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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Who Are the Other Americans Now?

If you are concerned about rising poverty rates in the United States, you are not alone. Surveys of American voters consistently reveal substantial majorities (around 60 percent of respondents) that say rising poverty in this nation is a major concern. Slightly smaller majorities agree that government should intervene on behalf of poor families and children. Renewed Occupy Wall Street demonstrations this spring should keep poverty and inequality in the news cycle. In aPew research poll released in January 2012 (the most recent polling available on the issue), 66 percent of respondents agreed that there are “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor—an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009. Many identify with the 99 percent, and wish to assist those who are experiencing frightening economic insecurity, but do we know what it will take to change the situation?

West Bengal: A Year of Violence & Crime

New Delhi, May 16, 2012: This is not something the people of Bengal had bargained for when they bought the slogan of “paribortan” advanced by the TMC-Congress combine and decided to end 34 years of uninterrupted reign of the Left Front. Killings, arson, rape, molestation, physical assaults on women, forcible collection of money, eviction from land -- have all become a daily occurrence. It does not surprise them anymore. Slowly but surely, people have started comparing the current dispensation with the dreaded period of the seventies, when the state witnessed semi-fascist terror. Will the state fall back to those days is an apprehension being shared by more and more people. 
Between the period May 14, 2011 when the TMC combine assumed office to May 12, 2012, as many as 65 Left Front leaders, activists and supporters have been brutally killed by TMC goons. 4904 persons had to be hospitalized on account of the injuries sustained in such attacks.
The steep rise in the overall crime graph points to the general deterioration in the law and order situation during the past one year, since the TMC combine assumed office. 40,124 people have been evicted from their homes. It is estimated that an amount of around Rs. 28 crores has been forcibly collected from 9529 persons. 
There has been an alarming increasing in the number of rape cases. 23 cases of rape have been reported from different parts of the state during the past one year. Apart from this, there has also been an overall rise in the incidents of atrocities against women. During the first year of the TMC regime, and shamefully with a lady at the helm, 517 cases of molestation of women and 790 cases of physical assault on women have been reported. One of these cases pertains to the rape of a speech and hearing impaired girl in Bankura by a resident doctor within the hospital premises. In an overwhelming majority of these cases the culprits owe their allegiance to the ruling TMC. Unfortunately, however, in many cases, the complainants have been discredited, their character assassinated and motives assigned. In cases were police officers have investigated independently and proceeded against the culprits, they have been promptly transferred. The CM has had the cheek to call these cases “politically motivated” or “fabricated”, even if it meant tarnishing the image of the victim and defending the perpetrators of these crimes. 
There has been a planned and systematic attack on land reforms implemented during the Left Front rule. Apart from 26,838 pata holders and bargardars (who had received tenancy rights during the tenure of Left Front government) who have been evicted from their lands, 3,418 peasants are not being allowed to cultivate their own land. 
The attack has now spread to democratic institutions and the electoral process, besides the massive attack on the political opponents of the TMC.  Even the levels of intolerance have seen a steady growth. The innocuous act of forwarding an email containing a caricature of the Chief Minister saw a university professor, Ambikesh Mahapatra landing behind bars. Newspapers and periodicals that a library could subscribe to have all been listed and sent in an order to libraries across the state. Boards put up by the Ganashakti daily have been made a special target for attack. 250 of such boards on which the daily was pasted for reading by the public who could not afford purchasing the paper, have been destroyed. Thedemocratic right to protest is also sought to be curtailed. Another renowned professor, Partho Sarothi Ray was arrested and jailed for taking part in a peaceful demonstration against eviction of slum dwellers. 
Since October 2011, 38 incidents of attacks on the election process in different institutions in the state have been reported. 84 student union offices have been captured by the student wing owing allegiance to the TMC. Assault on students, teachers and staff in educational institutions are increasing.
It is but natural that the brunt has been borne by the CPI(M), the mass organisations under its leadership and its partners in the Left Front. Apart from the 65 leaders and cadres of the Left who have been mercilessly killed, 611 offices of the CPI(M) have been ransacked and captured. 217 offices of the mass organisations have been captured in different parts of the state. 14 Party conferences at various levels were attacked. 3293 persons have been arrested on the basis of false and fabricated cases being foisted on them. Arms are being planted in houses and offices of the Party and in subsequent raids “recoveries” are reported. The reported number of such cases is 169. 
Besides, there has been a sharp increase in the number of kidnappings, looting of shops, dismantling of elected three tier panchayat bodies or forcible resignation of elected representatives.
But this is not all. In the seven month period between October 12, 2011 and May 12, 2011, agricultural distress has led 53 peasants to commit suicide, which the government is not ready to admit.


