibility in the UK as well. The infamous Vietnam War defoliant, Agent Orange, manufactured by Monsanto and others, was routinely contaminated with PCBs.

When Rachel Carson wrote her carefully researched book “Silent Spring,” outlining the dangers of agricultural chemicals and heralding the a emergence of the environmental movement, she was aggressively targeted by Monsanto, responsible for production of chemicals like DDT that she questioned. Monsanto parodied Carson’s book while viciously attempting to undermine her reputation and vilifying her as a “hysterical woman.” Tactics have changed very little with opponents of GM crops denigrated as luddites or unscientific.

Today Monsanto is better known for its GM crops than its chemicals. It is the world’s single biggest producer of genetically modified (GM) crops, responsible for around 95% of global GM plantings. The most widely grown GM crop, GM soy, is specifically engineered for resistance to Monsanto’s herbicide “Roundup”. The chemicals in Roundup have been linked to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer and gut disease, as well as having serious documented impacts on amphibians, fish, soil biota and other ecological processes. Needless to say herbicide resistant crops have sharply increased the use of chemicals. As weeds develop resistance more potent chemicals are needed and further GM crops are being introduced to resist these chemicals in turn.

The pursuit of GM crops has led Monsanto to morph from a chemical corporation into the worlds largest seed company. Through purchase of seed companies around the world it has acquired an unimaginable wealth seed germplasm. Yet it has sharply reduced the number of seed varieties sold by its subsidiaries, instead concentrating on its core business of pushing GM crops.

Monsanto is fully aware of its inherent unpopularity, which continues despite its every attempt to reform its reputation through extensive public relations campaigns. Its strategy to sidestep this is to form and fund groups and alliances that promote its interests. Organisations like BIO, the US biotechnology association, as well as Africa- and Europa-Bio, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications and Crop Life each support Monsanto’s interests as supposedly independent voices. Additionally, Monsanto spends millions of dollars directly lobbying governments around the world.

Monsanto then negates these massive PR campaigns by its aggressive legal prosecution of farmers it alleges are re-using its seed containing its patented GM genes. While there are constant high profile cases in the USA, Monsanto insists it will not prosecute African farmers for saving or possessing seed contaminated by their genes. In South America Monsanto has gone directly to the governments of Argentina, Brazil and other nations in order to try to leverage royalties on farmer saved GM seed.

Monsanto has also ensured its continued domination of the chemical herbicide industry by contractually linking the sale of Roundup to herbicide resistant “Roundup Ready” and “Yieldguard” soy, maize and cottonseed. Pushing this technology into developing markets has exposed farmers to increased debt through the purchase of seed and chemicals. When crops fail, as they repeatedly have, farmers lose their land or, as happens in India, choose to take their lives to escape debt bondage.

The model of industrial agriculture Monsanto promotes exacerbates problems of chemical pollution, water extraction and indebtedness, while also aggravating social upheaval. Small farmers whose lands and crops are contaminated not only by chemicals, but by patented GM crops are forced into burgeoning urban slums where they are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.

Monsanto has shifted focus toward developing nations in Africa and Asia, after saturating the Americas and rejection from within the EU. It dominates the GM seed market in South Africa, Brazil and India. There is nothing intrinsically beneficial about Monsanto’s business model, as much as it is supported and promoted within the dominant capital market.

These are just some of the reasons why millions of people protest against Monsanto’s destructive proposals to create profit through the privatisation of our food. That this model perversely masquerades as something beneficial, purporting to offer a hope of feeding a burgeoning planet is even more grotesque. The deeper one looks, the more outrageous is the behaviour of this rogue corporation.

In reality Monsanto epitomises so much that is wrong with the world and how corporations conduct themselves. Were it a living person it would be languishing in jail. The time has come to consider instituting a global criminal court for corporations, where their charters are withdrawn and they are put out of business. That is probably wishful thinking in a world where too big to fail has become a corporate mantra embraced by the very governments these psychopathic corporations support and maintain in power. In the meantime it is up to us, the 99%, to direct our ire toward curbing the misbehaviour of this particular corporate misanthrope.

via South Africa: Monsanto – the Most Hated Corporation On Earth? (Page 1 of 3).

Myth Makers

Myth Makers

An A-Z of the people and groups behind the push for GM. It includes links to the web portal GMWatch SpinProfiles – our in-depth guide to the networks of power, lobbying and deceptive PR around the GM issue.

Academics Review
Website used to attack GM critic and author Jeffrey Smith and his book Genetic Roulette.
Article: New site attacks Jeffrey Smith
Links to: Bruce ChassyDavid Tribe

Website affiliated with the Monsanto-backed Center for Consumer Freedom.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile, Sourcewatch 
Article: Tobacco Money Takes on Activist Cash
Links to: Rick Berman

 South Africa
Industry front group that lobbies for the adoption of GM crops in Africa.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Muffy KochJocelyn WebsterJennifer Thomson

African Agricultural Technology Foundation
Industry front group that facilitates the transfer of GM crops to Africa.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile
Links to: Jennifer ThomsonGerard BarryFlorence Wambugu

African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum
Industry front group spun off by ISAAA and Florence Wambugu.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Florence Wambugu

Africa Harvest Biotechnology Foundation International 
Incorporated in the USA; headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya
Industry front group set up to promote GM crops in Africa with backing from Croplife International.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile
Article: Reuters Corrects Reporting of GM Lobbyists
Links to: Florence WambuguCroplife International

Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management & Economics, with well known GM proponents, like C. S. Prakash, on its editorial board. Funded by the Illinois-Missouri Biotechnology Alliance whose purpose is “to fund biotechnology research… directed at expanding the volume of profitable businesses in the US food and agricultural sector”. “Peer reviews” reports by PG Economics.
Article: GMOs cut greenhouse gas emissions, says new report
Links to: PG Economics

Pro-GM listserv of AgBioWorld.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile
Article: Seeds of Dissent
Links to: C.S. PrakashMary MurphyAndura Smetacek

Website/campaign established by C. S. Prakash and Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile
Article: Corporate Ghosts
Links to: Greg ConkoMary MurphyAndura Smetacek

Agricultural Biotechnology Council
Lobby group of the main GM firms.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Lexington Communications

Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSP)
USAID project in partnership with GM firms to promote GM crops in developing countries.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: USAID, Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS)

Agriculture Commodity Coalition
Group of farm commodity organizations funded by industry-backed Council for Biotechnology Information.
Profiles:GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Kimball Nill

Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy
Industry lobby group – includes Monsanto – that promotes crop-based biofuels.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Linked to: MonsantoDuPont

American Council on Science and Health
Industry front group that produces PR for food and chemical industries.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Elizabeth WhelanHenry I. MillerDennis Avery

American Enterprise Institute
Influential neoconservative think tank. Behind NGO Watch.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile
Links to: Dow ChemicalExxonMerckRoger BateProject for the New American Century

American Farm Bureau Federation
Controversial lobbying organization representing farmers and ranchers but with big agribiz connections.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Truth About Trade and TechnologyDean Kleckner

American Soybean Association
Claims to represent soybean growers but receives funding from GM firms.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Kimball Nill

Klaus Ammann
Key European lobbyist for GM crops.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Public Research and Regulation InitiativeEFBAskForce

Philip Angell
Former director of communications for Monsanto.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Jay ByrneGraydon ForrerWilliam D. RuckelshausBivings

Andrew Apel
Former editor of biotech industry newsletter and regular contributor to AgBioView.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: AgBioView, AgBioWorldC.S. Prakash

Ron Arnold
Executive vice-president, Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, pioneer Wise Use Movement.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Article: The Uncle Tom Award 
Links to: Center for the Defense of Free EnterprisePaul Driessen

Charles J. Arntzen
Genetic engineer specializing in edible vaccines.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 

Ascham Associates
PR consultancy of former Dupont PR man.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: Martin LivermoreScientific Alliance

Asian Food Information Centre
Front group for food, agriculture and biotech industries.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: International Food Information Council

Asian Rice Biotechnology Network
Set up by the International Rice Research Institute to help roll out GM rice in Asia.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfile 
Links to: International Rice Research Institute

Alex Avery
Aggressively lobbies for GM foods and against organic farming.
Profiles: GMWatch SpinProfileSourceWatch
Article: Fake Blood on the Maize
Links to: Dennis AveryHudson InstituteCenter for Global Food IssuesGraydon Forrer

Dennis Avery
Crusades against organic farming and for GMOs, pesticides and climate scepticism.
Profiles:GMWatch SpinprofileSourceWatch
Links to: Alex AveryCenter for Global Food IssuesHudson InstituteAmerican Council on Science and Health

via Myth Makers – A.

via Myth Makers – A.

Fighting supermarket power

Supermarkets today wield unprecedented power on a global scale. From Bangladesh to South Africa, supermarkets dictate the terms at which overseas producers are forced to sell their goods. With threats to find new suppliers, they force prices down around the world

But the workers who produce those goods – from fruit and vegetables to flowers, wine, cheap clothes and tea – feel their devastating impact every day. Working in factories or on plantations, they face long hours, terrible working conditions and little or no trade union rights. Despite working 80 hours a week, many workers are not able to earn a living wage.

The big four supermarkets – ASDA, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s – control 75% of the grocery market in the UK and aim to keep their prices low and their profits high. They use their enormous size and influence to put their suppliers under immense pressure to produce goods as cheaply as possible. As well as squeezing their suppliers on price, they dictate terms and agreements, like forcing them to take on costs for discounts and promotions. These pressures then get passed on to the people who grow, pick and pack our food in low wages, long hours and poor working conditions.

To tackle supermarket power War on Want has campaigned for many years for the government to introduce a supermarket watchdog to stop supermarkets bullying their suppliers. After years of successful campaigning the government has now agreed to put forward proposals, and we are now pushing hard to make sure that it has the powers it needs to be effective.

As well as bullying their suppliers, supermarkets are continuing their push to dominate the UK market through opening more and more high street stores. War on Want is proud to be part of the Tescopoly alliance that campaigns against the negative impacts of supermarket power on workers’ rights, local businesses, communities and the environment and supports local campaigns against new supermarket developments.

via Fighting supermarket power | War on Want.

via Fighting supermarket power | War on Want.

Blood Money? Shock revelations and media half-truths on South African mine violence

Last month, violence erupted at a South African platinum mine when at least 13 men were wounded by security guards who fired rubber bullets and hacked at workers with machetes, allegedly to end a confrontation between two rival unions.

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) is the world´s largest platinum producer, located in the Rustenburg area 70 miles from Johannesburg. The corporation accounts for over 80% of global platinum production and has been at the centre of clashes between security forces and miners since workers went on strike in mid-January over Amplat´s announcement to cut 14,000 jobs and sell union mines, in a bid to save $4.2bn.

