Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hey You British: Why Not Join The Union?

Len McCluskey

Len McCluskey of the UK Unite union says:

We need to raise people’s consciousness. They have been battered for the last three to four years by the media who, combined with the political leaders of all three main parties, have been telling them the cuts are essential to prevent economic collapse.

He believes austerity is not working and the government should change direction, and that the public is increasingly angry about tax avoidance by the rich. Having millions of people out of work, including over a million young people, is not a price worth paying. We need an investment bank to invest in green industries and to put hundreds of thousands of unemployed building workers back to work constructing thousands of new homes for sale and rent.

Unite has introduced community membership, costing 50 pence a week, giving anyone not in work a chance to join the union. McCluskey says it’s intended to “to ensure we look after people from cradle to grave and make sure we are the big society”.

Why not join the union? It’s 50p a week payable by direct debit.

Friday, October 26, 2012

London Living Wage Pleases Workers, Employers and Government

I want to live not just exist

580,000 workers, one in five in London, get less than the poverty wage (£8.30) of the “London Living Wage” (LLW). Though the national minimum wage is £6.19 per hour, in London it is too little to live on. The LLW is defined as the basic living wage in the capital.

The government could save almost £1bn per year if all workers in London were paid at least the LL Wage, because of the higher tax revenue, and a reduction in welfare spending. Professor Jana Wills who steered the work observed:

Poverty levels among people who are in work have grown, making the campaign for a living wage more important than ever. It's clear that the LL Wage can benefit everybody concerned—employees and employers as well as the tax-paying public. Businesses that have introduced the wage have seen a 25 per cent fall in the number of staff who leave, better workplace relationships develop as a result and better psychological health amongst those employed in living wage workplaces.

Companies interviewed for the study suggest that the reputational benefits of paying the LL Wage have helped them attract new business. Employers also reported that demonstrating corporate social responsibility by paying the LL Wage has proven hugely beneficial in attracting high calibre graduate recruits. While wage costs increase for businesses, the impact can be minimised through adjusting working practices to increase efficiency.

A workplace survey found that half of employees (54 per cent) felt more positive about their workplace once the LL Wage was introduced, with 52 per cent feeling more loyal to their employers. Almost one third (32 per cent) of the London workers surveyed felt the higher wage benefitted their family. One in four began to be able to save a little or buy occasional special items. A two person household could earn up to an extra £5,000 per year.

Be a living wage employer!

Monday, October 22, 2012

How Zionists Control the British Parliament: Channel 4 Despatches

Peter Oborne on Channel 4's "Dispatches" programme shows the baneful and sinister effects of the Zionist lobby right inside the British Parliament. Essential viewing and sharing for understanding the troubles connected with the Zionist state of Israel in the center of the Moslem Middle east.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Second Amendment and US Gun Obsession

Gun Crazy
Of the 34 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the US ranks fifth in homicides, just behind Brazil (highest), Mexico, Russia, and Estonia. Our nation also holds the dubious honor of being responsible for half of the worst mass shootings in the last 30 years. How can we explain why the United States has nearly three times more murders per capita than neighboring Canada and 10 times more than Japan? What makes the land of the free such a dangerous place to live?
Eric Michael Johnson, Huff Post Science

Ryan Hurl, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, helps Canadians understand the US attitude to the second amendment to the American constitution.

The US Second Amendment to the American constitution states:

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

What does that mean? The is not entirely clear and it’s subject to contrasting and even conflicting interpretations. The meaning of the second part of the amendment—the right of the people to keep and bear arms is plain. People can keep and bear arms. But the implication of the first part is that they can do so so that they are able to make up a militia. That is what much of the disagreement is about. For Americans at the time of the revolution, a permanent army was regarded as a threat to freedom, yet all states had a standing army. Alexander Hamilton saw the need for the USA to have a professional army. So, the argument is about the dangers of a standing army, and a military establishment. When the constitution was being debated, people argued that a national professional army would be setting up an home grown equivalent of the British army—a threat to the autonomy of the individual states. The second amendment was to legitimize the legality of the states to have their own militias, to limit the power of the federal government to regulate firearms.

For the first century of America’s existence, the second amendment was not a question. In the few cases where the Supreme Court dealt with the second amendment, they have said it doesn’t make sense to understand it as an individual right in the same way as freedom of speech, but citizens have persistently interpreted it that way. There is a pretty strongly developed individual rights interpretation of the second amendment that has bipartisan support. But the Bill of Rights was itself considered a limit on the power of national government rather than an absolute expression of individual rights. This original understanding of the Bill of Rights started to change toward the end of the 19th century, if not later.

