Monday, April 15, 2013

Link of the Day April 15, 2013 Younger Americans are thinking deeply about socialism --- is it a viable alternative to predatory capitalism?

capitalism (Photo credit:
SOCIALISM FOREVER (Photo credit: tonynetone)

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My Log 352 Ap 10 2013 Cricket shows me why it is the greatest of all games: Ponting and Tendulkar out for one run: unbelievable!

Ricky Ponting at a training session at the Ade...
Ricky Ponting  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sachin smiling
Sachin Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 One of the many reasons I love cricket beyond all other games is, to use a cliché, its glorious uncertainty.

Let me explain what I mean. This morning I was settling down to watch the latest match of the Indian league 20/20 --- of 20 overs a side, that is, 120 balls ---- with the keenest sense of anticipation I can remember having for a long time. The reason was that two of the greatest batsmen in the history of the game were opening the innings for the Mumbai Warriors, as the side is called. The two involved were Ricky Ponting, who has been captain of the all-conquering Australian sides during the last decade or so, a man who has clocked up huge scores repeatedly  but is now retired from the Test match arena ---  and Sachin Tendulkar, the wunderkind of Indian cricket. Both are veteran players, Ponting 38, Tendulkar 39.  Tendulkar has been recognized as the greatest batsman of his era. Ponting in his long career scored more than 13000 runs in Test matches, and the same number in One Day Internationals.  Tendulkar’s achievements have been even more startling --- more than 18,000 in Test matches, 15,000 in ODIs, and 100 Test centuries, more even than the great Bradman.

So imagine my sense of anticipation, with the prospect of seeing the punishing, efficient run-making machine Ponting, and the graceful stylist Tendulkar together to open the innings! No one could wish for more.

Of course the 20/20 form of the game is different from the more classical forms, requiring that the batsmen force the pace, try to score off every possible ball, which means taking risks that they would never take in the five-day version of the game.

Ponting opened the batting, and played a couple of rather diffident forcing shots, unsuccessfully, before, again forcing himself, spooning up a simple catch to the fieldsman at mid-off.  Out for a duck! Wow, what a disappointment.

Tendulkar would make up for it.  In came the batsman at the other end, who quickly played a ball into the field and began to run. The  opposing team captain, Jayawardena, a wonderful cricketer from Sri Lanka, scooped the ball up, causing the batsman to change his mind about taking the run. At the other end Tendulkar was already on his way, and Jayawardena flung the ball at the bowler’s end stumps, hit them,  and caught Tendulkar a yard out of his crease as he scrambled to get back. Out for one run!

I could not believe my eyes any more than the Delhi Daredevils players could believe their luck in having dismissed two of the towering figures of modern cricket for a total of one run. I began to chuckle at the downright glory of the game that could deal us such a shock.

I went out to do some shopping, and on my return turned on the game just as the Mumbai batsmen were laying about them, hitting sixes and fours in the last two overs of the innings, giving them a formidable total of 209 for six wickets, offsetting by superb hitting the shock of the failure of their two great leaders to score earlier in the innings.

I settled to watch the rest of the match as the Delhi  batsmen struggled to get going quickly, which they would have to do if they wanted to have any chance of winning.

Within a few minutes of the beginning of the innings, Ponting again featured in a sensational play, this time taking an absolutely amazing catch in the field as he dived to his right, projecting himself through the air and diving body-length to get his bare hand on to the rock-hard ball, and hang on to it, to dismss one of the Delhi openers. So, make no mistake, there’s a bit of life left in the old man yet!

I have settled down to watch what happens next. Delhi already has two wickets down for 17 runs in the first three overs. That is fewer than six runs to the over, far short of the 11 runs an over they will need if they are to win the game. Oh, yes,  this should be good….!

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My Log 351 April 10, 2013 The poorer the leader, the more dreadful their consequences, the higher praise do they receive from the right-wing press

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatche...
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (right) is greeted by former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone before the funeral service for former President Ronald Reagan at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 It is like an immutable rule: the worse the political leader, the more heinous his or her indifference to the welfare of ordinary people, the more the leader  is adulated, especially after his or her death, by the dominant wealth-owning class that controls decision-making  and opinion formation everywhere.