It´s not the first time bloody protests have put South Africa´s mining sector in the spotlight. In August last year a mine owned by Lonmin Plc in Marikana, also in the Rustenburg region, was the scene of the worst violence the country has seen since the end of apartheid. On August 10, three thousand workers walked out after Lonmin´s management refused to negotiate over pay. The first incidents of violence were reported to have started the following day, when National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) leaders opened fire on striking miners. In the next three days, another eight workers, two police and two security guards were killed. On August 16, which marked the 25th anniversary of a nationwide South African miner´s strike, riot police arrived to disperse the miners. This culminated in the death of over 50 people, including 34 striking miners shot dead by police. A further 78 were injured. The incident, dubbed the Marikana massacre, was the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since 1960.

But despite this, corporate media again blamed the bloodshed on rivalry between the NUM and its rival, the Association of Mineworkers & Construction Union (AMCU).

This ongoing vicious struggle, which has seen the two battling it out for membership and control over union offices, was no doubt instrumental in the tragic events at both Lonmin and Amplats. But there´s a much bigger story that is being overlooked by focusing on a fight between two groups of underpaid, desperate miners. It´s the story of multinational corporations exploiting human beings for the sake of profit. It´s a story which hints at possible connections between the mining industry and the police sent to kill those who dare to demand fair pay and safe working conditions. And it´s the story of mainstream media, for the most part, covering up and misreporting these injustices.

Capitalismo Mafioso? You decide.

Why strike? Exploitation, death, crushing poverty and dire living conditions…

There is no doubt that South African miners live in poverty while industry executives and shareholders eat cake and discuss where they can cut back next: more crippling job losses and pay cuts in the name of corporate growth and investor confidence.

Most workers live at the mines, sending money to their families in other parts of the country. They live in squalid conditions in company hostels or cheap lodgings nearby and are paid on average around $450 (£305) per month. South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies described the conditions in the mines as “appalling” and said the owners who “make millions” had questions to answer about how they treat their workers. It was later reported by Al Jazeera that the conditions in the mine led to “seething tensions” as a result of “dire living conditions, union rivalry, and company disinterest.”

The International Labour Organisation also criticised working conditions, saying miners are exposed to “a variety of safety hazards: falling rocks, exposure to dust, intensive noise, fumes and high temperatures, among others.” On average, 20 men die every year while working at Lonmin and Amplats, although reading the interim reports for both corporations gives the impression that these fatalities are only tragic in terms of money: deaths are discussed only in terms of ´work stoppages´and ounces of platinum lost.

The Bench Marks Foundation, an NGO monitoring corporate responsibility, argues that “the benefits of mining are not reaching the workers or the surrounding communities. Lack of employment opportunities for local youth, squalid living conditions, unemployment and growing inequalities contribute to this mess.” The foundation has blamed mine violence on worker exploitation and has strongly criticised high industry profits when compared with the low wages of the workers.

30 million of South Africa’s 48 million people survive on less than 10 rand ($1.25) a day. As the President of The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) Sidumo Dlamini rightly points out: “What happened in Marikana reveals a story that is not being told in the media. The financial officer of Lonmin earns 152 times the salary of a rock drill operator. Whilst employers rake huge salaries a month, our people who go down to drill the rocks in the belly of the earth and face death earn peanuts.”

But while Lonmin did give all miners a bonus of $200 and offered a pay rise to rock drillers after the massacre at Marikana, the general industry focus remains on luring back investors and cutting costs during a time of turmoil in the platinum industry. Last year, mining strikes cost South Africa 15.3bn R ($1.69bn) and threatened the global platinum market, pushing stock prices up by 7%. Lonmin lost a mindblowing 3.4bnR ($38m) in revenue due to strikes last year, and its shares halved between 2011and 2012.

Unanswered questions and biased media coverage…

So what lengths would a corporation go to in order to please shareholders? Who are mine security really protecting? Why did the NUM open fire on workers last year? On whose orders were the police acting when they shot to kill? And why have so many crucial facts been omitted from mainstream media reports?

Official news reports from tragic events last August suggested striking miners were a grave threat to mine security, with the BBC cherry-picking various quotes and readers´letters from the world´s media to paint workers as savage, violent and uncivilized.

But we can piece together a very different story from local news sources. Africa´s Mail and Guardian reports that striking miners had vowed to stay on a hilltop near Lonmin’s Marikana mine until their pay was raised. They claimed workers living in the company hostel were being paid 4000R ($441) per month, those outside 5000R ($551).

“We want money. We have kids to take care of,” miner Alfred Makhaya told the Mail and Guardian. He had been working for Lonmin for over eight years and was forced to leave the hostel and rent a room so he could claim the extra 1000R. “This money is too little, I am working hard and I’m being paid so little,” said Makhaya. He added that he worried his children would “end up being thieves” because he would be unable to pay for their education.

But Lonmin executives had little empathy, declaring the strike illegal and demanding that workers either return to the mines or lose their jobs. The following day, NUM leaders opened fire on striking workers, seriously wounding two men. While it would be folly to suggest this was ordered by the corporation, it is worth pointing out that the NUM was losing membership and worker confidence because miners had begun to see it as ´too close´ to Lonmin´s management. Miners had complained the NUM was too preoccupied by politics and business to do justice to their members, and were equally dissatisfied about its strong links to the ruling ANC party. NUM membership subsequently dropped to 49% and it lost its organisational rights at the mine, but the union refused to go down without a fight.

The corporation is going to kill you…

The Mail and Guardian also reports that AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa had told workers a plan to murder them had been hatched by the corporation. During a news conference following the massacre, Mathunjwa wept and told how he warned the men they were going to die. This was backed up by miners interviewed by the newspaper, such as Lichaba Pafkalasi who said he needed a pay rise to support his family and claimed the Lonmin´s staff shot at him, killing two of his colleagues. Pafkalasi and his co-workers claimed the corporation sent the police to shoot them and said they had decided to move to the mountain to discuss their next move. At this point, in light of the fact eight men had died in the days leading up to this, many workers fearful of reprisals had decided to arm themselves with clubs and iron bars, while local residents said an inyanga (herbalist) or sangoma (traditional healer) would perform a ritual on the mountain top and sprinkle the men with traditional medicine to protect them and ´make them brave´. Important cultural differences have been overlooked in the majority of western reports, and it is crucial to remember that in some South African communities these rituals would only be the equivalent of praying to God: and God knows they needed protection.