Some people make the point that we have weapons now that the founding fathers couldn’t have imagined, things like semiautomatic rifles. Should this change the discussion? Maybe it should change the discussion, but people will have different views about how the discussion should change! Part of their concern here is that people should be able to resist government. Governments can be controlled by tyrants. It is good that people can resist the government if necessary. In the 1960s, Democrats like John F Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey made claims like this. So some people would say we need to own semi-automatic rifles in case we need to resist government. Suspicion of government is something that crosses the political spectrum in the United States.

Is there room for gun control to coexist with an individual rights interpretation of the second amendment? Yes, but there are limits to what can be done. To simply say the second amendment is an anachronism that should be thrown in the dustbin of history is not going to work in the United States today. Even if we accept the notion that rights should be living, that rights should change over time, people are going to disagree about what time or history is telling them. You can’t go to history as if it was a sage on a mountaintop. You have to have a pretty enthusiastic interpretation of the philosophical capacities of judges and lawyers if you think they’re going to be able to commune with history and reach the right answer. They’ll reach an answer that might very well be plausible. You argue about these things in the public arena and ultimately it’s put to the test of voters. That’s why we have democracy.

The trouble is Professor Hurl, that we have no democracy without a democratic press, and the press in the US is extremely right wing, but it has convinced many that it is left wing, so change can only be further to the right and not to the center and left as it ought to be. No argument can therefore be balanced in the USA. Americans live in a political monoculture.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Some Opinions on the Flawed US Electoral System

These voting machines are swell

The US boasts it has free and fair elections. Only, though, while American politicians pretend the US electoral system contains no flaws:

Two words define why people hate America—double standards, on everything.
Ted Rall

A “double standard” is a rule or principle that is unfairly applied in different ways to different people or groups. Respecting every single voice is key in a democracy, but voter suppression is constant in the US.

Our citizens are kept away from the voting booth by rules that are meant to keep away a certain segment of the population, we have a lot of nerve, frankly, criticizing other countries for the way they run their democracies.
Brad Friedman

From questionable voter ID regulations, to shortened early voting time slots, to gerrymandering, laws affecting voters’ rights are introduced and vary state by state. Photo ID laws can affect 10 percent of Americans that simply don’t have any such ID. Jeanne Mirer from the National Lawyers Guild said:

There is an attempt to prevent large numbers of people from actually exercising their ballot.

Rall said:

We monitor other people's elections, of course! And if they don't allow it, they are cheating, it’s not democracy, it’s rigged, it’s a dictatorship, what the hell?!

Election monitors usually serve the purpose of keeping track of electoral discrepancies. When election ideals are not met elsewhere, criticism runs rampant, but the same goes for domestic observers. The US use of election machines stops adequate monitoring. Nobody knows what happens behind the scenes in an election machine. It’s the Florida swinging and hanging chad system writ large!

Michael Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University who has examined voting machine systems for more than 25 years, estimates that about 10 percent of the touch screen machines “fail” in each election. A single knowledgeable technician could fiddle a whole state vote, the Washington Post found. Jonathan Simon, co-founder and director of the Election Defense Alliance said:

When you are looking at an election where the votes are counted in public, by humans, it’s the kind of election that is possible to observe. There really is virtually no opportunity for international observation… Even the Carter Center, which goes abroad and does the great work of monitoring elections abroad, refuses to monitor US elections on the grounds that they don’t meet the basic standard of integrity.

While nitpicking abroad is all the rage, the elephant in the room remains unnoticed at home. Mark Crispin Miller, a NYU Professor, said:

Elections in Venezuela, elections in Iran, elections in Russia—the press will go to town on any sign that the outcome was fixed. Regardless of whether the evidence is sound, they’ll just go crazy. I promise you, the evidence they use to scream and yell about the outcome in those countries, is usually a whole lot weaker than the evidence of election theft in this country.

Obvious flaws like the utter dependence on huge wealth, the limitations of a two party system which perpetuates itself, are always met with a deaf ear. Ted Rall says:

Our policy makers, and to a great extent our media, and by trickle down, the American people, literally think the rest of the world is stupid. That everybody naturally has to admire us, that we’re great—and it’s not the case.