Red alert on Food Security---Brinda Karat

The call by the Left Parties for a nationwide struggle for a universal public distribution system to ensure food security, doing away with the targeted APL/BPL is very timely. For the last two years with the increase in foodgrain production and good procurement, the country has ample stocks to ensure a non-targeted public distribution system along with maintaining adequate buffer stocks. But under the neo-liberal policy framework, a 3 per cent increase in foodgrain production, as it is this year, is seen not as an opportunity to tackle malnutrition but as a “problem” and a “mismatch of production and storage” capacity. 

We have the shameful spectacle of plenty amidst hunger and malnutrition while Government Ministers discuss how to avoid foodgrains rotting in the open, because of lack of storage space. On April 30, it was reported that the Prime Minister would be meeting with the Ministers of Agriculture, Finance and Food along with the Planning Commission officials to decide what to do. It surely does not require such high level meetings to know that the only “solution” in a country with the largest malnourished population in the world, would be to ensure cheap foodgrains to the people through increased allocations. The FoodMinistry is on record that it had suggested that the allocations for BPL and APL should be doubled and the price for APL reduced which would “eliminate old stocks” and “empty the godowns” for the rabi season procurement. According to statements made by Ministry officials to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, they had asked for an allocation of 1.06 lakh crore rupees, around 30,000 crores rupees more than the 2012-2013 budgetary allocation. But this has not been accepted. 

On the contrary, big capitalist farmers and agri-trade representatives in the Government are arguing for lifting of restrictions on exports of foodgrains to be encouraged through subsidies to the farmers. This deliberate attempt to pit the interests of farmers against consumers helps only the rich farmers and the big traders. There are examples in the not so distant past, as in 2008-2009 when deliberately created shortages, say for example in sugar supplies, helped big sugar companies make a killing in profits on the import and export of sugar, subsidized at both ends while consumers had to pay upto 100 rupees a kilo of sugar. Earlier in 2006 and 2007, a deliberate non-procurement of wheat leaving the field open to private procurement at only slightly higher prices than the MSP, led to a substantial loss to the exchequer when India had to import wheat at much higher prices than it gave to the Indian farmer. Again it was the big farmers and traders that made a killing. Middle and small framers will not benefit from any lifting of export restrictions. For the large majority of farmers, deep in debt, the immediate relief would be if the UPA Government accepted the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission to increase the Minimum Support price to a sum based on a calculation of production costs plus a 50 per cent profit margin. 

The current “dilemma” of the Government is shown in the figures. India has buffer stock norms for rice and wheat, for each quarter of the year, decided by seasonal requirements. The norms are as follows:

Total in lakh tonnes
April 1
June  1
Oct 1
Jan 1

Since the last two years the stocks have been far above the requirement. For example, in January 2010 it was 474.45 lakh tonnes, 137  per cent more than the buffer norm and in April 2012 at 545 lakh tonnes, it is 236 per cent above buffer norms. With a good rabi crop a record procurement is anticipated. The total stock of wheat and rice could go up to over 700 lakh tonnes. Because of a lull in global market prices of foodgrains, the big farmer lobbies and traders had not made a noise about export restrictions. However with the FAO warnings of expected rise in international prices, these lobbies have again got active. Their aim is to force elimination of the stocks in the name of storage problems. Once the export restrictions are lifted the market manipulators will again dominate. 