Later in the day, police kettled men into an enclosed space using barbed wire and employed pepper spray, stun grenades, watercannons, rubber bullets and live ammunition against the men. And while details of this barbaric trap were conveniently censored from western coverage, the original Reuters report from August 17 also reveals that just months before August´s violence in Marikana a new National Police Commissoner was appointed. Her name is Riah Phiyega and she is a former banker. In light of the fact the mine is owned by a multi-billion dollar corporation, omission of this from mainstream media reports is lazy journalism at best and outright censorship at worst.

Claiming that miners were armed and dangerous, Reuters reported that Phiyega told a news conference: “We did what we could with what we had.” And although the BBC reported that workers charged aggressively towards the police line- leaving them little choice but to open fire- Reuters cameraman John Mkhize had admitted in the original article this may not be true.

“Whether they were running away or charging it was difficult to say. The fact is they ran into the line of police. Why did they run that way?” he asked.

Unless these miners had a death wish, it seems unlikely they would have been looking for a fight with no less than 500 armed riot police who were ready to kill as soon as they had the orders. It seems much more probable that weapons were taken in self-defence and that miners ran into the police line due to extreme disorientation, pain, panic and loss of sight caused by the following, also from Reuters´original report:

“In a tactical move, hundreds of police backed by helicopters, armored vehicles and mounted units began laying down strings of barbed wire near the strikers’ hilltop stronghold, with the aim of containing them to be able to move in and disarm them more easily. Police only used live ammunition after water cannon, tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets failed to have any effect. From the television footage, one white police officer in a beret and wearing dark sunglasses can be heard shouting “cease fire, cease fire”, moving a clenched fist up and down to reinforce this order. Similar shouts come from other officers. [Workers] appeared to run directly into a hail of live bullets, which kicked up clouds of dust. When it cleared, bodies were strewn on the ground, some moving feebly.”

Murdered in cold blood at short range…

Journalist Greg Marinovich points out that many of the men had been shot in the back, suggesting they were running away. He also claims that some of the victims “appear to have been shot at close range or crushed by police vehicles.” Some victims were shot in a “koppie” where they were cornered and could have been arrested. Marinovich concluded “it is becoming clear to this reporter that heavily armed police hunted down and killed the miners in cold blood.”

The evidence for foul play mounted when the New York Times, to its credit, reported in November last year that:

“At the time, in a detailed multimedia briefing the day after the shooting, police officials argued that the miners, many of them brandishing traditional weapons like clubs, spears and machetes, had refused to turn back when fired upon with rubber bullets and other nonlethal weapons. But investigations by local journalists – and now testimony and documentary evidence at the commission, lawyers contend – have suggested a far more sinister portrait of the events that unfolded that afternoon.

“On Nov. 5, gruesome images of the dead were shown as relatives looked on. One photograph showed the crumpled, bloody body of a miner next to a hunk of rock. In a police video taken during the day, nothing lies next to his outstretched right hand. But in a photograph taken in the dark, which lawyers said was taken later the same day, a machete with a yellow handle lies next to the man’s hand.

“In one of the videos, police officers can be heard joking and laughing next to the bodies of the slain miners. Two dead miners were photographed in handcuffs. Another body was found to have 12 bullet injuries.

“The testimony also revealed the horrific violence that preceded the police shooting. A police official presented photographs two security guards who had been hacked to death by a mob of striking workers seeking to march on the headquarters of a rival union. One’s face was hacked, and his tongue cut out. The other’s body was burned so badly as to be unrecognizable.”

Just like the Marikana massacre, violent events at Amplats last month are still shrouded in mystery. But Africa´s Mail and Guardian reported further details, as local police Brigadier Thulani Ngubane tells the newspaper it is “alleged” the drama unfolded after four NUM shop stewards arrived at the mine to reclaim occupancy of union offices which had been taken over by the AMCU. They were attacked by a group of 1000 strong, but nobody seems to know who this group was- or who was paying them.

At a parliamentary committee at the end of February, Amplats CEO Chris Griffith spoke only about investor confidence, the corporation´s number one priority, when he said: “If we keep having all these difficulties and we keep sending these difficult messages from South Africa, we are going to find it very difficult to ask for that money that we want to put in to maintaining our presence in South Africa.”

Once again, there was no mention of sharing the wealth.

This article was contributed by Sophie MacAdam –

via Latest News : Blood Money? Shock revelations and media half-truths on South African mine violence.

via Latest News : Blood Money? Shock revelations and media half-truths on South African mine violence.

Can 1 miracle plant solve the world’s 3 greatest problems?

Can 1 miracle plant solve the world’s 3 greatest problems?

Kenaf, the carbon-sequestering monster plant, provides food, shelter and carbon credits.


If someone were to tell you that they had a technology — a weed actually — that could sequester huge amounts of carbon permanently while lifting villagers out of poverty by providing both protein-rich food and super-insulated building materials, you might start to wonder if they were, well, smoking a different weed.

But it appears that one retired building contractor, Bill Loftus, has actually come upon a brilliant application of the fast-growing, carbon-sucking plant known as Kenaf. Kenaf is in the Hibiscus family and is thus related to both cotton and okra. Originally from Africa, this 4,000-year-old crop was used for its fiber. It has the astonishing ability to grow up to 14 feet in one growing season, yielding 6-10 tons of fiber per acre and making it a great source of pulp for paper.