The death of Margaret Thatcher has given the right-wing press a glorious opportunity to express their real feelings, and they have not been niggardly at this task. For example, the Globe and Mail of Toronto headed their front page yesterday with the heading The Complete Leader, about as far from the truth about Thatcher as anyone could reach. Then, they filled their paper --- page after dreary page of it --- with tributes to her immense wisdom.

Closer to the truth, I have to admit --- and this was a surprise to me --- came the BBC, which, after the customary panegyrics, launched into a catalogue of her dreadful legislation and actions on the international stage. Only to return in succeeding days to the usual guff.

A similar thing happened on the death of Reagan, Thatcher’s soul mate. The two of them did, I will admit this, put a new face on Conservatism, which up to then had been represented in post-war years by more or less amiable figures such as Harold Macmillan, Rab Butler, Ian MacLeod, Reginald Maudling, in Canada by Robert Stanfield, Bill Davis, Joe Clark,  in France and Germany by more moderate figures who acquiesced in the advances made in social conditions by leftist governments when they had their chance.

If, like me, you consider the entire history of the last 200 years to have been a matter of gradual improvement in the living conditions and social opportunities of the common man, beginning, let’s say, with the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the foundation of the union movement, the formation by the unions of their own political parties, the gradual --- in the English-speaking world this was so gradual as to be almost imperceptible --- the gradual creation of a sort of consensus that the common man had as much claim to a decent life as the wealth-owning nobs,  then the arrival of Reagan and Thatcher into government preaching their mantra that the very existence of government was itself the problem, marked a very distinct change in the political atmosphere of our times.

I never liked the Conservatives, I disliked Macmillan and his cohort intensely, just as I hated for so many years the politics of the people who owed the newspapers I spent so many years working for, but compared with the thugs running businesses today the owners of yesteryear seem like a bunch of amiable Anglican vicars. In the same way, not until Reagan and Thatcher did I ever believe the Tory leaders  were devoted to the destruction of every element of improvement that had been worked by  the common man over the previous 200 years.

Those two set out to destroy the welfare state, no ifs and buts about it, the state built in the United States by Roosevelt, and by the Labour and socialist governments of Western Europe, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, even, more tentatively, Canada.

These two, Reagan and Thatcher,  made it possible for Tories to believe that they could after all, crush the working class. I am reminded of what a colleague who worked for a newspaper in Coventry, England told me of what happened when Churchill was returned to power in 1951. The owners of the newspaper he worked for essayed out into the newsroom in which he worked, crowing, and shouting at their employees that they would put them back in their place in the coming years.

I don’t want to add more to the dreadful outpouring of reflections on the death of this appalling leader. I was impressed yesterday by an article written by a Chilean man asking, “How Could anyone Celebrate the Life of Thatcher?” and recalling her close friendship with Pinochet, who had murdered half his family, and of whom Thatcher said, “Thank you for saving Chile for democracy.”

I find myself in the camp of the young leftist writer for the Independent in London, Owen Jones, who wrote that “Thatcherism was a national catastrophe, and we remain trapped by its consequences.”

I might add in passing that this outburst of enthusiasm for the memory of Thatcherism interrupted another sinister campaign undertaken by the Toronto newspaper, which over the weekend began celebrating the rise of Justin Trudeau as if the NDP simply did not exist. Page after page about Trudeau’s success in building up the Liberal party, which, magically, as it seems to Globe and Mail writers, has been turned into the natural governing party, supernaturally by-passing the official opposition led by Thomas Mulcair, which suddenly for them  seems to have faded into midair.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Log 350, April 9 2013 Tree-planting visionary will be turning in his grave at John Baird’s gauche decision

Sahara (Photo credit: tonynetone)

Richard St Barbe Baker, of course, will be turning in his grave as he digests John Baird’s decision that Canada should leave the international anti-desertification effort in the Sahara.