A similar situation occurred in 2002-2003. At that time under the BJP led Government the stocks of rice in October 2002 stood at 156 lakh tonnes well above the buffer stock norm. There was a similar campaign against rotting stocks once again leading, not to increased allocations to the PDS, but to exports. It will be recalled that the BJP Government preferred to allow traders to lift the stocks at BPL prices and export, making huge profits, rather than distributing it to Indian consumers. Within a year, the stocks were brought down to well below the buffer stock norms and shortages were created leading to price rise.

While the aim of the present campaign on “lack of storage space” is geared towards the big farmer and traders demand for exports, it also is aimed at lowering procurement by State agencies. Big traders have the capacity to hoard grains till prices suit them. Such a situation is designed to create shortages in the future which will definitely lead to increased prices. 

This is not to say, however, that there is no problem of storage capacity. It is scandalous that in spite of repeated assurances to Parliament, the Government has failed to increase storage capacity to any significant degree. According to the Food Secretary, the shortage of storage in the next few months will be to the tune of 100 lakh tonnes. The policy of the Government is to subsidize the private sector through various schemes. The Parliamentary Panel’s report reveals a disturbing picture. Whereas the storage capacity of FCI godowns was enhanced by merely one lakh tonnes between June 2009 and February 2012, the FCI hired 50 lakh tonnes more of storage capacity in private godowns. Thus subsidizing the private sector through various schemes is also a key component of Government policy in the sphere of storage. 

The reality of rotting foodgrains while millions starve is a moral outrage. But the question is what is the most rational and socially desirable way to deal with the problem? By permitting exports as some are demanding or by ensuring an immediate increase in PDS allocations as well as the numbers of families to be covered, i.e. moving towards a universal PDS? 

The present debate on the issue of production, procurement and storage is thus a red alert on the issue of food security. The present situation provides an opportunity to broaden and intensify the struggle to replace the utterly flawed Food Security Bill with one that guarantees universal food security at a minimum of 35 kgs of foodgrains at two rupees a kilo. This is not only do-able but an urgent necessity for both consumers as well as farmers.

Friday, June 1, 2012

current affairs US--Jobs Numbers Reveal Two Crises

Mr. George Zornick write in The Nation that-

Today’s awful jobs report reveals that only 69,000 jobs were added in May—and revised the March and April jobs reports downwards by 49,000 jobs, meaning there was a net increase of only 20,000 jobs.
While it’s not always wise to make a big deal out of a single jobs report, there’s a clear downward trend (spiral?) happening here. December, January and February saw the addition of over 200,000 jobs. Then March dipped to 120,000 and April saw 115,000 (pre-revision), and now we’ve sunk down even further—69,000 new jobs doesn’t even keep pace with population growth. Whatever sluggish recovery may have been underway seems to have stalled out.
Like every other recent jobs report, we saw the public sector shedding jobs—13,000 last month. The only real growth was in service-sector jobs; everywhere else was flat or fell. Construction lost 28,000 jobs, accounting services lost 13,000, and the leisure and hospitality sector lost 9,000. There were 95,000 new jobs for women and 26,000 fewer jobs for men.
As you’ll inevitably hear all day, this is terrible news for Barack Obama and good news for Mitt Romney. But the real political story here is how terribly Washington is responding to this jobs crisis, to the extent it is at all.
Firstly, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors is charged with macroeconomic stabilization, with a specific mandate to fix unemployment. It has done next to nothing in recent months, though the addition of two governors after a Senate stalemate was broken might, maybe make things move faster.
Next, the government could and should take advantage of ridiculously low lending rates to borrow money and goose the economy through infrastructure spending, direct hiring of workers, aid to state governments, and so on. But austerity-driven Republicans and timid Democrats make this unforeseeable, as Felix Salmondescribes:
The 2012 election should be a referendum between two visions of America. On the left, Obama should say that we’re in a jobs crisis, and that he’s going to do everything in his power to get people back to work—by employing them directly, if need be. On the right, Romney can say that job creation should be left to US companies, despite the fact that those companies are signally failing to increase their payrolls despite their record-high profits. And then the public can choose which side they want to vote for.
Sadly, the lines won’t be drawn nearly that cleanly: Obama is bizarrely reluctant to talk about anything which rhymes with “stimulus”. As a result, the current dysfunction—and horribly weak jobs market—is likely to persist for far too long.
Finally, if the government isn’t going to help the unemployed, it should at least resist screwing them even harder. But alas, because of a deal Congress reached in February, by the end of June, unemployed workers in twenty-four states will no longer be eligible for benefits under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. By the end of August, the federal-state Extended Benefits program will expire in thirty-five states, which will effectively end benefits for over 500,000 workers.
In short, it’s as clear as ever that not only does the United States have a jobs crisis on its hands but a dismal political crisis as well.