But researchers have also discovered (PDF) a corresponding ability of Kenaf to inhale huge quantities of our most abundant global warming gas — CO2. We all now know we need to dramatically reduce our emissions, but even if we were to cut them by 50 percent in the next 10 years (an almost unachievable goal), we still have decades worth of CO2 that has yet to impact the climate. In other words, we need a technology that can actively pull CO2 out of the air and store it … permanently, now.

It turns out that Kenaf can absorb 3-8 times more CO2 than a tree. One acre of Kenaf can pull about 10 tons of CO2 out of the air per growing season, and in some parts of the world it can be cut back and regrown for a second season. With proper management, a single acre planted in Kenaf could absorb 20 tons of CO2.

But its not enough to simply absorb CO2. In order to create verifiable carbon credits, the CO2 must be sequestered permanently. This is where Bill Loftus comes in. Having worked for decades in the green building industry, he realized the abundant fiber of the Kenaf plant would be perfect as a filler to produce light-weight, super-insulating, fireproof concrete blocks that permanently sequester the carbon.

He patented the block, which weighs under 9 lbs, and is currently using it in two pilot projects in Haiti and South Africa, areas that have been hard hit by natural disasters and famine. The plant leaves are rich in protein (34 percent) and much-loved by chickens. So early in the season, it makes perfect feed in areas where feed is often not even available. The chickens in turn fertilize the soil and provide food for the villagers.

I still have a few questions — in particular about soil depletion and the invasiveness of the species — but I will be interviewing the CEO of Quantum-ionics, the distributor of the block, to get more answers. In the meantime you can check out Bill Loftus’ website and join his crusade to stop global warming, one kenaf plant at a time.

Can 1 miracle plant solve the world’s 3 greatest problems? – StumbleUpon.

via Can 1 miracle plant solve the world’s 3 greatest problems? – StumbleUpon.

Pictorial Religious themes 12- Hope


I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored, from pirate raids in Kiaochow, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philipines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking glass.
– “A Salutation from the 19th to the 20th Century,” December 31, 1900…Mark Twain

Surplus labour in an age of austerity

Austerity as the latest paradigm from the neoliberals is set to last us a number of years. One thing we know about how the capitalists work is that they like a large section of the population to be searching for work at any one time as this suppresses wages and allows businesses to act flexibly in competition with one another.

Unemployment is at widely differing rates around the world and different countries measure it in different ways.  Unemployment in one country might mean relying solely on government benefits until a job is found.  In others it might be measured differently and result in more interventions from the state than simply receiving a hand out.  At our last set of lectures we learnt that in South Africa you don’t get counted in the figures if you eat the produce from fishing or hunting.  Likewise if you beg you are not considered unemployed.  In the UK we have an increasing number of people on workfare schemes and others slipping in and out of informal and part-time work ans therefore slipping in and out of informal stats.  Unemployment is mysterious and not simply one thing that is easily defined.

One concern we should have is the effects of austerity for school leavers and those at retirement age.  It is very rare these two groups are looked at together and yet at the extremities of the labour market it seems to me that they have much in common in terms of feeling the brunt of austerity measures.

For years the establishment has been warning of a pensions black hole and the ruling class answer to this has been to raise retirement age in the hope that most people will die without having to draw any money from the state or their investments.  So people will have to drive themselves into the ground.  That is politically easier to put into operation than simply ditching state pensions altogether but you do wonder how many decades we are away from that policy objective.

The rules in place for working longer aren’t matched by employers being sympathetic about getting older.  The older we get the more likely we are to develop disabilities and need adjustments in the workplace which might cost money.  The policies on retirement age therefore produce tension and worry amongst the workforce and as markets liberalise we find that people have less choice and power over their lives.  The idea that people who have contributed for decades and built up an account full of deferred wages for use later in life is becoming a quaint notion.

At the other end of the scale we have young people, educated either privately or by the state.  Either way their education has been one long training course for the rest of their lives.  State school leavers face the prospect of there being very few jobs available right now.  At the same time their options with regards to further and higher education are being set by the ruling class on economic factors alone.  I worry that this effectively means that thousands of people are going to be joining benefit queues each summer.  How is that going to help increase taxation revenues and secure pensions?  How will less public sector jobs help the situation?  How will the mass of people at retirement age still working help the situation?

The answer of course is that they don’t want this to get better.  Austerity is a doctrine being used to create a narrative to explain the crisis of capitalism.  It is a crisis of the rich and by the rich but one where you pick up the bill.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, they want you to either work longer till you die or take any crummy job you can get to keep off benefits.  In fact it would be best if you took poorly paid work for the rest of your life and died before retiring please.  And as work is paid less and less so benefits are reduced as an incentive to get you up in the morning looking for work if you do happen to be unemployed.

Of course there is another way.  Hell, there are lots of other ways!  The UK is a rich nation with a flatlining economy.  The UK isn’t getting poorer – you are.  In other words some people are still getting a great deal richer at your expense.  Board room pay is up 27% this last year.  The wealth is there to fund retirement with dignity.  The wealth is there to ensure nobody need feel any poorer.  The wealth though has been taken from those who do the work by those who have the power.

We must have the courage to fight for it.

via Surplus labour in an age of austerity « Trade Onion.

via Surplus labour in an age of austerity « Trade Onion.