In the 1950s he founded the campaign to stop the advance of the Sahara --- and not only to stop it, but to turn it back, after travelling round the entire desert and talking to leaders of 24 nations affected. But three decades before, when almost nobody else had noticed our destructive human impact on Earth, he had set up his organization Men of the Trees, that has planted and saved forests in almost every corner of the world, and provided the template for the thousands of citizen groups who now concern themselves with the fate of Earth.
He may have been born in England in 1889, but people throughout the world can put in a claim to him, because he  became one of the first students at the University of Saskatchewan in 1908, in the 1920s he worked with Kikuyus and other tribesmen in  Kenya and West Africa, and encouraged tree planting in Palestine, in the 1930s he persuaded President Roosevelt to set up the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the fruits of the New Deal, and crossed the Atlantic nine times to ensure  survival of the California redwoods, in the 1940s he served his nation in war (for the second time) and in the 1950s, he set in train international efforts to halt advance of deserts everywhere through the planting of trees.
After Baker had twice travelled around the Sahara, and formulated his plan to motivate 25 million tree-planters to create a green wall that would stop the advance of the desert, his advocacy bore almost immediate fruit. An Englishwoman, Wendy Campbell-Purdie, inspired by his vision, bought a one-way ticket to North Africa and set to work planting 2,000 trees on 45 acres of Moroccan desert, which, within four years, were 12 feet high. In their shelter she grew wheat and barley. As a result of this success she persuaded the Algerian government to give her 260 acres of useless land on which to continue her work. Again, it was so successful that the government promised help in continuing her work. She raised money, and in the next few years planted 130,000 trees at a place on the edge of the desert called Bou Saada which within a few years was growing not only a forest but also vegetables, citrus fruits and grain. She has since formed an organization called the Tree of Life that has been incorporated into one of the most ambitious tree-planting programs ever undertaken --- to build a green wall right across Algeria.
Nevertheless, the challenge is so immense that still today the Sahara is said to be growing by 250,000 acres a year.
I met this remarkable man, St Barbe, as he was affectionately called everywhere, in the 1960s, when he was well over 70. His enthusiasm was entirely contagious, and over coffee in London he not only charmed me, but also the pretty young waitress, whom he almost persuaded to go out immediately to start planting trees in the desert.
By that time he was living with a new wife on a sheep station in New Zealand, but he had recently made a 1500 mile trip from one end of the country to the other and begun a campaign to convert New Zealand from animal husbandry back to silviculture.
Unlike most zealots, he was not at all boring on his favourite subject (although he did tend to go on a bit about his Bahai faith). He took great delight in telling me that when he ran afoul of the colonial officials in Nigeria, they packed him off upriver telling him, “We hope the mosquitoes’ll get you and you’ll be carried out feet first!” They almost had it right: he was carried out, suffering from a dreadful tropical disease.
Baker’s basic mantra about the value of trees could be understood by anyone.  
“In the forest the processes of decay and growth always balance one another. The vegetable and animal wastes form a mixture on the forest floor that remains practically constant in depth. It is drawn upon by earthworms, fungi, and bacteria, who distribute the resulting humus through the upper layers of the soil. Thus the forest manures itself. Everything is done by Nature quietly and efficiently. No artificial fertilizers, no selective weed-killers, no pesticides, and no machinery are needed in the household of the natural forest.”
He added:
“I look at it like this: If a man loses one-third of his skin he dies; the plastic surgeons say, ‘He's had it.’ If a tree loses one-third of its bark it dies. This has been proved by botanists and dendrologists. Would it not be reasonable to suggest that if the earth loses more than a third of its green mantle and tree cover, it will assuredly die? The water table will sink beyond recall and life will become impossible.
“Under existing systems …. there is a constant threat of famine over wide areas, but if we treat reforestation as seriously as we do national defense, and turn from an animal economy to a sylvan one, we shall be able to look forward confidently to the time when food will worry us as little as the air we breathe.”
Really, an extraordinary visionary, Richard St Barbe Baker, who now, three decades after his death, is still honoured around the world.
Except, it seems, by John Baird,  Stephen Harper and their ilk.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

My Log 348 April 2 2013 Someone in Europe’s trade union movement urges a policy I have believed since I was a youth, nationalizing the financial institutions

 Ever since I was a youth and attended a crowded public meeting at which a dissident member of our governing New Zealand Labour Party espoused the nationalization of the banks, that policy has been one of my desiderata in any political party.