current affairs--Women: Occupy the Left

Women’s rights have always been a bit of an add-on for the left. At this spring’s Left Forum, only fifteen of 440 panels touched on any feminist issue, broadly understood. New Left Review is famous, at least in my apartment, for its high testosterone content (despite being edited by a woman); ditto Verso, the left’s flagship publishing house, where women authors are as rare as Siberian tigers. And it’s not just the left—women’s rights, in fact women period, tend to get set aside whenever economics or “class” is the focus. Occupy Wall Street’s initial declaration, a long list of grievances from colonialism to the maltreatment of “nonhuman animals,” mentioned women’s inequality only in the context of the workplace—no mention of the systematic inequality that affects every area of life. Occupy Austin went further: a paper put out by its Language of Unity Working Group describes Occupy Austin as “radically inclusive,” open to everyone from disaffected Tea Partiers to Greens and anarchists, as well as homeless people and “soccer moms looking for a cause” (not too patronizing!) and highlighting only “the things that bring people together.” “For instance, you will never see Occupy approach the issue of abortion. It is too derisive (sic). Rather than championing one side, the huge innovation of the Occupy movement is its focus only on issues which unite people. We care most about people and care what most people support.”

About the Author

Katha Pollitt
Katha Pollitt
Katha Pollitt is well known for her wit and her keen sense of both the ridiculous and the sublime. Her "Subject to...
Hmmm. Let’s leave aside for the moment the question of whether caring “most about people” is compatible with silence on state-mandated transvaginal ultrasounds, personhood amendments and so on—let alone forced childbirth. I would think that when one in three women has at least one abortion, and when virtually all women have used birth control, we are talking about issues that affect “most people”—including most men, who benefit greatly from women’s ability to control their fertility. Let’s not look too closely, either, at the assumption that the 99 percent constitutes a coherent category: that a software engineer, a car salesman, a Chinese-food delivery man, a rabbi, a municipal clerk, a fashion photographer and a cleaning lady really have the same interests. The notion of common cause, even among the actual working class, is as much a romantic and aspirational construction, as much a matter of “identity politics,” as the oft-derided ideal of “sisterhood.”
You know the slogan “Women’s rights are human rights”? Well, women’s rights are economic rights, too. Sometimes it’s obvious: when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signs a bill reducing access to the courts for women claiming wage discrimination, that’s clearly an attack on women’s paychecks. When Mitt Romney can’t say whether or not he would have supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—which, let’s not forget, simply restored women’s right to sue for pay discrimination to where it was before the Supreme Court limited it—and then names four judges who voted against Lilly Ledbetter as models for his future appointments, he is saying businesses should have broad leeway to pay women less for doing the same work as men.
But when it comes to reproductive issues, apparently, the connection needs to be spelled out. So here it is: limiting women’s access to birth control and abortion is not “culture war” theater, and it is not just a “social issue” either. It’s an economic issue.
1. Early childbearing, most of which is unplanned, has a big effect on women’s education. According to a Centers for Disease Control fact sheet, “Only about 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age, versus approximately 90% of women who had not given birth during adolescence.” While this partly reflects the fact that poorer, less school-oriented girls are more likely to give birth, it’s clear that having a baby as a teenager creates serious economic stress.
2. Birth control is expensive. Many insurance plans don’t cover all methods; some don’t cover any method (looking at you, Catholic Church!). Annual cost of the Pill can range from a low $108 a year for generic ortho-cyclen to an astronomical $1,140 for Loestrin. The IUD, a highly effective method many plans don’t cover, costs around $1,000 for insertion.
3. Abortion is expensive. A first-trimester abortion costs around $500. After that the price climbs quickly: at twenty weeks, it’s more than $1,000. A late abortion for medical complications can cost several thousand—assuming the woman can find one. And this is just for the procedure, not for the hassles heaped on women by clinic closings, waiting periods and other restrictions—transportation, childcare, hotel bills. These burdens fall mostly on women themselves. The Hyde Amendment bars federal funding; most insurance plans do not cover it; only seventeen states fund Medicaid coverage for medically necessary abortions.
4. Childbirth is expensive. Childcare is expensive. Having a baby lowers women’s earnings dramatically, but it boosts men’s. Welfare? A dream of the past. Child support from the other parent? Good luck with that. According to the Census Bureau, “Of the $35.1 billion in child support due in 2009, 61.0 percent was reported as received, averaging $3,630 per custodial parent.” (One in six of those custodial parents is a man.)
And if all that wasn’t enough, women are charged more for the same or virtually the same products, from health insurance ($1 billion more a year!) to dry cleaning. To say nothing of the economic burdens of stalking, domestic violence, rape and the fear of rape.
It may be too late for the late-middle-aged old new left to take feminism to heart. There’s hope for Occupy, though, with its plethora of young women activists and ideological openness. In New York, Women Occupying Wall Street, the women’s caucus of OWS, is planning a Feminist General Assembly for May 17 at 6:30pm in Washington Square. I’ll be there, and will report back.