Austerity: The madness of a dying system

The ruling class has no alternative to austerity and the drive to create a pristine capitalism. Not only is that impossible, but, as shown by South Africa, the working class is beginning to revolt. This is an edited version a speech by Hillel Ticktin, editor of Critique, on November 17


Capital will kill and destroy: that is its nature

If one looks at the current situation, one would have to conclude not that we are coming out of a crisis, but that the ruling class is becoming more and more afraid. Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, says that the real position is getting worse. Why is he saying that? One could say, of course, that he is coming to the end of his term, and that he has to say how bad everything is. But it is clearly more than that. There really is a degree of pessimism now within the ruling class itself, which he is expressing.

The second aspect of the situation is that austerity has more or less become the dominant mode of discourse. Barack Obama represents the left wing of the ruling class, and even he frames his policy within it. Except that his austerity is not the same as the Tea Party austerity, which seems to rule in the Republican Party and would have been the policy if Romney had won. Nevertheless, there will be a form of austerity, whichever side you take in mainstream politics at the moment.

In this country it is obvious that Ed Miliband has more or less accepted that line as well. In fact it is the line that was set in the 1930s – the Austrian line, as it was called. Paul Krugman has said that austerity is in effect a means of control. Behind the word ‘austerity’ one can hide the form of control, hide the fact that there is a ruling class that is doing very well, and that society is, if anything, becoming more unequal, not less so. That can be hidden behind the word ‘austerity’ – that is what Keynes said and what Krugman has been saying.

One might have expected Keynes to have said that if he had been a reformist. But he was nowhere near the left, and was strongly anti-working class. However, one has to accept that the ruling class, in order to survive, has to make concessions at certain times. And in order to make concessions they have to recognise their own real position, and make it clear that by making concessions they are retaining control. It amounts to removing the veil of commodity fetishism and saying, ‘Yes, we are here in control, despite these concessions’.

However, the austerity line is the reverse: it amounts to a refusal to accept what is real. Yet it is the dominant viewpoint now. In 2007 I attempted to analyse the different forms of capitalist control – both those that are inherent in the nature of capital itself and the substitutes employed at this time – and see how far they could be maintained. Austerity is part of that.

At the present time no alternative policy is being put forward. Krugman is isolated and the Keynesian approach is not being advocated, except in a very limited sense. Obviously, it was used in 2008-09 to pump money into the system, and it did save the world economy from going into a bottomless slump. Without that taking place the system really would have collapsed. What would have happened afterwards we do not know. But they simply had to act, but, having done so, they are now reversing the line.

They are not prepared to countenance the Keynesian solution, and so the only place left is austerity. Various people, including Krugman, are saying that the policy is mad. It is mad because it is impossible. Welfare cannot simply be abolished, which is what it requires. Apart from anything else it would mean a collapse in demand, and at a technical level it would mean reintroducing debtors’ prisons. How else do you deal with a situation where millions of people are near to starving and where there would be riots? So, it is impossible, simply because the population would not accept it. Of course, the ruling class understands that, and a number of economists who advocate austerity are not that stupid either. But I have to say many of them are – much of what has appeared in the press is simply nonsense.

In attempting to balance the budget, they are actually restoring the reserve army of labour. In other words, they are returning to a classic form of capitalism, as outlined in Capital volume 1. This is particularly prominent in volume 3, where Marx examines the nature of crisis, although it is also present in volume 2 of Theories of surplus value.

However, there are at least some sections of the ruling class who see that it is impossible to actually do it. That if they try to do it, it will increase the momentum towards change, or cause riots; as in South Africa. The trade unions and working class may start to act as a unified class and that would be highly dangerous. This is the contradiction at the heart of capitalism itself.

It was not like that in 2007. They had not yet got to this point, and nobody knew people were quite so mad. That the Tea Party is mad is obvious, but that the mainstream ruling class would actually proceed in this manner – the Conservative Party in the UK and the CDU in Germany – was totally unexpected. That is a paradox and, of course, a weakness. It does serve the purpose of providing a cover, as it puts forward a false enemy. It appears to be a policy which can be reversed, but they do not want the alternative policy: that is to say, they cannot re-inflate the economy; they ruled that out from the 70s onwards.

Why was there a shift towards finance capital at that time? Some people argue in terms of the falling rate of profit, but there are many arguments against that viewpoint. I think that they simply ruled out reflation because it would lead back to the 70s. If the working class got back to anywhere near full employment, it would start being able to act collectively as a class again; it would become far too powerful. So it is not that they cannot do it: they will not do it. They simply will not take the Keynesian road.


One can also look at the question more generally. I am thinking in particular of what was said in 2007 by Bill Gross, head of Pacific Investment Management, which holds more than $1 trillion in government bonds. It may only be half of what the Chinese hold, but it is still pretty important. It was he who declared that British bonds were toxic, and it was this that justified the government’s policies of austerity. The influential viewpoint of that company was one of the reasons that the US credit rating was downgraded.

Speaking at the 2007 annual general meeting of his company, he said that it was “far better to recognise that only twice before during the last century has such a high percentage of national income gone to the top 0.1% of American families”. This was long before Occupy, and not from a person on the left. It was “far better to understand”, he continued, “that society should place an initial emphasis on abundance, and the state should continually strive to distribute the abundance more equitably”. One might think that the following might perhaps be a quote from Skidelsky, in his phase as a leftwinger, but it is still Gross: “… when the fruits of society’s labour becomes maldistributed, when the rich get richer, and the middle and lower classes struggle to keep their heads above water, as is clearly the case today, then the system ultimately breaks down”. He continues: “… boats do not rise equally with the tide; the centre cannot hold.”1

This from a member of the Republican Party who has to be considered an integral and central figure in the ruling class. But that was in 2007. The situation is clearly much worse today, in terms of income distribution, for example.