Throw in insurance companies as well, and such a party would have my vote, for sure.

Short of that --- and we are so far short of that I have practically forgotten about it--- what are we to hope for? Our mainstream leftwing parties --- our British, New Zealand, Australian Labour parties, our Canadian NDP, our French Socialists and plenty of others --- have so far abandoned their roots, their reasons for being, that one votes for them merely as a gesture to keep what is left of our dwindling welfare state intact against the ferocious effort to destroy it, now being made by the forces of capitalism. So much has gone --- most of the union movement, for example, the very engine of our original creation of the welfare state, largely destroyed, with mainly the public sector unions hanging on  desperately, trying to deal with a nastily anti-union Canadian government ---- so much has gone that people have already begun to write as if the welfare state is a thing of the past.

In fact, as is established in a very perceptive and interesting interview published by Socialist Project, a valiant and intelligent site that keeps banging the socialist drum, the welfare state is in fact an artefact hanging over from history, from, as they say, an historic compromise reached in the more rational Western countries after the last war between capital and labour. Western powers were always aware that on the other side of Europe the option of socialism was available, and however inadequate might have been their practice of the noble ideal, our leaders didn’t want to take a chance of the noble ideal taking root on our side of he world.

So they made the compromise, according to the expert interviewed for the article, Asbjorn Wahl, a man well-known in Europe for his expertise on the welfare  state. He is author of several studies of  what he calls “the rise and fall of the welfare state”,  is currently vice-president of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, a member of the coordinating committee of Forum Social Europe, an informal trade union network that works on current issues, and also at the moment an adviser to the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees.

He says that when Europe adopted the welfare state, every nation had its particular scheme: there were even notable differences between the Scandinavian countries. Norway, for example, he said had huge state income from its resources (oil, fish, hydro-electricity), and this enabled them to keep unemployment down at 3 per cent. In addition, when they discovered oil, they were already a well-developed state which was able to direct its income to social purposes, unlike those in the third world, where the local elites and foreign capitalists enriched themselves. Now, however, the successful welfare policies are being slowly modified --- that is, weakened --- and he believes its welfare state is rather fragile.

“My view,” said Wahl, “is that the era of the welfare state is over, or at least it is coming to an end now. What we see particularly in the most crisis-ridden countries of Europe, is the systematic destruction of the welfare state.

 “I see that many politicians and trade unionists, also on the left, today say that the austerity policy of the Troika (the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) as well as of most governments in Europe is mistaken, because it will not contribute to regaining economic growth and creating jobs. They therefore try to convince the Troika and EU politicians to change policy. I think that is a grave misinterpretation of the situation. The short term aim of the Troika is not economic growth and jobs, it is actually to abolish the welfare state and defeat the trade union movement. At least, that is what is going on.”

Wahl was being interviewed by Vladimir Simovic and Darko Vesic from Centre of the Politics of Emancipation, Serbia, and they put to him the current view in Serbia “that we are still on our way to genuine capitalism and that EU integration is going to resolve most of the economic and social problems of our society.” 

“This sounds like a political fairy tale to me,” replied Wahl.  “What is ‘genuine capitalism’? Is it the post World War II welfare capitalism (which is now history), or is it the much more harsh, brutal and crisis-ridden capitalism we see unfolding around us …. To believe that EU integration will create a prosperous future for Serbia, given what is now going on in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, the Baltic countries, Hungary, Bulgaria etc., really requires a big portion of unfounded optimism.”

He added that it was a mistake for the left forces to put so much emphasis “on the so-called social dialogue” when the capitalists have already withdrawn from it.

Asked for his prescription for workable working class policies, Wahl said intense organizing must be carried out. “…..(Our) main problem was that the question of ownership was not addressed in full (in the original labour/capital compromise). Social ownership of banks and other financial institutions as well as of the means of production will therefore have to be put on the agenda again… (My emphasis)…

Well, at least someone is still thinking about my favoured policies. Let’s hope he is listened to.

The above interview was published March 25 as Socialist Project’s E-Bulletin No. 789.
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