Meanwhile, the flawed election process persists with every vote cast in the US.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Peer Group Benchmarking Inherently Flawed and Inflationary

CEO compensation over the years
Every CEO, it seems, has to be made to look like a dashing Confederate cavalry general or a boardroom Elvis Presley.
Peter Drucker

But leaders require much more ordinary, solid qualities, such as showing respect for employees and their work. Drucker thought nothing destroyed leadership as effectively as excessive CEO compensation. Inequality foments disillusionment among lower level management and the company's wage earners, corroding mutual trust between the enterprise and society. Yet CEO pay has soared since WWII, and partly it is due to the compensation systems the have chosen which favor themselves while seeming objective—peer group benchmarking!

The unnecessary use of external peer group benchmarks to set management compensation is causing executive pay in the United States to rise inexorably without merit. Peer group benchmarking—now so widely utilized that it is enshrined in federal regulations—has become the corporate standard even though it was never intended to determine senior management compensation and was not designed to do so. Initially used after World War II to compare jobs like, say, accountants and civil engineers across companies, peer group benchmarking of salaries was an easy but misguided approach that eventually was used for CEOs and senior executives. Corporate boards need to cut their emphasize on peer grouping, and increase their emphasis on the company and its executives' accomplishments in setting their pay.

CEO to employee pay ratio

A report by the IRRC finds corporations should move away from formulaic peer group analyses in judging compensation packages, and hold directors accountable for their judgements. Companies are better served when directors use discretion—down as well as up—in setting compensation levels. Shifting to a compensation system that focuses on internal, company specific and success related methods will help solve the problem of excessive compensation plaguing many public corporations, resulting in a more reasoned compensation approach, improved board oversight, and a healthier corporation.

  • Peer group theories are misguided because they are based on the idea of responsive, competitive markets for executive talent, though executives are not constantly changing their company loyalties.
  • Systemically, a formulaic reliance on peer grouping will lead to spiraling executive compensation, even if peer groups are well constructed and comparable.
  • Even boards made up of faithful guardians of shareholder interests will fail to reach the levels of compensation merited when they rely on the faulty and costly process of peer benchmarking.
  • Boards should measure performance and determine compensation by focusing on factors directly important to the company.

In summary, the solution is to avoid arbitrary application of peer group data to set executive compensation levels. Instead, compensation committees must develop internal pay standards based on the specific company, its competitive environment and its dynamics. If customer satisfaction is deemed important to the company, then results of customer surveys should play into the compensation equation. Other such factors include revenue growth, cash flow, and other measures of return, an executive's current and historic performance and internal pay equity. Some reference to peer groups may be warranted, but the compensation process must maintain the flexibility necessary to retain and encourage talent in the managerial skills particularly important to that company, skills that should be continually assessed.

Authors of the report, Executive Superstars, Peer Groups and Over-Compensation—Cause, Effect and Solution, were Charles M Elson, Edgar S Woolard, Jr, Chair and director of the John L Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, and Craig K Ferrere, the Edgar S Woolard Fellow in Corporate Governance at the Weinberg Center. Download the full IRRC report.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

More Evidence “the American Dream” is... Well, Just a Dream!

The rhetoric is that the US is a place of unparalleled opportunity, where hard work and determination can take a child out of poverty into the White House, or at least a mansion on a hill, but the reality is different, according to a University of Michigan researcher who is studying inequality across generations around the world. Fabian Pfeffer, a sociologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research, said:

Especially in the United States, people underestimate the extent to which your destiny is linked to your background. Research shows that it’s really a myth that the US is a land of exceptional social mobility.

Pfeffer illustrates this using data on two generations of families in the US to compare with similar data from Germany and Sweden. He found that parental wealth is important in whether children move up or down the socioeconomic ladder in adulthood. Parental wealth has an influence above and beyond the three factors that sociologists and economists have traditionally considered in research on social mobility:

  1. parental education
  2. income
  3. occupation.

Pfeffer said:

Wealth not only fulfills a purchasing function, allowing families to buy homes in good neighborhoods and send their children to costly schools and colleges, for example, but it also has an insurance function, offering a sort of private safety net that gives children a very different set of choices as they enter the adult world. Despite the widespread belief that the US provides exceptional opportunities for upward mobility, these data show that parental wealth has an important role in shielding offspring from downward mobility and sustaining their upward mobility in the US no less than in countries like Germany and Sweden, where parental wealth also serves as a private safety net that not even the more generous European public programs and social services seem to provide.

The US data come from the ISR Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a survey of a nationally representative sample that started with 5,000 US families in 1968. Pfeffer is now expanding the number of countries he is analyzing, and is also examining the influence of grandparents’ wealth.

FDR Solved the Housing Crisis, Iceland Did, Ireland Is Doing, Why Do Republicans Block It?