The most important aspect of the crisis is the fact that money is not capital. That is to say, there has been a build-up of money which cannot be invested, and when that happens value does not create more value. There is no self-expanding value and money which does not self-expand is not capital. This build-up of trillions around the world is obviously the problem today – the reason why things are getting so desperate and people are starting to demand the government adopts a different policy.

However, the level of unemployment has not risen in the way it did during the great depression. In America it may not be wonderful, but it is a lot better than it was in 1933. That is so precisely because of the policies adopted, which in part has meant that around the world, particularly western Europe and the United States, companies have tended to keep workers on, while effectively decreasing their wages, or have allowed workers to retire early.

The effect is that, although unemployment has risen, it has not done so as fast as it did in the great depression. That is why most economists do not refer to the current situation as a depression, although it does constitute one from Marx’s point of view – a point also made by Krugman. A depression is not a matter of one or two quarters without growth, but long-term stagnation, in which there are ups and downs.

The point is that in the recent period the capitalist class has been doing very well: profits have actually gone up during a depression. Well, that cannot last, but it is actually what has happened. So if Bill Gross were to repeat his remarks today (although I am not sure he would) he would have to go even further.

This affluence does not just apply to the top of the capitalist class; it also applies to managers. The income of the top percentile in Britain, the top 11,000 earners, has increased by 50%. As a result, top managers who were previously receiving, say, £2.5 million a year are now getting five million. Not bad. So for some people it has been a rather good depression.

There is increasing antagonism towards people who pocket so much money, although it is not class antagonism as such. Yet the whole argument around companies that are avoiding tax is really a blind alley. That is the nature of capitalism – companies and individuals must always strive to minimise their tax bill. Instead of making a big deal about a managing director who is making 10 million, why not just tax them at say 95% or even 99%? They would still be doing very well compared to most of us.

The reason that will not happen can be explained by the nature of capitalism itself. Obviously, the logic would not just be to tax the capitalist class, but for the state to redistribute their entire wealth to the working class. But that would not be capitalism. So campaigning on the basis of this or that company, or this or that terrible capitalist who does not pay their taxes is really just a way of avoiding fighting the system.

However, that is the kind of form that resistance has taken, and that clearly is where we are today. But the left just seems to go along with this miseducation of the population. In fact why is it ‘responsible’ to pay tax? Why do we want to pay for more wars?

South Africa

An interesting aspect of this is that in the third world we can see control beginning to fray. There is an obvious case of this in South Africa, and I would like to say a few words about that. A central question is the crucial role of Stalinism in maintaining the system. Now obviously, the Soviet system no longer exists, and the Chinese Communist Party is a kind of afterlife – market Stalinism, Stalinist capitalism, or whatever one calls it. It is a form of derived Stalinism.

In South Africa, Stalinism is still playing a key role. The fact is – and I have to say this because people do not generally understand it – in 1994, the capitalist class preferred to put in a non-racist government. The whole concept of racial capitalism is simply wrong. The theory was that, in order for capitalism to develop in South Africa, the capitalist class had to use racial discrimination.

I do not intend to go on about this, as I have written a book about the question,2 but it does appear to me to be simply wrong. But it was the basis of the South African Communist Party’s ideology that took a nationalist line rather than a line against capitalism, putting off the day that capitalism could be overthrown to some time in the future. That, as you know, is the hallmark of Stalinism – there is always some reason why communism is always something for the day after tomorrow.

In South Africa the SACP adopted the line that the essential thing was to end racial discrimination, but the capitalist class would be unwilling to do so. In fact, it meant that they could stop paying white workers between 10 and 20 times what black workers were paid. From the point of view of the capitalist class, this was simply an incubus that they did not need. The result was that the rate of profit was not high and they regarded it as preferable to abolish the wage difference, which is what they did. As a result, profits have gone up, and so it was a successful change from the point of view of the capitalist class.

The South African government includes not only members of the Communist Party, but those who to a large degree they have been influenced, or controlled, by the Communist Party. The major trade unions have also been controlled by the SACP. So when there is an industrial dispute it has been compared to ‘playing tennis with yourself’ – on one side of the net there is a minister who belongs to the SACP and on the other an SACP union leader.

The unions are closer to Soviet-style unions, except that it is cleverer than that, because they do go on demonstrations, they do demand higher wages and they go on strike. But it is easy to put wages up every year because the real wage is something different. Although it is hard to work out the real figures, one could argue that sections of the workforce have either the same wage as in 1994, when the government came in, or a lower wage.

That is the way South Africa has been run for the last 20 years, and why people should have put up with that is not very clear. But things have finally snapped.

The point of going through this description is to show that the form of control rested to a large degree on Stalinism: the way they actually control the unions and the propaganda they are putting forward. When the government arrived in 1994, and before then, there were slogans all over the place calling for socialism – there was a level of socialist consciousness. But the overall understanding of what socialism would mean and how it would take place was very low, and a lot lower than it was in the 1950s. The level of understanding among the left was very poor.

Unless you understand the nature of Stalinism, you will not understand what has happened in South Africa. And unless you have a more general theory of the global economy, with Stalinism bound up in it, then you will not understand the current economic situation either. The world is in transition – away from capitalism, whilst remaining within capitalism – and there are three sets of laws in operation: the laws of capitalism, the laws of transition and the laws of decline.

In South Africa there are people now in power who talk about socialism, who have spent many years in jail fighting the apartheid regime and who appear to be honest. Some of them are honest and genuine, of course, although many are now millionaires. There is the wonderful example of Cyril Ramaphosa, the former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, who is now a multi-billionaire and director of the company against which workers in Rustenberg have been on strike. He is not the only one.