current affairs-US economic growth slower than thought in first quarter

The US economy grew at an annualised 1.9% in the first three months of 2012, less than the 2.2% first thought.
The slower growth rate - which was in line with forecasts - followed a modest downward revision in consumer spending.
A rise in the growth in imports also accounted for the weaker outlook.
The second official estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) from the Commerce Department also showed that after-tax corporate profits fell for the first time in three years.
The department said that after-tax corporate profits fell by 4.1%, the biggest fall since the last three months of 2008.
The figures showed that consumer spending grew at 2.7% instead of the previously estimated 2.9%, while a drop in government spending from 3.9% to 3% also held back economic growth.
In addition, businesses restocked at a modest pace, reflecting weakening demand.
Retail boost Estimates for the current April-to-June quarter show that analysts expect growth to pick up to an annualised pace of 2.5%, although that would still be below the 3% growth rate the Commerce Department said the US economy was growing at in the fourth quarter of last year.
Many economists expect US economic growth to continue at about 2.5% for the rest of the year, a better performance than the 1.7% growth recorded in 2011.
That picture was enhanced by news from US retailers, with many stores reporting stronger-than-expected sales in May.
Limited Brands, the parent company of underwear chain Victoria's Secret, the discount chain Target and clothing companies Gap and TJX Cos, which owns TJX and TJ Maxx, were among those reporting sales that beat analysts' forecasts.
Many analysts had feared that warmer-than-usual spring weather meant shoppers had brought forward clothing purchases which would mean fewer sales in May.
There was more good news from the Thomson Reuters Same Store Sales index, which was 3.9% higher in May, beating forecasts for a 3.6% rise.
However, the fragility of the US economy was highlighted by employment data, which showed private payroll growth rose only slightly in April, and the Labor Department said claims for jobless benefits were higher last week, suggesting a slowdown in the jobs market from its stronger showing earlier this year.
The most widely watched employment figures - the non-farm payrolls - will be released on Friday.
The first-quarter GDP figures are subject to at least one more revision, as more data comes in to the department for assessment.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eurozone set-up unsustainable, says Draghi

European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi says that eurozone leaders must decide what they want the bloc to look like in the future, because the current set-up is "unsustainable".
He said that the ECB could not "fill the vacuum" left by governments on creating growth or structural reforms.
EU economics commissioner Olli Rehn said more austerity was needed if the eurozone was to avoid disintegration.
New figures showed eurozone inflation slowed more than expected this month.
Inflation in the 17 countries that use the euro eased to 2.4% in May from 2.6% in April.
The figure is still above the ECB's target to keep inflation below 2%, but the lower-than-expected number could fuel calls for an interest rate cut next week.
Stability needed Speaking to the European Parliament, Mr Draghi said: "Can the ECB fill the vacuum of lack of action by national governments on fiscal growth? The answer is no. Can the ECB fill the vacuum of the lack of action by national governments on the structural problem. The answer is no.
"The next step... is to clarify what is the vision a certain number of years from now. The sooner this is specified, the better it is."