Rob Griffiths: Address to the Cambridge Union, 4 October 2012

Robert Griffiths, CPB
Cambridge Union debate, Thursday, October 4

Posted 9 Oct 2012 13:02 by phil katz

Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths spoke at the Cambridge Union as the third speaker of three in support of the motion that This House believes that capitalism has failed. A nineteen year old engineering student who is secretary of the University Communist Society also spoke in favour.

The motion was lost by a margin of 253 votes to 193 with 90 recorded abstentions. Rob Griffiths delivered the following speech:

"Comrades, or at least those whom I can call that after this evening’s vote.

Most of the mass media are in the hands of capitalist monopolies or the capitalist state, and they promote the capitalist system 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. I have 10 minutes to put the opposite case and so I hope you will forgive me if, Mr President, I don’t take take any interventions or points of information from the floor.

The motion before you is clear enough. ’This House believes that capitalism has failed’. It doesn’t ask you to abolish capitalism next week or next year. It doesn’t require you to support any alternative form of society. It doesn’t advocate socialism or communism, still less the feudalism which Mr John Longworth [President of the British Chambers of Commerce, speaking against] seems to be so worried about.

You will, therefore, have noticed the shoals of anti-Red herrings launched by the opposition during the course of the debate. They are intended to divert your attention from the sole proposition under consideration.

In the Communist Manifesto of 1848, Marx and Engels recognised how capitalism had revolutionised the face of the earth. But they also warned that:

Modern bourgeois society ... [which] has conjured up such gigantic means of production and exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether-world whom he has called up by his spells.

Could there be a more apt description of today’s economic and financial crisis, the longest and deepest for 80 years? And how does today’s sorcerer and his apprentices look to overcome this crisis?

By exploiting labour more intensively, cutting jobs, wages, pensions and public services, and seeking new markets in the former Soviet Union, China, India and the Middle East, doing whatever it takes. But no serious steps will be taken to control the powers of the nether-world. The bankers will mostly escape the consequences of their actions.

Meanwhile, the world’s banks and financial markets have, so far, received public subsidies and pledges worth close on £20 trillion of public money to bail them out. That is enough to feed the 800 million people on this planet, in the capitalist world, who suffer malnutrition, including the 6 million children who die every year as a result.

It is enough to educate the 114 million children who, in the capitalist world, have no schools and the 584 million women who are illiterate.

And, by providing basic sanitation and safe drinking water for almost half of the earth’s 7 billion people, it is enough to eradicate preventable diseases which—in this capitalist world—kill 11 million children and 6 million adults every year.

In Britain, the bail-out bill so far is £1.3 trillion, about six times the total cuts in public spending planned over the next five years.

The banks have been handed £375 billion in Quantitative Easing—enough to keep open every closing Remploy factory for disabled workers or every shut-down Post Office for the next 10,000 years.

In reality, capitalism’s vast wealth and productive forces are not devoted to solving the most desperate, basic problems of billions of our fellow citizens. The giant monopolies which dominate every sector of the capitalist economy are driven by one over-riding goal: to maximise profit.

(By the way, I hope nobody has fallen for the myth of the ’free market’ being peddled by opposition this evening. There is no such thing because, in the modern capitalist economy, every sector of the economy is dominated by five, six or seven giant monopoly companies).

Ah, but the sorcerer’s well-rewarded apprentices say, that profit is needed to expand investment. So how true is this in, say, the vital pharmaceutical industry?

In the British Medical Journal this August, two eminent American academics reveal that the world’s seven biggest drugs companies spend around 80 per cent of their budget on sales and marketing, 12 times more than on innovative research. Their profits have grown six times more than their spending on research and development since 1990. They mark up the prices of drugs by as much as 569,000 per cent. They mainly develop products for their lucrative clients in Western markets. They use the patent system to deny cheap drugs to poorer peoples and then they lie on a massive scale about their operations.

I’ll skip over the cess-pit that is the armaments industry, with its corrupt deals with tame Arab dictators and its rampant profiteering at public expense, because I must mention that giant casino, the City of London, and the giant financial corporations which:

  • Mis-sell loan insurance and pension schemes, robbing more than 10 million people of £21 billion.
  • Fiddle the interest rates and make billions as a result.
  • Launder money for dictators and big business throughout the world.
  • And help monopolies and the super-rich in Britain stash more than £3 trillion in secret banks accounts and some 28 tax havens under British jurisdiction around the world.