The point is that there is a highly complex situation, with obviously a very low level of education, including socialist education. The ANC government has one of the worst records on education. According to The Economist, it comes somewhere like 120th in the world. So it is not surprising that it has taken 20 years for people to react. It is little wonder that people do not understand socialism when there is a government of multi-millionaires proclaiming themselves to be communists and socialists, presiding over an economy where the majority have very low wages.

That includes the opposition within the African National Congress milieu. Even someone like Julius Malema, the expelled former leader of the ANC Youth League, who calls for the nationalisation of the mines, is simply an opportunist. He is personally very well off and in fact seems to act as a spokesman for outside interests.

Despite this complexity we are now seeing the beginnings of a revolt. So far it is taking a trade union form – demands for higher wages, for more workplace control and so forth; and concessions have been made. And it is not just in the mines. It began in the platinum and other mines, but now it has spread throughout industry and even agriculture. There is a generalised revolt of workers in South Africa, precisely because of the conditions they have to endure, and without there being any understanding, any theory whatsoever, about the underlying causes.

Since perhaps the 50s and 60s, there have been perhaps two countries where Trotskyism has been some kind of force. One was Ceylon, where a Trotskyist faction entered into government, and the other was South Africa. In the Western Cape in particular Trotskyism was dominant on the left, even when it was not dominant in the country as a whole. It is no accident that quite a significant number of Trotskyists come originally from South Africa. The late Neville Alexander came from that tradition, and was immersed in it in Cape Town. But now it has been degraded, and the level of discussion is very poor. So I do not think you can expect very much more to happen at this time, but it does give hope: if the working class is acting as a whole, then that provides impetus for a left to be formed. One that is to the left of the Communist Party, of course.

Control undermined

Global profits have tended to go up since 2009. But here you have an important source of those profits – the third-world extraction of minerals – being threatened. If you look at the FTSE 100, the Financial Times bellwether of companies, a large proportion of those whose profits are under threat are in mining. There is an acceptance that capitalism is in trouble, which is not surprising: they are in trouble and they are going to be in trouble.

Hence the importance of South Africa technically, politically and economically. The interaction between South Africa and other countries on the continent means the revolt will spread. There are many migrants in South Africa because even the low wages paid to workers there are higher than in other African countries. So it is not surprising that workers try to get into the country, and that is why the population has grown so fast in spite of the Aids epidemic. In the 50s, the population stood at around 12 million, and now it is over 50 million. Life expectancy went down under president Thabo Mbeki, dropping to something like 45, but, now that proper HIV medicine is available, it has gone back up to 51.

South Africa is an example of what is happening, and the degree to which they control is being challenged. What I have argued is that, on the one hand, there are the classic means of control: commodity fetishism and the reserve army of labour; on the other hand, they have already been partly shot through. In the period from 1945 to, say, 1972, there was no reserve army of labour in Britain: it is hard to talk of what existed as a simple reserve army, when there were welfare benefits and what Marx would have called a surplus population. But now the intention is to fully restore the reserve army of labour – and for that the reduction of welfare benefits to the absolute minimum is necessary.

Any such attempt will, of course, result in big problems for the capitalist class. Workers will fight for their rights and the fact that capitalism has been overthrown, even if the result was Stalinism, has meant that it can be seen through and exposed, and this will continue to happen as long as capitalism exists. Anyway, the point is that the revolt will spread – it must spread. The stories of what happened, that people were shot down and tortured, are well known. So we can expect the revolt to spread to other countries on the continent – and I would think to other continents too.

via Austerity: The madness of a dying system – Communist Party of Great Britain.

via Austerity: The madness of a dying system – Communist Party of Great Britain.

Teachers striking in Dublin’s schools,what does it do? | School Security

Teachers striking in Dublin’s schools,what does it do?

Striking season is not limited to South Africa. Teachers in Ireland’s Dublin schools have been protests over pay cuts to their budgets in the streets. The three main teachers unions in Ireland joined forces to take to the streets and try to make a difference. But in the end,what does this protesting do? And who is it for?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – SEPTEMBER 05: Thousands of Victorian teachers march to Parliament house demanding better wages on September 5, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. The Australian Education Union AEU want a 30 per cent pay increase for teachers over three years and more job security as opposed to the 2.5 percent increase offered by the government with the best 70 percent of teachers recieving a bhonus every year. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

The teachers have been compliaing that their teaching system is at breaking point. The last four budget cuts put in place by Ireland’s government there has been an increase in class size and a decrease student support.

ASTI General Secretary Pat King said that today’s protest is about sending a message to Government that “there is nothing left to take from education” in the Budget.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr King said that the previous four Budgets have devastated Irish education, increased class size and removed student supports.

This protesting is great for grabbing�headlines�and filling the blogger’s sphere ,but does it really improve the lives of students and teachers alike? It is hard to say in the irish setting as it has just started but as far as the situation in South Africa it has�definitely�not helped anyone. It is the talks while the protests and strikes are on hold with the policy makers that really make a difference.

But by the same token it is hard to say that the policy makers and the like would be as likely to pay attention to the strikers’ wants and needs without the public pressure.

In essence ,it is this blogger’s belief,that communication is the main problem. Those in power must listen to those on the ground before they look for attention in ways that are not constructive. And those they feel disenfranchised or want to strike mut consider the effectiveness thereof and the far reaching consequences thereof.

Teacher’s Office, Korea (Photo credit: watchsmart)

This is a world wide trend,here are some linked articles

via Teachers striking in Dublin’s schools,what does it do? | School Security.

via Teachers striking in Dublin’s schools,what does it do? | School Security.

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