Euro v US Dollar

Last Updated at 31 May 2012, 11:50 GMT *Chart shows local time EUR:USD intraday chart
€1 buys change %
1.2411 +
Mr Rehn talked down the idea of European states issuing joint bonds, saying that austerity and closer co-operation were needed.
"We need a genuine stability culture and a much upgraded common capacity to contain common contagion," he told a conference.
"This is the case, at least if we want to avoid a disintegration of the eurozone and instead make the euro succeed."
Worries over the eurozone debt crisis - and in particular Spain's banking sector - have been hitting markets all week.
However, the markets were enjoying a respite on Thursday. The euro - which had fallen to near two-year lows against the dollar at $1.2358 - recovered slightly to $1.2410.
European stock markets were mostly positive, with London's FTSE 100 share index up 0.8%, and the Frankfurt and Paris indexes registering similar gains.
The pressure on bond yields also eased slightly, with Spain's 10-year bond yield - the rate of return demanded by investors - falling back to 6.61%, having reached 6.79% on Wednesday.
Mixed data In other figures released on Thursday, Germany's unemployment rate fell below 7% as Europe's biggest economy continued to perform strongly.
The jobless rate dropped to 6.7% in May, from 7% in April, as the number of people unemployed fell by 108,000 to 2.86 million.
However, there was more bad news from Greece as figures showed that Greek retail sales volumes fell by 16.2% in March compared with a year earlier. This followed February's decline of 12.9%.

Unpardonable sin

The ‘theoretical' fear that an innocent life could be snuffed out by an irreversible penalty like death has received chilling confirmation in a recent Columbia University law school study that found the American State of Texas wrongfully executed a man in 1989. This is a particularly ominous finding for democratic countries where the right to life has been enshrined as a fundamental right. The Columbia study claims that Carlos Deluna was not guilty of the crime for which he was put to death. The defence team's plea to the prosecution that the real offender was another man who bore close physical resemblance to the accused went unheeded. The study also points to glaring discrepancies in gathering evidence, the examination of witnesses and in the application of forensic procedures. The fresh evidence in this Texas execution is sure to further the debate on the efficacy of capital punishment in the U.S., where 17 States have already abolished this anachronistic provision from their laws.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

current affairs---Romney clinches GOP nomination with Texas win

current affairs about us presidential election.

Mitt Romney clinched the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday with a win in the Texas primary, a triumph of endurance for a candidate who fought hard to win over sceptical conservative voters he must now fire up for the campaign against President Barack Obama.
According to the Associated Press count, Mr. Romney surpassed the 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination by winning at least 88 delegates in the Texas primary.
Mr. Romney, who came up short in the Republican presidential race four years ago, outlasted a carousel of Republican rivals who dropped out of the State-by-State primary contest. None of his former rivals actively campaigned in Texas.

Paid laws, American style

Powerful U.S. corporations have been writing bills themselves and giving them to state assemblies to rubber-stamp
The scandal of paid news in India, whereby politicians, private businesses, and perhaps others, buy space in newspapers to publish material which appears to have been written by the papers, has rightly attracted much critical comment, but the United States appears to be well ahead of India, with nothing less than a form of paid law. Powerful U.S. corporations have been writing bills themselves and giving them to state legislators — whose election campaigns they often fund as well — to rubber-stamp and pass on to governors for signature into law.
Main lobbying body
The main lobbying body behind this is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has existed for over 40 years. It numbers about 300 corporations, including oil majors Exxon Mobil and Shell Oil, the Koch energy conglomerate, IT firms Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, carmakers General Motors, pharmaceuticals producers Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer, the cigarette firm Philip Morris, the drinks giant Diageo, and the mammoth retailer Wal-Mart. Nearly 2,000 state legislators are also members.