Al Capone got 13 years in prison for fiddling his tax returns. Why aren’t Britain’s financial gangsters in the dock?

Capitalism’s well-paid propagandists plead that their system promotes democracy.

  • There was nothing democratic about slavery and the slave trade, which provided much of the capital, the raw materials and the markets for Britain’s Industrial Revolution.
  • There was nothing democratic about empires that imposed oppressive rule and cruel exploitation on subject peoples.
  • There was nothing democratic about the crucial support of Krupp, Thyssen, the Deutsche Bank and I G Farben who put Hitler into power or profited from his rule.
  • Nor was there anything democratic about the installation of dictators and their death squads across large parts of Latin America, Africa and the Middle East for most of the 20th century.

Democratic rights have been fought for and won by the people, never willingly granted by their rulers.

This is also true of progressive taxation, the welfare state, comprehensive education, employment and trade union rights and many other measures to combat capitalist privilege and inequality.

Now, we see the monopoly corporations and their paid-for politicians rolling back those democratic and social gains, telling us that we should obey the bond markets, the Bank of England, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation and all those unelected, unaccountable bodies that represent big business interests in our society.

• Capitalism is failing the people—especially the young people—of Britain and Europe today.

• Capitalism has failed and continues to fail billions of people around the world.

• Capitalism is failing the planet and its whole eco-system.

Why? Because most of the power and wealth is in the hands of a small minority of the population, who take their decisions on the basis of private and corporate self-interest.

The sorcerer’s apprentices tell us that nothing else is possible because of ’human nature’ which, they say while looking in the mirror, is predominantly selfish, greedy and short-sighted—like capitalism, in fact. The opening speech from the representative of this evening’s corporate sponsors talked of the ’greed, selfishness and ignorance’ of human nature.

Really! Does that describe you?

Can we not build a society based on hard work and human ingenuity, but also on the principles of coordination, cooperation, solidarity, democacy and environmental sustainability?

If you think we can, then you will support the motion."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Media Coverage Affects Viewers’ Judgement of Presidential Debates

Presidential Debate: Obama and Romney

Media pundits wrote almost uniformly that Obama came out of the first debate with Romney poorly. New research led by Ray Pingree, assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University, suggests media coverage of the presidential debates influences how they affect voters!

Researchers conducted two different studies in which young Americans viewed clips from the 2004 and 2008 presidential debates and then read media coverage of the debates. Afterward, the viewers had to describe the debate to a friend. From these descriptions, the researchers found how the media coverage affected what viewers focused on when reflecting on the debates.

A “game frame” is one in which the media approach the debates as a sporting event. They discuss who won the debate, who looked best, and who appealed to certain key blocs of voters. A “policy frame” is one in which the media discuss the issues, such as which candidate supported certain policies and the reasons he gave for that support.

  • The first study found that media coverage of the debate focusing on it as a competition between the candidates led viewers to think less about policy issues. Media coverage that focused on the substance of the discussion led the viewers to think about the candidates’ policies.
  • The second study, in a different elections with a bigger and more varied sample, reinforced the first—people were influenced by the media coverage of the debates.

Professor Pingree said:

The media have a strong influence on whether viewers think of the debate in terms of a discussion of the issues or simply as a competition between the candidates. We need the media to treat the content of the debates more seriously. Viewers want to hear how their vote choice connects to real problems facing the nation and they want help from the media in figuring out which policies will actually be more likely to solve problems. There will be other times for the media to focus on who won or who looked better.

The media coverage had a strong effect on whether the viewers engaged in policy reasoning. Even though they all were exposed to the same clip, viewers who read the media article with the game frame—emphasizing who won the debate—listed the fewest policy reasons in their description of the debate. Those who read the article with the policy frame listed the most policy reasons. Those who didn’t read any coverage fell in the middle. Pingree said:

Even though all the participants were exposed to the same clip of the debate, they took away very different messages depending on the media coverage. Postdebate coverage that uses the game frame undermines the ability of debates to get citizens reasoning about politics.

They were influenced by media framing of the presidential debates because framing is often invisible to us. Pingree commented:

If we think someone is trying to change our mind about something, our alarm bells go off and we resist the influence. But we don’t often notice framing by the media, because we have our own thoughts related to both frames. Most people can think about political issues either as a game or as a substantive discussion of how best to solve a problem. What the media are doing is simply drawing our attention to whatever thoughts we already have about the game aspect, which is the aspect of politics that is not as valuable to democracy.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Understand Marx Video

If you have a spare hour or so watch this entertaining and educational video explaining the communism of Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto of 1848.